"We let subjective impressions determine what we'll accept as objective fact...In our arrogance, we invest our feelings (or lack thereof) with final authority rather than recognize that our emotions are unstable and unreliable, often hopelessly controlled by selfish pride, and riddled with lies - lies that 'feel' like the truth...
That's the bad news. The good news: He gives grace to the humble. Who are the humble? The humble are those whose first response to objective truth from God's Word is not to ask, 'How do I feel?' but to say, 'I'm not going to let my faith be determined and directed by the subjective and the experiential. Instead, I confess openly before God that I will believe the objective truth of His Word, regardless of how I feel.'"
This year is only a few months old, but there has already been a theme running through it...and I feel it deep: be not faithless but believing.
Doubt. That shady character seems to follow me everywhere. As often as I try to ignore his presence, he still seems to find ways to make himself known. And so I must continually dismiss him with a word of faith. A reminder that God has not left me and that my fears, while seemingly real, are nothing compared to the ability of my Lord to hear, save, and restore.
I am reminded of the disciple in the scriptures named Thomas who refused to believe in the resurrection of Christ until he had proof. Even after three years of following Jesus around and hearing him speak of his future rising from the dead, Thomas could not shake his own doubts. He couldn't accept that such an impossibility could become reality through the power of God. His own understanding limited his ability to believe. And the Lord himself, while patient with Thomas's questions and skepticism, urged him to believe things unseen as things seen...for that is where his faith would be found (John 20:24-29).
I read the story of this man again...and insert my own name in his place. I discover many times when others have told me of Christ's mighty acts: "we have seen the Lord" (vs. 24) and I have responded in unbelief: until He proves himself to me, "I will not believe." My humiliation has come when Christ himself has lovingly appeared to my doubting heart and said, "Peace be with you," when all I expected or deserved was a rebuke for my refusal to accept Him for who He is. How often He has then followed up his greeting of peace with the simple yet profound words, "Be not faithless, but believing" (vs. 26). In that moment, I have had no choice but to confront my inner Thomas and say, "My Lord and my God!"
Faith is a scary business. It empties me of me and causes me to resign my will to the things humanly impossible and illogical. Because it removes self from the equation, I am left to the control and direction of Almighty God. I cannot rely on my own understanding or my own ability to see and comprehend because, like Thomas, it limits me from seeing God for who He truly is. My eyes become blinded with the darkness of my own reason, and I miss the many ways in which the Lord is working. I grow discontent because I think my will has been violated, and I forget that I do not belong to myself in the first place. I miss His miracles, His blessings, because I am too occupied trying to trace His path and figure out where He leads...and yes, even make sure that it matches with my desires. So often, He must stand there and say as he did to His followers, "Oh you of little faith! Why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31)
If I am truly honest, faith in action leaves no room for doubt. Because faith is believing a fully capable and sovereign God to act on the behalf of those He loves. How might I grow in my belief of Him if I would just get myself out of the way?! How might His presence becomes more real to me if I would stop trying to understand Him and just trust Him instead?!
In this year 2016, I have seen many things that have reminded me of God's ability and my in-ability to do the impossible. He has done many works that have brought to mind the truth that doubt does nothing for me - except withhold peace of soul and spiritual sight. If I am to truly behold God, if I am to see Him as my Lord and my God, then I must not be faithless, but believing. I must ask Him to remove the inner Thomas from my heart so that I can believe God for who He is...and also beseech Him to replace that doubt and fear with a bold faith that holds firm. A faith that believes without having to see. A faith that needs no proof because God alone is proof enough.
It is Easter morning. And He is risen! The birds greet my ears with their songs of jubilation and rejoicing. They know their Creator, and they praise Him with their tuneful harmonies.
It is Easter morning. I too join with His Creation is celebrating the fact that death could not hold my Savior down. Sin did not have the final victory. He did.
I reflect on the fact that, up until Christ, the cross had been a symbol of brutality and cruel death. Those who were crucified endured the worst shame...publicly...and suffered terrible things at the hands of the Romans. It was truly one of the harshest forms of execution history has ever known. If you died on a cross, you died a slow and often horrible death: they Romans would watch as you sank under your own weight, causing the nails in your hands to tear your flesh. Your feet would bear your weight and as your lungs filled up with fluid, you would have to push up on your feet to get enough air to breathe. Your death took merely hours or sometimes days. There was no dignity to passing this way. Only public dishonor and embarrassment. But then, when Jesus endured this same painful form of torture, He somehow changed the meaning of this type of death. Because now, there was a victory in the shame. There was a triumph in the dying.
