2015: The Year of Wrestling

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I generally feel sad on New Year’s Eve. It’s a day when I can’t avoid how quickly time is passing by. Every time December 31 rolls around, I can remember the previous one like it was yesterday, and it weirds me out. It’s a day when my nostalgic, sentimental side threatens to overwhelm me with melancholy.

But I also embrace the opportunity to reflect on what God has done in the past year, and to start afresh with renewed energy and passion. This year, I’m especially grateful for the past 365 days.

While last year was certainly one of sweet, unmatched blessings with my precious little family, I am even more grateful for everything God did in my heart.

If I had to pick one word to describe my spiritual journey in 2015, it would be “wrestling”. I wrestled with intense fear like I had never known. I wrestled with assurance of salvation, and it was a hard, draining, fight. I wrestled with finding the balance of enjoying God’s good gifts while recognizing that He could remove them at anytime and that I am not entitled to anything.

I haven’t overcome all these struggles by any means, but I have seen God’s faithfulness to comfort, to speak truth, to hold onto me. He restored my confidence and trust that He has saved me, after some very agonizing months, and I am closer to Him and more thankful for His work on the cross than ever before. He used His Word and many wise believers in my life to teach me how to combat fear and anxiety Biblically, so that although I still struggle with it, I am equipped to conquer it in His strength. He is still teaching me how to enjoy His material blessings without finding my joy and stability in them.

It’s not something you can measure, but it feels like I grew more in my love for God and my understanding of the Christian walk in 2015 than I did in my whole life up to that point. It makes me excited for how He will continue to change and shape me in the years to come. What an awesome, powerful God we serve!

Yes, I wrestled in 2015. It was hard work and at times I was overcome by how far I had to go. But God was right there with me, every step of the way. So really, when I look at 2015, I see God. I see Him overshadowing all my failures and struggles and sin. And I trust Him to stay at my side for whatever 2016 will bring.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
(Psalm 37:1-6)

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{Hebrews} I Have a High Priest

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Just a quick tidbit from last week’s Hebrews study to close off this good weekend…

After defining the term “priest”, my homework posed the question, “Do you think believers today need a priest? Explain your answer.”

“Yes we do, but we have One! We cannot come before God without someone to intercede on our behalf. Since we have sinned, someone must make a sacrifice for those sins so that we can come to God. God provided a High Priest in Jesus, Who paid the sacrifice for our sins once for all.”

Not profound in articulation, nor a complete explanation of the Great Exchange by any means, but I’m glad I had to write a simple answer to a simple question, because it struck me for the hundredth time how incredible it is that Jesus was qualified to make ONE atoning sacrifice that forever covers me…and that He did so!

“For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”

No compromising of justice, no ignoring of evil…but I have a High Priest who took care of my sin…all of it…permanently. Praise the Lord!

{Hebrews} Long Ago

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So…I’m absolutely thrilled to be studying Hebrews in my weekly Bible study, Every Woman’s Grace, this school year! I happened to be eating up Hebrews when I learned that EWG would be studying it this fall, a fun “coincidence” that sealed the deal–I had to sign up. =)

I’ll kick off this series with what I’ve appreciated about the opening verses of Hebrews.

Andrew is in a Hermeneutics class and reminded me recently about how important it is to read the Bible in its original context, from the perspective of its original readers, and then apply it to our own lives. This letter was written to mostly Christian Jews, not many years after Jesus’ ascension. With that in mind, read Hebrews 1:1-4 and prepare to be BLESSED!

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Heb. 1:1-4)

First of all, can I just say how beautiful this is?

It’s like the first page of a fairy tale, only it’s truth, and it’s really a part of believer’s personal story. There is an absolute TON packed into these verses, but today I’m going to single out one of my favorite pieces.

The original readers came from a long line of generations that had listened to the words of the prophets who foretold of Jesus’ coming and eagerly awaited that event. The reality that the Messiah had indeed finally come and made the ultimate sacrifice on their behalf was still new, revolutionary, and perhaps even confusing. Their grandparents, parents, and maybe even some of the elderly readers themselves, had grown up making sacrifices at the temple and approaching God through priests. They had heard the teaching of the Old Testament and knew that their ancestors had received God’s truth through prophets.

