Justice for All: Mercy in Light of Justice

Robert F. Kennedy once said that “the glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution, nor by the courts, nor by the officers of the law, nor by the lawyer, but by the men and women who constitute our society; who are the protectors of the law as they themselves are protected by the law.”

My family loves to discuss politics around the dinner table, and despite their different opinions, there is one thing that everyone seems to agree on and that’s the necessity for justice.

While I’m not as quick to debate politics, I do enjoy a good theological discussion, in which justice is rarely mentioned. It wasn’t until I read Jen Wilkin’s book – In His Image – that the concept of justice suddenly became a vital piece of my Biblical understanding.

“Administer true justice” says the Lord Almighty, “showing mercy and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:8-9, NIV).

So what is true justice? Robert F. Kennedy wasn’t too far off. It’s not the Constitution, the court system, or those who defend it, but to show mercy and compassion to one another. It is brothers and sisters in Christ who are themselves protected by justice that administer true justice to others by extending mercy and compassion.

It is brothers and sisters in Christ who are themselves protected by justice that administer true justice to others by extending mercy and compassion.

protected by the law

When we think about the law from an American viewpoint, we know that it is intended to protect U.S. citizens, their rights, and their freedoms.

However, when we consider the Law from a Biblical standpoint, it can be easy to think only of a holy ark carrying two stone tablets and shrouded in a solemn tent. Or perhaps we think of the earliest books of the Bible filled with confusing rules and an angry God ruthlessly raining down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah for not following those rules (Genesis 19, NIV).

If we are not careful, wrong ideas about God’s justice can leave us feeling vulnerable rather than protected by it.

Just as the justice system of the United States is intended to protect those who abide by it, so too is God’s law and justice meant to protect those who are found in Christ; onto whom mercy and justice are imparted daily.

Rarely do we associate mercy and justice, though they are impeccably inseparable. If grace and mercy are sisters, then justice is their big brother (political pun intended 🙂 ).

According to the Bible, true justice would require death as payment for our sins, “for the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23, NIV). Justice according to a holy God is the complete eradication of all sin. Why? Because His “eyes are too pure to look on evil; he cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13, NIV).

This leaves us asking the same question as Habakkuk – “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous” (Habakkuk 1:13, NIV)?

Why is evil so rampant? Around us and in us? We know the wickedness of our own hearts and we know what the cost of our sin is. So why mercy? Why not fire and brimstone?

Mercy instead of and justice

“Your compassion, Lord, is great; preserve my life according to your laws” (Psalm 119:156, NIV).

Justice is getting what you deserve while mercy is not getting what you deserve. It’s not that justice was set aside so that we could receive mercy, for that would tarnish the perfect and holy character of God. And we know by the fact that our hearts are beating that we have indeed received mercy. So what’s the deal?

According to God’s law, death is the just punishment for sin. As believers, we know that there was one Death that bore the weight of all sin; the death of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:24, NIV).

Without the just punishment for sin that Christ bore on our behalf we would rightly be held accountable for our sins. However, because Jesus received with perfect humility the just punishment for our sin, mercy extended on a daily basis is now an act of perfect justice.

In being flawlessly just, God righteously extends mercy towards us rather than justice not in an act of disregarding the need for justice, but rather in an act of remembering that justice was served wholly and completely on the cross.

This does not mean that we will never face physical death, but rather that we have been reprieved of a spiritual death and eternal separation from God because Jesus Christ took the punishment for sin in our place, which is good news and something that I’m sure we all think of often and find easy to recall when we are face-to-face with our sin. God’s mercy is a comforting reality in light of sin, as it should be.

We have been reprieved of a spiritual death and eternal separation from God because Jesus Christ took the punishment for sin in our place.

Justice on the other hand can sometimes feel like a prickly cactus; not as comforting to hold onto when faced with our depravity, but just as important.

When I experienced crippling anxiety a couple of years ago, I remember truly believing that I was being punished for my sin. Now yes, anxiety due to loving something or someone more than God was a likely consequence for idolatry, but it was not God justly punishing me for my sin.

We make three very critical mistakes when we believe that something negative in our lives, be it anxiety, depression, a loss, etc. is God’s just punishment for our sin…

  1. We grossly diminish the absolute holiness and righteousness of God by believing that the difficulty we are experiencing is the full weight and extent of His righteousness and justice;
  2. We severely belittle the costliness of our sin and wretchedness; and
  3. We sadly neglect the mercy of Christ and dismiss the justice served in entirety on the cross.

Though the consequences of our sin or simply the depraved and broken nature of this world are difficult and painful to deal with, consider the horror of Sodom and Gomorrah as white hot fire and brimstone rained down from heaven as punishment for their sin (Genesis 19, NIV).

That is what the perfect justice of a holy God looks like in response to sin; the complete destruction of sin and wickedness. So when we believe that the consequences of our sin are the full extent of God’s justice and punishment, we seriously diminish His holiness and purity.

