2015: The Year of Wrestling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loving Sacrificially as Jesus Loved Us

loveOn Monday night I shared this simple little devotional at our monthly Bible study Ladies Night. Posting it was easier than writing something new…so here ya go. =) 

Tonight I want to share a few thoughts about one aspect of Biblical love. In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Since Jesus commands us to love each other just as He loves us, I started thinking about what that looks like. One of the most obvious aspects of His love for us is that it is a sacrificial love.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed more than we could ever imagine for us. He left His home in Heaven, where everything was perfect. There was no sin, no sadness, no broken relationships, no suffering, no misery, no sickness, no hunger and thirst, and no pain. He came to earth and was born into a modest family in a stable. He went from the glory of Heaven, where everyone recognized Him as the King that He is, to growing up surrounded by sinners, most of whom did not know He was God, or refused to believe. He experienced 40 days of hunger and thirst, He fought temptation, and He spent His time ministering to unlovely, sick, disgraced, and poor people. He invested years of love into a man who betrayed Him for money. And finally, He suffered unbelievable physical pain and the emotional torment of separation from His Father, ultimately giving up His very life, all so that we could be reconciled to God and have our sins forgiven. He sacrificed in all these ways so that we could be saved.

“He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)

In Jesus, we have an example of the kind of love we are called to show to one another.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:16-18)

The world tries to tell us that love is about romance and feelings. Even worse, our culture emphasizes the importance of loving ourselves and seeking our own happiness. Relationships according to the world are about what makes us feel good.

But the kind of love that Jesus calls us to is a sacrificial love that puts others’ needs and interests above our own.

Think about one of the relationships in your life. Perhaps someone hard to love, or someone you interact with regularly like your husband, parent, sibling, roommate, or friend. Take a moment to evaluate your love toward that person. Do you show more or less love to them depending on what they can do for you or how they make you feel? Does your behavior toward them change depending on theirs? Are you characterized by willingly and joyfully making sacrifices for them with no expectation of thanks or acknowledgement in return? Are you motivated to love because of what you will receive back?

I was asking myself these questions about my marriage it hit me that often the “sacrifices” I make for Andrew are done with unspoken stipulations. For example, I will be joyful in my sacrifice provided he acknowledges what I have done. If I do not receive thanks in return, I may pout and wonder why I bothered going out of my way for him. Because my husband is a thankful guy, I do not often have a chance to practice sacrificing for him without acknowledgement, but I think often I just subconsciously expect and feel like I deserve his praise.

1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love “it does not seek its own”.

If I am sacrificing in order to enjoy the praise or thanks of another, or to get some favor in return, or because it makes me look good of feel good about myself, it is not truly sacrificing at all. It is doing something with my best in mind, not that of the other person. That is not the love with which Jesus loves us. 

John Piper writes, “The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, at the greatest cost, to the least deserving. That’s what God did. At the loss of His Son’s life to the totally undeserving, God gave the best gift – the display of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” 

It’s so easy to go through life with an entitlement mindset. It does not come naturally to us to love others sacrificially without thought for our own well being. But this sacrificial love is what we see modeled in our Savior, and it is the kind of love we are to practice.

Ironically, when we unselfishly sacrifice for others with Jesus’ love and in His strength, we are rewarded with the pleasure that comes from obeying and serving God. The satisfaction we might find in receiving praise or acknowledgement from people is fleeting. But there is lasting joy in pleasing the Lord!

This week, meditate on the sacrificial love that Jesus has shown to you. Thank Him for loving you with no consideration of what you could give back to Him, and ask Him to enable you to show that kind of love to the people in your life.

Image taken from fortalezadoguincho.com. 

Observations from Mary’s Song

Photo from the movie The Nativity.

And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.”

Luke 1:46-49

I noticed several beautiful things about Mary and this part of her response. (Full passage is Luke 1:46-55.)

  1. She has a high view of God and His character. She calls Him mighty and and holy.
  2. She does not complain about the responsibility God has assigned to her, nor about the inconveniences and trials that being a pregnant virgin has brought, but actually praises Him for choosing her to bear His Son.
  3. She looks past the present and can see the long-term blessings that God will bring to her down the road through this Child.
  4. She knows she is nothing compared to God, but she does not focus on her inadequacies. Instead, she dwells on Who God is, the great things He has done, and the amazing ways He is choosing to use her in spite of her humble background and sinful human nature.

