Failing The 2017 Reading Challenge

I almost did it. I came so close. And yet, as the year dies, defeat looks me in the eye. Yes, I had many challenges fighting against me — several months rendered useless because my time was monopolized by ministry, and three months not even being home. But I had overcome them, I made up for what was lost, I was almost there, I almost made it — but didn’t. I didn’t complete my reading challenge. I only read 45 out of the 52-book goal that I attempted.

But all dramatics aside, my reading challenge wasn’t a failure in any sense. There’s never not a good time to read, and my commitment gave me a goal and accountability to be intentional about picking up heavy tome. Or slim e-reader, as the case may be.

Top Christian Books of 2017

Looking back now, I ran into some interesting adventures in Literary land.  I had a hurdle initially trying to even organize and label all the titles I read. Where do I file The Great Divorce? As fiction, or Christian living? How do I define The Story of Reality? I also read many things I didn’t enjoy this year (I’m looking at you, Steinbeck), things read solely because they are on the List-Of-Things-You-Are-Supposed-To-Read. I wonder if the List-Writers have ever read anything themselves. Yet, I also gave myself rein to read some light things solely for enjoyment. I found some new favorites. Good Christian dystopian fiction does actually exist. (There’s a sentence I truly believed I would never see.) I even read a book that hasn’t been published yet, as an alpha reader for a friend.

But the easy part of being a reader is the actual reading. The impossible part is answering the inevitable question. “Which was your favorite?” And I have forty-five to choose from. So, instead of attempting the impossible, I shall instead pick the cream of the crop, making both my task and my suggestions a bit more manageable.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 books from 2017

 

 

1: This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, by Jaquelle Crowe

This was my first book of the year, written by a first-time author, who just happened to be one of my first supporters in getting my first article published on Rebelution. So perhaps I’m a bit biased when I say this book is magnificent. But I’m not the only one. Winning both TGC’s award for best first-time author, as well as Christianity Today’s award of merit for best Children and Youth Book, This Changes Everything reminds us that we can’t just give God part of our life. Every single aspect of it, He declares dominion over; and what He lays claim to, He makes change to. I personally stayed up far into the night finishing this book in one sitting, because it was so very good!

 

 

2: One Thousand Gifts; A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Areby Ann Voskamp

I recognize that there are varying opinions on this book. But if nothing else, it reawakened my delight in the beauty that God is, and the beauty that should be our writing when we speak of Him.

 

 

3: Out of Time Series, by Nadine Brandes

Remember when I claimed good YA dystopian novels do exist? Remember when I claimed that good Christian YA dystopian novels exist? Well, here we are. I don’t remember why I picked up A Time to Die, but I remember doing so with the mindset of, “Well, this is Christian, so it’s probably going to be just some clean, cheesy, tolerable dystopian clichés with a few Bible verses thrown in.” Wrong. My expectations were subverted. The stakes were serious. And faith living in a dystopian future was handled thoughtfully and well.

 

 

4: Wars of the Realm Series, by Chuck Black

And while we’re on the subject of good Christian fiction that refuses to play to our expectations of Christian media and stereotypes, let’s talk about Chuck Black. If you haven’t read his Kingdom or Knights of Arrethtrae series yet; then sir, get thee to a library. Easy reads but none the less intriguing for it, The Wars of the Realm explores spiritual warfare from an interesting perspective — one of a non-Christian protagonist.

 

 

5: A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s Worldby Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet

“What is cultural success? It’s a life lived like Hans and Sophie Scholl, deeply engaging the moment in which God has placed us and courageously navigating the threatening currents, knowing that we serve a cause, and a God, far greater than ourselves.” An excellent and expertly handled overview of life in our 21st Century, which you can read my full review of here.

 

6: Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Lifeby Douglas Wilson

Is this the book recommended by all writers for all writers? Yes, yes it is. Does it deserve such acclaim? Yes, yes it does. I received it on Christmas, read through it the very next day, and promptly placed it on my read-every-year shelf.

 

 

7: What He Must Be: If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, by Voddie Baucham

If there’s anything more exciting, terrifying, confusing, and frustrating than navigating relationships and trying to find a spouse, I must not be old enough to know it. What He Must Be lays out some guidelines and challenges for young men in what they should be aiming for, young women in what they should be looking for, and parents in what they should be training for. To quote one of my favorite phrases from Pastor Baucham, “If you can’t say Amen, you oughta say Ouch.”

 

 

8: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi

You may have heard of Nabeel’s passing this last year, and read some powerful tributes. But much more powerful is his story. Part autobiography, part documentary of the clash between Islam and Christianity,Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a thought-provoking, laughter-making, tear-inducing journey following Nabeel to his conversion, with a convicting look at our own complacency and lack of passion for the Gospel. If you only read one biography, one book on Islam, or one book on apologetics in 2018, make it this one.

 

 

9: The Weight of Glory, by C. S. Lewis

This list would be amiss if I didn’t include at least one C. S. Lewis. I read five different books by Lewis this year; yes, I slacked off quite a bit. Even though I didn’t finish Weight of Glory before the end of 2017, it’s one I’ll always recommend, as I read through it yearly. It is not only an ever-masterful discussion of what glory really means (with thoughts on friendships, living in light of eternity, and others in the essays included with it) but also the book that made me sit back with eyes full of wonder and think “I want to be able to do that. To make beauty with words.” Also, it’s by C. S. Lewis. Enough said.

 

 

10: Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, by Gregory Koukl

This is a book I recommend for everyone. Absolutely everyone should read it. And as all of my friends will tell you, I recommend it all the time. (To the point where it’s now an ongoing joke in our group.) Do you want to be able to engage people well? Read this book. Do you want to be able to understand and love others well? Read this book. Do you want to be able to deftly handle your apologetics? Read this book. Do you want to comfortably and gracefully have conversations about faith with others? Read this book. But perhaps I’m being too subtle with my hints. Seriously, you should read Tactics.

 

There were dozen of others books I’d like to talk about, but as Douglas Wilson taught me this year, know where to end.

Did you complete the 2017 reading challenge? What were your top books of the year?

 

2018-01-20T15:41:30+00:00 By |



What Good Is It?

Taken as a whole, the Bible is the most hope-filled and joy-rich book ever written. The story of how God redeems the world from the darkness it is wrapped in brings a foundation of hope that hold us up during life’s many disappointments.

But in honestly sharing about the redemption of a fallen, broken, reeling world, not every little story within the big story of the Bible ends on a happy note—there are some hard and very sad stories in its pages. Jepthath’s vow, the death of Lot’s wife, the murder of toddlers and babies both in Bethlehem and the Nile of Egypt—and the young man that some Bible versions call the “rich young ruler.”

The rich young ruler approached Jesus with a question. He had it all going for him (hence “rich,” “young,” and “ruler”). He asked Jesus what he must do in order to gain eternal life, and when Jesus told him to follow the commandments, he insisted that he always had.

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:21-22).

He knew the right answers, but still walked away from the Son of God, deciding his temporary riches were better than any heavenly treasure Jesus could offer.

It’s very sad—and scary, too. That story could be about us.

 

The Great Danger

We aren’t rulers, and we probably wouldn’t call ourselves rich. But as Sunday School graduates and self-declared students, we come prepared. We read. We study. We work hard to get the answers right.

The problem is, Jesus doesn’t give multiple-choice tests to determine His followers. There is no grading on a curve, or answering essay questions for extra credit.

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!…You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:18-26).

Jesus told a story about a man who traveled to another country, leaving responsibilities—“talents”—with several of his servants. When he returned, he summoned his servants to tell him how they had handled what they had been entrusted with.

Two of them, one given ten talents and the other five, had each doubled what they had been given, and were rewarded with greater responsibility and honor. But the third servant had hidden his one talent, making no effort to add to what he had been given. And because of that, he lost what little he had and was thrown out (see Matthew 25:14-30).

What if we believe all the right things but still come up short?

 

The First Warning

Jesus’ brother James wrote to the early church, warning those who say they follow Christ but don’t have the actions that prove it. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).

This could not be any more important. Wondering about the saving nature of someone’s faith is no idle question, but James asks it. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, if our faith—our knowledge—doesn’t change us from the inside out, maybe we don’t have the faith we think we do.

What good is talk without action? Would any of us believe someone who claimed to be our friend but never initiated any contact with us? The actions just aren’t there. There is no proof.

Is there proof of our walk with Jesus?

We do all this learning and reading and self-betterment—to what end? What good is any of it on its own?

 

The Second Warning

“This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-2).

Paul is careful with his word choice here. Knowledge puffs up, like a puffer fish inflating himself in order to look bigger than he really is to other fish. It’s all an illusion. Love—on the other hand—builds, taking more time and a significantly greater work investment. But it lasts. “Love never ends…as for knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Do you want your life and work to count for Christ? It’s not about winning a Bible trivia contest, and Heaven doesn’t hold a preaching competition or an evangelistic who-can-win-the-most-souls contest. In Jesus’ kingdom, we don’t find significance by making a name for ourselves or by trying to stand out from the rest.

“Strive to excel in building up the church,” Paul counsels (1 Corinthians 14:12). You wanna be good at something? Pick this, Paul says. What good is all our book learning if others aren’t served?

Knowledge says, “Look how much I know. Listen to how smart I am.” Love says, “How can I help you see God at work here? How can we seek Him together?”

Significance will never be found in respect for what we know. Just ask the Pharisees. True to form, an effective Christian life is found by leaving behind all that we would think brings the satisfaction we are looking for, and laying it all down in service to Christ and to others.

 

The End of the Story

“He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” the Jews grumbled (Luke 19:7). But before Jesus left Zacchaeus’ house that day, a former cheat of a tax collector had become not only honest but generous—visible proof of an inward change of heart.

It can happen. Only through amazing grace, and impossible-to-understand love, but it can happen. We are changed from the inside out, blessed to bless. Hope and joy and faith and love don’t come from our efforts or our abilities or our book smarts, but from the God who lavished grace on us and asks us to invite others to that same grace.

It’s not something we earn—no matter how highly we think of our intelligence or ability. In Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S. Lewis reminds us: “You come of a race that cannot afford to be proud.”

We don’t know the ending of the rich young ruler’s story. We might fear he never found his way back, choosing to stake his eternity on things that don’t last. We might hope this was just a page in his story of redemption, that he eventually saw the light. We can’t know the end of his story until we reach the end of ours—which leaves us with a more pressing question:

Which way will it be for us?

Recommended Reading

2018-01-17T21:49:27+00:00 By |



3 Steps to Take When Seasons Change

As I headed for the river bay, the freezing autumn wind bit through my sweater and scarf.

Warm sunlight streamed across the choppy water and broke the chill a few degrees.

So many changes had unfolded over the past week. Each one weighed on my heart as I turned my back against the breeze, sat cross-legged on the pier, and opened my journal.

Everything whispered a new season.  With a strange mix of sorrow and anticipation, I kissed old things goodbye and welcomed new things into my life.

The bittersweet traces of changing seasons are etched on every life. God tells us in His Word,

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under the heaven:” (Eccles. 3:1a, NKJV).

The next few verses go on to list common threads—or “times”—in the ebb and flow of living (v. 2-3):

Being born and dying. Planting and harvesting. Killing and healing. Breaking down and building up. Weeping and laughter. Mourning and dancing.

The list continues to pour out more times of life in the four following verses.

Each time, each circumstance is different depending on the person, but the changes are still distinct and visible.

Here are some times that have touched my life and the lives of those around me—

Perhaps they parallel yours or that of your loved ones as well:

  • Friendships ending, new ones beginning.
  • Good health gnawed away by chronic illness.
  • Teen years lived, crossing the edge of adulthood.
  • Singleness replaced by love and romance.
  • Life fading, death coming.
  • Broken hearts mended by His wounds and time.
  • Parents made into grandparents.

Although seasons are a natural part of our lifetime, it can be difficult to adjust and accept the change they bring. Often, I find it hard to practice gratitude during the transition period between different seasons because their newness can be scary, sweet, and sobering all at once.

I have discovered three steps to take when seasons change:

 

1. Don’t waste time you’re given during each season

Each season only comes once. It can last as long as years or end as briefly as days or weeks. Sometimes, I’m filled with regret that I did not live a period of my life to the fullest while I could because those days, once gone, can never be regained or given again.

 

2. Trust God has orchestrated the circumstances

How I plan my days and dreams is shabby compared to God’s exquisite design for my life. The more I let go and trust His design, the more beautiful and fulfilling each season becomes. Life goes more smoothly and can be enjoyed more richly from the heart.

Even if life is turbulent with uncertain or unexpected circumstances, I can rest in this promise,

“Man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9).

For all my stressing and planning my life the way I think it should go, He is constantly redirecting my steps and orchestrating everything for good.

 

3. Believe He is making everything beautiful—in time  

God gives particular beauty and gifts during every season; every second of it is planned by Him. There are certain ways He wants us to serve in that particular set of circumstances.

“He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time…” (Eccles. 3:11a).

The One who fashioned time and is outside of time has given us various seasons for everything in life. Although the changes they bring may be uncomfortable at times, it is comforting to know is that each season is unique, orchestrated by God, and beautiful.

With this truth glowing brightly in our hearts, let’s endeavor to live every second, every time, and every season fully.

Recommended Reading

Waiting on God
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2018-01-17T03:47:08+00:00 By |



4 Gospel Promises for Self-Hating Christians

I remember the first time I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw.

I was eleven years old, and just entering the world of braces and acne scars. I was so insecure about my appearance I completely changed my diet, cutting out all dairy, gluten, sugar, and processed foods to tame my struggle with my body. I taught myself not to open my mouth when I smiled so no one could see the wires on my teeth. I was constantly thinking about how others might perceive me, which caused me to appear sullen and shy to those I didn’t know.

If someone ignored me, I was sure it was because she hated me. If someone spoke to me, it must be because she felt sorry for me. And no matter how much I tried to appear different, to change myself, or cause others to accept me, the little voice inside always said I would never be enough.

Self-hate is a terrible thing. It is a constant look inward. Shriveling disappointment beneath your own glaring eye. Condemnation brought upon yourself, even if it is not echoed by the lips of others.

This has always been a struggle for me. I hate myself for how I feel, how I look, what I’ve done, what’s been done to me, what I’ve failed to do. I hate myself when I sin, and when I do good without the right motives. I hate myself when I’m angry and bitter, and for the times I am kind and feel “fake”. I hate myself for reasons I can’t even identify.

But what I’ve discovered, is that this isn’t just an issue of “low self-esteem”, from which I must extricate myself by yanking up on my own bootstraps. Nor is this just a “sin thing”, to repent and turn away from. This is a sin, but more so, it is a struggle – an arduous, painful, terrifying struggle – in which I am striving to redeem myself.

THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-HATERS

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for believers to remember, is the Gospel itself.

It seems strange that this is the case. After all, it is by believing the Gospel that we are saved. The Gospel is what sets us apart as chosen by God. It is our core of faith, our foundation of joy, our root of hope, our well of confidence, our rock of assurance. It is the truth for which the Reformers lived and died – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

But deep within, we as believers are still legalists at heart, striving to save ourselves through self-enforced perfection.

Intellectually we know and believe the Gospel, but we are still living as idolatrous Demi-gods, atheistic condemners of ourselves, heaping up our own petty judgment against our heinous sins, and preaching to ourselves a self-help Gospel.

We are looking to a corrupt standard. We are worshipping a false god. We are trusting in the wrong savior. As created beings, we are always worshiping something, and we are always listening to the voice of what or whom we worship.

One of the ways I found this was in my struggle with food. When I changed my diet as a young teenager, it was not because I loved my body and was striving to be as healthy as possible, but because I hated my body and was striving to subject it to a perceived perfection. Food became the “problem”, but food also became the savior. It was the one place I could find temporary comfort, either in indulging inordinately when my cravings became too strong to control, or when I won the battle and forced my appetite beneath my feet, giving myself the false assurance that I was in control of both my flaws and my perfection.

My self-condemnation became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In an ugly mini-cycle of loss and redemption, I was flouting the Gospel of Christ and shirking His promises. I was my Gospel – slowly being crushed beneath another Cross.

THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-SAVERS

Self-condemnation – whether it is for what I eat, or what I look like, or what I wear, or what I feel, or what I do – ultimately comes down to one root: a loathing of my own failure.

My failure to have the perfect body. My failure to attain the highest education. My failure to have a satisfying job. My failure to find and be accepted by the perfect mate. My failure to be a good Christian.

I loathe my wickedness. I am bad; I am condemned; I am hated. I am exposed, exploited, vulnerable, and strange. I despise my unworthiness, my uncleanness, my ugliness. And slowly, bit by bit, with all my self-loathing, and self-hating, and self-helping, I will self-dehumanize. I will degrade myself, invalidate myself, and shrivel myself, until the part I hate becomes all that I am. I am a failure, so all I shall do, is fail.

There was one period so low that I tortured myself, not with the thought that God hadn’t saved me, but that He had. Christ had died for me – I who am nothing, who am worthless, who have failed in every way a human being can fail. I am such a pitiful example of a Christian. Why had He wasted His blood on me? Why can’t I make His death worth it?

But that is why the Gospel is such good news to sinners, for Christ’s death was only for the unworthy. Christ died for sinners, for outcasts, for failures. “For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard when he cried to Him” (Psalm 22:24).

We are beloved. We are cared for. We are accepted. We are saved. Not because we are not sinners, but because we are sinners who have been redeemed. Not because we never fail, but because He has taken our failure upon Himself, and clothed us with His own perfection. We must not condemn ourselves, for God Himself has pronounced us justified.

THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-CONDEMNERS

God is the only escape from self-hatred. He is the only Savior of self-haters. But often, though I understand this intellectually, I cannot stop feeling condemned. How can God, who knows my innermost thoughts, my secret sins, my deceptive, wicked heart, not condemn me as I have already condemned myself?

Christian author and theologian, Ed Welch, was recently interviewed on Desiring God in reference to his book on this topic: Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection.

In the interview, Tony Reinke asked the same question: “What would you say to those who struggle with self-hate, especially outside the Church, who assume the worst thing in the world for a self-hater to ever do is to believe in God, because He would only condemn them and fuel their self-hate further. What would you say to this person?”

Welch replied simply: “Your idea of God is my idea of the devil.”

He explained: “You are viewing God the way that the Scripture portrays Satan: this relentless, accusatory, hard master who means ill for you and is always there to scold you. And that is not the God of the Bible.”

Yes, God is just. Yes, God hates sin. Yes, He hates rebellion against His perfect law. Yes, in His righteousness and holiness, He condemns, He damns, He destroys.

But this is also the God who, by His grace, called you into His created story. This is the God who humbled Himself and came in human flesh. Weak believer, God Himself became weak and sympathizes with our pain. Sinful believer, Christ has been tested in all ways like as we are yet without sin, and through His blood, has brought us before a throne of grace, with a well of forgiveness that runs deeper than our trespasses. Christ has loved us while we were yet unlovable. He has accepted us while we were still unacceptable. He has declared us righteous while we were yet in sin.

THE GOSPEL FOR SELF-DOUBTERS

The self-hater who has been clothed in Christ’s righteousness has been given new eyes with which to see, a new mind with which to think, a new heart with which to believe, a new Savior to whom to cling.

Though this is still a struggle I am facing, one of the major turning points for me in this battle was a sermon by Pastor Ian Hamilton in which he stated: “The best proof that God will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”

All of a sudden, I understood.

“The best proof that God will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.”

God has loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). He has redeemed you with an eternal salvation. He has resurrected you to a never-ending hope.

Go to the one who will never stop loving you. Cling to the one who had no need to begin.

2018-01-17T02:53:18+00:00 By |



How to React to Tragedy as A Christian

All tragedies leave behind them a mass of questions, the most recent one being in Las Vegas, which has left us all reeling and asking: “What do we do? How can we pray? Is God still good, and what does the Bible say about how we should respond?”

Some of the things we can look at are….

How did Jesus respond to tragedy?

In Luke 13, we find Jesus in an interesting conversation in which He makes a reference to a recent tragedy, “Of those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:4-5).

The past conversation surrounding Siloam probably sounds very familiar, “Jesus, why did this happen? Was this an act of God’s judgement on their sin? Should the builders be punished for their poor work? Why!?”

Here Jesus points them back to the Gospel reminding them of the bigger picture beyond “who’s to blame”, and “why” stating, “All are in need of salvation…” So, our message in tragedy should be the same as every day, “Come to Jesus, for it is only in His arms where true peace and joy can be found. Only in Him is there forgiveness of sin, and freedom from shame.”

Jesus grieved

He was deeply compassionate towards both His friends and His enemies. In His grief, He wept for his dear friend Lazarus, and in His grief, He wept for the people of Israel who would soon reject the hand of salvation (read John 11:35, Luke 19:41, and Luke 23:24).

Paul says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.” This is not a commandment for Christians to share in the burdens of other Christians, but for Christians to share in the burdens of all people.

So, what do we do now?

We can love fellow sinners

Jesus engages with the despised Samaritans of this world, and calls them into a personal relationship with Him. It is time for us to get uncomfortable and share the Gospel with the Samaritans and tax collectors of our day, whether it is a non-Christian friend or a neighbor who is a grouch. As we develop relationships with others around us, God will use us to “bind up the brokenhearted [and] to proclaim freedom for the captives,” just as He did.

We can unite as one Body and serve with passion

God is glorified whenever believers come together, putting aside their political differences, and devote themselves to the greater works of His Word. The Bible also emphasizes the importance of unity in the Body of Christ, and the more that we push aside the things that hinder us from uniting as one strong voice for His kingdom; the more He will increase our numbers (see Acts 2:42-47).

How can we pray?

