When Freedom Is Actually Slavery

In many ways, our nation celebrates freedom this weekend. Freedom to worship God in public places without restrictions, freedom to believe various worldviews, freedom of speech, freedom to vote and participate in democracy – the list goes on and on. Praise God for the United States of America, a country benefiting in more ways than one from the freedom gifted to its citizens through the Constitution, reigning governmental powers, and armed forces. Most of these are freedoms to celebrate.

At the same time, however, there is another “freedom” we have glorified that has ironically led us into greater depths of slavery. This is a so-called freedom that encourages rebellion against God at the cost of our very souls.

Think about it. Our “one nation” was founded “under God,” yet we have decided that we’d rather have our nation be “under ourselves,” or under our own human authority, our own ability to decide what is right and wrong and best, our own judgment based on changing cultural tides rather than on the unchanging nature of God Almighty.

The “one nation under God” phrase confesses our inability to rule ourselves, along with our need for his authority, power, and wisdom to reign over us. It’s no surprise how fallen our world is because our natural inclination is not to submit to God or to live lives of light and purity.

Why is it that my first response when someone hurts me is to hurt them back? Because my natural inclination is fallen. I need Someone to change my heart and rule me. We as humans need help from the outside because we cannot change ourselves.

So our forefathers submitted to God because they knew that men could do nothing of eternal value apart from his Lordship: no wise decision-making processes, no direction of goodness or purity, no peace with our neighbors. And, today, we are increasingly seeing the brokenness that comes from our rebellion against God come to fruition.

We think we are celebrating greater, truer freedoms with court decisions of past and present that give us what we want. But because what we want isn’t trustworthy on its own, these so-called freedoms are actually driving us more deeply into the slavery our hearts are crying to be released from.

The irony? We think we are becoming more free when we are becoming increasingly less free.

Our sinful nature, our natural fallenness, is bondage. What we need is to be set free – truly free – from this bondage, and there is only one person who can do that. Jesus came to set broken sinners free from their own destructive, enslaving desires…at the cost of his life. He entered our brokenness for the purpose of taking it upon himself at the cross. Jesus absorbed God’s due justice for our wrongdoing and rebellion against his holiness. He laid down his very life so that you and I could be truly free.

How is this freedom achieved then? If what we think is freedom is actually slavery, then what is freedom? Freedom is actually placing ourselves “under God” again. It is realizing that, in acknowledging Jesus as Lord over everything and everyone, we are no longer slaves to our own fallenness but freed to walk in the newness of life found in Jesus, himself.

Getting what we want is not freedom. It is slavery. Slavery is giving ourselves exactly what we want, at the cost of our souls. But freedom from slavery is realizing the misdirection, brokenness, and cost of what we want apart from God and pursuing what God wants instead.

What does God want from us? He wants us to admit our inability to be good apart from Jesus, to see our true, natural state of brokenness. He wants us to behold the goodness of his Son, who took our punishment at the cost of his own life, and trust in his ability to free us from our slavery to sin. He wants to lead us in the best life for us. He wants to give us actual freedom, actual life, in Jesus, who did not stay dead in the grave but rose from it, who is now seated upon the throne of heaven, ruling with authority over us all.

As Russell Moore put it so perfectly after the recent court ruling, “The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back in that tomb.”

So what freedom will you celebrate this weekend, and at what cost?

Suffering Is Not What It Seems

What if suffering isn’t quite what it seems?

Often, suffering is viewed as a mood-destroying interruption (in our best moments) or a faith-wrecking obstacle (in our worst). Whether we are hitting one too many red lights, causing us to be late for work, or we have just received a bad diagnosis from the doctor, our instinctual reaction to suffering is to flee.

Suffering is our foe.

But what if we are wrong? What if the pain we feel in our arthritic bones is actually evidence of our comfort? What if the heart-wrenching sorrow we experience during a messy breakup is actually a means to joy? What if the grief we are enduring from losing a loved one actually points us to a rejoicing hope?

It all sounds too good to be true. My suffering hurts and, if I’m honest, I would prefer to dwell on how it is affecting my life because…well…giving into negativity is way easier than the alternative.

And what exactly is the alternative? It is believing that suffering is not actually what it seems – but it takes some serious renewing of our minds to see and understand suffering for what it really is.

