Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:2-6 ESV

The heading for this passage in James is called Testing of Your Faith, and what I want to focus on is the last verse. A person who is doubtful is like a wave that is DRIVEN and tossed by the wind. I want to compare this to my favorite quote by Charles Spurgeon.
“I have learned to kiss the wave that DRIVES me against the Rock of Ages”

The Lord has taken me through some brutal seasons of testing recently that have produced so much in me. In these times of growth, I have learned to grow increasingly fond of my trials. And I think that is what God intends. Because there are varying degrees of intensity and duration, and there are all sorts of trials, I know that they are innumerable, and I would not be fond of, or have the maturity and faith to be equipped for now. But even though the trials I have endured so far have been challenging, and at times excruciating to endure – because I have seen the blessings and the fruit that has been produced as a result – I have learned to esteem them. I have seen them as good, and I would go through them all over again; without changing a thing, because I see the beautiful outcome God created out of every piece of the mess. And that is worth all the temporary pain and confusion trials may bring.

Trials, although extremely confusing and seeping with sacrifice and suffering, serve so many unique purposes, but there is an underlying truth and reason for why trials exist.

Going back to Spurgeons’ quote: waves, or trials, are meant to DRIVE us against the Rock of Ages. God intends for trials to wrap us back into the safety of His presence, under the shadow of His wing, and to renew our focus, foundation, and the center of our lives back on Him. He is our Rock of Ages. Our Firm Foundation, Strong Tower, and the Rock that is higher than I.

There are two things I love about this quote, and it is the words: “kiss” and “drive.” To kiss someone implies an intimacy with them. You do not kiss something unless you love, admire, and adore them. Trials are something we must learn to kiss. We must be trained and disciplined to not only embrace trials, but to love and admire them for what they are worth. I do not know if I could be so bold as to say we should or even could adore them, but we have the incredible gift and opportunity to adore the One who either (depending on the trial) is the wave sender or the wave absorber. We must believe that the Rock of Ages loves us unconditionally and only allows trials to happen because He causes them to be for our good and His glory. We must adore the One who loves us enough to allow us to go through hardships so that we can grow through them. Because He loves us too much to let us stay immature and caught up in sin and ignorance, He has a perfect plan to mold and shape us through each wave.

James 1:2-6 states, those who doubt are “like a wave of the sea that [are] driven and tossed by the wind”. When we doubt and do not ask of God in faith or do not believe what God says or who He is, we are wandering in the waves, vulnerable and able to be pushed around wherever the wind takes us. This is dangerous because when we are vulnerable and not planted firm in the promises of God, the Enemy has a foothold to tell us lies and push us further into the deep; further into our doubt. We should thank God then, for the wave that DRIVES us.

There are several versions of this quote that replaces the word “drives”. Some say “crashes”, “throws”, “slams”, “strikes”, etc. But I like drives better. This is because drive comes off as intentional, more carefully determined and planned. God uses these trials to drive us to Himself, making sure that these tests are crafted to us uniquely. God created us, so He knows exactly how to get our attention and what kind of trial to send us through to produce in us what He intends. He uses each trial; specially planned and catered to our needs, to drive us directly and firmly into a place of surrender in Him so we are led into His arms of provision and protection.

Obviously, if we are not obedient to Him, if we do not train ourselves to appreciate the purpose of trials, and consumed in doubt we do not believe that God’s arms are the safest place for us, we may fight the wave or sink underwater to avoid being pushed by the wave and therefore thrown against the Rock. Although trials are intended to bring us deeper into God’s presence and in a place of surrender, it is our choice whether we let the wave drive us to the Rock of Ages. It is our choice whether we fight against the reality of the wave, sinking into apathy and depression, or we let the wave do what it was created to do.

