Discouraged? Gaze Upon This Miracle

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt – out of slavery, their pit of despair – they rejoiced.

“The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation,” they cried (Exodus 15:2). Their Almighty God had delivered them from the enemy’s hands, and then he destroyed the enemy altogether in the crashing waves of the Red Sea.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Often, it can seem like there is hardly time to breathe, let alone do the laundry, keep the apartment clean, get a decent amount of sleep and – the long stretch – invest in some good reading. Such is the crazy busy life, right? Or so it can seem. My guess is that you feel it as well during certain unavoidable, but grace-saturated seasons.

Amidst such discouragement, the worship of the Israelites has been on my mind:

The Lord is my strength. I am weak. Apart from Christ’s saving mercies, I would be dead, with no ability to save myself. I like to think I am strong, capable, and sometimes even Wonder Woman, as I fly about the house on a bum foot, attempting to vaccum and clean when my body is telling me to stop and rest. Our culture piggy-backs on this (because hey, we’re all made of the same stuff, aren’t we?) and declares that, with enough gusto and perseverance, we can do anything we set our minds to do.

Not so. I am weak. I grow tired and weary. But 24 hours in a day is enough for me, and it is all that God ordained should be entrusted to us for such a time as this. But the Lord is our strengthHe never grows weak or weary, never gets tired or exhausted, and never sleeps. Can you imagine never sleeping? (The thought makes me shudder!) But the Almighty God, in his great wisdom, planned the salvation of his chosen ones from before time began, sending Jesus Christ to be my strength, to be your strength. So stop believing you need to have it all together. You don’t. Christ died knowing that it would mean raising dead sinners to life, not because they were strong and deserved it, but because he is strong and chose to save.

The Lord is my song. If I’m being honest, the last thing I want to do when I’m discouraged is worship the Lord and thank him. It’s almost as if I believe thankfulness takes more energy than complaining! While that might not be true in the physical sense – words are words – I can see why celebrating the gospel takes our mental energy, our focus, and a heartfelt decision to obey. I must choose worship. I must choose praise. I must choose to dwell in the joy of my salvation purchased for me by the blood of Christ. But, all the same, the reason for my singing never changes: the Lord and Savior of the universe lives and reigns on high! He is our song.

The Lord has become my salvation. I confess that my wayward heart can see the gospel as something seemingly daily. It’s not. It’s a miracle. Wake up, o my soul! Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! What God has done for us in Jesus Christ is absolutely stunning. The God of all creation, the God who had a right to stay put, away from sinful men, made himself known in the person of Christ. And not only that – he didn’t just leave behind a few nice sayings and teachings and say, “Fend for yourselves now” – he served us by laying down his very life’s blood. The High God gave himself to save lowly us. Wow.

When days of discouragement come, I want to be like the Israelites who saw the magnificent salvation from the Lord and sang to him! I want to see so clearly how the enemy is slain, how my victorious Christ is on my side. I want to celebrate in the miracle of the gospel.

When you’re discouraged, gaze upon the miracle that is your salvation.

You Satisfy the Desire of Every Living Thing

Food sustains the human body. But food has its limits.

I’ve been made increasingly aware of this fact as of late. Last week, while battling a stomach sickness in a foreign country, food temporarily became my enemy. Something so basic to my survival and satisfaction was stripped away from me. It’s only when necessities are gone that you realize how necessary they were in the first place.

And it’s only when our bodily source of energy is depleted that we realize we must survive on something else entirely.

I’ve been memorizing Psalm 145 with my life group this semester. Interesting enough, the next section is all about sustenance – and it even mentions food. It tells us something important about an attribute of God on which we would all be wise to meditate:

14 The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

David sings a solid truth about our Lord woven throughout these three verses: God is our Sustainer.

When I think about the blood that pulses through my veins, I realize the significance of the life-blood of Jesus Christ that is pulsing through the person who has put his or her faith in him. The one who is rooted in Christ – who is united to him once for all time – has the life of our Lord and Savior flowing into their own.  We read in Psalm 1 that the believer is like a tree:

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

The believer is nourished and sustained by the Bread of Life, Jesus himself:

“Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

So Christ is our very life. He is our Creator and our Sustainer, meaning that we never leave his grip. Meaning that we are utterly dependent on him for life and breath and everything. Meaning that only he can satisfy our deepest needs, desires and longings.