When the Lord arose on Easter morning, He proved that the redemption story was now completed and that humanity finally had hope of eternal life. For over a thousand years, mankind had wandered with no assurance of spiritual destination. Sacrifices of dead animals and burnt offerings were the atonement for sins. Humanity had to pay their way to God. Now, Jesus Himself established that HE was the atoning sacrifice and that burnt offerings were no longer needed to gain acceptance with God. He took our sins on Himself, bore them under the weight of God's wrath and removal of His presence, and did it so that you and I could become right with the Father.
I reflect on the startling truth that because of what Christ did, those things and places that once symbolized death and bitter endings, now stand as victory monuments to Him. Just like the cross, what was once was my doom and destined destruction, now has become the redeeming of my soul. The resurrection didn't just occur for those who need salvation and have not yet accepted the grace of God. No. The resurrection happened so that my heart can be restored aright. It is the picture of God raising my dark and dead places into new life with Him. When He walked out of that tomb, He declared that I was no longer a slave to sin but an heir to God through Him. And He knew that someday, He would call this fearful and sin-sick soul to Himself and make it come alive. And not only did the resurrection become reality for me personally the day I gave my heart to Him, but it continues to renew itself daily as I see Him faithfully mend what is broken in my life and turn it into something beautiful.
This is the message of Easter, and this is why it matters: without a Savior coming to earth and entering into this messy world of ours to walk it, breath it, see it, and touch it for three years, there is no death on the cross and therefore, no resurrection or hope of redeeming life. Only because the sinless Son of God was willing to step into the ugliness of humankind and their sin, can we then be given the reality of a new life defined by His righteousness. When He left those filthy grave clothes behind Him in the empty tomb, He symbolized that the past shame, guilt, and regrets of the past no longer had any power over Him and His chosen followers. Those who belong to Him are made alive because He lives. And they can face each day with hope. They can live a life without fear because He has risen! Because He redeems. Because He holds every part of this world and their hearts in His capable hands.
And so...let my soul join the chorus this day of those that sing the song of triumph. And the praises that are heard today are only a taste of what these ears will hear when, someday, I see the risen Lord in His glory as He truly is!
"Jesus, God with us, endured the worst punishment that men's black hearts could conceive. He bent his will to the mystery of suffering and walked headlong into the painful persecution of men, even men who knew not what they did. He suffered them, though he could have reached back into his Old Testament book of tricks, could have unleashed the death angel or turned them all into pillars of salt. He did not cry a mumbling word, and as he hung crucified, his parting shot to his accusers, his dying request to the Godhead, was simple. 'Father, forgive them.'"
"Lead me to the cross and show me His wounds...may I there see my sins as the nails that transfixed Him, the cords that bound Him, the thorns that tore Him, the sword that pierced Him. Help me to find in His death the reality and immensity of His love."
"Jesus groaned in the garden too. Isn't it ironic? The Great Reconciler himself asking to forego the very act that would bring reconciliation? He wanting redemption by some other purchase? How do we handle that? He too was fully human.
The mystery deepens and deepens.
I consider Jesus in Gethsemane. Lord, if it be your will, let this cup pass. It is the most human prayer of Jesus, I think. It is the bend-low before God, the stinging sweat prayer where Jesus says, 'If you could spare me a favor, I'd rather not endure this.' I consider his prayer of self-preservation; if his request had been granted, what of this groaning creation? Would we still have been united with God, rescued from the slavery and corruption of the world? Or would we have groaned and groaned and groaned into and throughout eternity?
In his humanity, though, Jesus learned to bend his will to God's so that he could be the ultimate agent of reconciliation. He surrendered to the mystery of God's will, that he would be crucified, murdered, and that his murder would somehow bring a better way.
To ask for relief from God - this is human. To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering - this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery."
It is the season of remembrance. The time when all Christians recall the miraculous triumph of the Lord Himself over sin forever. And yet, year to year, I find that this season holds a deeper meaning as the truth of these events in history become more important to me. And I care to a greater extent. I feel the story of Christ and his suffering in ways not experienced in times prior. And here, in 2016, I discover I am placing myself in the story a bit more. Through my imagination, as I read of the things leading up to my Savior's death on the cross, I can put myself in the moments ...