Because God is tirelessly protecting us and not allowing us to go through more than we can handle, He is not only sometimes the wave sender; He is always the wave absorber. No matter what trials we go through in life, and always; good and bad, God asks us to always rest in His presence, release our burdens at the foot of His throne, and surrender our hearts with all its doubts and concerns into His loving and almighty hands. Although we suffer due to trials, He asks us to rest in Him. One of the greatest reasons for trials is for us to be driven further into His loving arms in surrender. So, although we suffer the blows of trials; by resting in Him, having our eyes fixed on the One who is our Answer, and having a mind that is steadfast in the truth of who God is, we are in a position that aligns us to have the weight of the trial held not on our shoulders, but on the shoulders of our gracious and sacrificial Father.

When we are firm in Him, our trials become less taxing, less confusing, less consuming, less imminent, less threatening, less powerful, and less deprecating. Instead, because we have embraced the presence of the trial and therefore allowed God to have complete access to our heart and the ability to mold us as He sees fit, trials become beautiful seasons of growth. Trials produce fruit, character, perseverance, patience, a deeper intimacy with and a greater understand of God, and so many blessings that God wills to give us for having withstood the test. We are in the arms of a God who sustains us and gives us His perspective into trials. When we see trials from His point of view; understanding they are intended to refine us and mold us into becoming more like Him, we can feel the uninhibited freedom, unexplainable joy, and perfect love that our Creator holds out willing for us to grasp.

 

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Fame

FAME IMAGEInstagram famous. Snapchat famous. YouTube famous. If there is one thing that social media has made certain to blatantly exploit, it is that we cannot get enough of people’s attention, and it drives to great lengths looking for how we can push our image, our brand. Whether digitally, the real world, or both, we are taught by society that those who matter receive have more followers, and those who do not have fewer. We live in a world where you are either somebody, or you are nobody. So we hop in our cars and we drive a little farther, we spend a little bigger, we consume this world in ways we may have never cared for before, only so that we can share it with the world, and hope to gain their approval.

Why do we so crave fame you ask? It’s because with fame, we achieve a sense of belonging. By receiving the approval and praise of those around us, we feel one step further removed from whatever harsh reality we are actually living in or experiencing, and one step closer to finally achieving a desirable state of being. We know that whether or not our daily lives are suffering, there is an area in which we are successful, a place where we get to belong. When we look at the famous, we think of people who have achieved societal acclaim; acclaim meaning “to announce or proclaim with enthusiastic approval.” Because of this approval, society begins to follow very closely the actions of those to whom they have granted fame, good or bad.

A desire to belong is natural to the human experience. Jesus warned of the cost of discipleship would mean losing a portion of that belonging when his followers began to pledge themselves to follow him. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” Luke 9:58. Jesus often spoke of limiting attachments to the things of this world, stressing the importance of storing your treasures in heaven in Matthew 6:19-20. At the time, Jesus had not only achieved fame among those who believed he was the messiah, but infamy among those who believed he was not.

Fame is not necessarily a bad thing, and can give you a platform on which to place good biblical values and the name of Jesus. You can use your fame to make His name famous, which is what a godly steward of that platform would do. But as the world has shown us time and time again, you can also use your fame to promote your selfish interests; gaining worldly approval for affirming its decadence, compromising your morals for popularity, and allowing yourself to become of the world, rather than simply in it.

Our lives are meant to be a worship to the glory of God, and our actions speak louder than words ever could. Fame as a by-product of hard work, dedication, creativity, and innovation to God can be a great force, as can showcasing the great qualities that God has placed inside your heart.

Fame for fame’s sake? We may have some serious soul-searching to do…

 

Purpose

_MG_1688Distractions may take all sorts of forms, tailored to our very wants and needs, and as a result, we may make idols or fall into sins. A distraction is something that takes us away from what we value doing in the moment, or preventing us from doing what we should value, and Paul defines what a distraction might look like, in Romans 1:23 “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” Paul is arguing that in every instance, the giving in to sin is a result of idolatry. The refusal to make God the center of our everyday life, is the result of our desire to worship creation more than our Creator. Therefore, sin is our failure to prize, honor, and praise God as the giver of all good things.

The giving in to sin is a result of idolatry.