I’ve got to say, there is nothing quite like consuming that first real meal after a week of battling the enemy “food.” It satisfies the stomach, the taste buds, the whole body. It upholds the weak and provides needed nourishment for the dependent receiver.

Psalm 145 says that Christ sustains us all the more. The Lord upholds, raises up, is looked upon (depended upon) by every living thing, provides nourishment in his right timing, gives generously from his stores of riches, and satisfies the desires of every living thing.

And all this because the Creator and Sustainer suffered the exact opposite from the Father’s hand when he obediently became the propitiation for our sins on the cross. He lost his very life-blood so that those who believe could be sustained by his very same life, the life that resurrected from the grave and ascended to rule in power forever!

In what area of your life are you looking to be nourished and satisfied and sustained by something or someone other than Christ? In what areas is Jesus making it apparent that he alone can be your Bread of Life?

Though food offers us temporary sustenance and blood pumps through our veins for such a time as this, only our Sustainer’s stores of love and grace can nourish our souls for eternity.

Even Christ Preached the Gospel to Himself

Lately, I’ve found myself asking these specific questions relative to the gospel: How does the reality that Jesus is Lord affect my day to day life? Such-and-such a situation? What difference does Christ’s lordship actually make?

Making my way through the Gospel of Matthew has been my morning reading this past month or so. This morning’s passage especially stood out to me because of the manner in which Christ handled his betrayal into the hands of the scribes and chief priests.

Judas, the long-time disciple and dear friend of Christ, betrays the Son of God with a kiss, handing him over to his persecutors for a measly thirty pieces of silver. Trading the eternal calling of Jesus for transient chump change in the garden of Gethsemane.

We next read that “those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered” (Matthew 26:57). The Son of God is approaching his death, the death over which he sweat great drops of blood but a few hours prior, while praying for his Father’s will (Luke 22:44).

What we read about Jesus’ understanding of the gospel in this scene is striking, and it informs how we, as believers in Christ, are to face the trials and tribulations of our earthly lives. Jesus is being ridiculed before the high council. Here is the account:

But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Christ, the Son of God, remains silent towards the accusations and slander of his enemies, even though he knows exactly who he is. And when he does speak, it is in answer to Caiaphas’ command, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

What does Jesus say? He does not defend himself; he does not make excuses or try to explain how the many healings and miracles done by his hand are all evidence of his lordship; he does not point fingers at man’s limited wisdom and scorn their wrong thoughts toward him.

Here’s what he says: “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

You will see, Christ says, that all the earth will pass away and nothing will stand when I come with authority and power over all creation. You will see who I truly am when hope of eternity becomes real to the eyes, and not only the heart. You will see that my kingdom is not of this world and that all worldly endeavors will be exposed before my light. Only that which is found in me, my lordship and sovereignty, will last unto eternity.

Jesus Christ, even the very Son of God, endures hardship and suffering with eternity in full view. 

Even Christ preached the gospel to himself. And if Jesus did this, how much more should we? I consider the difficulties of the past year, even the past six months or so, and when viewed in light of Jesus coming on the clouds with power to renew the earth and institute the new heavens, these present trials seem so minute, so temporary.

Christ still endured the pain of being nailed to a cross; his view of eternity and his own lordship did not stop the nails from being hammered into his hands and feet. In fact, his view of eternity and his submission to God’s will demanded that this pain be endured. The pain was very real, indeed, as it is for you and for me. But the reality of the lordship, reign and rule of Jesus renewed his mind and enabled him to stay true to God’s course all the way to the end: to death, to the tomb, to the resurrection and to the ascension. 

Think of a difficult situation you’re enduring right now. Take a moment to close your eyes and meditate on Christ’s coming: “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Pray for strength and insight to endure your trials with the lordship of Jesus Christ in mind, so you may set your eyes unflinching upon the hope that is yours in the heavenly realms. 

And praise God that his Son endured the hardship of the cross to the very end, because it has meant your salvation and your promise for now and forever!

Confessions of a Hyper-Planner

I confess that I didn’t have the time to write this article.

