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.

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.

And the Wind Died Down

Only when we come to recognize and embrace the sweetness of Christ’s grace in the hard times are we able to rejoice in the richness and depth of His grace in the good times.

As the title of my website might suggest, the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14 is my favorite story in the Bible. I have realized over the last couple of years how rich this story is with meaning; with truths of grace and mercy and hope in every word.

We can read a story such as this so many times, year after year, and yet, in a single moment, we can read it again and find new meaning and new significance.

When I first started writing, it was like my ‘walking on water’ moment; the moment I knew God was telling me to step out of my comfort zone and walk in faith; to trust Him with the story that He had given me and surrender all that I had gone through and was learning to the purposes of His good and perfect will.

For it is in Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Unfortunately, as we human beings often do, I got distracted. I started writing for my own purposes; desiring the approval of those around me more than God’s approval, seeking to write and encourage in ways that I saw best, and following the advice of others rather than trusting in God’s perfect wisdom.

This wandering was not just in my writing though, but in my relationships with others, my walk with the Lord, and in my pursuit of joy and peace.

The words of Robert Robinson’s hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing rang so true in my life at that time – prone to wander, Lord I feel it // prone to leave the God I love.

So with eyes averted and devotion divided, when the wind and waves came, I became afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

grace upon grace

In perfect wisdom and love, God used Peter’s failure and mine alike to loudly proclaim His infinite grace. As author C.S. Lewis puts it –

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

And so it was in those moments when I felt way in over my head; drowning in a storm of my own making filled with lies of disappointment, fear, and failure that God spoke the loudest; where grace became the only solid ground on which I could stand.

I cherish those seasons of pain and uncertainty in my life the most though because it is in those moments that leave us stunned and without words that the Lord speaks the loudest.

It is in the moments when we have no where left to turn that His open arms become a sweet refuge.

It is when we are broken that He mends us and makes us whole.

It is when we are empty that He fills us.

And it is only after we have been through a storm that we are able to look back and recognize His saving grace.

and the wind died down

As I look back on 2018, I see beautiful moments of friendship, growth, joy, and hope, as well as tough seasons of anxiety, fear, and doubt. However, more than all of these, I see the unparalleled grace, mercy, and patience of the Lord.

I see my Savior; my Redeemer; the Rescuer of my soul, who despite my moments of resentment and unfaithfulness, never left my side.

When I was broken, He made me whole again.

When I was empty, He fulfilled my every need.

When I felt alone, He comforted me.

When the silence seemed overwhelming, His voice rang loud and clear.

And now, as I look back on the good and bad of 2018 and embrace the Lord’s goodness in the toil and joys alike, I feel the wind dying down around me and grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus my Lord (2 Peter 1:2).

It is important though to remember that these seasons of turmoil and rest; of raging storms and quiet waters, all point to a greater reality.

In the storms of life, God loudly proclaims to our bruised and broken spirits that this is not all that there is; that though these sorrows may be painful, they are light and momentary nonetheless.

Storms remind us that we have the hope of eternal and perfect peace in Christ Jesus still waiting for us.

And in the same way, when we are granted seasons of rest and the storms of life die down around us, we are reminded that the good things in this world are but murmurs of the greater weight of glory that is yet to come.

And it is when we recognize this and embrace it in every season of life that we are truly able to rejoice in Christ Jesus; thanking Him with joy and thanksgiving for His good and perfect gifts and sitting back, beaten and bruised by the storms of life to worship Him still.

One of my favorite quotes by John Owen says that ‘beholding the glory of Christ in this life is preparation—small “dawnings of eternal glory”—for the joys of heaven, where we will see Christ in His glory fully.’

This life will be filled with good and bad; with joys and toil, happiness and sorrow. This is simply the reality of our human condition. However, as we learn to recognize and embrace the sweetness of God’s grace in our joys and sorrows on earth, we are preparing our hearts for the day of rejoicing when we will fully behold His glory; when the dawning turns to day, the storm [sin] is silenced forever, and we enter into ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We will come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. We will come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ (Hebrews 12:22-24).

We will be Home, where joys abound and the wind is no more.

Dear God, (Are You Sure) You Don’t Mess Up

I could feel the pain radiating off of her as I moved closer, putting my arm around her slumped shoulders.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she muttered. “Why did it have to happen this way? What’s the point of hoping; of trying at all if God already has His master plan in place?”

My mind scrambled for an answer. Surely there was an answer that could satisfy her questioning; that would help her see that God was still good, even when the world hurt so bad.

“I don’t really know,” I said.