Perfect justice has already been served on the cross in whole and therefore to remain a holy, perfect, and impartial God; unchanging and righteous, He remains faithful and just in that because One died for all, all have died and are therefore found in Christ; protected under His great mercy, which is daily imparted on us as an act of perfect justice.

justice for all

What is true justice then? That we show mercy and compassion to one another. Because we have received that which we do not deserve (the assurance of present grace and future glory in Christ), we are compelled to a) stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves (Matthew 7:12, Matthew 25:35-45, James 1:27) in an act of justice, and b) release the wrong done against us by trusting that it was dealt with rightly on the cross (1 Peter 3:18, NIV). This releases us from the need to avenge ourselves (Romans 12:19, NIV) and instead compels us to extend that which we also received when we did not deserve it (Titus 3:4-6, NIV).

We have the assurance of present grace and future glory in Christ!

And how is this done? By first taking God’s righteous justice seriously and in that, recognizing that it was fully served and wholly satisfied on the cross, against Christ on our behalf, so that we could receive mercy.

We are able to act justly toward others with mercy and compassion by reminding ourselves that “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-6, NIV).

We realize that God’s mercy and justice place us all on the same, even ground at the foot of the cross which bears all justice and mercy in perfect unity; righteously administered now and forevermore, that we may be free from the punishment of our sins to “act justly and love mercy, walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8, NIV).

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

Today is April 18

Yes, today is April 18.

This is nothing new for most of you, and if it is, you might want to invest in a calendar.

But today will likely be a normal day, though for some it might be a wedding anniversary, a birthday, the day to remember a loved one who has passed, or perhaps the anniversary of when you started your job (I hope your boss gives you a cookie if it is).

You, like myself, probably woke up this morning with a little too much aggression towards your alarm clock. You probably rolled out of bed half awake to start your morning routine. Perhaps you noticed the beautiful blue sky, the warm sun, and the melody of the birds.

Or perhaps you didn’t.

Some of you were probably eager to get to work. Others maybe not so much.

Maybe you’ve got plans tonight, or maybe your only plan is to not have any plans.

Yes, this will likely be a normal day for most of you.

But for me, I guess I thought that today would feel anything but normal. As I think back on what this day a year ago had in store, I suppose I thought I would feel anything but peace and comfort.

I remember waking up excited that I would get to spend the entire day out of the office. I was scheduled to attend a conference to learn more about the health systems in our region, hoping to take back some good ideas for our health program at work. I eagerly anticipated a day of lectures and trainings (yes, I actually find those things enjoyable) and was excited to have something other than leftovers for lunch (because we all know that the catered lunch is the best part of any work conference).

I did not however anticipate that by 4:30pm that afternoon I would find myself lying on my living room floor struggling to gain some kind of control over my thoughts as a crushing anxiety attack swept over me, leaving me deeply afraid and unsure.

Fast-forward several months and you’ll see blurs of fear, doubt, anxiety, and guilt unlike anything I had ever experienced. You’ll see hours of tearful conversations with wise friends and family, heartache, probably a few nights where I angrily shook my fist at God, and then other nights where I crumbled under the weight of conviction.

Oh, how easy it would be to just stop here and wash my hands of that season in life; to file it away; chalk it up to nothing more than a rough couple of months, and hope that one day it makes its way to the shredder to never be thought of again.

For so long, that’s all I’ve wanted…to simply forget April 18, 2018.

But not today!

In fact, today I want to remember.

There is a necessity in the Christian life to remember. We are told countless times throughout Scripture to remember things like the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8); like God’s miracles (Psalm 77:11, 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 78:42-55), those who have gone before us (Luke 17:32, Hebrews 13:7), where we’ve been (Deuteronomy 16:12; 24:22, Isaiah 46:7-9, Lamentations 3:19-20), the nature of our humanity (Psalm 89:47); and most of all, God’s faithfulness (Psalm 77:1-20).

There is good in remembering. By remembering the Sabbath, we grow in holiness and obedience. We are comforted as we recall God’s miracles and sovereignty displayed throughout our lives and in His Word. We are trained and taught as we remember those who have gone before us. We are humbled in remembering where we’ve been and the frailty of our human nature. We are built up in courage, hope, faith, and worship as we remember God’s faithfulness despite our frailty, disobedience, and fear.

We are built up in courage, hope, faith, and worship as we remember God’s faithfulness despite our frailty, disobedience, and fear.

Though there is a good portion of the last year that has been tainted by the memory of that anxiety attack, the faithfulness of God continues to shine through.

As I remember how utterly frail and weak I felt that day (both spiritually and physically), I am in turn reminded of God’s strength that has carried me since then and helped me to where I am now.

As I remember my stumbling, anger, and fear in the months that followed, I am comforted in recalling God’s wonderful display of patience and kindness towards me; which in turn encourages me in my continued fight against anxiety and sin.

As I recall where I’ve been, I am both filled with gratitude and joy at the many blessings the Lord has poured out onto my life since then, and my hope is renewed in the One who continues to lead me forward, because while I was still weak; while I was still stubborn; while I was still resistant towards Him…while I was still a sinner, God loved me and sent His Son to die for me (Romans 5:8).

I’m sure you have a similar day tucked back in the deep corners of your memory. Perhaps a day that didn’t go so well and that you’d like to forget. But maybe we’ve been wrong in how we view days such as these. Maybe days like these don’t really belong in our shred pile of memories, but rather in a treasured scrapbook of daily reminders of God’s wonderful grace, patience, and love!

Maybe today you need to take a second look at a bad memory, a tough day, or a hard season in life. You might be surprised to find rays of God’s glory shining through the clouds that once brought rain.