How is the Lord leading you to pray? Seek His guidance, asking that He would give you the words. Here are some good prayer points to keep in mind:

  • Pray that the lost would come to know Christ, and that the families and friends left behind would be able to experience God’s comfort as they mourn.
  • Grieve deeply for those who died without coming to know Christ as their Savior, and are now spending eternity apart from Him.
  • Pray that the Lord will give our leaders wisdom.
  • Pray that God will help us love others radically, just as His son Jesus did.
  • Pray that God will use tragedy to open people’s eyes to their need for His unending grace.
2018-01-08T08:39:58+00:00 By |



Your Work Is Worth It

Your Work Is Worth It by Isabelle Ingalls

Do you know one of the hardest questions for those of us who have grown up in church? Not “Why do you dress like that?” or “That’s how you’re doing relationships? Really?” or “Why do you believe that?” No, the real, true, dreaded, impossible question.

“What’s your favorite Bible verse?”

Ok, perhaps I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. But this is still always a difficult question. How do you expect me to pick just one verse out of the entire Word? How can I love just one sentence of God’s story more than the others? It depends on my struggles at the moment. It depends on what I’m studying. It depends on what He’s teaching me. It depends on the month, the day, or the hour. Which is a blessing in a sense, proof that His Word is living and active, continuing to teach us throughout all of life. But that doesn’t make answering the question any easier.

However, there has been one passage this last year that has stayed very near the top of my list. (Notice, I said passage, rather than verse, so technically I’m still evading the question.)

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Because honestly, this last year has been exhausting. All of us have experienced this. We have basketball practices to make and get-togethers to schedule and papers to finish and doctors to call and finals to take — and we’re tired. We’ll soldier on through our weeks, but still inside of us we cry “How long?”

We know it shouldn’t be this hard. We know we shouldn’t have to struggle against so many sins and situations. We groan, just like the rest of Creation, waiting for everything to be made new. We look about us at this corruption, and long for the Something Better that is coming. All these attacks, fears, and hatred — we know it can’t go on like this. Our world is restless for restoration. All our own selfishness, weakness, and impatience — we know it can’t go on like this. We’re eager for the day when we will be made new.

At the moment, we feel surrounded by the darkness, punctuated only by the slow red-and-white flash of ambulance lights. Lost on these tilting plates, the world seems sliding faster and faster into chaos.

But it won’t always be this way.

So we’re waiting. We’re peeking ahead. Like a child standing on his tiptoes, we crane our necks and search with our eyes to catch the glimmer. Because we know it’s coming soon.

He promised.

And when it does, all our work, all this pain, all this hurt; it will have been worth it. We’ll dance in exultation, we’ll sing throughout eternity. Our wounds will be washed away. Our hurts will be healed. The long years of loneliness, the dark nights of sorrow, the hours of anguish; in that moment light will tear through the shroud, and all darkness will flee as the Son bursts forth in brilliance.

Death has been de-fanged. The grave has been robbed. What power does evil have? What rule has the darkness? God has given us the victory, in the most absurdly beautiful of ways — through His death. We know how the story of everything ends.

And because we know the end, we know how to respond now. We don’t have to fear the darkness. There’s no need to cave to the chaos. We know what we are fighting for, and what we are waiting for. An earth made new. The return of a King. An everlasting kingdom.

So, my brothers and sisters, be strong. Be brave. Don’t be swayed. Through the darkness, through the hurt, through the pain, always serve Him. Be a light, proclaiming His truth, and His hope. Because your work will be worth it.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

2018-01-08T13:34:47+00:00 By |



In Christ Alone: Taking Christ Beyond the Cross

In Christ Alone Taking Christ Beyond the Cross by Olivia White

In Christ Alone Taking Christ Beyond the Cross by Olivia White

In Christ alone, my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song.

Those words have been engrained in my mind ever since I was six years old. At the time, my family went to a small family-integrated church. A few years later, we joined an equally small traditional baptist church, and a few years after that, we found ourselves at my current church, a southern baptist church five times as big as the previous two.

One thing each church had in common is that all three of them chose often to sing this contemporary hymn. In Christ Alone, written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, has become one of the most well known of all Christian songs. Most likely, it earned this classic status due to its theologically rich teachings which lie right at the core of the meaning of Christianity.

We’ve heard the song. We know the message. Countless Christians, young and old, sing its anthem.

But do we live it?

Indeed, our salvation is only through Christ. But this theme of “In Christ” applies to more than just our salvation. We depend on Christ for so much more!

In Christ, we have hope

Maybe you’re awaiting a new job opportunity, preparing for your wedding day, or just looking forward to the weekend. And there’s nothing wrong with looking forward to God-given blessings! But the song doesn’t say, “In weekends alone, my hope is found”, or “In a wedding alone, my hope is found”, or “In a new job opportunity, my hope is found”. Nor does it say, “In Christ, my hope is found, but it’s also found in X, Y, and Z.” Our hope must be only in Christ.

Is it okay to “hope” for good things? Or to look forward to special occasions? Of course! But if you find that your contentment and satisfaction is resting on it, you need to seriously ask yourself whether you are placing your hope in Christ alone.

In Christ, we have peace

For the past couple of weeks in the United States, we’ve experienced tragedy as hurricanes Harvey and Irma swept across our coasts, and wildfires up north have burned thousands of acres. Of course, our natural response is to freak out, to fear, and to worry. What calms our fears? A change in the weather predictions? Or the truth that God is sovereignly working through even tragic events for the good of his children and for his glory, and that nothing is out of his control?

Remember the second part of the first stanza?

This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease, my Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand.

Are we looking to Christ for our peace?

In Christ, we have confidence

Finally, see how we declare our identity and security in Christ after singing of his work on the cross and his victorious triumph from the grave:

And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me. For I am His and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ…No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand. Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Fellow Christians, we must be satisfied in Christ and Christ alone. Our hope, peace, and confidence are found not in what we can do for God, but in what he has already done for us. When you’re tempted to place your confidence in your own works, turn your eyes to the work of Christ on the cross. See Jesus, bleeding and dying, suffering unimaginable pain and the heaviest weight of sin for your sake. If this is what it took to save you from your sinful self, you have no reason to place confidence in that very same self that needed saving. Our confidence doesn’t belong in ourselves or any other human being or facet of this fallen world.

It’s tempting to “move on” from the work of Christ, to think that now we can do this on our own, now we can do what’s right, now we can have the power ourselves to live this life. But we forget that the only way to have power over sin and confidence before a holy God is through him.

The Christian life is one of daily dependence on God to meet our needs and work in us and through us for his glory. We depend on God for diligence when hours of studying are needed to pass an exam. We depend on God for wisdom when it’s time to choose a job or commit to a spouse. We depend on God for patience when precious little babies turn into crazy kids who drive us to the verge of insanity, and for energy to clean up the million and one messes they make.

No matter what age or stage of life we’re in, we must constantly depend on God, praying for his power through the Holy Spirit. He is the source of all that is good in us, the sovereign Lord over every aspect of our lives. If we want him to work in and through us and shape us into Christ-likeness, we must be ever tapping into the source.

Our justification was an instantaneous act of God. But the impact of that single act should extend to every last second and every last corner of our lives. We are saved through Christ, and furthermore, we live through Christ.

Our worth is found in Christ, our joy is found in Christ, our peace is found in Christ, and our hope is found in Christ, not in what we have or what we can do. And only when we have a right understanding of our constant need for Christ can we truly live as we ought.

We must truly depend on Christ Alone.

2018-01-08T13:37:19+00:00 By |



I Am Not a Pastor

I Am Not a Pastor by Shaun McDonald

I Am Not a Pastor by Shaun McDonald

Consider these statements that I’ve heard over the last decade:

“You’re a pastor though, so you can’t do that right?”

“I can’t lie to you, you’re a pastor.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t talk like that in front of a pastor.”

These all have one thing in common. The assumption is that being a pastor means that there is a different standard. There is a different standard for how one ought to conduct themselves in front of me, and there is a different standard for me than for everyone else. Both of these assumptions are false. The same standard has been set for all people. God delivered the standard at Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:3), Jesus fulfilled the standard in His life and ministry (Matthew 5:17), and by the Spirit’s power, we are to be conformed to that standard day by day (Romans 8:29).

When I teach the New Testament, there is always that time when you approach the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). At that point, well-meaning church members can tend to see this as a time to “check out.” After all, these letters were written to pastors, and they are not pastors. It has nothing to do with them. Or does it?

Someone said to me, “Pastors have a higher calling.” No, pastors do not have a higher calling. We have a higher accountability. There is a difference. We are all called to live the same way, to the glory of God, in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17). Just take the lists given to Timothy and Titus concerning the pastor’s conduct and compare it with the rest of Scripture pertaining to every believer:

1 Timothy 3:2-7 (NIV)

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4 NIV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”” (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:14-15 NIV)

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9 NIV)

not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” (Ephesians 5:18 NIV)

“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8 NIV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Ephesians 5:3 NIV)

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:18-21 NIV)

He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 NIV)

If you took the time to read all of those Scriptures (and the parallel passage in Titus 1:5-9) you will see that the calling of a pastor is the same as the calling of every other believer. Here are the differences though: vocation, proclamation and education.

Vocation

A pastor is called to an “office.” That office cannot be held if he is not all of the things above. You can be a Christian and not be all of those things, but you cannot be a pastor if you are not all of those things. That is vocation.

Proclamation

In addition, a pastor is called to teach. The office of pastor cannot be held by one who is unable to teach. Again, you can be a Christian and not be able to teach Scripture, but you cannot be a pastor if you are not able to teach Scripture. That is proclamation.

Education

And finally, a pastor needs to be one who is seasoned and well-acquainted with Scripture. Not only does he need to have a firm grasp of the gospel and an adherence to the truths of Scripture, he needs to also have been tested and proven as a faithful and humble believer. You can be a Christian and not yet have a full grasp of the gospel and other major truths of Scripture, but you cannot be a pastor. You can be a Christian and have only been one for a day, but you cannot be a pastor until you have been tested and proven. You can even be arrogant and be a Christian, but you should not be arrogant and be a pastor! All of this is education. It is the education of study and experience.

Why this article? Because, as many authors have sought to address, we seem to be lacking in our understanding of holiness when it comes to all believers. Paul’s attitude ought to be the attitude of every believer, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV) Not one of us, pastor or church member, has “arrived,” but we all ought to be on our way more and more as The Day approaches.

Recommended Reading:

The Hole in our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung
The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Don Whitney
Slave, John MacArthur

2018-01-17T02:09:19+00:00 By |



To Abide

To Abide by Esther Johnson

To Abide by Esther Johnson

I want to sit at Your feet, Lord. I do.

And I try—I kneel next to You, open my Bible and journal, and prepare to hear Your voice.

But maybe You don’t speak loud enough, because next thing I know I’m drafting my to-do list under my journal heading “What does this passage say about God?” (I would probably scribble to-do’s in the margin of my Bible if it didn’t look ugly.)

The day encroaches, creeping into the corners of my mind and claiming my emotions. Whether excitement or anxiety, what I’m feeling soon has nothing to do with the passage my eyes are scanning.

I don’t want to be this way, because sometimes I have a headache before I open my eyes in the morning.
Sometimes sleep is so thick and bitter on my tongue I can’t swallow it down with a glass of water.

Sometimes the coffee doesn’t help, and I know I need more than a duty to a far-off God to give me joy, and hope, for the day.

Once I’m awake, though, there’s no stopping me.

I rule my life by lists of where I’ve been and where I’m going. I slice my time and steam when my plans are knocked askew. And when I cross off one item, another awaits.

I don’t know how to focus on You without dividing our time into a series of tasks. List what a passage tells me about You. List what it says about me. And—my favorite—list what I should do about it.

What practical steps can I take to apply this passage? What can I praise God for—and rattle it off now. How can I intentionally serve others with what I’ve learned?

I am an analytical machine, reading and regurgitating for a recommended thirty minutes each day.

I am a Martha, and I am tired.

And one day, when I’ve barely pried myself out of bed and I can’t stop thinking about the exam I should be studying for, I flip open to John 15.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

And it stops me in my tracks because the first command is—abide.

I want to skip on to the parts about bearing fruit and loving one another perfectly, but this is how the passage begins and I must confront it.

I rub my eyes and I swallow a yawn and I puzzle at the word.

Merriam Webster confirms what I suspect:

“Definition of abide

1 a: to bear patiently: tolerate

b: to endure without yielding: withstand

2:to wait for: await

3:to accept without objection

1:to remain stable or fixed in a state

2:to continue in a place: sojourn “

Stable and fixed, await and withstand—this is a word of watching for the work of another. It is the word, in fact, that a branch would use within the Vine.

Yes, the passage commands me to bear fruit, and expands this into loving and serving and speaking and rejoicing. But it begins with the command to endure, and accept, and wait—to abide.

What does this waiting mean? This sojourning in the Lord?

The metaphor does not allow me to make a checklist for abiding, a step by step plan to becoming a fruitful branch. I cannot dissect the vine and discern how I fit. But I can wait, and ask for understanding, and I begin to understand the passage by beginning to live it.

A branch has no value or life on its own, but it is the manifestation of the vine’s life. Its fruit is the outpouring of the vine’s unseen roots. Without a deep connection to the vine’s vitality, a branch cannot produce fruit, and its leaves will quickly wither.

I cannot force the fruit, I can only connect deeply to my source of life.

Without Him I have no fruit—or the false, bitter fruit of self-glorifying labor. In Him I am given righteousness, strength, and comfort.

Remain in me, He promises, and you will bear fruit. Not may, or can hope to, but will. Certainly.
He does not cultivate in me what is already good as though I were my own vine, but rather trains me that I may more effectively display the strength and value of the Vine.

And this abiding, this waiting on His strength and life, begins when my alarm shatters me awake in the morning, and I’m tempted to hit snooze.

In that moment, when exhaustion prevents me from following a cold checklist, I hear the voice of the Vinedresser whispering my name, calling me to join Him and take the life He gives. Eternal life has begun already, and the call to abide is the call to thrive.

So I want to sit at Your feet, Lord. I do. And when the stress of the day forces its way into my head, I rest, and wait, and remain until Your voice comes, bringing life.

2018-01-08T13:43:49+00:00 By |



Life…is light.

Life is Light by Sara Baratt

Life is Light by Sara Baratt

A few weeks ago I attended our local crisis pregnancy center’s fundraising banquet. As I listened to the speaker share her powerful story and passion for the pro-life movement, one phrase stuck with me.

Life is light.

Later as I mulled over these three little words, the powerful meaning behind them struck me.

The light begins at conception. It starts to glow as each cell knits itself together, and shines a little brighter as they transform into tiny, yet perfect, fingers and toes, and forms a little set of lungs and powerful beating heart. It’s revealed through the mommy’s radiant face and swollen tummy, and the awe in her eyes when she feels that first strong kick.

And then that little light of life is born into a dark world. A place where true light is rare and smothered and darkness seems often to win. A place where the purity of innocence is crushed and the depravity of sin triumphs. A place where hurt is deep and heartbreak painful.

Even the brightness of new life can’t overthrow that blackness.

Enter the Greater Light. The only One who can take on the darkness and win.

This Light came into the world the same way—as a baby. But it came from Heaven as God made flesh and righteousness personified. This baby’s cry was the sound of love. The sound of hope, redemption, forgiveness. This Light’s name was Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—Jesus.

With that one name, the drought of hopelessness broke. The darkness trembled—the Light had come.
And He lived for 33 years. Until one day, He submitted to a cross made of wood, and the light in people’s souls was doused as they pierced Holy flesh with nails of iron. There on that cross with a cry of “It is finished!” the darkness seemed to win, as the purest, brightest Light of all time gave way to the darkness.

Until…three days later, the Light returned in blinding, brilliant, glorious brightness. Death conquered, darkness crushed, hope and forgiveness purchased as a gift for all who believe.

And the light, oh the light, given freely to all who loved it, replaced the fragile, flickering light of our humanity, with the never-ending light of eternal life.

Because eternal life…is light.

This glorious, circuitous cycle continues, breathing new life into many. It lives on in us, revealing our weaknesses and transforming them into the purity of Jesus.

And His commission to us continues.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light so shine before men…” (Matthew 5:13-16)

We have the light, my brothers and sisters.

Darkness was fought and conquered so light might be ours and so we might share it with the world that needs it so desperately. Every person you meet is crying out for love, hope, and light. The light in our hearts.
Life is indeed light and you only get one chance to shine.

I challenge you today, to go out into the dark world and share the light in your souls. It was bought at a price greater than we can fathom. Light is precious and rare.

Life…is light.

So, Christian, go out and live like it.

2018-01-08T13:44:35+00:00 By |



The Painful Pruning of Good Gifts

The Painful Pruning of Good Gifts by Kara Garis

The Painful Pruning of Good Gifts by Kara Garis

Thanks to some writing opportunities I’ve had on some highly-trafficked sites, I’ve been the recipient of the occasional encouraging email. And, more often than not, these emails include something along the lines of, “please keep faithfully writing.”

I love receiving these. I am a self-proclaimed Words of Affirmation lover and I can run on one of these emails for several months. They spur me on to creativity and inspire me to just keep writing.

Lately, however, our family has undergone some changes. I’m halfway through my fourth pregnancy and we have a child needing a lot more from us emotionally, and that just requires a lot of time and a lot of declining commitments.

There have been several moments over the last couple of months that I’ve looked at my circumstances resentfully. How can I keep faithfully writing and serving the Body if my family requires so much? My disgruntled “servant heart” shifts to a stage of martyrdom… Lord, why would you give me these gifts and these opportunities but not the space to faithfully use them? This has been a regular cry of my heart. Until, that is, one day when I felt three small words creep into my spirit.

Who defines faithfulness?

This stopped me cold.

Do the women sending emails define faithfulness? Does my husband? What about the sites for which I write? Are they the authors of what faithfulness looks like in my life?

That’s easy to answer. No.

The Pain of Pruning

Early in my walk with the Lord the pruning (John 15:2), while painful, was obvious and necessary. Giving up bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and idols was a natural part of sanctification I was willing to endure, knowing that it would be best… eventually.

But lately, this pruning has morphed into something I never imagined.

Parenting is an area where my dreams and the faithful call God has placed on my life have collided with the most damage. From early in my first pregnancy, I “faithfully” pored over parenting books, doing my best to seep up all the words from all the experts. I wanted to know that my faithfulness would produce Christian missionaries who attended Harvard and started nonprofits in third-world countries where my husband and I could go live with them. (Too much?)

Once my writing began to receive a little more momentum, I “faithfully” attempted to do everything I could to capitalize on each and every opportunity. A more active social media presence. Contributing to multiple sites. Publishing regularly on my blog. This felt faithful. I was writing about the Lord and, it seemed, to be blessed. But then, we entered a particularly hard season of parenting right around when I found out I was pregnant… right around when we experienced tragedy with another family member. And faithfulness became a little blurry. I didn’t feel I could continue to produce what was needed in order to be faithful to everyone.

I was desperate for reassurance that the big picture would work out. Which is our response when the Lord prunes good things… we want to negotiate, asking for a sign that this will work, when really all we need to do is take the next small step of obedience. Change the diaper. Clean the table. Pray for the neighbor. Serve the Church. Trust God with the big picture and believe He is still good. Lay down the gift you so desperately wanted to keep. And step away in obedience.

So often, it is when we forget the good Giver of the gift, be it a beautiful home, a talent, a job that so perfectly utilizes the strengths the Creator gave us, and start to view it as a possession, that we stop walking in obedience. I imagine myself looking less like Christ and more like Gollum, bent over in darkness clutching tightly to the good thing, incensed at the Lord who would take it away, the Lord who promises to work all things together for my good (Romans 8:28).

But Lord, this is MY ministry opportunity. This is for YOU.

I once had a friend tell me he really struggled with the concept of laying our crowns at Jesus’ feet in heaven.

“I worked for those,” he pouted. “I should get to keep them.”

My friend wasn’t looking to the Almighty Giver of the crowns, but to himself as the “Almighty Earner” of the crowns. Once we stand before Jesus Christ in His glory, men and women of unclean lips, our pithy crowns will become meaningless metal accolades. What could we possibly give to this great God but all we have? This giving, this laying down of gifts, this sacrifice is the only act of obedience that seems reasonable. The Lord of the Universe has deigned to give us, mere humans, a crown for our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) of works. Who are we not to collapse at His feet and thrust forward those crowns as a tiny offering of gratitude?

And this is not painless. Walking away from the job we love to serve thanklessly at home as a mother can feel unjust. Laying down the ministry opportunity that seemed so right, is a sacrifice worth grieving. But, when we rightly look to the Giver in His glory, when we maintain our right view of a God high and lifted up, we can obediently and gratefully lay down these gifts and lift our open hands in praise, trusting that this pruning is for our good and His glory. And, what else could we possibly offer but these small acts of obedience, these crowns?

2018-01-08T14:15:52+00:00 By |



In Defense of Fiction

In Defense of Fiction by Lauren Dunn

In Defense of Fiction by Lauren Dunn

Amy Carmichael convinced me.

The unlikely Irish missionary to India and “mother” to hundreds of at-risk girls in early 20th-century India, Amy had an authoritative presence—even in her writing. Amy led a group of Indian Christians who raised and educated the children God brought them, mostly children rescued from deplorable Hindu temples. Later in her life, Amy wrote several books during a period of bedridden illness, sharing stories of God’s work and the convictions she had developed over the years.

As a preteen, Amy Carmichael’s story was very influential in my life, and many of my own opinions and preferences were greatly impacted by her writings. Such is what happened when I read this:
“One day…a guest…gathered the children together and told them a fairy story, and then we discovered (I had hardly realized it before) that I had instinctively left those tales [out], and had begun with the far more magical true fairy stories that were strewn around everywhere just waiting to be told. And we saw no reason to change. It was good, when the amazed child asked, ‘Me than a?’ (Is it true indeed?), to be able to answer, ‘Me than’ (True indeed)…” (Amy Carmichael, Gold Cord).