That’s it!? That’s the best you can come up with? My own thoughts betrayed me now as insecurity and doubt flooded my mind. You’re no help at all.

I shuddered, as if trying to shake free from the lies and accusations.

I could offer no answer. Even after years of studying and growing, I still did not know why life had to hurt so much; why God allowed certain things to happen; why He made us the way that He did – fragile and vulnerable and weak.

As we kept talking, I felt the old question simmering beneath all the theology and doctrine and ‘right’ answers – ‘oh God, are you sure you don’t mess up?’

I recently heard a song that explored this same line of questioning. In an interview, artist Hunter Hayes explains that ‘we wouldn’t honestly ask this question if we weren’t already certain of the answer. We know that God doesn’t mess up. If the opposite were even remotely possible, it would be a reality far too frightening to even consider.’ (Dear God, 2018)

So we ask the question as if to remind ourselves that He doesn’t mess up; that He didn’t mess us on us or His plans.

Doubt still overwhelms us though, doesn’t it? We still have unanswered questions. There are still doors that we’ve knocked on for years that remain closed; open-ended prayers that have yet to receive their ‘amen.’

I could see her disassociating herself now; drawing back into her autonomy and retreating deep into the recesses of her own mind. Fear and pain and the lack of answers has a way of convincing us that we’re better off on our own.

She didn’t draw back out of anger though. It wasn’t even out of pride or arrogance. She wasn’t shaking her fist at God, she was shaking her fist at herself. She was humiliated.

How could she ask such accusing questions of the One she loved? How could she be hurt by the One she trusted? Who was she to question the Perfect One?

You see, we don’t ask such a question to examine the character of God. No, we ask a question like this in examination of ourselves; knowing deep down that we have not lived up to the indescribable glory and perfection of the One who made us and calls us His own and that we never will.

Maybe that’s why we become so confused and frustrated by the way God created us. He made us this way after all, didn’t he? ‘He made us fragile. He made a heart that could break. He set us on the road less travelled knowing full well that we would run away.’ (Dear God, 2018)

Why, oh why God did you make me this way? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with me?

I wish I could offer some kind of resolution to these questions; writing with conviction about how everything happens for a reason. The thing is though, these questions and doubts are not incompatible with faith like we might think they are. We don’t have to distance ourselves from God and faith just because we’re hurting and confused.

Consider the father in Mark 9:22-24 (NIV), pleading with Jesus to heal his son.

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” Jesus said. “Everything is possible for the one who believes.”

This father knew that Jesus could rescue his son. Why else would he have travelled as far as he did and fought to gain and audience with Him? He still questioned Jesus’ goodness though; he still struggled with doubt and uncertainty.

The father in this story, much like us all, found himself stuck in doubt even when in the presence of Jesus himself. In response to Jesus’ gentle rebuke, the boy’s father immediately exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Are you stuck in doubt? Do you still find yourself asking that question; wondering if there might be something wrong with you, even though you know that God doesn’t mess up?

Do you believe, yet still struggle with unbelief?

Cry out to God! He hears you and He loves you. Don’t let those questions and doubts keep you from pressing into Him; into His truth and His love that does not weaken in the presence of unbelief.

This father wrestled with unbelief, but he came running nonetheless. He ran into the arms of his Father despite the doubts and fears that tried to keep him away.

Even when you don’t understand, run to Him, your loving Father and trust that He remains true to His character and does not mess up.

Because You’re Mine

It was ‘Bob Ross’ night as we liked to call it and the four of us had our canvases and paints all ready to go.

The beginning steps weren’t too difficult. We were simply instructed to lay the base colors; the light blues of the sky and the deep greens and browns of the rich earth below.

I was practically Michelangelo at this point.

Then we started adding depth, definition, and contrast.

By the time we got to the mountain range and ‘happy trees,’ I was no better than a 2nd grader with her finger paints.

My final product was anything but perfect. All my hopes and dreams of ever becoming an artist had been swiftly whisked away. But I still loved it.

I thought it was a beautiful painting; worthy of being prominently displayed on my wall where everyone could see it.

Sure it wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t care.

It was mine.

This reminded me of one of my favorite children’s books by Max Lucado, You Are Special.

In this adorable, yet incredibly relevant book; applicable even to the wisest of theologians, our young puppet named Punchinello inquires of his creator, the wood worker named Eli…

“What do I matter to you?”

Eli looked at Punchinello, put his hands on those small wooden shoulders, and spoke very slowly. “Because you’re mine. That’s why you matter to me.”

