Friday, December 4, 2015

Money: Blessing or a Curse?

I recognize that I am young, but God has begun to take me on a journey in understanding how money can either
 enrich my life or deplete it.
  I have learned the joy of being generous and the lack of joy when I am greedy with money.  There is a real struggle between
 generosity and greed.  
On the outside, it seems more enjoyable to receive and save money than it does to give; however, I am realizing there is far more 
lasting joy in giving!
At a young age, I was a money saver, almost to a fault. For any birthday, Christmas or other holiday when I would receive money I would store it away and refuse to spend it. My parents would even try to force me to buy things for myself, and I often refused. I was so frugal with money that by age 24, I had saved close to $35,000 in my savings account. I'm not sure why I was fearful of spending money to the point where I saved that much but I do see now how God used this to later sanctify me in the area of generosity.

When I graduated from college, my siblings and I had a humorous deal with my dad. If we graduated with a 3.5 GPA or higher, did not get a tattoo or piercing (other than in the ears), we were given a new car after college. What a deal!  I was pretty oblivious to how much the price of a car even was, and I guess I have expensive taste because I chose a brand-new LTZ Tahoe without realizing it was a higher end SUV. Now if you're like me, you don't know what the "LTZ "even means. That means it has everything you could possibly want in a car: leather seat heaters, remote starter, TV, automatic start-up, all the bells and whistles. Let's just say that I confess to allowing my dad to spoil me big time on this one.

So, when I married my God-fearing, wonderful, husband Garrett, he didn't realize he was marrying a girl who had a lot of money hidden in her bank account and an SUV worth more than what she knew. I can't take credit for these things because they were blessings from God, to my dad, to me. I recognize that I did nothing to receive or deserve them. However, in my selfish pride, the money and car felt like they were mine to do whatever I wanted with them.

This is where the struggle between selfishness and generosity really hit home for me. Little did I know that I was going to be marrying a man with $85,000 of medical school debt and have to make the decision on if I was going to partner with him in paying it off when we got married. So, because we came together in our finances when we got married, all the money I had saved up for 20 years was all going to be gone in the blink of an eye...towards this monster called 
(My husband was worth every last penny:) )

So, the sanctifying process began and God, in His patient and steadfast love, began convicting my heart in the area of greed and selfishness. I began to recognize that this money was never mine in the first place, it was always the Lord's. God used these verses below to change my heart.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For
 we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."
-1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17, 19-

Reading the Word won't change you unless you actually apply it and live it out in your life. My first application to the Truth I was reading was to willingly pay off half of Garrett's debt. It was so hard for me because it felt like it disappeared into hands of people I didn't even know! My love for God and Garrett enabled me to
lay down my money at the foot of the cross. 

 Step number two in paying off Garrett's debt was selling the Tahoe. I never realized how much a possession could
 make me feel valued, mainly in a worldly sense.  
When I was driving the Tahoe, I secretly loved the looks I would get from people assuming I was important because of what I drove. It was so materialistic for me to love the attention and value I received from the world simply because of this fancy SUV. However, I was blind to the identity I found in it until I felt like God asked me to surrender the Tahoe to Him. My heart battled between simply accepting God's unconditional value, or the love and attention I was receiving from the world.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
 You cannot serve both God and money."
Matthew 6:24

However, when our heart's idols are laid before God, He is able to bless us with something greater:
True JOY in the LORD. 

'The Pearl Necklace Story'
Below is a story of a girl who gets to experience the 
to God and how He blessing our sacrifice:

“The cheerful girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them: a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box. 

"Oh please, Mommy. Can I have them? Please, Mommy, please!"
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box and then looked back into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl's upturned face.
"A dollar ninety-five. That's almost $2.00. If you really want them, I'll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday's only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma."
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. McJames if she could pick dandelions for ten cents.
On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them everywhere--Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving daddy and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story. One night when he finished the story, he asked Jenny, "Do you love me?"
"Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you."
"Then give me your pearls."
"Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess--the white horse from my collection. The one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She's my favorite."
"That's okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night." And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after the story time, Jenny's daddy asked again, "Do you love me?"
"Daddy, you know I love you."
"Then give me your pearls."
"Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my babydoll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is so beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper."
"That's okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you." And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek.
"What is it, Jenny? What's the matter?"
Jenny didn't say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver,she finally said, "Here, Daddy. It's for you."
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny's kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny. 
He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure.

God knew what He was doing when he put two sinners in a covenant relationship to glorify Himself, because one of my husband's spiritual gifts is giving generously.  A struggle for me is one of my husband's greatest spiritual strengths.  I am grateful that God placed him in my life to draw me out of my comfort and idols so that I could experience more of His love.  

My challenge for you, who are reading this, is to 
What is it that tells you 
 "I have value if I have this to present to the world"?
Let GO. Whether it's letting go of something physically (like my Tahoe experience) or emotionally, I challenge you to open your grip and allow God to tell you if it is His best "pearls" for you.  If it's not, trust that He will replace it with something far greater than you can comprehend.  If it is His will for you to have it in your life, worship the Lord with it in every way you can.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

(head nod) we see you, Jesus...!

