Much of Myself, or Much of My Savior?

This summer I have had the opportunity to nanny for two girls. One is a preteen and the other is a young teenager and I can honestly say they are so much fun! We get to paint our nails together, watch silly movies, stay up at night telling life stories, and many other fun activities. On the drive back from taking one of the girls to their drama camp this morning, I was thinking about my biggest goal for this summer. It could be to make sure the girls have the best summer ever (which is definitely a good goal), but I want more than that. 

I want the girls to see Christ in my life. They are both at such an impressionable age, I don’t want to take this opportunity of spending quality time with them for granted. I want to be an example of a young woman who loves the Lord with her whole heart. 

Looking back over the time I’ve already spent here, I can’t confidently say I’ve done that. In most situations, I try to make much of myself – not of my Savior. I want the girls to have fun with me and like me, but I think I’ve let that take the place of my desire for the girls to look at me and love Jesus more. 

How often in life do we do this? I know that I do this very often. In every circumstance we have the choice to point to Jesus or ourselves. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I want people to accept me, so I often choose to point to myself. Whether that be the music I listen to, the jokes I make, or the movies I watch, I want to be accepted. 

And then it hit me. Every one of those times I choose to make much of myself is a reflection of the Savior I worship. 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

When I gave my life to Christ, I literally gave my life to Him. The choices I make are no longer just reflecting my character, but also the character of my Lord and Savior. Putting aside what other people are thinking of me, what are people thinking about Jesus when they look at my life? 

That’s heavy. I’m so thankful (yet again) for the abundant grace offered to me through the blood of Christ! I mess up every single day and He still loves me. It’s not a burden to carry the image of Jesus, but it also shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a privilege. As Christ followers, we have the opportunity to live a life reflecting our King and Savior! Wow. 

So back to my summer goal. I don’t want to continue making much of myself in front of these girls. I want to make much of Jesus Christ. I want them to see my actions and decisions, not to see myself, but to see my heart behind making them. I want them to look at me and see a Savior who loves them. 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

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Freedom… Sometimes?

In light of Independence Day yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom. I’m extremely blessed to have freedoms as an American, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but I don’t believe this is the greatest freedom offered to me. Freedom from sin through the blood of Jesus is by far the most important freedom.

Yet, do I really live that out day to day? Much like people who loudly proclaim their pride in being an American on the Fourth of July, and then complain about our country the other 364 days of the year, I am guilty of proclaiming how wonderful freedom in Christ is and then living as though I was never freed to begin with.

As I was thinking about freedom in Christ, I had to define what exactly that was. It’s thrown around a lot in the church, but I wanted to define it for myself. Ultimately, it is freedom from sin. As human beings, since the fall of mankind, we sin. It’s natural. But when God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, He offered a new option. He offered freedom from that sin we are in bondage to. We no longer have to sin!

Before I go any further, I feel like I must say that freedom is only seen as such by those who recognize their slavery. If I was sitting in a jail cell, and had been there my whole life, I would most likely be comfortable and used to my way of living. If someone offered to free me, I might question what they were freeing me from. I wouldn’t know anything different than that jail cell; I wouldn’t recognize the bondage I was in. It would be when I realized that there must be more than those four walls that I would see their offer as a rescuing.

Picture this. I took this rescuer up on their offer to free me from jail, and the next day I run back to that same jail cell and lock myself up. The rescuer returns again and sets me free. The same cycle continues to happen for days to come! That seems absurd, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. And that’s exactly what it looks like when we have been freed from sin by the blood of Christ, and continue to run back to our sin. We are putting the shackles back on ourselves. Christ already freed us, yet we continue to run back to our old way of living.

That is not experiencing true freedom in Christ. He wants so much more for us! He didn’t break the locks on our chains for us to turn around and put them right back on. With us being sinful people, though, He knew we would. (Sidenote: Take a moment and thank the Lord for His mind-blowing patience with us!) Until Jesus returns, there will still be sin in this world. But the beauty of His freedom is that we no longer have to choose sin. Every time we are faced with temptation to sin, we now have the choice to say no. We can choose Jesus! Yes, we will mess up and sin (because we all do), but it’s our motivation. It’s our drive to love Jesus in every word and deed because we recognize just how incredible the freedom is that we have been given.

So let everyday be a new day to live out your freedom in Christ. Like those who celebrate their American freedoms on Independence Day and then live as though that freedom means nothing to them every other day, many believers celebrate freedom in Christ on Christmas day and Easter. God isn’t just good and powerful on those days, but He is good every single day by continually offering freedom from the yoke of sin! Don’t run back to the shackles, run to the One who set you free from them.

And that is why I believe freedom from sin is the most important freedom I have been offered. I could have every freedom this country has to give me, but I would be nothing without Christ.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

Taking It All In.

