Dear God: Where Are You?

Dear God: Where Are You?

Dear God,

You say that all I have to do is call to you and you will tell me things I do not know, so tell me this: Where are you?

I tried to read the news today, and I found myself in tears. There’s such hatred and such evil in the world, and so much of it done in your name. The times we live in are so dark, and I can’t help but wonder – where is your light? You say you have overcome the world, but we still have to live in it. I tell my daughter that you’re a good God, who will protect and take care of her, and in the same breath have to explain why she can’t let go of my hand in the store.

I finally took control of my life. I made time for you. I cut out the things in my life that were distracting me. I spend my mornings in devotions and my evenings serving at the church. Those things brought me such joy before and I thought it would be empowering, but I feel empty and tired. It’s like I just can’t get to you. I’m trying so hard – at home, at work, at church. For my daughter, for my friends, for my husband. I am trying so hard to shine your love, to serve with your grace, yet I still feel like I’m failing.

I can’t hear your voice anymore, and I wonder if I’ve done something wrong. Are you mad? Are we fighting?

Are you there?

My Child,

I am where I’ve always been.

The times you live in may seem dark, but remember what has been done for you. Turn off the news and open the Word. You live in a time of better promises. You live in a time of no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Your iniquities have been forgiven and your sins are remembered no more. You live in a time where you are not under law, but under grace. You live in a time after the third day.

You live in a time with the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Counselor, the Advocate, the Intercessor, the Strengthener, who comes to your aide and bears you up in your weakness. Because you have Him, you are not comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, or helpless. I can be with you every moment of every day. And I am.

The world may tell you to take control of your life, but I’m telling you to give it up. You keep trying to do things in my name, in your own power. When you create these rituals and follow these formulas trying to get to me, you put me on a pedestal of your own making that makes me seem unobtainable. I tore the veil for you so that you could always come into my presence, so why do you keep trying to gather up the pieces?

I know that you’re tired. Stop trying so hard and rest in me. I see the way you’re pushing yourself. I see the way you’re exhausting yourself every day, but I can’t give you rest when you refuse to trust me with your burdens. You trust that I am with you in the light, but you won’t make room for me in the dark. You trust that you are saved by grace, but not that it is sufficient enough to cover your weaknesses. You trust that I sent my Son to the cross for you, yet you don’t trust that I will help you carry yours.

Where am I? I am where I’ve always been. Pursuing your heart. Waiting on you to trust me, to invite me in. You want to see my presence in your life, but you no longer seek me. Have I not said seek me first, before the works of my hands?

Seek me, and you will find me. I am here.

I am not fighting against you, and I am not fighting with you.

I am fighting for you.

Empty Faith

Empty Faith

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

When we think of empty faith, we typically think of this verse in James. Faith without works is dead, but faith that is misplaced is also dead. If we put our faith in our works, instead of our Christ, we can’t become who He made us to be. A picture of this is when Christians stay in their comfort zone, not believing that He can do greater things.

We can be great singers or great musicians or great speakers, but without Christ, we are impressive, but not powerful. We can’t be powerful, or see the fruit of our faith, until we understand that Jesus alone has justified us and given us right-standing. None of our works make us more or less righteous. When we spend our time trying to earn something we have already been given, all of our works are self-serving. We shouldn’t work for our righteousness, we should work from it.

Jesus told us in the New Testament, “whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these”. How can we do “even greater works” than Jesus if we don’t see ourselves as clean, redeemed, and worthy? We have to have the faith to believe that we are who Jesus says we are first. Only then can we do what Jesus called us to do.

We can’t pick and choose. We can’t say I believe you died for my sins, but I’m also still guilty. We can’t say I believe you took my punishment, but I think I still deserve it. We can’t say I believe you are who you say you are, but I’m not sure I am who you say I am.

Jesus says we have His righteousness and His right standing. To believe you have or deserve anything less than that is to have empty faith.