There’s much more, but that’s what jumped out at me. I can learn a lot from Mary’s example. She is full of humility and meekness, yet does not wither away in self-pity or “low self-esteem”. She recognizes God’s mighty hand in her life and trusts that what He is doing is just right for her. It seems like the ideal balance of humility and confidence in God; I feel like I usually bounce back and forth between those extremes. I’m sure Mary had her moments of pride and doubt…but this song of praise inspires me. How can I be applying these principles to the everyday moments God has for me?

The Gettys loosely put the Magnificat to music and I’ve almost got it memorized from listening to it so much. I love to have these lyrics floating around in my head throughout the day. Here’s the YouTube.

Jesus, Thank You

There is so much to thank God for, all year round, and I love the heightened emphasis on thankfulness that comes with November and especially this week. I’ve not kept up on the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge, but I’m going to keep pecking away at it into December until it is done. It’s a nice thing to add to quiet time when I want a little something extra.

Last night was our Thanksgiving service at church, during which we focused on the work of Jesus, specifically His ascension. Jesus’ return to Heaven after His resurrection isn’t an event zeroed in on often, so Pastor John’s reminders of all that it marks were a great way to encourage thankfulness for our amazing Savior going into this week. Here are a few of the things His ascension does:

  • Marks the completion of Jesus’ earthly work.
  • Signals the sending of the Holy Spirit.
  • Establishes Christ as the ruler of all things and Head of the church.
  • Marks the start of Jesus’ High Priestly ministry.
  • And much more…

After singing “Jesus, Thank You” by Sovereign Grace Music last night, I can’t get the lyrics out of my head…and I really don’t want to. Take a listen; it’s one of my favorites right now.

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

Prayer for the Philippines Day 10

Photo courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk.

Photo courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk.

10 Days of Prayer for the Philippines

Day 10

Today is our last day in our 10 Days of Prayer for the Philippines project. Thank you to anyone who prayed along any of the days. If nothing else, this served as a personal reminder not to so quickly forget those who are hurting in other parts of the world. I have been working harder at stopping to pray when I hear about tragedy, instead of just being sad and moving on. It’s a discipline I want to cultivate…that prayer would be my automatic response to the suffering of others.

Dear Lord, we pray that You would continue to minister to the thousands of Filipinos who have lost family, friends, and homes to Typhoon Haiyan. Please watch over each one and care for them in a special way. Work in the governing officials to bring about efficient, effective restoration. Give the relief organization workers stamina and perseverance as they do what they can to help. Give boldness to believers who have survived, bringing them opportunities to share the hope they have in Jesus Christ with the hurting people around them. Use this terrible trial to spread Your gospel throughout the Philippines and build up Your church. Thank You that we can be a part of Your truth going out simply by praying, no matter where we are. Make us more faithful to bring others before Your throne of grace in their time of need. Give us love and concern for people we haven’t even met, and fill us with gratitude for the undeserved blessings You’ve allowed us to enjoy. Thank You that we know that You hear and work through our prayers. 

Prayer for the Philippines Day 9

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com.

10 Days of Prayer for the Philippines

Day 9

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Dear Lord, we continue to pray for Filipinos who are in just the beginning stages of the long road to restoration after Typhoon Haiyan. We pray that You would help believers around the globe to reach out in prayer and other means of support. Give US churches who support missionaries in the Philippines opportunities to use that connection as a way of helping some of the families affected. Please give wisdom to pastors as to how to most effectively use the resources donated for their congregations and other people nearby. Please encourage the Filipinos with letters and emails from people elsewhere who are praying for them. Thank You for modern technology and how it enables us to stay connected.

Prayer for the Philippines Day 8

10 Days of Prayer for the Philippines

Day 8

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:23-25)

Dear Lord, thank You for Your mercy toward sinners and Your incredible offer of forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ. Thank You that Your gift of salvation is available to everyone, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. Thank You that You have the power to reach each heart that You choose to, know matter where it is. We pray for those who You physically rescued from Typhoon Haiyan, that You would bring the gospel to them and give spiritual salvation. We pray that this tragedy would cause Your truth to spread throughout the Philippines, and that it would fall on hearts that are ready to repent and turn to You.  