"The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game -- praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.  [...]  Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.  Nor does it cease to be so when, through lack of skill, the forms of its expression are very uncouth or even ridiculous.  Heaven knows, many poems of praise addressed to an earthly beloved are as bad as our hymns, and an anthology of love poems for public and perpetual use would probably be as sore a trial to literary taste as Hymns Ancient and Modern.  I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join in praising it: 'Isn't she lovely?  Wasn't it glorious?  Don't you think that magnificent?'  The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak what they care about.  My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight today, what we indeed can't help doing, about everything we value.  I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation." -- C.S. Lewis in Reflections from the Psalms

I've said this before, and I think it will be true until the day I die...  Life, though so sweet, is never quite as picturesque as we often envision (or hope to portray with the most epic, yet most unassuming "I'm so chill and naturally only eat perfectly proportionate yogurt and granola or triple berry lemon galettes" insta). There are mornings when even three cups of coffee can't seem to get our brains functioning normally and afternoons when our greatest desire is to make it to 6:00 p.m. or throw our cell phones out to sea to be violently destroyed by sharks or minnows or anything that will ensure we don't receive one more call or text or update or email of any kind. There are nights we cry out to Jesus, begging Him to listen and attempting to cling with all our little faith to the promise that He hears. Sometimes we find ourselves in the pit of despair, questioning God's character, His goodness, and His grace. 

But there are other days, when Jesus is so real to our hearts that they feel as though they might explode! They feel like they could burst at any second with joy and song and thanksgiving because He has made His home in our hearts, and His love is better than anything we've ever known or imagined. And despite any darkness or pain, we know that we know that we know that He is the most valiant of warriors, the mightiest of kings, and the most glorious of saviors. 

Oh to be loved by Jesus...! He alone changes our hearts and sets us free. Thank you, Lord, for moments like these that provide us with the sweetest foretaste of heaven. Thank you that your affections toward us do not waver based upon our feelings, performance, insecurities, sin, or shame. You are steadfast in your character and unrelenting in your love. Thank you that you have not left us as orphans but you came to us. Thank you for graciously adopting us into your family and giving us a seat at your table, which can never be taken away. Jesus, you are the great and glorious treasure, the light in the darkness, and our hope for today and for eternity. 

There are moments in life when we pause, look back, and recognize it was Him all along -- moving, providing, protecting, caring, showing us mercy, love, and grace, filling our hearts with hope and life and joy.  In the moments we thought we'd never feel again, He was there.  In the moments we threw ourselves into our sin and ran headfirst away from Him, He was there.  In the moments we sulked and threw ourselves pity parties and felt as though God had abandoned us or turned the other way, He stood beside us, not looking upon us in disgust or shame but with deep affection and delight.  

He is in perfect control over our lives.  He turns our mourning into dancing, loosens our sackcloth, and clothes us with gladness that we may sing of His praise forever.  He is our healer, and He does not hide His face forever -- though, oh Jesus, how it sometimes feels like that...  He is good!  His plans for us are better than our own.  He knows the plans He has for us -- plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us HOPE and a FUTURE.  He sees beginning to end.  His ways are higher than our ways.  His thoughts are higher than our thoughts!  He reveals our insecurities and all that ought to distance us from Him, yet He simultaneously fills us with His Spirit not because of our goodness or lack thereof but because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

He has given us the capacity to love others.  He fills our lives with others -- people made in the image of God, so we might know and experience what it looks and feels like to enjoy others.  And in our enjoyment of others, we get a taste of what it means to truly enjoy God Himself.  He pours out grace upon grace upon grace on us.  What He provides is FAR better than anything we could ever come up with in our own strength -- though I sure as heck think I'm the smartest and best planner EVER sometimes.   I'm not...  :)

He fulfills His purposes for us.  He is trustworthy.

Because of Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sin, we will never again be separated from God.  And yet there is this reality that when we are dwelling sin, we cannot experience intimacy with Him in the way He intends.  But even still, He continues to pursue us.  He continues to gently convict us of our sin and discipline us for our good, so we might know Him more deeply and be transformed into the image of Jesus.  He speaks to us honestly.  His truth sets us free.  

Even when we don't feel like it, His "no(s)" toward us are full of compassion and love.  In the midst of chaos, He is ever-present.  Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful.  He is inordinately powerful -- even when we seem to have lost almost all faith and confidence in His ability to provide.  He works miracles.  

He doesn't demand we change ourselves before we come to Him, but instead He receives us as we are.  He meets us in our brokenness, in our failures, in our shame, and joyfully invites us into His family.  He changes lives.  He's literally changed my life.  He didn't stop redeeming lives when He died, rose again, and ascended to heaven.  He's continuing to bring LIFE to the lifeless and hope to the hopeless.  He is breaking every chain and setting all the captives free.  Lord, we see you.  but help us believe in your power constantly.  Help us to constantly exalt your name, your goodness, your glory.  

In Christ, the aim of our lives is no longer to be the best at everything we do (though I admittedly still wrestle with that regularly).  The aim of our lives is not to be beautiful and highly revered by all or to hoard up glory for ourselves.  The aim of our lives is not to be liked, adored, or seen by others.  Nor is it our own successes or making our names great or being married with 2-6 kids in the perfect white house with a veranda and a picket fence.  A beautiful house, marriage, children, sweet tea on the front porch -- none of them are bad in themselves.  In fact, they're sweet and precious gifts from our Father that I hope and pray I get to receive one day by His grace!  But in the end, that's not what our lives are about.  They're sweet pieces.  They're foretastes of heaven.  But they barely make up 1/100th of the whole puzzle.

In Christ, the aim of our lives is to know and love Him with all that we are.  The aim of our lives is to see His glory all around us and continually speak of His goodness.  The aim of our lives is to delight in Jesus, to open our hearts to His grace, truth, and love.  The aim of our lives is to treasure Him above all else, to revel in who He is, to find all satisfaction and joy in Him.  The aim of our lives is to offer ourselves before Him each morning, surrendering all hat we are to His ways and His authority.  The aim of our lives is to trust Him implicitly, to go wherever He would send us, to take His name to the nations, to walk with Him faithfully, and to love Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds.  

When we see Him...
When we see you, Jesus, as you truly are...
We cannot help but praise you...!