What Suffering Isn’t

Think about a time of your life when you suffered. Picture it. What thoughts ran through your head? More importantly, what did you find yourself believing about God, even if you never put your thoughts into words?

Often, we think of suffering as proof of God’s absence or as displaying a flaw in God’s person, such as a lack of love (“If God loved me, he wouldn’t let this happen”) or a lack of sovereign power (“This is disastrous. How could God let this happen?”). But what if we realized that suffering assures us of God’s presence, bearing his mark of love upon us and displaying his sovereign control over every detail of our lives?

Consider Paul’s words in Romans 8:16-18:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

No, according to the Lord, suffering is precisely the opposite of how we often interpret it: It is evidence that God, in his tender love, has saved us and is changing us, by his wise sovereignty, to be glorified with Christ.

And if we realized this in our day to day lives, if we viewed all of our suffering through this lens, it would change everything. It would change how we endure.* Suffering would no longer get such a bad rap and would instead be the impetus for rejoicing among God’s children.

Fallen, Finite, Forgetful

Even though we read what God’s Word says about suffering, we still struggle to apply this marvelous truth to our lives. Why is it that our reaction to suffering continues to be “bad,” “flee,” and “resist”?

There are three primary reasons for our instinctively negative response:

We are fallen sinners. For those who have put their faith in Christ, a battle is underway between the flesh and the Spirit, between the law of sin and the law of God (Romans 7:21-23). At the moment Adam and Eve believed the serpent’s lie, the perfect law of God within the human heart became depraved and distorted. This means that our fleshly tendency is to respond to suffering in a number of different ways, including anger, frustration, bitterness, self-pity, cynicism, depression, and even despair.

We are finite creatures. Not only are our minds affected by sin, our bodies are as well. The aging of the physical body unto eventual death is equally a result of the fall, for the soul and the body were never meant to be separated. This means that most of us will experience physical pain that blatantly hurts. And pain is distracting! The enemy of our souls loves to use pain to take our eyes off our identity as God’s chosen children, we who actually prove the Father’s love and sovereignty in our bodies through the grace of suffering.

We are forgetful saints. Finally, we battle spiritual forgetfulness**. We read promises like Romans 8 and, in the next hour, find ourselves grumbling again. We forget that we actually deserve much worse than suffering: We deserve God’s wrath. We forget that Christ suffered immeasurably for our sake when he died an excruciating death on the cross and, therefore, we forget that he understands, empathizes, and draws near to us in our own sufferings. We forget that Christ’s suffering was a means to his glory, when he defeated death through the resurrection. We forget his promise in the ascension that he will send the Spirit to bear witness to our identity as children of God. We forget that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us in eternity with Christ.

Fall on God’s Grace

What is a fallen, finite, forgetful saint to do?  Fall on the grace that Christ’s very suffering purchased for us in the gospel. Yes, we will suffer. And yes, we will forget. We will negatively react to our pain, despite the wonderful gospel-reality that our suffering reflects. But praise be to God, our Lord and Savior knew suffering unto death for this very reason: to redeem a fallen, finite, and forgetful people for himself.

Our suffering is not what it seems, for it is so much greater than it seems. It is infinitely better and ultimately worth it.

[Post credit: The Gospel Coalition]

Your Opinion of Jesus Is a Matter of Life and Death

What’s your opinion of Jesus?

When it comes to Jesus Christ, there really is no neutral ground. According to chapters five and six of the Gospel of Mark, there are two opinions a person can have about Jesus, but the two are not created equal. In fact, what we believe about Jesus is a matter of life and death.

Rejected at Nazareth

We read in Mark 6:1-6 about the first of these two opinions:

[Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

Summarizing this story is, “And [Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief.” In other words, within the human heart exists an opinion of Christ that is rooted in unbelief.

Notice the progression of the peoples’ questions, which begins in astonishment and ends in downright vexation: “And they took offense at him.” To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was merely a human teacher to be questioned, and the result of their unbelief was a lack of mighty works being accomplished in their presence.

Received by Jarius

Our second opinion of Jesus comes from Mark chapter five:

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live…”

They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. (Mark 5:21-23, 35-43)

Unlike the people of Nazareth, who insisted on questioning Jesus out of the hardness of their hearts, Jarius believes that Jesus is able to accomplish great works – in fact, that he is the source of life itself. Jarius has faith that Jesus can raise his daughter from the dead, despite the flagrant unbelief of the other people who are gathered at his house (who are weeping from sadness and laughing at Jesus’ claim that the girl is only asleep).

