Found in Him

As the days and weeks continue to flow by like a steady stream, I am realizing two things. All of life goes on. And Jesus’ love for me is not based on who I am or what I do.

The past few months, my classmates and I have been studying the book of Philippians. That book was always a favorite of mine, but these months of intense study in this book have opened my heart to see that there are riches and depths to this book that I never fully saw or appreciated.

I have cried so many times at the way God has used this book to speak to the depths of my soul during this particularly challenging, changing season. I am humbled at the goodness of God—he never shows up too early or too late to our life situations. He is always on time. In my timeframe, I would have thought he showed up two years too late. But his thoughts are way above mine and his plans are beyond mine (Is. 55:8). He can be trusted.

Nearly all of us want to be found in something—career, relationships, school, ministry, and the like. We want to find that spot that was made exactly for us, while also craving significance and meaning in our lives. We wander, try and fail, and attempt something else in our search for meaning. We compare ourselves and come up short. We hang onto something too tightly and it gets choked or breaks in our grasp, leaving us—frantically—scrambling for the next anything to grab onto.

All of these things are fragile, frail, fleeting attempts to hang onto something that was never meant to support the weight we try to hang on it. And for a long, long time I have struggled with this—this searching for significance in what I do or who I am. But what I have finally come to realize is that there is nothing and no one to be fully found in but in Jesus and his righteousness (Phil. 3:9).

It is counting all else as rubbish and worthless compared to being found in and known by him. The truest significance is being in Jesus. It is not found in making a name for myself or being known for something I do. Rather, it is in the losing of myself that I am truly found. He must become greater and I must become less (John 3:30).

As I transition out of the life I have known for several years now, how desperately I have needed to know that God loves me, not in spite of me or for what he can get out of me, but because of who he is. And because he is unchanging (Mal. 3:6, Heb. 13:8), I do not have to fear that one day I won’t be enough in my frail self for him to keep loving.

But not only have I been consistently reminded that God’s everlasting love for me is not grounded in my love for or service to him, he has also brought people into my life at this time who have given me the very grace of Christ. There is nothing I can give them in return for all they have given me. I am a grateful debtor to the gracious kindness of Jesus overflowing in them.

Christ is my hope. Christ is my life. My life is hidden in him (Col. 3:3) and my citizenship is with him in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Who he created me to be is secure in him. Before the foundation of the world, he called me by name and knew who I would be (Is. 43:1, Eph. 1:4).

Life goes on. And so does Jesus’ love.

Dear ones, I hope you feel the enormous freedom in not being found in what you do or in who you are. I also hope you feel the immense relief that your piece of life is not sustained by you. And I pray you deeply know that you are loved and treasured—not because of who you are or aren’t—but because of who Jesus is.

Find Rest in Jesus

These past days I have been in La Crosse for work training and what a restful time away it turned out to be. The days were long and full, especially as I had school to do into the late evening hours each night. But in the midst of being busy, my soul is at rest.

Actually, my soul has been at rest and peace since Sunday. There are plenty of things to feel stressed about, plenty of things to be anxious about the future with, and not a few things that are carried in sorrow. But in the middle of these things going on around me, I have found that having Jesus is all I really need. He is all.

With hours of drive time, quiet evenings and early mornings at the hotel for restful reflection, and the sustaining prayers of dear people, my soul has found deep rest. God has been reminding me that the prescription for weak, worn-out, empty souls isn’t found in “regrouping”, just pushing through the pain, or trying harder.

No. Rather the treatment is found in Jesus himself. It is being with Jesus (Acts 4:13), resting in Jesus (Matt. 11:29, Ex. 33:14), seeing Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6), delighting in Jesus (Ps. 37:4; 43:4), and being loved by Jesus (Eph. 3:18-19, Rom. 8:35-39). I know of no other medication, treatment, therapy, or cure that could do even a pinch of what Jesus does. And even considering the good that can come from these other means, none of them will last and satisfy forever like Jesus does and will.

In the confusion and heaviness of our lives, pulling ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps is not the answer. We need Jesus. We also need to preach the gospel to ourselves. And we need people in our lives who will give us the depth and width of the Bible. It is being so overwhelmed by God and his Word, that we are able to echo the words of Peter to Jesus, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Not only does Jesus have the words of eternal life, he is eternal life itself. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

To whom else could we even dare to go to with our worn-out souls, when we have all of life in the fullness of Jesus himself? There is no other answer. None but Jesus.