{Reading Report} Choosing to SEE

Choosing to SEEA month or two ago, I finished Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman. Many of you are familiar with the story of the (Steven Curtis) Chapman family’s young daughter, Maria, who was killed in a fluke accident. (Her brother accidentally hit her when pulling into their driveway.) In this raw account, Mary Beth (Maria’s mom) conveys her long, hard journey of unthinkable grief and inexpiable hope.

Time and again, God’s faithful presence was made known through small things only He could have orchestrated, from a coloring Maria left behind, to a stranger encountered at Disneyland.

I’ll be honest, I hoped for a little more straightforward gospel message in this book. There’s undeniably plenty of emphasis on God and His sovereignty, love, and care. I would have appreciated a more specific look at the cross and the Person of Jesus Christ in the midst of this trial.

That said, Choosing to SEE gave me an excruciating window into grieving the loss of a child. Christian or not, there are no words for a tragedy like this. I could feel the pain and begin to visualize the anguish through Mary Beth’s candid descriptions. It made the challenges I face pale in comparison, and, I trust, better prepared me to be as empathetic as possible with people I encounter who have experienced similar loss. For that reason alone, I’m glad to have read it.  It’s a well-written, honest look at the gaping hole left in the wake of a child’s death.

Here’s a taste of the book, via part of a letter that Mary Beth wrote to Steven and included in Choosing to SEE:

I know this is a difficult process for you, but please trust me when I say that the world will SEE and hear and many will put their trust in the Lord. Not because of you or your abilities, but because you have been a willing, broken vessel into which you’ve allowed God to pour Himself. You have set an example for your family on how to allow God to leak out of the broken pieces of our lives.

Again, I don’t like it one bit. I would be just fine with a perfectly unbroken vase, especially one that wasn’t broken over the loss of a child. But I’m trusting that God saw fit to entrust us to steward this catastrophic loss well. May He be honored with all us Chapmans as we do our best to let the world SEE that He alone is the Author of our salvation, the Mender of our hearts, the Healer of souls.

Toward a Joyful, Prayerful Life

Maryland Renaissance Festival

Ostrich or Chicken?

When it comes to focusing on the good things God is doing in and around me, and being aware of, informed about, and prayerful for bigger issues further removed from my immediate life and circumstances, I seem to bounce back and forth between two extremes.

I’m an ostrich with its head happily buried in the sand, thriving in my bubble, ignoring the turmoil that’s at large in our nation, the greater church of America, and beyond.

Or I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off, forgetting my blessings, freaking out, and trying to fix propaganda, defend honest people, and save babies.

Deep breath.

Both approaches alone are wrong.

Finding Balance

Like pretty much everything in life, I need to find a God-honoring balance.

God wants me to be excited about what’s happening in my sphere. It’s where He’s placed me, and there are good things going on here that I should support, participate in, celebrate, and enjoy. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

But my little world isn’t where life starts and stops.  Awareness of what is taking place elsewhere does a few things:

  1. Wards off tunnel vision and inspires broader perspective.
  2. Humbles me.
  3. Encourages me with good things occurring apart from “my world”.
  4. Incites thankfulness for “how good I’ve got it” here.
  5. Reminds me that this life is temporary.

I believe God wants to help me find that joyful balance between contentment with where I’m at and concern for people elsewhere. Rather than fret, I should bring all issues (both personal and widespread) to God in prayer. Freaking out is never a healthy or productive approach. It distracts me from the gospel, which then causes friction and negativity with the people around me.

The more I’m aware of my tendency toward the extremes, the more I can seek God’s grace in fine-tuning me and fashioning me into the joyful, prayerful Christian I desire to be. I don’t want to be the ostrich, with its head buried in the sand, or the chicken, running around with its head cut off. I want to serve with gladness where God places me, without becoming indifferent to the world around me. And when the population’s problems and decline feel too depressing to bear, I want to be encouraged and take heart in all the good that God is bringing about in the seemingly little ways.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4)

{Hebrews} I Have a High Priest

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

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

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

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

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

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