To Jarius, Jesus was not a teacher worth questioning, he was a Savior worth believing.

A Matter of Life or Death

What’s your opinion of Jesus? Do you resonate more with the people of Nazareth or with Jarius? To you, is Jesus merely a good teacher with some helpful morality to admire, or is he the source of life?

If our final say about Jesus is merely that he was a good teacher, we should take a moment to consider that argument. Jesus cannot possibly be a good teacher, worthy of respect, if he was lying about his identity as the Son of God!

We should consider what is at stake in our opinion of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our source of life, just as he was for Jarius’ daughter.  And if Jesus is the source of life, if he really is who he says he is, then anyone who rejects him is ultimately choosing death, not only in this life but in the life to come.

If we are not living for Jesus in this life, then we are living for ourselves. Now, it may seem like living for ourselves isn’t such a bad thing; doing what we want, when we want to, can actually feel freeing! But it is an elusive freedom. What we don’t realize is that we are slowly becoming more and more hardened to the things that really matter: the things of eternity. And the longer we turn our faces, the harder we will become.

Some day the Bible says that our earthly lives will end and we will stand before Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). There’s no avoiding the Day. Our humanity and our selfish way of life will be exposed, and what will we have to say for ourselves then? What excuse will we have for our selfish living, for turning our faces from the truth? Those of us reading this article won’t be able to plead ignorance about Jesus Christ!

But if we are willing, like Jarius, to believe that Jesus is who he says he is, the Christ and life itself, then we will hear Jesus’ response: “Arise!” For the person who takes a chance on Christ, who sees the true condition of his or her soul as dead and unable to save themselves, Jesus is willing to resurrect! Jesus is willing to give new life and new hope with a simple “Yes and amen.”

Jesus is looking for us to recognize our need for his help – not for perfect people, for none exist. He doesn’t wait until we “shape up,” but he extends undeserved grace and mercy to us while we are yet sinners.

The one who loses his or her life for Christ’s sake actually saves it in the long run (Mark 8:34-35).

Our opinions of Jesus are a matter of life or death. Eternity goes one of two ways; there is no neutral ground where Jesus is concerned. So pray for clarity about who Jesus is. Ask him to reveal himself to you. Give the Bible a chance, open it, and read about him.

For those who seek him will find him, if they seek him with all of their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).

Christian blog

The Cross Makes Good of All Our Mess

Dried tears are evidenced on my face as I write this. I feel like a mess.

I couldn’t stop the outpouring of anger that came upon me not thirty minutes ago. Pain and discomfort had re-entered my body this week with a vengeance, after an extended period of feeling well, stable, hopeful.

So I reached my emotional limit and out poured the tears.

Tears of anger, tears of fear, tears of worry. Even tears of thanksgiving for the breaking of my pride, though, I confess, the thankfulness sometimes comes through gritted teeth. The truth is, my body often feels like a mess, and I cannot make sense of much of it.

This is where believing the truth comes into play. This is where I must redirect what I feel to be true of God to rehearsing what I know to be true of him. This is where God’s Word speaks straight to the pain.

What about you? What mess are you in at the present moment?

Are you dealing with a disease, or even a temporarily illness, that seems to be holding you back from activity? Are you in the middle of a nasty family feud? Are you married to someone who does not love the Lord? Are you about to lose your job?

Here’s what is so good: the relevancy of God’s Word stands throughout time and generations. It it for you and for me, right here and right now. Joseph and Jacob, for example, experienced their own slew of messes within their lifetimes, and we have much to learn from their stories.

Let’s remember one particular story from the end of the book of Genesis…

…Jacob is giving his blessing to Joseph’s two sons, which will continue the promise of God to multiply a people for himself from their family line. The scene is reminiscent of a previous one (can you guess it?) where Jacob tricks his father, Isaac, into giving him the birthright that belonged to his brother, Esau.

Deception in Jacob’s boyhood was followed by a series of messy life circumstances: fleeing from Esau and having to settle in a new land; wrestling with an angel of the Lord; raising twelve sons, some of whom were rebellious murderers; and grieving the loss of Joseph, his beloved son, when he is sold into Egyptian slavery by the very same hateful brothers.

It seems that Jacob’s mess could have very little good come from it, right?