This past week I got to visit Alaska. I can honestly say it was everything I hoped it would be! Summer solstice was extremely confusing to my body already trying to adjust from jet lag, but besides that, the trip was incredible. Awesome food, great company, and the most awe-inspiring sights. And I mean that very literally. 

When asked to describe characteristics of God, people generally respond with “loving”, “kind”, “just”, or something like that. Every once in awhile, you’ll find someone who responds first with “Creator.” Personally, I often overlook the beauty of God’s creation. I see it everyday, so it kind of just blends in after awhile. That’s one of my favorite things about traveling. I love being able to see God’s fingerprints in all new places; Alaska absolutely accomplished that. 

One day, we went on a glacier cruise tour of Kenai Fjords. We saw humpback whales, harbor seals, and even Dall’s porpoises swimming right alongside the boat. But one of the most amazing things, in my opinion, was when we stopped for about 45 minutes in front of this huge glacier and got to watch and listen for pieces to crack and fall into the water. I couldn’t begin to describe the vastness of this glacier, so I’ll show you a picture instead! 

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This was only a small part of it. I couldn’t get the whole glacier in the frame of my camera, it was that large. Everyone on the boat gathered on the deck and stood in silence waiting for the glacier to crack and then watch in awe as pieces, small and large, crashed into the water below. Standing there, in that moment, I was speechless. This glacier called out praise to it’s Creator. 

In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

Psalm 95:4

This alone would have been enough to make the trip worth it, and that was only the second day we were there. Another day, we went to Denali National Park. While the park was beautiful, and I loved seeing all of the wildlife, what we saw on the drive home left me speechless…again. 

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I know we’ve all seen rainbows before, but I have never in my life seen one so vivid and bright. We pulled the car over and were able to get the full double rainbow in a picture, which doesn’t even come close to the magnificence of this sight in person. It was a reminder of God’s promise to us, but also a beautiful picture of what an awesome Creator he truly is. 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 

Psalm 19:1

This wasn’t all. Our second to last day there, we went on a hike. I don’t really know where it was, but it was lovely. We got to see bear tracks, which was exciting and terrifying at the same time, but my favorite part was when we got to go on a hand tram above a river way, way below. After getting over the initial jitters of being so high above the ground, I got to really appreciate the sight from the hand tram. 

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The water really is that blue. We saw water like this quite a few times and I was blown away every time! Apparently it’s melted glacier water which is what makes it such a bright blue. Whatever makes it so blue, I don’t really care. I just loved that it was so bright! Man. I already want to go back and continue sight seeing! 

It doesn’t end there though. God didn’t just create that glacier, those rainbows, or that bright blue water. He created everything we see. I don’t have to look forward to traveling to new places to see His magnificence displayed in nature. He created this earth for us to enjoy, so why do we so often overlook it? I’m going to try my best to take a moment and soak in my surroundings. We are in the midst of God’s handiwork and it’s absolutely breathtaking. Enjoy it! 

You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Nehemiah 9:6

 

Pause and Rest.

Summer has really changed as I have gotten older. When I was younger, summer was so exciting because I literally got to do absolutely nothing if I so desired. It was a time to sleep in, play with friends, and watch movies. As years have gone by, I think summer has changed from a season of rest to a season of busyness. It seems that as a summer approaches, I begin to stress about the large amount of things I need to get done in the short amount of time that summer offers. I now have work, registration for the next semester of classes, family vacation, and just the usual everyday responsibilities. It’s pretty exhausting, in my opinion. 

A few days ago, I became overwhelmed with everything I had to get done. It seemed that everyone needed my attention and I can’t be fourteen places at once (i’ve tried…it doesn’t work.) That was only physical demands. I had to do so much, but I was mentally in another place. My emotions were worn very thin last week, and it really began to wear on me. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything I needed to do, because I was distracted mentally and emotionally. A verse came to mind that has been in the forefront of my mind since then…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Ah. Rest. That’s what I needed. It’s not found in a completed to-do list or a full 8 hours of sleep, but real rest is found in Jesus. He knows I have a lot going on, (physical, emotional, and mental demands) and He provides rest for my soul. When the stress of everyday life seems overwhelming, the Lord invites us to Himself – the giver of rest. I can lay every burden I have down before His throne and He will take it from me. Exhale. No matter what happens, He is still in control. In the midst of life’s craziness, it’s good to remember that God’s got this. And that’s all I need to know to be able to breathe, and learn to rest. 

The Greatest Gift.