The writer of Hebrews begins by reminding his audience of the incredible event that had happened just decades earlier: not another prophet, but Jesus Christ Himself had come to earth. God had spoken through Jesus, Who was His Son, heir to everything, Creator of the world,  and the exact imprint of God’s perfect nature. He was so great, it would be unfair to even compare Him with the prophets, who had all been flawed messengers, fellow sinners.

Imagine being a Christian Jew at this time.

They understood full well what life had been like before Jesus’ coming, and was probably still surrounded by unbelieving Jews carrying on with the sacrifices and priests in the temple. This description of Jesus and Who He was must have been an incredibly moving reminder of what an awesome thing God did for His people in sending His only Son. They must have been filled with gratitude that God would place them in “these last days” that the author of Hebrews refers to, when prophets and priests were no longer needed and access to God could be had through His Son. 

I’d imagine, since these people centuries ago had a sin nature much like mine, that some of them had already grown calloused to the gift that Jesus was in their lives. I’m sure this letter was a wake-up call for anyone in that camp, a reminder of how blessed they were to live after the Messiah’s coming.

If you’re familiar with Hebrews, you know that these verses are only the beginning of chapter after chapter stressing God’s provision of the Ultimate High Priest. Meditating in this book is deepening my gratefulness that we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16) See what I mean about context? That oft-quoted verse is so much more poignant when you ponder how the Jews had to approach God prior to Jesus.

I hope these few simple thoughts inspire you to return to Hebrews on your own; I’m looking forward to exploring it more together as the months roll on.

Artwork courtesy of http://www.credomag.com.

{Reading Report} When I Don’t Desire God

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Several months ago I promised to post about When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper (available on Kindle for $6.99). This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It opened my eyes in new ways to what it means to be a follower of Jesus and how to pursue a relationship with Him and delight in Who He is. If you struggle with wanting to desire God and His ways but feeling stuck in a carnal mindset, I’d encourage you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it. If you only read one chapter, I recommend “Fighting for Joy Like a Justified Sinner: Learning the Secret of Gutsy Guilt”. My very favorite quotes are in bold.

“Conversion is the creation of new desires, not just new duties; new delights, not just new deeds; new treasures, not just new tasks.”

“Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value.” – Jonathan Edwards

“The key to endurance in the cause of self-sacrificing love is not heroic willpower, but deep, unshakable confidence that the joy we have tasted in fellowship with Christ will not disappoint us in death.”

“Christ will be glorified in the world when Christians are so satisfied in Him that they let goods and kindred go and lay down their lives for others in mercy, missions, and, if necessary, martyrdom. He will be magnified most amont the nations when, at the moment Christians lose everything on earth, they say, ‘To live is Christ, to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21).”

“Not to see and savor Christ is an insult to the beauty and worth of His character. Preferring anything above Christ is the very essence of sin. It must be fought.”

“When Jesus said, ‘If you love Me, you will keep My commandments’ (John 14:15), He was describing the effect of love, not the essence of love.”

“Believing means trusting Jesus not only as our all-sovereign Lord and all-sufficient Savior, but also as our all-surpassing Treasure.”

“Fight for joy, not by doing things that establish your identity with God, but by becoming what your identity already is with God in Christ. Become what you are.”

“The great gospel weapon in the fight for joy is the rock-solid reality that we are counted righteous in Christ by faith alone.”

“This is what we must learn to do in our darkness–even the darkness we have brought on ourselves because of our sin. Yes, I am under the gloom of failure. Yes, God has put me here in His displeasure. But no, I am not abandoned, and God is not against me. He is for me. Even in the darkness that He imposes, He will sustain me. He will not let me go. Though He slay me, He will save me.”

“Through the cross, God purchased and secured every possible blessing that could ever be needed to make us happy forever…God will–signed in blood–give us all things with Christ, because of the death of His son. That is, He will give us all things that are truly good for us. We must preach this to ourselves every day, because Satan is preaching the opposite.”