My Thoughts After the First Week of Training for a Half Marathon

Training for the Lake Powell 2019 Half Marathon has begun and apart from my extremely sore legs, I’m feeling great! Sunshine and endorphins do wonders for my mood 🙂

The weather has finally cooperated long enough for us to get outside and start running. Though this first week has been tough, it has been immensely fruitful, which makes me all the more excited for the next 29 weeks of training.

At about Day 3 of our training I realized that if I was going to do this, do it well, and actually enjoy it, then it wasn’t just my body that needed training, but my heart and mind as well.

I didn’t want to go into every run with dread and anxious anticipation of the discomforts my body was about to experience, but rather with gladness and joyful anticipation of the fruit that would result from this training.

But how? How does one do that exactly?

Like anyone who has been accustomed to many attempts at New Year’s Resolutions, I started making a list of goals and plans for my training. As I developed some ideas, checklists, healthy menus and running schedules, my mind returned to an article that I had read by David Mathis about a year ago on DesiringGod.org titled Do You Exercise Like a Nonbeliever?.

I realized that no matter how many changes I made physically; no matter what my exercise habits, times, routines, health choices, or sleep patterns looked like, nothing was ever going to really improve until I addressed the lies and fears that had rooted themselves deep in my heart and mind over the years.

Regardless of the goals that you might have, I want to encourage you as I encourage myself. We need to remember why it is that we do what we do.

For me, my goals consist of physical exercise and training. But whatever it is that you have set your mind to, it is important that we remember the God who grants us the ability to do these things in the first place and worship Him for His grace and kindness in that.

training for the big(ger) race

Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

As with most things that we set our minds to, there are some internalized lies and fears that we may face about ourselves and our ability to accomplish the goals that we set.

For me, since I have never really considered myself a natural runner, I have spent years believing that no matter how much I try, I will never actually enjoy running or be good at it.

After recognizing this lie, the real work began as I started discrediting this fear with helpful truths from Scripture and the wise-counsel of those who have gone before me.

Truth #1: You were made to move.

Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…(1 Timothy 4:4)

This includes exercise and physical activity. The ability to run 13.1 miles is a precious gift, yet one that I have quickly and easily disregarded because I knew it would likely involve some discomfort at times.

Therefore, Step 1 in making my half marathon training holy and pleasing to God is to thank Him explicitly for the ability to run and train; for lungs that work, strong legs and arms, balance, and the endurance to keep going.

Truth #2: Physical exertion is valuable.

…for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:5)

This involves knowing and understanding what the Word of God says about our bodies and then responding appropriately (in prayer).

Step 2 then in making my half marathon training holy and pleasing to God is to understand and dwell on what God says about my body.

  • My body belongs to God.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

God not only created us, but also bought us back at the infinite cost of his own Son. Therefore, God emphatically means for us to honor him by making use of the bodies he has given us and to not leave them unnecessarily inactive.

  • God commends bodily exertion.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)

God is pleased when we are active and exert our bodies through the effort of work (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10), hard work (2 Tim. 2:6), and bodily training (1 Tim. 4:8).

  • Spiritual health is ultimate; physical health is not.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)

The charge to bodily exertion is always subdued for the Christian. God does indeed value the exertion of our bodies, but it is important to remember that physical exercise only has some value in light of godliness.

This becomes fruitful then when the practice of physical exertion and training pushes us rather than hinders us towards a greater enjoyment of Christ and greater discipline in our pursuit of godliness.

Truth #3: Exercise is a means of worship and supplication.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Because of this, Step 3 in making my half marathon training holy and pleasing to God is to start praying, asking God for help in this process.

Here are a few prayers provided in David Mathis’ article that I have considered and put to memory. I would encourage you to tailor them and use them as well as you pursue your goals.

Father, please give me the will to overcome laziness tomorrow; to lace up my shoes and take the first step – and then work such discipline throughout my life in my fight against sin.

Father, give me the drive to push my body beyond what is merely comfortable, to ‘discipline my body and keep it under control’ (1 Cor. 9:27) and work in me, by your Spirit, so that physical training may serve as the ripening of the spiritual fruit of self-control (Gal. 5:23).

Father, loosen my grip on my own performance and results and personal goals. May my training not ultimately be about me, but about my increased enjoyment of Jesus.

Father, guard me from valuing this training more than godliness. Rather, make these efforts holy, through my acting in faith, so that this training serves my holiness instead of competing with it.

Father, grant that I would know you and enjoy you more through pushing my body in this way. Let me feel your pleasure through this natural gift so that I am spiritually satisfied enough to sacrifice my own preferences and personal routines to meet the needs of others.

Truth #4: This is not for you.

…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Ultimately, my training and this half marathon are not for me or my own personal achievement. Rather, it is for the greater joy of knowing God.

As 1924 Olympic Gold Medalist runner Eric Liddell once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

While God may not have made me particularly fast per se, He still made me to feel His pleasure in all that I do, including running a half marathon.

“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Therefore, what can make this training process holy, fruitful, loving, and spiritually beneficial is the prayer that my expenditures of energy will lead not to a finish line or a medal, but to my increased enjoyment of God’s presence and a readiness to expend myself in self-sacrificial love, though it may be uncomfortable, to others for their spiritual well-being.