Lord, by your grace, may we eat, drink, run, and play to the glory of God.  May we know your glory and reflect your glory to the world.  May we desire to be SO CLOSE to you that we live in a constant state of repentance and faith, confessing our sins, our failures, our deep inadequacies and receiving your grace and forgiveness with thanksgiving and joy.  May we not be controlled by our flesh but the Spirit.   May we surrender our ideas that we can fix or change on our own and depend fully on you, participating with the Spirit and following you wherever you would lead.  May we let our roots grow down deep in your word, rejoice in your fullness, and receive all that you give us with thanksgiving, knowing your sovereign will governs all.  May we love those around us with the same love you have loved us, Jesus.  May we move toward others and initiate with others because you initiated with us.  May we speak of your glory in the gospel in the face of Jesus and point others toward you -- as one beggar to another, simply sharing the way in which we found the true bread and river of life that never runs dry!

May we be vulnerable before others, helpless and needy before you.  May we remember we are not above sin.  We choose whether or not we want to live under the lordship of sin, which leads to death, or the lordship of Christ, which leads to LIFE and life abundantly.  Jesus, help us always that we may CHOOSE you.  May we rest in your righteousness, your protection, your provision.  May we receive, by faith, the identity you purchased for us.  May we simply be your children, believing that you delight in us deeply.  May we let go of our innate desire for control and enjoy life as we enjoy you and trust you to provide for every one of our needs.  May you set our hearts on fire with love for you now and forever.  Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever.

Friday, March 27, 2015

SMS, y'all, SMS

Perhaps you, like me, occasionally find yourself plagued with a dreadful case of what I lovingly refer to as "SMS" -- sh*tty mood syndrome.  Full disclosure...  A piece of me somewhat hesitated as to whether or not I should actually write that word on social media.  Call me a rule-follower, I know.  It's true.  But to alter SMS to CMS (crummy or crappy mood syndrome, if you will) just doesn't seem to do the actual SMS sentiments/symptoms justice.  Also, I would technically be lying and attempting to make myself seem better than I really am, because let's face it...  I don't call it CMS.  I call it SMS because that's precisely what it is -- shitty mood syndrome.

Sometimes SMS is caused by my circumstances.  You know those days.  You're running late, you forgot to make your lunch, you're kind of feelin' like a whale in that outfit, you try to get a million things done and yet you feel like you've accomplished nothing...  You planned to bake a cake for your friend's birthday, but you forgot the sugar at the store.  Head-throbbing.  Heart-racing.  Eyes stuck in an impenetrable stare at the stupid spoon in the stupid bowl because the stupid cake now won't have the stupid ingredient that apparently makes it taste good.  The smoke alarm starts going off.  You can't figure out how to make it stop.  Your phone is ringing.  You have 7 emails you haven't responded to and 21 text messages.  All you want to do is close your eyes and magically wind up in your jammies in bed watching Parenthood or slowly melt into a puddle of tears on the floor because everything that seems like a big, freaking deal actually isn't a big, freaking deal but it feels like such a big, freaking deal that it's making you be such a big, freaking mess.

Other times SMS more so has to do with my heart.  It comes about when I feel as though my rights have been infringed upon, or I'm mad or sad or irritated or resentful or bitter or confused or a combination of them all.  And no matter if the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, nothing seems to shake the displeased, discontent, weary, ungrateful sentiments deep within my bones.  Almost always, however, SMS reveals one of two things.  My eyes have either been fixed on myself or what seems to be the lack within my circumstances.  In my most recent case, I think it has been a combination of the two.

I've felt sad, envious, jealous, and honestly lustful in desiring things I simply don't have.  Instead of giving thanks for what God has graciously given me, I'm often envious because I wish I made more money or had more free time or my body looked perfect in dresses, jeans, shorts, and bathing suits alike.  But recently I've noticed, my sin has been rearing its ugly head in jealousy and lust in regard to desiring a boyfriend, husband, marriage, whatever you want to call it.  Understand when I say there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a boyfriend or to be married one day.  I truly believe it is a holy desire!  And I'm so thankful Jesus gave me that desire to be married to a godly man one day!  But because of my sinful condition, my good desires regularly become tainted with unholiness.  Thus while a part of me does hope to be married one day because of the way I will get to honor, respect, and serve him, I also want to be married because a part of me really believes when I have a boyfriend or get married I will feel more valuable, approved of, and loved -- even though I know I cannot be any more loved than I already am in my relationship with Jesus.

Truth be told, I hate even admitting this.  I wish you could see my eyes right now.  I'm so prideful and don't want to be that girl.  I don't want to admit how self-centered I can be.  And I definitely don't want to admit I struggle with discontentment in my singleness.  I even hate the word singleness -- it makes it sound like some dreadful condition that is the result of being bitten by a wretched fly from the heart of the Sahara desert.  I think I'd rather call it Plenty or Table for Two.  Because let's face it.  For one, I really do have plenty -- more than I deserve.  I just kind of also want something else...    And two, it's not really like I'm alone. Jesus always sits with me at the table, in fact, He technically invited me to sit at the table with Him.  In Christ it's never a table for one, but I'd just prefer a table for 3 -- or maybe 7 one day?!  ;)

So often think that if I really loved Jesus, I'd be totally fine.  I wouldn't care.  I'd spend my days without a single passing thought about that cute guy or that cute guy or that one and whether or not he liked my stupid Instagram photo or invited me to coffee.  (Not gonna lie, this is so honest it makes me cringe juuuust a little bit... haha)

But honestly, I think that's a lie.  I really love Jesus.  Do I want to love Him more?  Absolutely.  Do I forget about Him?  Yes.  Do I regularly choose my sin over Him?  Yes.  But I love Him deeply, and by His grace, He has surrounded and crowned me with His steadfast love that lasts forever.  Just because we walk with Jesus doesn't mean we won't be disappointed or jealous or sad.  One.  We're sinful.  Two.  We live in a fallen world.  Our broken tendency is to survey the world around us, fixate on the one or two things we lack, believe that if God was good, if He really loved us, if He really cared, then He would give us those things.  

