Approach the Throne, Part Five – Who Are We Now?

Welcome to part five of the Approach the Throne series! You can find a full list of past posts, and an explanation of the series, on my Archive page. The series began with exploring who God is, and now we’re in the second part of the study: discovering who we are. In the last post, we discussed the importance of believing God’s forgiveness. Today, we’re exploring who we become after Christ saves us.

After we settle the fact that God’s grace is indeed real, after we are no longer focused on who we were when He found us, we are left with the questions: who have we become and who are we becoming in Him?

New Creation

Please be sure to view this image on the Full of Eyes website and consider supporting their ministry. This image is used by permission.

1 John answers both of those questions for us. As far as who we are now, John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV). And regarding who we are becoming, he says, “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Let’s start with the “easy” part: who we are now. John’s words are very straightforward: we are children of God. We were sinners and rebels against God. By Christ’s sacrifice, we have not only been reconciled to God and justified, but have been adopted into the same family of which Christ Himself is the firstborn. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says, “[Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers” because “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Source” (Hebrews 2:11).

There are plenty of other terms used to describe the redeemed people of God: servants, priests, ambassadors, and so on. But I think these other titles are all wrapped up in the gift and responsibility of being part of God’s family. When God calls us His children, He doesn’t mean that in a vague, figurative sense. He has literally taken responsibility for you as His child, and He expects you to listen to Him, love your brothers and sisters, and fulfill the other requirements of your inheritance.

That brings us to another important aspect of being children: children are also heirs. Paul wrote, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). The promise that God gave to Abraham is recorded in Genesis 17: “‘I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you'” (Genesis 17:7). In other words, this was a promise of relationship, that God would devote Himself to Abraham and his offspring and in return, they would devote themselves to God.

During the days of the Old Testament, circumcision was used to mark those who were set apart as God’s people. Today, we are circumcised inwardly by the Spirit through the putting off of our old self, our flesh, and putting on of the new self that Christ gives us (see Philippians 3:3 and Colossians 2:11-12).

The Holy Spirit’s presence within us is evidence that we are God’s children. “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Galatians 4:6, see also Romans 8:15). And because we are indwelt by the Spirit, that also makes us God’s living, breathing temple (see 2 Corinthians 6:16-18).

But what on earth are the implications of having the Spirit of the Living God dwelling within you, working through you and changing you from the inside out? This brings us to the second point: who we are becoming.

While living on Earth, we can often feel like a sort of half-breed. Part of the time we behave like our old, sinful self, and part of the time we follow God. There’s a constant back-and-forth pull, the old man struggling against the new, and we have to die to ourselves every day so that the Holy Spirit can live through us instead. But it’s not always going to be this way. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).

John’s Gospel relates an occasion when the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy because He claimed to be God’s Son and one with God. The people tried to kill Him for this statement, but Jesus said to them, “‘Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of Him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?'” (John 10:34-36). The section of Scripture that Jesus quoted comes from Psalm 82.

Yes, you just read that paragraph correctly. The ones “to whom the word of God came” were called “gods.” This by no means implies that we ever become equal to God; that would be blasphemy, because only Jesus Himself is God. But He is making us into creatures like Himself, and when Jesus returns, the work will be completed.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this concept often, the idea that God’s goal is to make “little Christs” out of each one of us. At first, it feels almost wrong to think of such a thing, to believe that we could actually become gods. Indeed, there’s an inherent contradiction in the phrase “creatures like Himself” that I used above: we are creatures, made by God and in no way equal to him. And yet, we know that God is making us like Christ and one day “we shall be like Him,” as the earlier quote from 1 John states. If we actually realize how great God Himself is, how limitless and divine, then what else could we think “like Him” means? Calling us “gods” doesn’t say anything about how great we are; it says everything about how great the Author and Perfecter of our faith is.

In closing, I’d like to say that although it is vitally important to understand who we are in Christ, the end goal is to be so caught up in Him that we forget ourselves entirely. I’ve still got a long way to go with that; I struggle with insecurity all the time (why do you think I wrote a whole blog post reassuring myself and you about our identity in Christ?). And it’s okay to ask questions and to have doubts, as long as we bring those to God and let Him deal with them. He is faithful to remind us of His truth, no matter how many times we need it. But there comes a time when we just have to choose to trust what He says, and then move on.

My prayer for all of us is that God will give us the assurance and the faith necessary for us to release all our fears about status and identity, and let Him draw us so close that all we behold is Him—because in His presence, we will never need to doubt who we are.

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“I Have Surely Seen the Affliction of My People”

Fellowship of His Sufferings

Image by Chris Powers of Full of Eyes. Used by permission. Please view this image on the Full of Eyes website and consider supporting this visual ministry.

Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while since I’ve written a new devotional post, but during my silence, I feel as though I’ve come a long way with God. I’d like to share a little of what I’ve been learning.

Some of you may remember the last “My King, My God” post, all the way from April: “Why Have You Forsaken Me?” I wrote that post on Good Friday and reflected on Jesus’s cry from the cross, in light of some personal struggles. At the time, my dog was very sick with lymphoma. I’m sorry to say that she passed away about two months later.

Since then, I’ve had to wrestle with God more than I ever remember doing before. I did feel some anger toward God, but mainly I was confused and frustrated. I wanted answers; I wanted to understand why He assured me of His control over the situation, then let my dog die anyway. In my head, I knew that He cared, but the pain of watching my four-legged friend slowly pass away from cancer was so deep, I couldn’t trust that He really cared about everything I’d been through.

And it wasn’t just my dog’s illness and death that bothered me. I’m a person who feels things deeply, from my own hardships to those of my friends to those of the world at large. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by all the bad that’s out there: freak accidents, violent crimes, natural disasters, and on and on. Losing my dog brought an issue to the surface that has troubled me for a long time: how on earth do we deal with all the evil that life brings?

Most of the time, when I’ve heard a Christian talk about dealing with hardship, their explanation goes something like, “If God allows it, He’ll use it for your good, and that makes everything okay.” That’s the explanation I went with for a long time, even though I sensed it wasn’t complete, but losing my dog shattered it. I didn’t care one iota if God intended to use my pain for good. What kind of cruel, utilitarian god justifies suffering only because of a good result? That completely disregards the personal expense of the individual, and that does not reflect the kind of God I follow.

Let me be clear: I do believe that God uses all things, including suffering, for the good of His people. Romans 8:28 makes that very clear. But the idea that God justifies suffering as a means to an end, I cannot accept. If you’d told me that losing my dog “would make me a better person” or “must be for the best,” I might have punched you. Glib explanations like those may contain a grain of truth, but they miss a large part of the picture and they make it sound like the suffering doesn’t matter. In the midst of my pain, I desperately needed to know that my suffering mattered to God–not because it was a piece of a plan, but because it hurt me.

I made baby steps forward during the ensuing months, but finally in November, God taught me something that restored my broken heart.

All my life, I thought that after periods of grief, God eventually brings us to a place where we say everything is okay again. Similarly, I thought that once we arrive in heaven, the hardships we experience on earth won’t matter anymore. Both of these ideas bothered me because my sufferings matter to me. No matter how good things get later, those bad things still happened, and they still hurt me.

Now I understand that God never expects us to say the hard times are “okay,” because He never says that. God doesn’t want us to disregard the hardships; He intends to fix them! They trouble Him even more than they trouble us (see Isaiah 63:9).

Some bad things, God fixes on earth–sometimes in subtle ways, other times through miracles. Still, a lot of evil isn’t corrected in this life, but God does intend to correct it before the next life. He doesn’t bring us to heaven and say, “Look, it’s all okay now, because the ending is good.” He says, “‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (Revelation 21:5, ESV, emphasis mine).

I don’t believe that a single hardship leaves God’s mind until He corrects it. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18-19, ESV). Why would creation wait with longing if it was only going to be wiped away? No, beloved–creation waits because it is going to be remade.

I truly believe that every affliction God allows is, somehow, intricately woven with His plan for redeeming all of creation. Some suffering He prevents, but what He permits is specifically allowed because it will result in the greatest glory and the fullest redemption for everything that exists when Christ returns again.

I can’t think of this without feeling overwhelmed by the greatness and love of God. For months, I felt like my prayers were bouncing off heaven, like God would let things happen regardless of my feelings and everything was all but random. Then I realized that not only is God’s plan not random, but the intricacy of His plans for me and for creation go far, far deeper than I’d dreamed.

I chose the image for this article because it’s meant to symbolize the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. It’s also an image that comforted me during my sorrow over my dog. Of course, I still feel pain over the loss–and over the other sorrows in my life and in this world. But I’m now able to trust God again, even more than I did before, because I know He doesn’t let any of my hardships go.

After all, if God intends to wipe away every tear someday (see Revelation 21:4), He must remember what every tear is for, and have plans for the source to be resolved. Moreover, why would the saints under the altar cry out, “‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood…'” if they didn’t know God cared about their suffering and would be faithful to correct it (Revelation 6:10, ESV)?

Our Sovereign Lord will not allow Time to inflict pain on Eternity. He will remember, and He will resolve, and He will redeem.

I leave you with this verse from Exodus, the one that inspired this article’s title. I pray it brings you comfort in whatever you’re going through and reminds you that your suffering does matter to God, and that He won’t forget it–or you. “‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…'” (Exodus 3:7-8, ESV).

