God Will Not Be Used

Most people know when they are being used. It’s obvious. A friend likes the perks of being around you because you can afford to pay. A family member emotionally manipulates you to get their way. A coworker sticks close because you do the better work.

We dislike being used. It feels slimy. We can see through a person’s attempt to keep us near, right to the heart of their agenda. But God’s ability to look on a person’s heart far surpasses our own. He can clearly discern that what we often want isn’t him, but what he gives us.

The good news? The gospel is for users like you and me. But first, a story.

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Glory Not in Your Independence

I love playing the hero.

And when I say “love,” what I mean is that I simply cannot resist the tendency to do so. To appear weak before other people, to admit that I cannot perform certain functions or that I’m at a loss, often seems like the worst kind of failure.

So I pull up my bootstraps, wipe the sweat off my brow, and pretend I’m Miss Independent.

The last time this happened in a grand scale was not my proudest moment. A significant foot injury had landed me in a hard cast for six weeks. The doctor’s instructions were to “take it easy” and elevate my lower half as often as possible.

Somehow, in my unspoken desire for independence I interpreted those instructions as, “Go grocery shopping, even though your foot hurts, and don’t bother to ask for anyone’s help.”

Great idea.

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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.

The Inevitable Misery of Living for Yourself

By Colin Smith and Kristen Wetherell

One of the barriers that holds many people back from knowing, being filled with, and being controlled by the love of Christ is the idea that true happiness can only be found if I am free to live for myself.

Living for yourself is the default option for every person. This means that unless something happens to bring about a change. we end up living for ourselves. The Bible says this quite clearly: “All seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21).

I want you to see the absolute misery of this position.

Unhappy Boss

If you live for yourself, you make yourself both the boss and the servant. You put yourself on both sides of the ledger. You are the one who is served, and you are the one who does the serving. The demands you set are the demands you must meet. The experience of the person who lives for self is like “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” and you are always in conflict. 

If you live for yourself, you will be in the strange position of beating yourself up because you are unhappy. See if any of these profiles sound familiar…READ MORE

[Post Credit: The Gospel Coalition]

10 Questions to Ask When You’re Angry at God’s Plan

I had tried every remedy I could think of.

From melatonin to other sleep aids, from sleep masks to ear plugs, all of these so-called “solutions” for sleeping trouble resulted for me in more wakeful evenings. For the girl who had never had much trouble with sleep, I was struggling.

And struggling is probably not the most accurate word I could use to describe my sleep-deprived state. The better word is angry.

Yes, I admit it. Angry. Angry that, no matter what I tried, no matter how tired I was, I would lay awake for hours on end, unable to fall asleep. Angry knowing that the next day at work was going to be difficult. Angry that my dear husband was fast asleep next to me.

Angry at the Lord for ordaining a trial that seemed so torturous in the moment, one that made no sense to me at all.

Our bodies run on sleep. Doesn’t God know that?

Doesn’t God see that I have some big projects to complete this week at work and that I simply cannot be a walking zombie to finish them?

Doesn’t he hear my cries for help?

Doesn’t he care?

I had reached my breaking point after about two weeks of interrupted sleep. The tears continued to come, my mind spinning from not understanding why I had to endure such a ridiculous trial. But one thing was certain: I knew that, deep down, my anger was directed toward the Lord. I knew simultaneously that this attitude did not honor him and that it was revealing a deeper condition of my heart.

But what? What was making me so angry over something so small? What was at the root of my anger towards the Lord?…  READ MORE

[Post Credit: iBelieve | Photo Credit: Free Digital Photos]

Four Gifts God Gives | No. 3

Productivity is equally a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because our efforts and effectiveness can glorify the Lord, help other people, and steward our gifts and time well.

A curse because its values (effectiveness, efficiency, work) tend to bleed into the realm of approaching the throne of grace.

