"Who am I? The object of His love. I don't have to live the roller coaster the world lives of my life...because I am the object of God's love. Whatever happens - good or bad, high or low - it may affect me...for a little bit, but it doesn't define me. It's not the core of who I am."
The sun casts a glow on the trees this morning and rises just beyond the mountain outside my bedroom window. For the first time in nearly a month, the day has dawned clear and bright...after much rain, it is a welcome sight. My thoughts land on the simple fact that this sunny awakening is yet another reminder that His goodness always arrives fresh on the heels of the rainfalls in my life. In praying through the grey days; in hoping through the dark nights - the Son of my soul once again renews His resurrection promise that His love isn't finished with me. His work is still on-going. He continues to make all things new in His timing...even those things that once looked so impossible, so daunting, so dead.
I breathe a silent "thank You," for I know that His grace has once again kept me for another year. It's been close to three decades since I first entered this world...a miracle-gift to two parents who experienced great loss. I was His answer of hope. For those who prayed so fervently for renewal and life, I was the present that promised He had heard and received their pleadings. My life has continued to be a story of hope-giving, of grace-living. After all, "Grace" is my middle name. Only in recent years have I come to understand that, since it is part of my name, I cannot escape the reminders of His favor. It is part of who I am. From the beginning, I was set apart for His love. From the beginning, I was named for Him. Chosen for His plan. And because of that, I am forever indebted to Him for all I need and can ever hope to become.
Each birthday I become more humbled and more grateful it seems. I am less apt to celebrate who I am and more who He is. I desire less party and more thankfulness. I desire to count my blessings more than the years of my age. I think of the life I have and I find no reason to be discontent and discouraged. When I see so much of what He's given, how could I doubt His tender mercy or His care?!
I don't know what the year ahead may hold. But I do know Who has it sovereignly planned. That is cause enough for me to keep striving to live in grace everyday. I don't have to tell you that the fight for faith is hard...you most likely already know that. Taking captive the fears of a sinful heart takes all of the strength I can muster...but I rest in the fact that very strength is granted me from above. It does not come from my own willpower. I am never the answer or the cure to my own hopelessness. Only Jesus is.
And so, I turn my eyes toward Him and place my hand in His - believing Him for all that is to come. As the sun rises, each beat of my heart speaks thanks-giving to Him - for everything!
"To increase your obedience to the Lord, keep your eye upon His greatness and continual presence and providence. This will keep you in an obedient frame of mind. So great a God cannot be disobeyed without great iniquity and guilt. A God that is continually with you must be continually regarded."
"In our prosperity we love earthly blessings and dote upon things in this world as if our happiness and comfort were bound up in them. In the day of adversity God convinces us of our mistake, and causes us to see the emptiness of this material world...We can see in affliction that the world is not what it seems, not what it promises, and not what we expected and flattered ourselves with...
If we fill ourselves with the world, the less we will delight in Christ. This is our sin and our folly. But when God spreads sackcloth on the earthly, we discover the beauty of Christ and can taste His sweetness."
"Whatever may be the grievous circumstances in which I am placed or the injustice of others from which I am suffering, if my God says, 'Fear not,' I ought sure to be brave and strong. If we can only get firmly fixed in our hearts the truth that the Lord's hand is in everything that happens to us, we have found a balm for all our woes a remedy for all our ills. When friends fail us and grow cold, when enemies triumph and grow confident, when the smooth pathway upon which we have been traveling suddenly becomes rough, stony, and steep, we are apt to look askance at the second causes and to forget that our God has foreseen every trial, permitted every annoyance, and authorized each item of discipline with this set purpose: 'The Lord your God privet you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.' Oh heart of mine, what is your response to this demand? Do you not love Him enough to endure any test to prove it?"
As I walked around the produce department at the local grocery store, my phone rang. It turned out to be a close friend of mine I haven't talked with in awhile, so I made my way over toward the clothing area so I could hear better. Just that morning, this friend had been on my mind, and I had been wanting to ask him for his advice about something...so I prayed. Now, here was God's answer...just a few short hours later. His timing is always right.
After catching up on our summer and sharing with each other what God had been up to...then I sought my friend's advice. He listened....then proceeded to speak life right into me. His words were given straight from the Savior...full of grace, hope, encouragement. He quoted Ecclesiastes 3...that "there is a time and a purpose for everything under heaven" and that this is a season of testing in my life. That this time of searching in the soul, of pressing through struggle, of striving to fight fear with faith...all this is a sign of God's favor. That, because God has something amazing up ahead, He's allowing this to occur so that I may be the stronger for what lies in the future. Only He knows.