Yet, in Genesis 48, we see him at the end of his very full life, having seen his sons reconciled to Joseph (now the governor of Egypt) and his two grandchildren receiving the blessing of God’s promise for his people. This mess wasn’t what it seemed.

Read Joseph’s words to his repentant brothers from Genesis 49:

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 49:20-21)

What the world, the enemy, and the flesh intend for our evil, God intends for our good. This is the marvelous promise of Scripture to you and to me, despite our various life-messes and, in fact, right in the middle of them.

God’s story most certainly doesn’t end there. For from the line of Jacob and Joseph, from the line of King David, there is born the Promised One, Jesus Christ, who would save the people from their sins by bearing their iniquities on the cross.

Here is the astonishing truth we must know about the supposed “mess” of the crucifixion:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Read that last verse again. Can you believe this?! The most atrocious act of human and spiritual hatred in all of history, come to pass by human hands and ordained by God himself, was intended for good. The enemy inaugurated and delivered his own defeat! When Christ was nailed to the cross, God had already planned the victorious resurrection and ascension of his Son, Christ proclaiming to the world that death no longer has any hold on those who trust in his ability to save the lost.

Oh Lord Jesus, if you could take something as horrible as your death at Calvary and use it for our salvation, how much more can you transform our present circumstances into eternal good? How could you not be glorified by our sufferings? Take our messes and make them beautiful conduits of your grace and mercy, reflections of the sufferings of Christ, and a witness to our world. Make them to serve your glorious purposes, and fill our hearts with the living hope of your resurrection.

For our light and momentary afflictions — our earthly messes — are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison! The cross makes good of all our mess.

How God’s Anger Shows His Love

How do we understand the wrath of God, as revealed in Scripture? This sermon excerpt by Pastor Ray Ortlund is an extremely helpful explanation of Romans 3, and how the anger and love of God are inseparable.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Romans 3:23-25)

God’s wrath? Wait a minute. Is God a fuming, frustrated person? Does he have a temper? Is her subject to mood swings? Is biblical propitiation like the pagan concept of throwing a virgin into the volcano to placate the pineapple god? And what if God changes back to anger? After all, we keep on sinning – in the same old ways, too.

The first thing to say is that the wrath of God is a part of the gospel. It’s the part we tend to ignore. Yet we don’t mind our own anger. There is a lot of anger in us, a lot of righteous indignation. Listen to talk radio. In our culture it’s acceptable to vent our moral fervor at one another. We watch it on cable TV news every night. It’s our entertainment. But the thought of God being angry – well, who does he think he is?

Great question. Who is God? He’s the most balanced personality imaginable. He is normal. His wrath is not an irrational outburst. God’s wrath is worthy of God. It is is morally appropriate, carefully considered, justly intense reaction to our evil demeaning his worth and destroying our own capacity to enjoy him. God cares about that. He is not a passive observer. He’s involved emotionally.

The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It never says, “God is anger.” But it couldn’t say that God is love without his anger, because God’s anger shows how serious his love is…

God presented Christ Jesus as a propitiation by his blood (see Rom. 3:24-35). Do you see the beauty in that? In human religions, it’s the worshiper who placates the offended deity with rituals and sacrifices and bribes. But in the gospel, it’s God himself who provides the offering…

What the sacrifice of millions of lambs in the Old Testament could never accomplish, God has done through Christ. He did it out in the open for everyone to see, because God desires your conscience to be set free. The full fury of the wrath of God was unleashed onto a willing substitute at the cross. This is what God put forward so clearly.

Taken from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009). Content adapted from “The Most Important Word in the Universe,” sermon by Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.

On Sunroofs and Self-Denial

What would have happened if Christ had demanded his rights and laid out his preferences upon approaching Calvary?

“Father, take this cup away from me. Send your legions of angels to rescue me when Judas brings the crowds with him tonight. I’d rather not endure the pain of crucifixion. I’d rather assume my place at your right hand, where I belong.”

No cross. No suffering. No death.

No resurrection and no life. For you or for me.

That would be a devastation. Praise Jesus that he did not speak those words! No, instead he denied himself, praying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will, Father,” willingly setting his face to Calvary, for your sake and for mine.

Oh, how I wish I would respond that way to life’s circumstances – especially the trivial ones that pale in comparison to such a weight of glory as bearing sin on a cross.

