This Thirsty Soul Cries

Psalm 63 is so precious to me.  Do you know why?

Because I know what it is like to be in a spiritual desert.  Most of us do, don’t we? 

David wrote this Psalm when he was running for his life.  A refugee in the middle of the wilderness, hiding in caves.  He had enemies that wanted nothing more than to see him dead.  Sometimes he didn’t know which friends he could trust and which he couldn’t.  

Sometimes I feel like Satan is after me like that.  Sometimes I feel like he wants nothing more than to see me dead, or at least spiritually immobilized.

And in the middle of the desert where David was living perpetually hungry and thirsty, his thirst drove him to God.


“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my flesh longs for you; my soul faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

He longs for more than just facts about God — He longs for the near presence of God.  Facts about God apart from His presence are lifeless and dry.  Theology that is satisfying is infused with the nearness of God.  David’s physical thirst reminded him of how thirsty he was for God.  He was desperate.  As desperate as a parched person who will drink from the most disgusting water sources simply because they are wet.  I think of the American soldiers forced to march 65 miles on Bataan to prison camps during WWII.  They were forced to march day and night without stopping, or eating or drinking, and they were immediately shot if they fell out of line.  But some of them were so thirsty that they jumped out of line at the first sight of water because their thirst had driven them crazy.  They were shot in an attempt to get a drink from pools of water that were rank from animal waste and stagnation.  How many of us have ever wanted God that desperately?  God is the Fountain of living waters, not some stagnant pool, and He invites us to come and drink without fear of retribution.  When was the last time we would have done anything to have more of Him?


The amazing thing is that David doesn’t end with his desperation.  He offers the response of his godly heart to his thirst for God.

“So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.”

His response to his longing for God was to gaze on God.  He went to the place where the presence of God was most likely to be found — the sanctuary.  But David was in the wilderness!  How could he go to the tabernacle when he was running for his life?  The answer — David’s own life had become a sanctuary.  His heart was directed toward God so that it became a place where God could draw close.  Do our hearts have that same sense of sweet God-ward direction?  Oh I want mine to!!  David beheld God’s power and glory.  He remembered the way that God had powerfully worked in his life to display His own glory — and then he spent time gazing, meditating on God’s glory. 

That gaze revealed a singular truth to David that caused his heart to praise.

“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”

David spends time gazing and gazing on God’s power and glory, and what does he come away with?  GOD LOVES HIM.  God’s glory and power don’t alarm him; they showcase God’s love to him!  What kind of love?  One that is better, of higher quality, sweeter, more excellent than life itself.  And suddenly he can do nothing but praise.  Hand raising is biblical!  It is a response of worship to seeing God for who He truly is.  To gaze on God’s power and glory for ourselves, we lift our eyes to the cross — where infinite power and glory are displayed in the defeat of hell and death, all out of LOVE!  Beholding God is where we begin seeing Him for who He truly is, and seeing Him engenders praise.  What a new way of reading the Bible!  When we see God in His Word, we begin to desire His presence, to see His power and glory;  and that vision translates into praise.  Do we want to praise Him?  If not, it is probably because we haven’t spent enough time looking at Him, seeing Him, worshipping Him.  It is probably because my vision of God needs to be adjusted to be more in line with Scripture.

Then David changes his metaphor from thirst to hunger.

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night,”

 After weeks in a cave in the middle of a desert, I am sure he had days when he didn’t know where his next meal would come from.  But even while the pit in his stomach grew, his soul sighed with the deep satisfaction.  Meditating on God was a feast to David’s soul.  In the middle of the night, when for whatever reason he was awake, he shifted his gaze to God.  He turned his anxiety and hunger and pain into satisfaction and praise by thinking on God.  I know there are nights when all of us lay awake  anxious, sad, afraid, and longing?  How often do we turn those moments into sweet meditation and joyful praise?

“for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

David’s praise once again arises from God’s character and work on his behalf.  David had such an unshakable confidence that he was being held in the loving protection of God. God’s shelter and support let songs of joy flow from him in the middle of the desert, in the middle of his race for his life.  He was confident that God was on his side, helping him, protecting him, upholding him.  How much more should we have that same confidence when God has explicitly promised those things to us and secured them with the death of his Son? God always over-delivers on His promises.  And when we think about how extravagant those promises are, we have every reason to hope in Him! David was clinging to God, but realized at the same time that his security wasn’t dependent on his grip.

He ends the Psalm by talking about the way that God will utterly defeat all of his enemies.  No one can stand against him because God is for him.  Paul says the same thing about us in Romans 8:32 — “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

You know why we feel so discouraged so often? Because so many times in the desert, we don’t run to the sanctuary.  I have found that so often my first response is to turn to the world instead.  So thirsty, I run to the world to alleviate my thirst rather than looking to the glory and power and beauty of Christ.  It is the same thing that Jeremiah talked about, “My people have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters and have hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water”  (Jeremiah 2:13).  The devastating result is that the world dulls my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and makes it harder to see the beauty and satisfaction of Christ, the only thing that can truly satisfy me.  I feast on the world, and in doing so forfeit my only chance to find true satisfaction and true life. 

