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 ūüôā

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 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;

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‚Äô 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 ‚Äėhope‚Äô 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 ‚Äėbest 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‚ÄĒand 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 ‚Äėpleasing 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)?

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.

The Supremacy of God’s Word – Part II

This is the second part of a two-part series on the supremacy of God’s Word. After seeing a new resource for young adults called The Bible Study by Zach Windahl, I recognized four fundamental errors regarding our approach to reading God‚Äôs Word.

In the first part of this series, I addressed the areas of Presumed¬†Authority¬†and¬†our¬†Fear of Discomfort. In this article – The Supremacy of God’s Word, Part II – I will be discussing the issues surrounding our tendency to add to the Bible¬†remedies of euphoria and mountain top experiences, exciting encounters, and spiritual highs as well as our growing propensity towards ‘the Instagram bible.’

the bible and…

Windahl decided to move to Australia to spend time only in God’s Word; reading the Bible for 70 hours every week!¬† As he explains his decision to move to Australia and the impact that¬†it had on his life and faith, he makes the point very clear that it was in fact,¬†life changing.

I greatly appreciate and applaud Windahl’s dedication to the study of Scripture¬†and I think it is incredible that he utilized the resources, time, and opportunities that¬†he had to¬†pursue deep, personal study and understanding of the Bible. However, there is something that I wish he would have made more clear.

When it comes to true change, there is no ‘and…’ The Word of God which reveals the glory of Jesus Christ stands alone, for the Lord is exalted over all nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth (Psalm 113:4-6, NIV)?

The Bible drives this point over and over again throughout the entirety of Scripture. There is no one and no thing like our God. The holy Word of God stands alone when it comes to true, deep heart change (ref. Jeremiah 10:6; 1 Samuel 2:2; Deuteronomy 33:26, 3:24, NIV).

Ezekiel 36:25-27 says that it is the Lord who will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; He will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. He will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; He will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And He will put His Spirit in you and move you to follow His decrees and be careful to keep His laws.

So often we feel it necessary to add to Scripture the remedies and euphoria of mountain top experiences, exciting encounters, and spiritual highs. Experiencing God and encountering his glory are good things, however they are not what actually change our hearts.

2 Corinthians chapter three reminds us that it is only when we turn to the Lord that the veil over our hearts and minds is removed and we are able to, with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory; being transformed into his image with an ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:12-18, NIV).

It is the glory of Jesus Christ which stands above all else that saves us, changes us, sanctifies us, and refines us. No experience can add to or subtract from the God of the Scriptures.

So whether it is a trip to Australia or to your living room; whether it is 70 hours per week or half an hour a day…the Word of our God on high is what reveals the glory of Jesus Christ, reaches into our muck and mire, removes from us our heart of stone and gives us¬†a heart of flesh that is sensitive to the Holy Spirit and daily refines us into the image of Christ.

the instagram bible.

I first stumbled across this concept of ‘the Instagram bible’ as I read through some of Jen Wilkin’s writings not too long ago.

In her October 2, 2016 article, Jen Wilkin explains that what is often presented as gospel truth according to Instagram ‘comforts but rarely convicts; emotes but rarely exhorts; warms but rarely warns; promises but rarely prompts; moves but does not mortify; builds self-assurance but balks at self-examination; chooses brevity over breadth, inspiration over intellect, and devotion over doctrine.’

This is dangerous and Jen Wilkin persistently warns us against the pomp of ‘relatability’ and encourages us to be devoted followers of Christ and students of the Bible who daily affirm and submit to the supremacy and entirety of God’s Word, which means even the parts that don’t leave us feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

As he encourages his audience to check out this new Bible study, Windahl excitedly describes his Bible study as¬†being ‘super instagramable, because hello…its 2018 and things need to look good.’

I understand the need to market to one’s audience, but it is concerning that this component of his Bible study is held in higher regard than the actual, life-giving truth of Scripture. While I have not actually utilized this resource on my own, the fact that it’s ‘instagramability’ finds a place in the promotional videos before there’s anything mentioned of God, Jesus Christ, and the true life-changing reality of Christ crucified and raised to life raises several red flags.

Where does our worship and devotion lie?

What do we consider as having upmost importance?

What is it that attracts our attention and devotion?

I fear a resource that is described as being ‘super instagramable’ might fall severely short of helping its readers understand the fullness of God’s Word.

I so often see this in young adult groups, ministries, and Bible studies and have caught myself several times pondering the external factors that are likely to draw an audience rather than the deep, foundational¬† truths of God’s Word on which we base our relationships, our discipleship, our gatherings, and our worship; the foundational truths that bring about deep change.