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Sorrow to Joy

Many thanks to the Full of Eyes ministry for these images. Please view this image on the ministry’s Facebook page as well.

As Good Friday comes to a close and we approach Easter Sunday, I felt it was a good time for a new devotional post. However, it was the struggles in my personal life that led me to meditate on these particular words, some of the last Jesus spoke from the cross.

The cry “why have you forsaken me?” is charged with so much pain, so much desperation, that you can hear it even when silently reading the words. This cry from a human toward God is not an uncommon one; indeed, it is one that most Christians will probably make at some time, or at many times, in their lives.

I won’t venture to explain the theology behind Jesus saying, “Why have you forsaken me?” to the Father. Scholars have speculated over what was actually happening in this moment between the Father and Jesus, but I don’t think that’s the most important thing to glean from this passage. What I intend to consider is, Jesus said it, so what does that mean for us when we go through sufferings of our own?

For the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with feeling abandoned by God. I found out unexpectedly that my dog, my constant companion for the last several years, who is nowhere near old age, is very sick. Like, terminally sick. I know this is not the worst problem that someone could be asked to deal with, and I hope that my sharing this does not make anyone feel that I am cheapening their suffering. But, I know that anyone who’s raised a dog from a puppy – or even just loved a pet – will understand how I feel.

Lately, I sometimes feel forsaken by God, not because I think He’s not there, or that He doesn’t care, but because He’s not giving me the easy way out. He didn’t stop this from happening, and I know He could have. As a Christian, of course I knew there would be suffering in life. But when it suddenly happens, we wonder why our good and loving God doesn’t just make it go away.

Jesus spent a lot of time in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion, wrestling with the Father over this very same issue. He knew the Father could take away the coming agony; He knew that with a word He could bring legions of angels there to drive away the mob. But He didn’t. He trusted the Father enough to say, “‘not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, MEV).

I chose this particular image for the post because it is based on John 16:20: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (ESV). The Full of Eyes Facebook post accompanying this image points out the incredible joy that resulted from the sorrow of the crucifixion. Beloved, there is no deeper sorrow, no deeper pain, than what Jesus suffered in our place. Yet His agony became hope and joy and glory for all of His fallen creation. It is the greatest triumph, the defeat of death itself.

It is not always easy to accept the idea that our present suffering will eventually turn to joy. In the moment, all we feel is the pain, and it can seem as if God is callously standing by, letting us endure chaos just to make us a better person. Yet He doesn’t just stand by. He engages in the sorrow with us, and He never allows it to endure longer than necessary.

Jesus’ cry from the cross comforts me because it shows that it’s okay for us to ask this question of God. Jesus did. God invites you to ask why He has forsaken you. He invites you to throw all your pain, anger, frustration, and brokenness all onto Him. He can take it. Scream, throw things, cry your heart out – wrestle with God. Life can be messy. Pain can be ugly. But God invites us to engage with Him in even our darkest and most pain-filled moments. He wants us to share all of life with Him, even when that involves feeling angry at Him. He already knows how you feel, but He’d like you to tell Him.

I don’t understand why God has allowed this suffering into my life. I don’t yet know how He intends these events to play out. I’m sure there will be many more moments when I cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” But I also know that because Jesus endured the suffering of the cross, allowing me to be reconciled to God, my sufferings are not without purpose.

Sometimes suffering is just life – creation itself is still groaning until its redemption at Christ’s return (see Romans 8:22), so we can’t expect things to be easy. I wish we could. But in the midst of my pain, I have to believe that the same God who turned the suffering of Jesus into the greatest victory of all time can also turn my suffering to joy. And in the meantime, even when I feel forsaken, I know that I am not alone.

Approach the Throne, Part 4 – Believing His Forgiveness

Hey guys, remember that “Approach the Throne” blog post series I was going to do regularly? Well, it hasn’t been as regular as I hoped, but it’s baaacckk!

Today we’re moving into the second part of the study. In the first part we looked at who God is, and now we’re going to start discussing who we are. These are the two realities we are confronted with when we approach God’s throne. We’re starting our discussion of God’s grace towards us by focusing on His forgiveness – and our confidence in it.

John 3_16

Please view this image here on the Full of Eyes ministry website. This image is used by permission.

When we first accept Christ as our Savior, we have to an extent “become conscious of our sin” (Romans 3:20, NIV). We realize that we are sinners in need of redemption and specifically, we want the redemption offered by Christ. This is what prompts us to come to Him, and when “we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).

The more time we spend with God and in His family, however, the more conscious we become of our own sinfulness. We realize that the depravity we recognized when we first repented is immensely deeper than we realized: if you want to know how bad you are, consciously try to do good and see how often you stumble.