Sounded good to me. True fairy stories (like why leaves are green or what makes rain fall) is of so much more value than made-up ones, so I learned. With that in mind, I unofficially swore off fiction reading for a time. There is no way I will ever have enough time to read all the books in the world, I reasoned, so I might as well only read the ones that do the most good. The true ones.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote in A Chance to Die, her biography of Amy: “She saw fiction, not as a powerful vehicle for Truth with a capital T, but as a waste of time and, much worse, a threat to the foundations of character. When ‘true fairy tales,’ far more magical than any of man’s devising, were ‘happening’ every day in field and garden, why lead the children into make-believe? What God made was Reality to her. Anything men made was a poor substitute.”

It made sense. We have so little time—why waste any of it on something that isn’t even true? Why fill a child’s mind—or my own—with stories that never really happened?

Because they’re powerful.

Three Reasons

“Our personal stories, our fiction, our literature, our television shows, and our movies are all accounted for in a sovereign God’s design for the world,” writes pastor Mike Cosper in his book The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth. “The stories we tell are all a part of the story he’s telling. We tell stories because we’re broken creatures hungering for redemption, and our storytelling is a glimmer of hope, a spark of eternity still simmering in our hearts…”

Cosper’s book walks through many different genres of TV shows and movies, ultimately showing how the basic plots and story lines of our common stories (think superhero stories or love stories) resonate with something designed deep within us. Stories are important, even for Christians, Cosper believes—and he’s not the only one. Here are three reasons why we should read stories.

 

1. There is a story wired inside us, and our stories echo it.

“Christians believe an audacious fact. At the heart of our faith is the bold claim that in a world full of stories, with a world’s worth of heroes, villains, comedies, tragedies, twists of fate, and surprise endings, there is really only one story. One grand narrative subsumes and encompasses all the other comings and goings of every creature—real or fictitious—on the earth.” – Mike Cosper

Fiction has the potential to be, as Elisabeth Elliot said earlier, “a powerful vehicle for Truth.” But how?

“The overarching story of redemption history—the old, old story—can be told through the framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. God made the world, sin corrupted it, Jesus redeemed it, and one fine day, God will ultimately restore it. That’s the story of the Bible, start to finish.” – Mike Cosper
Cosper explains how these common themes of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation can be found in many plot lines and stories—even “secular” ones. Characters long for redemption by seeking out answers and peace in troubled circumstances. They experience the effects of the fall through those difficult circumstances when life isn’t the way it was meant to be. We see people on screen (or in the pages of a book) looking for meaning in circumstances that seem to have none, and we sympathize. “We’re like second-generation exiles,” Cosper says, “who never knew the world they lost, but long for it nonetheless.”

Scriptwriters and authors are asking the questions common to everyone, and their stories spread the answers they believe. Even when they get it wrong, there are usually things they get right. We resonate with these aspects of their stories because we all have that “old, old story” wired in us.

 

2. We are makers made by a Maker.

“Evolutionary theorists have tried to make sense of the brain’s capacity for (and gravity toward) storytelling and fiction…Why is so much biological energy dedicated to the storytelling organ in our heads? Some theorize that we evolved a capacity to imagine in order to plan for feeding, hunting, and mating, and that once the capacity evolved, we started using imagination for stories as a side effect. Others theorize that storytelling is like the feathers of a peacock—something developed to help attract mates. It seems to me that the answer is much more simple: we were made in the image of a storytelling God.” – Mike Cosper

It seems we can’t help but make stories. Even children use imagination as they play with Barbies or Matchbox cars, acting out a drama they have created in their minds. As people made in the image of God, and as His redeemed people and adopted children, we are called to reflect our Father in what we do. Friends, we should not only be reading stories, but creating them.

As it turns out, Cosper isn’t the only one who thinks this. “Fantasy remains a human right,” J.R.R. Tolkien insisted, “we make…because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

 

3. Stories explore things we forget.

Finally, stories remind us of life truths that are easy to forget in the craziness of daily life. “That is one of the functions of art,” C.S. Lewis said, “to present what the narrow and desperately practical perspectives of real life exclude.”

Stories provide a way for us to step outside of life and look at it from another angle. We know we are busy and sometimes take for granted the people around us, but when we read a touching story about a mother whose child has grown and left home or a friend who misses her childhood comrade, we leave the story with a renewed gratitude for those we love. Stories can remind us that life is short, that material success at the expense of relationships isn’t worth it, or that there can be beauty found in everyday happenings. We know these things, but we forget. And stories can remind us. Anne of Green Gables, anyone?

 

Never the Same

So I beg to differ with my teenage self—and with Amy Carmichael. Stories are powerful. “All human creativity is an echo of God’s creativity,” Cosper writes. Some stories will be a stronger echo than others; to be sure, not all fiction is created equal. Each Christian reader should decide the boundaries and standards God would have them follow in their reading.

It has been said that we never change throughout our lives except for two influences: the people we meet and the books we read. In fictional stories we find both—books to read and people we want to invite into our lives.

Stories are powerful. We may never be the same.

2018-01-08T14:09:52+00:00 By |



No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached by KayleighAnne E. Stanton

No Strings Attached by KayleighAnne E. Stanton

My heart broke when one of my closest friends revealed the state of her faith. “I want to go to heaven,” she told me, giving a slight shake of her head. “And I think I will… I mean… I do think I will. But part of me isn’t certain. Like… I’m only ninety percent certain that I’ll go to heaven.”

When I asked her why she told me that she didn’t seem deserving. “I believe in God and everything and I asked him the big question when I was eight. But that was before I grew older and made so many mistakes. And now I wonder… is this part of me still enough to enter into heaven?”

Maybe you are plagued with that same doubt. It isn’t unnatural to wonder if you will ever qualify for the Final Round, the Great Paradise, the Beautiful Eternity. But God loves even the broken, the ‘unclean’ and the lost.

 

Firstly, God used some messed up people in the line of His Son.

In the beginning of the New Testament, we are given the genealogy of Jesus and His ancestors. It gives us a clear overlook at his relatives over a span of two-thousand years. Though there are some rather ordinary people in the line of Jesus, we see others that were not so clean- and some that weren’t Jews. Abraham was afraid of being killed so he told his wife, Sara to proclaim that she was his sister to keep from getting himself killed. Judah was jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery. David was lustful and killed another man just so he could have his wife. Solomon was born of Uriah’s wife, not of David’s. God even used a prostitute, Rahab, to protect the spies of the Israelites and then put her in the line of David. All this proves that God doesn’t use the perfect and complete. Sometimes he uses the shameful and the imperfect to complete his perfect plan.

 

Second of all, Jesus healed the leper and gave sight to the blind.

In Bible times, people were very superstitious. They believed that if one was diseased, lame, blind or had some other sort of imperfection, it was because of the deeds of the person themselves or because of the deeds of their parents before them. People avoided these morbid humans because they believed they were sinful or unapproachable. Yet, as the leper cried out ‘unclean’ Jesus walked up to him and healed him and as the lame beggar begged for alms, Jesus gave him his legs. It didn’t cost anything at all, but one thing was required of the men. They had to believe that Jesus could do it. And they did, as weak and blind as they were. After that, they were healed and given the kingdom of heaven. If Jesus loved and healed the unclean and unworthy, who is to say that he can’t love and heal you too?

 

Third, Jesus came for all people.

He came for the murderers, the thieves, the prostitutes and the liars. He came for the sinful. So, if we look at the Bible and read through it, we come to realize that he came for all of us. Every. Single. One. He wasn’t impartial to the Jews or to the whites. He came for the whites, the blacks, the yellows, the oranges and the browns. He came for everyone. All they have to do is put aside their pride and believe. Even as Jesus was in pain and suffering, the murderer beside him begged for Jesus to remember him. Struggling to take a breath, Jesus said ‘today I shall see you in paradise.’ The criminal had no time to correct his life, do good things, or help those in need. He couldn’t even bow at Jesus’s feet. Instead, all he could do was believe. And that was enough.

 

In the end of all of this,

I want to present you with a single verse. Romans 8:35-39.

“Who shall separate from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you are doing is forgivable. Your past nor your future can change God’s love for you. Though you may only be ninety percent certain of going to heaven, remember these things. It takes faith but, above all, it takes Christ’s love. His love doesn’t fill up that ten-percent, however. It fills up a hundred and ten. No strings attached.

2018-01-08T17:07:20+00:00 By |



Stop Just Having Faith

Stop Just Having Faith by Sydney Simao

Stop Just Having Faith by Sydney Simao

Faith will carry you through the hard times.”

The words lingered on the page for a moment, gleaming full of empty promises like a jewelry box in a pauper’s casket.

“Faith is powerful,” the article continued. “It will sustain you through the conflicts. It will strengthen you in the temptations. When you are burdened by doubts and fears you must just have faith.”

The words dripped with spiritualism, piety, and hope. Surely they were written to inspire holier feelings in my aching heart, to drive me to cling closer to hopeful thoughts and kind deeds, to settle me with feelings of peace in my conflicting soul.

Many of my contemporary Christian friends would smile, nod sympathetically, and give me the same advice. The words resonated with the Christian film I had watched the other day, about a mother watching her child struggle toward the end of a terrible terminal illness. A church website I visited earlier echoed the same pious chords. Certainly this was Christian advice – inspiring faith in a generation of sinful doubters.

The catch? The article was written for Muslims, by Muslims. The faith spoken of was faith in Allah. The conflicts referred to were conflicts with unbelieving, infidel organizations, such as the Christian church. The temptations mentioned were those prohibited in the Koran. The doubts and fears through which faith will strengthen us, were the doubts and fears we, as Christians, pray will come to unbelievers and drive them to the Cross of Christ.

Faith isn’t enough.

Please. Stop just having faith.

 

Definer of Faith

According to recent reports, Prince Charles, upon ascending the British throne, plans to change his title from “Defender of the Faith” to “Defender of Faith.” The loss of the definite article exemplifies the loss taking place in our world – the loss of anything definite at all.

In an effort to revive the spiritual elation of a post-Christian culture, the heir to the European throne is only shifting it further into obscurity. As Pastor and Theologian, Dr. Michael Horton stated on the proposal: “The traditional title refers to the defense of a particular confession, a body of doctrine concerning the Triune God who has rescued up from our sins by the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of the Son, Jesus Christ. With the proposed change, the intention is to encourage the act of faith – regardless of the object. Better by far to drop the title.”

The Christian Faith is not merely faith. It is not a blind reach in the dark to a higher power. It is not a spiritual sentiment compassed by our searching hearts. It is not a quest for something greater than ourselves, a purpose to our lives, or a belief in something that cannot be proven.

Faith is not the end. It’s not the goal. And faith doesn’t save us.

Our faith must be in the God who saves. This means that we must put our trust in the true and sovereign Creator and Judge of the world, against whom we have committed cosmic treason in our state of spiritual deadness in sin. We must trust in His Son who, remaining God, became a man among us, who stepped into actual time and space history, lived a life of perfect obedience to the Father, and took the punishment we deserved through his terrible and wrath-exhausting death on the Cross. His life, death and resurrection were actual, historical events – not with the purpose of exalting a holy example, exciting spiritual elation, or inspiring you to lead a better life, but to save sinners from the wrath of God and bring them to Himself.

Faith is not the object of our salvation. It is Christ who saves and nothing else.

 

Destroyer of Faith

Over a century ago, C.S. Lewis wrote his most famous apologetic work, Mere Christianity. At one point in the book, he asserts that if faith is simply the feelings of our better moments, our very foundation will collapse – not because our foundation was faith, but because it was merely feeling. In so doing, we set our emotions in the place of God, and annihilate the exact beauty of salvation we were striving to revive.

It is a deceptively easy trap to fall into. As Lewis himself wrote of his own struggle in a letter to his friend: “I think the trouble with me is lack of faith. I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. Mind you I don’t think so – the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel

Faith must mean more than some sort of spiritual sentiment, or it means no more than glorified heartburn. Feelings come and go. The blissful tears fade. The uplifting music dies away. Then, on Monday morning, when millions of Christians are thrown back into ordinary life with kids, a 9-5, and the monthly payments, they are left with the debilitating fear that their saving faith died with the end of yesterday’s worship service. Their hope of salvation seems as empty as their heart.

If we remove the God who saves from the end of our faith, then we are rejecting the Cross of Christ as the only way of salvation, and shoving humanity into a hallowed mirage of happiness his spiritual state cannot embrace. In so doing, we have not defended faith, we have destroyed it.

 

Deliverer of Faith

So what does this mean? Does this mean the end of good feelings, as we erect the brutal chasm between sentiment and doctrine?

No, it doesn’t. It means the beginning of all joy and hope.

If your hope of salvation is resting in the might of your faith as an end in itself, you will never be able to rest in the knowledge that you are truly saved.

Faith is beautiful. Faith is demanded. Faith is righteous. But not because of its own moral excellence, or because it is compassed by the earnest searchings of our hearts, but because it grasps the righteousness of Jesus Christ, appropriating His goodness to our own account.

This means that our faith is not blind. It begins with knowledge and trusts in certain fact. It does not rest in impractical strivings for an emotion, ever outside our control, but it trusts in the true and finished work of Christ, staking itself on His promises, which will never change. The struggle for us as Christians will always be to look to Christ instead of looking to our looking. We must see Him, leaning our weight upon Him, grasping Him – not by concentrating on the strength of our grasp – but resting in His strength as He grasps us.

This also means that faith is not something we muster in ourselves. We, who are born dead in sin, cannot choose to love God or churn our hearts into a spiritual boil of emotion (Romans 3). But God, though we deserved nothing but His wrath, has taken our sin and put it on His Son, punishing Him in our stead. And He has taken His Son’s righteousness and put it on our account. He calls us to Himself, resurrecting us to glory and instilling in our hearts a belief and trust in Him. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This also means that faith gives all glory to God. When we realize that our faith does not generate our salvation in itself, but that it is Christ who saves, justifying us by faith in Him, it is absolutely liberating. No longer do we feel the uncertainty of our legal state before God as our religious elation rises and sinks in the storms of life. We know that our salvation is not dependant on our religious elation. It is not subject to our internal mustering of good thoughts. It is dependant on God, for He alone saves. And in our dependence on Him, we find our rest, joy, and certainty, and He is glorified forever.

As Charles Spurgeon wrote beautifully in his book, All of Grace, “Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it…You need not, therefore, despair: that which is necessary to salvation is not continuous thought, but a simple reliance upon Jesus.”

Look to Him as the true object and keeper of your faith. For His hands alone grow mustard seeds.

2018-01-08T17:12:41+00:00 By |



Help Us Jesus, You’re Our Only Hope

Help Us Jesus, You're Our Only Hope by Shaun McDonald

Help Us Jesus, You’re Our Only Hope by Shaun McDonald

“And what would you like to be when you grow up?” the first grader was asked.

“A dinosaur!”

“Well, little one, you can be whatever you put your mind to.”

“…”

Is that really true? The last time I checked I am not able to transfigure myself, make myself taller, or give myself any special abilities. Even more, try as I might, I cannot seem to change the very basics of my personality. I am a strong leader with an indecisive bent. I am a sensitive lover with an Irish temper. I am ambitious with a need for safety and security. How do I become someone else?

We all know the answer to this. We don’t. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe we were intended to either. Scripture tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14 NIV) Of course that doesn’t mean that God was afraid He’d break us when He made us; nor does it mean that He was afraid we’d break the world. The fear is referring to a very careful, very intentional creative process. His eyes were squinted and His brows were furrowed as He knit each one of us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). And what He knit together wasn’t just good – it was wonderful – and it was you, and it was me.

The narrative that undergirds our young people is not one that gives them more freedom, but rather more anxiety. Depression, anxiety and bi-polar medications are going out the door like Tylenol once did. Suicide rates are at an all-time high, and the age keeps dropping. This narrative has been promoted by Disney for years and our homes, school systems and even churches have all bought into it. Be what you want and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not right, best or possible. I mean, a bunny rabbit arresting a lion… really?

What has happened is this. Little Eden wants to be a famous singer one day, but the poor girl can’t sing. To keep in step with the narrative, her parents, teachers, and even her pastors keep telling her what a beautiful voice she has and how she should “improve” it with some lessons. Sadly, we all know Eden can’t sing. That’s why everyone has a love/hate relationship with Simon Cowell. He says what we all know to be true but have been taught not to say. Meanwhile, poor Eden is getting more and more frustrated because she just can’t land a gig! Eventually that leads to depression because she feels like a failure, which leads to bitterness because the world just doesn’t understand, which leads to another all-too-young obituary.

I know, that’s a little heavy. How about Little Jude? Jude just wants to be a boxer. The only problem is that Jude is only a little guy and he hates getting punched. Not only that, but he is too soft and sweet to want to fight anyone. Or how about Olivia? She wants to be a chemist someday. Unfortunately Olivia cannot do math. I mean… cannot do math. So, to help her achieve her goals, her parents get her the best help available. She has tutors, private classes, and even one-on-one aids in her class to help her get better at what her brain just doesn’t seem to want to do. The result? Not only does Olivia never gets into the program she wants to because she cannot do the math on her own at the level required, but she spent all those years as the “special kid” who needed all the extra help to become something she was not created to be – good at math. And who does she have to blame?

As a last example, let’s take Lorna. Lorna was told that she has to make a good income to be happy. To do so, of course, she needs a college degree. So Lorna chooses the degree she thinks will set her up for the most money in the end. She graduates Magna Cum Laude, but there are simply no jobs in her market. Lorna leaves friends and family in search of a job to pay the debts she accumulated getting the degree she needed for the job that doesn’t exist. She is now living away from home, not doing what she set out to do, nor what she wants to do, all to make a check that barely covers her debts, let alone allows her to enjoy her life.

What a sad narrative. When will we wake up to see that God has made each of us on purpose, for a purpose? And the purpose is simple – to enjoy Him. What if Eden, Jude, Olivia and Lorna were all told from the very beginning, “Follow what you are good at, what you enjoy, and what allows you to love God and your neighbor (including friends, family, co-workers, etc.).” What if each of them was simply encouraged in what they excelled at and lovingly told the truth about their whims? What if each of them was told that a college degree and six-figure salary will not make them happy, but a life of contentment with Christ surely will? The end of each story would change.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV) Don’t believe it? Consider the man who wrote those words. Paul wrote of himself, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12 NIV) To an American, comfort is the meaning of life. In comfort we will find fullness. Perhaps full stomachs and waist lines, but not full lives. Paul was filled to the brim, yet, read what his life was like, “… I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV) To an American, Paul had nothing. He lived a third-world life with first world stress. But, of this type of life, here is what he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NIV) This was Paul’s secret. Learning to be content had nothing to do with circumstance and everything to do with Christ.

True fulfillment, true contentment, does not come through a degree or a salary. It does not come through possessions or positions. It does not come through fame or martyrdom. It does not come through anything, but only through One Person, the God-man Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV)

So what does all of that have to do with a kid wanting to be a lion when he grows up? Good question. Everything. The end goal for every human being is to know God and be made like Him. The recipe for contentment and a fulfilling life is always the same – Jesus. It begins with an introduction to Him. From the very beginning our children need to know Who Jesus is, why Jesus came, and what that has to do with them. They need to know of His infinite love for them, proved on the cross. His definite plan for them, modeled in His life. And His ultimate destination for them, displayed in the resurrection.

If our children can truly grasp the first question in the New City Catechism and say that it is true of their own life, they will live the most fulfilling lives possible. “What is our only hope in life and death? That we are not our own but belong to God.” Do you want to know something? My three year old already has this memorized. The rest of her life, for me, is about helping those words make their way into her heart and life. Everything else is trivial.

For two great resources on this topic see:
Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper and Ordinaryby Michael Horton

2018-01-08T17:22:25+00:00 By |



This Isn’t Safe

This Isn't Safe by Isabelle Ingalls

This Isn’t Safe by Isabelle Ingalls

“Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the lion, the great lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan… “Is he – quite safe?”

“Safe?”said Mr. Beaver… “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” – The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

I think often we echo Susan, asking if our God is harmless. Because we would like a Coke-Machine God. We can insert our prayers and good deeds, and ding! He spits out a comfy 9-to-5 job, a comfy white-picket house, and even a comfy Mercedes-Benz if we’re really spiritual. We want a talisman Jesus. We can sit Him up on our car dashboard for when we want a favor or a free parking spot, and aha! He lays out a road of good fortune. We want a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Lord. We can walk along our own merry way, but if we happen upon some hard times, someone’s sick, or a job is lost; we can pay attention to Him and whoosh! He shoos away all our troubles, just like the ending of all those Hallmark movies.

We’d like just a nice, beneficial God. He’s comfortable, easy, and safe.

But a God who decimates our comfort zones, who desecrates our personal idols, who demands our entire being? No. Thank. You.

Now, perhaps my appraisal sounds harsh or caricaturing, but is it really so untrue? We structure our lives, wishing and acting like God is just another thing we can schedule in. We’ll choose our friends based on similar viewpoints. We’ll choose our reading-list based on the bestseller list. We’ll choose our college based on numbers. We’ll choose our careers based on projected income. We’ll choose our churches based on music. But God has no place in our normal lives, except perhaps in throwing a few bills into the offering plate, because that’s the bit that we’ve assigned to Him.

If we’re not careful, we relegate God, we relegate our faith, to Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. He’s safe there, in His house. But if we brought Him home, brought Him back into our houses — who knows what would happen? Lions and kings stay in their own places, and please stay out of ours.