I would take what Paul wrote here one step further; our distractions become our idols. Paul argues in verse 23, that the fundamental sin is idolatry, so whatever we value more than God, is not only a distraction, but an idol we have created for ourselves.

Our distractions become our idols.

Fortunately, God knowing our every being, has a response to everything, and in Philippians 3:8-11, Paul spells out how we can shed ourselves of the distractions and idols, so we can realize His purpose in our lives.

Everything that Paul used to value, his prestige, power, and obedience to the Law, he counts as loss, so that “I may gain Christ.” Therefore, the first step to realizing and overcoming our distractions/idols, is to realize, and accept that a relationship with Jesus Christ surpasses all else. God wants us to accept the fact that no matter what we gain or lose on this earth, it is having Jesus that matters most. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”

Joseph

Genesis Blog-01 (1)As children of God, we have unique dreams and gifts intertwined into the fabric of our hearts; crafted by our Father who knew us before we were born. No matter what season we go through in life, but especially in the darkest of them, we doubt the gifts God has given us and the plans He has for us. Even when we are sure in what He is doing, we second guess, hesitate to fully believe in, and discredit the potential of the gifts we have in our hearts and the calling God is unfolding in our path. Joseph is a messy, beautiful, and extreme example of this struggle we all face.

From a young age, God revealed His plans for Joseph through his dreams. Through the Holy Spirit, Joseph was able to interpret his dreams and understand the weight of the calling God placed on His life. He didn’t see the weight of the future suffering he would have to endure in order for God to exalt him to such a place of authority and influence, but he definitely saw the weight of blessing. Although we have no way of anticipating all the gifts and plans God has set aside for us, we see the blessings in what we do currently know. Joseph had this joy when he told his brothers about his dream, but he didn’t see the full implications of His calling; the struggle or the magnitude of blessing it would bring.

This is important to remember when we go through hardships. Joseph suffered for years directly because of his calling. He spent years in slavery and in prison. There are times we look at our situation, as I’m sure Joseph did, and we ask God how He could possibly use us when we are so broken and far from where we feel we need to be. There are times in life we lose instead of gain, we are demoted instead of promoted, and we hit walls in the growth or usage of our gifts. This was seen in Joseph’s life when his brothers sold him into slavery to Ishmaelite traders who were on their way to Egypt. I’m sure being sold by his brothers for 20 pieces of silver made him feel anything but destined for greatness. If Joseph would have lingered in a state of doubt and despair for long enough, allowing the Devil to convince him that he was wrong about the plans God had for him, he may not have had the faith required to obey God’s direction. Several years later when Joseph’s brothers had to go back to him for more grain and to prove they were not spies by bringing Benjamin to get Simon back, their father Israel said, “Put some of the best products of the land in your packs and take them down to the man as a gift—some balsam and some honey, aromatic gum and resin, pistachios and almonds” (Genesis 43:11). He also told them to take twice the money that Joseph gave them. Because all of God’s promises are yes and amen in Him, when we lose or suffer relating to our calling, gifts, or anything else we invest in Him and His Kingdom, He will always bless us with what we lost, or things that are greater. It is so beautiful that God includes balsam, honey, and aromatic gum in the narrative of Joseph’s life to remind us that no matter what we lose in this world for God, He will give it, or something greater, back to us either on earth or in Heaven. May we be encouraged to push through doubt and any fears despite what we may suffer to follow God’s guidance and calling in our lives.

Sodom

_MG_1678In Genesis 18, we find Abraham and Sarah have just received the wonderful news that they’re going to be first-time parents. Despite their advanced age, the Lord was finally going to give Abraham an heir, and continue the fulfillment of his promises to make Abraham “a great and mighty nation” (Gen. 18:18). God then reveals his plan to Abraham in regards to Sodom, that He will go down to Sodom and see if the outcry against the cities are justified.

Let’s take a step back from this, and realize God’s great wisdom and mercy here. We see that God himself has let Abraham know that he is not simply a god who does something without knowing every detail about it. Although we know that God is omnipresent (He is everywhere), He lets Abraham know that before destroying the city, God is going to give it a thorough look-over, and take all things into consideration.