This week, my husband and I have been doing some car shopping. It’s our first time doing this, so it’s been a learning experience. Who knew that the addition of even one special feature could jack up the price so much? A sunroof, for example, makes a two thousand dollar difference!

Allow me to give you a bit of insight into my thoughts: What will I do without a sunroof? I’ve grown accustomed to it over the years – having the wind tousle my hair on warm, breezy days. I would be much more content with our purchase if my new car had a sunroof, too.

Actually, if I’m being honest, the thought of not having a sunroof anymore tempted me to sadness. I know. Pathetic.

What’s your sunroof? Could it be that you’re on a special diet and cannot eat certain foods? (Gluten free anyone?) Maybe it’s having to shop at thrift stores or resale shops, rather than department stores, to save some money. Or perhaps it’s letting go of that job you so badly wanted because it was offered to someone else.

As I’ve pondered how the gospel applies to my sunroof-yearning, three particular truths have helped me:

Christ deserved exaltation, but he chose humiliation

[Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

Christ emptied himself. What an incredible word. Emptied. Jesus relinquished every right that was his, as Lord and King, in order to save an undeserving, sinful people. Christ could have stayed seated at the right hand of the Father, but he condescended instead, “being born in the likeness of men.” This means that he experienced everything that we experience, including hardship and temptation, yet was without sin.

What is your heart telling you that you deserve today? What do you feel is your right? Let me ask this in another way: What, if it was taken away from you, would cause you to become angry or saddened?

Consider this momentary thing in light of Christ’s eternal glory. Remember that Christ died on the cross, bearing sin, and rose from the grave, defeating death, so that we could be completely free from bondage to placing our hope in anything else but him!

We deserve humiliation, but Christ has exalted us

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy…(Ephesians 2:1-4).

Scripture teaches that we were dead in our sins, unable to save ourselves or do anything good on our own. “But God, being rich in mercy” raised us up with Christ, forgiving our sins by his grace when we placed our faith in him, giving us a new identity in his name.

Death and condemnation is what we all deserve. But freedom and joy and peace and spiritual blessings and Christ are what and whom we’ve been graciously given! Thinking about this miracle will cause all of our earthly desires to pale in comparison to the gifts the Father has lavished upon us in his Son.

When we meditate on the gift of salvation, we realize we are rich!

Christ is preparing for us a home in eternity

Finally, it is helpful to consider the treasures that are being laid up for us in heaven when our hearts are tempted to covet earthly treasures.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Every earthly good is passing away, be it a job or a favorite shirt or your health. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40:8). When we meet Christ in eternity, we won’t care that we didn’t have a sunroof in our car or that deluxe vacation, for the light of the glory of Christ will be all-consuming and the things of earth will have passed away for good.

So what’s your sunroof? May the glory of the gospel exalt your gaze to the Christ, who humbled himself that you could be exalted, giving you all the riches of his Kingdom forevermore.

Answer Your Inadequacy with the Gospel

Have you felt lately that you’re not good enough?

Have the dirty dishes, the unmade beds, and the unwashed laundry piles made you to feel inadequate? Has the passed-over promotion at work, or the forgotten invitation to tea, made you to feel insecure?

Oh, sister, you’re not alone. I am with you. “Not good enough” is a haunting phrase and I, too, have felt its unwelcome presence in various seasons of my life…and especially lately.

But, praise God, inadequacy and insecurity are not the end for those who are found in Christ. They will not have the last word. We must answer them with God’s final, authoritative Word.

Truly, the gospel provides the answer to soothing our troubled hearts, calming our fearful insecurities, and redirecting our gaze to the truth of Christ.

Why We Need the Gospel

Jerry Bridges spoke to our church last weekend on the topic of preaching the gospel to yourself. (He has so wonderfully shared this truth over the decades in his multiple books, so start reading!). Mr. Bridges says that his go-to gospel verse is 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This gospel-verse, authored by Paul, speaks directly and wonderfully into our struggles with inadequacy and, consequently fear, in a few ways:

The gospel reminds us that we are inadequate beings. Paul begins the verse with the phrase “for our sake,” meaning that something has been done in our interest and on our behalf. The fact that this phrase is used here reveals that we, as human beings, carry in ourselves a sort of lack; otherwise, nothing at all would have needed to be done “for our sake.”