As my friend spoke, I felt peace flood my heart. In that moment, that little clothing department suddenly became holy ground. God bridged the distance between Alaska and Washington state in one sacred encounter. And what I struggled to understand for weeks prior then became clear: God does not call those to His work who have it all together. He does not ask those to serve Him who are the strongest, the wisest, the richest, etc. He calls those who are weak, who lack understanding, who are poor in spirit...He calls those who need Him! And until we realize that no work is truly meaningful unless it generates further dependence on the One who brought us to such a time as this, then we have no reason to fulfill a purpose in this life. Because our own purpose leaves us empty, dry, dark...it leaves us dead.
There will be days when the load seems impossible to carry. And, quite frankly, apart from His life-giving strength, it is impossible to carry. Sometimes I think I can walk the chosen path well. But too often, I find myself failing more than succeeding. I find myself questioning and doubting more than believing. I find myself falling more than striding forward. Only His grace is enough. Only His strength can enable anyone...including me...to carry the load well. If He's called us to the task, it's up to Him to give what's needed to complete it.
My friend reminded me that God's ways will invite challenge from those who are spiritually blind to Him. There will be times when the fight seems more than one can bear. But if one is gazing at the Source of their strength...if one is determined to look to the Master in all things...yes...even the hard ones...victory can be the only result. God often refines His choicest vessels with the toughest tests. And the only thing He asks of us is to simply say: yes. Yes to all that may come - even the hard things. Yes to Him.
As I hung up the phone, tears welling up in my eyes, the words to a song came to my mind and I breathed them in my heart:
"Thank You for the gift of friends
Who know everywhere I've been
And love me back home again...
Yes, Lord....thank You for everything. Even the seasons of Your choosing that press us into further refining and make us more fit and holy for Your work! Thank You for showing up in unlikely places...even a clothing department in a local grocery store.
*Taken from Jason Gray's "Thank You for Everything".
A few days ago, I introduced you to the amazing story of Olympic diver, David Boudia. David and his diving partner, Steele Johnson, just won the silver medal together at the Rio Games and will be competing again individually later this week. Prior to his leaving for Rio, David shared his testimony with his local church. Listen to how his definition of success changed and how any of us can love a hurting world through our broken lives by the grace of Jesus!
For the greatest swimmer of all time, success has been his life-story. For the last sixteen years, Michael Phelps has cemented himself in the history books, accomplishing feats in his sport that many thought could never be done. He has it all in the eyes of the world...
But a couple of years ago, Phelps hit rock bottom in his personal journey, prompting a fellow Christian athlete to step in and introduce him to a purpose greater than himself. This is the story of how the face of Olympic sports had to surrender to something greater than gold:
Former olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson accomplished great things in her sport but still felt like a failure. This is her incredible story of how she discovered the true meaning of success and living life God's way! As Matthew 6:33 tells us, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
For Olympic diver David Boudia, success was measured in one thing: a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. That Olympics ended in complete disaster for Boudia...but following that experience, he discovered something that was greater than gold. Watch his amazing journey to faith here:
David has recently released a book that tells his incredible story of hope and faith titled Greater Than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption. Be sure to pick up a copy and be inspired!! He tells about the book here:
All the best to David as he represents the United States and, most importantly, his Savior in Rio starting today. Pray for him, his diving partner Steele Johnson, his coach Adam Soldati, and the all of the other Christians competing for a higher purpose at the Olympics this year!
"There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters."
Success. It's something I've been pondering a lot lately. There are so many different definitions of success and what constitutes it. And there are so many people who feel like they're forever coming up short of it...leading them to arrive at that place called Failure. And so they label themselves - losers. I've called myself one too...
For the last decade or so, my definition of success has changed quite a bit. In the early years, I struggled to find peace with my life because my value was tied to my performance. How well I did at something determined my level of acceptance. If I did well, I could love myself...and others would love me too. If I did poorly, I would think less of myself...and they would also. This definition of success hurt me and spoiled many relationships in life. This feeling of constantly being inferior and never being "good enough" in my eyes (or the supposed eyes of others) continuously ruined my enjoyment of the life I had. I lost any pleasure in what I did because I was so focused on trying to prove that I was worth something.