The solution: the same solution for every spiritual ill.  Look to Jesus.  Run to Jesus.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”
(John 4:13b-14).

The Brokenness that Heals

Have you ever felt acutely aware of your own brokenness?  Like something very deep inside of you is broken, and irreparable?  Do you ever feel like you have tried every day to fix yourself, just to wake up later and realize that you are more broken than you were before?

That is where I was at about 1:00 this afternoon.

I found myself there, crying in a professor’s office, trying to face doubt and cynicism with courage and faith, and failing miserably.  Lately I have found myself trapped in a cycle of cynicism and unbelief, unhealthy life patterns, and hopeless pride.  What kind of life do I want?  A vibrant faith expressed in indomitable, feminine courage and compassion.  What do I feel I have? Exactly the opposite.  I desperately needed the fatherly hug and encouragement my prof offered.

Also in that moment, I desperately needed a glimpse of Jesus’ attitude toward people like me.

The Paralytic and Me

I was reminded of the story of the paralytic in John 5.  He had been lying beside a pool for thirty-eight years, hoping that somehow its rumored “magical” powers would heal him.  But his solution failed.  He was too paralyzed to get into the pool fast enough to be healed, if it would have healed him at all.  On top of that, no one even cared enough about him to help him.  Then Jesus came along.  The renowned Healer looked at that crippled man and said, “Do you want to be healed?” (I believe, “Um, YES, duh. And thank you,” is the correct response.)  But the paralyzed man was still so stuck in his human solutions that he said, “But I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool.  How can I be healed?”  He said that to God.  Like, the One who could raise dead people — so dead that they stunk (aka Lazarus).  The paralytic didn’t think he could be healed, not unless Jesus was there to put him in the pool.  He wanted Jesus to empower his man-made solution, but he couldn’t see that Jesus had a much bigger plan, one that didn’t include his superstitious, futile resources.

The truth is, I am just like that guy. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get myself out of my mess so I can get back to Jesus.  But Jesus has come to me.  Jesus came to that man while he was still broken, when he was hopeless, when he had exhausted every human healing resource.  Now Jesus has come to me, and I am trying to use Him to empower my own human answers, when He is looking at me and saying, “Do you want to be healed??”

What I need is not another fabricated solution.  I need Jesus Himself.  I need to say “YES! I want to be healed!” And then I need Him to reach down His hand and lift me to my feet. To say, “Get up, take up your bed and walk.”

The LORD Who Heals

Jesus is Yahweh Rapha — the self-sufficient, promise-keeping God who heals.  He has reached so far into our brokenness that He even took on the likeness of our sinful flesh in order to restore us.  He is no stranger to the fragmented nature of our existence — “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).  The most happy, most perfect One, entered into our pain and restored us by being broken Himself.  “He took bread and broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body that is given for you’” (Luke 22:19).  “With His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  The hands that reach down to heal us are scarred, and their mutilation is their deepest beauty.  Jesus feels the deepest aches of our humanity, the desperation of our ineffective self-efforts to find peace.  And He doesn’t deride us for the duct tape that we put repeatedly on the cracks of our souls because we thought it could fix everything.  Instead, He gently peels it off and says, “Do you want to be healed?”

Every morning I wake up and take an anti-depressant pill.  I have a tangible reminder every day that my body and my mind and my emotions are broken.  Part of it is humiliating — I am too proud to admit that I need help.  The other part of it is thankfulness-producing — God has used the miracle of man-made drugs to help me.  However, my hope does not lie in resources crafted by human ingenuity.  It lies in my Lord Jesus.  He is the master of metamorphosing our pain into beauty.

Yet the fact remains that in this fallen world, part of me will always be broken, and I will constantly desire to be fully restored.  That final restoration will come, in the glory of heaven where in perfect wholeness I will worship at mutilated feet, be lifted up by pierced hands, and hug a body with a gashed side.  There, where I will forever be reminded of the brokenness that healed me.

It Starts with Us

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“When?”  The whisper in my soul is louder than a jet plane.  For weeks I have been irritated — no, beyond that — I have been deeply disturbed by how much hate I see in the name of love.  And not just from the world; from those who claim to be followers of Jesus — the one who said His people would be known by their love.  I have even felt traces of this sentiment in my own heart.  I want to see change, but I’ve wondered what can be done.  We are afraid.  Living in the middle of a seismic culture shift, we are afraid that the ground is disappearing beneath our feet, and so we are grasping at anything that will maintain our fantasy that this nation is somehow still Christian.

Again I heard it. “When?”  When what?  I see marches and protests in the name of everything anti-Christian on TV.   When will all this be over?  When will Jesus’ kingdom come and true peace be experienced under His perfect rule?  This cultural earthquake is part of the groaning that I feel, groaning for the creation to be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

When?