I Am Not His First Love

I Am Not His First Love

When I was younger, I wanted a love like the movies. I wanted someone to tell me they loved me more than anything. I wanted to be the thing they loved the most. After being in relationships where that was the case, it terrified me to look for a husband who loved Jesus more. What if that didn’t leave enough love for me?

I even had my Christian loophole ready: If marriage represents Christ’s love for the Church, what could He have loved more than the Church?

Christ’s love for the church was the most selfless love imaginable; whereas, my desire to be loved “the most” was a selfish need for security. You have jealousy, not love, if your need to be loved interferes with your spouse’s love for God, rather than enhancing it.

My husband loves me, but he loves Jesus more. And there is so much more security in that. People fall in and out of love with each other all of the time, because we are always changing. If my husband listed out the reasons he fell in love with me, I could probably pick out several things that aren’t true anymore. If you ask people why they get divorced, most of them will tell you, “We just weren’t in love anymore.”

My husband and I don’t stay in marriage because we love each other—even though we do—but because we both love Jesus. Jesus is the rock of our marriage, and He doesn’t change. My security in my marriage doesn’t come from my husband loving me the most, but from my husband loving Jesus the most, because Jesus will never let him down. Our love may change, but His never does.

When we focus on how much Jesus loves us, rather than how much our spouse loves us, it equips us to love better. My love for my husband isn’t based on his behavior, or his abilities, or his looks—it comes from an overflow of the love that covers me daily. And even more importantly, my expectations of being loved don’t fall on him, either. I’m loved more than anything by my Savior. He knows all of my flaws, all of my deepest, darkest thoughts, and He still loves me more than my husband could even begin to.

Marriage is a covenant that reflects the one God made with His church. Your marriage should reflect God’s love, not replace it. So if you are feeling unloved or unloving, try taking a step back and re-focusing your attention on Jesus. Don’t look for a love like the movies; look for a love like the cross.

When the Enemy Attacks

When the Enemy Attacks

As Christians, we know the war has been won, but there are still battles to fight. We can be victims or victors in these battles, depending on our knowledge and understanding of what we are fighting. God knows the strategies the enemy uses, and He shows them to us in His Word, so that “we are not ignorant of his devices, lest satan should get an advantage” (2 Corinthians 2:11). In this passage, Paul says to forgive those who have grieved us, and comfort them, so that they won’t be swallowed up by sorrow. This implies that the enemy attacks us by reminding us of our sin and our unworthiness. If he has a strategy against us, we need a strategy against him. So what do we do when we are attacked?

STEP 1: Recognize him
The devil doesn’t know new tricks. His attacks are always the same. If you can begin to recognize them, you can stop them before they hit you. A favorite attack of his is to accuse us. Revelation 12:10 calls satan “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them day and night before our God”. His tool is deception. In the Old Testament, he accused Job of not loving God, and only loving what had been provided for him. He came before God’s throne and said, “He doesn’t really love you.

But he can no longer come before God and accuse you. If you continue reading Revelation 12:10, it says that he was hurled down when Christ’s mission was accomplished. Luke 10 says, “I saw satan fall like lightning from heaven.”  He no longer has access to the throne.

So instead, he comes to us. He speaks to our conscience and makes us believe that our sin has separated us from God – “He doesn’t really love you.” It’s the same trick, but to a different audience.  He tells you that God is against you, angry with you, or punishing you. He picks at your old scabs. He tells you that nobody could love you, much less a perfect God. When you begin to believe that God is against you, recognize that as an attack.

STEP 2: Resist him
James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). How do we resist him? Again, God provides the answer for us. In the wilderness, Jesus resisted him by using scripture. Jesus responded to temptation with the words, “It is written.” God’s word is our sword, which cuts through the doubts and deceit from the enemy. Ephesians 6 tells us to “Stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” We resist the enemy by keeping our eyes on Jesus. By reminding ourselves of the truth—that we are righteous through Christ. By believing He is who He says He is, and we are who He says we are. Revelation 12:11 says, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb.” What power can his accusations have when the Lamb of God has taken away our sin? (John 1:29).