Numerous times this past week, I’ve found myself repeating the following lines from the hymn “Rock of Ages”: Nothing on my own to bring / Simply to the cross I cling. How many of us think, even without realizing it, that we bring something of value to the table, when it comes to meeting with the Lord or participating in his wise plans for the world?

We bring our own plans with no attitude of submission to what God might see fit to do in his plan.

We bring our good works, hoping that God’s favor and delight will shine on us for being honorable children.

We bring our resources, whether money or time or gifts, somehow believing that all these have sprung up from our own ability to create, glean, or earn them.

Acts 17:25-25 corrects all of these suppositions by reminding us of one very important — in fact, essential — truth:

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.

He himself gives. Those three little words express the heart of the gospel message — that God gave his only Son to redeem lost sinners from death by the shedding of his own blood and his resurrection from the grave. And those three little words overturn all of our productive efforts to give back to God, approaching him with any sense of personal pride.

We learn from other points in the surrounding verses four particular gifts that God gives to all mankind:

God gives life and innate value to all of his creatures. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth…” The creation is not greater than the Creator, nor is the servant greater than his Master. Every human being has been given life; not one of us breathed breath into our own lungs! Every day you wake up is a miracle because God is sustaining your existence. You are not in heaven yet because he still has purpose for you. Have you considered this?

God gives perfect timing for our lives and gives history its course. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…” While it can be difficult to understand the sovereignty of God, it is ultimately he who charts our paths, rolls out every event, and sets all of history into motion towards the great coming of Jesus Christ. Certainly he uses human exertion and choices; but he is the one who weaves such marvelous, intricate details in a whole, as well as the power to see them through to completion.

God gives his presence. “…having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” God has indeed made himself known. Whether in the details of creation, or in the person of Jesus Christ, God has given us his presence so that all men are without excuse (Romans 1). If you’ve never considered this, ask God to open your eyes to see his activity; ask him to reveal his mighty power. Feel your way toward him, seek him, and you will find him! 

God gives his Son. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” The one raised from death, the one who will judge the world for sin, is Jesus Christ. Here is where God’s giving gets astoundingly beautiful: God knew that we could bring nothing to atone for sin, no good works or gifts or resources. Despite our inability, despite our wretched state apart from him, God gave by making a way for us to be made right with him. And that “way” is the only way and truth and life: Jesus Christ, the righteous Son of God.

I love what our pastor said in church last week: “Christ comes, not to demand the rent, but to pay the bill.” Have you seen Jesus as one coming to demand, or one coming to give? Rest assured, he comes to pay the ransom for sinners. He knows we all come empty-handed, and that is precisely why he came and gave his own life for our salvation.

What do you have that you did not receive from God? Consider the generosity of your giving Father in the beauty of His Son this Christmas.

Are You Really Willing to Lose Your Life?

Idols can be immensely deceptive.

Upon recognizing a stealthy idol in my own heart a few weeks back, I felt as though I had gotten punched in the stomach, and the scales fell from my eyes. “How could this happen?” I thought to myself. “How in the world could something so good become such a ruling force in my heart?”

What I seemed to be clinging to, although unknowingly so, was the ministry of writing that the Lord had given me such a passion to see used for His glory. Faced with a major life decision involving clear leading from the Lord, I knew that obeying God could mean a potential effect upon this ministry…one that I was certain, in my grandiose human wisdom (note the sarcasm), I was not meant to release.

My heart broke upon the stunning realization that my iron grip was clenching a good gift given by God’s hand, ultimately turning it into an idol in my heart.

Then a gracious challenge presented itself through the Lord’s leading: Let the idol go, and find Me all-sufficient. There is not room in your heart to glorify anything but Me as your Lord and Savior. Will you obey Me? 

Faced with weaknesses and idolatry, I heard the Lord’s tenderness in His command to let go and trust Him alone—but in whatever context, for the Christian pursuing holiness in Christ, this is never an easy feat.