There is nothing wrong with posting an encouraging Instagram post with a verse or a passage. There is nothing wrong with double-tapping that image with Jeremiah 29:11 on it.

But, brothers and sisters, let’s not neglect the very breath of God for that which temporarily satisfies our self-bent desires for approval and affirmation. Let’s be men and women who know what we believe, why we believe it, grounded in the very Word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As followers of Christ and students of Scripture, we must daily return to and submit to the entirety and supremacy of God’s Word.

The Supremacy of God’s Word – Part I

I’ve seen a number of promotions on Facebook lately for a new¬†Bible study¬†by Zach Windahl. This study caught my attention because a) I’m a book hoarder; and b) I love seeing¬†new Bible studies and resources come out¬†that help people deepen their faith and strengthen their pursuit of the Lord.

However, as I considered this new addition to my personal library and watched a couple promo videos for this product, there were a few things that seemed fundamentally out of place.

I have not actually utilized this Bible study yet, therefore my opinion¬†of it¬†is solely based on how it was marketed to it’s audience. However, there were some overarching themes¬†that stood out to me which I’ve noticed more and more frequently, primarily among young adult groups.

presumed authority.

As he describes his new Bible study, Windahl explains that¬†it is “a one-year Bible Study that focuses on how each book relates to your life.”

With a primary focus of revealing how the Bible relates to our lives Р21st century American millennials РI fear this study might fall severely short of the purpose for which the Bible was originally intended, which is to reveal the glory of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and raised to life by the infinite wisdom and loving power of God Almighty.

It is the human nature to be self-consumed and self-aware, even as we read the Bible.  We presume upon an authority that does not belong to us; that is, we believe that we have the right and the ability to alter, change, or redefine something, in this case, the Word of God, to fit our preferences.

If we approach the infallible Word of God in this manner, it is near unavoidable that our self-bent nature will attempt to alter, change, and/or redefine the truths of Scripture to justify our cause rather than convict and to only encourage rather than challenge.

Ben Schapiro discerningly points out during¬†a political debate that¬†“facts are often being trumped by what we wish were facts in order to push certain [political] agendas.”¬†

Though this point was made to address a political debate, I think¬†it is relatable to all facets of life, including faith and Christianity. We presume upon the Word of God, disregarding truths that make us uncomfortable and believing that in order for the Bible to be considered valid, it must first and foremost relate to us…today…in 21st century America…as if that were its primary objective.

It is important that we approach the Bible in an appropriate manner and handle it responsibly. The Word of God is not something that shifts and changes over time. Rather, it remains timeless; enduring forever despite the ever-changing, ever-elusive nature of society (ref. Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17, NIV).

‚ÄúThe Bible, from beginning to end, is a shameless and glorious declaration of the nature and character of God before it says anything about who we are.‚Ä̬† – Jen Wilkin

I have nothing against resources and supplemental guides that help us study¬†the Bible. While the Bible is first and foremost a book about God, it is also a book that reveals God’s love for us. Therefore it is important to see how such a love relates to and changes us. However, when our desire for personal revelation and ‘relatability’ trumps our desire to know the God of our fathers, we have just identified the Bible as a means to our own self-awareness.

fear of discomfort.

As he continues promoting his new resource, Windahl addresses the issue of how difficult the Bible is to read, especially for younger generations.

“A lot of people struggle reading the Bible,” Windahl says, “because let’s be honest, it can be tough reading such a big book; especially if you don’t know how to make it personal.”

Yes! To be quite honest, I can relate to this and say¬†that I struggle reading the Bible for these exact reasons. It’s tough; it’s a big book; what’s up with Leviticus; and seriously, is KJV even English?

However, it is the struggle that often yields the greatest reward.

Something that I believe this generation has lost is the ability to sit in the struggle; to dwell in the uncertainty; to be at peace in the questioning. Simply put, we hate not knowing.

But it’s the moments of struggle; the seasons of uncertainty; and the times where we seem to have so many questions that ultimately yield the strongest resolve; the deepest trust; and the most profound answers when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ.

And so it should be when reading the Bible.

Yes – you might read through the book of Deuteronomy for the first time and wonder what on earth it has to do with anything, but if we truly believe that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness…’ (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV), then we know that even the laws of Deuteronomy, the genealogies of Leviticus, the judgment of Judges, the beauty of Genesis, and the astounding love of the Gospels all speak to the glory of Jesus Christ and are profitable for our growth, refinement, and sanctification.

Yet, we run from this. We set aside the incredible opportunity to grow from the struggle and discomfort for the immediate yet temporary remedy of quick answers and supplemental materials.