Coming to terms with our own inadequacy is actually quite a comforting thing; remembering that I am but a breath, that I am not God, helps me to admit my weaknesses and that I cannot do anything of eternal value for myself. This is actually quite relieving to admit! (deep breath) The Bible often reminds us that we are inadequate because only then will we see our need for someone to become adequate on our behalf…

The gospel reminds us that all that was, is, and will be inadequate about us was cast upon Christ. “He [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin,” Paul writes. We learn next that our inadequacy — all the sin and weakness that makes us fallen beings — is shouldered by Christ. The Son of God “knew no sin,” meaning he was perfectly adequate, and more than that, righteous in God’s sight, having lived a sinless life for 33 years on earth. All our sin was poured out upon the sinless Son of God.

This tells us that what once defined us as people — sin and death — no longer defines us because it was cast away from us, and onto Christ. So what are we left to stand on, now that this burden has been removed?

The gospel reminds us that Christ gave us his perfection in return. “…so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.” What have we to stand on, sisters? The righteousness of Christ, himself! The perfect, spotless, untainted, unblemished, holy, awesome righteousness of the King of Glory. Jesus’ righteousness, his identity, his holiness, is ours. Every time the Father looks at us, he sees the heavenly, divine covering of Jesus. In Christ, we are precious in God’s sight and dearly loved!

Finally, the gospel reminds us that our glory is not in being adequate, but in being in Christ. Let’s return to the phrase “for our sake.” Because we could never be righteous enough on our own merits, Christ exchanged his righteousness for our sin, and we are united to him by faith. This is now who we are, our approval no longer being established by what we do.

The Gospel is the Answer

It is so easy to get wrapped up in our culture that exclaims at every turn, “You are what you do!” But don’t believe the lie. You are not what you do. You are in Christ. So when you feel the phrase “you’re not enough” coming to haunt you again, remember 2 Corinthians 2:15. Remember your approval in Christ. Remember your need for his grace, and that he made the Great Exchange for your sake.

Answer your inadequacies, your insecurities, and your fears with the gospel.

Anna: What It Looks Like to Be Devoted to Jesus

It’s been said that a person must spend 10,000 hours working on a particular skill before he or she is considered an “expert” in that skill. Think about this:

That’s 10,000 hours of playing the violin before the music world calls you an expert violinist.

That’s 10,000 hours of horseback riding before the equestrian society calls you an expert rider.

That’s 10,000 hours of creating recipes before the culinary world calls you an expert chef.

In any of these cases, we would say, “That person is devoted to what they do.”

I started figured skating around the age of five and continued until I had “passed” all the initial skill levels (a total of two or three years). The obvious next-step was to hire a private coach and pursue competitions. Only the hardcore, committed athletes would make the decision to give up a portion of their childhood in favor of spending hours upon hours at the ice rink, training with their coaches.

At that point, I decided that I simply was not devoted enough to figure skating to pursue it with blood, sweat, and tears.

Meet Anna

Anna, the prophetess from Luke 2:36-38, was a devoted woman. Devoted to what, or to whom exactly? Read along with me:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Now, we need to back up in the story a little bit to get the full grasp of what Anna is saying and doing here. At this time in history, Jesus Christ — God in human flesh — has been born to Joseph and Mary. His earthly parents were Jewish, as were many people of that day, and the Jewish Law said that every male baby had to be dedicated to God through circumcision at the temple.

The temple was located in Jerusalem, and it was the place where God’s people would go to meet with him, offer up sacrifices for their sins, and be forgiven and cleansed. The temple symbolized Gods presence.

Nowadays, believers in Jesus Christ don’t go to a temple to meet with God because Jesus is the way we meet with God. He sacrificed himself on the cross, taking the punishment for all our sins, so that we could be forgiven and cleansed forever in God’s sight.

So Joseph and Mary have taken Jesus to the temple, and they are met by a man named Simeon, who was also a man deeply devoted to God. Simeon makes a proclamation about this divine baby saying, in effect, “This Jesus is the promised Savior of the world! He is the Christ!”

This is where Anna’s story begins.

There are three specific characteristics we can learn from Anna about what it looks like to be people devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ:

Godly people cling to Christ

Verse 37 says, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Remember that the temple was where God’s people would go to meet with him and be cleansed from their sins. The temple was a picture of what Jesus would eventually become for his people: the way into the presence of God (John 14:6).

