I have so many notebooks.
So many, in fact, that I could probably dedicate an entire shelf to them and they would still overflow into the nooks and crannies of my home. Whenever I acquire a new one, I always have such high hopes for its contents. “I’m really going to fill this one up this time,” I think. I set aside one for sermon notes, miscellaneous thoughts, a particular book study, and a hobby. The list goes on until I’m found in a mess of faux-leather bound volumes brimming with promise but little else. But once I do fill up a notebook, I’m met with questions of practicality. Do I keep it? Is it just taking up prime real estate on my bookshelf? Do I look back on past notes or press forward with new penning endeavors?
I recently spent some time looking over contents from years’ old notebooks in an attempt to purge. Among cringe-worthy journal entries about empty crushes and college drama, I began to read accounts of struggles and trials, all too painful rejections and spiritual hardships, prayers for relief from suffering and long bouts with depression and anxiety. The truth is, I still struggle with many of those same troubles. And with every new or resurfacing trial, I am faced with the question, “How do I endure this?”
A Worldly Endurance & A Godly Endurance
“Grin and bear it.” “Grit your teeth.” “Just keep moving forward.” These are all common phrases to hear while enduring various hardships. I can’t tell you how many times I have used these very phrases to motivate myself to push through anxieties and difficult times. These mottos seem innocent enough until we compare them with Scripture’s encouragements for endurance. Perhaps one of the most brought-to-mind passages is James 1:2-3:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Do we ever stop and truly “count it all joy”? How drastically different from the “grit your teeth” mentality. Yet another convicting passage on this subject is found in Colossians 1:9-11:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”
Let’s hone in on that last phrase – “for all endurance and patience with joy.” Oh, how often I have endurance without patience. And even more often I have endurance and no joy. When I attempt to grit my way through something, it reveals my idolatry. It reveals my sinful tendency to draw from my own strength and resolve to endure the trials of life. Psalm 103:14 reminds us that we are “dust.” Our strength and rigidity have already been compromised. Paul understands this tendency and so he addresses it: “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Yes, we are commanded to have strength during hard times, but all of this strength is according to God’s power, not our own.
Verses 12-14 of Colossians 1 continues by saying, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The only way we can endure suffering in this life is to look back on God’s grace and faithfulness to us in the past. And what greater act of grace and faithfulness than for God to transfer us out of our darkened state, riddled by sin, and into the kingdom of his Son, where we are clean like that crisp empty notebook. Believer, we are not called to “grin and bear it” when we face hardship, sadness, and suffering. Rather, we are called to have enduring gratitude. Gratitude that the ultimate hardship has been conquered by Jesus at the cross. Gratitude that there will be a day when He will “wipe away every tear ” (Revelation 21:4).
So go back and read through those old notebooks.
And as you read, remember.
And as you remember, worship.
Worship because of God’s faithfulness to deliver you through those dark places in the past and God’s glorious might to do so again and again.
“You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you’re here, that, that’s just an awful feeling. Now that we know who you are, I know who I am, I’m not a mistake!” At the close of M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant 2000 film, Unbreakable, Elijah Price realizes his destiny and purpose in light of David Dunn’s existence in the world. After living an isolated life being bullied and outcast, Elijah gives meaning to his identity as an outcast, validating his purpose in life. Everyone does this in some form or another all throughout their lives. We develop an identity for ourselves and we present that identity (often to varying degrees) to the world at large. However, does this concept of identity hold any significance for those who have been changed in light of the gospel?
For better or worse, our first encounter with identity often stems from our interactions with our parents or guardians. Is this obvious? Sure but these identities are often neglected, denied, and outright rebelled against (particularly if our parents were less than spectacular or downright bad). Our parents’ influence often forms the basis for our worldviews, perceptions, mores, etc. For example, “I see a lot of your father in you,” or “You get that from your mother.” A parent’s encouragement, or neglect, of a child informs how that child views himself.
This identity is molded throughout the formative years (adolescence and young adulthood), and often the need for identity causes a child to break away from their parents to “discover themselves”, carving their own destiny and identity. Seeking the wisdom of the culture around them to cultivate an identity can be dangerous for a child who has had no solid structure or discipline. This takes the shape of an identity informed by cinema, music, sports, philosophy, etc. While none of these things are inherently bad as entertainment outlets, these pursuits can lead to destruction when they become gods. Once we have carved for ourselves an identity we present it to the rest of the world. We stand and proclaim “this is me” for the rest of the world to accept, often expecting no judgment. This is the face we put on for the world and it can manifest itself on different levels for different people at different times. Simply put, we don’t often act the same around one group of friends or another, or at a work function, or a family function. We’re always hiding one thing or another.
Regardless of what we choose to present or omit concerning ourselves, we present to the world around us an identity to understand us, a window into the heart and soul. This appears in a thousand different ways — some liken themselves to heroes and dedicate themselves as servants to protect the world (military, police, etc.), some view themselves as rulers and get into politics and government, and some people become teachers to pass on their knowledge to upcoming generations. More often than not though these identities are caught up in temporal things, trends and movements that are like the wind, here today, gone tomorrow, and utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of history.
Should Christians find their identities a different way? If so, how and why? Consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Here we glimpse a grave contradiction between the world and the identity we cling to in the flesh and the cold, sobering light of the gospel. Here we are not what we were born into, or what we have to offer or what we have built up for ourselves. Rather, we are the very workmanship of Christ! This new reality predicated upon Christ’s work is also the predestined reality ordained by the Father before the foundation of the world! We read in 1 Peter 2:9-10:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.”