We look over, under, up, down, sideways, and all around with grace upon grace upon grace on every side and simply miss each one because we're so consumed by what we don't have and what we think will ultimately satisfy our hearts.

Guess what it leads to every time?  SMS, y'all, lemme tell ya.  Because even if and when we get those things, 
they're never enough.

Jesus reminded me yesterday that this condition of SMS is a reflection of what's happening in my heart.  Sometimes we just have icky moods.  But more often than not, when I really stop to examine what's going on, I'm experiencing the emotions that come from my sinful condition of wanting things not necessarily for the glory of God but for the pleasure and satisfaction it will give me.  This isn't new or unique to me.  It all began in the garden.

God had given Adam and Eve absolutely everything they needed for abundant life.  Every tree, every flower, every animal was theirs to enjoy -- except the one tree.  They had everything.  Everything.  Yet which one did they want?  The one He had withheld from them in His divine wisdom and love.  They assumed that tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the fruit from that tree was better than living in obedience to God's commands.  They assumed partaking in what had been withheld from them would truly be the answer to satisfaction and joy, when all satisfaction and joy had already been given to them.

I think of my own life and how often instead of rejoicing and giving thanks for all the Lord has given me, I find the one thing (at that moment) I feel like He's withheld from me, and I grumble or despair.  But the garden reveals His no toward us may seem painful in the moment but is always gracious and for our ultimate good and His glory.  

I can either spend my days pouting and throwing myself pity parties or I can run to Jesus.  I can spend my days in fits of jealousy and deep drudgery, or I can, by God's grace, turn my eyes toward Jesus.  I can be completely honest before Him about my disappointment and my hope that one day the table will not only be for two but for three.  I can share with Him my insecurities, my irritation, my anger, my shame.  He knows.  He is not disappointed.  He is our Father who always, always, always welcomes us with open arms.  I can walk by the flesh or I can choose to believe, by faith, that the abundant life is possible here on earth.  Yet it isn't found in the perfect circumstances, the most fabulous home, or the most daring adventure.  Abundant life is found in Jesus, and we experience it by faith, giving thanks for who the Lord is and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The choice is mine.  The choice is yours.  We can wallow in our sorrows.  We can despair about all the things we wish were ours.  We can throw up our hands in rage...  And sometimes we should.  We should be transparent and open with the Lord about how we're feeling and what we're thinking.  Life isn't all daisies and everything we see in Southern Living -- though I do thoroughly enjoy them both.  Life is full of suffering, hardship, pain, and sometimes nos we desperately wish were yeses.  But the truth is, God's story never ends with ashes.

Jesus, help us to always, always, always remember that your story never ends with mourning.  Your story never ends with despair.

The truth is that one day, in the blink of an eye, this earth will pass away, and He will establish a new heaven and a new earth, where we will delight in loving and worshipping Him with all that we are.  Our dying bodies will be swallowed up in life.  There will be a day!  There will be a day when all that we see and partake in that is good and glorious will fill our hearts with joy an gladness and delight -- not only in the mountains and cappuccinos and novels and seashores and conversations themselves, but in the Creator of all good things.  There will come a day when all our worship will no longer be divided among the things of this world but will culminate and overflow onto our Lord and King.  We were made to worship, to give glory and praise to God, to enjoy all He has made, with a deep understanding that all the created order -- in its beauty and majesty and goodness and kindness is merely a shadow of the one who made it all.  

Thus for today...  For today I want to rejoice.  For today, I want to give thanks that my name is written in heaven.  For today I want to run outside, take a long bike ride, eat a spinach salad for lunch, and have a picnic as the sun is setting.  For today I want to believe that Jesus' love is better than life.  I want to see Him all around me and delight in His songs as I hear them being sung by the birds or Sons of the East on Spotify.  For today, I want to say no to the cake, the second glass of wine, and the fourth cup of coffee -- not because there is anything inherently sinful or wrong about any of them.   They're good gifts from our good Father in heaven!  But in my own heart, I see that so often in those things, I'm looking for something only Jesus can give.  And ultimately, He is more than enough for me.

I want to plan the road trip to Charleston and say no to the new dress from Anthro because I want to be a good steward of my finances and because life isn't found in the abundance of possessions or instant gratification.  (Though let's be real, I love a new Anthro or J. Crew purchase just as much as the next girl...)  For today, I want to refrain from getting on the scale and finding my value in how much I weigh.  I want to taste and see that the Lord is good.  I want to take my eyes off myself and pray for the eyes of Christ.  I want to slow down long enough to see, pray, share, and be with those around me.  I want to be still in the silence and listen.  I want to breathe deeply, to not take myself so seriously, and to live in a continual state of repentance and faith.  I want the goodness and greatness of my Lord Jesus to be both explicit and implicit in my words and actions.  

But most of all...  I want to come before Him in honesty and humility and confess that my tendency is to sulk and wallow in my shitty moods.  My tendency is to complain and have eyes that are fixated only on myself and what I don't have.  My tendency is to throw myself a pity party and harbor jealousy and bitterness in my heart when I ought to be rejoicing with those around me.  My tendency is to believe that all joy, all hope, all love is or will be found in marriage or the future, better version of myself orrrr as soon as I lose 10 pounds or finally get my life and schedule under control...  The list goes on.  But that's not the truth.  They're lies that lead to bondage and ultimately death.  