But the question goes deeper than that.  It is personal.  When will I?  When will I what?  What could I do anyway?  I didn’t know.  So I did what I sometimes do when I have a question I can’t answer but I’m feeling too lazy to think through it.  I ignored it and got on Facebook.

How many more articles did I see outlining everyone’s opinion on women’s rights, the refugee crisis, abortion, politics… you know what I mean.  I have no idea.  But I do know that in the middle of my frustration, the answer started to dawn on me.   

When will I let my desire for change change me?

Then the answers in the form of questions flooded me so fast that I could hardly keep up.

When will I personally choose to not be afraid but to courageously love the person who seems to be threatening me?  When will the Gospel take priority over my comfort?  When will my heavenly citizenship take priority over my earthly one?

When will I care more about the person sitting across from me than I do about the rights I think I deserve?  When will I audaciously fight for the Biblical rights that person should have no matter the effect on my own?

When am I going to look into the eyes of the desperate refugee, and see a person rather than a stereotype?  What about the illegal immigrant, my LGBT friends, my Muslim neighbor, the unwed pregnant girl, her unborn child?  When will I refuse to jump on a bandwagon shouting “Black Lives Matter” or even “All Lives Matter,” and instead look a person in the eyes and say “Friend, YOUR LIFE MATTERS.  You matter, because you are loved by God. You are important, and I love you.”  Because the truth is, often our rhetoric is just a socially beneficial way of saying “my life matters.”  And our lives in service to Christ have never been about us.

When?

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When will I relinquish my “right” to be well thought of?  When will I love people by speaking the truth even if I am misrepresented as a bigot or a homophobe or a culturally-irrelevant, Bible-thumping zealot?

When will I step back from the hate and the mockery, and find the true Gospel love that popular culture cannot comprehend?  When will I realize that love cannot be sacrificed on the altar of conviction, and that I must do the work to hold the two in tension?  When will I realize that our freedom cannot be maintained by denying freedom to others, and that we will be most hopeful when we are a beacon of hope to the world?  

When will I, like Jesus, lay down my life for others, rather than grasping for it as it slips through my fingers? 

When will I realize that a culture shift starts with one person choosing to make the right decision and inspiring everyone around them to do the same?  

When will I realize that I am the only person whose actions I can control, and that the change has to start within me before it can ripple out? 

The time is now.  You and I are the next generation.  It starts with us.  Love, freedom, truth, grace, and evangelism in this generation start with us.  We will live in fear until we learn to love freely out of our titanium confidence in God’s secure hold of us.  Perfect love casts out fear.

When?  When will I?

When will you?

Letters to My Future Self: Beauty

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Dear future Kristen,

Don’t tell me you are having an identity crisis again.  We’ve been through this before, haven’t we?  Calm down; it’s ok.  Can I tell you something?  I know about you, I know something deep, something fundamental to the feminine humanness inside of you.

You want to be beautiful.

You have a deep longing to be seen and recognized by those around you as an attractive person.  And do you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s a natural part of your heart; it’s an expression of being the person God has made you to be, and it is good.  However, I’ve seen recently the way that this good desire can become twisted and destructive rather than edifying and life-giving.  But what is beauty anyway?  What is this strange quality that our culture is obsessed with — that we have over-defined until it has almost lost its definition completely?  Beauty has become nebulous, based on whimsical societal norms rather than reality.  But God is the ultimate Reality.  He is the One who created beauty and caused you to desire it, and He is the One who tells us what it truly is. Yet how many times have we chosen to believe what our culture says instead of trusting what God has said?

God’s definition is strikingly different from that of the world around you.  Our culture screams that long lashes, and beach bodies, and photoshopped magazine models are where it’s at. God skips the external almost entirely and hits at your heart.  When God speaks of beauty, He speaks of beautiful character — a life of godliness that overflows into good works.

1 Peter 3:3-4  “Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair or the putting on of gold jewelry or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Proverbs 31:30  “Charm is deceptive and beauty does not last, but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (NLT).

1 Timothy 2:9-10  “I want women to be modest in their appearance.  They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do” (NLT).

Scripture also speaks of God as being the perfection of all beauty (Psalm 27:4; 50:2; 96:6; Isaiah 4:2; 28:5; 33:17).  Do you realize that God is the most beautiful person who exists? Lift the eyes of your soul and gaze on His beauty.  Look long and hard at Him — meditate on His Word, get to know Jesus.  Beholding is becoming (2 Corinthians 3:18).  By looking at His beauty you will become beautiful.

God wants to make your soul a welcoming estate, with beautiful gardens and a majestic castle to bring life to all who venture past.  He lives within you, and wants to make you a dwelling place fit for Himself.  But sometimes that means He must first do some painful purging.  There are weeds in your soul that are keeping you from being a delightful place of hope and rest for those who enter your life.  Sometimes He must tear down your self-built character shack, so that you might have a Spirit-built palace in its stead.  Sometimes that means your soul feels like ground zero for a time; you may feel decimated, worthless, ugly.  But God can always, always be trusted.  He will plant a new garden and build a new house, and it will be far better than you could have dreamed.  God is a Master Builder with an eternally green thumb.

