“Will you marry me?”
It’s the moment many are waiting for. But however romantic the day of engagement, the time between “I will” and “I do” is often difficult. It’s difficult because you know who you are going to marry, but you aren’t married yet. It’s a season of already and not yet. Very few people look back on engagement longing for it again. Being married is so much better than waiting to be married.
Similarly, Christians live in the already and not yet. We are the Bride of Christ. Our future is secure; our hope is certain. But it isn’t yet. We do not see Christ face to face; we do not experience a life free from the sin Christ defeated. But yet it is certain that one day we will. We are the betrothed Bride of Christ, waiting for our wedding day. We live by faith, not by sight. And in faith, we wait.
As my life ebbs and flows, so does my definition of success.No longer trying to ace my college exam, I’m fighting to stay on top of laundry. No longer trying to be a good Christian (aware that I can’t be good on my own), success equals dependency. But still, I live and die for success.
But in the landscape of success and failure, Psalm 27 gives me a new frame of reference.
How can you know if you are using the Bible to avoid Jesus? When it becomes a self-help manual instead of a platform to showcase your Redeemer. When the Bible produces to-do lists and not worship. When your Bible reading is devoid of prayer. Proper Bible reading first exposes sin, then offers a Savior. The Bible is a witness to the need for a Savior and the presentation of Jesus as that Savior.
Faith is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Rather it is a willful choice to believe in the reliability of God even when that belief is lacking in physical evidence.
It’s easy to believe the promise that God works things for my good when good things have come to fruition; it’s easy to believe that God is near when He feels near. But when my feelings and experiences tell a different story than the Word of God, faith isn’t so fun anymore.
The test of faith comes when my feelings veer off to the left and God’s Word goes to the right. Here I must make a willful choice to place my faith in what I deem most reliable—my feelings or God’s Word.
When I consider the last decade of my life, I see a series of deaths:
Death of my pride through living in the shadow of my husband’s giftedness. Death of my fear of conflict through divorces in my family and among friends. Death of my fear of confrontation through difficult friendships. Death of my desires through multiple miscarriages. Death of my fear of failure through situations where I could not win. Death of my hope in myself through seeing my exposed sin in high-definition focus.
Each season of dying has felt just like that—dying. The choking out of something I have loved, desired, and clung to for hope, peace, and safety. The choking out of things in me, writhing, gasping for breath and praying, “Does it have to be this way? Can’t I follow You and also keep this with me? Does it really need to die?”
In God’s kingdom, pruning is caring. Jesus is the true vine, His Father the vinedresser. Every branch in Jesus that bears fruit, the Father prunes that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1–2).
God’s answer to my question is yes. Yes, it does need to die. It must be pruned. Without pruning, my life will become something even I don’t want—an overgrown, thorny bush with no fruit to offer.
Growing up as a church kid, repentance wasn’t a good thing. It was like flu medication. If you got the flu, of course, it was commendable to take the medication. But even better than that was not getting sick. Avoiding sin was better than needing to repent. Goody-two-shoes that I was, this was great news. I was pretty good at obedience, at following the rule book. But sometime during those church-going years, I got a glimpse of God in His Word: His character, His beauty, His holiness. Rule-following was no longer appealing. Knowing Him was.
Living in German-occupied Holland in 1944, Corrie ten Boom was leading an underground network protecting hundreds of Jews all over the country. This work earned her a ticket to Ravensbruck, a despicable Nazi concentration camp, where unspeakable suffering became the backdrop to a new ministry of prayer meetings in flea-infested barracks and ministering the Word of God to anyone in need.
Miscarriage is the membership card to a club you never asked to be in; a union of women sporting badges of infertility, stillbirth, miscarriage, and even abortion. Women who share your emotions, questions, crisis of faith, and isolation, women whose desire to be a parent has been abruptly interrupted by suffering. This post is an effort to encourage those who are grieving and to help friends and family members trying to help.
I see my generation on the other side of their childhood dreams, entering their 30s somewhat disillusioned. For some working 9-to-5 jobs, the greatest success is keeping the bills paid and the boss happy. For many moms, the biggest accomplishment of the week is a clean kitchen and 15 minutes of Bible reading. Others did some “great” things for God right after college… 2 year mission trips, interning in a ministry, striving to hit it big as a [fill-in-the-blank-with-ministry-job], but seeing that work dwindle they are wondering what’s next. So much for changing the world for Jesus.
Spiritual gifts and noble desires sit on the shelf unused, itching to find an outlet to prove their effectiveness while whispers of what could have been hang in the air.
I want to pose a very important question. A question my soul needs answered every day. Does God want us to do something great for Him?
The amount of information available to us each day is overwhelming. While often helpful, the sheer amount of books, blogs, articles, and Pinterest ideas often clutter the only information that is truly life-giving: God’s Word. It’s a hard choice, to pick up your Bible, old and unchanging as it is, when a world of new and fresh info is being put out as fast as you can hit refresh. The continual presentation of new articles and information (just one click away) can suck you in for hours before you know what hit you.
