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faith

something better than easy belief

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I’m noticing a pattern in my relationship with God: not only do I learn new things, but He takes familiar truths and redefines them.

For example, in high school, I absorbed the term sanctification as God’s shaping me to be more like Jesus. But in my spirit-and-flesh wrestling through life, I’ve been tempted to think of sanctification as ‘you’re not enough as you are, you always need to be growing,’ or ‘keep your spiritual act together, don’t mess up.’ This belief cultivates an anxious obedience and a lack of joy in faithfulness, not connection to God. 

Are you more aware and driven by the knowledge of your shortcomings and failures than you are aware of and driven by God’s mercy and grace to you in Jesus Christ? It is not a bad thing to know where you fall short of the glory of God. Remember God hates sin. But being aware of those things, does that drive you into the grace of God, or are you so aware of those that you have minimized the grace of God and you have left orthodox Christian faith and you’re out here trying to earn what you will never be able to earn? Matt Chandler

Sanctification, including the Father’s loving discipline, is living in a right relationship to Jesus Christ, the Master, that brings and sustains right thoughts, feelings, choices, and habits, enabling one to do what is right (Dallas Willard).

Spiritual maturity is living dependent on God, not independent of Him.

This year, my relationship with God has felt a bit like an unpredictable roller coaster, and believing Him hasn’t come easily or felt warm or bright, but maybe it’s better that way. I often felt like the person James refers to, “who doubts like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (1:6). Not that I doubted God’s existence or love or the Bible as truth, but I vacillated between trusting God, the world I could see, or my own abilities and feelings. The fight to believe God felt messy and tiring and discouraging. 

Today, almost in 2018’s last month, why do I say this season of warfare might be better than easy belief? Because it’s difficult to be satisfied in Christ if I’m never truly hungry for Him.

When we circle the desert, looking at ourselves or others to fix or change or be enough, we live in perpetual thirst. With the help of dear friends and Spirit-filled authors, I was challenged to take my lack of easy belief and dig deeper, despite my feelings; to seek more diligently, in spite of the temptation to quit; to confront my prideful tendencies, even though the admission felt shameful. 

I brought my seemingly empty, struggling, no-idea-what-else-to-do self before Him and asked to be filled with something new. 

Truly, it is worth being poor and greatly tried in faith, for the sake of having day by day such precious proofs of the loving interest which our kind Father takes in everything that concerns us. And how should our Father do otherwise? He that has given us the greatest possible proof of His love which He could have done, in giving us His own Son, surely He will with Him also freely give us all things. George Müller

I came across these words by Hudson Taylor and designed a phone wallpaper: “How to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” 

It is not in trying harder, but in the yielding to Him to work where belief is strengthened and renewed. It’s in the ‘I’m not enough, You’re enough‘ confession the Holy Spirit breathes a new layer of trust into my heart. It’s my desperate need of help to be the sweetest place to be, because God is an inexhaustible fountain and will never not give of Himself to His children who ask.  

God surprised me. In an uncomfortable season where belief felt unstable and my flesh ran out and His presence didn’t seem close, I learned a degree of greater ‘certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead’ (Hebrews 11:1 TLB). And wherever you find yourself, so can you. 

The judgment we deserve was absorbed by Jesus on the cross, so every challenge, pain, discipline, dry season, and sanctifying path has a purpose, not as punishment, but as gracious provision.

What if our weakness and need and humility is the gateway to more of God? Yes.
What if grace not accepted as a gift is grace not being authentically lived? Woah.
What is pleasing God is not found at all in living independent of Him to any degree, but dependent on Him? Praises.
What if believing God’s Word with our minds is all we can do, even if our feelings are super slow to catch up? More than okay.
#preachingtomyselfhere

Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all. D.L. Moody

My best stance on this earth is a posture of receiving – all of Him as all I need (Philippians 1). It’s a position of tasting and seeing God as enough that brings Him glory, invites Him in, and changes us. It’s a rolling every burden onto the shoulders of Christ. It’s finding joy in being hidden in Him. It’s confidence that nothing can separate us from His love. In all honesty, maybe I don’t want my faith to be easy breezy all the time, because I might not experience the magnitude of the gospel or the wonder of God as my lifeline. Ask me again the next time a season like this comes around. 

 

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What stops you from coming in need before God? Has God ever surprised you? What distracts you from being His beloved? What kind of season are you in with God? I’d love hear some of your story!

from ‘religiously right’ to Jesus, only Jesus

Posted in faith

I sat in the pew, taking notes, attentive to the pastor in front of me reading the story of a Canaanite woman’s encounter with Jesus (Matthew 15:21-28). 