STEP 3: Remind him
Remind him that the grave is empty. Remind him that he already lost. Remind him that Christ has justified you, and His blood has given you perfect standing. When the enemy comes against you, remind him that Jesus’ blood has paid those accusations! Remind him that Jesus himself defends and represents you, as your advocate in Heaven. Remind him that you are healed, whole, and perfected through the blood of the Lamb. Say it out loud – there is power in the words you give voice to. Rebuke him in the name of Jesus and, as you remind him of these things, let it also remind you of the depth of God’s love for you.

When he tries to come through your front door, stand in his way. Recognize him by his lies, resist him with God’s truth, and remind him that he has no place in your life.

Running the Race

Running the Race

 

This past weekend, I ran my first 5K. I had been doing high intensity workouts for several months, but running was a whole new ballgame. The first time I ran, I felt like I had been going forever and looked down to see that I had gone 0.2 miles. All I could think was You’ve got to be kidding me.

For a month straight, I ran every afternoon that I could. I was awkward. I was slow. I was gasping for every breath. The first time I ran a mile straight, I had to jump and down internally, because my legs could barely hold me up. There were a few days that I walked outside ready to run, but most days I walked outside thinking What am I doing? I’m not a runner. The only thing that kept me going every day was focusing on my goal: to run the whole 5K without stopping. Hebrews 12 calls us to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. I made this my theme verse, repeating it in my head every day as I stretched before my runs.

I took a break from blogging while I was training for the 5K, but I always jotted down the things God was teaching me during and after those difficult, humbling afternoons. Here are my 4 biggest takeaways:

What you put in is what you put out.

This one is fairly self-evident. What you put in is what you are going to put out, whether that’s the food you’re putting into your body or the thoughts in your mind. There were days that I ate a healthy lunch before running, and there were days that I ate fast food for lunch. I bet you can guess which days I had a better run.

How often do we pacify our spiritual hunger with the world’s junk food? We convince ourselves we are craving TV shows, or food, or alcohol, when what we really are craving is Jesus. When we take the time to breathe in God’s grace, we are going to breathe out His grace as well.

It’s not only about what we are putting in our mouths, but also into our minds and hearts. Our thoughts can wreak havoc on our performance. When I constantly tell myself I’m not a runner, of course I’m not going to get better. We have to capture our thoughts and speak truth – not our own truth, but God’s truth.

Focus on the finish line.

When you take your eyes off of the finish line, you start looking at yourself. You start to hear how hard you’re breathing and how much you’re struggling. When I first started running, I was always thinking about what I needed to give up, or deprive myself of. I started to question if it was something I could do. I forgot what I was running for.

That’s exactly what happens when we take our eyes off Jesus. Our focus should be on Him, not on what we can’t have or can’t do. Going back to Hebrews 12, look at the rest of the verse:

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.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

It’s so easy to grow weary. It’s so easy to lose heart. Only by fixing our eyes on Jesus, and remembering His sacrifice, can we find our endurance.

Toward the end of my second mile the morning of the 5K, I got a cramp in my side and started to realize how hard my feet were hitting the ground with each stride. I forced myself to repeat the same mantra: Run with endurance; not in my strength, but in His. That last mile was my fastest one! Not only was it the fastest mile in my race; it was the fastest mile I had ever run.

Name your rocks.

Results motivate us and build our faith. In Joshua, rocks are used as a reminder to the Lord’s people that He is faithful.

“These rocks will be a sign for you. In the future, your children will ask you, ‘What do these rocks mean?’ You will tell them that the Lord stopped the water from flowing in the Jordan River… These rocks will help the Israelites remember this forever.”

Don’t ever forget to name your rocks. The first time you run a mile. The first time you beat your previous record. The first time you think you can’t possibly take another step, but then you do. Let those moments encourage you and push you to go faster, or longer.