I absolutely love this part of the story because it is in this moment that the lie every adult knows is confronted … ‘my value lies in what I can or cannot do.’

What a debilitating lie this is.

Our confessional theology; the theology we proclaim to believe in, tells us and the world that our value comes from the One who made us. However, our practical theology; the theology that we actually live by, more often than not tells us and the world that we don’t really believe in what we proclaim.

If we did, there would be no such thing as comparison or pride in our small groups, anxiety when answering a question in Sunday School, or broken friendships among believers.

Rather, our lives tell a story of vain striving; of people who look within rather than above for assurance and value, believing that either…

  1. I’ve got this; or
  2. I suck.

The ‘I’ve got this’ lie suggests to the world that we believe God loves us because of all the good we do while the ‘I suck’ lie implies that we believe that God’s love is conditional; apt to change; to increase or decreased based on our actions or lack thereof.

Both are essentially the same lie – ‘my value lies in what I can or cannot do.’ One is through the lens of pride and the other is through the lens of self-loathing.

Both are equally destructive to the believer’s life.

As I’ve searched deeper into the precious Word of God and developed a greater, more personal understanding of this faith that I claim, I’ve also become more acquainted with the depth of my depravity; of all the ways that I’ve thought wrongly about God and conducted myself accordingly.

This is one of those areas.

I’m only now realizing how much of my life has been driven by this deceptive belief that I had and still have some part to play in determining my value as a Christian.

In some regard this may seem fairly innocent; common even and often masked with sympathetic words such as ‘insecure’ or ‘low-self esteem.’ We might even try to mask this lie with empowering words; words that tell me that I’m ‘self-aware’ or ‘introspective.’

To some degree it’s good to be introspective and aware of one’s motives and actions, but when that turns into a means by which we try to gain favor in God’s eyes, this seemingly innocent misconception suddenly becomes insurmountable.

This lie that I had some part to play in determining my value and worth as a Christian suddenly, when under attack from the enemy, morphed into the lie that I now have a part to play in guaranteeing my salvation.

Yikes! That escalated really quickly!

But do you see how different those two lies are yet how closely they can be related?  Even the slightest fallacy in our beliefs regarding the Gospel is enough for Satan to plunge his dagger of deceit into and twist until we are unraveled by pain, illegitimate guilt, and confusion.

I realized that nearly the entirety of my faith had fed into this lie that I had some part to play in how much (or how little) I was valued by God.

I had a ‘good day, bad day’ faith and once faced with some serious life circumstances, immense fears, and relentless lies from the devil, it quickly stole my focus from that of Jesus Christ standing firm on the water to the fact that I was merely human and could not, within myself, walk on water.

Because I saw myself as part of my own front line defense against Satan rather than the truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and Word of God that makes up the impenetrable armor of God (Eph. 6), I presented the enemy with the perfect opportunity to strike at the weakest point in my defense…me!

And I am no match against the powers of hell or the urges of sin, fear, and temptation.

Like Helm’s Deep in the Lord of the Rings – just one, extremely small area of weakness, when targeted by the enemy, was enough to bring down the steadfast walls that protected what was most sacred to the people of Rohan.

Just one, extremely small area of weakness in a believer’s theology and belief in the Gospel is enough to seriously disrupt and derail the security that protects what is most sacred to the Christian’s faith – salvation only by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And since the Word of God alone is secure and infallible, it is only when we, fragile, limited human beings assume some degree of God’s limitless nature as our own that we erode our defenses against the flaming arrows of the enemy.

One might say that I had lost a sense of who I was; of my value as a child of God; of how much I was cherished, loved, and accepted.

However, I didn’t necessarily lose a sense of who I was. In fact, I elevated my sense of who I was and lost a sense and recognition of who God is.

My painting may have had some disproportionate trees, weirdly colored meadows and fields, and shadows that faced the wrong direction, but none of that equated to its value.

The finest works of art do not possess their intrinsic value on their own. They don’t even help in the process. They possess their value because their Artist is intrinsically valuable, making wonderful things because HE is wonderful; imputing HIS glory onto the works of HIS hands despite their inconsistencies and irregularities.

Because we are His, we are special.

Because we are His, we are valuable.

Because we are His, we are saved.

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

A good portion of my middle school and high school summers were spent at Timberlake Ranch Camp.

While I’ve never been too good with heights, I have gotten a lot better over the years. When I was younger though, I was absolutely terrified of heights, which is why I very distinctly remember the day that our cabin spent the afternoon at the ropes course.