God’s intention is to make us more conscious of our sin so that we might repent of it and let Him purify us. But very often, something else happens: we start to feel that God’s grace and Christ’s blood are not enough. We think that the righteousness of Christ that we have been clothed with (see Isaiah 61:10 and Galatians 3:27) is transparent, showing our ugliness beneath Christ’s beauty.

The more we see of our sin, the more we feel obligated to walk around with our heads bowed in shame, as if in penance – as if any penance we can offer is more sufficient than what Jesus accomplished for us. Somehow, we assume this is the way to honor God: by holding onto our guilt and pulling away from Him. We feel the weight even of forgiven sins, even though “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV).

I have fallen into this trap far too many times. So often I have thought of Jesus’s return, and while I want that to happen, my strongest response tends to be fear. What happens if I didn’t get everything right (as if anyone can)? What will He say to me? Will He be ashamed to look at me, as I often feel ashamed of myself?

Dearest, Jesus opens our eyes to our shame so that He can take it away. We do God no credit when we refuse to release our sins to the sufficiency of Christ’s blood – all we do is tell God we don’t believe Him. Holding onto sin and guilt is not holiness, but pride and unbelief hiding under false humility. It’s us trying to say, “I’m a sinner, but somehow I can atone for it myself, if I just embrace the guilt long enough.”

The greatest gift you can give God is to believe Him. You will never have an intimate relationship with Him as long as you let yourself doubt the sufficiency of His sacrifice – and how can you tell others to put their faith in God’s redemption if you don’t truly believe it yourself? This is where the rubber meets the road, where you have to trust God enough to stake your eternal destiny on His promises. If He says you are forgiven and covered with Christ, then so you are! If He says you are destined for heaven, THEN IT IS INDEED SO!!!

Beloved, if you do not believe Jesus’s sacrifice to be sufficient, then what sacrifice is left (see Hebrews 10:26)? What more could He have done for you? What Lamb could have been a more perfect offering?

Do not believe the devil’s lie that you must remain in the dark with your sin, lest God should see what you really are. He always knew what you were, better than you ever have. Only in the light are we healed and freed: “‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God'” (John 3:19-21, ESV).

In his gospel account, John is refers to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2, ESV). At first glance, this might sound presumptuous. But John knew how Jesus saw him. He never described himself as sinless, but He was confident in the sufficiency of Jesus and His love.

God wants you to be bold, my friends. He wants you to dare to believe Him. The Gospel is astounding, even ludicrous in its message: a sinless, omnipotent God sacrificed Himself as a perfect sacrifice to save His creation. Dare to accept what God has been telling you all along.

I leave you with these verses from John’s first letter:

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:16-18, ESV).

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, ESV).

A Love Story Better Than Pride and Prejudice

With Valentine’s Day just recently past, this seems like a good time to interrupt our not-so-regularly-scheduled “Approach the Throne” series and do a little post about love.

Pride and Prejudice is one of the most iconic romance stories in our culture. Most people know Lizzy and Mr. Darcy and have enjoyed reading and watching as they fall in love – in spite of their numerous obstacles and misunderstandings.

One of my favorite parts in Pride and Prejudice is Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Lizzy. It ends up being a train wreck, and he inserts a lot of prideful insults regarding her family situation and so on, but he starts off with that iconic statement, “‘In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you'” (Austen, Chapter 34).

Honestly, who could resist that? (Good thing Lizzy did, though, or neither of them would have learned to be humble). Still, kudos to Mr. Darcy for a good beginning.

One of the things I like to do when I’m having trouble remembering how God loves me is to take my favorite lines or situations from stories and compare them to what God says about His feelings for me. Perhaps it’s dorky, but it is effective.

Let’s try taking this iconic statement of Mr. Darcy’s and comparing it to what God says to us. The first thing that stands out to me is the phrase, “You must allow me to tell you.” Our God is a gentleman; He won’t shout at you while you have your hands over your ears. You’ve got to allow Him to tell you how much He loves you – and I say this as someone who is really bad at listening.

The next thing that stands out is the intensity of Mr. Darcy’s statement. You can hear how desperate he is for Lizzy to know he loves her, how much he wants her to accept his proposal. God speaks to us with the same intensity, holding out His hands and longing for us to turn and see the truth of His love (see Romans 10:21).

christ-loves-the-church

Please be sure to view this image on the Full of Eyes website. Many thanks as always to them for their ministry.

Can you hear it? “You must allow me to tell you…”

there-is-a-fountain

Please view this image, “There is a Fountain,” on the Full of Eyes website.

“…how ardently I admire and love you…”

The “love” part of this statement is easy to translate to our relationship with God, but what about the “admire” part? While I don’t think it applies to our relationship with God in the same way Mr. Darcy used it, I do know that when we join God’s family and accept Christ as our Savior, we are covered with Christ. God sees us as we are, yet He treats us the way He treats His Begotten Son, saying “I am well pleased” when He looks at us even as He did when He looked at Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17, ESV).