Then came the Fall of 2011...that's when I realized that I wasn't worth anything apart from the One who makes me what I am. That I am wonderfully made and created to do everything for the audience of Him alone. That my talents and abilities are only on loan for me to use as a gift back to my Savior. I exist for Him...and all other opinions don't really matter in the end. If I am pleasing to Him, then my life can be counted a success. My triumph is not in never failing but in pressing through my failures deeper into His grace. My weaknesses are not things to be feared but rather opportunities for Him to display His goodness through me. And these realizations changed everything.
As some of you know, I work for a Christian sports ministry called Athletes in Action. They are a global outreach that seeks to use the medium of sports to reach the hearts of athletes all over the world and to bring broken lives to Christ. In all sports and all places, AIA is changing the culture of modern-day athletics through the power of the gospel. I am blessed enough to be part of one of their summer league baseball programs which takes place in my home state of Alaska every year. Each summer, young collegiate baseball players enter my community... and leave with their lives changed eight weeks later. Being involved with this ministry has allowed me to see both the wrong and the right views of success being played out on a regular basis. Players or fans to whom winning is everything are crushed under the weight of losing streaks when they hit. The frustrations mount...and so it goes for all of us when winning in the world's eyes has become paramount.
But on the other side, those to whom success is determined by His standards...they see something different play out each year. They see gains where others perhaps see losses. Because God's wins can't be quantified in numbers. You can't put a price or numerical value on the fact that a soul was added to the family of God this summer; or that three young men were baptized in the cold waters of a nearby lake as they declared their willingness to follow God completely; or that two little boys who overheard our pitchers talking about the Bible during a game were forever affected for the better. These wins? They matter most. Because God is in the business of resurrection and new life.
By the world's standards, what we do is never good enough. We'll always be needing to do more, to work harder. But God says to stop trying so hard. His gospel is liberating in that we weak ones are told that He's done everything already. It's no longer about what we're doing or how well we do it...it's about who we're becoming. So when the world tell us we're losing, we're actually winning - with God. For God. Because of God. Yes, folks will probably call us crazy and foolish...but isn't it better to be called a fool for the King of Love?! To know that your life-worth isn't up to you but up to Him?! You're not the maintainer of your value or success. You're nothing without Him...so it's up to Him to carry that load.
As the Olympics begin in Rio, we'll be seeing a lot regarding people's definition of success. Medals will be draped around athletes' necks as they are lauded for their achievements. Those who win silver or bronze will think they've failed because they were so close to the gold...but didn't get there. At the same time, the best will receive gold and think they have it all. But the true winners?! They'll be the ones who compete with a higher purpose...who use their abilities to glorify the Giver of Life. Win or lose...they know that He is everything and that He often blesses in ways that are only calculable in Heaven.
Today, I leave us all with this word of encouragement: whatever it is you're striving to do, give it your best...but let Him be the sole reason for your endeavors. All other motives will leave you discouraged, fearful, doubting. But if you live your one life well...if you fight fear with faith, if you live in Grace everyday...you may not always win in the world, but you'll win at what matters most.
Note: Over the next two weeks during the Games, I will be posting quotes and stories regarding the concept of success and what constitutes a winning life.
"The soul that has learned the blessed secret of seeing God's hand in all that concerns it cannot be prey to fear; it looks beyond all second causes straight into the heart and will of God and rests content because He rules."
"One reason many people get frustrated spiritually is that they feel like it should get easier to do the will of God. I don't know if this will be encouraging or discouraging, but the will of God doesn't get easier. The will of God gets harder. Here's why: the harder it gets, the harder you have to pray. God will keep putting you in situations that stretch your faith, and as your faith stretches, so do your dreams. And it won't get easier; it'll get harder. It won't get less complicated, it'll get more complicated. But complications are evidence of God's blessing. And if it's from God, then it's a holy complication...
The blessings of God won't just bless you; they will also complicate your life...but they will complicate your life in ways God wants it complicated."
"God is your sovereign king. It is your happiness to obey and please Him. Labor therefore to bring your soul into absolute subjection to Him: to make it your delight to sincerely and exactly obey His will."
"Nothing honors God more than a big dream that is way beyond our ability to accomplish. Why? Because there is no way we can take credit for it. And nothing is better for our spiritual development than a big dream because it keeps us on our knees in raw dependence on God. Drawing prayer circles around our dreams isn't just a mechanism whereby we accomplish great things for God; it's a mechanism whereby God accomplishes great things in us."