In fact, I believe this article really should have been entitled “Confessions of a Crazy Person” because that would more clearly express how my life feels as of late. Crazy. Deeply rich and very blessed. But crazy nonetheless.

I confess that, without even realizing it, I sometimes act as though I have total possession over my time. My grip can become even tighter when I have less time to allot to each task. I begin operating under the assumption that I own my time; therefore, any interruption of it causes irritation, defensiveness and increased stress within me. Take this past week as an example: I found myself stumbling over my perspectives as I thought, “My time is being disrupted right now by circumstances that I never saw coming. How dare my time get interrupted!”

My time.

There is an obvious problem with the above statement.

You see, I would consider myself to be somewhat of a hyper-planner. As an exercise, I thought it might be insightful to define these two terms (especially for those of you who might consider yourself to be a similar personality):

Hyper: seriously or obsessively concerned; fanatical

Planner: A scheme or method of “doing,” developed in advance, for a specific project or purpose

Okay, fine. So what if I am a seriously, obsessively fanatical schemer when it comes to planning? I like my time.

Oops. There it is again.

The only problem is that my time is not mine. And your time is not yours. We need a serious perspective adjustment! We need to see that our attempts to produce an orderly manifestation of our craziness can get reduced to nothing if our plans are graciously reordered by God’s hand.

And they will be re-ordered—because time is not ours, it is His.

A conversation goes a bit too long. Your once-a-week date night gets cancelled. Sickness takes you out of the running for a day. An opportunity to share Christ with a friend arises. You don’t get the job. You must stop to pray.

I confess that I so easily forget the truth that time is the Lord’s. In dealing with time, I get consumed by my own little world. I believe that the reason I overlook certain fundamental truths is because I am too busy getting my ducks in a row, creating a hyper-planner’s paradise in the form of my overly booked schedule, harried endeavors and sleepless nights.

But there are ways to remember what is true about our time, our lives, and the glory of God. Hyper-planners, we need to hear some fundamental gospel truths each and every day! So let us not forget:

The Lord reigns! I confess that I do not fully grasp, especially when I am frantically clawing to get my hands on any free 15-minute time slot in my planner, that God does not exist to serve me. My life is not about me. Your life is not about you. We must get over ourselves to declare worshipfully that the Lord Almighty reigns (Psalm 99)!

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24).

God exists to glorify Himself. He does not exist to glorify us, or our schedules, or our plans, or even the good deeds we perform, which are but dirty rags in light of His holiness. Only God is perfectly great, and He rules creation by His abundant power and steadfast love. He rules our time!

Remembering this truth is an incredibly humbling breath of fresh air, especially for all of us hyper-planners. God’s holy rule is a necessary reminder, not only for a lost world consumed by self-orientation, but for His children who are not yet perfect. In His grace and wisdom, our God continues to sustain the foundations of the world despite what we do, say, think or plan.

Our lives are here today, gone tomorrow. Every detail of our earthly craziness can seem so pivotal in the moment. As I hyper-plan my weeks, my heart starts palpitating at the thought that I might let people down, not complete certain tasks, nor have the time to slow down at night and breathe. After all, we only see in part—and the part that we see is tainted by sin, because we are not home yet.

Think about the fact that your body eventually gets so tired that you must surrender to sleep (despite your resistance!). This is a relinquishment of power, as you silently succumb to your physical limitations. Consider that God never sleeps nor slumbers—proving that only He is eternally aware and in control (Psalm 121:4). Our physical limitations are but a metaphor for our spiritual depravity, and this should humble us greatly, especially when we find ourselves declaring time as our own:

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more (Psalm 103:14-16).

Jesus owns you. That’s right—He owns you. If you are a Christian, then every part of you belongs to the Great High Priest who sacrificed Himself on the cross, absorbing the wrath of God for your sake. Though once we were slaves to sin, now we are slaves to righteousness—meaning that Christ’s very identity has become our own, and we no longer live for our own selfish desires and plans. Living selfishly is actually contrary to our new nature; it does not suit us! Paul admonishes the Corinthians for their immoral ways and then reminds them of this glorious gospel truth:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

I confess that my flesh rebels against Christ’s ownership of me at times. I want time and plans and decisions to be my own—until I recall that the Son of God has a claim on my life, because He purchased it with the price of His life. He is not only infinitely wise but blesses those who earnestly seek Him with broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17). What freedom there is in surrendering our time to a all-knowing, providential Lord!

