Tag Archives: perseverance of the saints

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Last Year- past the end of my rope.

January of last year I found out I was expecting our second child. I was half excited and half terrified, my dream and my dread all wrapped up in one.

New Years Eve of 2015 I had prayed more earnestly than that whole year before that I would conceive again. It was the first time I wanted another baby more than I wanted to escape pain. I prayed, and believed God would answer that prayer in the following year. It was the end of a hard year. Over three hard years. I had so much physical pain with my first pregnancy, and that pain was only just starting to fade three years after my daughter was born. Pain that stabbed me every time I walked and prevented me from doing so much of life. Pregnancy causes severe back and pelvic pain for me, and experience told me that healing from it and getting back to life was a nearly impossible task.

That New Year’s Eve I wrote:

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been so low
As this year
Or as high,
It was a battle knowing no retreats
Though bombs like rain
Fell from the sky.”

I was still scared that God would answer my prayer for a baby at the end of a year in which I battled so hard and was left weary, needing rest. If He did, how was I going to survive it? I was so spent with pain, so ready to move beyond it, yet I wanted another child so desperately. I ended that poem praying:

“Here I am- empty without You,
Take me up
Upon Your shoulder bear,
This year I pray you will surprise me
But You must carry my care.
Be it dark
Provide for me a spark-
Be it bright
Then dance me in that light.” Continue reading

desolation

The Desolation of Smug

Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”

It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.

To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”

It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:

“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”

When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.

If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.

My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:

“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”

About the smug heart, I have written previously:

Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!

Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.

That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.

I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:

1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

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The Unveiling is Not Cruel

Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?

To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?

Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?

Oh, perhaps some seasoned saint
Could stand unflinching at a cross-
I doubt it.

There was man- Him without dross
Who fell face down before His cross,
An angel sent to strengthen there
The Son of Man weighed down with care.

Surprised?
By this: The Man of Sorrows
Pausing, praying at the cup?
What an awful load to bear
And what a sip to sup.

But you,
You know your lot is small
Compared to Jesus
Or to Paul,
‘Tis not a stake,
Or stones, or whips
Or hungry nights and sinking ships.

“Some men by worthy trials be
Cast low,
But who should pity me?”

So in your little furnace flame
A crying up-reaching
Burns with shame,
You see you are a smoldering wick,
Should wrath be kindled
Hasting quick? Continue reading

sanctification

Sanctification: Ugly, Hard, Beautiful, and Full of Grace

I recently asked myself the question: what word would I use to describe my own (slowly) progressing sanctification process? The first word that came to mind was “ugly.” The second was “hard.”

When God first took out my heart of stone and gave a heart of flesh, life was good. Life was in fact the best it had ever been. Salvation was awesome. The relief from shedding the weight of sin tangible, and I was ecstatic. Jesus was my new best friend and His word was my treasure. God kept me safe, if somewhat secluded, and gave me a peaceful year to sprout.

God knew what He was doing then, and He knew just how I needed to begin my Christian walk. It wasn’t so hard, or so ugly at first- it was mostly awe and reveling.

Life had become profoundly deep and meaningful, but looking back now I can see that my faith was still shallow. A seed in good soil to be certain, but vulnerable, with threadlike roots barely taking hold of ground.

But God is a faithful vine dresser; One wholly determined that His people bear fruit. And the best fruit doesn’t grow from trees planted in shallow soil, so He sets out to dig and to nourish (Luke 13:6-9). He labors to prune and cut every branch in me He sees that could bear more fruit. He wants me to see, and to feel that apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5). Continue reading

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The Gospel of Grace: A Refresher Crash Course

Do you find yourself constantly coming back to the foundational truths of Christianity found at the cross, or are you trying to walk out your Christian life in your own strength? Are you motivated to obey God today, or do His commandments feel like a heavy burden? Do you feel that Jesus Christ has made you free indeed or do you live under a weight of guilt and uncertainty about your salvation? Did you know that the gospel is not only the entry way for unbelievers but the entire residence of Christian living? Consider the following, which I hope might prove encouraging and helpful.

Galatians 3:1-3 “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

How did you get saved? Was it by law-keeping or by hearing the gospel and receiving grace through faith? I think you know the answer. If you are saved you know the power of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. Salvation has come in a person who is “Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1Corinthians 1:30-31).” He is all these things for us, and He will produce fruit in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In regards to our salvation the law contributed nothing but only bound everything up under sin (Galatians 3:22) and shut every mouth in regards to making an appeal of innocence before God (Romans 3:20). “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:21).”

So the question comes- if we were saved apart from the law (read the rest of Galatians 3, or Romans 3:28), and if Jesus Christ is our salvation and our sanctification, then what becomes of the law?
Now, as believers, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law (Romans 3:31).” We recognize that “the law is good if one uses it lawfully”- which is to use it for its intended purpose of convicting unbelievers of sin and pointing them to Christ (see 1Timothy 1:8-11). There is no problem with the law, but it presents a problem for law-breakers. God’s righteous standards still stand, and in fact, Jesus Christ explained the heart of the commandments in such a way that he exposed sin hidden within men’s hearts (see Matthew 5:17-48). Jesus upheld the law, kept the law, and bore the punishment for our law-breaking, so that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).” Now, we see the law, but we turn away from looking to law-keeping to gain righteousness, and we look to Jesus Christ who redeems us and sets us free to live by grace. That is faith. Continue reading

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Nevertheless: Your Failure and God’s Faithfulness

Psalm 73:21-16 “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

During our engagement my husband and I endured a messy and painful departure from our church. Conflict seemed to be on every side, but we happily found a new church to call home, and were largely consumed by the thrill of anticipating our coming marriage. It was a difficult season, but the purposes of God seemed clear, and His faithfulness to us was apparent.

One year into our marriage I found myself in a very different place. My career put me in a physically threatening environment, and I was overrun with anxiety. Others seemed to handle it with relative ease, while I was feeling affected by it even on my days off. Then there was the pain- constant and especially bad whenever I tried to sit still or lie in bed. It began from out of nowhere on our honeymoon, and continued to worsen relentlessly without explanation. I had developed intense insomnia, to the degree that several nights of the week I did not sleep at all. At one point I had gone 72 hours without a minute’s rest, and bear in mind, that meant not a one minute break from the pain. All this despite the prescription sleeping pills and painkillers, that I was frustratingly becoming addicted to. Continue reading

Who Will Deliver Me?

Who Will Deliver Me?

Oh sin, that dwells within
That wages war and threatens
To destroy my joy,
That sin that seeks to win
The battle and mock at my defeat.

Oh sin, that enemy within
Crashing through my great resolve
Outpouring words, I’ve cringed and heard
Them, hasty and marking me a fool.

Continue reading

Rejoice In God's Keeping Power

There are times when the Lord seems to poke and prod at the things we believe to be true.  He is able to bring all to the surface to test and see whether or not we truly do believe it, yes more so whether or not we apply it, and even beyond this:  do we love it?  Does the certain truth of God’s Word strengthen our faith?  Or is it a part of His word that we hold at bay, not truly examining it and seeking in it what precious truths there might be for us?  God, I have found, is so gracious to bring to our attention our wrong thinking about Him, about others, and about ourselves.  Because He loves us, it is His good pleasure to sanctify us by His word as stated in Christ’s own prayer “Sanctify them in your truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).”  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).” Continue reading