I am one of the disciples - as the Lord leads us in the last supper, my mind is confused and bewildered by the things of which He speaks. I do not understand why one of our own would betray Him tonight. God forbid! We've all spent the last three years of our lives traveling with Jesus and beholding His many miracles. We've heard His teaching. We believe Him to be the Messiah. But why would the Messiah come to earth to die when we've all supposed Him to be the conquering King that would overthrow Rome?! With my head still spinning, I later follow the Master to Gethsemane. I am among those who cannot watch and pray with Him. I see His agony yet am puzzled. Why such anguish?! If anything, my flesh tells me I am tired and I fall asleep...abandoning my Lord in His greatest hour of need. Still later, as an angry mob comes and arrests my rabbi, Jesus, I am left in shock. Why would He have the story end this way?! Could I have done something to stop them from taking Him like that?! The thought nags me...why is He going so willingly, too?!
I am one of the angry mob - now that I think about it, I am one of the ones more concerned for my own status and power than for the good of Christ Himself. I am more about advancing my own causes and keeping my place of influence that rescuing my own soul. And so I lead Him to be tried for crimes He did not commit. I accuse Him of things He did not do. And yet, in spite of me and my lies, He utters not a word.
I am one of the crowd - shouting that the robber Barabas deserves a release more than the Son of God, I hear my mocking voice calling out among the scoffers. I should be ashamed but instead I feel as though God has let me down. Days earlier, I had joined the throngs in shouting, "Hosanna!" and thinking that the liberating King who would free us from the Romans had come. Now, He is destined for death and claims that His kingdom is not an earthly one. Feeling let down, I continue to shout the chant, "Crucify Him!"
I follow the bleeding Christ as he makes his way to Calvary. With a crown of thorns piercing His brow, and the blood-stripes running red down his back, He stumbles under the weight of the cross. He is doomed to die. And my sins put Him there. But I do not accept that truth. As the Romans nail Him to the cross and raise Him high, I stare and wonder:
The disciple in me feels mournful as my rabbi will no longer be around. I know it is humanly impossible for Him to rise from the dead, even though He said that was His end. I am sad. I feel lost. I am undone.
The angry mobster in me feels satisfied that this religious nutcase is finally out of my hair and I can go back to my life before He disturbed it. I can have the peace of mind I've been seeking...without Him.
The shouting crowd member in me now wonders if I was right to call for His death. As I hear Him speaking love to His enemies from the cross, I am confused. Perhaps this man was someone special and I missed the meaning of His life. Just maybe this man truly was the Son of God and I somehow put Him on that cross.
...And so here I find myself. With the perspective of time, I can see that I have no right to judge those who put my Lord to death - because my sins did the same. It was my shame that held Him on the cross and that I would've been among those who called for His crucifixion had I been there. By I also see that His dying breath has brought me life. Life that I did not deserve. He willingly went to the cross to seal my pardon and give me hope. When He cried, "It is finished," my second chance at redemption was born. My first parents, Adam and Eve, doomed the entire human race - including myself - to destruction. But here, on the cross, Jesus reversed the story and made a way out. Over 2,000 years later, I plead with God to forgive me for putting Him into that misery. But I also thank Him for accepting the penalty that I so deserved and mercifully giving me life everlasting.
This is the definition of true sacrifice: a sinless man, the Son of a holy God, willingly going to His death for the crimes of mankind in order to purchase their redemption. Truly, what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
Yesterday it snowed for the first time since Christmas. Most of Alaska, where I live, has experienced an unusually mild winter, and bare ground covered in patches of ice has become the norm in recent months. But now, the long-awaited whiteness has finally arrived. Many residents of this place are extremely happy...because it's Alaska...and Alaska is supposed to be the winter wonderland, is it not?!
In looking out my window this morning, it occurred to me that this scene lends to itself a spiritual application. Sometimes we must be exposed - must feel the ice-cold of our souls - before we can experience the fresh and new beginning of His grace. We must let ourselves be laid bare in all our sin and shame, must see our fears, wrongfully-placed desires, secret sins, and long-time regrets for what they are before we can taste His forgiveness and start afresh.
Just as folks have long prayed for a real winter around here, we can often pray for a true renewal in our lives. But God delays and gives us the divine "no" so that we will feel the hardness of our hearts, the hidden unbelief of our natural condition, and will come to long for His restoration in even greater ways.
Perhaps a simple snowfall gives me hope that even the seasons of being exposed bring about good when directed by the sovereign hand of my Savior! I must not turn from Him simply because He has not answered in the way I want. I must not let my heart become anxious that the desired outcome has not occurred in the way I asked for. Being laid open, being bare, isn't something to run from but rather, to run into! This is my actual deliverance: that the defeats of my sin-sick soul are in actuality His victories. That the moments I most want to hide from Him, to run from His chastening hand, are the moments when I most need to press into it...and in time, be healed.