But enough with the metaphor.  What does it look like when some unsuspecting fellow human stumbles across that garden?  How does this beauty of soul translate into real life when that random person meets you at the park or starts talking with you in the Starbucks line?
Here are some helpful questions:

  1. Do you genuinely see, love, and care for those around you or do you ignore them in a huffing hurry to get to where you need to be?
  2. Do you give sacrificially and generously to everyone around you with your time, your money, and your energy?
  3. Do you consistently show loving patience to those who frustrate you?
  4. Do you faithfully serve your church even in ways that no one will ever see because you know that you are serving Jesus?
  5. Do you live with confident peace no matter the circumstances surrounding you because you trust the wisdom and sovereignty of God?
  6. Do you show compassion to those who are needy and hurting?
  7. Do you live with radical joy and gospel boldness in whatever station of life you find yourself?

Who is the person behind your eyes?  Is your soul beautiful, or just your body?  Your outer beauty will shine for a time, and then diminish, but your personhood will last.  Make your investment count for eternity.

That is not to say that your external beauty is unimportant!  The question is why do you beautify yourself?

  1. Is your motive selfish: I want others to notice and appreciate me?
  2. Or is your motive spiritual: I want the words I speak about my Jesus to be enhanced by my appearance?

Your beauty becomes dangerous when you are so preoccupied with your external appearance that you cannot focus on those that you have been called to love.  Our culture says, “Build your self-esteem. Focus less on those around you and more on the person you are becoming.”  Jesus says, “Give me your life, live to serve those around you, and trust Me to take care of the rest” (Matthew 16:25).

You have been given a body, but it is a body on loan that doesn’t ultimately belong to you (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  It belongs to Jesus because His precious blood has bought it.  This body has been given to you so that you can shine the light of Jesus wherever you are.  You have a body and a soul so that you can adorn a beautiful Gospel with a beautiful life.  You did not get to choose which body is yours, but you do get to choose what you will do with the one you have been given. And to whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). Steward it well.

So don’t push away your desire to be beautiful.  Don’t fight it or condemn it.  But do not worship it.  Rather, let it be an outgrowth of your worship to Jesus.

There is something else you need to know.  It is something you may not believe right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true.

You ARE beautiful.

I know about all those moments you have spent inwardly wishing that God had made you differently.  But He hasn’t.  He has made you exactly the way He wanted to so that you are uniquely enabled to fulfill His calling on your life.  He has called you “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  You have been distinctly fashioned by the Master hand of God Himself, and He never makes anything that is ugly.

You are beautiful because you are human.  You have been crafted in the image of God, and no matter how marred by sin that image is, His beauty still rests upon you.  In fact, the Gospel is all about Him restoring you to the beauty you once had when you reflected His image perfectly.  You are a “new person” who is being “renewed in knowledge after the image of [your] Creator” (Colossians 3:11).  The mistakes you have made and the past you have dealt with is being remade.  You are being transformed until His beauty shines through your brokenness with power that declares to a watching world the magnificence of your God.

You are beautiful because you are His.  Do you know what He says about you?
He says you are:
beloved — John 3:16, 15:9; Romans 5:8, 8:37-39; Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 3:1, 4:9
chosen — Ephesians 1:4
new  — 2 Corinthians 5:17
free  — Romans 8:2
delivered — Colossians 1:13
clean — John 15:3; 1 Corinthians 6:10-11; Isaiah 1:18
blessed — Ephesians 1:3
upheld by everlasting arms — Deuteronomy 33:26-27
forgiven — Micah 7:18-19
royal — 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:9-10
rich — 2 Corinthians 8:9
secure — Romans 8:35-39
reconciled — Romans 5:9-11
renamed — Revelation 2:17; Isaiah 62:2
healed — Psalm 103: 3
crowned with glory and honor — Psalm 8:5
known — Psalm 139
alive — Ephesians 2:5
accepted — Ephesians 1:6
victorious — 2 Corinthians 2:14; Isaiah 54:17; Romans 8:37
blameless — Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:22
listened to — Psalm 4:3; Psalm 116:1-2
holy — Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:12
uncondemned — Romans 8:1
treasured & delighted in — Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:4-5
complete — James 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:17-18

beautiful.

Look up those verses again.  Meditate on those truths for a while.  This is your identity.

Your looks, your personality, your abilities, your interests — everything that makes you you — none of it is a mistake.  He has made you impeccably perfect and He loves what He has made.  And do you know what else?  That will still be true in 45 years, when you turn 65 and finally lose count of your grey hairs and wrinkles.