The same is true in our spiritual race. Remember what God has done for you. Claim those rocks, reflect on them, and allow them to build your faith. Sometimes the rocks are stepping stones that are leading you to a pivotal moment in your life, where you really have to choose whether or not you believe God is who He says He is.

It’s okay to walk.

My goal for the actual race was to run without stopping, but during the training it was just about going the distance. Several people advised me to focus on doing the full distance each time to build endurance, without worrying about my speed. Run when I could; walk when I had to – but just keep moving forward. Most times I was able to do that. Run a mile, walk two miles. Run two miles, walk one mile. But there were also times that I had to take a break. And the beauty of it is that when I picked back up, I didn’t have to start back at zero. If I left off at 1.5 miles, I started back at 1.5 miles. I think sometimes we view sin as something that sends us back to the starting point. If I had to start back at the beginning every time I took a break in running, I would be too exhausted to ever finish my race. We don’t have to start over when we sin; we just have to turn around and start running again.

 

When You Doubt Your Salvation

When You Doubt Your Salvation

“I believe in God, and I asked Jesus into my life – but how do I know if it worked? How do I know for sure that I am saved?”

In the past several weeks, I’ve had three different people ask me this. And each time, it’s like having a conversation with myself five years ago. Why do we not talk about this more? I think this is one of the enemy’s favorite places to attack believers, especially new believers. The faith is new and fresh, and if he can get even a kernel of doubt in our hearts, we will never be able to live the life God wants for us. If we are not equipped with a way to fight this, we can spend years – or decades – living a life of uncertainty.

In terms of crippling our faith, this is the perfect place for the enemy to attack us, because it hinders our relationship with God. Imagine that you owe someone money, but you don’t have anything to pay them with. When you see them out in public, are you going to go out of your way to talk to them? Are you going to seek them out, knowing that you owe a debt you can’t pay? If we aren’t sure that Jesus paid our debt and that we have right-standing with God, we will avoid seeking Him out. We will cover that relationship in guilt, and then we will drown in it.

I was baptized and gave my life to Christ and then spent years wondering if it was enough, or if it had worked. I remember crying one night, telling my dad I was worried that he and my mom would go to Heaven, but I wouldn’t, and then they would forget me. As I got older, the fears and doubts stayed, but it felt like it was too late to say, “Hey, I’m not sure that this actually worked for me.”

Any time I messed up, I felt like I had to start all over again. I repeated the sinner’s prayer every single time I heard it, because I wasn’t sure if it stuck the last time. But I always repeated it internally and silently, because I didn’t want anyone around me to know that I might not be saved. In church, or in ministry, it doesn’t always feel safe to admit those doubts. You fear judgement, you fear condemnation, or you might even fear losing your job.

My life was changed when someone finally told me, “Wake up every morning and say out loud that you are the righteousness of Christ.” For the next two weeks, I woke up and said that every single morning, regardless of whether or not it felt true. It was during that time, I really began to seek out God, and to ask Him questions, believing that Jesus was advocating for me (1 John 2:1). My faith grew as our relationship grew—as God spoke to me and revealed things to me, giving me the assurance I had been needing.

Now, five years later, I am finally realizing how many people in my life went through (or are going through) the exact same fears and doubts. There might be people in your own life who need to be equipped with weapons to fight against these questions.

In scripture, God spoke to Abram in Genesis 15:7-8 and Abram responds to God’s promise by asking, “But how will I know?” God promised us that if we declare with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. (Romans 10:9). How many times have we responded, “But how will I know?”

God revealed two things to me as I read over this verse in Genesis:

  • Abram wasn’t just rhetorically asking, “How will I know?” He was asking God directly. If we are struggling with any doubts over our salvation, we can simply ask God. Pray for Him to help give you guidance and affirmation. Ask Him to give you peace.
  • When you ask God a question directly, expect an answer. Come with an expectant heart, ready to receive what you are asking for. Abram expected an answer from God, and how did God respond? Scripture says that God – the creator of our universe – responded by meeting Abram at his faith level and making a covenant, an unbreakable promise, for Abram’s sake.