Whatever your goal may be; whatever your plan of action consists of, may I encourage you as I encourage myself to remember why it is that we do what we do.

Everything that we do here on earth has the capacity to be spiritually driven; to push us closer to Christ and direct us down a path of holiness rather than worldliness. Be mindful of this as you pursue the stepping stones of a career, an education, a bucket list item, or a personal accomplishment.

To God be the glory, above all else.

(Reference: Do You Exercise Like a Nonbeliever? by David Mathis; DesiringGod.org)

Best Seller: What the Church Can Learn from Rachel Hollis

I went on Amazon the other day to look for a new book that had been highly recommended to me.

As I searched for Rachel Jankovic’s book You Who?: Why You Matter & How to Deal with It, several other books that are considered to have similar content popped up on my browser.

Among them was none other than the highly talked about, highly sought after by some, and severely rejected by others book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.

Tagged above both of these books, of which have two very different and drastically opposed messages, was an icon that read ‘Best Seller.’

It is no secret that Hollis’ book is highly regarded among many…or should I say, Hollis’ books, as in plural. Yes, Hollis has stormed the Christian book industry once again with her recent title, Girl, Stop Apologizing, published on March 5, 2019 and already topping the charts for Christian best seller.

In fact, according to Amazon as of March 6, 2019, the top five most popular Christian products based on sales are 1) Girl, Stop Apologizing Audiobook, 2) Girl, Stop Apologizing Hardcover, 3) Girl, Wash Your Face Audiobook, 4) Girl, Wash Your Face Hardcover, and 5) Girl, Stop Apologizing Kindle Edition.

Girl, it’s time to wake up!

As Hollis’ fame and popularity continues to rise, it is increasingly obvious that women from all walks of life, even Christian, Bible-believing, church-going women are desperate; they are desperate for something and, according to Amazon, they are finding it within the pages of Hollis’ books. Why?

why are so many women buying into hollis’ message?

I’m not going to lie, I don’t want to read Hollis’ books, even if it were for the purpose of writing a review. Therefore, I cut a few corners and decided to read the reviews of real women; women in search of something deeper, more personal, and life-changing.

After reading just one page of Amazon reviews on Girl, Stop Apologizing, I was able to compile the following list of reasons why women are so drawn to Hollis’ message:

  1. Women want to feel deep, personal connection. It doesn’t matter who or what with, women are recognizing a deep need to feel understood, recognized, and validated. Women want to feel assured that they are not alone in their hopes, dreams, and struggles alike, and Hollis assures her readers that they most certainly are not alone.
  2. Women want to do better! Yes, women are actually asking for ‘tough love talk’ and a ‘kick in the butt,’ which Hollis gives will flair, gusto and humor. Women, like Hollis, want to excel as mothers, wives, friends, and businesswomen and Hollis creates an opportunity for them to do that together.
  3. Women are feeling hindered in their pursuit of ‘bigger and better things in life.’ Majority of reviews are applauding Hollis for her ability to help women recognize how much they are hindering themselves and then help them overcome those hindrances.
  4. Women are exhausted. Women everywhere are feeling the strain of daily life, motherhood, marriage, and work, all while trying to self-inspire and be self-driven enough to do what makes them feel fulfilled, successful, and important. Hollis can relate and helps her audience by telling them what she did to create her own fulfilling life.
  5. Women are afraid. Women are fearful of taking steps and leaps towards their dreams and goals, resulting in ignored or ‘shelved’ aspirations collecting the dust of failure, disappointment, resentment, and low self-esteem. Hollis helps them address and overcome those fears by looking to the capable woman within.

Though there are many other reasons why women are reaching for Hollis’ books, one thing can be concluded from all of this…

Women have become satisfied with the temporary, surface-level fulfillment of Hollis’ words. The reason why so many women are flocking to Hollis’ books, to her Instagram board, to her Rise and Rise Together conferences, and her ChicSite is because Hollis is offering what they want – hope (though it is empty and false) for a better, more fulfilling life.

Women everywhere are content with Hollis’ message of self-inspired, self-driven fulfillment and the ‘hope’ that it offers while fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are idly standing by letting it happen.

why is hollis’ message so enticing?

Self. It’s as simple as that. Hollis assures her readers that focusing on self is a good thing; a necessary thing in fact if you’re ever going to become your ‘best self.’ According to Hollis,

“The real you is destined for something more . . . your version of more. This is who you were made to be, and the first step to making that vision a reality is to stop apologizing for having the dream in the first place.”

To get to ‘your version of more’, Hollis encourages her readers to “first learn to love yourself well and give yourself credit; then reach for more.” (Hollis; Girl, Stop Apologizing)

This is the overarching theme of Hollis’ books and the fuel that keeps her fame going. Women keep coming back to Hollis and her message because she has convinced them that there is a ‘real you’ that you were destined to be and right now, you’re not it. That’s where Hollis, with all her charm and humor, steps into the picture.

Hollis claims that the best way to truly become the ‘real you;’ the ‘you’ that you were destined to be is to learn how to love yourself well, which sadly is not a hard message to sell in today’s world.