Because deep down we know He isn’t, He can’t be the comfortable, easy God we’d like. We’ve heard what He’s said. Deny it all. Forsake it all. Take up your cross. Lay down your life. And we’re not sure if we’re quite on board.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” – C. S. Lewis

Miriam-Webster defines safe as “free from harm or risk.” And perhaps that describes the Jesus of the American Dream, the Jesus of our comfortable world and fantasies. But not the real one.

The real Jesus tells people to obey Him alone; and they get thrown into fiery furnaces and lions’ dens. The real Jesus tells people, “Follow Me,” and they lose friends and family and gain the hatred of their whole nation. The real Jesus tells people, “Go,” and they are lashed five times, shipwrecked three, and stoned once. (2 Cor. 11:24-25)

But He’s also worth it.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18) “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)

A small, submissive Jesus, who only ever does what we want — He’s no higher than us. He’s a genie, not God. A Jesus who only ever rewards us for good behavior — He’s no greater than us. He’s Santa Claus, not God. A Jesus who only ever has a place in our lives during calamities — He’s not loving to us. He’s a life vest, not God.

That is not the God I know. That is not the God that exists.

Jesus doesn’t always do what I want – because His ways are so much higher than mine. He is God. Jesus doesn’t ignore sin – instead, fully knowing the terrible cost, He took my sin, that I might have the righteousness of God through Him. He is God. Jesus doesn’t pop into my life only when I need a big miracle – He has claimed all of me as His own, and my life is now His. He is God.

This Christian life isn’t safe. But nothing worthwhile ever is. Yes, we might be more secure in our comfort zones, in these fences we’ve built. But a security that keeps us from the life God is calling us to — it’s a prison. A ship is safest in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for. When we step out in obedience to His Word, regardless of how safe the world might consider it, that’s when life truly begins.

He is the King of King and Lord of Lords who makes the mountains to tremble. (Rev. 19:16, Psa. 18:7) All things were created by Him, and for Him. (Col. 1:16) He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Rev. 22:13) Before Him every knee will bow, and every tongue will declare that He is Lord. (Phil 2:10-11) He alone is the One worth serving. He alone is the One worth following.

Even when it’s not safe.

He is Good. And He is the King.

2018-01-09T12:47:04+00:00 By |



The Heart of Church

The Heart of Church by Esther Johnson

The Heart of Church by Esther Johnson

Growing up, I attended the same church for many years. Full of people who watched me mature and had seen me at my best and worst, that community became home.

Then my family moved, and attended a series of churches while searching for a new one. Then I moved, and repeated the process. While performing with a Christian theater troupe, I attended a score of churches, all different denominations and styles. Traveling in Europe, I went to several churches where I couldn’t understand a word of the service.

These churches were full of strangers, most of whom I’ll never see again, but in many churches as members welcomed me, as they worshipped, and as they opened the word together, the feeling of family surrounded me. I began to wonder, attending church down an alley in Austria, how I shared the heart of these people without sharing their culture or knowing their names. And looking at Scripture, I found what I should have realized before: that the heart of the church is deeper than any of the external trappings. The heart of church is Christ.

All over the world, this is what my brothers and sisters have in common…

 

They are unified by the work of Christ

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. –Ephesians 4:4-6

 

Their unity shows God’s love and glory.

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. –John 17:22-23

 

They know no strangers in Christ, but are together His temple, founded on Him.

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. –Ephesians 2:19-22

 

They graciously handle their failings, and boast only in Christ.

… not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” –1 Corinthians 1:26-31

 

They share in each other’s suffering and joy

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. –1 Cor. 12:26

 

They use different gifts, but all serve in Christ and in love

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way. –1 Corinthians 12:27-31

 

They walk in humility, obedience, and forgiveness, eager to maintain their bond.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. –Ephesians 4:1-3

When a specific church gathering embraces these qualities, it shows. They back up encouraging words with practical support, handle conflict in humility and love, and choose to dig in and love each other in the name of Christ. This kind of unity comes from Christ, not homogenous congregations identical in everything from hobbies to worship style. More likely, a healthy church mixes a whole variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. It may look like sweet Sunday School dresses, or a group of pals who smoke before church, and it’s probably some blend of both. Radical differences can’t separate a born-again family empowered by Christ to love each other.

In an ancient cathedral or a rented warehouse, my brothers and sisters are unified in the redeeming work of Christ. And when I’m with them, wherever we are, I’m home.

2018-01-08T17:30:31+00:00 By |



3 Godly Ways to Win and Lose

3 Godly Ways to Win and Lose by Moriah Simonowich

3 Godly Ways to Win and Lose by Moriah Simonowich

Competing in contests hosted by our county fair has become an annual tradition for us as a family. Our niches vary, but we’ll pick our favorites and enter baking, photography, lego inventions, decorated pumpkins, and art.

Once the day of the fair arrives, one question lingers tangibly in the humid, exhibit hall air:

Whose creation won which ribbons?

Unanimous enjoyment ebbs through each of us when we browse each category to make that discovery.

Some years, to our ecstatic delight, we’ve found blue ribbons taped proudly on our handiwork.

Other times, it’s a red ribbon for second place or yellow for third.

Perhaps the most disappointing discovery is finding a standard “participation” ribbon hanging there in plain jane purple that kills all of the piled up hope in one glance.

So, what does our tradition of county fair competitions teach us in everyday life?

There are traces of valuable lesson hidden: how to win, and lose, with grace.

 

Subtle pitfalls of winning and losing

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. Romans 12:3

Although winning is a treasure, we can easily shift from a sense of accomplishment to unhealthy pride. Our opinion of ourselves may get boosted just a little too much.

The Prideful Winner…

  • Is greedy about winning
  • Looks down on those who lose
  • Boasts about their accomplishment

These things can be true as they happen silently behind the smug curtain of our own thoughts or it may be on display with our words and actions.

The Sore Loser…

  • Wallows in self-pity
  • Can’t rejoice with those who won
  • Gives up on next time

 

Getting our focus right

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

Ultimately, if we’re focused on pleasing Him it won’t matter what the judges decide if the work we have put into it has been for the purpose of glorifying and serving God.

Here are some practical steps to winning and losing well, with grace:

A Humble Winner…

  1. Has a grateful heart towards God for their win “…in everything give thanks…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18a).
  2. Encourages others who didn’t get a ribbon Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3).
  3. Lets others praise their accomplishment instead of boasting “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2).

The Good Sport…

  1. Doesn’t feel sorry for themselves – “Love…does not seek its own…” (1 Corinthians 13:3-4a)
  2. Congratulates those who won – “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” (Romans 12:15)
  3. Takes a loss as a learning opportunity – “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

 

Whether it’s savoring a moment of successful winning or learning to bravely stomach a loss, let’s strive to have a heart attitude that rejoices with whichever one He places into our hands.

What have you learned from wins and losses? Is there something special God taught you? Please share! Let’s talk about it in the comments below…

*All verses are taken from the NKJV from BlueLetterBible.org

 

Recommended Reading

Humilityby CJ Mahaney

2018-01-08T18:08:18+00:00 By |



Which Jesus Do You Believe In?

Which Jesus Do You Believe In by Olivia White

Which Jesus Do You Believe In by Olivia White

Who is Jesus?

The question that has puzzled people for 2,000 years.

Ever since he came to the earth in the form of a human baby, the world has wondered what to make of him. The scribes and the Pharisees, the religious elite, the ones who studied the Scriptures and should have known better than the rest of the people, rejected him. At first, some thought he might be a prophet. As their hearts were filled with hatred against Jesus, they determined he was demon-possessed. Eventually, they called him a criminal and had him executed. Even after he rose from the dead, they wouldn’t believe he was the Son of God. The Jews refused to give the answer they knew was true to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Muslims believe Jesus existed and was a wonderful prophet. Yes, he was a messenger from Allah; but that’s all He was to them.

Even atheists or agnostics often believe Jesus existed. Historically, there is plenty of evidence that he was a real man. They’ll acknowledge he existed and perhaps even respect him as a good teacher. There’s no doubt he was crucified under the rule of Pontius Pilate, but his death was merely an unfortunate event, if that. Jesus was just a human…nothing more.

Answering the question “Who is Jesus?” is no light matter. How we answer that question determines our destiny. Everyone has opinions about Jesus, opinions that are either right or wrong. But those opinions matter greatly, so greatly, in fact, that lives may hang in the balance.

It’s true that we aren’t Jews or Muslims or Atheists or Agnostics. We’re Christians. Surely, we have a right understanding of who Jesus is.

Or do we?

There are actually many ways we fail to see Jesus for who he truly is. We often fail to see him as the Son of God, reigning over all, and worthy of our complete dedication. We don’t worship him as we should. There are many false views of Jesus, even from those who profess faith in him . These views include:

1. Life Jacket Jesus

This is the Jesus for when tragedy strikes and you need something to hold onto so you don’t drown. This is the emergency life preserver Jesus. This is when we label Jesus with the words of a fire extinguisher: “Use in case of emergency.” Jesus from this perspective is part time and doesn’t affect our actual everyday lives. We only come to him when we’re utterly desperate because we view Him as our last effort and our last hope.

2. Good Luck Jesus
We have to keep Jesus around, because he promises to give us whatever we want, right? He can give us good things and make our lives great. He can give us happiness and peace and all those wonderful things. We want health, wealth, and prosperity. That’s the real reason we stick around.

3. Vending Machine Jesus

This is the Jesus of those who come to God only to get whatever they want. He’s also known as the Divine Butler. We only care about the things we want to receive from him. If we come to him, it’s not out of a love for Him; it’s because we want something from him.

4. Ticket Master Jesus

Jesus holds the tickets to heaven. It’s easy to purchase a ticket: just go up and ask him for one! By simply calling yourself a “Christian”, you can get an all expenses paid trip to the wonderful land of heaven. Who would miss out on a deal like that?

There are so many other wrong ways we see Jesus. Our selfishness, our pride, and ultimately our sin keeps us from truly seeing Jesus as he is. None of us will have a crystal clear vision of him here on earth. “For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face,” as the apostle Paul said (1 Corinthians 13:4).

But we can cultivate a much more accurate view of Christ. If you believe in a Jesus that is no greater than Life Jacket Jesus, Good Luck Jesus, Vending Machine Jesus, or Ticket Master Jesus, you probably have never truly experienced a real relationship with the true Jesus. Jesus is so much more.

Let me tell you who Jesus is to me.

Jesus is my life. He is the author of life, and he is the purpose of my life. I get up in the morning to use the breath he has given me to praise him.

Jesus is my hope. When life is indeed caving in on me, I have the hope of being in heaven with Jesus through his work on the cross to save me.

Jesus is my joy. While I wait for the fulfillment of that hope, I have joy in the here and now because Jesus is with me. Though he is not bodily present here on earth, he has given me the Holy Spirit to live in me and speaks to me through his Word.

Jesus is my peace. Though he does not promise to fix the broken circumstances of this world, he is sovereign over them, exercising his power with wisdom according to his good and perfect will.

Jesus is my comfort. Through his work in redemption and through his work in my own life, Jesus has proved his neverending love to me. I know that he cares about me, and I know that he will do what is truly best for me. Though I might not understand his plans, I know he is worthy of my trust.

Jesus is all of that to me. Ultimately, though, it all comes down to this: Jesus is my Lord and Savior. He paid the price for my sins and brought me out of death and into a new life with him. I owe my whole life to him, so I acknowledge him in his rightful place as my Lord. His will for my life will prevail, and I will spend my life seeking to worship him. Through my obedience and adoration I will praise him. I want to give him the glory due his name.

The purpose of the true Christian is to magnify the name of Jesus. The true Christian life isn’t labelling yourself as a Christian to get whatever you want from God, or to get into heaven, or to have a backup plan in case of an emergency. Instead, the Christian life is one of worship, continually offering up our praise to the King.

Because the true Jesus is not a vending machine or a life jacket. The true Jesus is Lord.

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T18:33:13+00:00 By |



Life is Short, Christian. Live it Well.

Life is Short, Christian. Live it Well by Sara Baratt

Life is Short, Christian. Live it Well by Sara Baratt

Life is short.

Over the past days, I’ve come face to face with this fact. A week ago, we received the news that a Godly woman in our community had been diagnosed with cancer. As shocking as this seemed, even more so was the news that came a few days after—the doctors could do nothing for her and had sent her home on hospice care. At first, there had been hope, now none remained. That evening I stood in my kitchen, praying, “God, please heal her. You are God over all sickness and disease. All diagnoses and predictions. Nothing is too hard for You. Please…do a miracle.”

Not even five minutes later, my mom received a text saying this sweet woman had passed into the arms of Jesus.

I was stunned.

My first thought: “Oh, God, you gave her a miracle. She’s with You now.” My second thought: “For what is life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)

Two weeks. That’s all she had from the first diagnoses, to the day she went to be with Jesus. Two weeks.
That night reminded me that life is a vapor. There is no promise of tomorrow. No assurance of our time on earth. We make plans. We have goals, but we never know if the remainder of our life will consist of two decades, two years, two weeks, two days, or even two hours.

That’s why every day—every moment—is a priceless, incomparable gift. A gift bestowed on us from a loving Creator, but one we’re never guaranteed of. And sadly, a gift we so often abuse.

What would our lives look like if we lived with our eyes focused on Heaven, instead of the petty cares of this world? How much deeper and sweeter would our relationships become, if we recognized the heartrendingly short time we have with those we love? How different would our priorities be if we knew the length and breadth of our days?

Our perspective on earth is narrow. Finite. Temporal. Oh, for God to give us grace to comprehend the infinite, and understand the eternal.

I’m sure you’ve heard the acronym YOLO—You Only Live Once. As liberally as many people interpret this, I want to bring it back to truth. We do only live once, but that also means we only die once.

Our one life doesn’t mean we should use each scant day to satisfy ourselves, or attempt to seek fleeting pleasure. If anything it means the exact opposite. We only live once—we need to make
it count. Make it last beyond us. Make it change our world. Our lives are not our own, because our death is covered with the ransom of Christ’s blood, and our lives redeemed by the power of the stripes across His back.

Because He died, we live.

Because He died, death has lost its sting; the grave, its victory.

Because He died, we have hope for today and every day that stretches into eternity.

Life is short. Live in awe and worship, and wide-eyed wonder. Love deeply and fiercely. Choose joy and act with boldness. Use your words to proclaim truth and bring glory to the name of Jesus.

Life is short. Live it well.

 

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T18:34:33+00:00 By |



Heroes and the Road Ahead

Heroes and the Road Ahead by Lauren Dunn

Heroes and the Road Ahead by Lauren Dunn

We all have heroes. We may not call them that, but even as children we know who we look up to and who we want to be like when we finally grow up. As Christians, even Christian adults, that still holds true. We notice people who seem to be where we think we should be, or who attained some level of success or self-possession we want to have, too. We look up to people we want to emulate or learn from.

They say we are only ever changed by the books we read and the friends we keep—and, we might add, the heroes we want to follow. Let’s hope we choose wisely.

 

Three Heroes

Growing up, I was fascinated by Amy Carmichael. The story of the unlikely missionary who eventually became “Amma” (“Mother”) to hundreds of India’s needy children captured my imagination and my interest for years. I read several of Amy’s books and devoured Elisabeth Elliot’s exhaustive biography of Amy’s life. “Amma” was a strong personality who refused to follow conventional missions habits of the time if they weren’t effective (and most were not). She set out to follow God’s leading wherever He took her, and eventually He led her to give up the traveling ministry she had dreamed of to care for children He literally brought to her. India’s caste and temple systems of the time led to horrible treatment of millions of girls. The small percentage God rescued through Amy she led and cared for throughout her life.

William Borden is not well-known, but his story deeply impacted me when I heard it. A young heir to a large estate and successful business, Borden left behind the effortless rich life that was handed to him. After busy years of local ministry during college, Borden chose to channel his life into obedience to God on the foreign mission field. He set sail for Egypt with the goal of eventually reaching Chinese Muslims, but he never made it. While studying Arabic in Egypt, Borden contracted meningitis and died at the age of twenty-five. He had chosen hardship and an eternal reward over a life of ease and temporary riches. He didn’t know how his story would end, and we still don’t know all of the ways God worked through his life, but we do know this: Borden’s obedience wasn’t wasted. God led him and he followed, and one day we will hear stories of how God used his obedience.

The Corrie ten Boom story has gripped me ever since the day I read The Hiding Place from cover to cover in just a few hours. Corrie and her sister Betsie lived with their elderly father in Haarlem, the Netherlands, when the Nazis overran their little country during World War II. Here was a family whose mission field came to them. The Ten Booms would become part of an elaborate underground network, with their home being a focal point of the work. Illegal ration cards, secret messages, and hunted people were all funneled through their unassuming house off the old cobblestone street. It was a time of hard, hard suffering—but service in the midst of it. They trusted God for results in the midst of unanswered questions and dangerous uncertainty, with no guarantees they would stay safe. When they were turned in to the Nazis by an informant, and then arrested, a new time of even greater difficulty began. Corrie’s imprisonment in concentration camps was marked by suffering we can’t even fathom from our middle-class American living rooms. Her father and sister would die during their imprisonment. Corrie later traveled the world, sharing her family’s story and her own journey of forgiveness through it.

 

Only One Hero

“Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules….” Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in The Jesus Storybook Bible. “Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean” (Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 14-15).

No, there is only one Hero in the pages of our Bibles. The people we notice and want to follow aren’t “heroes” in the sense that they have some supernatural ability or save us from painful danger, and they usually aren’t even consistent “good examples” like we might hope.

“The absence of heroes in the Bible puzzled me for a long time. One day it dawned on me that perhaps this absence was the point of the whole book. There are no human heroes. Everyone’s hands are stained and dirty” (Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell). While the Bible doesn’t give us a list of heroes, it does share countless stories of real people who faced real difficulty and hardship—and who point us to the only Hero. They remind us that it is God who works in all of our lives and it is through their stories that we are inspired to press on through ours.

“There is no such thing as a great man of God, only weak, pitiful, faithless men of a great and merciful God,” Paul Washer points out. That’s all any of us will ever be. And it is through the lives and stories of some of those weak and faithless people that we will be encouraged to take the next steps in our own lives (see Romans 15:4).

 

One Common Thing

In “The Hall of Faith,” as some have called Hebrews 11, we are given several vignette stories of God’s people who have gone before us. Most of their stories are recorded in the Bible, and we know they weren’t perfect. We have read about Abraham’s fear and Sarah’s doubt, and we know Moses was not always a good example. Good grief, the list even includes Samson and Jephthah—and we remember more about their failures than anything else.

What holds all these remembered people together is one common thing: faith. While they were far from perfect, and that faith was sometimes small and very weak, they walked forward in faith. Faith in the middle of unknown outcomes, uncertainty, suffering, turmoil, pain, evil. Faith without knowing the whole story, or the ending, or the next chapter.

Their stories remind us that God works in our stories, too, and their lives give us examples of how to live ours. We know enough of their stories to know not to idolize them—in fact, the best “heroes” are the ones honest enough to tell us their own failures and shortcomings. These people are not stand-ins for God or gurus we follow to the ends of the earth. We follow God and God alone, and so did they. Through everything.

 

Carry On

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

We all have people we look up to and want to be like one day. When we finally grow up. We may call them heroes, though we know they could never make themselves invisible and won’t magically appear when we need some kind of rescue. And we know they weren’t perfect.

But we tell their stories and hear their words because through them we hear the story of God at work. By remembering Abraham and Sarah, or Amy Carmichael and William Borden, or Corrie ten Boom and her family, we are reminded of what we all too often forget: God is always here. God is always in control. God is always loving us. Whatever lies before us, we know that others have come this way before.

Because of the examples of all these witnesses that surround us, we press on through uncertainty and difficulty and unknown outcomes. With faith. Faith that the God who brought our heroes home is doing the same for us.

 

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T18:43:30+00:00 By |



Forsaking our Bent Toward Anxiety Over Untraveled Places

Forsaking our Bent Toward Anxiety Over Untraveled Places by Moriah Simonowich

Forsaking our Bent Toward Anxiety Over Untraveled Places by Moriah Simonowich

My trip to Uganda, Africa was only six weeks away.

Sitting there in the travel doctor’s office, we discussed the disease prevention necessary for that region. A nurse prepared a tray of vaccines and immunizations. She warned that one of them would be quite painful, which did nothing to calm my nerves. My dad went first, then it was my turn.

I spun my head away from the needles and prayed, trying to overcome my fear.

After receiving iron intravenously years before, I had a horrible reaction that caused me to go into anaphylactic shock. The trauma of that experience scarred my mind with anxious skepticism about how my body would react to medication given through shots or IV’s.

Although I was concerned about side effects, this treatment was the next crucial step before I could cross the ocean. It was better to be protected than to risk sickness and disease.

My only choice was forward. I breathed in and out slowly to calm myself as the nurse injected each shot into my arm. When we left the doctor’s office, I was shaken but extremely thankful to have survived receiving them without having an allergic reaction.

Realizing my helplessness and need for dependency on God to carry me through—no matter what came, even if my body couldn’t handle the vaccines—strengthened my faith and intensified my trust.

Although it’s part of our nature to have fear or uneasiness about the future on some level, we desperately need to overcome it in order to take those forward steps and to have joy!

 

Our Antidote

The antidote to anxiety about the unknown is an abiding trust in God.

Not hesitant, partial trust, but an unquestioning trust that comes from the heart surrendered to continual prayer and thankfulness.

Paul says that is what brings true peace:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

The Cost

“To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust Him in the dark—that is faith.” -C. H. Spurgeon

Every season has challenges we must brave to claim the beautiful things God wants to teach us. Sometimes they are costly and require tremendous leaps of faith; other times they take us a few feet from our comfort zones.

We have to weigh it out, fully recognizing what might be missed if we fail to trust the Lord with what lies ahead and rely on His strength to carry us forward.