Do you feel distant from God? Do you feel at odds with Him? Do you desire to draw closer to Him? There is one mediator between you and God. It’s not your favorite author. It’s not a book or Bible study. It’s not your pastor, your counselor, your friend, or your parents. For there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all. Your pastor or friend or favorite blogger have not given themselves as a ransom for you. Only One person has done that… the man Jesus Christ.
Do you have loved ones who are far from God and hope to see them reconciled to Him? Does it seem like it’s all up to you? Like you’re the only one in their life speaking truth and pushing them to God? Remember, there is one mediator between God and men, and it’s not you. You have no power to reconcile others to God. The best you can do is point to the man Jesus Christ who gave Himself as a ransom for all.
We’re all pretty glory-hungry. We care deeply about what others think of us, or at least what the right people think of us. We want to be important, special, gifted, spiritual, unique, mature, wise, wealthy, popular, successful, and well-liked. We want to be made much of, to be glorified. Some of us might not want a ton of glory, only enough to make us feel better than the next person. Either way, we have a glory-seeking problem.
And into that glory-seeking world came a glory-forsaking God.
It doesn’t matter how real God felt on the mountaintop, sooner or later we end up in the valley asking, “God, where are You?” This up-and-down faith journey is fairly common to all of God’s people. One minute you’re wondering how you could ever doubt God, and the next you’re quite certain you’ve made it all up.
Though we’d like to avoid them, the valley seasons are good for our souls. They force us to walk in true faith, being assured of the God we hope in when He is not seen or felt. And like most things that are good for us, the valleys aren’t very enjoyable. God has given many graces for the hard seasons of life (His Word and the community of other believers to name a couple), but there is one I rarely see embraced—rocks.
Most stages today aren’t like the ones in your old high school auditorium. A stage can be anything that creates an audience for you. Twitter and Instagram, blogs and YouTube channels, websites and books are all forms of stages. Through these online avenues, you can now create your own audience with little to no risk at all. You don’t have to stare people in the eyes from your stage. It can be a stage on your own terms.
In addition to the easy access to a stage, our culture celebrates audience building. Wowed by those who’ve made it to the top, many long to join the ranks of those vloggers and bloggers with millions of followers. But for those who follow the Jesus who taught us that true greatness is servanthood (Mark 10:43–45), is it ever okay to pursue a stage? To promote a blog? To write a book? To seek out new followers? If the stage is so dangerous for our hearts, how do we view platforms we might already have?
Being left out will always be a litmus test for pride. As soon as you realize you didn’t get the invite, you aren’t in the inner circle, or you are on the outside, one of two responses happen.
The first is the most common: hurt, disappointment, and/or anger. Under those surface feelings are deep roots of entitlement (a.k.a. pride). A feeling that you deserve to be included or that you have merited inclusion. Or that you are owed the opportunity to be included, assuming that it’s the fair thing to do. But our God isn’t fair, mercifully so (read more about that here). We live under grace and that changes the game.
To boil it down, being included is about being honored. Like the kids picked first for the kickball team, being chosen for any group is position of honor. No one wants to be last on the team, or worst of all, not picked at all. We want the places of honor.
God is unfair.
Matthew 20 forces us to deal with this hard reality. Though an equitable God who treats everyone with the same favor would be easier to handle, that’s not our God. Jesus makes this clear as He tells this parable.
In Genesis 25 we have a snapshot of the lives of Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s twin sons. Esau, the elder, sells his birthright to Jacob at the cost of a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. The final assessment of the situation: Esau despised his birthright.
So what does despise mean in this context? I used to assume the word was very emotive, in the same camp as disgust, hate, or loathe. But the Bible doesn’t use it that way. Here there is no argument breaking out, no punches thrown, no harsh words. After Esau sells his birthright, he goes on his way. He doesn’t seem to care either way about whether he has it or not. And that is the essence of this Biblical word, despise: to treat as insignificant, expendable, and of little value.
God’s compassion has often been forceful. At times, his force has been the confrontation of a friend, putting before my eyes the way my sin is harmful to those around me. His force has been the perfect storm of circumstances that upon first glance seem to prove that He hates me but soon reveal that He was delivering me from self-destruction. His force has been suffering, the stripping away of everything I trusted in, leaving me with Him alone. The compassion of God seizes me by the hand and drags me out of my sin when I hesitate to flee.
Continual worship of God is in the art of noticing.
While laying on a picnic blanket with my daughters there are 2 things vying for my attention: the blue sky, littered with cotton candy clouds and laced by the silhouette of the tree we lay under or the latest stream of photos from my friends in instagram. One is a beauty that I have seen before. It’s nothing new. The other boasts of pictures and comment conversations that are unknown to me. The new and undiscovered often presents the stronger pull in the moment. The fear of “missing out” seems to endanger my joy.
Repentance is the act of agreeing with God about our sin, turning from it and rejoicing in what God has done for us in Jesus. Most of our repentance is reactive. We repent primarily for the sins that are staring us in the face or the ones that others point out. And honestly, even then, sometimes we delay dealing with our sin.
But what if we weren’t just reactive in dealing with our sin, but proactive? This is a trait we see in many of the godly men and women of the Bible: Josiah (2 Chron. 34), Daniel (Dan 9), and David (Psalm 139:23-24) to name a few.