Hollis helps her readers do what we already do so naturally. Because the bedrock of her platform is that she understands you, she knows you, she can relate with you, and she can speak directly to you, Hollis is able to assure her readers that they are not alone or even wrong in feeling the way that they do and then acting on those feelings, even if they are selfish and egocentric.

Though attractive and glamorous on the outside, Hollis’ message is actually quite dangerous because it encourages and helps its readers look to themselves for their worth and value, when in reality, the only thing that we will end up finding if we look closely enough at ourselves is depravity and insufficiency.

When there is always more; when there is always a better version of yourself out there, then you will never have or be enough according to the world. Hollis assures her readers that there is a pot of gold at the end of ‘More Lane.’ She’s right in saying that we were made for more, but falls short in believing that we could ever find it in this world or within ourselves.

Church, it’s time to wake up

Many of the articles and reviews that I have read in opposition to Hollis’ message are based on the argument that Hollis’ books encourage self-love rather than self-denial.

As accustomed as we are to the concept of self-love within our culture, it is a different story all together when a message promoting self-love and full on faith in self is considered ‘Christian.’

Jesus says deny yourself. Hollis says believe in yourself.

Jesus says take up your cross daily. Hollis wonders if you’ve got time for that.

Jesus says follow me. Hollis says follow yourself—and her.

(Jen Oshman; Girl, Follow Jesus)

I agree 100% with these arguments and believe that everyone, especially Christian women, need to be aware of the dangerous traps that lie within the pages of these books that are so ‘pleasing to the eye.’ However, I also think it is just as important that we recognize why women, even Christian, Bible-believing, church-going women are buying into Hollis’ message.

Hollis actually gets a lot of things right in that she knows what women want and she knows how to relate to and connect with them and meet them where they are at. She’s just giving them false hope in place of the real, life-giving hope of the Gospel.

Perhaps the church, primarily women in the church, could learn something from Hollis’ approach to the rapidly growing culture of exhausted, worn-out, unfulfilled women. If we as the church could better understand why women are paying so much attention to Hollis, then maybe we could better address those same issues but from the standpoint of the Gospel, offering true hope in Christ rather than in self.

“If we as the church could better understand why women are paying so much attention to Hollis, then maybe we could better address those same issues but from the standpoint of the Gospel.”

Women are longing for deeper, more personal connections with other women. Just as Hollis offers empathy and relatability, so too should women within the church be open and vulnerable with one another; willing to go deep with one another and come alongside one another with empathy and grace.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness or compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2, NIV).

Women want to do better! Women want a little kick in the butt and some tough love talk. It would be a great dishonor if the church and brothers and sisters in Christ ignored this and allowed one another to remain stagnant, indifferent, and unmotivated in life and in faith. Hollis speaks directly and firmly to her audiences. Perhaps its time we start doing the same.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25, NIV).

Women want to pursue their hopes and dreams; to live out their passions and interests and what they feel called to do. Yet they feel hindered in doing so. Hollis goes to great lengths to encourage her readers to never give up on their hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, she takes it too far and identifies the accomplishment of those hopes and dreams as the source of our identity and worth rather than Jesus Christ.

However, lets not allow the church to be a place where hopes and dreams are diminished or disregarded. Encourage one another in pursuing God-given talents and passions, all the while pointing to Christ as the place where our worth and value lies.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV).

Women are exhausted. Women everywhere are feeling the strain of daily life, motherhood, marriage, and work. Hollis jumps right into the mess of every woman’s life and tells her that it’s okay; that she’s not alone, but that it’s time to wash your face and pick yourself back up. Brothers and sisters, let’s not be a church that ignores the weary, but instead comes alongside to help them, encourage them, build them up in the Spirit, and at times carry them to the ‘spring of living water.’

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2, NIV).

Women are afraid. Even more than they are afraid of taking steps towards their dreams and goals, women are afraid of not taking those steps; of remaining stagnant and unmotivated, stuck in the daily routines of life. That is probably the primary reason why Hollis’ message is so attractive, because it is a welcomed kick in the rear to get motivated and get going.

However, Hollis looks within to her own strength and her own sufficiency for inspiration and hope and encourages her readers to do the same.

Therefore, let’s be a church that acknowledges the deep needs and struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s be a church that comes alongside men and women alike, encouraging them in their hopes and aspirations, helping them surrender their fears to the Lord, and taking steps of faith together towards Him, all the while looking within to find Jesus and not ourselves, for if Christ is in us, then who can be against us (Romans 8:31, NIV)?

Go Make Someone Smile

…no seriously, I mean it. Go make someone smile today.

I am a verbal processer, meaning that my thoughts and feelings are best developed when I talk about them. This is part of the reason why I like to write so much, because I have discovered that when there are no listening ears, writing out my thoughts and feelings is the next best thing.

Both my Mom and I are verbal processers, so we have spent countless hours together talking and sharing the things that are heavy on our hearts.

Some of these conversations have consisted of me just dumping all my frustration out over the phone; my frustration about everything that seemed to be happening to me and how it simply wasn’t fair.

In loving patience and wisdom though, my Mom would listen and let me vent. However, once I was finished, there was always a short pause on the other end followed by what is now my favorite piece of advice…

Well honey, I’m sorry you feel that way. Now go make someone smile and once you’ve done that, call me back.