I want to rejoice that thanks be to God that Jesus is full of grace and truth, and that His truth sets us free.  The truth is that He came to give LIFE and LIFE abundantly.  All joy, all hope, all love, all victory, all freedom, all peace is found in relationship with Him.  The Lord is acquainted with all of our ways.  And yet knowing every intimate detail of our thoughts, actions, and motivations, He does not deal with us according to what we deserve.  He relates to us on the basis of His unending grace -- because of the perfect life Jesus lived on our behalf.  Jesus took on all our punishment, all our guilt, all our shame and condemnation upon himself, died, and rose again, that we might have a relationship with Him that lasts for eternity.  In relationship with Him, we're never alone.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

"There is in Christ Jesus provision for the full satisfaction and contentment..."

"There is in Christ Jesus provision for the full satisfaction and contentment of the needy and thirsty soul.  [...]

First. The excellency of Christ is such, that the discovery of it is exceedingly contenting and satisfying to the soul. The inquiry of the soul is after that which is most excellent. The carnal soul imagines that earthly things are excellent; one thinks riches most excellent, another has the highest esteem of honour, and to another carnal pleasure appears the most excellent; but the soul cannot find contentment in any of these things, because it soon finds an end to their excellency. Worldly men imagine, that there is true excellency and true happiness in those things which they are pursuing. They think that if they could but obtain them, they should be happy; and when they obtain them, and cannot find happiness, they look for happiness in something else, and are still upon the pursuit.

But Christ Jesus has true excellency, and so great excellency, that when they come to see it they look no further, but the mind rests there. It sees a transcendent glory and an ineffable sweetness in him; it sees that till now it has been pursuing shadows, but that now it has found the substance; that before it had been seeking happiness in the stream, but that now it has found the ocean. 

The excellency of Christ is an object adequate to the natural cravings of the soul, and is sufficient to fill the capacity. It is an infinite excellency, such an one as the mind desires, in which it can find no bounds; and the more the mind is used to it, the more excellent it appears. Every new discovery makes this beauty appear more ravishing, and the mind sees no end; here is room enough for the mind to go deeper and deeper, and never come to the bottom. The soul is exceedingly ravished when it first looks on this beauty, and it is never weary of it. The mind never has any satiety, but Christ's excellency is always fresh and new, and tends as much to delight, after it has been seen a thousand or ten thousand years, as when it was seen the first moment. The excellency of Christ is an object suited to the superior faculties of man, it is suited to entertain the faculty of reason and understanding, and there is nothing so worthy about which the understanding can be employed as this excellency; 
no other object is so great, noble, and exalted.

This excellency of Jesus Christ is the suitable food of the rational soul. The soul that comes to Christ, feeds upon this, and lives upon it; it is that bread which came down from heaven, of which he that eats shall not die; it is angels' food, it is that wine and milk that is given without money, and without price. This is that fatness in which the believing soul delights itself; here the longing soul may be satisfied, and the hungry soul may be filled with goodness. The delight and contentment that is to be found here, passeth understanding, and is unspeakable and full of glory. It is impossible for those who have tasted of this fountain, and know the sweetness of it, ever to forsake it. The soul has found the river of water of life, and it desires no other drink; it has found the tree of life, and it desires no other fruit.

Secondly. The manifestation of the love of Christ gives the soul abundant contentment. This love of Christ is exceedingly sweet and satisfying, it is better than life, because it is the love of a person of such dignity and excellency. The sweetness of his love depends very much upon the greatness of his excellency; so much the more lovely the person, so much the more desirable is his love. How sweet must the love of that person be, who is the eternal Son of God, who is of equal dignity with the Father!  How great a happiness must it be to be the object of the love of him who is the Creator of the world, and by whom all things consist, and who is exalted at God's right hand, and made head over principalities and powers in heavenly places, who has all things put under his feet, and is King of kings and Lord of lords, and is the brightness of the Father's glory! Surely to be beloved by him, is enough to satisfy the soul of a worm of the dust."

-Jonathan Edwards in Safety, Fullness, and Sweet Refreshment in Christ


Lord Jesus, I'm so convicted by those words.  I'm so convicted because they're so definitive of who I am -- so regularly discontent, ungrateful, desiring more, rather than joyfully worshipping you with all that I am and continually thanking you for all that you are.  I readily confess that we are so quick to place such a high value on the things we think will bring us utmost joy and happiness.  We seek our own pleasure and are continuously in search of the things we believe will fill our hearts with the fullness of life.  Instead of looking to you, we look to the things of this world.  Father, we find ourselves enthralled by ideas of success and adventure and endless pursuits of love.  We place our hope in relationships, friendships, and marriage.  Even if we are unwilling to admit it, our minds are so often convinced that our joy will increase if only we obtain the next best thing...  Whether it is worldly materials or a new job or stability within our circumstances or control over our desires or even the perfectly decorated home and a long, relaxing weekend.  Yet time and time again, we find ourselves disappointed.  We find our souls continually seeking more, discontent, weary, and exhausted.  

Jesus, we don't want to be this way.  When we're really honest with ourselves, we know that these "things" and "dreams" and "ideas" won't satisfy our deepest desires, but yet we continue to crave them.  We crave what we think they will provide us.  We crave what we think we want, what we think is best for us.  I often fear that I will always struggle with desiring the perfect circumstances or marriage or control over my life or comfort more than I desire you.  The lies are all around us that these things are better than you, they're more immediate, they'll satisfy us.  Many of them are good gifts, but they're not you.  And when we exalt them above you, we become enslaved to their dark sides, their lies, their deception.  Jesus, the truth is, we are enticed by sin.  Our flesh is so willing to believe that the things of this world will provide for us freedom, but it's always an illusion.  What we think will set us free ultimately enslaves and leads to death.