Anna was committed to worshiping the Lord! She did not leave the temple, which is another way of saying that she was committed to spending her life with knowing God and serving him.

Anna knew that her whole life was dependent on God: that he created her, that nothing within her was hidden from his searching gaze (not even sin), that he was her only hope of salvation from sin, and that a life of joy and peace was found only in him.

Anna’s thoughts and actions were focused on worshiping God. She was laser-focused on clinging to God for her salvation and not to worldly things, like her possessions, her marital status, her accomplishments, her relationships, or her social ranking.

We also can grow into godly people by asking Jesus to help us depend on him, day and night, for all we need and for our salvation. We can pray, “Help me, Jesus, to love you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength!” He delights to provide life and righteousness to those who seek his face.

Godly people are all ages

We can assume that Anna got married when she was very young, so she had many decades of living alone as a widow. But did Anna complain or grumble about her situation? No! She clung to the Lord from her early years until the time of our story, when she was a wise 84 years old!

Whether we are old or young, we can be godly people who depend on Jesus Christ for our hope and salvation, for godliness (devotion to Christ) has no age limits.

It is never too early or too late to spend our lives for Christ’s sake and his purposes. You can start depending on Jesus today, asking him to reveal his purposes, that you might walk in them for his glory. 

Godly people share their faith

Finally, we learn from Anna’s example that godly people are excited to share their faith with others. Godly people grasp that the gospel is called Good News for a reason: We don’t keep news to ourselves — we share it! When Anna learns that Jesus Christ has come into the world, she first thanks God and then she begins to “speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.” 

There are people whom God has placed around you purposefully. Your friends, classmates, neighbors, co-workers, and family members are not in your life by accident. God reigns sovereign over all your relationships.

What is one way you can share the gospel of Jesus with them this week? May our thanksgiving to God for what he has done in sending his Son be like a bubbling fountain that overflows onto those who are missing out on the best news they could ever encounter and believe.

Only one Expert

We talked earlier about being experts, and you may be thinking, “Because Anna was a devoted woman who walked with God constantly, she must have been an expert in godliness!” If you’re anything like me, this can be temptation for discouragement: “Why aren’t I that godly?!”

But no one is an expert when it comes to devotion to Jesus Christ. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Even after you have put your faith in Jesus, you will still fall short. You will still struggle to follow God.

The good news is that he knows about your struggle, and he knows that you will never be perfectly devoted to Christ. And that is why God provided his Son, who was the only person who could be perfectly devoted to his Father and who was perfectly devoted, all the way to his death.

Jesus was the only expert in godliness, so that we would not have to be!

And when Jesus became sin for us on the cross, he was saying to his Father, “Punish me for all the times when your children were not devoted to you. Put all of their sins and failings on me, and in exchange, give them my perfect, spotless devotion. See them as your godly, pure, devoted children.”

Be encouraged: We can pursue godly lives because Jesus was godly on our behalf!

Let’s ask God for a desire to be devoted to him today. Let’s ask his help in becoming people who cling to Christ, who spend ourselves for the gospel in all seasons of life, who share our faith with others, and who ultimately trust in the grace of God when we fail, knowing that Christ is our righteousness!

Burning Torches

Based on Isaiah 50:10-11.

She forged ahead, confident, certain that what she was doing was right. Until it went wrong, until it all went up in flames. The plans she had made crumbled before her, and her mind swarmed with questions. How could this have happened? Where did I make a wrong turn? Why, Lord?

The future she had envisioned – the husband, the happy home, the contentment – vanished before her very eyes. It was almost as if a light had flickered out in her heart, that some semblance of hope had died when the dream did.

And it made her wonder, was it really hope at all? Or was it false? Was the light she had been pursuing in that relationship really light, or was it a spotting flicker she had fashioned for her own sake, wanting it so desperately to be real, to be right?

A consuming fire sustains, but a self-kindled fire, a burning torch, flickers and eventually dies. There is no life in a mere rod of wood, no power in a man-made device. She had crafted for herself a burning torch to guide her, all the while neglecting the lasting light that was already hers in Christ.

His light had been hers from the time he had first wooed her. It had never been retracted; rather, it was haughtily pushed aside, quenched, replaced. By a mere spot of flickering flame, sustained by a piece of earth.

The fire she had kindled to be her own guide proved ineffective when the rains came, for it smoldered and went out as quickly as it had sparked. And when the skies poured down their gracious rains, she realized the light of her Consuming Fire was all she could look to for help and for hope.