So don’t be afraid of the mirror.  Don’t hate what you see there, or worship what you see, or even disregard what you see completely.  See yourself (your whole personhood) through God’s eyes, and thank Him for the amazing gift of being human.  Let it draw you up into worship to the One who created you and stamped His seal of approval on you.  But also don’t linger too long.  There is a waiting, watching world desperately in need of the Jesus that the person you see in the mirror has been uniquely enabled to proclaim.  Go — live fully, and tell them with your lips and life.

Yours truly,

Kristen

Liquid Life

I gave blood today. It’s now the fourth time I’ve done it, and every time I’ve been so sweetly reminded of the gospel through this beautiful picture.  We give blood, “liquid life” as the phlebotomist called it, and there is no substitute.  Man has not to date been able to come up with a material that has the ability of God-made blood to keep us alive. It reminds me of Horatius Bonar’s statement, “No other blood will do” (“Not What My Hands Have Done”).  As I watch them stick a needle under my skin, into my veins, that dusky fluid begins to flow — flow from my veins into those of someone else. Healthy blood, taking the place of sick blood. Rich, dark life and health flowing into someone whose only chance of living lies in someone else’s life.  It makes me stop and think; and then turn away my eyes from my own sacrifice to see one far greater.  With my soul’s eyes I behold the lifeblood of the holy Son of God running down a splintery piece of wood.

And He didn’t just give enough to be okay as long as He ate a Little Debbie cake afterwards. No, He didn’t give just enough to be safe; He gave it all. He gave every last drop of life in His body. Oh, and His blood is so much more valuable than mine.  Mine gives life to one person, and even then, that person’s life will not last forever. His has given life to millions, and will never lose it’s glorious, life-giving power until all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more. I give my blood because He gave His. His righteous blood pours over my sin-sick soul and restores health.  It covers and washes away my sin, as my Father looks at me and sees only the life of Him who died for me.  Life — liquid life, and more than that — flowed from His death, and brings life to my self-inflicted death.

“My God, why would you shed Your blood, so pure and undefiled, to make a sinful one like me Your chosen precious child?” (Sovereign Grace Music, “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?”)

I bore a needle.  He bore three nails and a spear. Mine was a humanitarian gesture that cost me thirty minutes and earned me a t-shirt.  His was a sacrifice beyond comparison that cost more than can be imagined and earned the souls of the redeemed of all ages –people who will stand around His throne and forever worship Him for the scars from those nails.

My arm is wrapped, and every time I see this purple bandage, I see an object lesson of the most precious blood ever given. I am reminded of the most glorious sacrifice ever made. And I bow my head in worship and grateful adoration to Him whose blood was was much more than blood cells and plasma — it was the hope of the world.

“O the blood of Jesus washes me!
O the blood of Jesus shed for me!
What a sacrifice that saved my life.
O the blood of Jesus washes me!”
(Selah, “O the Blood”)

Letters to My Future Self: Surrender

Dear future Kristen,

I am writing this letter to you coming off of a very difficult season of struggle against sin.  I am hoping that the next time this letter comes to your attention you will have made significant headway in the quest for humility and sacrifice and joy in God.  Right now, though, the struggle is tearing me apart.  On one side I feel God pulling me more strongly than I have ever felt toward Himself, while at the same time in a corner of my heart, rebellion still lurks as a squatter, relentlessly yanking me back from giving it all to Him. I don’t want the rebellion, but my heart still wants to fight against God, while at the same time I also desire to fight my heart. Now do you understand why I feel torn to pieces?

Why do I tell you all this?  Well, I think it’s because this is by far not the last time you will feel pressed by sin. We are still in our fallen bodies and that wretched flesh still lives inside of us. Yet at the same time, we have the Spirit. He wants different things than our flesh and actively fights against our flesh to destroy it. (And He will destroy it, hallelujah!) The result? We become a cosmic battleground where God fights the wars of His kingdom. It’s Galatians 5 all over again. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” It is the reality of the Christian life.

Thankfully, Paul gives us some help.  Galatians 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The flesh is still there, but it’s straight-jacketed as long as you are walking in the Spirit.  But the problem is that the flesh is like Houdini. As soon as you stop intentionally walking in the Spirit and letting Him keep it restrained, it finagles a way out of the straight jacket and back into rule of your heart. The other dangerous thing about the flesh is that you love it. It feels good, even though it’s end is the way of death. “To set the mind on the flesh is death…” (Romans 8:6).  Like Tozer said, it is an opaque curtain of self that keeps you from seeing the glory of Jesus (and therefore being transformed into His image), and it is so intertwined with our hearts that to rip it away and crucify it hurts like hell. But truly, the path of the flesh is the path of hell – forever death without ever being able to embrace the beauty of Jesus.  And you will know the death of your flesh now, or forever death then. Choose death now.