Oh, how that would frustrate me at the time! I didn’t care how others felt. I just wanted to hear something that would make me feel better. The last thing I felt like doing was going out of my way to make someone else smile.

When we have an inflated view of self such as this, we start viewing things as possessions rather than gifts from God; things like our time, money, and relationships. As our eyes become fixated on ourselves; on what we feel like we’re lacking or on our unmet expectations and desires, we start using the things that God has given us to gratify our growing need to self-justify and self-validate rather than for His good and wonderful purposes.

We become selfish with our time, careless with our resources, and abusive in our relationships by expecting others to do what only God can do.

There were times where I wouldn’t listen to my Mom’s advice and instead wasted time watching Netflix to numb my mind, going on careless shopping trips to Target to distract my thoughts, and spending hours brewing over resentment towards family and friends to justify my feelings.

However, the times when I actually did take her advice proved to be so fruitful that I began to see the truth behind what my Mom was telling me; the truth that we were never designed to fixate on ourselves, but to fixate on someone greater.

Jesus tells us in Luke 10:27 to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’

When we become consumed with ourselves, our primary problem is not that we lack self-worth or self-confidence. Our greatest need is not for validation or encouragement.

Our problem is that we have an inflated view of self because we lack awe; we lack a grander vision of the majesty that lies beyond ourselves. Our greatest need then is not to make ourselves feel better with a self-care day, but to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Jesus Christ.

what are you really wanting?

The best way to get your eyes off of yourself and fixed on Jesus Christ is to ask yourself this very simple, yet incredibly profound question – what are you really wanting?

When I was first asked this question, it really confused me. I had just spilled all of my frustration and once I had finished, there was that familiar pause and then the question – what do you really want?

I walked away from that conversation perplexed and slightly frustrated, with no new advice or tips on how to feel better about my circumstances but instead with this really annoying, nagging question in the back of my mind – what do I really want?

It wasn’t until about four or five months later that I realized what the point of that question was. It was the same point my Mom was trying to make whenever she told me to go make someone smile – I needed to get my eyes off of myself.

My problem was that I was presently preoccupied with how I felt in the moment and not focused on Christ’s eternal glory and sustaining grace. Because of that, my thoughts, feelings, and emotions were dictated by the circumstances that I found myself in, eventually leading to self-consumed, self-focused behaviors and attitudes.

The thing that we all need to realize is that we were created; we were molded and shaped and designed to be in relationship with God. Our mind, body, and spirit were intended to be sustained, nourished, refreshed, and renewed by God alone (John 15:1-8, NIV). We were made to desire Him and thirst for His love and grace and to be entirely fulfilled by Him.

Therefore, every want, need, and desire that we have is a desperate cry for Him. When we desire worldly relationships, we are crying out for His all-satisfying companionship (Ps. 139:7, NIV).

“Every want, need, and desire that we have is a desperate cry for Him.”

When we are let down and disappointed by the frailty of worldly love, we are desiring the unconditional nature of His perfect love (Jer. 31:3, NIV).

When we wish to be heard and known, we are craving His infinite knowledge and understanding (Ps. 139:1-3, NIV).

When we resent solitude, we want to know that He is with us and that we are never truly alone (Ps. 25:16-18, NIV).

When we recoil and try to protect ourselves against the assaults of this fallen world, we are deeply longing for freedom from sin and death, which is found in Him alone (Ps. 32:7, NIV). We want to find rest under the shadow of His protective wings (Ps. 91:4, NIV).

The worldly solutions to our wants and needs are rudimentary at best. When we’re tired, Netflix numbs rather than restores and refreshes. When we crave understanding and knowledge, Facebook and CNN clutter rather than clarify. When we’ve had a tough week and want to have a good time, a night out thrills, but does not arouse true joy.

Only the Word of God is capable of sustaining and fulfilling our every need and desire, for it is ‘the law of the Lord that is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous’ (Ps. 19:7-9, NIV).

As you are refreshed and nourished by the Word of God and as you find your true joy and satisfaction in Christ alone, trust that when your eyes are fixed on Jesus and not on yourself, you will ‘be radiant with joy’ (Ps. 34:5, NLT), causing all those who see the joy you have to smile from ear to ear.

All Out of Breath: Christian Moralism and the Gospel

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV).

In an attempt to challenge myself this year, I have registered to run a half marathon in October. I am nervous to say the least because I have never considered myself much of a runner, especially when it comes to distance running.

But I am also very excited!

I am excited to try something new; to push myself to accomplish a goal and experience a challenge that I had in the past considered too great for me to achieve. It will be an experience for sure, but I wouldn’t be as excited as I am if I were doing this alone.

Because I’ll be training for and running this half marathon with an experienced marathon runner; someone who knows what they’re doing and can help me learn, I am confident that though it may be difficult, it will be possible (even for an inexperienced runner like me).

As with most things in life, if we set about doing something with the wrong focus or a lack of understanding, guidance, and direction, we will likely fall to the wayside, get discouraged, and more often than not, quit.

Unfortunately, this kind of discouragement can be seen within the church today.

In an article published by CNN in May of 2015, Religious Editor Daniel Burke explains that millennials are leaving the church in droves…and not just the church, but the Christian faith entirely.

A survey of 35,000 American adults shows that the Christian percentage of the population has dropped to 70.6% [in 2015]. In 2007, the last time Pew [Research Center] conducted a similar survey, 78.4% of American adults called themselves Christian.