Mr. Darcy’s statement also reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses, Isaiah 54:10: “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (ESV).

Have you ever tried inserting your name into a Bible verse? I know it sounds a tad corny, but just give it a shot…”For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized [your name here], that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son” (John 3:16, AMP). You know how that verse ends: He gave His Son so that you could be with Him forever. Mr. Darcy proposed because he couldn’t bear to be without Lizzy; in a much, much greater way, God doesn’t want to be without you, either.

I’ll close with a lovely section from the Song of Solomon: “Love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7, ESV).

I hope this post has been meaningful to you and reminded you how much God loves you. If you find music to be helpful to you, I highly recommend the songs “This Love Doesn’t Run” by Kerrie Roberts and “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray. Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends.

 

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Kindle ed, Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2012.

Approach the Throne, Part 3 – God Deserving Our Trust

Hey there and welcome to the third post in the Approach the Throne series! If you’re new to the series, we’re doing a study on who God is and who we are – i.e., the two things we are confronted with when we come before His throne. We’ve been talking about who God is first, and the last two posts were about the greatness of God. Today we’re going to talk about our great God deserving our trust.

Lord in the Hardships

(All credit for this image goes to the Full of Eyes ministry. Many thanks to them for providing these visual resources. I found this particular image on the ministry’s Facebook page, in a post from July 11th).

Since our God is so great, as we’ve reflected in the last two posts, surely He deserves our trust. He’s the Ancient of Days who holds the universe in His hands, and He’s the God who loved us even when we were sinners. What’s not to trust, right?

The problem every Christian eventually runs into is that trusting God isn’t “safe,” in the sense that He doesn’t follow our rules or bend to our expectations. He is infinitely great and eternally good, but when you put your life in His hands, He may in fact take it in a different direction than you wanted (think Jonah). We don’t get to surrender to Him and then give Him instructions on how He’s supposed to write our story.

And that can be really scary.

I think I’m safe in assuming that every Christian has had a moment (or will have one) when they felt betrayed by God because the one thing they desperately didn’t want to happen, happened. How on earth are we supposed to handle that? What do we do when we put something precious into God’s hands and He lets our worst nightmares come true? How can we call Him trustworthy then?

These are questions that humans have wrestled with for millennia: the age-old paradox of a loving God who allows pain, of a trustworthy God who doesn’t always do things our way. It’s also a paradox I’ve been personally struggling with lately, with a great deal of confusion, frustration, and pain.

I think one of the first problems we must face is our definition of “trustworthy.” When we call a person trustworthy, generally we mean that they handle things the way we would. If we leave a “trustworthy” person in charge of our house while we go on vacation, we know they’ll take care of it in a way similar to our own.

That’s not what trustworthy means when it comes to God. If you ask God to watch your house while you go on vacation (to continue the same analogy), God might rearrange your furniture. He might deep-clean your garage and leave some of its contents on the curb for the garbage truck. He might even find you a roommate.

It’s important to note that God will never do those things unless invited – He never forces Himself on anyone. But once you do invite Him in and invite Him to have His way, He will do so. Scary though it might be, once you get over the initial discomfort of God’s renovation, you will find that it has all been for the best – “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).

That’s not always an easy verse to accept. Lately, I’ve struggled with high stress, uncertain circumstances, and worry about those I care for. I’ve watched family members mourn a deeply-felt death. I’ve suffered through more than a month of illness. And in all these circumstances, I find myself asking God, “why?” Why, in His love, can’t He just give me a break?

The answer is a hard one, because the answer is that He won’t “give me a break” precisely because of His love. My life goal has always been for this life to be straightforward and easy. I’ve inadvertently considered this life my end-all, when really it’s only the beginning of the Life God wants for me – for all of us. This life, this world, are marred by sin and pain, neither of which originated with God. We, as humans, chose them.

God’s mission is not to redeem this life and make it perfect. His mission is to redeem us in this life, using every bit of our pain, our weakness, and our struggles to turn us into a glorious being like Himself (see 1 John 3:2).

Learning to trust God more than you trust yourself is a process, and only God can bring you successfully down that road. He knows, I still have a long way to go. You cannot make yourself trust Him, though you can choose to say yes to Him when He asks, “will you come?”

Imagine you’re swimming in a stormy sea, struggling to stay afloat. Nearby, within your reach, is a rock, standing strong in the middle of the sea. The rock looks sturdy, but you don’t really know until you give up your swimming and take hold of it.You might even be inclined to keep swimming, because at least then you can exert some control on the situation. If you grasp the rock, you can only rest on its sufficiency. Trusting God is like this. Giving up all of your own effort and control can be scary, but ultimately, the rock is a much safer and sweeter place to be.