Only by the light of his fire would she move forward to restoration, to remembrance. The light of Christ would be her confidence, her reward, and would consume in its power her foolish, smoldering torch.

But she would not be burned up. No. She would be refined, as gold in the flames.

Dating: Good or Bad Fruit?

I wrote this article in 2013 but found myself thinking about it after Valentine’s Day this past weekend. If you’re dating, I pray it’s of help to you!

What is your dating relationship producing?

[Spoiler alert!] In a season one episode of Downton Abbey, we see a classic example of “good girl falls for bad boy”. The tall, dark, notorious footman, Thomas, has conivingly convinced the innocent kitchen maid, Daisy, that he is worth trusting. Naturally, sweet Daisy falls for the bad boy, her emotions overtaking her reason. Thomas, however, feels absolutely nothing for her, using her for his own evil, twisted purposes.

But she falls for his dirty schemes. She falls so hard that she begins to lie for him. More than once. She spats unkind words at the people she loves all because Thomas dislikes them. And ultimately she begins to lose a sense of her identity, morals and values altogether. 

Daisy eventually busts. Her good-natured heart cannot handle the negative results of her time spent with Thomas. She eventually frees herself and tells the truth to those she had wronged.

Have you ever been in a situation like Daisy’s? Or rather, a relationship?

I think a very important question to be asking ourselves when dating is, “What is this relationship producing?” If our dating relationships are intended to be responses to the gospel of Jesus Christ, then certain traits will distinguish them as such. Let’s call these traits “fruit”, and let’s look at a passage from Luke to unpack the importance of fruit, itself:

A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (Luke 6)

Just as a tree is identified by its fruit, so a relationship’s virtue or vice is identified by what it produces, both in the couple and in each individual person. Fruit, then, acts as an identifier. When picking a shiny, red apple from a tree, we can very confidently state that the tree is an “apple tree”.

But what about your relationship? When you examine its fruit, what is identified?

According to Galatians 5, there is a certain kind of spiritual fruit we should see being produced:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Because we are in Jesus Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. And the Holy Spirit produces unique, set-apart fruit within us! This fruit identifies who we are, and whose we are. Notice, though, that the fruit of the Spirit is not limited to our individual lives: “…let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives”.

The Spirit’s leading is also tantamount to our dating relationships because then, and only then, will we produce fruit that is lasting, good, and built on a firm foundation. 

I remember the moment when I once realized that a relationship of mine was not producing the fruit of the Spirit in me. At first it saddened me and shocked me. But eventually, there was freedom that came with this understanding, a deep knowing that Christ had given me the power to realize this–all because of the Spirit dwelling in me! When we allow the Spirit to lead us in our dating relationships, we “won’t be doing what [the] sinful nature craves” (v.16). The sinful nature produces bad fruit, while the Spirit-led nature produces good fruit!

Here are a few questions we can ask to determine what fruit our dating relationships are producing:

Am I being led forth in peace?

A very wise friend once reminded me that the peace of God is the fruit of pursuing him in everything we do. If we are truly seeking Christ and walking in righteousness, then he will give us deep peace if good fruit is yielded! Paul says in Philippians 4:  “…Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Am I compromising in any way?

If a relationship is causing us to brush aside our convictions and values in Christ, then good fruit is most likely not being produced. In Jesus we have “nailed the passions and desires of [our] sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there”. A relationship should encourage us to be Spirit-led, not urge us into compromise. This could mean anything from physical and emotional boundaries, to brushing aside other equally important relationships.

Are we serving one another in love?

Mutual submission is key to any relationship, whether between family members, friends, or in dating. “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4). But service is a two-way street, and dating is an excellent way to see if both parties are willing to serve the other in love. The fruit of the Spirit is full of loving service: “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (v. 26).

Does this relationship encourage community and accountability?

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). We need the other important relationships in our lives to be strengthened consistently, especially during dating. Our family members and closest friends know us best and can speak into our lives. Isolation rarely produces good fruit. Is your relationship encouraging community?

Does this relationship encourage our walks with God?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33). The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with everything in us. This is priority number one. Our dating should remain in right standing to this priority!

As a tree is identified by its fruit, so the foundation of our dating relationships will be identified by what is produced. 

What is your relationship producing?