Daniel Burke, CNN

Though this is concerning, and though we can safely assume that this has only worsened over the last 3-4 years, what really troubled me about this article was Burke’s definition of ‘the Christian life;’ the life that these American adults are walking away from.

At its core, Christian life is a set of sacred traditions linking generations of sacraments and Sunday school lessons, youth ministry morals and family gatherings sanctified by prayer.

Daniel Burke, CNN

After circling the issue, Burke never really landed on a solid explanation for this decline in church attendance and religious affiliation throughout western cultures. However, with Christianity summed up to be nothing more than sacred traditions, sacraments, lessons, and morals, I think it is safe to say that the reason millennials and every other generation alike are dropping out of the ‘race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1, NIV) is because they’re all out of breath, trying to run a race with their eyes fixed on morality instead of on Jesus with little to no Biblically-grounded understanding, guidance, or direction regarding the Gospel of true hope and freedom.

Since Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, NIV) and since without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6, NIV), when the roots of Christianity are grounded in the do’s and don’ts of Scripture rather than in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are bound to lose hope and run ourselves all out of breath while chasing this illusion of Christian moralism.

Christian moralism

We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:15-16, NIV).

There is this widely popularized and accepted message within many churches today that we need to be and even can be ‘a better person.’ This kind of mentality and approach to the Christian walk subtly identifies the Bible as a mere set of moral guidelines designed to tell us what to do and what not to do in order to be a Christian, thus making mankind the subject and intention of Scripture rather than the glory of God displayed in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV).

When I first considered this in my own life, I immediately self-justified; believing that I have never and would never believe that the Bible was about me and my moral compass.

“I don’t do that,” I would think to myself.

“I know that it is by grace that I am saved and that it is only by that grace that I am a child of God. I know that I am not saved by my own works.”

When I really stopped to think about it though and when I considered whether the truths that I claimed to believe about grace and hope and unconditional love actually manifested themselves in my life or not, I came to the painful realization that deep down, ‘being a better person’ had become the root of my faith instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thus my life began producing fruits such as anxiety, perfectionism, fear, and pride instead of the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).

You can grow up in a church, hear a Gospel about freedom, and still work your tail off trying to maintain the image that you’re a good person.

Michael, American Gospel, 2019)

Claiming a Gospel of freedom while at the same time running myself ragged, I would try to achieve this ‘next level’ of Christian moralism. And so, church or anything else related to it became a place where I could feel better about myself; where I could listen to a message that would fill my tanks for another week of one failed attempt after another, and when I did fail I would mentally beat myself over the head with an imaginary rolled up newspaper like Edna did in The Incredibles, telling myself that I needed to ‘pull myself together!’

Ultimately, Christ became obsolete in my faith while I set my focus and hope entirely on my own morality, which dictated how I felt about myself, how I thought others viewed me, and sadly, how much or how little I believed God loved me.

So this begs the question – why do we do anything at all?

Why do we do certain things like pray, read our Bibles, serve, or minister to the lost?

Why don’t we do other things like lie, cheat, or steal?

Why are we baptized?

Why do we take part in communion?

Why do we tithe or fast?

What is the motivation for our obedience?

Because it is not the actions themselves that are the problem. The Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20, the principles found in the Proverbs, and the instruction of the Epistles are all good and necessary. Even Christ said that he did not come to abolish them [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17, NIV).

The problem lies in our motivation behind submitting to these commands and guidelines. When our motivation for obedience is anything but a deep love for Christ and a recognition of our need for grace, we become easily prone to the tangles of moralistic legalism and/or the trappings of prosperity gospel.

If we don’t know why we condone certain behaviors and condemn others, then we are blindly living by a moral code yet calling it gospel.

A loveless gospel and a gospel-less love

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-12, NIV).

Action grounded in love is what makes up the Gospel, for God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16, NIV).

We cannot preach love without the Gospel and we cannot share the Gospel without love. It is because He first loved us that we experience any love for Him at all (1 John 4:19, NIV), and it is because we love Him that we obey His commands (John 14:15, NIV).

So when we dismiss love as our foundation and cause for doing anything at all in Jesus’ name, we eliminate the power of the Gospel in our lives and in our ministries.

When we act out of a deep love for Christ and when we resist the temptations of worldly lusts and sinful pleasures because our love for Christ is so deep that even the thought of disobeying or dishonoring Him with our actions or lack thereof is more costly than the pleasure we might gain, we begin living by grace and love rather than by a moralistic code of religious do’s and don’ts.

It is when we stop trying to ‘live’ the Gospel or ‘do’ the Gospel that we are able to simply receive the Gospel of Christ’s grace fully in faith.

When we dismiss love as our reason for obedience, that is when we move into a moralistic legalism motivated by a list of do’s and don’ts and when someone or even ourselves deviates from that code, harshness and austerity follows with no consideration for Christ, His grace, or the Gospel.

There’s a flip-side to this though, because on the opposite end of this spectrum is a love separated from the Gospel.

While a loveless Gospel leads to moralistic legalism, a Gospel-less love leads to the prosperity gospel; a gospel that preaches that Christ died in order that we might be happy, healthy, and wealthy and not because we were dead in our trespasses and in desperate need of a Savior (Ephesians 2:1, NIV).