But how?  How on earth do you kill that slick, parasitic con artist that will destroy your faith and steal your joy and leave you hopeless and empty and begging despite all you have given it?  You choose to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what He asks for or requires of you. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Christ Jesus, if you are His, if you are a blood-bought servant of Jesus Christ, you have crucified the flesh. Why? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and you walk with Him. Note: that does not mean you can never sin again. But it means that as long as you are walking by the Spirit and saying “yes” to Him, you will not sin. 

However, to do so you must learn to surrender.  In our Christian subculture, we often entertain the idea that surrender is a “one time thing” we do in a moment of emotionalism, but I don’t think that is true. True surrender is life as sacrifice.  That’s what Paul means in Romans 12 when he says, “Present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice.” You don’t surrender once. You surrender every single time that you must again choose to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to yourself. Your decision of surrender lies not in saying “yes” once in a moment of emotion, but in choosing to say “yes” over, and over, and over and over again, no matter what He asks for. 

The question that remains: Why should you do so? Paul answers that question as well. “Present your bodies… which is your reasonable service.” Why? Because Jesus deserves it!  “I make my appeal to you by the mercies of God, present your bodies.” See what Jesus has done, understand that He deserves your “yes”, and then choose to say “yes” to Him.

I say this to you now, in light of the struggle and the sin that I’ve seen in my own life lately because I know that God reveals sin to us progressively.  As we fight and defeat one sin, another is brought to our attention. But I want your future struggles to drive you to God and cause you to submit to Him out of thankfulness, rather than causing you to run from Him. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes sin runs deep. But grace is always there and always accessible because the God of infinite grace never leaves His children. Never. Ever. You must believe that.  Never forget that He loves you and wants to hear your voice, so don’t stop talking to Him, even when He seems far away or you feel like you’ve failed him again. Maybe you have, but He still loves you! He wants you to run to Him! Believe that!! Keep holding on to hope — hope will not put you to shame as long as it is in Him and His Word.  

One last thing: sometimes choosing to obey gets really hard and tiring. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to produce any fruit and isn’t going to make any difference. But I promise you it will. If nothing else, it is worth it for Him alone. He says, “Do not be weary in doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.”  He says, “Keep doing good. Keep doing good. Don’t give up. Sow good seed, no matter the blood and sweat and tears it takes to sow them, because God will make them grow.” The joy of reaping will be worth the pain of sowing. You have to believe that it’s worth it. Because it is.  

Soon the clouds will clear, and the dim reflection you now know of the Lord Jesus will give way to unobstructed, face-to-face fellowship.  And in that moment all the pain you experienced in striving to please Him will be utter sweetness, and any trite sweetness for which you sacrificed His fellowship will be as bitter as wormwood and gall in your stomach.

So stay in the fight till the final round. Jesus is worth it.

Yours truly,

Kristen

Each Strand of Sorrow Has a Place

crossstitch1 (1)If you really look for them, you’ll see them: the little fingerprints God has left all over our world, all over every day as if to say, “I’m here. I’m here too. Did you see Me there?” It’s easy to forget Him, to lose sight of Him, to live as though He doesn’t exist.  In fact He is here, and subtle tracings of His ways are found in everything and can draw up our hearts to Him. But are you looking?

Every moment, every circumstance, every encounter of every day of your life is a little thread colored by grace that your Father in heaven is weaving into the tapestry of your life.  You see it from your linear perspective, and puzzle at how He will weave it all together; He works from His own, multi-dimensional sightline so that every thread is a vital part of what He is making you to be, and how you will reflect His glory. He does it so that He can hold up your life before the world in ages to come and say, “Do you see it?  Do you see the incredible beauty that I can weave together?  Do you see the immeasurable riches of My grace in kindness toward this child in Christ Jesus?” (Ephesians 2:7)  And you’ll look back and say, “I see it now! I couldn’t see it then, but all the time You were weaving that blue one into the sky!”

One of my pastors recently gave me this analogy.  “My mother,” he said, “used to cross stitch.  I remember when I was little sitting on the floor and looking up at her while she was working on a particular piece and being so confused at how it would become a picture.  I could only see the tangle of threads and overlapping, disoriented colors on the back.  But then she would turn it over, and for the first time I could see how all those messy pieces of yarn were working together to form something beautiful, something good.”

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), do we not?  We may not be able to see, but faith can never see, can it?  It wouldn’t be faith if it could.  No, faith trusts in the darkness. Faith says, “God, I cannot fathom in my mind how You are going to work this into good, but I trust You. I trust You because You said You would – and You always do what You say” (Numbers 23:19). Faith remembers that it is only seeing the back of the cross-stitch, but a master Cross-stitcher is doing the work. Of all the masterpieces He has worked on, He has never yet pulled a single wrong thread.

So, Friend, let’s step back into your life. 

Where are you right now?  What station of life are you in?  What happened today that made you happy?  Angry?  Despairing?  Look for His fingerprints, trust His promised goodness, hope in His grace.  Believe that it’s all bigger than what you can see.