Now please, don’t hear me wrong…Bible studies are not a bad thing. In fact, they are incredibly good and certainly beneficial.

They are not, however, foundational.

We lose a sense of the raw, ‘brick and mortar,’ foundational truths of the Bible when we lather them with topical studies and additional resources before first allowing ourselves to get lost and confused in His Word, which will¬†eventually allow us to¬†experience the grace of revelation by the Holy Spirit as His Word comes to life (ref. Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 40:8; Psalm 119:130; Proverbs 3:2, NIV).

As followers of Christ and students of Scripture, we must daily return to the Supremacy of God’s Word.

*               *               *

The Supremacy of God’s Word -Part II, Coming¬†Monday, November 12.

In Part II of this two-part series on the Supremacy of God’s Word, I will be addressing the issue of having a mindset of ‘The Bible and…’; a mindset that believes that the Bible can only change your life if it is coupled with other experiences and encounters. Additionally, I’ll be addressing the rising tendency towards The Instagram Bible; believing that the Bible only consists of passages that are ‘instagramable.’

All Things New – Part III

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa.¬†I hadn’t¬†been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I¬†was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session three, October 6

James 1:5 says¬†that ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’

This is an amazing verse, but one that is quite often misinterpreted. We read James 1:5 and convince ourselves that all we must do is ask, and God will deliver. Rarely does it actually happen this way though, and¬†not¬†due to¬†a lack on God’s part, but because we’re asking the wrong question.

As human beings, we are notorious for asking the wrong question. We want to know exactly what to do; how to do it, and when. Because of this, we start to believe that this is how we must discern God’s will for our lives and follow it. However, asking God to tell us what to do, how to do it, and when is not wisdom as James 1:5 describes it.

Wisdom is an internal mechanism to make decisions. Knowledge is just facts.

So often when we kneel to pray and ask God for wisdom about any decision we may be facing, rather than asking for the humble discernment we need to make a wise decision with the information we have, we ask God to tell us what only God knows Рfacts, details, and outcomes of the future.

With this kind of approach, we mistreat, misuse, and abuse the Word of God by viewing it as more of¬†a ‘how to’ manual for our lives rather than¬†the glorious, shameless, infallible declaration of the glory and majesty of God Almighty. We miss the real purpose and process of sanctification and start believing that the decisions in life – where to live, who to marry, where to work, etc. – are the main focus.

We convince ourselves that ‘if only we could make better decisions, then we’ll be better people’ right?

I’ll admit it, I’ve spent years believing this and striving for this. If I could just train myself to make better decisions, then I would become that gentle and quiet, godly, wise woman¬†described in Proverbs 31.

What does this actually do though?¬†Eventually, with this kind of approach to discovering God’s¬†will, my success, my obedience, my faithfulness, my righteousness, my everything ‚ÄĒit is all left up to me.¬†I don‚Äôt know about you, but I don‚Äôt think that‚Äôs good news…at all!

Because¬†failure is in our nature, we become a nervous wreck when trying to discern God’s will because if it is in fact left¬†up to our own decision making whether we stay within God’s will or not, we know that we’ll eventually fall to the wayside.

So rather than asking God and trying to discern what to do, where to go, and when, perhaps there’s¬†a better question that we could be asking.

Rather than inquiring of God to show us what to do, let’s be men and women who daily seek to discover who He wants us to be, because…

God is always more concerned with the decision-maker than He is with the decision itself.   -Jen Wilkin

And when you start asking this question, I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that it is quite clear what the will of God is.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

God’s will for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy’ (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:1-2, 20:26, 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Haven’t we already been made holy though? Doesn’t it say in Hebrews 10:10 that ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’?

This is true, as we have been given positional holiness in and through Jesus Рwe have been delivered from the penalty of sin and granted righteousness before God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, we are directed to pursue practical holiness in a life of faith, trust, and righteousness before God; working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12).

When Jesus instructed us to ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,’ he was not talking about the daily decisions that we face throughout our lifetime.

Rather, God was saying that the answer will be given; the secret will be found; and the door will be opened to the one asking, seeking, and pursuing holiness. What good is the ‘right decision’ if I’m still the ‘wrong person?’

As believers, we have the power to choose rightly; the wisdom to credit God with those right decisions; and wonderful grace for when we get it wrong.

The will of God for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy, and we have¬†been given the power, wisdom, and grace to do just that through Jesus Christ.¬†Through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, we have been¬†justified through faith and reconciled to God. We have been granted new names and¬†a new purpose for which we are to live. And finally, we have been set on a new path; on the path of God’s will which is to be holy, because He is holy.