Putting an unwavering trust in God when we’re afraid is enough to conquer every “what if.”

“Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4, NKJV)

 

A Sweet Surrender

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” -Corrie ten Boom

What if my fear of allergic reactions had paralyzed me to the point I never left the states? It wounds my heart to think of what beautiful adventures I would have missed and what children I wouldn’t have hugged close and sung to in Uganda.

We must entrust our every breath and every second upon this earth to God’s capable, all-wise, hands, forsaking our bent towards anxiety over untraveled places. It’s a little incredulous, but the moment we surrender and “cast all our anxieties,” they evaporate.

“Casting all your anxieties upon Him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

 

Moving forward with joy

“If you can trust God to save you for eternity, you can trust Him to lead you for a lifetime.” -David Platt

Is there something God has put on your heart to do, but fears are holding you back?

Don’t let the untraveled or unknown intimidate you any longer.

Don’t be afraid to leave comfort and lean into Him for strength. Trust, friend. Just trust.

Joy will follow. Adventures are waiting.

 

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T19:17:33+00:00 By |



When in Doubt

When in Doubt by Esther Johnson

When in Doubt by Esther Johnson

My camper crumbled a stick in her hands as we sat watching the lake glimmer.

“What’s been on your mind?” I repeated, “Anything in particular?”

Bits of the stick tumbled to the ground, and words tumbled out of her mouth.

She had questions on everything from creation to end times to evil to absolute truth. And below these, she wondered if this God was worth trusting despite her pain.

I don’t remember what I said in the next ten minutes as we sat on that stoop and the sun faded off the lake, but I recalled this moment over and over in the next year as my own doubts demanded confrontation.

If I had this conversation again I would give her a hug and start here…

 

Is the root of your doubt intellectual or emotional?

The two are closely tied, and require similar responses, but often one stems from the other.

For instance, if I can’t trust what the Bible says about history and science, why should I trust this God to take care of my heart? On the other hand, if I’m hurting, it’s easier to argue over science than face my pain.

Know that emotions lie, and that intellect puffs up.

 

Do you fear it?

As clean-cut Sunday School attendees, we quickly cram questions into secret corners, fearing that they undermine God—or simply that others will judge us for them.

But if God is who He claims to be, our questions will only reveal His glory. Just look at the book of Job! And not only do other Christians struggle, but someone nearby is probably wondering the same things, and could be encouraged by your search for truth.

Feeding on secrecy and never confronted, doubt grows from a few weeds to a deep-rooted thicket. Start weeding for the glory of God!

 

Have you told God about it?

God already knows, of course, but He wants to hear it from you. Don’t let this drive you away from Him—instead, ask Him your questions and let it strengthen your relationship. He’s not afraid or angry! Psalm 50:15 promises, “And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (ESV).

God will bring himself glory even through doubt!

 

Have you looked in the word?

Look for answers here first. You can’t ask good questions about something you don’t understand, and you can’t get satisfying answers either—so understand what the Bible says before questioning it. Search confidently, remembering the promise that “the one who seeks finds” (Luke 11:10 ESV). Search faithfully, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17 ESV).

You’ll also find that scripture overflows with fellow doubters and God’s faithfulness. From Abraham who ran to Egypt, to Gideon who set out fleeces or David who wrote a book of poetry about his doubts, right down to Thomas, who’ll never shake that name—they questioned for many reasons, and got many different responses, but time and again God showed himself worthy of trust. He answered the blackest doubt and the heaviest sorrow and the deepest fears and never let them go. Read and remember.

 

Have you asked others about it?

As a well-trained, hand-raising, self-proclaimed expert, it’s hard for me to admit I don’t have all the answers. But that’s just pride, and I need to honestly share my weaknesses and confusion. Otherwise, I miss all the experience of my fellow believers.

Talk to trusted Christians who have walked with God longer and ask them for help. You’ll find they have valuable wisdom to share. And recall that scripture commands us to have grace toward doubt in Jude 1:22: “And have mercy on those who doubt” (ESV).

 

Have you done your research?

It’s easy to let questions gnaw at us without carving out time to address them, and it’s easy to settle on a viewpoint without fully understanding the issues and information involved. But your worldview and faith, your relationship with God, is too important to take the easy route.

Pursue answers! Ask a pastor or teacher for excellent resources, read them, and ask questions. Test the teachings of Christianity, confident that many of history’s brightest minds have done the same. Brilliant men and women have tried God and found Him true, so you’ve nothing to fear from following in their footsteps.

 

Are you turning from sin?

In this time of questioning, it’s tempting to let sin grow—after all, why follow the commands of a God you’re not sure exists? But Jesus puts it clearly in John 3:20-21: “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (ESV).

In other words, stubborn sinners avoid God. Doubt can quickly become a smokescreen for reluctance to repent.

 

Are you expecting fast, full answers?

Scripture tells of many faithful believers who waited decades for answers—and many more who died without seeing God’s promises fulfilled. The Bible does not apologize for this reality; in fact, it celebrates the greatness of God we cannot understand!

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’” (Rom 11:33-35 ESV).

Though the Word of God reveals many mysteries, God does not promise complete understanding. He only promises that if we trust Him, He will satisfy us with Himself.

 

And lastly…Are you trusting that He’ll carry you through?

It might sound crazy to talk about trust within doubt, but Biblical characters often lived in this tension. In the face of darkness and confusion, when God seemed far, they knew He had a good plan.

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10 ESV).

Look to Jesus, and put your heart in the hands of Him who said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 ESV).

 

Recommended Reading

2018-01-08T19:18:29+00:00 By |



Four Things I Love About Jesus

Four Things I Love About Jesus by Tim Counts

Four Things I Love About Jesus by Tim Counts

For a couple of months, I was preaching The Gospel of Mark in our Sunday Worship Service, then teaching Sunday School in the Gospels using The Gospel Project, and then teaching our Men’s Bible Study mid-week in The Gospel of John. Usually I am teaching from many different areas of the Bible. But rather than getting bored with Jesus, spending concentrated time in the Gospels has made me fall in love with him deeper as I have had the privilege of looking to Jesus for hours each week. May a couple of things I have seen in a fresh way from gazing at Jesus, encourage you in your pursuit of looking to Jesus today (Hebrews 12:2)!

 

1) His Unlimited Power

Jesus has power like no other. As I have watched him take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 20,000 people, I am reminded that He is the One who provides for my needs and the needs of my family and the needs of my church today. As I have watched him talk to a storm and have seen it obey him, I am reminded that even the weather answers to his command. As I have watched him deliver a man who under the possession of thousands of demons broke chains, cut himself, and lived in tombs–I am reminded of his sovereignty over even my spiritual enemies. As I have watched him speak to Lazarus’ stinking tomb, I am reminded that whenever Jesus goes toe to toe with death he always wins.

Did you catch that last part? He doesn’t just have the power to feed a multitude from a little boy’s lunch, he doesn’t just have the power to stop a storm with his voice, he doesn’t just have ultimate power over spiritual darkness, he actually has power over our greatest and final enemy, death itself. We literally have the antidote for death. His name is Jesus. His power is unlimited!

 

2) His Unbounded Compassion

If Jesus were all power without compassion, he might not be worthy of worship. After all, Hitler had a lot of power, but he used it to destroy. But Jesus’ unlimited power is wed with his unlimited compassion. And how thankful I am that these two characteristics of Jesus will never be divorced from each other. I need an all-powerful Savior who can conquer Satan, and sin, and death. But I need an all-compassionate Savior who cares about my helpless situation and acts on my behalf.

The same Jesus who wept at Lazarus’ grave is the same Jesus who sees each of my tears. The same Jesus who raised a little girl from her death bed, is the same Jesus who moments earlier stopped in the middle of the road to seek out a suffering and shame-stricken woman. His compassion is unbounded!

 

3) His Unrestrained Truth

A true friend will tell you if you have broccoli in your teeth. “Friends” who tell us what we want to hear are a dime a dozen. But friends who care about us so much that they tell us what we need to hear are a rare jewel. We tend to remember the resolution to Jesus calming the storm with warm fuzzies. But after Jesus rebuked the wind (!) and spoke to the sea (!), he said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). It was an uncomfortable moment–but one the disciples never forgot–as the Creator looked them in the eyes with water dripping off his beard and asked them why they did not trust in him.
If we read all of Jesus’ words in the Gospels, not just the ones that we want to read, we will be confronted with truths like Hell that we need him to speak unreservedly about. I won’t trust my doctor if he doesn’t want to use the word cancer because it makes me uncomfortable. Jesus not only tells us the truth about our hearts and eternity and our need for him, he IS the truth (John 14:6). In a world of compromise, his truth is unrestrained!

 

4) His Unmatched Grace

Just as Jesus is both all-powerful and all-compassionate, only Jesus can be all grace and all truth at the same time. This is because this is who the living God is. This is because Jesus is God with skin on. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).” It is no accident that one of the few “calling stories” that the Gospel of Mark goes into detail about is Jesus calling Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. And then Jesus has a leisurely meal at Levi’s house along with many tax collectors and sinners. I am so thankful that Jesus eats with sinners. I remember this every time I come to the Table during the Lord’s Supper.

When a deaf and mute man was brought to Jesus, this man who had always been a spectacle was taken aside, one-on-one, so that he could understand Jesus’ simple sign language and read Jesus’ lips without distraction. The Savior who taught the multitudes showed grace to one man who needed it. This grace is yours today because this Jesus is yours today. Through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, you have the grace of forgiven sins, the grace of strength for today, and the grace of bright hope for tomorrow. His grace is unmatched!

If you have been bored with Jesus recently, maybe it’s time to read the Gospels with fresh eyes again. May you be in awe of Jesus. More than that, may you be in love with him.

 

Recommended Reading

 


 

Tim Counts is the pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont. He has also served as a pastor in Washington state and New Mexico, and is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary (M.Div). Tim serves on the Board of Directors for the Baptist Convention of New England. He is married to his best friend Melanie and they are the proud parents of three children: Tobias, Grace, and Ezra. His writing has been featured on The Family Research Council blog, on the blog of the Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of New England, and Tim’s personal blog, He Must Become Greater. Tim loves to see the power of the gospel at work as people come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord, and as believers grow in their understanding of how the gospel affects their daily lives. You can follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/timcounts) and Twitter (@timothycounts).


 

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2018-01-08T19:30:06+00:00 By |



A Quiet Courage

A Quiet Courage by Aimee Joseph

A Quiet Courage by Aimee Joseph

When I think of courage, images of Navy Seals on covert missions come immediately to mind; however, the Apostle Paul wrote about a much broader and more encompassing scope of courage.

The Biblical concept of courage includes unsung humans doing ordinary things out of an extraordinary longing and hope. Thinking through this lens, rather than the Hollywood version, I am beginning to see faces and places of quiet courage all around me. My dear friend raising her four children alone while her husband is deployed and my widowed friends facing life without their lifelong partners live in quiet courage. Likewise, my mom friends who are letting their hard-earned diplomas serve as coasters for a series of sippy cups and my husband’s friends who come home from hard days at work and choose to invest in the lives of their children and youngest men are deeply courageous.

Allow me to unpack and explain.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes about living in burdened, bruised bodies in a broken world as exiles. In this particular part of his second letter to the Corinthian church, he juxtaposes temporary residence in a tent with permanent and secure residence in a home to remind the fledgling Church of their ultimate end. We were made for glorified bodies in the presence of our Glorious Lord, not the tattered bodies and lives we inhabit while we await Christ’s second coming.
Because they were made for more than this earth, Paul reminds them that their longings will betray them every time they attempt to make the raw-hide tent anything more than that.

Paul, who kept up tent-making as a side hustle when ministry support ran low, knew much about tents and had blistered his hands in their production. He, more than anyone, knew of their weaknesses and limitations as compared to a strong edifice that could not be loosened or torn.

As such, Paul draws a picture of stability and security in the Lord’s presence in bodies meant to keep, pulling the heads of the Corinthian believers back up from the grind of life on earth to their glorious inheritance as saints.

Having fixed their longings and gaze back upon the life to come, Paul ushers in the word and concept of courage.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. 2 Corinthians 5:6-9. NAS.

Paul’s context for courage is not limited to the battlefield or sky-diving, but extends to the everyday life of the common Christian. He told the Church then and still tells the Church now that living by faith rather than sight takes great courage. The Christians mode of operation and motto, faith over form, runs counter to that of the world in which we live.

The Greek word tharseo, translated courage, used twice above comes from a root word meaning “bolstered because warmed up,” “strengthened from within.”

The image embedded in this word, being warmed up, softened and stirred to courage, helps me understand how to stay courageous in my common life. I will not be able to courageously live by faith, choosing to forego instant gratification and creature comforts in light of eternal satisfaction with the Lord of all comforts, unless my hearts stays warm and bolstered by the fires of His great love.

The more I sit by the warming love of the Cross, the most obvious representation of His life and promises, the more my heart will be bolstered for the battle that is daily and consistently fighting to walk by faith rather than sight.
It will take a life of settled security in the love of Christ to live the life of quiet courage required of Christians while they live in torn tents, awaiting an eternal edifice.

May we warm ourselves early and often at the hearth of the heart of Christ; may we invite others and even go so far as to labor to bring others to the hearth. May we bolster each other to continue to live lives of quiet courage until we are at home with the Lord.

 

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2018-01-08T19:36:26+00:00 By |



In Barrenness or Bounty

In Barrenness or Bounty by Aimee Joseph

In Barrenness or Bounty by Aimee Joseph

Places have power, especially deeply personal places. There are certain spaces and places that evoke deep emotions for each of us.

To others, a childhood home, a favorite tree or a frequented restaurant may appear to be nothing more any other house, shrub or eatery.

However, as we all know, the commonest of people, places and things take on uncommon meaning when they are ours.

In much the same way, certain Scriptures evoke deep and layered memories and meanings to those who have camped long and often in their locale. My soul has favorite nests and sitting spots, places where I could sit for hours recounting my fears and His faithfulnesses, my tears and His taming presence.

Strangely enough, Micah 7 is one of my soul’s favorite campsites. Even just hearing the reference, my heart beats more quickly, my lungs breathe out a little more deeply. Different pruning seasons in my life, seasons of depression and deep anxiety parade before my memory, escorted by the Lord who brought me bravely out of each season.

It seems a strange campsite to frequent, with its images of woe and weariness, famine and fallow fields. Micah imagines himself a picked over field, all stripped and sapped of its fruitfulness. As one who has lived in the South and seen the quick transformation of a cotton field from a white, fluffy field of life to a barren field of sick sticks, the picture deeply resonates with me.

Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned; there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe figs that my soul desires. Micah 7:1.

For all its melancholy, Micah 7 is a field of a hope. I love Micah’s stubbornness and his desire to sit right there, in the middle of a barren and picked over place, waiting for God to come back, brining the life that always accompanies His presence.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgement for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon His vindication. Micah 7:7-9.

I love Micah’s seasoned confidence, his cries of defiance to anyone who would say he and his field were abandoned. It is as if Micah says, “Think what you will; let my field and I appear to you as they may. My God is committed to me and my field, despite all of our failings and foibles, we are His. He will do what He always does. He will make this field fruitful. I need only sit here and cry out to Him.”

For those of you who find themselves sitting alone in barren fields, may Micah give you hope in the Lord. Jesus, the one who visited the barren earth all broken and ravaged by our sin, was planted on an instrument in death. From that Cross as epicenter, life has been rippling out ever since.

I wrote this poem as a poetic version of Micah 7, one of my soul’s most storied spaces in the Scriptures.

Micah’s Prayer

When the first ripe figs
Lay crushed and rotten,
My sad, starving soul
You’ve not forgotten.

When once fruitful fields
Sit eerily fallow
New depths of soul
You’ll grow and hallow.

When once fertile ground
Hardens like steel,
Your comforting presence
I’ll increasingly feel.

Feverish and fig-less,
I’ll sit down right here.
You’ve sworn in due time
Again You’ll draw near.

Let passerbys laugh
And enemies deride,
For my God shall arise
And return to my side.

Baskets of bounty
With Him He’ll bring.
Then this tired soul
In worship shall sing.

Lord of the Harvest,
In drought I’ll wait,
Knowing You’ll come
Not a moment too late.

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

 

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2018-01-08T19:36:19+00:00 By |



The Intolerable Compliment

The Intolerable Compliment by Aimee Joseph

The Intolerable Compliment by Aimee Joseph

We have all received our share of painful compliments ranging from the tame “Wow, you look so much healthier than you used to” to the more potent “Where on earth did your sons get that incredible skin? They clearly did not get that from you.”

But C.S. Lewis had something different in mind when he wrote about the intolerable compliment.

To borrow from Old Testament imagery, God is the potter, painstakingly and patiently, yet powerfully working on us, his lumps of clay. According to Ephesians 2:10, believers are His workmanship, His masterpiece.

Initially, this sounds like a high compliment, as indeed it is. However, if God is an infinite artisan with perfection as His standard, then to be one of His masterpieces can be seen as an intolerable compliment. For He cannot and will not leave well enough alone. He will not cut corners or rush the process to get to the finished product. And, if He has an eternal backdrop in mind, He will not be in a rush or a hurry.

Over the past few weeks, my husband has been working on a pair of mid-century modern chairs. He didn’t start from scratch, but planned on transforming two of the ugliest and largest chairs on the earth into functional and aesthetically pleasing furniture. Quite a tall task, especially considering that he works in our cluttered garage with three small boys underfoot.

Usually I step onto the scene for the finishing and staining after he has done all the hard work; however, this time, motivated by a selfish desire to have chairs to sit on in our living room, I jumped in a little earlier in the process, offering to sand the chair.

For an hour or two, it was just me, the chair and an electric sander. At first, I thoroughly enjoyed the process, as countless layers of veneer and varnish disappeared leaving smooth fresh surfaces. However, as novelty and exhilaration gave way to boredom and exhaustion, I began caring less about the process and rushing to the product.

The corners, crevices, curves and other hard-to-sand places left me frustrated and exposed me as simultaneously hasty and lazy. I just wanted the chairs to be complete; besides, who looks on the underside of arm chairs, anyway?

If I am honest, I often wish God were more like me, rushing to His final product with little regard for the details and quality. I want God to sanctify me, electric-sander-style, sloughing off layers of selfishness in one motion.

Yet, in what Lewis calls the intolerable compliment, God will not treat me as a cheap piece of furniture to be thrown away in a decade. He will treat me as His masterpiece that will live on with Him eternally.

“Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble; he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life – the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child – he will take endless trouble – and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed us for a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis.

Just as Jesus used his hands to sand literal pieces of furniture as a carpenter, He continues His carpentry on His sentient masterpieces. With the slow, steady strokes of a Master and the ease of One who is outside time, He will slowly shape and sand His children into those completely made in His likeness. He will not rush the process to get a poorly made product, His intolerable compliment to His children.

When the sandpaper of life and relationships rubs you raw or circumstances grate against your knotty places, know you are being shaped by the scarred hands of the Master who means to make you into His masterpiece. Receive the compliment of His uncomfortable sanctification.

 

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2018-01-08T19:38:24+00:00 By |



3 Things to Keep in Mind This School Year

3 Things to Keep in Mind This School Year by Rebekah B.

3 Things to Keep in Mind This School Year by Rebekah B.

“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

1 Corinthians 10:31

The month of August symbolizes the beginning of a new school year, back to school shopping, and all those annoying backpack commercials. Whether you are a freshman in high school or a senior in college there are three things you need to know to help keep God at the center of your school year.

 

1# The most important book you will read this year is your Bible.

All the homework you have been assigned will be a temptation (or an excuse) to slide on your Bible reading until that paper is done or when the next break comes. Don’t give in! The time you take to spend soaking in His word will be the most fruitful and character building time of your entire education.

Nothing can replace the wealth of information in the Bible and nothing can prepare you better for life, family, a job, or your next class. Take the time to grow in grace and the benefits you reap will be invaluable.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:33

 

2# Don’t let pride grow in your heart.

God despises the prideful (James 4:6). This is enough to know that pride is really dangerous. Your pride will pollute you (Matthew 7:20-23) and keep you out of the Kingdom of God, as we have seen with Satan. Your humility though, is a testament to God’s forgiveness of your sins and His work that is being done in you.
The classroom has, unfortunately, become a breeding ground for pride and comparison. Pride can most definitely be present before our education, but school contest, awards, certificates, and grades seem to encourage the wrong kind of competition — the self-seeking kind. This pride clashes with our Savior’s sacrifice like socks with sandals.

Let us practice being quick to encourage and celebrate others, but slow to think more highly of ourselves then we ought for Romans 12:3 says, ” For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Remember that in all of your good projects, tests, and papers it is God working through you for His glory.

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Philippians 2:13

 

#3. Someone younger than you needs a role model.

When I was younger I always admired those older than me, and still do! I wanted to be like them, act like them, and couldn’t wait to be their age or grade. Most young people do, sixth-graders can’t wait to be eighth-graders, who can’t wait to be juniors and so on. The bottom line is that no matter what grade you are in, you will always have someone looking up to you and probably wanting to be like you. Whether you like it or not, you are a role model. So, why not model Christ like love, humility, joy, and service?

Keep your eyes open for the guy or girl looking for someone to look up to, and spend some time and energy pointing them to Christ. Think up some creative way that you can invest the gospel into their lives and show them that they too can be a role model.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 28:19

Whether you’re going to walk, drive, ride the bus, or even bike to school, as you prepare for a day of work and study, remember to keep Him at the center of you day, week, month, and year. By His grace and mercy, I pray that this will be the year that your relationship with Christ blossoms, and that you will be a light to others on campus.