Father, thank you that you did not leave us to wrestle with and attempt to defeat sin on our own because we couldn't have done it.  We are utterly helpless apart from you.  Thank you that you sent Jesus to defeat sin on our behalf.  Thank you that when we place our faith and trust in you as Lord and Savior of our lives, we are covered by your death and resurrection and identified as your own.  Thank you that you give us victory over sin and death.  Thank you that there is fullness of life in you, fullness of joy, fullness of love.  Thank you that you offer us yourself.  

Help our unbelief, God.  Fill us with the Spirit that we might trust that you are better than anything the world has to offer us.  May we love you more deeply than anyone or anything else.  Change us, Lord.  May we see you all around us and continually seek to be drawn in more deeply to your presence.  Change us that we may hold fast to the truth that you are good and you are sovereign.  Your plans are better, your ways are better, and a relationship with you is the sweetest, most pleasurable, enjoyable, delightful gift we could ever receive.  I'm so sorry that we so often live as though we don't believe that to be true.

Jesus, all we are is yours.  Thank you that you have committed to us.  Thank you that you have promised that you will be with us until the very end of the age.  Thank you that you are committed to conforming us into your image and presenting us blameless before our Father one day in heaven.  Thank you for letting us be a part of your family.  Thank you that in you we find safety, fullness, contentment, joy, and sweet refreshment for our souls -- even though we are the most undeserving.  
May we desire you and love you not because of the gifts you give us but because of who you are.  And when we recognize your good gifts, may they not lead us to worship the gifts themselves but to worship you -- the Creator and Giver of life, breath, and every good thing.  

Thank you for your grace.  Thank you that in Christ there is hope for today, hope for tomorrow, and hope for eternity.  May we long for more of you always.  Let us not forsake you as our first love.  Your Word says that your love is better than life.  Please fill us with faith to believe and walk in that truth.  Because your love is better than life, may our lips glorify your name.

"For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” -Jeremiah 31:25

"You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
-Psalm 16:11

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Counting Sheep, Unable to Sleep, Exhaustion, and True Rest

"Sleep, I already said, is a necessity.  But it is also a relinquishment.  It is self-abandonment: of control, of power, of consciousness, of identity.  We direct nothing in our sleep.  We master nothing.  We lose ourselves and are carried like children or prisoners into a netherworld alternately grotesque and idyllic, canivalesque and elysian.  In sleep we become infants again: utterly vulnerable, completely defenseless, totally dependent.  Out of control.  [...]

So sleep, besides being a necessity, is also an act of faith.  'O Lord, how many are my foes!  /  How many rise up against me!'  David begins Psalm 3.  But then he declares: 'I lie down and sleep;  /  I wake again because the Lord sustains me.'  Or the next psalm: 'I will lie down and sleep in peace,  /  for you alone, O Lord,  /  make me dwell in safety' (Ps 4:8).  Every time we sleep we place ourselves again in this position of vulnerability, of defenselessness of dependency.  We enter again this infant like unguardedness.  And we do this well only under one of two conditions: utter exhaustion, where we can't help ourselves, or complete confidence, where we stop trying to help ourselves.  Then we sleep because we know from whence our help comes.  We sleep because we know in whom we have believed and are confident that he is able to keep that which we have entrusted to him.  We give ourselves, regardless of our unfinished business into God's care  We sleep simply because we believe God will look after us.

It's the same with Sabbath rest.  Real Sabbath, the kind that empties and fills us, depends on the second condition, on complete confidence and trust.  And confidence and trust like that are rooted in a deep conviction that
God is good 
God is sovereign.

There's no rest for those who don't believe that.  If God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called to his purposes, you can relax.  If he doesn't, start worrying.  

If God can take any mess, any mishap, any wastage, any wreckage, any anything, and choreograph beauty and meaning from it, then you can take a day off.  If he can't, get busy.  Either God's always at work, watching the city, building the house, or you need to try harder.  Either God is in control, or it all depends on you."

-Mark Buchanan in The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath 


Lord Jesus, thank you that true rest is found in you alone.  Thank you that we can rest because you are good and sovereign.  The truth is, we were once incessantly enslaved to sin and the world around us, but because of your death and resurrection, Jesus, we can rest.  We can rest in knowing that all our striving, all our fears, all our insecurities, all our anxieties can be given fully and completely to you.  Thank you for being who you are.  You don't tell us to trust you because you will give us precisely what we want but to trust you because of who you are.  Thank you that your character has been revealed most clearly to us in the gospel -- in the fact that while we were still sinners and wanted nothing to do with you whatsoever, you created a way for us to be made right with you and enjoy you forever through giving up with life of your precious and perfect son Jesus.  Thank you, Father, for loving us so much that we can surrender every detail of our lives before you, knowing that surely if you spared your only son for us, won't you also give us everything we could ever need?

I confess so often I finally rest out of utter exhaustion and not deep delight in a Lord who has everything under control.  I run and play and work myself into the ground, unwilling to admit my limitations and neediness.  But the truth is I am so needy.  I am so dependent upon you.  Help us to rejoice at our inabilities, that we may revel in your ability.  We don't deserve you, Father.  We pray you would fill us with your Spirit, that we might breathe deeply and fully entrust ourselves into your gracious, loving care and protection, trusting the very words of Christ Himself, "Surely I am with you always -- even unto the end of the age." 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Of First Importance... The Gospel

Lord, may our hearts be refreshed and reminded this morning of the gospel -- the good news of Jesus.  By the power of the Spirit, I pray you would remind us of who we were, what you've done for us, and how because of Christ, we're able to relate to you on the basis of your grace and truth -- not our performance.  May we see you and treasure you in all of your glory.  Your Word says the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.  Help us believe that.  Help us believe that we are saved by JESUS, we are made new by JESUS, we are sanctified by JESUS.  All of our human efforts to be good enough for you, all our human efforts to find value apart from you are in vain.  You've ascribed to us all the value we could ever hope for in making us your own and adopting us into your family.  