Are you walking through the valley of the shadow of death, that dreaded chasm of deep darkness?  Do not fear calamity: Your Shepherd is with you, right beside You to comfort and encourage. He might seem far away, but He has promised that He is not. In fact, that dank darkness is often where He draws close and we learn most of Him.  Lift up your head in hope that you will walk out on the other side knowing far more of Him than you can presently imagine, and that knowing Him will make it all worth it.

Does your life look like the same thing over and over again, an endless cycle of monotony that you seem unable to escape? It’s okay. Rest, trust. There’s a lot of blue in the sky.

Who are the people in your life right now? They are there on purpose. Invest in them. Love them.  Humbly allow God to use them to teach you what He wants you to learn.

It’s really about humility, isn’t it?  A sweet, humble faith that doesn’t have to figure it all out, but just rests on the God it trusts. Rests because it knows that God is doing this on purpose (Ephesians 1:11); God is good (Psalm 145:9); He never does anything that will ultimately harm me (Hosea 6:1); I am forever safe in Jesus (Romans 8:32-33); He will not keep back from me anything that is good for me right now (Psalm 84:11); and He will give me everything I need to keep my head above water and learn to walk more deeply with Him (Psalm 23:1).  Abraham was the man of faith; He lived this way.  God said, “Pack your things and leave Ur, and I’ll tell you where to go.”  He didn’t ask questions, He didn’t second-guess, He simply went (Genesis 12). God said, “Do you see the stars? Can you count them? It’s going to be just as hard to count your descendants.”  Abraham didn’t remind God that Sarah hadn’t had much success with children in the past, and even were that to be remedied, she was far too old to start now.  No, “He believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15).  God said, “Take your son, your only son [and the promised son of the covenant] whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering to Me.”  Abraham didn’t fight, but “rose early in the morning” and went, believing that “God was able even to raise Him from the dead” (Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:19).  There were times when Abraham’s faith wavered, but even in those moments, God did not abandon His friend or His plan. God kept every one of His promises, and through Abraham’s greatest Offspring, He blessed the whole earth.

That humble faith is the same reason that we obey God’s commands even when our flesh screams to us about what it wants.  We look up to Jesus and believe that His way is best, and bow to His will, resisting temptation because He has promised that He is better, so much better. 

What about you?  Over what are you fighting Him?  What has you wrapped up in worry and frustration and discontentment?  What do you need to place in His hands, perhaps for the hundredth time today, and rest that He knows best and will do what is best in His time?  Will you patiently wait for His time?  Elisabeth Elliot once said that “waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.”  So lift it up again.  And again.  When it threatens to weigh down on your heart again, lift it up. And open your heart to your Father, and let it go. You can trust Him.  He will always, always, always be faithful.

“Oh grant me wisdom from above to pray for peace and cling to love,

And teach me humbly to receive the sun and rain of Your sovereignty.

Each strand of sorrow has a place within this tapestry of grace.

So though the trials I choose to say, ‘Your perfect will in Your perfect way.’”

— Keith and Kristyn Getty, “The Perfect Wisdom of Our God”

Human Snapshot

 

 

Charleston, SC
March 2016

I want you to meet my new friend Henry. I met Henry today while walking the streets of downtown Charleston, SC. I had almost walked right past the bench where he was sitting when he called out to my brother and me, asking if we were interested in the flowers he was selling.  I turned, ever so slightly, to politely decline what I first saw as just another of the many vendors lining the crowded Charleston streets — but then I saw his hands.  Or rather, no hands.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see that instead of hands, Henry has prosthetics, two metal fingers with which to do everything we take for granted with our four fingers and opposable thumbs.  And I had to know.  So while I dug out the money to buy a flower, I asked, and learned.  When Henry was younger, he was in an electrical accident at work and was electrocuted, costing him both of his hands.  All of a sudden, I felt like my eyes were opened, and I saw a person.  A human being with the image of God Himself stamped upon him — desperate, needy, but smiling.  He didn’t lament such a catastrophic loss hardly at all.  And you know what’s more?  Henry convincingly assured me that He was trusting in Jesus’ blood to wash away his sins, and enjoys God’s presence with him.  Do you know what that means?  It means something a mere passerby would miss: Henry is a brother, loved with the merciful kindness of almighty God.  There’s a person inside every living human body, a person God made, knows, and loves who deserves dignity simply because he or she is a living picture of God.  What do you see when you look into someone’s eyes? A person? A story? An inconvenience?  I know that too often I am so worried about my own image management I don’t even realize a person is standing there, or else I’m so afraid they won’t like me that I ignore or disdain them.  But not God.  And when God lives in us, we don’t either.

“Come back and see me!” were Henry’s parting words to us. “And if I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in heaven!”  He was almost laughing with renewed joy and hope.  A new image flashed across my mind: Henry, glorified, worshipping in the presence of Jesus with two fully restored, flesh and blood hands.  Hands he will one day have, because Someone else’s were mangled for him.