I was fine with sitting off on the side watching everyone else suspend at what seemed like great, great heights (in hindsight, I guess they weren’t really that high), but my cabin leader wasn’t about to let that happen.

Next thing I knew I was being strapped into a harness as I fearfully (and probably tearfully) looked up and down this massive rock wall that I was supposed to scale.

Yeah, right.

We’ll just say that it took me for-e-ver and leave it at that.

When I think back on that moment as I looked up and down that wall, I remember feeling so tiny; almost helpless.

Perhaps this was how Joshua felt as he approached the looming wall of Jericho.

The challenge before him seemed so massive up against the very simple, almost humorously meek instructions he had been given.

The rock wall I faced seemed massive while the encouragement and instruction my cabin leader gave seemed almost too simple – just one step after the other.

That was it!?

“March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. On the sevenths day, march around the city seven times…when you hear a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up…” (Joshua 6:3-5).

Just one step after the other.

The mundane and routine nature of these instructions given to Joshua lacked any and all zeal or passion. They simply had to take a walk.

Where was the challenge in that?

Better yet, where was the awesome story that he would get to tell all of his buddies afterwards?

These instructions not only lacked excitement and challenge, but they also lacked any means by which to gain personal glory or recognition for Joshua and his people.

In fact, their job was almost embarrassing it was so simple.

Perhaps the mundane nature of God’s instructions for His people served two very important purposes –

  1. To point His people to the true source of their zeal and passion; and
  2. To place 100% of the glory for this victory at the feet of Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:11 tells us to never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Our zeal should never come from what we are capable of doing on our own but rather from the knowledge that He has never failed us and He won’t start now.

We simply have to serve the Lord, taking one step after the other, and He will do the rest.

When the task at hand seems too big for the meek instructions given, our zeal should not falter. If grounded and rooted deep in the knowledge that we serve a God who cannot fail, our zeal will forever burn within our souls, lighting our passions with an all-consuming fire.

Even when our steps of submission, one after the other, seem fruitless, we can march forth in the confidence that God does not waste our obedience.

This concept goes far beyond a mere rock wall at summer camp though.

We all have some pretty serious walls that we are facing, don’t we?

Perfectionism.

Expectations. 

Comparisons.

Discontentment.

Pride.

Frenzy and Busyness.

These are all walls that I have faced and some that I am currently facing today.

My perfectionism, for example has caused me to believe that I simply cannot afford to make a mistake.

This is something that I struggle with in many facets of my life, including work, service, ministry, and relationships.

I often find myself daily dealing with ‘paralysis by analysis,’ which in turn creates a very busy and almost panicked lifestyle.

We all have walls, and though “days one through six” might be painful, routine, and seemingly fruitless, we can still place one foot in front of the other in full confidence that God still stands.

Even if you find yourself still looking up and down your wall, remember that you are always in the hands of God.

When these walls remain resolute in our lives as we obediently and prayerfully seek to change our behaviors, instead of turning inward and wondering what is wrong with us, we should instead praise God!

Praise Him for putting walls in your life that cause you to fall to your knees.

And as we praise Him, remember the walls that He has destroyed in the past.

Look back and remember all the trials He has guided you through with His loving, gentle hands and believe that you will see Him do it again!

When those walls do fall though and the destructive behaviors that have for the longest time kept your from God’s passion and dream for your life fade away, it is very important that you follow God’s instructions found in Joshua 6:18.

But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.

When God destroys our walls on “day seven,” no remnant can remain.

This means that after “seven days” of surrender and obedience to Christ when my wall of perfectionism is finally destroyed, I cannot continue holding onto those old behaviors.

I will be tempted as I’m sure the Israelites were tempted to take the gold and silver for their own, but their devotion and complete surrender to the Lord was necessary in the total destruction of the city, which in turn gave passageway to the Promised Land.

God has a sure path to get you from where you are right now to His passion and His dream for your life.

There will be some walls along the way, but remain faithful.

Trust that God will work through the mundane days, even when they might seem fruitless.

And when “day seven” finally does arrive and you see redemption play out before your very eyes, surrender entirely.

Hold nothing back. Let those destructive behaviors and habits go, whatever they may be – perfectionism, doubt, constant need for control, sarcasm, busyness, solitude, pride, etc.

Whatever behavior it might be, surrender it completely to God, devoting all that remains to Him and His glory and watch as your walls come tumbling down.

 

Some of the ideas for this blog post came from a sermon I listened to a couple weeks ago by Pastor Jeff at New Life Church. Check out this link if you’d like to listen to the sermon – http://mynewlifechurch.com/series/playlist/