Thank you that you offer us grace and peace not as a far-off, distant greeting but as an invitation to your dearly loved children.  You are our Shepherd.  I pray that we would allow ourselves to be your sheep, weak and needy in your presence.  Thank you that you are with us, that you've promised you will never leave us.  Thank you that your approval of us does not rest on what we do or have done but upon the finished work of Jesus.

a little snippet from
"A Gospel Primer" by Milton Vincent

"So this is my status and these are my flaws
Apart from Christ Jesus and His saving cause:
I carry sin's guilt and am gripped by sin's pow'r,
Held fast to its various lusts ev'ry hour,
Deserving of flames, both within and without,
And sliding t'ward Hell as I toss all about, 
Too reprobate even to play a small part
In clearing my record or changing my heart
To pacify wrath and be worthy of grace,
To make myself lovely and win God's embrace.
Completely condemned by God's Law in its whole,
I've nothing to offer to ransom my soul.
But wonder of wonders, so great to behold, 
My God chose to save me with method so bold.
What I could not render, God fully has done,
And doing, He rendered it all through His Son.
He sent Christ to die on the cross for my sin
To suffer my anguish my pardon to win.

Amazing it is, when I stop to regard,
That God would consent to an anguish so hard,
Surrend'ring His Son unto mayhem and death,
To torturous writhing 'til His final breath.
'Why does God forsake Me?' alone Jesus cried;
Yet God left Him hanging until He had died.
That Jesus was willing His life to lay down,
Be scourged and insulted and wear thorny crown
For one such as I who had spited God so,
Amazes and blesses and makes me to know
That greater a lover is no man than He,
Who laid down His life for a sinner like me.


Now when my time came and to Jesus I cried,
He gave me the pardon for which I had sighed,
He cleansed me completely from wrongs I had done,
Released me from bondage to sins, ev'ry one.
He shattered sin's chains which had held me before,
And thus made me free not to sin anymore.
A child of the Father He made me to be
And gave me the Spirit as His guarantee
That, being God's child, I will one day obtain 
A heavenly treasure that never will wane.
While in me, the Spirit gives power and love
And sweet premonitions of glory above.

In saving, God also did justify me,
Accounting me righteous by His own decree,
Declaring me guiltless of all of my sin,
And bringing His wrath against me to an end.
This wrath Christ appeased in full brunt on the Tree,
When, bearing my sin, He endured it for me.
So now God relates to me only with grace --
The former wrath banished without any trace!
And each day I'm made a bit more as I should,
His grace using all things to render me good.
Yes, even in trials God's grace abounds too
And does me the good He assigns it to do.

And when I am sinning, God's grace does abound,
Insuring my justified status is sound.
No wrath is awakened in God at my sin,
Because Christ appeased it -- to say so again.
God's heart pulses only with passionate grace,
Which jealously wants me back in His embrace.
God does not require even that I confess,
Before He desires His forgiveness to press.
Forgiveness has been in His heart all along;
And when I approach Him to make right my wrong,
He runs up to greet me and draws to me near,
Embracing and kissing and ready to clear.

God does see my sins and He grieves at them so,
For when I am sinning, His love I don't know.
He even will send me some heart-rending pain,
So I'll learn new ways and His holiness gain.
His disciplines always are with love imbued,
A love that seeks ever my ultimate good.
So this is my story; ongoing it is.
How shall I thank God for this gospel of His?
A gift that keeps giving, the gospel confers
The bounty of heaven each time I rehearse.
Deserve it?  I don't on my holiest day;
But this is salvation, and herein I'll stay.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Secret to Gospel-Centered Change According to Tim Chester

So it has definitely been a just a brief, little while since Linds and I last posted, and much has transpired over the course of the past few months!  We have high hopes to finish our 7 F's series, but in the mean time...  This is for those of you who have ever felt stuck or hopeless to overcome negative emotions or habitual sin patterns in your life.  First and foremost, know you're not alone.  I for one am right there with you.  I often feel as though I'm frequently aware of my sin.  Though at times it feels as though I'm being bombarded by my faults and shortcomings, the reality is my sin runs so much deeper than I could ever imagine.  While it is often difficult to come to grips with our own darkness, it is truly such a mark of the Lord's love for us because as we are reminded of our sin, we're constantly reminded of our need for Jesus.  That being said, I recently started reading a book that the Lord is already using to convict my heart and transform my mind about change and being conformed into the image of Jesus.  Thus I'd love to share with y'all a few
excerpts from chapters one and two of 
"You Can Change" by Tim Chester
(It comes highly recommended, and two chapters in, I'm already loving it myself!)

"Jesus is the perfect person, the true image of God, the glory of the Father.  And God's agenda for change is for us to become like Jesus.

In Romans 8, Paul says that God uses everything that happens to make us like Jesus, both the good and the bad.  Indeed, the bad things become in some sense good for us because they make us like Jesus.  In themselves they may be evil, but God uses them for the good of those who love him, and that good is that we become more like Jesus.  This isn't a letdown.  We shouldn't be disappointed that the promise of good things turns out to be conformity to Christ.  It's not like offering a child a meal deal from McDonald's and then giving them a McSalad.  We know salad is good for us, but we'd rather enjoy a Big Mac.  Jesus isn't just good for us -- he is good itself.  He defines good.  The secret of gospel change is being convinced that Jesus is the good life and the fountain of all joy.  Any alternative we might choose would be the letdown.