Seeing this nature, Abraham attempts to appeal to God’s good graces, asking if God will spare the city if fifty righteous people are found; then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten. The whole way down, God, who is omniscient (all-knowing), knows that there are no actual righteous people in Sodom, but God demonstrates his mercy through His honesty. God is not being sneaky here; God is not a liar, and would therefore have actually spared the city had there been only ten righteous people, but Abraham had overestimated the righteousness, and underestimated the rampancy of sin.

In chapter 19, we see two angels enter the city. They experience harassment from the townspeople, the sick bargaining Lot for their lives, and their escape from the city. During the escape, Lot’s wife – against the warning of the angels – looked back, and became a pillar of salt. Lot would bargain with the angels to go into a nearby town, instead of the wilderness, to escape the wrath of God upon Sodom. The legacy of Lot would eventually fade into obscurity, and although his sons did become the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites, we classically use Lot as an example of a man who ultimately ended up as a failure.

The story would continue with Abraham, who would go on to become the father of Isaac, Jacob, and whose lineage would eventually reach Jesus Christ. God would fulfill the promises in Abraham’s life, and his legacy would live on to this very day. We see in the life of Abraham evidence of God’s protection, provision, and His direction. And we see in the life of Lot evidence of God’s mercies and grace, despite his fallen state. Although he certainly did not deserve it, God spared his life. But in man’s free-will, God would not force Lot to live a moral life for the rest of his days, as revealed towards the end of chapter 19. And although we often like to identify with Abraham, we are so often like Lot in life; seeking our own benefit and compromising with the world to get by.

As you begin this week, consider the situations you have been pulled out of and where you deserved what was coming, remembering God’s faithfulness and mercy, and we should not stop at simply thanking God for pulling you out of a tight spot; we need to acknowledge our shortcomings, and allow Holy Spirit to do his redeeming work. It’s up to us to seize the opportunities given by this grace, and to allow Jesus to better us as people, to conform to His character each day, and to live the lives we have each been called to live as part of His body. May you have a blessed week.

El-Shaddai

Clouds“I am El-Shaddai- ‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.” Genesis 17:1

In Genesis chapters 15 and 17 we read of God’s promise to Abraham; that He would bless him with many decedents. It is interesting to notice that God spoke promise into Abraham’s life at a time that did not make sense. Not only does God choose to make these promises at an unordinary time; He makes promises that are monumental. As we read in the passage, we notice two distinct reactions to God’s promise. His initial reaction is to seek assurance and his next reaction is disbelief. The God of the Universe – capable of doing all things; unrestrained by time – meets the mind of His servant, Abraham.

God’s promises are divine and powerful; supernaturally pushing through the limits of reality. They are breathed by God and carried out by His dominion throughout the earth. His promises are righteous and trustworthy. What is most beautiful is that whatever God promises is always fulfilled; regardless of the weakness in humanity. Despite our questions and disbelief, whatever God says can be completely trusted because He is God Almighty. His timing is perfect and His promises are honorable. It seems like quite a lot for our human minds to comprehend: the righteousness God being fulfilled through heaven and earth out of perfect love for us.

Steadfast

RiverThen God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations!” Genesis 17:3-4

God had promised Abram a son, and along with divine protection and descendants as numerous as the stars. In doing this, God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, which means, “father of many.” However, Abrahams current circumstance did not match up with the blessings he would soon inherit.

Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” Genesis 17:17

It seemed impossible for Abraham to have a son at his age. Doubts were manifesting and all seemed lost. Nevertheless, we have a God of the impossible who does not work from a human’s point of view.

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6

Whatever circumstances you are in, that you might feel is too hard or that there are too many obstacles in the way; know that what God promises, He fulfills. God eventually blessed Abraham with his first son; therefore, hold steadfast and believe in the Lord and you will see it come to pass, just as Abraham did.