God's promise even through the seasons of being exposed is still the same: "I will make all things new. And even this will be made beautiful!"
Yes...and I accept it in my soul today. Looking out at the white world afresh, I thank Him. And I resign myself to His corrective strokes, wherever and whenever they may come.
Listening to this song recently, I was reminded of the truth that I am a new creation. In fact, those very words are printed on a ring I wear with the image of a butterfly. In God's mercy, He took me from the pit of despair and gave me hope. He has now made me alive in Him so that I can bless Him no matter the circumstances. On those days when the load seems to weigh heavy or the storm clouds roll in dark, I can sing through it all because He is enough. Why should my heart be discouraged when I belong to the King who rules the universe and calls me His own?!
Live today, my soul, as though this is true: you are made new!
"The humble soul endeavors more how to glorify God in afflictions that how to get out of them...the humble soul says, 'Lord, keep down my sins, and keep up my heart to honor you in all my troubles. Though my burdens are doubled and my troubles multiplied, help me to honor you by trusting, waiting, and submitting to you, and I shall sing my cares away and say, it is enough.'"
This past Sunday, March 6th, marked two years since this blog was started. 24 months and 18, 429 views later, what was simply intended to be a reflection of my personal journey to Grace and my desire to help others discover hope in their worst moments, has turned into an online forum of discussion and healing...going far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. This was, and will continue to be, God's blog. He gives the words and the inspiration; He directs every aspect of it. The message of His grace is one that never gets old and one that each of us must preach to ourselves daily.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you to every single viewer of mine on here. Your support and your online friendship has been a blessing to me. I am grateful for each one of you. It is my prayer that God will continue to shine His light into your dark places and make you to know His love and His grace in fresh and exciting ways. He truly is the Wonderful Counselor, and we are merely His workmanship - intended to be living testimonies of what Grace is all about.
Here's to another year of blessings and discovering Him...
"…I have found that there is no effectual teacher but God. We can receive no more than He is pleased to communicate; no knowledge is truly useful but what is made by experience. Many things I thought I had learned would not stand in an hour of temptation, until I had in this way learned them over again…I am still a learner, and the Lord still condescends to teach me. I have attained but very little, but I trust in Him to carry on His work in my soul, and by His grace and providence to increase my knowledge of Him and of myself…My desire to serve the Lord is not weakened, but I am not as hasty to push myself forward as I was formerly. It is sufficient that He knows how to dispose of me, and that He both can and will do what is best. To Him I command myself. I trust that His will and my true interest are inseparable. To His name be glory."
"If you're story is unfinished, broken, or messy like mine, if you feel as though God doesn't answer your prayers, then perhaps it's because he has something better for you. The only way you'll find out is to trust him with your story. I learned that when I was willing to share mine, God used it to heal others emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And that's what healed me."
"Well then, Christian, sit down and consult with thine own soul, what to render for so rich a mercy…God hath not only delivered, but taught thee; now therefore he expects glory from thee. Glorify God with thy lips…glorify God with thy life, and live his praise. Live so that you may…bring men into love with a suffering condition…Now, God hath taught thee, be ready to teach others. It is a debt which you owe to all you converse with."
"I've always believed in God, just not enough to trust him with my whole life...I knew God could fulfill his promises, but I was never sure he'd do it for me. My selfish Christian Atheist view was that God existed for me, rather than I for him. If he'd do what I thought he should, I'd trust him more. If he'd come through for me, I'd give him more of my life. If he made my life better and pain-free, I'd believe him more passionately. But anytime God didn't meet my expectations, we had a problem. God created me in his image. I returned the favor and created him in mine. The kind of God I wanted to believe in was this: if he's not what I want, then he can't have my whole life.
Several years ago, I increasingly recognized inconsistencies between what I claimed to believe and the way I actually lived...If I truly belonged to Christ, I should surrender my whole life to him. I just gave him parts instead, and took them back whenever he didn't do what I wanted. I called myself a Christian, but I lived like an atheist. The more honest I became, the more I hated living faithlessly, and the more I craved intimacy with God. 'Whatever it takes' became my heart's cry. Whatever it takes to know him. Whatever it takes to love eternity more than this world. Even if I have to fight, scrape, and crawl away from my Christian Atheism into a genuine, crucified life of faith and radical obedience to Christ, I'll do whatever it takes."