Life is a vapor

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

I had adopted this as my “life verse” in my final year at Bible College. One, I thought it seemed hard core, and two, I really meant it. God’s love had so radically grabbed my heart, that I knew this life didn’t matter as much in length as it does in content. I didn’t know what would happen roughly four years later.

This time last year I went into the hospital with extreme hip pain that had then spread to my whole body. I could barely walk or dress myself. I kept saying I would go to the hospital in another day or two, really praying and hoping things would get better. My friends intervened and took me to the hospital. The last thing I remember until they induced me into a coma for about a week was eating a hummas plate with my friend in the hospital bed.

All of my vital organs started to shut down. What none of us knew at that point was that I had blood poisoning. I remember suffocating, then thinking I had died. Back in the hospital room they had put me on a breathing tube and induced me in a coma. I won’t go into all of the dreams, but I dreamt I was no longer in this world. Much of my dreams were affected by what my body was experiencing in that hospital room. I do remember thinking that all of my dreams were not really heaven because I kept saying, “There will be no more pain and no more tears, and it will be all about Jesus”, and my succession of dreams were not these things.

When I awoke and began to realize that I indeed was still alive, it took me a while to sort through those dreams.

I wanted to come through this experience with all new goals. I would live my life to the fullest! Health began to return, I began to walk again, to gain back the 30 pounds that I had lost, the memories of the event began to fade like a bad dream – one I learned a lot from and grew in my relationship with God in, but hard to say the least.

I am reminded of the simple truth in those dreams – it is all about Jesus and the gospel. It is about loving God with your whole heart, soul mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-40) It is about turning the other cheek, because life is too short, and sometimes shorter than we think. It is about reconciling with one another along the way, and never going to bed angry. Life is tough enough without reciprocation and perpetuating hurt. Jesus came so that he could share in our suffering and take on our hurt. (Isaiah 53:4-5) Life is about Jesus, what He has done, and how He has called us to love Him and one another.

Christian sister, gospel yourself, life is too short and God’s love too precious to ignore and too contagious not to share. We need Jesus through the gospel, and we need one another. Share the good news in word and deed with a coworker, family member or friend, tell your husband and babies (where applicable) that you love them, and show them that you do. Tell a friend how much you appreciate them, give love, because that is what Jesus gave to you to the point of giving His life. Jesus did not live a long life on earth as a human, but He made a way for those who have faith in Him to live eternally to know the Father and the Son. (John 17:3)

Truth: The Sermon on the Mount – Matt. 5-7 (This is a longer one but if you have not read it in awhile, now is as good a time as any)

With Whom Does Your Identity Abide?

Like so many women, I can let “my victories” make me think that I am awesome, and I can let “my failures” make me think that I am unworthy. It is a constant yo-yo from day to day. Will today bring more “victories” than “failures,” or vice versa? But it is God’s joyful intention that we, more and more through his grace, remain in the center of the gospel – the good news that Jesus has granted us salvation and freedom through his perfect life, dying in our place on the cross, conquering Satan, sin and death, and restoring us in right relationship with the Father, our Father.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)

We are all prone to connect our victories as well as our failures to our identity, but it is by the grace and mercy of God that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, their identity is found in Him and nothing else.

Christian sister, if you find this week that you are feeling down from actions or words you said, take the time to repent and believe that Jesus is your identity, your “failures” are not your identity. God can use those “failures” to show His greater grace and mercy in transforming our minds through them. (Rom. 12:1-2) If you are having a week where you are boasting in “your victories,” realize that there is nothing that you have that you did not first receive. (1 Cor. 4:7) If you are having a week where you are being raised on a pedestal of praise, or you are under the weight of criticism, these as well are not where your identity abides. Through the gospel we settle into what Timothy Keller calls “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” (a book I would highly recommend if this is an area you struggle in as well). This “self-forgetfulness” connects neither sin nor accomplishments to identity. Sin should be addressed and accomplishments celebrated, but neither defines who you are. Should you believe in the truth below, you are a daughter of God, and that is your identity. Meditate on the gospel daily so that you remember who you are and with Whom your identity abides. The gospel will be your anchor when victories and failures try to muddy the water of who you are.

Truth: “...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

Returning and Rest

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling…” Isaiah 30:15

Recently I was able to get away and take a few days of reflection over this last year. While I wish I could say that I waxed spiritually eloquent reflections the whole time, I will say I that I did conquer 3 pints of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. But all in all it was a great time to take in a birds eye view of this last year – the triumphs and the struggles. In looking back over 2013, one thing that really struck home was that God taught me a deeper meaning of rest in Him. In this last year, a few months in the hospital and several more of recovery showed me that He is in control, therefore I can rest in Him knowing that He takes care of family, friends and ministry.