You know the problem with gifts? I rarely see them as a gift in its truest definition. I tend to try to figure how much was spent on the said gift, so I can know how much to pay for their gift. Or if a friend buys me lunch, I make a mental note to buy their lunch next time we go out. I hate feeling indebted to people. Which, I realize, defeats the purpose of a gift. Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum where we feel entitled to a gift. For example, while my sister has work and school this summer, I have a lot of free time until I leave for Washington in a couple of weeks. Since I obviously have it so hard, I practically begged my sister to go ahead and buy the third season of Gilmore Girls so I could continue going through the series, even though she hasn’t finished the second season. I pleaded with her that I had so much free time, I needed that season to survive, or I might die of boredom. (I know this seems dramatic, but I’m honestly not exaggerating that much.) After all, she owed it to me. Since she didn’t have time to work through the series with me, it only seemed fair that she let me watch it at my own pace. She ended up getting the third season to let me go ahead and continue. (Rach, if you’re reading this, I publicly apologize for being such a brat.) Indebted or entitled, both are wrong views towards gifts. 

I think it’s easy to see the gift of salvation the same way. I tend to lean towards the indebted side of things though. It’s easy to fall into legalistic thinking. I want to somehow do (or refrain from doing) something to earn God’s favor. Talk about feeling bogged down! What a big undertaking to earn salvation, huh? It’s a good thing we don’t have to. 

The other day, I sat down to read my Bible (for the first time in about a week, if i’m being honest.) And what I read, hit me like a ton of bricks. The gospel. The Creator of the universe sending His only son to a fallen world to eventually die to save all of mankind. That’s heavy stuff. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Literally nothing inside of us is worthy of such a gift. Instead of dreading an eternity in hell, we now have an invitation extended to us to sit at the Lord’s table in heaven. We are no longer in bondage to our sin…we are free to live a life for our Lord and Savior! This is the ultimate gift; yet, I realized something. I had gotten used to it. I received this unfathomable grace and it became “no big deal.” I was certainly thankful, but the idea of grace just became ordinary. 

I pray that I never reach this point again. I want to wake up and be blown away by the grace extended to me again and again. I have been given a gift, completely undeserving, and never able to repay. Even sitting here thinking about it, I honestly can’t express how indescribable salvation really is! God loves me. And you. Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in…

Can’t quite wrap your mind around it? Me either. We aren’t supposed to be able to! God is so incredibly loving that we can’t even fully comprehend it. And for that, I am so thankful. 

Today, I would encourage you to refocus on the simple truth of the gospel. It’s easily overlooked and taken advantage of, when it should be our one sole focus in life. Accept this gift for what it is; don’t live legalistically trying to repay God because you simply can’t. Take it for what it is, an act of love extended to unworthy sinners, and live life accordingly: a life in full devotion to Jesus Christ. Join me in trying to fully understand the magnificence of our Savior, and then bask in the wonder of not being able to. 

 

Redefining Joy

Growing up, my sisters and I listened to Adventures in Odyssey tapes on road trips. We always loved listening to the different stories and plot lines. One episode I particularly remember was about a child who had a friend that was blind. This child could not understand how their friend was always so happy when she had such an unfortunate life of being blind. The child and friend had a conversation about this one day, and the friend shared her life motto: Count it ALL joy. 

That had such a nice ring to it. It made you sound really spiritual if you could say you “count it all joy”, but it took me awhile to truly understand what that meant. I thought for awhile that it meant always being happy, or always smiling and laughing. I quickly realized it was exhausting to always come across as happy. Maybe it meant getting over your circumstances quickly, or ignoring your feelings? Nope. That wasn’t it either. I think, finally, I have come to understand what it means to truly “count it all joy.” 

First of all, there is more to that phrase to give us some more clues as to what James means. He doesn’t say to “count it all joy” and leave it at that. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

 

James 1:2-3

While thinking about what joy truly meant, I decided to see the dictionary’s definition of joy. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines joy as:

Joy – noun

: a feeling of great happiness

: a source or cause of great happiness ; something or someone that gives joy to someone

: success in doing, finding, or getting something

I understand that the worldly idea of joy greatly differs from the Christian view of joy. The world sees joy as the first definition alone : happiness. We all know it’s impossible to always be happy, but as a follower of Christ, I firmly believe we can always experience joy. Looking at the dictionary’s definition of joy, I do see a connection to my beliefs about joy. 

First, I want to focus on the second definition. The world offers many things that provide people with “happiness” but they all are fleeting. It’s temporary happiness. As believers in Christ Jesus, our source of joy is always the Lord. Whether or not we have what the world labels as happiness, we must recognize our source of joy is always Jesus. Always

Second, the third definition stood out to me. Once we recognize that Jesus is always the source of our joy, we have success in finding peace. The Lord offers the beautiful gift of salvation to us, which I often take for granted. In this season of my life, I have leaned more on the Lord than ever. These past few months have been some of the hardest I have ever faced, but I can honestly say I have also experienced true joy like no other. I have relied fully on my relationship with Jesus, and have been extended peace which surpasses all understanding. Despite death, relationship issues, separation from loved ones, and other circumstances I’ve faced the past few months, I have peace in knowing my Savior is still on the throne. I can trust Him. 