I Went on a Walk

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The other day I went on a walk.  It’s really not a rare occurrence; in fact, my parents don’t even ask me any more where I’m going. I just say, “I’m going on a walk around the neighborhood, and I’ll be back.”  Might be long, might be short, who knows?  Most of the time even I don’t know, don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll be. You just follow the curves of the road, and turn when you feel like turning, and know that eventually you’ll make it back home.

The last few weeks have been such a random mix of weather patterns, and the past few days have brought so much wind and rain that they left most of us wondering if any fall would be left on the trees when the sun finally decided to return from vacation. There’s something relaxing and aesthetically revitalizing about it all, walking all alone down the wet, deserted roads (minus the occasional stray car) and taking it all in. The multi-colored leaves plastered to the wet road by the rain and by merciless cars that drive over them again and again. The streams flooding over the dams that the fallen leaves have created in frustrating futility.  The occasional brave squirrel who knows that there are only a few short days left to gather nuts before winter comes, but turns to dart up that tree and hide as the leaves crackle under my feet.  The clear water droplets forming on the ends of barren branches.  That one red leaf struggling to hold on in the wind. My shoes are soaked now, my umbrella beaded with droplets from the perpetual drizzle. In Greenville, the early November air is revivingly crisp, but it makes rainy days like this one only cold and raw.

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But I love the rawness.

Something in it reminds me of my soul in past months.  The barrenness of the stripping season. Fall is the stripping season, the season of dying.  But the dying is necessary.  It isn’t until everything has died, until millions of leaves have let go and fallen to the earth, that new life can spring forth.  It’s not until I have died that life can truly blossom in my soul. Until all my self-made plans, ambitions, wishes, goals, and identity have fallen to the ground. “For you have died…” (Colossians 3:3). 

It’s one of the great paradoxes that make up the paradigm in which we live.  Try to live, and you will only die; come and die, and you will truly live. “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). I think Jesus means a lot more than we often live like He means.  He is saying, “Give up all that you are. Hold nothing, absolutely no part of your life, back from Me.  Stop snatching at your life, and let Me be your life. Come to Me, lose yourself in Me, allow your identity to be wrapped up in Me.” “…your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). But really, what does that comprehensive, all-inclusive offering up mean? What does it mean for your life today?  It means that all the nitty-gritty of your life (your body, your mind, your emotions, your resources, your time, your future) are no longer yours; they are His and He has the right to do with them whatever is most pleasing to Him.  But Lord, that seems a bit extravagant! Hence the promise: you will save it.  You will finally be free to be who you were made to be. Your individuality will not be destroyed but enhanced, and sanctified. But first, you must die.

We don’t die easily, and we don’t die quickly.  But God is committed to our good and His glory, and so He often walks us through many falls and winters as He teaches us to die. However, the glory of fall and the hope of winter is that spring is coming. Every death that we die is a doorway to life. In fact, the last death we will ever face will only open the door to eternal life — full, free, and forever, before the face of Him who is Life Himself (John 1:4).

I am thankful to be smelling the scents of a long-awaited spring in my soul.  I am rejoicing in the kindness of my God, not only for this new life, but for the winter as well.  For the stripping of the fall that has purified and refined my love for Him, and for the barrenness of the winter that has spawned a stronger faith and sweeter trust in His faithfulness to His Word.  And yes, for the rebirth of the spring that draws my heart up in worship by allowing me to see those things.  I am grateful for the unique way He says, “I love you” through them all.  Truly, He is “faithful in ALL His words and kind in ALL His works” (Psalm 145:13).

But for those of you for whom spring feels more like a nostalgic memory than a present hope: hold on.  I hurt for you and pray for you, and beg you to hold on. Look up. Keep trusting what you can’t see or feel (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Whatever your pain, you can know it isn’t unbearable — He will never give you a greater temptation than your faith can handle (1 Corinthians 10:9). The truth is, you can often handle more than you feel like you can, and He will stretch your faith because He wants it to grow.  He is more concerned with your holiness than your comfort. And you can trust Him in that because He always knows and does what is best.  So hold on. Anchor yourself in the promises of Scripture and trust what it says about God. Keep sowing good seed, because when spring does come (and it will!) all those good seeds will bear beautiful fruit, and all those Scriptures, as dry as they seem now, will suddenly break through with sweetness and joy. Surround yourself with those who know you and your struggle, and your God. Find those friends who will bring you to the feet of Jesus over and over again, allowing Him to shepherd you. Be wary of focusing on “good days” or “bad days”, because it is easy to become self-centered and to idolize the way you feel. Keep your eyes upward and outward, and trust the faithfulness of God.

There is still so far to go, many more winters to walk through and much more faith to be grown. 

But life is a long walk, a journey — might be long, might be short, who knows?  I don’t know, don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll be. But IMG_2322I do know that I have a trustworthy Guide. He knows these roads; in fact, He carved them out and made this path just for me, only me.  So I will follow Him through every turn and curve of the road because I know: eventually I’ll make it home.