I enter into this new year with new desires and goals, and even in those I find rest. I am reminded to make every day about resting in Jesus – loving Him and others, as He loved me, and growing as His disciple. I can easily let my love for Jesus get choked out by what I have to do each day, but the sum of my days when I stand before God will not sparkle with man made accomplishments. Rather cascades of brilliant glory beyond my current sight or understanding will emanate from a life given to faith in Jesus Christ, resting in my identity as God’s child and co-heir with Jesus, and participating in His grand story, for His glory and the service of others.

In this new year we can all be tempted to rush ahead, putting our trust in our plans and resolutions; relying on our own strength. This is where we need the reminder to return – repenting of trying to do things on our own, and rest in Jesus, right here at the beginning of a new year, and every morning for that matter. Let the plans of the year be laid on the solid foundation of trust and devotion in the One in whom we find life and strength. 

We will dream, we will build, and we will overcome, but not by our own strength. Christian sister, start each day by gospeling yourself. Tell yourself the good news that the victory is not out there, it is in returning. The victory is not in your strength and power, it is found in quietness and trust in Jesus. It is this quietness and trust that will be your strength. What is important today is not how well you will do at work on its own, it is how your rest and trust in Jesus will pour into your work. What is important today is not how well you love your family, it is how your rest and trust in Jesus will pour into loving your family. What will be important at the end of this year is not how well your plans worked out, but it is how your rest and trust in Jesus will pour into the makings of a year that will truly be worth celebrating – because in returning and rest, God worked through you to build a legacy on the True Foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-15). Make the important thing the important thing. I hope it is not said of me or you “but we were unwilling” to return and rest.

Truth:Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

So What’s It Good For?

As expressed in the last post: “For those that receive Jesus and believe in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God (John 1:12). That work is finished. You are a daughter of God in Jesus Christ. That seed has been planted in the field. But there is a whole lot of growth until that seed becomes a tree.”

Prior to becoming a Christian there are hardships and struggles. Those struggles don’t just go away once we do believe in Jesus. There is a whole interim period between justification – when Christ’s righteousness is credited to us as we believe in Him (Romans 3:26; 5:1), and the glorification – when this perishable body must put on the imperishable and spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:12-58). This interim period of growth, so to speak, is what many call sanctification. Wayne Gruden, an evangelical theologian, seminary professor and author, says in his book Bible Doctrine, that “in Acts 20:32, Paul refers to Christians as ‘all those who are sanctified’ (using a perfect participle that expresses both a completed past action [they were sanctified] and a continuing result [they continue to experience the influence of that past action]).” How can this process of sanctification sometimes look a little messy, and what’s it good for?

“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.” James 1:2-4

First observation here is that James (the half-brother of Jesus) is talking to his “brothers”. He is talking to fellow Christians. Specifically, it would seem that he is talking about Jewish-Christians who were dispersed/scattered after Stephen’s persecution (James 1:1; Acts 11:19). But there is a further word for us today. Carson and Moo, authors of An Introduction to the New Testament state that “the word also had a metaphorical sense, characterizing Christians generally as those who live away from their true heavenly home (1 Peter 1:1).” As Christians, we are not yet home. We will come up against various trials.

We will experience trials of many kinds – health problems, gossip, grieving over loved ones stuck in sin, abuse, the death of loved ones, as well as our own sin and negative thoughts, emotions and actions. How we respond to the trials of life reveal areas God is continuing to make us into His likeness. This is actually a very useful guage when you think about it.

Are you “counting it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds”? If the answer is no, I don’t blame you! I don’t always count it joy in the middle of the struggles of this life. But this is a useful observation. The moment we face these trials with anger, frustration, jealousy, etc., it is an opportunity. As we are aware of our reaction, we can ask God to transform our perspective into His perspective. Fill-in-the-blank situation is an opportunity to produce steadfastness, and all the other fruit of the spirit, in the place of our negative emotions. When steadfastness has had its full effect, God’s word tells us that we will be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Does this reality seem like a very distant reality. It certainly does to me. But it is a promise. God will complete that which He has begun in you.

Christian sister, gospel yourself. We all face trials of various kinds. We all struggle, but God has a greater promise. Look at the struggle simply for what it is – an opportunity to reveal a possible distortion in our beliefs about who God is, who He is for us, and who we are in Him. He will use every one of these situations to point to the greater reality – that He is still fashioning us into His image, and that this is not our permanent home. Ask God to make you aware of these moments when you get frustrated, angry, resentful, etc., in the midst of the trials of many kinds. Then ask Him to change your perspective to see His truth – He is God, He is in control, He is for you, He loves you because He loves you, You are His child, and He will finish the good work that He has begun in you.

Truth: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

It Gets Messy

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Proverbs 14:4

This proverb stopped me in my tracks the other week. I am sure that I had read it before, but it had never jumped out at me. At first it stopped me because it just seemed so random. I didn’t get it. In the midst of Solomon talking about the fool and the faithful, stands this one piece about oxen and mangers. I had to read it a few times.