Obedience is Better than Sacrifice

This is something I wrote on December 29, 2016, in response to God’s very clear call to me the morning before.

Sometimes obedience is following a known path. But sometimes it simply means going, when you have no idea where you are even going. I believe God can and does use both of these journeys in the life of the believer.

I am experiencing the “blessed” privilege of getting to walk the second path—the journey that simply begins with, “Go.” God has been graciously and faithfully revealing more and more of himself to me in his Word, in my classes at Bethlehem, through the words and wisdom of some precious people in my life, and in times of prayer with him.

This week, God met me in such a direct way that his imperative “go” was a non-negotiable. Though I cannot see where all this next road will take me, I am confident that I am being called to leave what has been my life for the past couple years and simply go with him.

I cannot refuse him. Nor can I refuse the longing in my heart that he put there in the first place. There are things I see that could be possibilities on this winding, new trail. There are also things that cradle the depths of my soul that I fully believe are God’s good gifts to me that are meant to be poured out as an offering to the One who gave them to me. Jesus has my heart and I cannot stay any longer when he has so clearly told me to go.

What I have come to see in my own life is the fact that sacrifice is often easier than obedience. But it is not better (1 Sam. 15:22). More often than not, I am willing to sacrifice various aspects of my life for God; but it is far harder to obey him in the unknowns, in the undesirables, or in the messy situations. But God does not want or need the sacrifices that come from a disobedient heart. As God works in my heart, I am aware that at times, I have sacrificed much but obeyed very little. I have given for him, but I have not gone with him. The Christian life is the chance to truly die to fully live. It is also the life of the greatest joy, the fullest purpose, and the deepest relationship.

So, to all the unknowns, uncertainties, losses, pains, and brokenness that will likely find me on this new road, I say, “Jesus is better and enough. I cannot refuse him. It would break my heart.” And to all the joy, hope, beauty, relationships, and life that will also be found on this path, I simply say, “Jesus is also better than any and all of that, as he is the greatest of all good gifts.”

Following Jesus brings a richness to life that is impossible to find anywhere else. With unspeakable joy and hope, I look forward to this next season.

Listen to Your Tears

This summer I started reading a most wonderful book by Emily Freeman titled A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. In this book, Emily calls her readers to realize we are all image-bearers and artists. We were born to create and be a “living poem”.

While helping people discover the art they were made to live, she made a profound but very little statement about listening to your tears. What?!

She went on to explain that the things that move us to tears should be seen as some of the most important things in our lives. Tears are “magic water” and help us see the hidden picture in our paint-by-water lives. We are moved to tears by the sheer beauty or horrific awfulness of various aspects of life and should take these moments to evaluate the bigger story behind our tears.

Sometimes the things that make us cry have nothing to do with that particular item, scene, etc., but there is a story or a memory that is triggered by the image we saw or the music we heard.

Since a child, art and music have moved my soul to tears. The gut-wrenching beauty of “Canon in D” or Van Gogh’s Starry Night are enough to make me forget all else but the wonder overwhelming my senses. Children in Myanmar, snow on the mountains in Montana, and rain falling on rusty cans are all other things that can easily make me cry.

But these days there are much different things that are making my eyes overflow. Other things that are shaking the depths of my heart. These days, my heart is being moved by Jesus.

The last few weeks have upset my life in some big ways. Rather, Jesus has turned things right side up. All that Jesus is has grabbed a hold of heart and is literally shaking the tears from my eyes. He is doing something in me that is painfully good. He has called me to something else—something different, and while I know just a pinch of what that might all entail, I have a settled sense of peace and rest in his good plans. I cannot refuse him, nor do I want to.

I have missed him. Only I didn’t know just how deeply I missed him. The full, beautiful, precious gospel has gone after my heart in a way that hasn’t happened since 2009, when I first found saving faith in Jesus. These days I am finding that not much else matters but simply being with Jesus—enjoying him, treasuring him, and realizing he truly satisfies. Lives that have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13) are lives that are consumed with Jesus. I have a long way to go in this, but it is my prayer that by the time 2018 breaks through, much more of my life will have been lived with Jesus.