The God of grace knows our limitations and sees that we are dust—yet He is mindful of us, His unique creation, giving us the grace to be transformed in our perspectives. The next time you feel yourself taking the slippery slope to self-indulgent thoughts regarding time, remember that it was never yours to begin with. He is Lord! So let’s glorify Him—even with our time.

[Post credit: iBelieve]

Keys to Building Confidence

I sat on the edge of my bed and wept.

To this day, I recall so clearly the desperation I felt at that very moment. The moment when I realized that everything I had invested my life in was slipping like quicksand from my grip. And it was slipping without my permission.

If not for the Sovereign Lord, the darkness would have consumed me.

I was living in New York City at the time, testing the waters of show business and working three unsatisfying jobs to (barely) pay the rent. My family and friends lived thirteen long hours away. The marriage I thought I would enter after one year of dating turned out to be a heart-wrenching break up. And just when I thought circumstances could not get any worse, I started having excruciating pain in my left knee—a devastating injury to sustain while living in a walking city.

Lord, where are You? The tears rolled down my cheeks as I inquired of Him. The God of all creation, full of goodness, faithfulness and sovereignty, seemed so far away.

Yet, there was one thing I knew for certain: God was still with me. No, I could not see Him or sense Him. But I held on to the hope that knowing Christ had instilled in me: that I could go nowhere from His presence, His care, or His abundant grace even when I felt utterly, desperately weak and broken.

Somehow, in the most ironic way and despite everything falling apart, my confidence in God deepened.

You may be asking, “How is that possible?” If you do not yet know Jesus Christ, I am here to assure you—it is possible, indeed. It is more than possible, in fact, to have everything falling to pieces around you and yet still to rest in the security and strength of the Lord. However, the keys to building confidence cannot be sought and found in earthly solutions, remedies, religions and mantras—but only in realizing our weakness, trusting the Lord’s sole sufficiency, and finding our hope in Him.

KEY #1: Realize your desperate need for the Lord.

Psalm 62 is a beautiful prayer sung by King David, a weak, sinful man in desperate need of God’s strength. David states, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion” (v.9). The first key to finding God-confidence is in realizing that we cannot find it within ourselves. We are but a breath. The world sends us the opposite message: “Be all you can be!” But as sinful beings, no amount of righteousness or strength or effort or beauty can attain the inner-satisfaction and perfection we so desire. We need a Savior.

KEY #2: Trust in the Sovereign Lord, who is solely sufficient for you.

Becoming a more confident woman is only possible by surrendering to the one perfect example, Jesus Christ. In admitting that we simply cannot find satisfaction or strength within ourselves, God gladly bestows righteousness and a secure identity upon us, in exchange for His Son’s very life.

Verses 1-2 read, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken”.  David’s prayer above reminds us that there is only one solution to our innate need for satisfaction, acceptance and confidence: God alone. Notice how David uses the words “alone” and “only” to describe the satisfying character of the Lord. He is set apart. No human being can find even the slightest bit of security or strength apart from knowing Him. In Jesus Christ, God sent His Son to make this relationship possible, and by His redeeming blood our souls can be eternally satisfied.

KEY #3: Find your hope in Him.

“Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (v.10). Clearly, the world is not as it should be. The simple fact that it is impossible to predict tomorrow’s circumstances should confirm the obvious: our confidence cannot be found in the things of this world. We invest in relationships, expecting them to satisfy us, only to experience disappointment time and time again. We crave financial gain, plan our ten-year goals, and strive for achievement and recognition—no matter what the cost.

In and of themselves, money, relationships and successes are not sinful. It is the heart motive behind them that draws fallen people into sinful attitudes and allegiances. Above, David exhorts us never to put our trust in earthly gain. When we come to terms with our weaknesses and put our trust instead in God’s strength, we are found no longer in the world—we gain Christ! Turning from selfish ambition and worldly hopes to finding our hope in Christ is the only way to build true confidence that will last for eternity.