So we see that anything read in Scripture that is severed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate come down to live a perfect life, die a sinner’s death, be buried and raised again in absolute victory over sin and death to give us new life and hope in Him alone…when we detach anything in Scripture from this foundational truth, we miss the truth entirely because it is the Gospel alone that can move us confidently and humbly down the straight and narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:14, NIV).

In a documentary title American Gospel: Christ Alone, Pastor Phill Howell explains that the Christian life is like a railroad track. We are set on the right path and shown the way to go, but it is the Gospel that is our engine and fuel; the thing that actually moves us down the tracks.

Yet so often in Christian circles today, people are being shown the way to go (the good things that mark a Christian life), but are not being introduced to or reminded of the means by which to move forward (the Gospel of Jesus Christ), leaving them even more helpless than before.

a Christ-centered gospel

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, NIV).

The message that we need to be, or even can be a better person is the most hopeless, damning message anyone could ever hear because it neglects who we are while focusing on what we do.

The Bible circles the reality that we face a much bigger problem than the ones that manifest themselves in our actions and behaviors over and over again.

Christ did not die to help you be a better person.

He died to save us from the sin that we were powerless against, and to be painfully honest, He died to save us from the sin that we loved, and still love.

That’s the only reason sin has any power over us after all…because we love it and it bears no real consequence to us because we have not perceived the great love of Christ displayed in the Gospel.

So then it is passages like Matthew 5:17-48 that rather than helping us make better choices are actually there to remind us of and show us the severity of our inherent sin, our natural wretchedness, and our innate frailty in order to bring us back to our knees in desperate need of grace!

Unfortunately, when all we hear in church sermons and podcasts and lectures is how to not be sexually immoral, how to pray better, how to suffer well, how not to be anxious or depressed, how to have a godly relationship, or how to be faithfully single, etc. without the message ever really coming back to the Gospel, we are set on a path that leads to one of two tragic destinations – pride and/or despair.

On the one hand, when we are told to ‘be better, and here’s how’ without any consideration for our need of grace, pride will likely harden our hearts and convince us that we’ve got this; that we’re fine and that our morality has and will continue to save us; that we don’t need grace or forgiveness for something that we don’t believe we’ve done based on our own standards and that there is no need for help with something that we believe we can achieve on our own.

Yet on the other hand, when we begin to see how helpless and weak we are against our inherent sin and are confronted with the bleakness of our iniquity and see its stark contrast against the holiness of God, our hearts whither in despair, turning to the empty promises of our own morality which has no real power to save in and of itself, but condemns us nonetheless with lies that we didn’t try hard enough, that we didn’t have enough faith, that we didn’t pray enough, tithe enough, fast enough, or read the Bible enough.

The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:48 to ‘be perfect, therefore, as our heavenly Father is perfect.’ We know that this is impossible. If we have any recollection or understanding of our own sinful ways at all, then we know that if this were the standard (which it is), then we are, without question, hopeless. We know that no degree of moralistic achievement or good standing will do us any good, because even the righteous acts of man are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6, NIV).

Yet, if we look back several verses, we will read the life-giving words of Christ saying that though he did not come to rid us of the requirement of perfection according to God’s Law, He did come to fulfill that requirement for us (Matthew 5:17, NIV).

Therefore, we know that to follow Christ is not to be a better person by way of our own efforts, but to love and be in relationship with the only person who could ever completely fulfill God’s requirement for holiness and righteousness.

Instead of asking ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?’ and attempting to do that, the Gospel points us back to what Jesus has already done and then tells us to believe in that!

Christianity only become unattractive when we take away the only attractive thing about it, which is Jesus Christ and the Gospel of His undying love, grace, and mercy for those who are least deserving (all of us).

The beauty of the Gospel and the reason it should be at the center of all that we do is said perfectly in Romans 5:8 and 10 that while we were still sinners,Christ died for us. Therefore, if while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

This Christian life does not neglect or sugar coat the reality that we will never be good enough. Instead of putting before us all these sacred traditions, sacraments, lessons, and morals and giving us this false hope that we can actually achieve reconciliation on our own by following these ’10 steps to a better life,’ the Gospel tells us the truth about who we areentirely sinful and totally incapable of saving ourselves.

Yet it goes on to remind us of a love and a grace that is far greater than all of our failures, all of our wretchedness, all of our frailty, and all of our wickedness.

We are only reminded of this beautiful grace and love that saved us even when we were God’s enemies when we return daily to the Gospel, so that when we do get discouraged by our sin and when we do falter on the edge of despair, we can look back and remember that if He loved us when we were opposed to Him, how much more shall we be saved from our present sin through His life which He freely gives to us.

If you read this and found that any of it resonated with you, please know that there is hope!

You don’t have to fight a losing battle against your sin any longer. You don’t have to bend under the weight of the pride that burdens your heart.

There is freedom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ! So return to it. Return to the good news that we were saved by no attempt or effort or even desire on our part, but entirely by the goodness and grace and pleasure of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So let us throw off everything – all the moralistic legalism, prosperity gospel, pride, and despair – that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let the joy and peace of knowing this Gospel fill your lungs with new breath that you may run with perseverance, fixing your eyes on Jesus Christ alone.