It’s also important to note that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV). He knew rejection, weariness, the pain of losing a close friend (Lazarus), extreme physical pain, and so on – everything that comes with being a human, and more.

Beloved, when the Son of God was human, He did not spare Himself from suffering, though He had every right to. Moreover, He never refused to enter into the suffering of those around Him and bear their burdens (think Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha). You have a Savior who knows what you’re going through, and even if His love and wisdom declare that you must go through it, He will always go ahead of you, lead you through, and bear your burdens with you. If you let Him.

I still have a lot of growth to do in the area of trusting God. I struggle to believe His ways are better than mine. But there are two truths I am certain of. First, God does not delight in causing – or even allowing – pain. Yet in this imperfect life, sometimes pain plays a part, even as it did in Jesus’s life on earth. Christ was already and is always perfect, but we are still being refined. Only broken houses can be rebuilt. Only beaten metal can become a sword.

Second, God will never ask us to endure pain that He will not bear along with us. In Isaiah, the prophet spoke of God’s care of Israel, saying, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9, ESV). He does the same for us today.

I hope this post does not sound glib or cliched; it is always easy to speak about what we know even if it is hard to put into practice. Sometimes, it’s best just to hear another Christian’s struggles with the same problem, so I’d like to share one of my recent challenges with trusting God.

There are many things I’m afraid of, but one of my deepest fears is getting lost. Whenever I drive somewhere new, I study a map before I go so I don’t leave anything to chance. Well, several months ago, I went to a big event in a huge (and I mean huge) building. Even after being there for two days, I was next to clueless regarding the building’s layout. This became a huge problem when it came time to meet my ride home – just as I had feared. As I stood there nearing panic and trying to figure out what to do, I saw some people I knew and ran over to them. With their help, I was able to find a meeting place and get home.

All’s well that ends well, right? Not so much. Even months after it happened, this event haunts me. I couldn’t understand why God let my worst fear come true when I had tried so hard to trust that He would work everything out smoothly. Even though it ended well, it was an extremely scary and painful mishap. Yet, as I reflect on it, I know that it could have ended much worse. At this point, all I can conclude is that God allowed the situation to “go wrong” so that He could show me His sufficiency even in the middle of my nightmare. I mean, what are the chances that the people who could help came walking by at that moment – and that I happened to see them?

May God grant us the grace to continue walking with Him and trusting Him even when we don’t understand. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV).

Approach the Throne, Part 2 – The Greatness of God (continued)

Hey there! Last time we talked about the greatness of God as shown through His activity and victory. Today, we’re going to explore His greatness a little more, this time as shown through His mercy and restraint.

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(As always, please be sure to view this image, “Wrath Fall,” on the Full of Eyes website and check out their other visual ministry resources. Many thanks to them for these images).

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV). This verse and many others in the Bible paint pictures of God’s raw, awesome power, which is something we are confronted with when we come before God’s throne.

Yet the same Bible that calls God “a consuming fire” makes statements such as, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV).

And so, we are confronted with a holy and powerful God who could have wiped sinful humanity from existence long ago – but never did. His plan for fallen man was not to destroy us, but to save us through the sacrifice of the only begotten Son of God.

Can we just appreciate that for a moment? Humanity betrayed God, and God’s plan even before we betrayed Him was to let our punishment fall on Himself. He knew exactly what was going to happen in the Garden before He made Adam. I don’t know about you, but when someone betrays me, my first thought is not how to take their punishment on myself so that they can be forgiven and treated as though their sin never happened.

But that’s what our God did. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8, ESV).

It’s interesting to me that so many people think the Old Testament is full of only God’s judgment and the New Testament contains His mercy. I used to think that, too – until I actually read the entire Old Testament. I was floored by the number of precious verses and stories contained therein, all illustrating God’s love for us and proving that He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). Here’s just one short example: “‘I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you'” (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).

The book of Isaiah is one of my favorites in the Bible. It shows God working to reconcile the rebellious people of Judah to Himself and prophesies the coming of Christ, the perfect Sacrifice for both Jew and Gentile. Don’t let anyone fool you; God’s mercy was just as evident then as it is now and always will be:

“‘For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer. ‘This is like the days of Noah to Me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:7-10, ESV)

The picture I see of God in the Old Testament is one of steadfast love, mercy, and extreme restraint. Even if He punished people for wrongdoing, it was always for the sake of bringing them back to Him. Then and now, this is the merciful God that I see: “All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations” (Isaiah 65:2, NIV).

For those who answer His call, He never fails to forgive: “‘All those the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away” (John 6:37, NIV).