Often in Proverbs an abstract thought is presented by means of a concrete example. Rev Dr Abraham Cohen says in his commentary on Proverbs that, “the owner is spared the trouble of cleaning it (the manger) periodically and seeing that the animals are provided with food. But this apparent advantage is more than counterbalanced by the emptiness of the barn, which means a shortness of food for the man.”

What hit me about this proverb is the parallel I find in my life as a redeemed daughter of the King. I need the work of Jesus Christ in the harvest of my soul to bring forth fruit. For those that receive Jesus and believe in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God (John 1:12). That work is finished. You are a daughter of God in Jesus Christ. That seed has been planted in the field. But there is a whole lot of growth until that seed becomes a tree. As this growth is happening it will get messy, and the field of your soul will have to put some fertilizer to use. So I am faced with two choices – abundant fruit in my life, which will get a little messy in the process, or minimal to no fruit, but no mess. I choose abundant fruit.

So, having recognized the benefit of abundant fruit that will feed and sustain me year round over minimal fruit that will leave me starving or dead, I also accept that it will get messy. When things get messy in our lives it is not fun, however, the Father, through the finished work of Jesus Christ, and the continuing work of His Holy Spirit, will continue to show us year by year His faithfulness, and others as well as ourselves will see the fruit of that. We won’t see the fruit during certain seasons, just the mess, but when the harvest comes we surely give thanks!

In the mess, I see I am faced with a further choice – I can hide the messiness of life, or it can be put to use for even greater fruitfulness in the field. When oxen were used in the field their manure often fertilized it as well. God is not glorified if I hide my mess. You would think it crazy if the farmer hid the manure under the bed or in the refrigerator, but that is what we do with our mess! We hide it so that no one will know that our harvest comes often at the price of the mess. God is glorified in the midst of the mess, as we turn to him in dependence, and as we are continually made into His image. Therefore, we have no reason to boast, but to praise Him. God knows that He has chosen jars of clay to carry this treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:7). If you see someone showing a lot of fruit in their life, understand that a lot of messy has come with that as well.

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving as a symbol of rejoicing after a successful harvest. You may be celebrating Thanksgiving this week with family and friends. I hope you enjoy great fellowship, food and thankfulness. For those that experience a less than peaceful version of the holidays, I hope you remember to allow the messiness of life to form Christ in you. Let God form Christ in you through the conversations and interactions.

Christian sister, gospel yourself. Speak the truth to yourself this week, and let the messiness of life reminds us that this life is finite, but the inner treasure of Jesus Christ is eternal. Don’t let the messiness of life get you down or surprise you. Don’t run away from it or hide it because of the fear of man. Trust in God that He will work all things together for your good. Continue to watch Him show Himself faithful. This may not be the season where you can see the full spiritual harvest, but growth is happening all the time, it is coming. The seed of faith in Jesus Christ will become a tree and a harvest that will bear much fruit (Matt. 13:31-32).

Truth:And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Afraid to Move

I have struggled with fear for as long as I can remember. It has taken many different shapes, but at this point in my life I struggle with the fear to move, essentially the fear of man. Even though Christ has set me free, I still find in my flesh the fear to pray in a group, or to say something or write something because of how it will be portrayed or received by others. In these moments I need to gospel myself and remember that God has already set me free, my sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ. I need this gospel everyday to understand the hope to which I have been called (Eph. 1:16-23). I have been my own functional lord and savior – controlling my life and my responses, afraid to remember who I am in Christ and who I am growing to be, in His likeness. However, it is my desire for freedom; to delight in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; to remember that I have been cleansed from my former sins and that I am a new creation in Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-11).

As I step out in faith, by God’s grace, I see that I need to take the time to be thoughtful in how I speak and respond, to make sure that when I am making statements about God and His word that I give do diligence to check my facts, but ultimately I need to make the move once I have done that. I need to remember to live as a new creation in Christ, even if it means being open to correction, for then I can actually grow more. Scripture says, “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.” (Prov.15:32) I don’t want to be afraid to speak or to act because of the fear of man or of correction. Let correction come, because it is my hope to be more like Christ.

Tim Chester, author of the book You Can Change says,

“…God sent his Son to buy our freedom. We’re no longer slaves with a slavemaster. Now we’re children with a Father. We don’t have to worry about proving ourselves because God says, ‘You’re my child.’ We don’t have a spirit of fear, but a Spirit who prompts us to cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

If you suffer from similar fears, release them to the only Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ. Let’s get off the throne of our hearts and our attempts to be god, and find that underneath are the Everlasting Arms. Christian sister, remember who you are and gospel yourself daily that you do not forget.

Truth: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deut. 33:27