Examine

Processed with VSCO with c3 presetWho are we really? Do we hide behind our deeds, how many times we go to church, or how good we look in front of everyone? But does that reveal your heart, especially when actions may deceive others, even ourselves? Through examining ourselves, we can hopefully discover who the real us is.

But first, what self-examination is not. Too often we look to others and think if we are doing as good as them, then we are in good standing, but Matthew 7:3-5 could not be clearer – we are to look to ourselves. The only standard we need compare ourselves to is Jesus Christ, because one of the dangerous pitfalls of comparing ourselves to man is that we judge their actions as worse than ours, therefore we must be good. This is wrong because comparing ourselves to others leads to a false sense of self-righteousness. God is the only standard we hold ourselves to for holiness.

So then, why is self-examination so difficult? Why is it so hard for us to be real with ourselves? It’s hard because we are prideful, because we think we’re better than we are. C.S. Lewis once said that “pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.” We’re prideful, we don’t want to admit that we are messed up, not to others, and especially not to ourselves, because being honest about our faults makes us vulnerable. Being told were wrong makes us uncomfortable, and known, but that’s exactly how God wants us to be with Him.

How do we do it? How do we examine ourselves? The first step is to create space. Just you and God. If Jesus Christ needed to create space to commune with God, there is no reason why we shouldn’t either. The second step is to pray. Slow down. Speak clearly. Imagine you are in the same space with God, and just talk with Him. Ask God to show where in your life you need to repent. This is the hard part, because it’s scary and you must be real and vulnerable with yourself to God. In your prayer ask God to give you the courage and boldness to identify and call out your weakness before Him. Next, we need to read scripture. Ask God that his word be a double-edged sword, ask for conviction and divine reflection. If you need to, ask Him to show you direction when you’re reading. Now here is the most important step: listen. It’s hard for us because we live in a world of instant gratification, but slow down, and listen. Really listen, stop, think, and He will tell you what you need. Lastly, ask for help. Ask Holy Spirit to kill the sin in your life, ask to be filled every single day, and trust that He will change you from one degree of glory to another.

Who is the real you?

Who is God calling you to be?

What needs to change?

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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.

 

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.

Patriarchy

PatriarchyIf the recent boom in cinema of superhero movies has taught us anything (besides the very real possibility that maybe Hollywood is running out of ideas), it’s that people as a whole love their heroes. We love those who fight for us, who stand for something greater than themselves, who are able to do the things we cannot with fantastic abilities and daring feats of courage; even if they’re sometimes not real. Off the silver screen, we see this adoration in the respect people in this country have for those who serve in the armed forces, both at home and abroad. Heroic reverence can also be seen in the way people look at celebrities, musicians, and sports figures. We think of these individuals with qualities desirable to be emulated. We follow their every move, wear them on our t-shirts, read their memoirs, watch their interviews. We do everything we can to be as close to our heroes as possible, to know them, to be like them.

But there always seems to be something that happens. You see, as human beings, we can rapidly elevate heroes, only to have them fall just as quickly. Beloved celebrities with picture perfect relationships being caught in acts of cheating, sports figures caught with performance enhancing drugs, musicians diving hopelessly into drugs and alcohol; when our heroes falter, they fall from our grace. All it takes is one wrong move, and suddenly we’ve lost all of our enchantment. For some, it’s a loss of hope and identity, wondering how it could be that their hero let them down like that, how someone so seemingly perfect could do something so evil. For others, it’s a sense of satisfaction, feeling justified in their own folly, and perhaps even superior now that a heroic figure has an even darker secret revealed than they did. The player is cut from the team, the celebrity and athlete disenfranchised by their sponsors, with futures looking bleak. Some recover, others never do.

With Christians, it’s the exact same thing. The amount of Christian celebrities that have been publicly caught in sin is staggering, and have gone to give the people of God a bad name, despite all the good those people had done in their lives. People who put out literature, music, held conferences, and saw the very hand of God work in their lives; destroyed by greed, lusts, and egos. You name it, there isn’t a sin even the “best of us” hasn’t committed. The bible comes chock full of faulty heroes of its own, especially in the old testament. When looking into the history of the people of God, we begin with the patriarchs in the book of Genesis. Beginning with Abraham, and stretching through his offspring Isaac and Jacob, we see a bloodline chosen by God, and ultimately tainted by sin. True, these men did great feats, multiplied their wealth and dominion over the regions they traveled through and settled into, and displayed great faith at times. But their legacies bear the scars of their failures, their cowardice, and their deception. We have Abraham’s failure to trust in God when he put his wife in a position to be sexually compromised. This sin would later be repeated by his son Isaac in another context. Abraham again, who lacked the courage to wait for God’s promise, and instead slept with his servant for an heir, and had them abandoned once his own wife bore a son. And we have Jacob, who capitalized on a moment of weakness to rob his brother of his birthright, and would conspire to deceive his father to seal his brother’s fate. Despite all this, we find ourselves taught from a young age to look up to these people. “See what Abraham did? Be like Jacob, wrestle until you’re blessed!”

From Israel’s patriarchal lineage of deceivers, liars, and cowards, Jesus would eventually make his entrance into the world, and defeat sin forever. The true beauty of the patriarch stories is that despite our weakness and depraved states, God still chooses to use us for His glory. Despite being unworthy from birth, God’s love so transcends all things so much that he desires us to be reconciled to Him. And even when we fall, there is grace to pick us up, and set our feet upon the path again. Stand firm in the fact that we serve a powerful and gracious God, one who can take our dry bones and broken pieces, and make something beautiful for His glory. Be blessed.

Sacrifice

Mountain Side 1Imagine having to make a sacrifice this week. The sacrifice is unknown, yet expected to be great. This act would scare us, granted today in 2017 comfort is high and many of us have busy schedules. Rewind to Genesis 22, Abraham was called to make a sacrifice assuming God was going to provide him with a lamb for the altar, yet prepared to use his one and only son as the sacrifice.

The outcome was relieving as God did provide a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in the end, but the point of the story is that Abraham put full trust in God regardless of the weight of the sacrifice. How often do we go that far in our walk with God? Do we get to the alter? Or do we even consider going up the mountain?

Trust in God wasn’t even a question anymore for Abraham, after being 100 years old and having a child, God was sure to be evident and trust worthy of any word he claimed. Nevertheless, was man trustworthy at this point? As the story of Abraham goes, although he was promised a great offspring, this man could not come the same conclusion. Sacrificing ourselves and putting down what everything else but God says seems impossible, yet we see the success later in Abraham’s walk with God made it all worth it.