Now…what about our mercy and restraint toward others? We pray for God to forgive us as we forgive others, but am I the only one who feels nervous saying that? I’m terrible at forgiving. I’m big on fairness and justice, which makes it really hard for me to let go – unless, of course, I was the one who committed the wrong, and then I want everyone to let it go.

When I express my frustrations over a wrong to others, I’ve often been told “You’re more patient than I am” or “It’s only human to be angry.” But the point is that as God’s children, bought by His blood and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, we’re called to be more than human. It’s not okay for us to listen to the flesh just because we don’t do it as much as some people.

At this point in time, I’m afraid I don’t have a pat answer for how to forgive others as God forgives us. I’m still working on it, and God is still working on me. But there are two things I can say: first, we can never truly forgive others if we don’t understand the extent of God’s forgiveness toward us. That’s one reason why understanding His mercy is so vital.

Secondly, try looking at the person who wronged you as yourself. They say that the people most like us are the ones who drive us the craziest. But even if you would “never” do what that other person did, try to remember that God once looked at the unforgiven sinner who was you and said, “I love you.” Forgiveness and love are choices, not feelings; they have to do with how you treat someone else. Perhaps we can start by just praying for the person, allowing God to work in our hearts so that we can forgive. And, we should always remember that forgiveness apart from God is impossible – only by surrendering to Him and letting Him work through us can we truly forgive.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I look forward to sharing the next post for Approach the Throne with you!

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Approach the Throne, Part 1 – The Greatness of God

Welcome to the first post of the Approach the Throne series! I mentioned in the introductory article that this study would have two parts: who God is and who we are. We’ll be starting with who God is, and I’ll post several articles on that topic before moving on to who we are.

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(Click here to view this image on the Full of Eyes website. Many thanks to them for their visual exegesis ministry and for providing these image resources.)

This first post is about the greatness of God, and when I began reflecting on this topic, all I could think was, “I’m going to need a bigger blog.” How can we, as mere creatures, hope to know the greatness of our infinite and awesome God? Even Elihu in the book of Job (the only one God did not rebuke for his statements) said of the Lord, “‘Behold, God is great, and we know Him not; the number of His years is unsearchable” (Job 36:26, ESV).

On our own, we cannot hope to know God. But nevertheless, we can know God because He has made Himself known to us. Before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father and said, “‘O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them'” (John 17:25-26).

With Jesus’s promise in mind, that He has made Himself known and will continue to make Himself known, let’s start by considering the greatness of God as shown through His activity and His victory. In the next posts we’ll look at it from some additional angles.

Anyone who comes before the throne of God cannot help but be confronted with the greatness of the King of kings. In one of Daniel’s visions, he said, “‘As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before Him; a thousand thousands served Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him'” (Daniel 7:9-10).

“The Ancient of Days.” In recent years I’ve grown to love that name for God; it reminds me of His bigness, that He is so much greater than the personal problems I lift up to Him every day. My friends, God has always existed, so there is nothing He has not seen before and nothing He has not been sovereign over. Do you see how sufficient He is for your every desire and need?

I’ve already mentioned the book of Job, and whenever I’ve lost sight of God’s greatness, the last few chapters of Job are one of my favorite places to go. When the Lord rebukes Job in chapters 38-41, He gives a fantastic, beautiful, and stunning revelation of just how involved He is in the creation and sustaining of all that exists. The universe He has designed works so well that we often take its workings for granted (or at least, I do) and we forget that the Ancient of Days has “‘commanded the morning…and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it'” (Job 38:12-13).

Another obvious manifestation of God’s greatness is His work on the cross. The devil must have thought he’d won that day, “for [Jesus] was crucified in weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:4), but through this weakness the impossible was made possible: sinners could be reconciled to the holy God who made them. I’ve sometimes pondered the way humans tend to worship false gods or even other people because they see some kind of strength in them. And I wonder, “but can your god save you from sin?” It’s an easy thing to save someone from physical harm, perform great deeds in battle, or make a rousing speech behind a podium, but can those “gods” save a person from a single one of his sins? No. Victory over sin and death belongs to our God alone.

And this brings us to God’s greatness shown through His victory. There are uncountable examples I could give of this (including the cross as I already mentioned), for God never loses and is always victorious, but I’ll share one of my favorites:

“When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon [their god] and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him” (1 Samuel 5:1-4).

My friends, if a god has to be set back in place by its worshipers after God has cast it down, it shouldn’t be put back in place! Sometimes, there are things in our lives that we love that topple over. Not realizing they have become idols to us, we try to put them back up in the same space where only God belongs. We think that our idols and God can occupy the same space without a problem, and this is why God topples them: so that we can see there is only one God who is truly great and worthy of our worship. God and idols cannot coexist; only one will truly have our hearts, and God (in His great love) will continue to break down our idols until we see the truth.