As Christians, we talk about “letting go” often throughout our faith journeys. Faith in itself is all about submission and surrender to Christ: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Though Jesus Christ, the glory of the one and only Father, walked among men thousands of years ago, we Christians today have not physically seen Him. We walk by faith, learning to love Him more each day as we release our very lives into His ruling, kind hands.

I contend, however, that most of us do not really understand what letting go means. I think our willingness to fully entrust our lives to Christ comes with…terms. And if not actual terms, then resistance in one form or another, whether we recognize it or not.

Because if we are honest with ourselves, with our hearts, we know that we are not yet perfect. There is so much work to be done by the Holy Spirit to conform us totally to Christ-likeness; to transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; to bring us to a fuller understanding that our lives are ultimately not about us, but about the glory of the Son of God (Romans 14:7-9) and His plan to unite all things to Himself, things on heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:10).

Even Christians have a problem with this, if we are honest with our sinfulness. Our flesh much prefers to crown itself king, and to rule over its own kingdom. But our new nature in Christ, the “new self” we have been given by being united to Jesus, cannot live in independent from God! This autonomous way of living would be contrary to our identity as a new creation.

However, because we are not yet perfect, because our sinful nature still rears its ugly head, there is a part of the inner-man that resists letting go, giving him or herself fully and completely to Christ, whatever the terms, whatever the cost.

Total and complete submission to Jesus Christ can be terrifying.

Or so the flesh tells us. But the Word of the Lord discloses something entirely different: total and complete submission to Jesus is our freedom and our satisfaction, both presently and eternally.

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

It might be helpful in examining our own hearts to consider some examples of how Christians might resist trusting totally in Christ’s sufficiency. The following are seven signs that we might fear losing our lives for the sake of Christ:

We cling tightly to all that has been entrusted to us by the Lord, being unwilling to let go because, after all, didn’t these blessings come from His hand in the first place?

We neglect to recognize the idols in our lives because they have become such an integral part of how we get through each day; our dependence upon them has replaced our dependence upon Christ.

We place restrictions on how Christ chooses to spend us for the gospel: “Use me, Lord…unless You want to use me there. I’d prefer not to do that.” (To clarify, we are called to be wise and discerning with the opportunities presented to us (Ephesians 5:15-17), realizing that we have limitations and that God does not call us to participate in every available endeavor.)

We prize the “things of Christ” over Christ, Himself, cherishing the gifts over the Giver. Time spent with the Giver is sacrificed as His good gifts infiltrate our daily lives and routines. The goodness of the Giver is soon enough wrongly associated with the steadfastness of the gifts, or lack thereof, which are guaranteed to fail us.

We only trust and obey Christ’s Word and His call if the path is clearly laid and is to our immediate advantage. We are like King Saul (1 Samuel 13:13), disobeying the Lord to pursue our own crafty plans and timing.

We care more about our present comfort than God’s eternal glory. Therefore we resist change, even change that may be brought about by God’s sovereign leading, for His glory and our benefit.

We complain incessantly during suffering and trials, focusing on our circumstances and blaming our pain on the Lord’s seemingly unloving hand. We see no fellowship with Christ in hardship and, in effect, discount the suffering of Jesus on the cross. We cease to be thankful.

And above all:

We seek our satisfaction in worldly, temporary objects, hungering for what will supply our immediate needs, but what will ultimately come up short. We fail to realize that, when all else is stripped away, Christ is solely sufficient to satisfy our souls forevermore (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The good news: the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, is enough to sustain our faith until the end! If any of the above indications of resistance are in your heart today, cry out to Your Savior and Sustainer. He delights to answer the prayers of those who genuinely seek Him. He will be your ever-present help, renewing your mind and focusing your heart to seek His glory and His will above all other pursuits.

May we be women who do not fear losing our lives for Christ’s sake because it means that we gain Christ, the Son of God, Himself. May we be women quick to confess our misplaced affections, who run to our Hiding Place for refuge. And may Christ be all-sufficient, always enough for us, from now until we worship Him forever in glory and see Him face to face!

[Post credit: Crosswalk]