[...]  God is in the business of change.  He's interested in making us like Jesus.  He's restoring his image in us so that we can know him, rule with him, and reflect his glory.  [...]

Change takes place in our lives as we turn to see the glory of God in Jesus.  We 'see' the glory of Christ as we 'hear' the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).  Moral effort, fear of judgment, and sets of rules can't bring lasting change.  But amazing things happen when we 'turn to the Lord.'

[...]  You will cleanse no sin from your life that you have not first recognized as being pardoned through the cross.  This is because holiness always starts in the heart.  The essence of holiness is not new behavior, activity, or disciplines.  Holiness is new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behavior.  If you don't see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires, and motives will be wrong.  You will aim to prove yourself.  Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin itself and desiring God in its place.

Many people change their behavior, but their motives and desires are still wrong; so their behavior is no more pleasing to God than their old behavior.  Consider an alcoholic who gives up drink because he fears social stigma or wants to save his marriage or doesn't want to end up in the gutter.  It's good that he's given up drink, but he isn't more holy in God's sight because he's still motivated by selfish desires that exclude God.  Or consider a Christian who goes to a prayer meeting to impress people or feel good about herself or avoid a Christian friend's rebuke.  Her behavior has changed, but her motives and desires and unchanged.  This isn't holiness (though it may be that praying with other Christians contributes to a change of affections).  John Piper says, 'Conversion is the creation of new desires, not just new duties; new delights, not just new deeds; new treasures, not just new tasks.

The great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon illustrates this point with the story of a humble gardener who presents a bunch of carrots to his king because he so esteems and loves his sovereign.  The king rewards his love with a plot of land so he can continue to bless his kingdom.  A courtier sees this and thinks, 'An acre of land for a bunch of carrots -- what a deal!'  So the next day the courtier presents the king with a magnificent horse.  The wise king, discerning his heart, simply accepts the gift with a 'thank you.'  When the courtier is disconsolate, the king explains, 'The gardener gave me the carrots, but you have given yourself the horse.  You gave not for love of me but for love of yourself in the hope of a reward.'  Are you feeding the hungry or are you feeding yourself?  asks Spurgeon.  Are you clothing the naked or are you seeking your own reward?  Are you serving God or serving yourself?  The Bible talks often of reward, but that reward is God himself -- the joy of knowing and pleasing the God we love and in whom we delight.

We don't change so we can prove ourselves to God.  We're accepted by God so we can change, God gives us a new identity, and this new identity is the motive and basis for our change."


Lord Jesus, as we embark on this new week, this new year, we are filled with both hope and fear.  We want to believe you desire to change us, but so often we're are plagued with the weariness of our past faults and failures.  We want to change, Lord, but so often we feel so trapped in our own inabilities to change.  But thank you, Jesus, that you did not leave us to change ourselves, but you have committed to changing us until we are faultless, blameless, and fully transformed into the image of Christ.

It is my prayer that as we meet with you this year, we would be honest before you about the countless ways we fall short and the seemingly endless list of things we so often consider "better" than you.  Holy Spirit, I pray that you would examine our hearts, and that by your grace, you would reveal to us our sin.  I confess that I am so quick to treasure and idolize and just plain want things more than I desire you -- consistency, stability, control, freedom, health, food, the perfect exercise regimen, the perfect body, perfection in general, my reputation, the approval and opinions of others, marriage, dating, my own effectiveness and productivity, the dream house, the Kendra Scott earrings, heck the list goes on...  Gosh, Lord, to think that you love us while knowing full well the depth of depravity within our hearts...  We admit that we don't fully understand how deeply our sin grieves your heart, but Lord, we pray that you would help us to comprehend that in our moments of sin, we are not receiving the fullness of your love for us.  

Thank you for your forgiveness, Lord.  Jesus, thank you that you were willing to bear the weight of our sin, so that we might know you and experience your love and plan for our lives.  I pray that we would love you deeply and above all things --
that you would be our prized and priceless treasure.  

I pray that we would see you as the good life and the fountain of all joy!  I pray that you would fill us with faith to believe that you created us for so much more than what we're often content to settle for.  I pray that you would fill us with HOPE to believe that you not only can change us, but it is your will, your delight to conform us into the image of Jesus.  May we believe that you are good, that you are at work, and that you are the one who changes us.  Thank you that ultimately all our human, fleshly efforts to change and sanctify ourselves apart from you are in vain, as our efforts only further reveal that you alone set free.  You alone give life.  You alone reconcile, redeem, restore, and fill our hearts with hope.  

Father, truthfully, in the midst of pain, sin, despair, and difficulty, it can be almost impossible at times to believe you truly do desire to heal us, change us, and make all things new.  But Lord, I pray that in our moments of doubt, you would remind us of Jesus, whose life was not free from pain or hardship, and yet He is your beloved -- the image of the invisible God and literally God in the flesh.  Remind us of Jesus who bore all of your wrath, endured all of our shame, and went to the cross for your glory and our good.  May we receive suffering and pain as your good and gracious gift for us, knowing that you work all things together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose.  May we have hearts and minds that are humble, open, and willing to see each moment, each hour, and each day as an opportunity to grow in your likeness, to experience depth and intimacy with you, and to know you as the Father who loves us, the Father who did not leave us as orphans but came for us.  

May our hearts continually sing your praises.  May our songs not waver based upon the circumstances of our daily bread, but may they be as steadfast and constant as your character.  For though our circumstances are constantly in flux, you never change.  You are good and holy and true, and you deserve all the glory and praise forever and ever.  Thank you for initiating with us when we wanted nothing to do with you, that we might know your love, love you back, and spend eternity delighting in, enjoying, and glorifying you.  We love you, Jesus.

2015, let's do this.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 
-2 Corinthians 3:17-18