This scripture presents our newly minted identity in light of the gospel. We are no longer slaves to our sexuality. We are no longer striving to carve a legacy around ourselves and our accomplishments. We no longer are the “heroes” of our story striving to save ourselves or those around us, nor are we “villains” scarred by the tainted legacy of our parents or the taunting and belittling of our value by others. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(1 Corinthians 5:17)
Hero or villain, protector or teacher, father’s son or rebel child, it matters not in light of the gospel. In Christ we find new identities and realize that everything we’ve built up to this point to shine a light on ourselves is worthless by comparison. To the person who thought much of himself and spent his life building up his worth to others, that time was nothing but vanity. To those who think themselves worthless or unworthy of life and its joys, this too is foolishness. In Christ all people, great and small, are brought together through the torn veil! Once dead, now alive! Those who have been chosen by God and renewed by the gospel find their deepest joy in this, a new identity defined by one central reality:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy because of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together in Christ by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1-6)
I am so blessed to be able to sit under sound preaching of God’s word each Sunday. My pastor just began a new series through the book of Acts. As he was discussing verse 6 of chapter 1 he mentioned God’s timing. You know the verse. Before his ascension the disciples ask Jesus a question.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 ESV)
As my pastor pointed out, this question reveals that the disciples still misunderstood quite a few things. However, my attention was drawn to the disciples asking about something happening “at this time.” Jesus replies in verse 7.
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 ESV)
In his own eloquent way my pastor told us Jesus was telling the disciples to mind their own business. Continue reading
A common saying I hear today when someone has been going through an extended period of distress is, “They deserve some happiness.” The implication is, based on how bad things have been, it’s time for some easy living. The idea that we deserve some happiness is a gross misunderstanding of our true situation. No one deserves anything but God’s wrath and judgment. Anything we experience other than that is due to God’s mercy and grace, both the common mercy and grace he shows to all people and the special mercy and grace he shows to his elect. When it comes to believers that are enduring some type of suffering, many times the expectation is, when the particular difficult circumstances end, life will be better. After all, when Job’s suffering was complete God restored to Job twice as much as he had before (Job 48:10). This is not always the case, though. One of the churches mentioned in Revelation is an example of this.
So the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled 5 to 4 that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right; thus, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. We used to say much ink will be spilled but I suppose now it is more appropriate to say many bytes will be consumed over this. It is a sad day on the one hand and a day to rejoice on the other. I’m sad because marriage has been completely redefined. According to Scripture marriage can only be defined as the union of one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-5). For the whole of human history, up until this generation, marriage has been defined the same way. So, it is folly for any government to legalize same-sex marriage since same-sex and marriage cannot coexist. By legalizing same-sex marriage the Supreme Court has redefined marriage, and, by extension, become the ultimate authority for the definition of marriage. When my wife and I were married, marriage was defined only as the union of one man and one woman. The definition did not include the union of one man and one man or the union of one woman and one woman. Including same-sex couples is a new definition of marriage not an expanded definition of marriage. The definition of my marriage originated with God. The new definition of marriage originates with the government.
Many churches have signs that display messages. Sometimes the message is the scripture passage and title for next Sunday’s sermon. Other times the message is announcing an event at the church. Many times, though, the message is meant to inspire or encourage the reader. Unfortunately these messages often cause me to sigh and shake my head.
When viewed in the light of Scripture, human arrogance is quite astounding. I mean to think that ignoring God, disagreeing with God, or trying to manipulate God is a rational thing to do simply displays the depth of our depravity. Continue reading
I imagine just about everyone has heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This saying is common because often it is true. I have been to the Grand Canyon many times. I could describe it by saying the canyon is vast and colorful, and it is very deep, long, and wide. That is a valid description but, because the description is so subjective and vague, it is not helpful. How vast is vast? What colors make it colorful? How deep is very deep? A picture does a much better job of describing the Grand Canyon because a picture captures an image of exactly what is there. (Even a picture, though, does not compare to standing at the edge of the canyon and looking for yourself.) As useful as pictures are, God chose to give us his Word, not his photo album. We don’t need pictures to see how great God is since we see his creation, but we do need to hear from God to know who he really is. He must tell us about himself if we are to truly know him. What pleases God? What displeases God? What is his character? What is important to him?
Every year around Christmas I enjoy hearing Handel’s Messiah. Last Christmas our family had the privilege of hearing the Christmas portion of this glorious work at the Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The parish was established in 1674 and the current building was completed in 1715. The exterior is original and the interior was restored to its original look when Colonial Williamsburg began its restoration in the 1930’s. The church’s choir and orchestra did a masterful job, and it was wonderful to hear it in such a historic setting. As significant as was the setting and the experience, it was one phrase of the performance that for me was truly significant.
The Messiah consists of scripture compiled by Charles Jennens. George Frederick Handel took that text and composed the oratorio in 24 days. One of my favorite pieces in The Messiah is the fourth song, “And the Glory of the Lord.” I love the music, the harmonies, and the grandeur of the song, but that is not my main reason for my preference for this piece. The song is based on Isaiah 40:5.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5 KJV)
The last phrase is what I love, “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” It emphasizes the power and certainty of God’s spoken word. Continue reading
With this post we are fully into the advent season. The day many of us celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is fast approaching. And yet, have you ever wondered why we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th? Do we really know the exact day? Perhaps even in the darker corners of your mind you may be thinking, “If we don’t know, and if the Bible doesn’t say anything about the early church honoring this event, should we even be celebrating Christmas?”