Third, when we have those ideas in place, we can experience a feeling of great happiness. When we are truly joyful, people can tell. Not because you’re always smiling and laughing, or acting like everything is okay, but because you have spent time with our Creator that can’t help but affect our demeanor. Joy doesn’t mean being happy about our circumstances, it means knowing who holds our circumstances, and clinging to Him. It means to look at our situation in light of eternity with Jesus, and recognizing that He is still good. Another translation of James 1:2 says to, “Consider it pure joy” in our trials. PURE joy. Joy in its truest and rawest form. Joy is found in Jesus alone. In the blood shed for us on the cross, so we can be offered a relationship with Him. That provides joy in its purest form. 

Now for the second part of the verse: the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. I have seen this prove true more than ever the past few months. If I had walked the same road, say a year ago, I don’t know where I would be today. But I have loved seeing the Lord test me in small things, to help prepare me for the bigger things. I’ve seen my perspective change towards trials as each one comes my way, and although I’d like to say I immediately lay it at the foot of the cross, I’m still learning. I’ve had the opportunity to be angry and question God’s goodness (which I’ve done at times), but the more time I spend in God’s Word, the less I question Him. I’m a lot quicker to trust Him now. Trials produce faith! It may not be fun, and it certainly isn’t easy, but He brings us to a place where we learn more about Him than we ever would if things were going our way. While life hasn’t been exactly easy lately, I wouldn’t go back and change anything. I have learned more about myself and about my Savior than I ever imagined I would in this season. 

And in the midst of it all, I have found joy in Christ Jesus. 

“Will you trust Me in this?”

This was a question the pastor on Sunday posed in a sermon on suffering. He said God uses our suffering to motivate us to trust Him; He knows our suffering and seems to ask the question, “Will you trust Me in this?”

Many times I have prayed for a deeper relationship with the Lord. I don’t want just a Sunday morning religion, I want a radical, life-changing relationship with my Savior. It’s so easy to ask for a deeper relationship and knowledge of Him in a prayer, but I didn’t really think of what that could entail. In my heart I was saying, “Show me more of who You are, but only if it’s easy and comfortable.” I never truly put myself in the mindset of growing closer to the Lord in suffering..until I was in the midst of it.

Through this season in my life, I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone. I have a variety of emotions that go something like this:

“I just want to be able to talk to him. I feel so lonely.”

When will I wake up and this be easy?”

I’m tired of everyone trying to fix my situation. Just listen.”

“No one truly understands what I’m feeling.”

These are a few, but reoccurring thoughts I have had through this season. As they come to me, I try to combat them with the Truth of the Lord. That list looks something like this:

I am never truly alone. The Creator of the universe is with me.”

Even if it isn’t easy, God’s strength is displayed in my weakness.”

“My Savior is always available for me to cry out to Him.”

“Christ knew suffering like I could never imagine; He understands.”

When I am able to look at the negative thoughts and feelings I have towards my circumstances and line those up against the truth of who Jesus is to me, I get more than I could have ever hoped for. I may feel lonely, sad, and frustrated sometimes, but I also get to experience joy, comfort, and peace from my Heavenly Father. There seem to be some days where I feel so weak and broken, that I find myself crying out to the Lord for strength and peace all day long…and those are the best days. On the days where I feel hopeless, I am reminded of my hope in Christ. In order to learn more about who Christ is, we have to experience suffering. We have to fall flat on our faces so that we are in perfect position to praise His holy name.

You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

So when I prayed those prayers for a deeper relationship with the Lord, I never wanted that to come through suffering..but I’m so thankful it has. As much as it hurts, and daily I feel weak and helpless, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I don’t want to be in a place where I depend on myself; I desire to be in a place where my full dependence is placed on Christ!

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

2 Corinthians 1:5

I’m so thankful for a Savior who is personal. That has been one of the biggest blessings to me in this time, is knowing that the Creator of all that I see takes time to wrap me in His arms, and offer comfort like no one else can. He is our ultimate comfort! He doesn’t belittle my feelings, or tell me to toughen up, because He wants me to learn more about who He is in this time of confusion and lean more into Him. He is good, He is sovereign, He is my strength, and He is my comfort. So for today? I choose to trust Him.

And I may be weak but Your Spirit’s strong in me
My flesh may fail, but my God, You never will

“Give Me Faith” by Elevation Worship