If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then tears must be the windshield wipers that make things clearer, dearer, and sweeter. And while there are many good things that move our hearts to tears, by far the best one is Jesus. He is a love worth crying over. He is a relationship worth being real for. He is a joy worth singing, writing, and speaking about. He is a Treasure worth giving everything else up for. He really, really is.

Fall Semester: A Reflection

With just one Greek final separating me from the fall semester and Christmas break, my heart feels like simply reflecting on the past four months. These months of college have been rigorous, emotional, and all-consuming. But they were also the best classes I have ever taken, with a fine group of students and incredible instructors.

Quite possibly, my greatest take-away from this first semester at Bethlehem would be that I know far less than I thought I did. And that is okay. If the depths of Christ are an ocean, I have just a few drops in a beggar’s cup. The story of the Bible is far larger than I ever saw, the Old Testament is far more connected to the New Testament than I always thought, and the covenants are far thicker than I ever believed. There will always be more to know and love about Jesus, and that is a very good thing.

Simply, the greatness of God moved me.

Even though the strenuous workload left me crying on many Monday evenings, “Jesus, I can’t do this!” this semester was exactly what my heart needed. I needed to see and feel—the beauty of Jesus again. Somewhere along the way, I quit seeing. This fall semester gave me the opportunity to “taste and see” that Jesus is good (Ps. 34:8). Yet one taste will not satisfy. Thirsty souls need to come to Jesus and stay with Jesus (John 7:37; 15:9). My heart needed to “know Christ” more fully and deeply (Phil. 3:10), and these classes did not disappoint.

For me, a theme of sorts that ran through this semester was this simple statement: knowledge and love are not in opposition to each other. Sometimes it feels like it is an either/or. But I don’t want to just be loving. Or just know things. I want to know about Jesus to be able to love Jesus more to be able to love others better. To the knowledgeable and loving people who helped me see that these two things are not a juxtaposition (except for how they relate to and complement each other)—thank you!

Between the class lessons themselves and an instructor’s devotionals, greater pieces of the Scriptures were opened before our eyes. When Jesus said that the Scriptures point to himself (John 5:39, Luke 24:27), he was right! All of the Bible is a trail leading to Jesus. He is the true Hero behind every human hero.

Yes, this semester was really rough, sleep was pretty low, and doubt ran rather high, but through it all, I would have to say that this was the exact place I needed to be. Because the nearness of God is good, I can put my trust in him (Ps. 73:28). With joy and anticipation, I look forward to next semester and the future.

In, With, and Because of Jesus

Tonight, as I am working on some theology lessons, I am listening to Hillsong Worship’s newest album, and this one song in particular has completely captured my heart and soul. “As it Is (In Heaven)”—my goodness, this song holds such beautiful, solid promises!

In Jesus, the darkness can’t find me

Sometimes, the darkness of life is as close as skin stretched tight. Sometimes this darkness seems to be the only thing before us, behind us, and all around us. It is a thick fog, a heavy snow, a cloud-covered night. Sheer darkness. Tangible dark. Deep dark.

But there is one place that the dark can’t find us. And that is hidden in Christ. No darkness is as thick as the death-darkness he crushed on the cross. No darkness is as painful as the dark separation the God-forsaken Son of God experienced as he died alone. All darkness is swallowed up, choked to death, and smashed into the dust by the feet of the Savior King.

This God is very light himself. This God is brighter than the light of a thousand suns on a snow-covered January. And this God is closer than the air in our lungs. This God is all around us, before us, behind us, and in us. He is Immanuel: God with us.

His light is unstoppable. Unquenchable. Uncontainable. Unending.

With Jesus, while I’m waiting, I know I’m not waiting

Just this week, I was telling God that I don’t want to sit back and wait for the next big thing. I want to know what it is right now. Nor am I easily content with simply waiting for him to quietly speak. I want him to shout it from the rooftops. I crave certainty, straight paths, and definition. But more than constantly doing the next thing, serving in the next ministry, and going to the next place is the simple whisper to be. Be with Jesus not do for Jesus. It is in the waiting at his feet that the waiting isn’t waiting. It is in the resting in his peace and joy, that the rest becomes life-giving, soul-satisfying, Christ-exalting.

Because of Jesus, I’ve got everything I need to sing

Christ is enough. Nothing more. Nothing less. Jesus—only Jesus. He has always been enough. But sometimes I forget that he truly is enough. Everything that I think will satisfy, bring joy and hope and meaning is infinitesimal compared to all that is Jesus. In him, I lack nothing, miss out on nothing, need nothing. The song in my soul can burst forth because he is I AM.