 

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2018-01-08T19:38:21+00:00 By |



Are We Giving God Our Best, or What’s Left

Are We Giving God Our Best, or What's Left by Jared Cornutt

Are We Giving God Our Best, or What’s Left by Jared Cornutt

The last book of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. In this book the prophet warned the people of Israel that they needed to turn back to God. Although there may not be many modern sermons from the book still is applicable to us today. Malachi teaches an important lesson in chapter one verses 6-14 on what we are giving to God.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name? ’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you? ’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” Malachi 1:6-14

As we see from the text, Israel was giving blemished sacrifices to God. If you you have studied the Law of Moses then you know Israel was commanded to give an unblemished lamb, a holy God requires a perfect sacrifice (Leviticus 23:12). Israel had become guilty of giving injured lambs, stolen lambs, blemished lambs, and so on in their sacrifice. Their sacrifice was not actually a sacrifice, it cost them nothing. You see, for something to be a sacrifice it requires giving up something we want or need, if what we give isn’t a sacrifice to us we are not giving God our best. A sacrifice cost something. Worst than that Israel didn’t see why it was such a big deal that they were essentially giving God their leftovers instead of their best. Before we shake our heads at Israel we must ask this question: are we not guilty of the same? We we not also guilty of filling our lives up with non-meaningful, superficial things that do not matter when it comes to eternity?

During my summers in college I worked for a Christian missions camp. On the third day of camp we took up a missions offering to go overseas to support missions around the world. Students would walk up front and put their money in the basket as an act of worship. One year a girl did something different that really stood out to me. She walked up front and instead of putting money in the basket she looked at it, and then stepped in it. This symbolic sign was her proclaiming, “God I do not have money to give, but I will give you my life.” How profound! Are we giving God our lives? Are we proclaiming with our lives that nothing is more important that God, and what He commands? Are we living for His glory and to make His name known unto the ends of the earth?

The value of what we give is determined by the value it is to us. If it is not of much value to us, then it will not be to God. Giving God one Sunday every few months, a quiet time every so often is not giving God much. Do we take what God says seriously? What Israel was giving displeased God. We think when simply by giving we are earning right favor before God. Here we see it is not that we give, but how and what we give. Are we sacrificing things to God, or sacrificing God for things?

Read the text again and look to how God responds to Israel. He did not want their worship because it was not a priority in their life. It is not different today. God doesn’t just want our Sundays, he wants our lives! He wants nothing to be before Him. May our prayer be that we hunger so much and thirst so much to know God more that we can’t get enough of Him. That we understand the need for community and not only look forward to it, but feel like we can’t miss it. May our prayer be that the local church becomes the image of Christ on earth today. A community of believers doing life together, exhorting and rebuking in love, on mission together, and serving God above all else.

We have filled our lives with so many things. Sports, hobbies, and so on that do not glorify God because they take priority over God. They take priority over meeting as a local church. If we spend our Sundays at the ball field, watching the NFL, or any other hobby more often than we are meeting with a local believing covenant community we are in sin (Hebrews 10:25). Are we spending more time reading a recruiting website of our favorite college team, or in the Word of God? We have declared what is most important by what we spend our time doing and where we invest our money. People notice, our children notice, and most importantly God notices. Are we giving God our best, or are we giving him what is left?

 

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The Cost of Discipleship

2018-01-08T19:42:37+00:00 By |



When Ordinary Hurts

When Ordinary Hurts by Sydney Simao

When Ordinary Hurts by Sydney Simao

When I started working at the hotel, I thought it would be one of the greatest jobs ever.

I imagined a place swarming with interesting people – travelers, vagabonds, those with a past – they would all intersect here, where I was, and where they needed me. Hotels are fascinating places – a train station for people, as my friend calls them – the unassuming crucible where a thousand stories intersect. It would be the perfect job for a writer – a quiet place where I could sit back and observe the behind the scenes of a drama.

I was wrong.

If you’ve ever wondered what a hotel desk clerk does in those mysterious afternoon hours when the lobby stands vacant – especially one in a small town like my own – the answer is this: they do nothing. Their day drags forward at the pace of the people in the room, and so for most of the day, it drags forward at a speed of 0 feet per second.

I’m sure there are very fascinating people at hotels, but apparently, you have to actually meet them to know. Most hotel clerks don’t have that opportunity, unless of course you want the conversation to center on the rooms available, the weekend rates, or the leaking sink in 302.

Many nights, I come home with the exhaustion that accompanies a long and wasted day. My brain has been slowed to the heavy, mindless crawl of a slug on a freeway. My mind and body feels numb from the long periods of empty waiting. The only thing I can feel is my heart – violin-string tight, and one turn away from snapping.

I feel aimless, and struggle to embrace the larger purpose of life.

I didn’t sign up for ordinary.

As young people, we are famous for being dreamers. The quintessential, lazy millennial playing video games in his mother’s basement may still be a reality for some of our age range, but there is a rising popularity of the opposite extreme: the travelers, the business owners, the post-modern gypsies, sucking out the marrow of life with the greediness of a soul’s deprivation.

Life satisfaction has become the measure of success. And life satisfaction can’t be found in the hotel lobby’s of Thailand any more than the ones here. It doesn’t ignite with the engine of a mercedes. It doesn’t comfort you in the next binge meal. It doesn’t roll in with the goal weight on the scale. It doesn’t marry your future when you marry your spouse.

And we chase and chase and chase and still feel like we missed it. And here I am, in a puddle of tears and empty promises, mourning the loss of what I never had.

 

We Were Made For Something Better

I’m sure Adam and Eve didn’t know how good they had it – how much the Fall would change their lives. Sometimes I wonder how they felt with each painful discovery of a sin never before realized, a struggle never known, a fear never felt.

I wonder what it was like when they had the same thirst and longing for God that they had been created with, and suddenly found it not only broken and relinquished, but constantly dissatisfied. Searching, searching, searching. Come back. I’m sure the ones who looked hardest for a second eden were the ones who experienced the blessing of the first.

We were made for more than this. We were made to fill up our satisfaction and our longings in the only One who can truly satisfy. God created us to glorify Him and rest in His promises. He made us to be happy in the happiness only He can provide.

When we fell as a race, and when we fall every day, rebelling against our created order, we rebel against our own joy. Our longings are more than an unquenched thirst for the future; they are memories of the past. We are remembering the original taste of the garden. We are nostalgic for what we have never had, but were created to enjoy. We were made to be satiated with heaven’s bounty, and we’re chained by sin to this earth.

But we serve a gracious Heavenly Father, who gave Himself for us, so that even here, even now, we may “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” And we look forward to a day when that taste will be fully satisfied – and the second garden will be better than the first.

Until then, He gives us His strength every day.

 

He Shall Renew Our Strength…To Walk

Soak in the promises of Isaiah 40:
“He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40).

Do you see the progression here? God enables us to mount up with wings and feel His pleasure. He equips us to run with endurance the race He has set before us. But even more common, and even more difficult, He strengthens us to walk the daily, ordinary life He has given, and invites us to rest in Him.

There is no such thing as living up to a potential where God is absent. There will never be a dream to chase where you can stake your happiness. There will never be a mountain to climb on this earth, that will replace the joy of heaven.

But even here, on this earth – on this train station for people, this unassuming crucible where a billion stories intersect – He does not quietly sit back and observe the unfolding drama. The Great Author has entered His own story, taken our pain, our sorrow, and our sin and bore them on Himself. In Him is our hope, and our salvation, and our future.

His mercies rise new every morning, though the day that follows looks the same.

When you are weary and disappointed, when you feel aimless, when the job God has given you today is so much harder than changing the world, come to Jesus. Roll your despair onto the Cross and take His yoke upon you, for His burden is easy and His yoke is light.

Live in the ordinary. God is here.

 

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2018-01-08T20:06:02+00:00 By |



When People are Hard

When People are Hard by Lauren Dunn

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”1 And C.S. Lewis began to describe so well that person that all of us know. The one who knows exactly how to push our buttons and seems to annoy us without even trying.

All people are difficult sometimes. The more time we spend with someone, the more we wonder how anyone ever gets along with them, and when other people do seem to enjoy their company, we wonder what is wrong with us. We become easily frustrated with the relationship, jaded at what we think it should be and yet isn’t.

So we decide that we just need to love this person like Jesus would. It’s the Gospel, really. Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed for us even when we were less-than-likeable. Through that love, we have been changed deeply and are different people than we used to be. So it naturally follows that, as Gospel-believers, we just need to love others who are hard to love and they will change, too.

Right?

 

What If…?

So we try it. We smile, encourage, invite, compliment. We overlook annoyances and remind ourselves that we are going to love them no matter what. We put on a happy face and refuse to take it off.

After a couple of days with no noticeable change, we remind ourselves to persevere, convinced we will soon see a difference. So we compliment more. Invite again. Keep encouraging. Smile day after day after day. One day we realize this has been going on awhile, and nothing has changed.

They are still annoying.

This is still hard.

The Gospel is still the Gospel.

 

No Requirements Allowed

The love of God is the most powerful force in the world. There is no question that it changes people and situations in ways our human hopes never think possible. That love was shared and shown most deeply in the sacrifice—sacrifice—Jesus gave on the cross. This powerful love changes people every day, but don’t miss this: Jesus’ sacrifice was not dependent on our change.

He knew it would change us. But we didn’t have to promise to change, or even try to change, before He loved us so well.

What are we asking of the people around us? Are we really loving them when our goal is just to make our life easier?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, ESV, emphases added).

Is it really loving someone when our love is based on the hope of their future change? When our acts of love are conditional on their changing?

 

We Can Count on This

Gospel love does change people. But the glory of this love is that it doesn’t work the way we usually expect. We think we are giving Jesus’ love to someone else, but we aren’t. We can’t.

Jesus’ love is flowing through us, not from us, right through all of our imperfections and sins and unrighteousness and out to the people nearest us. In that cleansing and constant flow, canyons and rivers are gorged through us and soon the topography of our souls will be unrecognizably different.

Friend, we will be changed.

When we only see someone else’s problems in our relationships, we are blind to the fact that we need to change, too. But God sees it. He knows our hearts, sees our need, and loves us anyway—because Jesus loves impossible people. People who ignore, even hate Him. People who keep forgetting about Him. And people who try to hoard His love instead of sharing it.

I’m afraid it’s true: All people are difficult sometimes. But, as Christians, we can count on this: with time, and through many ways, Christ’s love will change us, too.

1 – Lewis, C.S., The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 1952.

 

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2018-01-08T20:06:19+00:00 By |



Rejoice in Judgment Day

Rejoice in Judgment Day by Sydney Simao

The trumpet blasts through a self-ripping sky. The earth trembles as the mountains sink into the sea. A trillion galaxies erupt in the last moan of painful labor, giving birth once again to the Son of God. This time, He is not an infant, but rather a Judge, glorious, resurrected, triumphant, and returning. All that is wrong, will be made right. Tremble, O sinners – you and I. For we are what’s wrong with the world.

Here comes the Day of Judgment – that Protestant Purgatory – when the very thoughts of our minds and hearts are laid naked in our own Gethsemane. Here peers the all-seeing eye of God, blazing with holiness. Before His law, what sinner can plea? Beneath His gaze, what wretch can hide?

At the end, for the believer, there is Paradise, for we know we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, and comfort abounds in that thought. But what comfort is there in the thought of judgment? Even the sinful believer shrinks at the thought of giving an account to the holy God of creation. There is no comfort in that thought. There is only the grip of guilt and the terror of conviction.

“Day of wrath,” the Catholic mass for the dead exclaims, “day that will dissolve the world into burning coals.” Then comes the despairing questions: “What am I the wretch then to say? What patron can I beseech when scarcely the just can be secure? King of tremendous majesty, do not lose me on that day. My prayers are not worthy, but do thou good God deal kindly with me lest I burn in perennial fire.”1

“My prayers are not worthy.” All hope of salvation hangs in the confidence of our own stammering prayers. The terror blackens with the lines of the medieval frescoes, where grotesque demons lead the naked dead into the flames. “What patron can I beseech when scarcely the just can be secure?” “Good God deal kindly….lest I burn.”

 

Certain in the Return

We, as Protestant Christians, must surely know better now, 700 years after these dark thoughts haunted medieval minds, but this is sadly not always true. Perhaps intellectually, we rest knowing that our salvation is assured in Christ, that God is gracious, that our hope is secure, that paradise awaits beyond the doors of judgment. But emotionally, there is no comfort in the thought of judgment day. We despair for the unsaved sinner. We tremble for ourselves.

That is why for its first hearers, the Heidelberg Catechism would have sent shock-waves of wonder through burdened souls. Question 52 reads: “What comfort is it to you that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead?”

What comfort, we wonder? What terror, perhaps? Surely terror can be granted. What pain awaits you? What fear torments your soul? But to ask us what comfort, as if we can feel not only triumph but warm and glorious affection in the thought of that coming day, seems both arrogant and naive.

What comfort is it to you that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead?

The answer of the Catechism slaps against Hell’s face with demon piercing beauty: “That in all distress and persecution, with uplifted head, I confidently await the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me. Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.”

Nothing is certain about the future except for one thing: Christ is coming back again. And in Him, all is certain.

 

Rejoice in the Return

Not only should we find comfort in the expectation of Christ’s return, but we should rejoice in it.
Listen to these words from Psalm 98, which resounds with the same soaring strength of the Catechism:

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp… Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together, before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.”

Rejoice. Sing. Clap your hands. For He cometh – the Judge – and He will judge uprightly.

Why? Verse 3 reminds us: (For) He hath remembered His mercy and His truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

One day, the trumpet will fill the earth until the sky rips from the sheer inability to contain its triumph. The sea will rise and burst forth, clapping against sinking mountains of stone. The angels will sing in triumph: Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord God of hosts, and then, for the second time in history, will we know what that repeated word means.

The Slain Lamb will appear as Conquering Lion. He hung once, naked, cloaked in blood. He comes again, glorious, clothed in victory. He came once to suffer; He comes again to conquer. The Son of Man arrives in eternal resurrection. Mortal flesh rips the shroud of time. God of gods, Lord of lords, King of kings, Very God of Very God, enters our broken story once more, but this time the Prince of Peace bears a sword.

 

Comfort in the Return

What comfort is this to you?

Our comfort is that the coming Judge has offered Himself to the Judgment. The Curse of the Law has been laid on the Divine Head and the sinner stands whole and justified. The very Christ who comes in glorious triumph is He who screamed in agony on the Cross: My God! My God! Why have you forsaken Me? And through His blood, we will not be forsaken.

We shall not hide the ugliness of our own sin, for He knows it better than we. He bore it on Himself, and its weight crushed Him, crushed down, down into the justice of the Divine, until He could lift His head above the curse and cry once and for all, with all the force of Heaven’s gavel: It Is Finished.

Here comes the Judge dressed in the robe of the Advocate. He who did not spare His own Son, how shall He not, with Him, freely give us all things? There is, therefore, no condemnation, for He has condemned Himself and risen again. We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us, for He who was slain has won the victory.

Neither the death that was, nor the life that is to come; neither the angels who stand in gaping wonder at the abundance of God’s grace, nor the demons who tremble before the rising dead; neither the power of guilt, nor the weight of the present, nor the torment of the past, nor the judgment to come; neither the height of our sin, nor the depth of our depravity; nor any other created thing – not even ourselves before the Creator – can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You are not strong enough to open the gates of Hell, for they have been shut by the Divine Hand and sealed against you by Divine Blood. You are not weak enough to close the gates of Heaven, for they have been opened to you by the Judge Himself, and He has stooped to save you – even you – and has born you up, above a Cross into glory.

1Dies Irae, (Latin: “Day of Wrath”), attributed to Thomas of Celano, 1256.

 

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2018-01-08T20:06:19+00:00 By |



7 Truths I Learned in the Desert of Rebellion

7 Truths I Learned in the Desert of Rebellion by Moriah Simonowich

Imagine blistering heat waves surging over your soul.

You’re dwelling in a desert. You’re parched and alone. You’re angry and afraid.

After surveying the thousands of miles that must be retraced to return, the desire for escape is stifled by overwhelming exhaustion.

God seems quite far and restoration an unreachable mirage.

Has this described a familiar illustration? If so, I’ll embrace transparency and confide something:

This is my story. In my lifetime, I have struggled with rebellion. It began in my tweens and has surfaced at several points since then. I’ve made more than one miserable trudge in that direction.

The Bible has something to say about this topic that holds achingly true:

“…the rebellious dwell in a dry land.” -Psalm 68:6b

There are seven truths I’ve learned from the desert of rebellion that leave me hating it every time:

 

Rebellion is never worth it.

The enemy wants to connive us into believing that rebellion is justified—that we have a right to “do our own thing” and disregard God’s Word or His commandment to honor our father and mother that it will go well with us (Ephesians 6:1-2).

Nothing justifies disrespect, but if we choose it, instead of ingesting the sweet fruit that submission yields, we must choke down the rotten fruit rightfully earned by our disobedience (Proverbs 1:31).

 

Rebellion isolates.

When being right becomes more important than peacefully yielding to what we know to be true in God’s Word, it leaves us angry and at odds with everyone around us. A barrier is built. We’re left a prisoner, isolated, with nothing but our vices for company. That’s a bitter price, friend, and I have had to painfully dole it out more than once. It reminds me of this quote:

“Satan gives Adam an apple, and takes away Paradise.
Therefore in all temptations let us consider not what he offers, but what we shall lose.”
-Richard Sibbes

 

Rebellion breeds fear, anxiety, and guilt.

It is impossible for a rebellious person to be at peace. They are attacked with warring emotions of fear, anxiety, and guilt over their actions.

 

Rebellion stifles communion with God.

Like any sin, rebellion distances a relationship with God. He hates rebellion because it is “as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Sam. 15:23).

 

Rebellion stems from a broken, bitter heart.

Usually, someone who is rebellious has been wounded and instead of choosing to forgive their offender and seeking healing from God, they have clung to the offense and become bitter.

“There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.” -My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Rebellion wastes precious hours, minutes, and days.

Enjoyment of anything in life becomes unattainable with a rebellious mindset. Who can be genuinely happy with the byproducts I’ve discussed—bitterness, fear, anxiety, and guilt? I don’t know of anyone and it certainly hasn’t been possible in my own life.

 

Rebellion is defeatable!

By now, you’re probably asking:

Is there an anecdotal cure for someone in the desert of rebellion?

Yes, friend! There truly is. Here are some helpful steps:

Return to God and He will return to you – (Zechariah 1:3)
He knows how weak we are. He knows our intense fears. He longs to bear our load!

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV

Seek Godly counsel – (Proverbs 11:14)
This point is vital! Self-reliance is like beckoning defeat to stay awhile. It is incredible how much another person’s insight can give to a situation. They speak truth we might be blinded to and help us fix our mind on God’s Word.

Confess your faults to be healed – (James 5:16)
Someone told me recently to let a person I was bitter against off the hook forever. Confessing my bitterness and unloving attitude by asking that person to forgive me was essential to bringing me out of rebellion.

Let your thirst for God drive you to Him.
It’s difficult when your heart is such a dry ground, but plead for restoration and let your heart be watered by the Word (Psalm 23, Eph. 5:26).

Claim Psalm 63:1 as a constant prayer:

“O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.”

 

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2018-01-08T20:04:22+00:00 By |



How to Have a Quiet Time

How to Have a Quiet Time by Jared Cornutt

Many of us have heard the importance of having a daily quiet time with God from Christian leaders. I wholeheartedly agree with this assertion and believe it is a way to keep our faith fresh, and relationship with God growing. However, the question I usually get after a statement like that is, how do have a quiet time? The leaders who are making these statements do not often flesh out how a quiet time should look, and after a while people give up. What I will offer below is what I do. It is not perfect, and it is not the only way to have a quiet time, still, I think it is a helpful guide you can use or modify.

Set aside at least an hour each day.

This can seem quite daunting at first. Most Christians have enough trouble figuring out what to say for a blessing at dinner, how am I supposed to spend an hour with the Lord every day? Maybe start small. 15 minutes at first and let it grow. The more you do it the more natural it will become. Soon you may see it go beyond an hour.

I recommend the mornings because it just really starts my day off right. However, that is not feasible for everyone. One man in the church I serve leaves his house at 4:30 AM every day to head to work. Whatever time of day you pick, just be consistent. If you are going to do it at 7AM then do it that time every day. Also, be consistent where you do it as well. I don’t like say getting in a routine because it’s not just something to check-off, but if you have a set plan of when and where you are more likely to do it.

 

Spend 10 minutes in worship through music.

Whatever music you like spend 10 minutes in worship before you start. Right now I am on Rend Collective kick in my quiet time, but I often listen to a variety of music including guys like Shai Linne. Songs a lot of times express what we want to say when we don’t know what to say. When you sing think about the words you are singing.

 

Spend 10-15 minutes in intentional prayer for others.

I once had a seminary professor ask me this, “Jared, if God answered all your prayers the past year how many people would be saved due to God answering those prayers?” Wow! Immediate conviction came over me. How true though that our prayers can become so selfish. So I set aside a different things to pray for each day.

Sunday: All the Bible-believing churches around the world who will proclaim the gospel this day, and for those who will hear it. Also, a UPG or UUPG.

Monday: My seminary (Students, profs, and its mission).

Tuesday: Churches I have previously served and attended. (Their leadership, congregation, and so on).

Wednesday: My local association and the churches and pastors who lead.

Thursday: Friends and people I know who are lost, by name.

Friday: Missionaries I know, and the countries I have been able to travel to on mission trips.

Saturday: SBC agencies (Other seminaries, IMB, NAMB, ERLC).

I also pray for certain things everyday. My wife, family and in-laws, my church and pastor, the students in my ministry, other pastors at our church, best friends, and mentors in my life. If you don’t know what to pray go to the Scriptures and let that be your guide.