This passage from 1 Samuel is one of my favorite Old Testament accounts because it illustrates so perfectly the greatness of God over all other things we might try to worship. Even when it looked like God had been defeated (His ark had been captured after all), He showed Himself infinitely great and eternally victorious! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

I want to end by asking…what about God’s activity and victory in your life? It can be easy to remember that God made the world, saved us from sin, and did all those other “big things,” but it can be so much harder to remember the personal ways He has shown Himself great in our lives. Knowing about the greatness of God does us no good if we don’t let Him show us that His greatness is not only infinite, but applicable to us personally.

Believe me that I am preaching to myself this morning. I am a worrier and a control freak by nature, and it is so insultingly easy for me to acknowledge God’s great deeds only to shut the door in His face when He wants to deal with one of my issues. But God is good and patient with me, and I am slowly learning. His greatness never wavers with my unbelief, and He is faithful to perfect my feeble trust in Him.

My prayer is that you will see God in His greatness today. He wants to share Himself with you, so let Him. He loves you so much.

I look forward to continuing this study with you, and I hope you found this first article valuable. God bless you, my friends.

 

 

Approach the Throne – Introduction

I know I’ve been silent on my poor blog for a while, and in part this is because I’ve been working on a new post for the “My King, My God” category. I’ve had a new topic on my heart that I wanted to write about, but when I started delving into it, I quickly realized this topic was going to be much too large to fit into one article.

Therefore, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts to discuss the topic in its entirety. The topic is basically a collection of thoughts on several issues that have weighed on me and been in my prayers lately, and I’ve seen connections between them all that gave rise to this series.

I’m calling the series “Approach the Throne,” and it will be focused on the greatness and grace of God. For what do we discover when we approach the throne of God? Both the surpassing greatness of the King who sits on it and the overwhelming grace that allows us to come before Him without fear.

I’ve come to realize in recent weeks that I don’t have a very good understanding of either God’s greatness or His grace, and I think the Church as a whole might be suffering from the same trouble. Do we truly understand that the God who invites our prayers about the small issues, like parking spaces and long lines, is the same God who “laid the foundations of the earth” (Job 38:4, ESV)? Moreover, do we truly understand that the God who is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13, ESV) also looks upon us with love?

I know that I need this study, and I hope it will prove valuable to you as well. Below is the image that helped inspire the series:

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This picture is from the Full of Eyes ministry, which offers original artwork as “visual exegesis” of Scripture verses. The artwork is offered free for the purposes of ministry, and I’ll be using some of those images throughout the course of this series (and probably in others). I encourage you to visit the ministry website to see more of the amazing imagery and read the devotional posts that go with them: click here to visit.

Thank you for joining me in this study. I hope it will prove valuable to all of us and bring us to a deeper fellowship with the One who loves us infinitely. Check back soon for the first article!

Surrender the Sword

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If you don’t surrender the sword, you’ll never see what happens when God fights for you.

One of my most prized possessions is a sword replica that I have hanging on my bedroom wall. If you get to know me at all, you’ll find out pretty quick that I have a thing for medieval weapons, especially swords (hey, what do you expect from a fantasy writer?).

When I first got it, I remember having a lot of trouble getting it out of the box, and at the time I joked that the box was designed to deter all but those worthy of wielding the sword. Needless to say, I persisted until I finally got the sword out, and ever since I’ve enjoyed pretending that it was a weapon I had to be worthy of.

This took on a bit of spiritual significance for me, too, because I tend to shy away from things that make me uncomfortable or nervous. I imagined facing the battles of life and having to have the strength to grasp the sword (a figurative sword now, although goodness knows there are times I wish I had my literal one with me) to face whatever is to come. My decorative sword became a symbol of bravery for me.

That’s all well and good. But one night recently I was feeling pretty broken and weary. I took my sword down from its wall mount and laid it on my mattress as I knelt by my bed to pray. “I’m not worthy of it,” I told God. “I don’t have the strength for this fight. The sword is too heavy for me to wield.”

In that moment I realized: the sword was never mine to wield. Yes, by the grace of God, I have to be brave enough to step up to the battles when they come. But the One who wins the victory, who does the fighting, who wields the sword, is God. If I do it, I will surely lose every time, like a child trying to swing her father’s sword against an enemy and not even being able to lift it. But if I hand the sword over to God and let Him fight for me, victory is always the result, even if it doesn’t look the way I expect.

I’ve always loved this little section from Exodus where Moses admonishes the Israelites to trust in God: “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still'” (Exodus 14:13-14, NIV).

Surrender the sword to God. And then be amazed when you see what He can do. I can’t wait to see the results in my own life. Don’t you feel free without that heavy sword weighing you down?