In Jesus, the darkness can’t find me. With Jesus, the waiting isn’t really waiting. And because of Jesus, I have absolutely everything I need to sing.

The Deepest Depths

Tonight I’m listening to “Depths” by Hillsong Worship, and it reminds me of listening to it over and over and over again just two, short years ago. That song was one of a handful that saw me through the roughest 1+ years of my life.

I know I’ve eluded to that year in a few posts, but as I am far enough removed from that time, I feel much freer to share about that dark season.

For much of my childhood and young adult life, I thought God hated me. No one knows how many times I cried to him, “Why do you hate me so much? If you hate me this much, why did you ever make me? And if you hate me this much after creating me, why don’t you just kill me?”

2014-2015 had all of those years beat by a longshot. While I may not have been as mentally absent as I was as a child, teen, and young adult, I very well could have been, for as awful as I felt. No matter what anyone said to me, I was convinced God loathed my life as much as I did. I was immersed in church and ministry, and yet, the very place one would expect to find God the closest was the place where he was the farthest.

The verses about God being near to the broken-hearted and keeping all our tears in a bottle mocked me. In the deep sorrow of my heart, I did not feel God anywhere. And if he were keeping track of my tears, I was surely well on my way to reaching a record for crying the most consecutive nights in a row. It seemed that he peered at that giant blue bottle, squinted at how close to the “full” mark the liquid had reached, and set it back down. Pushing it away, he sighed and said, “Let me know when it overflows. Then—and only then—will I do something about it.” Then he turned away and went back to more important things.

I poured my very life into ministry and service and it amounted to nothing. God didn’t love me anymore. Worship wrenched my soul. How could one honestly sing of an awesome, magnificent God when he was that to others but not to you? Words that were attempts at comfort and counsel were empty, hollow, and fleeting. No mortal in my life truly knew the depths of despair, desperation, and heart-break that characterized my life in that long, dark season.

During this time, I lost my two best friends—my 17-year-old cat died the day after Christmas and my then best friend’s and my relationship simply ceased to exist. Life couldn’t get much worse. But it would have been bearable, if I’d known in the deepest depths of my soul that God loved me—that he wasn’t against me, even when it felt that way.

This time of greatest darkness lasted a good year and a half. Sure, there were moments when the thick cloud would crack open to let in a shaft of light, but those times were all very short-lived. I just didn’t want to live anymore. And for someone who had a fairly strong theological foundation to sink my heart and mind into, this was a new, scary thing to go through.

There really are no reasons or explanations I can give for why the darkness finally lifted. I simply believe that sometimes God allows us to go through extreme “dark nights of the soul” (as Mother Teresa and John of the Cross referred to them as), to force us to trust in a God we can neither see or feel. There is no better way I could explain the theological belief commonly known as the Perseverance of the Saints than to actually walk through a darkness so thick, you are a hairbreadth away from cracking…but Jesus is stronger.

And while I may have emerged from the darkness stronger in my trust in Jesus, it is unlikely I’ll ever be who I used to be before that season. That time aged me like nothing else ever did, while also giving me a greater empathy and insight into the extreme depths of sorrow and depression people drown in. Also, some of my deepest writings and reflections came out of this season.

And now, more than ever, I believe every believer in Jesus needs to have a rock-solid foundation in the sovereignty and goodness of God. The thick darkness requires a level of faith and trust that can’t be fully test-driven until the storm comes. You have to believe in something—Someone—you can’t see, when all reason and all feelings tell you the exact opposite.

Dear people who read this, please don’t attempt to put all seasons of darkness into neat, spiritual categories that you can wrap your minds around. And if you feel compelled to speak into someone’s situation, please ask first. Don’t assume you know what the other person is going through or that you can even help them in this season. It’s very likely you will hear some very bitter, broken words—and instead of answering them in the way Job’s friends did, just listen and don’t attempt to “set them straight”. Sometimes silence and a shoulder squeeze are the best medicines.

And to all the people who have or will go through incredible seasons of darkness and doubt—I love you. You are not alone. Jesus has not left you. You will sing again. It may not be for a very long time, but you will rejoice in Jesus again. One day, you will again see, feel, and taste that he is good.