Lyricist Edward Mode wrote the words to this traditional hymn, which brilliantly expresses the keys to building confidence in Christ: My hope is built on nothing less / Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness / I dare not trust the sweetest frame / But wholly lean on Jesus’ name / On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand /All other ground is sinking sand.

May we build our hope on nothing less than Jesus Christ, finding our true confidence in Him!

[Post credit: iBelieve]

Why We Do Not Lose Heart

“The only constant is change.”

Most of us have probably heard that statement. And it’s true. Just take one glance at the world, and it is clear that things are not as they should be. Circumstances are constantly shifting. People betray. Disaster strikes. Health fails. Finances deplete. Disappointments burden.

Just last month, our nation experienced the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon, followed by a devastating fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. One moment, relative peace. The next, discord and chaos.

How in the world are we to deal with the inconsistencies—no, the tribulations—of this life?

We can complain and grumble. We can ignore. We can laugh it off. We can worry. We can rage. We can blame. We can run away and hide. We may exhibit all of these responses at some point or another. The frustration, though, lies in knowing that none of these reactions can truly change a thing. And just when we think circumstances are “on the upward swing”, another unexpected shift occurs.

Scripture gives us a better way to view our constantly shifting world by teaching us where to place our security, identity and hope.

The apostles of the early church found themselves up against this challenge. Persecuted at every turn for proclaiming the name of Christ, their circumstances simply could not be relied upon as they traveled from city to city, sharing the Gospel. Listen to how Paul describes their many tribulations:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

There was something wholly different about the way these men responded to their unpredictable circumstances. Amidst their seemingly dire, painful and disheartening situations, they discovered the secret to never losing heart:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The apostles chose never to lose heart because they put their hope in the only true, unseen God who never changes. Because of God’s unchanging nature, they trusted that His promises were true, His Kingdom never-failing, and their identities forever secure in Jesus Christ.

And so it can be for you.

As followers of Christ, our identity is no longer found in this world. So when the winds of change begin to blow violently all around us, we can choose to focus instead on the unchanging God. We can confidently rest in the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to make us blameless before the Father. We can wholly believe in the power of the resurrection to raise us to eternity. We can firmly trust God’s justice to make all wrongs right. We can assuredly hope in Christ’s promise to redeem all things unto Himself. This steadfast confidence remains, whether all is right with the world or chaos takes its toll.

Be encouraged by three more specific reasons as to why we do not lose heart:

ONE: We view the imperfections, disappointments and tribulations of our earthly bodies and our transient world as reminders. Paul says, “our outer self is wasting away”, knowing full-well the frailties of the flesh and the troubles of the world. When situations are constantly in flux all around us, we are reminded that we are not home yet. This does not negate the difficulty of enduring heart-wrenching trials and devastations; so many troubles do indeed sadden our souls and make us yearn for our home in eternity. But we can choose not to lose heart by realizing that the world is fallen and cannot supply the constancy and security that our hearts were made to desire. Ín the words of the psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (73:26).

TWO: Our sanctification is guaranteed. Since we are in Jesus Christ, who is the power of the resurrection, our “inner self is being renewed day by day”. Although we will not attain our perfect, heavenly bodies until Christ takes us home, we rest assured that He is completing the work He began in us when we trusted Him as Savior (Philippians 1:6).

THREE: We gain a transformed perspective. Paul says that our worldly affliction is preparing for us an eternal reward “beyond all comparison”. We do not lose heart because our earthly battles are temporal in the grand scheme of the eternal Kingdom of God. This is not to belittle the pain that results from the battles, as even Christ knew unbearable suffering on the way to the cross (Philippians 3:10). But the resurrection changed everything. With the Kingdom of God as the ultimate reward and measure of glory, we can choose to view our circumstances through a transformed perspective and not lose heart.

This life is full of troubles. Jesus proclaimed this reality to His disciples over two-thousand years ago, and its truth remains. As a twenty-four-year-old, I know that I have only just skimmed the surface of our fallen world and all its implications. Yet, regardless of age, what blessed assurance for us to realize that whatever comes, Jesus’ hopeful words ring true: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

[Post credit: iBelieve.com]