I confess the story is one I mostly glaze over, because it seems weird and uncharacteristic of Jesus. This day, God had primed my heart and mind to hear something new. 

Prior to this moment in Scripture, Jesus had held conversations with people driven by religious achievement. He then encounters a woman in great need asking for mercy purely out of belief that He is the only one who can change her circumstance. But He responded so uniquely, throwing up obstacle after obstacle. He spoke hard words, and she persisted. She was determined that even a crumb from His hand would be enough to change her life. And He was delighted by her faith!

I imagine she had exhausted all other options, abandoning idols of her friends and family, desperate for any semblance of breakthrough. Nothing was working. Nothing was changing.

I can relate. I can relate to the madness of seeking deep peace and durable joy by ways not God. I can relate to the feeling of getting so close to freedom you can smell it, but never experience it work its way into your system. By grace, His Spirit is renewing us. I saw the reality of the gospel in full color that day: a life of faith, by way of God’s Spirit, is fixed on God and His perfect, crucified, resurrected, reigning Son – not self.

Like this woman encountered obstacles in her pursuit of Jesus, an obstacle to wholehearted surrender to Jesus I fight every day is self-reliance

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freedom is more than an optimistic sentiment

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While seeing friends in North Carolina we visited the Billy Graham library. Walking amongst items and testimonials of those Graham served alongside and those to whom he served up the transforming person of Jesus, I couldn’t help but marvel at the gift of my own salvation. Standing a few feet from where his and Ruth’s bodies now lay within a well-kept garden, a surprising word came bustling up through my soul: free. 

When I think of freedom, I think of wild horses bounding across an open field. I think of a rushing river, never stagnant. I also imagine its opposite: chains or a prison cell. Living freely felt bold and risky, and held at my arm’s length. For a rule-follower, freedom seemed unsustainable, untethered from anything solid. It was many years before I realized what freedom is Christ truly meant. Hint: it’s not simply an optimistic sentiment. 

Peter, a disciple of Jesus, challenges us to “live as people who are free… living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Freedom is the way of life Christ purchased for us with His death on the cross. It’s not a special level we reach as we mature. It is not a temporary state reserved for the days we feel victorious. The moment we believe Jesus as Savior and Lord we become free people.  

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

John MacArthur says, “God’s gift of redemption brings salvation from both sin’s oppression and sin’s consequences—and one day from its very existence.” For us to live enslaved to our sufficiency, or fear, or success, or inability is like God presenting His gift, and us refusing to accept it. 

He says, You. Are. Free.

And our lives respond with, I’d rather not.  

My path to embracing freedom has been slow and a bit challenging. Why? Because for a long time I worked for God as if an employee, instead of receiving, as His child, all He wanted to be and give. 

In His presence is fullness joy, but as a worker bee, I struggled to hear His kind voice, to find His loving eyes, amidst the flurry of my efforts to please Him. I battled the lie that since God had done such a miraculous and wonderful saving of me, it was only right that I should respond with something in return. Freedom was transactional, elusive, sometimes foreign and oftentimes out of reach. 

I’ve long known the facts of freedom, but once my soul yielded to the tangible freedom Jesus held out to me, I took a step toward joy I’d never known before.

Living free is a continual coming to His glorious throne, knowing rest for my soul, whatever the circumstances. It is the gift of His presence in prayer and the Bible, no matter how faithful (or not) I feel, as a daughter enjoys the company of her Father.

To embrace our freedom, we must accept the unchangeable truth that we are in Him and He is in us. It is accepting what He says about us as true no matter what. We’re free to live by faith and not sight – “a life of joyful reliance on what God does for us, not what we can do for God” (John Piper). Our freedom identity stabilizes us when we’ve made mistakes, when we’re hurt by another, or when life threatens to unravel us. We’re free to enjoy creation and the Creator, free to walk closely with His Spirit. We’re free to love and be loved, to depend on His sufficiency every moment. We’re free to act on confidence in Him over insecurity in ourselves, free to confess and to forgive. And like Billy Graham, we’re free to speak the Truth boldly, surrender our passions to God’s purposes, and as we breathe our last, say ‘gain’ (Philippians 1:20-21).

Can you see freedom in your life? If not, what is stopping you? 

 


 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

–Charles Wesley, “And can it be that I should gain”