“The key to praying with power is to become the kind of persons who do not use God for our ends but are utterly devoted to being used for His ends.”

“The goal of brokenhearted repentance is the blessing of humble, Christ-exalting joy.”

“The plants of spontaneous communion grow in the well-tended garden of disciplined Bible-reading and memorization…The plants of ceaseless prayer grow in the garden of persistent discipline.”

Some of the oher books I’m reading or hope to start soon:

          

Personal Failure

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God uses a variety of things in life to push us toward Him. Often, as I’ve written about before, it’s trials and grief. For me lately it’s been personal failure. It’s caused me to reach the end of myself and realize I have nowhere to go but the foot of the cross, where my Savior washed away all my sins, past, future, and present.

Recently I told Andrew at the end of a long, full, busy day that I thought it was literally one of the best days of my life. I was excited about visible ways the Lord was growing me and I was feeling great about some deepening relationships. Ironically, the very next day I was hit with some really tough things and I came crashing down to an almost debilitating low. All I could see were my shortcomings and sin. This despondency has continued for some days now, and I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.

I know God wants me to wake up to the reality that I don’t have control over my life and I’m inevitably going to fail. After I’ve fallen, I have to take the loving hand He offers me, get back up on my feet, and carry on in His strength. He’s reminding me that my identity does not lie in my performance or the quality of my relationships, but in my Savior, Who gave me His righteous garments in exchange for all my filthy rags.  He’s removing the happiness I can often draw from nearly-perfect circumstances so that I run to Him for my joy and satisfaction. Jesus is enough, and He longs for me understand that reality first-hand, in a new and fresh way each day.

I want to be real and honest on this blog. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Today, I hope to encourage or challenge you from what feels like a pit of despair. I haven’t climbed out yet, but I’m seeing light near the edge and I’m grasping for footholds as I try to reach it. If you’re enjoying a spiritual high, praise the Lord for it and ask Him to keep you humble and hungry for Him. If you’re walking through a valley, keep your gaze on Jesus and trust Him to restore your joy in His perfect timing. I love the precious truth that no matter where you are in your journey of sanctification and growth, Jesus, His sacrifice for you, and His love, grace, and mercy never change. They remain constant through every season, on each mountaintop and in each valley.

My failures remind me that apart from Christ, I have nothing to bring to God. When I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10) As I recognize my helplessness apart from Jesus, I pray that His light will radiate through me more clearly, that I would be a vessel in His hand and a channel for His glory.

When the morning comes on the farthest hill
I will sing His name, I will praise Him, still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him, still.

For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him, still.

An Opportunity to Stand Up for Life

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Abortion is very real and it is very terrible. I am not as appalled by this travesty as I should be. Unborn lives are being murdered right here in our country every single day and I do precious little to fight it. My familiarity with abortion’s long-time legality has created a callous.

The staff and volunteers at the Whatcom County Pregnancy Clinic have taken biblical action on the horror they feel toward abortion. Since at this time I am not personally involved in fighting it hands-on, supporting the clinic’s efforts financially and prayerfully is a great, effective way to stand up for the unborn.

The thing I love most about the people at this clinic is their strong emphasis on the gospel in the lives of the women who visit for ultrasounds, counseling, and classes. While they are giving many babies a chance to experience life outside the womb, they recognize that the ultimate issue for every human being is where they stand with God. With that in mind, they faithfully present the good news of Jesus to the ladies who come for help. Physical lives are being saved, but even more importantly, spiritual rebirth is happening as the Holy Spirit works through the gospel.

Because of their biblical perspective and the way Jesus’ love spills out of them to the people they minister to, I am wholeheartedly behind the work that the clinic is doing here in our county. Their annual fundraiser run/walk is coming up on May 18, and unfortunately I have plans that cannot be changed. However, I know a number of wonderful people who are walking or running for the clinic. Please consider sponsoring one of them…all of the proceeds go toward funding the vital ministry of the clinic. Here are a few of my friends who you can sponsor.

Kelsey & Family
Cindy & Family
Crystal
Roxana/Corina
Annie
Gary
Carolynn