 

Spend 30-40 minutes for worship through the Word.

This is a time you will hear God speak. The Bible is the very Word of God and when read we are hearing His words. If I read an Epistle I try to read the whole thing. The Epistles were letters and they are best read in one sitting, because when you get a letter you read the whole thing not parts at a time. Sometimes when I am reading through poetry or history I read a couple of chapters. Still, sometimes I get so captivated by a few verses I will spend all of my time there.

Take notes, write down questions, underline, and study. Saturate yourself with the word of God. If you read a chapter a day then read it two or three times. Get to the meaning of the text. This will be a time you will learn to look forward to and treasure. Some people will try a chronological Bible reading plan to read it in one year. That’s awesome, just don’t get discouraged. When you get in Leviticus you might be ready to hang it up. Remember the Bible is God-breathed and all of it is useful. I recommend a good study Bible to help understand what you are reading.

Be prepared. I do not recommend opening up your Bible and wherever you finger lands is what God wants you to read. Read through books start to finish. If you have never done this I recommend three books to starts with. John, Acts, or Proverbs.

 

Spend 10 minutes of meditation and prayer

This is a time to just focus on God. Listen to God, maybe go back to the Word as you feel led. Then pray. I pray that God will use me as His vessel, He will use me to further His gospel for His glory and not mine, and many other things that I may need pray for. Write down your request in a journal and flip through it every few months and see things that God has delivered on.

 

The most important thing: Just do it.

The first day may be the hardest but if you stick to it I really believe this will be one the things you look most forward to everyday. Find someone to hold you accountable that you are doing yours, and likewise do the same for them. Where we spend the most of our time is where our heart is. I hope this has been helpful and if you have any questions please feel free to contact me!

 

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2018-01-08T20:05:40+00:00 By |



On Monsters and Baseball Bats: Fighting Fear with the Word

On Monsters and Baseball Bats Fighting Fear with the Word by Esther Johnson

There’s a monster under my bed.

Not just sometimes. No, it lives there, and nothing I do makes it go away.

All day I busy myself with good things, with work and play, staying healthy and investing in my family, and for the most part, it leaves me alone.

But every day as the afternoon wears on, dread grows in the back of my mind, because I know the monster is waiting for me. No matter how faithful and strong I am all day, it will still attack.

 

Whether I’m exhausted or exuberant, when I curl up and turn out my light …the monster comes.

Doubt hunches on my chest, crushing my ribcage till I suck in every breath. Guilt plants its claws in my shoulders and leans down to whisper and slaver in my ear, sniggering over the day’s mistakes. This guilt doesn’t inspire repentance; it demands despair. This monster stinks with all my failures, slashes away my contentment, and shouts lies till my head pounds.

I used to curl up and take it, absorbing its attacks and waiting for it to slink away, waiting to fall asleep. I used to believe what it said, and carry its whispers with me even in the morning.

I used to run and hide, plugging up my ears with internet and television until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I would barricade myself into a corner of my mind, blocking the door with constant entertainment and trying to ignore the creature scratching at the boards. But when I emerged from that empty room, it was always waiting, hungry as ever.

Then I told myself the monster was nothing but a shadow of my mind, soon dispelled by a show of courage. I tried facing the monster head on, denying its claims and proclaiming my strength.

Instead of shriveling into a lump of dead fear, it attacked harder than ever, confident in its half-truths. The fact is, I am guilty, and I do fail. The monster isn’t wrong: I screw up every day, over and over. When I flung my courage in its face, the monster’s laughter rang in my ears.

 

I almost gave up. And then I found the baseball bat.

The apostle Paul calls it a sword, I call it a baseball bat—either way there’s no weapon like the Word of God. Without it, I forget the truth and the monster takes me down.

With it? I walk in victory.

Every night I know the monster is coming, and so I arm myself with Scripture. With that baseball bat in my fist, I rest easy, ready to swing hard when the demon strikes.

Sometimes, it’s memorized passages. I recite chapters I’ve learned and meditate on them, pray through them, seeking to absorb their truths into my soul and praising God for His glory in them. The monster whines and writhes and keeps clear.

Sometimes, especially if I let my guard down, my mind is in too much turmoil to recite, so I turn my lamp on and physically open my Bible. Getting my hands firmly on the baseball bat is worth any effort, because God-spoken truths of scripture are the only way to strike back at this creature.

 

And I don’t swing my bat blindly, either. I target the monster’s weak spots.

When it snarls about my guilt I agree that “like a heavy burden [my sins] are too heavy for me.” (Ps. 38:4).
But then I joyfully proclaim: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7), and that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

When it tells me that I’ll never overcome my sins, I trust that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil 1:6).

When it crows over my weakness, I remember that God gets glory by showing His power in me, and “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).

When it claims I’m alone, I remind it of the great High Priest who “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

And to every fear I shout God’s own words: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Is. 43:1).

I know this monster isn’t leaving any time soon. He still waits to ambush me, sometimes not even waiting till night. And sometimes, I still take a beating.

If I were alone, it would win. But I’m not alone.

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you” (Is. 41:13).

I fight with God’s spirit “not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).

I take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

When the shadows gather and the monsters growl, I grab my trusty baseball bat and prepare for battle with the confidence that though I’ve got no strength, Christ has power to spare.

This monster isn’t going away any time soon, but I’m learning I have everything I need to fight back. Not on my own merits—no way—I have no strength of my own. I fight with something much greater.

So yes, there’s a monster under my bed. And I’m guessing a monster waits for you, too.

Perched on your shoulder or crouching under your bed, it steals your joy, tells you lies, and leaves you gasping. Maybe, like me, you’ve tried hiding, enduring, or overcoming in your own strength—and like me, you’ve heard the monster laugh at you.

But God’s Word? It has power.

God’s given us a weapon, and His strength to use it—so grab your baseball bat and start swinging.
“For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory” (Deut. 20:4).

 

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2018-01-08T20:07:56+00:00 By |



Is Retirement Christian?

Is Retirement Christian? by Jeremy Wallace

Retirement is an assumed pursuit. It is understood that once people finish the ‘career’ portion of their lives they will then retire to do as little as possible. Working hard in order to retire comfortably sounds innocent enough. Looking forward to the days of not having the responsibilities of a job so that you and your spouse can play golf multiple times a week, travel the world, or simply relax and do nothing sounds like a great plan.

 

Retirement and the American Dream

In two words this is American retirement; and it is the goal of millions of Americans. It is the culmination of the American Dream. But is it Christian? Is it biblical? Up front we must acknowledge that retirement is not a biblical concept nor is it an ancient ideal. It seems that retirement is a more modern, western construct. It is the byproduct of living in a culture that is dominated by materialism. Unfortunately, this mindset has crept into the church and has limited the effectiveness of many Christian lives.

There is certainly nothing at all wrong with retiring from the workforce after a career in a certain industry. There is nothing wrong with having a nice retirement package that enables you to live comfortably. The real question centers on what we do after we retire.

 

The Bible Speaks

The Bible is clear that we are to finish strong. In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul states that he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. He also instructed believers to “always be abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Multiple places in Hebrews indicate that the Christian life requires endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2, 13-14). These verses promoting endurance not only mean that we need endurance during the difficult times of life, but that we also need endurance in order to finish the Christian life strong. As Christians, we are to push hard until the end. We are to live our entire lives for Christ, not just the first 2/3 of our lives.

 

The Reality in Many Lives

Many people serve God, work in the church, and live their lives for God until they retire. Then they somehow think that they have no more Christian responsibilities. They act as though they deserve a break from serving in the church. In their minds, there is no longer any responsibility for them to live for eternity and point people to Christ. Those with this mindset end up doing nothing (or far too little) to further God’s Kingdom during that last 10-20 years of their lives.

They act as though God is going to be impressed with all their golf scorecards, or with the pictures from their world travels, or with, as John Piper has stated, their seashell collection. How do any of those things accomplish the Great Commission? Please understand that there is nothing wrong with playing golf, traveling the world, or collecting seashells, but these things should not be our sole focus. When they are, they become the idol that keeps us from accomplishing God’s plan for our lives.

 

An Opportunity Missed

The tragedy of this retirement mentality is that those with the most time, the most experience and wisdom, and many times the most resources end up taking themselves out of the game. Instead of doing more, they do less. Instead of investing more in eternity, they invest more in earthly pursuits. Instead of being more on mission for Christ, they ignore the Christian mandate to make disciples. Instead of pursuing a strong finish, they simply coast to the end.

Rather than deserving to hear “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), they deserve to be asked, “Why did you waste the last quarter of your life?” A great opportunity to further God’s Kingdom has been missed.

 

Closing Thought

While there is nothing wrong with retiring from a career, it is definitely wrong to retire from serving God. We should never retire from being involved in our churches. We should always strive to be active for the Kingdom of God. We should strive to accomplish as much for God in the final years of our lives as possible.

View retirement as an opportunity to accomplish great things for God. Finish strong!

 

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2018-01-08T20:12:20+00:00 By |



Craving a Clothesline

Craving a Clothesline by Aimee Joseph

I’ve been thinking about clotheslines lately. I know that seems odd. Believe me, I love my washer and drier so much that I use them daily. They have become old friends to me. And, while I know the sun is a natural bleaching agent, I am not a big fan of crunchy clothes. So why all the recent craving for a clothesline? Allow me to explain.

I was asked to speak at a women’s event for our church about the need for authentic gospel community. As I was preparing and praying and pondering, the unique isolation that women in our society experience kept burdening my heart and mind. In a day and age more connected to more people through social media and the internet than ever before, why are women, myself included, more isolated and lonely than they have ever been? What is missing? Can we bring it back?

Thus began my craving for a clothesline. I imagine that at the clothesline (or the town market, before that; or the well, before that), women had natural times and places to encounter and connect with other women. I imagine that there were rich laughter, tears, and conversations between women of different ages and stages at the clotheslines: burdens shared, marital hardships discussed, fears assuaged. I am also fairly certain that there was also a fair amount of gossip peppered in there, as women are women, good, bad and ugly.

As it stands in modern society, no clothesline remains, physically or metaphorically. Many women are, to use the timeless words of Thoreau, “living lives of quiet desperation.” They need a place to be real, to be raw, to meet with other women who have gone before them and can coach them through the stages of life.

Oftentimes, we look at the modern situation (the post-Christian situation, the post-modern situation, whatever you term it), and quake in fear for the Church, as if She is going out of style, as if She will be relegated to the history books. However, in each age, the Church remains relevant and deeply needed if She preaches and points to her Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Each age provides unique challenges and opportunities for the Church to be the Church.

The Church has a unique opportunity to be the clothesline and to create clothesline environments for women. The Cross of Christ provides the safest place for women to come broken, undone and wounded to other women. The Cross truly is the place where we can hang our dirty clothes and our unmentionables. The gospel alone can cut through the cattiness and comparison that pollute and discolor the friendships of women. The gospel levels the playing field and brings us all the clothesline of Christ with our hampers of stained clothes, not to compare and spy out the deep stains of our neighbors in an effort to make ourselves feel better, but to trade them in for like robes of righteousness.

In an age of selfies and Insta-competition and keeping up with a thousand Joneses rather than the traditional two on either side of you, the Church has an incredible opportunity. The Church has the chance to introduce women to other women in a uniquely intergenerational way, in a real flesh-and-blood presence way.

The Church can set up the clotheslines (and many have), but the clotheslines do no good if we don’t come honestly and vulnerably in the transparency that the Gospel allows. So, put down the phone, turn off the TV and bring your dirty laundry to the clothesline of Christ. Deep healing and presence are there. There is always room for more.

 

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2018-01-08T20:13:21+00:00 By |



When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll

When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll by Kara Garis

This past week was a difficult one.

We don’t have to look far to be reminded that the world is a terribly broken place. Check out CNN.com or simply scroll through our Facebook feed, and there it is. Human trafficking, acts of terrorism, war, starvation, disease. It’s all there. No crevice of the world is safe from the reaches of the deep brokenness that creation feels. Even in the land of plenty, children still get cancer, marriages still fall apart, teenagers get in car accidents, and relationships are fractured. From the moment Eve bit into the fruit, refusing to trust God’s goodness, we as Adam’s posterity have been fighting against our own fallen nature.

Even with the overwhelming evidence of creation’s brokenness, our brains are somehow able to protect us by compartmentalizing a bit. I can know theoretically about human trafficking, know that it happens in my very city, and yet be disconnected somehow. Even when I am moved to tears by it, I still am able to wash my face, go to the gym, and move on with my business.

It’s in the moments where tragedy hits closer to home, to someone we love, when the compartmentalization lets us down. Suddenly, everything becomes mushed together, like spaghetti. The tragedy leaves nothing untouched. I have to introduce my small children to a difficult topic that I wasn’t prepared to explain. I have to once again choose to fully place my trust in a God who could have prevented said tragedy. I have to trust that just being present and weeping with those who weep is enough when I so desperately wish there were magic words that can take away the pain.

In it all, I know my Maker has a good plan. I know He loves us deeply and grieves with us. Lamentations 3:33 says that the Lord, “does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”

I think of the hymn, “It is Well” by Horatio G. Spafford. I think most of us know the backstory but, in case you don’t, Spafford wrote these words after his four children were drowned in a shipwreck that his wife barely survived.

If he, after losing his four children, after previously losing another child to pneumonia, can still say, “when sorrows and sea billows roll… it is well with my soul” we can perhaps find it in us to cling, though it may be shaky, to the promises of God. My hope is not in the broken world, but in the future glory of Christ.

Peter writes in 2 Peter 3 that all the “earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” And, not simply exposed, but “burned.” He goes on to say that, since all of these things will be dissolved, to pursue lives of holiness and, in verse 13, “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

When sorrows and sea billows roll, we must pursue that which will outlast all that will be burned on the earth. We must devote ourselves to eternal things. We mourn with those who mourn, but we are not a people who mourn without a hope. And, it is because of this hope, that we can still praise Him in our suffering, and, as James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

So, when sorrow hits close to home, find the rock of the Word and stand on it. His Word does not return empty, says Isaiah 55. Even when you are facing terrible truths about the fallenness of creation. Stand on the rock, trust that God is good, no matter how it currently feels, and praise Him.

 

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2018-01-08T20:15:46+00:00 By |



A Mid-summer Day’s Confession

A Mid-summer Day’s Confession by Aimee Joseph

Mid-summer checkpoint: We have done the beach and the bay and the lazy mornings. We have stayed up late and eaten more popsicles. On the outside, all is well, but my soul has not been well.

Through self-pity and comparison, which have been on a low, silent simmer for a few weeks now, I have allowed sin to insidiously seep into our summer.

Rather than be filled with joy for my friends, I have envied them their exotic vacations and neighborhood pools. I have bought the lies of picture perfection yet again without realizing it, imagining that there are no sibling spats and errant attitudes in your homes. As such, I have felt ashamed at my own irritability with my dear but far-from-perfect children. Rather than confess it quickly, I have heaped on “What’s wrong with me and them?” shame.

I have allowed the combination of lower structure and higher time with my crew to distort my vision of my children. Rather than seeing their strengths and wise choices, I have had a magnifying glass on their weaknesses. This distorted vision starts with the way I wrongly imagine God views me.
Somehow this summer, I have slowly forgotten that Our Heavenly Father doesn’t wear sin-magnifying shades, but looks upon us through the lenses of love He has for His perfect Son.

In the midst of trying to find a perfect formula for lowering screen time and raising reading, decreasing grumpiness and heightening fun, I have minimized His grace and maximized my contribution. As such, by mid-summer, I have come to the end of my own small storerooms of patience, peace and joy. Thankfully, He has silos upon silos of these commodities to offer me when I come to Him in repentance and rest.

In the likely event that there exists another introverted momma who craves structure and alone time and has wearied herself trying to create a memorable summer for her chilren on a tight budget without air conditioning, I would love to lead us through Psalm 32.

Psalm 32 is a well-worn trail through the narrow places confession to the broad spaces of comfort and consolation at the Cross. David deeply loved God but was not immune to seasonal sin patterns; throughout his life, he got tripped up in the same way, as seen in the repeated introduction to his slippery slopes, “In the spring when the kings went off to war, David…” (2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1).

David’s feet knew ruts of unrighteousness but they also learned ruts of righteousness through repentance, Psalm 32 being one of those paths that lead us to Christ.

Blessed is the one whose trangression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. …I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgression to the Lord and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”….Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found.
Psalm 32:1 & 5-6.

It is not a lack of sin that separates the godly from the ungodly; rather, it is the acknowledgement, uncovering and confession of sin that delineate the two. Both groups struggle with a chronic sin-sickness, but only the godly drag that struggle into the shadow of the Cross.

I am not surprised by my sin, but I am continually shocked at how long it takes me to honestly call it sin and bring myself exposed to God through Christ. When I come to Him in such naked vulnerability, He quickly covers me in His abundant blankets of forgiveness and grace.

When, and only when, I am warmed by His grace, I am able to offer forgiveness and warmth to my children and those in my flock.

After dumping the slow buildup of summer’s sin at the Cross, I am ready to face the rest of the summer in His strength rather than my own. While cirucmstances may not have changed and our scenery will likely not change, my heart is changed and renewed by a fresh reapplication of His grace. We mommas know sunscreen has to be reapplied double-time in the summer; may we know that the same is true of God’s undeserved grace.

 

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2018-01-08T22:53:53+00:00 By |



Life on Purpose

Life on Purpose by Shaun McDonald

John Piper wrote the famous book, Don’t Waste Your Life. That is a pretty good summary of what the Bible says to God’s people. God has a purpose for His people, and His purpose has less to do with our comfort and entertainment than it does with the expansion of His Kingdom and glory. As a matter of fact, His purpose has everything to do with the expansion of His Kingdom and glory. Our lives are intended to be a part of that purpose, and each day He has given us is intended to move His purposes forward in one way or another.

For the purpose of this article we are going to operate under the assumption of Biblical Theology (see From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology by T. Desmond Alexander). That is, that the Bible, from Genesis 1 – Revelation 22 is a movement from the Garden to the Heavenly City, with the purpose being the expansion of God’s Kingdom and glory across the whole of creation. With that assumption in place, we will first look at what Scripture says about how we ought to view each day of our life. Then, we will apply that to a few different areas of our everyday life.

From the moment Adam took that fateful bite, mankind has been deserving of death and destruction (Genesis 2:16-17). What that tells us is that each and every day that we wake up is a gift from God. Every breath we take is a breath of grace. We are literally breathing in God’s grace every moment whether we realize it or not. My family and I are going to attend a wake later this very night. Tomorrow we will attend a funeral. The recent and unexpected death of a close family member is a painful reminder of everything I just wrote.

After having been seized by the Philistines and survived, David, the King of Israel, wrote, “For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” (Psalms 56:13 ESV) This is more than just a praise to the God who Rescues. It is a statement of the purpose for which he was rescued. He was delivered from death so “that [he might] walk before God in the light of life.” He was allowed to live another day to walk before his God, not in pursuit of his own pleasures. David seemed to recognize this truth as he reflected on his salvation from his enemies.

This same David took what he had learned and applied it to all of mankind. He wrote, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalms 90:10-12 ESV) More than 2,000 years ago this ancient king wrote modern science has proven about the lifespan of man. But, even more, he attached a charge to this sad declaration. Man would only live seventy to eighty years on average, so we ought to count how many days we have left and live them wisely. David knew that life was short. He also knew that life was meant to be lived on purpose.

David’s descendant and Lord, Jesus, spoke to this when He told this parable, “He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’” (Luke 16:1-2 ESV) As stewards of every breath and heartbeat we are given, we would be wise to not waste these very precious possessions we are allowed to manage each day. If we are not careful, the day will come when God no longer sees fit to allow us to continue stewarding the life He graciously gives us.

Finally, let’s look at what Paul wrote to the church in Colossae. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison–that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:2-6 ESV) While we don’t have the space for a thorough exegesis of this powerful passage, we will try to take the main idea in regards to the purpose of this article. First, note the intentionality and intensity Paul calls for in prayer, “Continu[ing] steadfastly… being watchful in it.” This is all the time and with purpose.

Second, reflect on what it is they are to be thankful for – namely the very life they have, and specifically their life in Christ. Then, observe the purpose for which they are to live their lives, imitating Paul as he lived his, “declar[ing] the mystery of Christ.” With all of this in place we can better receive Paul’s charge to “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” The time is the 24 hours we receive each day. We are to use that time to seek the expansion of God’s Kingdom through the declaration of the gospel. And it is with this in mind that we will now turn to our everyday lives and how we can better use our time for God’s purposes.

The mystery of the Gospel is declared in more ways than one. As we live our lives on purpose we can find ourselves declaring this mystery as we sit in our house, as we walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise (Deuteronomy 6:7). Here are 3 ways we can live on purpose to declare the mystery of the Gospel for the expansion of God’s Kingdom:

  • Pursue Christ in your home. This means that we read our Bible in plain sight of our family. We pray in plain sight of our family. We admit our faults and seek forgiveness in front of, and from our family. Our home and family is the primary calling we have as believer’s to see God’s Kingdom expand.
  • Present Christ in your relationships. To present Christ means to present truth and grace. We are honest in our relationships, and we are honest in our speech. We do deceive, nor do we flatter for our own gain. We cover over the imperfections of others as Christ has covered ours. We are patient and forgiving as we wish others to be with us.
  • Proclaim Christ in your circles. Proclaiming Christ is done in a multitude of ways, but it is best done in our own circles. We have each been uniquely placed in a different circle of people with similar interests, life situations, and even trials. It is within these circles that we share Christ.