God doesn’t change. The same God who met Abram as his faith level is the God we know today. If you have doubts about your salvation, take them to God. Let Him be the one to whisper assurances to your heart.

In Exodus, God told the people to smear the blood of a lamb over the entrances to their homes, so that the angel of death would pass by. I imagine that after smearing the blood over their door, several people stayed up all night in anxiety and fear, waiting to make sure that the blood worked, while others slept soundly after applying the blood.

But the blood covered them either way.

Even if we spend our lives in uncertainty, the blood of the lamb will still protect us and atone for us against God’s death penalty. But how much deeper our relationship with God will be when we believe we have right-standing with Him through Jesus.

Bitter Roots

Bitter Roots

The first step in defeating our enemies is recognizing them. Scripture tells us that God told Jesus He would “make His enemies a footstool for His feet” (Luke 20:43). I’ve often heard that verse quoted as a way for Christians to say, “Let God fight your battles”. But in this scripture, who is the enemy? If you read Ephesians 6, it says, “For we war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Christ’s enemies were satan and any spirit contrary to his.

When we talk about God fighting our battles, who are our enemies? So often, we attach the word “enemy” to a person who has hurt us, rather than attaching it to the sin and the spirit of a broken world. Our enemy is not our brothers and sisters in Christ, or even unbelievers. Our enemy is the same one Jesus faced and defeated.

When we are hurt by a fellow Christian, those scars sometimes affect us the most, because of the vulnerability in those relationships. But that doesn’t make them your enemy.

Here are three signs that we might be focusing on the wrong enemy:

  • We think their sin is worse than ours, and we can’t let it go.

Judas may have betrayed Jesus, but he’s not the only reason Jesus hung on the cross. We are.  It was our sins that kept him there. As Christians, we often talk about how He has forgiven our sins, but He also forgave us for putting Him on the cross in the first place. When we are unable to let go of something someone else did to us, we are essentially saying, “Their sin against me is worse than my sin against Jesus.”

What you can do: Remember what you were saved from. When we focus our minds on what Jesus did for us, instead of what someone else did to us, we are much more likely to be able to live in grace.

  • We pray against them or pray negative things over them.

Even when we don’t know we are doing it, we might be praying things as simple as, “Help them see where they have wronged me.” Praying condemnation or guilt over someone else is going completely against the very foundation of grace and doing the devil’s work for him. Karma is not what Jesus preached. You can pray for truth to come to light, but be prepared for that light to shine in your own dark places.

What you can do: Remember who you were saved by. Keep your focus on Jesus and think of how he prayed for those who hurt him. Even knowing that we would be the reason for his pain, Jesus prayed for us, the believers: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

  • We take joy in their failure or cripple their ministry.

After someone has hurt you, it’s so easy to find pleasure in their failures. If you’ve ever been fired from a job, you’ve probably also daydreamed about the whole place collapsing without you. In ministry, when someone has cut you deeply, it can be hard to still wish them success. You might actively attack them, or you might just find yourself telling others about the situation so that you can receive their comfort. When we portray other believers in a negative light, though, we hurt their ministry and we put ourselves in a place of opposition against God’s work. When any ministry crumbles, someone might not get to know Jesus.

What you can do: Remember what you were saved for. As Christians, we are meant to spread the Gospel. As His beloved children, our purpose is simply to give God glory. We need to edify and encourage each other, doing everything we can to show God’s love, both to unbelievers and to each other.

What it comes down to is this: If we believe our sins were covered on the cross, then we have to believe theirs were, too. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Bitterness is not only self-destructive; it also affects those around us. Rather than carrying around a spirit of offense or bitterness, we have to take our pain to the cross and leave it there.