God has instilled in mankind the search for more. We all know deep down that we are meant for more than the consumption of food and drink, entertainment and luxury. We all return to our beds at one time or another reflecting on our life and wondering what on earth we are here for. We are here to see God’s Kingdom and glory expand across creation. Let’s live our lives intentionally, recognizing we are stewards of every breath and heartbeat, calculating the reality of the days we may have left, and knowing those days are given to us on purpose, with purpose and for purpose.

 

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2018-01-08T20:54:26+00:00 By |



Digging Deep: Pursuing Christ for Depth and Growth

Digging Deep: Pursuing Christ for Depth and Growth by Nathan Park

As a kid, I remember playing with sand in the playground and at the beach and for me I would often dig these holes and then either put my feet in them or put some water nearby into those holes. I was using the classic plastic shovel to dig my way down into the sand, but the problem was that as I kept going down the hole became much more narrow. It wasn’t a perfect flat circular surface as I kept digging, it was a small cone-ish hole.

Going into the depths of things doesn’t promise width, there is much to be found on the way down, yet it doesn’t render much in terms of reward. Often times, that’s how our walk with the Lord Jesus can play out. As we go into the depths of who God is and grow in our relationship with him through Jesus Christ, there may not be much promise in our perspective in terms of how much “ground we’ve covered”.

Even in our day to day walks with the Lord, we settle for the applause of width over the joys that come with depth. It is much easier to gauge a person’s vibrancy in their relationship with the Lord Jesus by the “likes” and “followers” they have on social media posts, rather than truly rejoicing in the hard work of pressing into the depths of a relationship with God.

Paul tells it to us like this in his letter to the Church in Philippi,

“ Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

Paul admits his imperfection and still strives in his relationship with Christ in letting go of what has hindered his relationship with God and he pursues the prize of “God in Christ Jesus”. In order to pursue depth we must understand that the true reason and motive behind it all is Christ himself. At the end of the day, it truly is not about how much we’ve received in our own perception of success, rather it is having only one thing, Jesus Christ himself.

If the “why” behind our pursuit of depth has become to only have Jesus Christ then it must change many things about how we go about our own relationship with him. Jesus did not come to give certain “good advice” or “moral guidance” on how to live, rather he came to change how we live by becoming more like him. The good news of Jesus Christ coming to rescue sinners in and of itself changes the problem of depth from trying to impress people with religious performance to an authentic relationship with a Holy and loving God.

So, how do we do it? How do we press into Christ in our relationship with him with depth and letting God take care of the width? Here are a few practices that are shaped by this perception of our relationship with Christ.

  1. Read Scripture to let it read and search you. Instead of simply reading for the sake of reading, let the scriptures sink in and examine your own life. Take time and ask the hard questions that the passage is calling to. For example, how does a certain passage apply in your own life or is it calling you to change in a particular area?
  2. Be marked by prayerful change. It was once said of Dr. D. Martin Lloyd Jones that he was a man of, “prayer and evangelism”. Prayer fundamentally changes who we are in light of who God is. Consider that the well-known Lord’s prayers begins with “Our Father in Heaven”, the focus and initial impression of prayer is marked by a reverence to God rather than an emphasis on the self. Who we talk to and how we approach them shapes who we are becoming in our conversations, this is no exception in prayer.
  3. Lift your eyes in worship. Although many of the Psalms focus on lament and a cry for help, David in the Psalms calls the reader to be in awe of God in worship. Knowing who God is in his word and prayerful change leads us to lifting our eyes to God in worship because he is the one who we find worth, beautiful and our prize at the end of the goal. Let worship be guided by how big your God rather than how much your measure yourself to be.
  4. Be shaped in growth for the local Church family. We need each other in the Christian life and God has given us the Church to love, serve and grow with his people. Fellow Christians can show us our “blind spots”, areas in life we are not aware that are inconsistent with the Bible. Brothers and sisters are there pick us up when we feel far too deep in our sin and they humble us to the ground when we feel too good for God’s gift of grace.

All of this is simply a list of things to consider in your own growth. Pursuing depth may not always look pretty, it hurts to be told that you’re wrong, rebuke can come with sting and we often feel as though the weight feels far too heavy to carry on our own. Brothers and sisters, I encourage you look to Christ. You are not who you used to be, and still far from who you one day will become because of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t look to his own “measure of success” or his being in chains as he wrote the letters to the churches, rather he looked to Christ in his growth to also be his reward.

Friends, Christ is our king and our friend and because of him, we may press on.

 

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2018-01-08T22:50:53+00:00 By |



The Two Sides of Surrender

The Two Sides of Surrender by Sara Barratt

What is surrender?

How do you know if you’ve surrendered?

What does surrender look like in the life of a Christ-follower?

Have you ever wondered these things? Brooke has. She writes:

“I grew up in the church, and accepted Christ at a young age. I’ve served, taught, listened, learned, and will continue to do these things. I’ve heard hundreds upon hundreds of sermons preached on the topic of “surrender”. I do know what it is, and how it’s vital in our Christian walk…but exactly HOW do you surrender absolutely everything to God? That’s something I never did learn, and I’d like to.”

Sadly, these questions are rarely answered in today’s Christian culture. Surrender is a vague, “Christianese” phrase, spoken of often, but never explained. It’s associated with hands lifted high in worship, but rarely explored farther.

Here are my thoughts:

 

The Inward

Like everything, surrender begins in the heart. By nature, our hearts are hard and bent toward rebellion. We want to control our circumstances and make sure things turn out our way. We’re each born in rebellion against God, so the first step of surrender is learning to unclench our tight fists of control, and relinquish our will.
This battle of flesh against spirit is only won by constant saturation in the presence of God, making daily choices to spend time in prayer, Bible study, and worship. This in and of itself is an act of surrender. As we quiet our hearts before God, He reveals areas of hardness and stubbornness, and gently transforms our mindset.

Surrender is a constant, day by day process of subduing our human desire to control and placing the control back in Christ’s hands. It’s choosing to live in complete submission, and allowing the refining light of God’s word to expose areas of rebellion.

Surrender begins as a posture of the heart as we bend our will to match God’s, offering our lives in worship and dedication to the King of Kings. It starts as we say, “not my will, but Yours be done.”

 

The Outward

Relinquishing control begins as a heart attitude, and mindset of submission, but that’s not where it ends. Willingness to surrender is the foundation for our actions of surrender.

One area I constantly surrender is my desire to someday be married. In my current state of singleness, it would be all too easy to attempt to force a relationship by throwing myself at every single guy I meet, or creating a profile on every dating site available. However, because I long for God to write my love story, I’m willing to give up control of this area of my life. Because of my attitude and mindset, I’m not desperately searching for husband, or attending every singles event within a 50 mile radius.

The same concept applies to every circumstance. For example, it would be contradictory to surrender our media and entertainment use, and then view a movie we know isn’t honoring to God.

A mindset of surrender and an outward show of control cannot coexist. The two are diametrically opposed. We can’t say we surrender all to God, and in the next instant, take back control.

 

Putting it all together

Surrender is, in essence, submitting our lives to Christ. Saying we’ll do what He asks, speak what He prompts, and go where He leads, no matter the cost. It’s letting go of our own plans and agendas, and allowing Christ to overtake and consume every part of us.
It’s giving all, because He gave all. It’s worship in action. It’s entrusting Christ with all of our dreams and fears, deepest desires and hidden, most precious longings, because we love Him more, and desire Him most. It starts in the heart, leads to lifted hands and silent tears, then moves through every nuance of our day-to-day lives.

Brooke, I can’t tell you what all of this will look like in your life. Nor can I glibly offer you a step by step method that guarantees absolute surrender, with a pretty bow of blessings to follow.
But one thing I can say. It’s worth it.

Despite the fact that it’s hard. Despite the fact that our human nature chafes against it. Because our moments of surrender are the source to discovering greater depths of the presence of God, and opening up the doors for lavish worship to flow from our hearts.

Today, I challenge you to search deep within your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring revelation of areas in your life that needs surrendering. As He does, be faithful in the action that follows.
Believe me, it’s worth it.

 

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2018-01-08T20:55:40+00:00 By |



A Word to the Worried

A Word to the Worried by Aimee Joseph

If worrying were a field of study, I would have received an honorary doctorate by now. I have been perfecting the art of worrying as long as I can remember. I packed emergency survival kits for small outings by day and planned elaborate fire escape routes for various scenarios by night. When my wild and crazy Grandmother took her five grandchildren on a trip to Niagra Falls, I spent the entire trip worrying my baby sister would plummet down. What can I say, I am a natural.

While not everyone is as skilled in the art of catastrophic thinking, every human experiences worry to some degree. Whether our fears our highly implausible or rather probable, worry wearies our hearts and pulls us away from the present and into the unknown future.

When worries begin to decimate the peace Christ has purchased for me at a great cost, I camp out in Psalm 37. The word translated fret, laced throughout the Psalm, literally means to kindle a fire. Those of us skilled at worrying are fully aware that passing sparks and embers of worry, if not snuffed out and suffocated quickly, will indeed light a wildfire in the soul.

The Psalmist calls us to dwell in the present reality, whatever that may be. He bids us to lay off the fretting and lean into trusting the Lord. Rather than imagining scenarios (most of which will not happen), he invites us to keep ourselves busy by doing tangible good in our current circumstances.

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him, fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. Psalm 37:3-7.

The phrase befriend faithfulness can be translated, “Feed on truth” or “Feed on faithfulness.” Rather than letting uncertain fears be our food, we are called to feed on the certain truths of God’s word. Claim His promises and His character rather than allowing fear to claim your peace.

The Hebrew word translated dwell in this psalm is the Old Testament equivalent to the Greek word meno in the New Testament. Both carry the same range of meaning: dwell in, settle down into, abide in, take permanent lodging and abode within.

Roll around in the field of God’s faithfulness. Nestle down into the now in which God has providentially placed you.

 

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2018-01-08T22:51:27+00:00 By |



The God Who Sees

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The God Who Sees by Sydney Simao

A God who sees is terrifying. Every bitten word, every dark thought festering behind a placid smile, every cruel judgment beneath the pleasant civilities, every spark of bitter frustration and anger, every tinge of doubt and fear, every putrid seed harbored and protected in the mire of our flesh, lies naked before the throne of the all-seeing God. His eye is upon me – me – who struggle so much with my old sin nature, falling to the same temptations over and over again. His eye is upon me, squinting – as Spurgeon said – squinting as if He can see nothing else.

When I was little, it was a great comfort to know that God sees everything. He was there when I was scared at night, when I fell off my bike and scraped my elbow, when those boys teased me afterward for wearing a helmet and arm guards, when I went to the dentist, when I helped my little sister do the dishes. You know, kid stuff. God was there. God saw. Like a benevolent grandfather in the sky, He looked down with a smile and a host of guardian angels and held my hand through the unknown paths of the day.

But as I got older and my knowledge of my own sin increased, I began to look more warily at the God who sees all things. There were corners of myself I hid from everyone else. There were monsters in my heart I was afraid to show others, afraid to be with, afraid to look at alone.

Anger, impatience, bitterness, depression, fears and doubts kept my conscience in constant turmoil, in a heartburn of conviction. Hardened pride would plummet suddenly into valleys of wounded shame. I was almost afraid to pray. And slowly, the God who peered down from the gates of judgment with His all-piercing and all-holy eyes, who saw me better than I see myself, appeared terribly affronted by the rebellious worm at His feet.

A God who sees is terrifying. Only omnipotent love and omnipotent grace can mold salvation beside omniscient holiness.

 

The Son of Promise

I’m not the first one who trembled at the words, “the God who sees”. Her name was Hagar (Genesis 16:13). She had been shamed and abused by her mistress, and abandoned by all she knew. She found only one refuge – that of escape. She would flee from her shame, her anger, her brokenness, her pain. Now, she was alone with only the child within her, and in this barren wilderness, he would most likely never live to see her face.

No one saw her tears. No one felt her pain. One of the heaviest burdens of grief is its loneliness, but the isolation Hagar felt was not only emotional, it was physical and relational as well. It was utterly complete in its oppression. And that oppression screamed for relief. That’s when she found the spring of water.

David and Samson (2 Samuel 23:8-17; Judges 15), after great victories, both cried that they would die but for a cup of water. They knew, even in their greatness, what it is to thirst. But Hagar was defeated. She was empty. And while she drank at the spring, she found that she would need more than water to make her whole again.

And God saw her there.

 

The God Who Sees

God came to Hagar at the spring in the wilderness and gave her something better than water. He gave her hope. He overflowed into promises. He asked her to drink of Him and be satisfied. When her master, her mistress, her kinsman and her household had all abandoned her, God had pursued. God had seen her troubles.

He told her that her life was not in vain. He told her that her son was coming – the son of the bondwoman. He told her another son was coming – the son of the free woman. This son would have a greater Son, who would free the children of the bondwoman and bring them to God (Genesis 16:10-12, 21:17-118; Hebrews 4:21-31).

How could God pursue this slave in her sin, in her shame, in her brokenness, with her ugly heart in her ugly circumstances, when He saw everything? How can God pursue us?

Because He sees our sin in light of His Promise.

He sees our sin in light of His Son.

 

Face to Face

God, in His omniscience and His sovereignty, sees you more scathingly clear than you could ever bear to see yourself. If for one moment, we could see our sin as God sees it, the weight of our transgressions would crush us completely (Exodus 19:21, 23:17-20; Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 1:17-18).

When we say we are righteous, He says we are condemned (Romans 3:9-20). When we say we are gods, He says we are sons of the devil (Matthew 13:37-38; John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). When we struggle and writhe and pronounce ourselves free to chase our lusts, He pronounces us dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13; 1 Timothy 5:6). When we curse God, He knows we are cursed already (Galatians 3:10). And when we try to fill ourselves up in the springs of this world, He knows we need more than this water (Jeremiah 2:13; John 4:13-14).

So the God who sees all things, in His omnipotent love and His omnipotent grace, sent His beloved Son to us in our own flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Christ felt what we felt, suffered as we suffered, saw as we saw, in every way but the way in which sin blinds us (Hebrews 2:14-18). God looked upon His beloved Son, who kept the whole law perfectly, and said that with Him (and Him alone), He is well pleased (Matthew 3:17, 17:5).

And then the God who sees all things closed His eyes and turned away when His perfect Son was nailed to the Cross for the sin which God had abhorred for eternity, until Christ screamed in anguish: My God! My God! Why have you forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46).

God saw. He saw our sin on His Son and He nailed it to the Cross (1 Peter 2:24). He saw His Son’s righteousness, and He placed it on His people (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When God sees you – you who are in Christ – He sees His Son.

That is the Gospel.

God, who saw you as you were, as a child of darkness naked before His throne of judgment, pronounced your condition worse than you could bear. But He loved you. He loved you so much that in spite of your sin, He sent His Son to live the perfect life of obedience that we despised. God saw His Son and pronounced Him good. Perfect. More perfect than you could ever hope to be. Because of His grace, and the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, God now sees you in Him, and pronounces you good. Perfect. The perfect He promises you will be.

When you are in heaven, the old you – the you that you are afraid God sees, that He put on Christ – will be done away with completely. And the new you – the you that Christ has given you – will become complete (2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 3:13).

This barren wilderness will erupt into the Water of Life. This foreign land will give way to our true home. And you will see with your own eyes, the God who sees.

 

Recommended Books

2018-01-08T22:51:49+00:00 By |



Reading Books and Why We Have to Dive

Reading Books and Why We Have to Dive by Michael Horton

Reading Books and Why We Have to Dive by Michael Horton

Surfing.

I’m a native southern Californian, so of course I’ve tried it.  But it just didn’t work out for me. Happily, my kids seem to enjoy it.  But actually we all surf everyday—in fact, often for hours a day.  It has become a habit for us to Google and then just scan things briefly to get the gist.  We have access to gazillions of resources and just hardly know where even to begin.

It’s overwhelming sometimes.

Contrast this surfing with the monk’s deep-sea diving.  They had more books than anyone else did, but still that might have been 30 or 100.  Books were of course very hard to make before printing.  So in both of these contrasting cases, technology made a big difference.  Our habits change when technology changes.

So the monk didn’t have access to the World Wide Web.  However, the monk was more likely to have not only read but digested and even committed to memory much if not all of every volume he read.

We’re never going to be the monk again and that’s fine.  We also have nova cane and indoor plumbing, so there.

But we need to find a happy medium if we’re going to get beyond information and discover wisdom or fly to worlds unknown through someone else’s brilliant imagination.

To find the pearls, we have to dive.  

 

Recommended Books

 


 

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He also hosts the White Horse Inn and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He has written many books, including The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way and Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples.

 


 

2018-01-08T22:51:44+00:00 By |



Drop the Mic: 365 Days of Fearless

Drop the Mic: 365 Days of Fearless by KayleighAnne E. Stanton

Drop the Mic: 365 Days of Fearless by KayleighAnne E. Stanton

You’ve probably heard it said before that ‘do not be afraid’ is said 365 times in the Bible. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that this was not the case. After further researching that fact, I came across the truth. That phrase is only used a little over eighty times.

The meme artist who created that internet musing, for some reason, decided to make a random guess and lie to his dear fellow Christians. Yes, he was wrong.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he had some truth in his words.

Sure, the exact words may not be seen that many times in the Bible, but the truth behind them is.

What if we applied the courage we’ve seen over and over again in the Word to our own lives? What if, one morning, we woke up completely unafraid because we knew that God was on our side? How different would the world be then?

A famous quote caught my attention when I was researching. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)

Sometimes God uses the most fearful people in this life for His good. He uses them, the brokenhearted, weary sinners, to fulfill His plan.

Take Moses, for example. After killing an Egyptian slave-driver, he fled into the desert. This man did not intend on returning to the wealthy land of Egypt- because he was afraid of what his adoptive family might do.
When the Lord asked for Moses to return to Egypt to free his people, Moses did not want to go. He begged of the Lord to choose someone else- someone worthy.

“O Lord, I am not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied and my words get tangled.” (Exodus 4:10)
Moses was afraid.

He was afraid that he could never succeed in God’s plan. He was afraid that his adoptive brother might hurt him. He was afraid because he did not want to return to Egypt. There have also been discussions about the verse I quoted above. Some theologians proclaim that Moses had an issue with stuttering.

He may have. Which means that he was also afraid of people making fun of his words- or lack thereof.
And so he begged God to relieve him of this duty- asking for Him to choose someone else.

How did God respond to this?

“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go. I will help you speak and teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11)

The Lord is telling Moses that He will be with him every step of the way- guiding him and helping him to know what to say. He is telling Moses that the excuses he makes are small compared to what the Lord can do.
And this is the same God who commands you to be fearless in Joshua 1:9.

“Have I not commanded you?” He asks us. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged. For I, the Lord, will be with you wherever you go.”

I am not telling you to get a grip on your life and never be afraid. In fact, it is perfectly alright to be afraid. Fear is a human emotion- something used to express our hearts deepest desires.
Jesus was afraid.

In Luke 22, Jesus went into the garden -right before He was handed over to the crowd- and prayed, begging his Father to withdraw this cup of suffering. It says that His sweat was like drops of blood.

Hematidrosis is actually a rare condition where blood is expelled through your sweat pores. It is caused by extreme physical or mental stress and is usually activated by severe mental anxiety or, as I like to put it, fear.
Jesus, the savior of this world, was so terrified of what was to come that He sweat blood. He asked for God to find another way, but also accepted his Father’s plan.

An angel was sent down from heaven to give Jesus strength to face His fear.

God doesn’t ask us to not be afraid. He asks us to realize that He is bigger than that fear. Over and over again, the Bible shows people full of fear. But whenever those people trust God, He always comes through.
You are going to be afraid because we live in a scary, terrifying world. But we don’t have to face anything alone. No matter what we go through, God will always be there.

We should be fearless 365 days out of a year. Not because some meme tells us that God says ‘do not be afraid’ 365 times. But rather, because through our lives, the lives of the Bible characters, and through the lives of those around us, proves to us that fear has no hold on those who hold onto the right hand of God.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

No matter what you go through tomorrow, I want you to remember that, though fear may take control of you, you can trust God to take control of that fear. He’s right there waiting to help you.

All you need to do is ask.

 

Recommended Books

Undaunted

2018-01-08T23:45:55+00:00 By |



Hope is Never Lost

Hope is Never Lost by Rebekah B

“For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.” Job 5:18

Why does God allow suffering?  

This is an age old question that I wish I could answer. I wish I understood why He lets bad things happen to good people, and I wish I understood why people have to go through horrific things. This is a mystery that we may never understand for as the Lord says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, my ways.’” (Isaiah 55:8)

Suffering for a Christian is a painful paradox because we know that with one word God could end our pain, and when He doesn’t we wonder, “Does He really love me, and if He does then why isn’t He taking this from me? Am I really asking too much? Our wounded hearts feel rejected and hurt, trying to figure out how our loving heavenly Father could allow us to suffer.

He sympathizes with us, understanding our pain and hopelessness. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

We may not be able to see it, but our suffering does indeed have a purpose. In suffering we find out how strong our faith is, and in suffering we have to lean on God more than ever. When we suffer, we get the unique chance to see and experience the faithfulness of God up close and personal. We can also comfort others with the same comfort we found through our trials.

When we are weak He is strong, lifting us up above the waves of depression, shame, and hopelessness.

It does gets tiring, fighting day in and day out, not seeing a change. It hurts, it is discouraging, and at times gut-wrenching. But remember: hope is never lost.

No matter what your burden is, there is always hope. There is a light in the darkness, even if it is a small sliver. This earthly suffering that you are going through will end, and in the darkest of nights God will always be there, holding out His hand and urging you to not let go.

He knows your pain, and He knows the despair you feel, but He also knows that you will emerge from the darkness a stronger person than you were before.

I leave you with the following hope: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) and in the words of the apostle Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

 

Recommended Books

2018-01-08T22:53:53+00:00 By |

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