Fullness of Life Through Freedom in Christ

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

If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, the first image likely to come into your mind is  Mel Gibson’s blue painted face screaming, “FRRREEEEEEDDDOOOMMM!” as he rides into battle to bravely defend Scotland.  And if you’re a proud American, you likely proclaim that our country is great because it is free.  Our beautiful National Anthem even resounds this triumph with the concluding words, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  No matter how many times I’ve heard it, those majestic lyrics are enough to bring me (or any other patriot) to tears.  

It’s amazing how much strong emotion is brought on by the word and concept of freedom.  And rightly so- for it is the inborn desire of every person to be free. We yearn for the ability to think, speak, and act without hinderance or restraint; to not be governed by a foreign entity; and to not be imprisoned or enslaved to any person or thing.  

The quest for freedom takes form in many aspects of our lives.  This is evidenced by advertisements aimed at helping us find financial freedom, or advertisements informing us how working at home allows freedom in schedule setting or travel.  We even seek freedom in our physical appearance, choosing clothing, accessories, and hairstyles that reflect who we are as a person. And when it comes to relationships (or even our appearance), we might lean into phrases like, “I’m free to be me.”  We go after freedom in every category of life because it brings relief, joy, and peace.  Some might even say freedom is the foundation for life itself.  

As much as I enjoy the freedoms of this country, or believe in the benefits of financial freedom, or value the right to self-expression and healthy relationships, the truth is, these are not the freedoms I really need.  They are the freedoms I love and enjoy…but they cannot save my soul.  

Galatians 5:1 tells us it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This freedom is twofold: 1)Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven. Meaning, no longer can Satan (or anyone else for that matter) accuse us before God.  Our sins have been paid for in full, and for those who are in Christ, we can stand before God Almighty, uncondemned, covered in His grace. And 2) We are no longer slaves to sin; sin has been dethroned as our master!  Instead, we become servants to Christ. If you find this unsettling or confusing, take comfort in Romans 6:22 which says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”  

It may seem paradoxical, but a life lived in service to the Savior of the world is the life of true freedom.  There is no lasting joy to be had when we are in slavery to our sin- for this is a slavery that leads to death.  There is however, infinite and eternal joy found in living obediently to Christ- for this is a servitude that leads to life.  

Indeed, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This freedom is the entire theme of this website as well as my book, Remade: Living Free.  I humbly invite you to join with me in the pursuit of understanding the depths of this freedom given to us by the God who loves us immeasurably.    

Denial and Invitation: Peter’s Story and Ours

I’ve always liked Peter.  That guy was all in.  He stepped out of the boat to walk on water and he knew that Jesus was the Christ.  He also cut a guard’s ear off during Jesus’ arrest in the garden.  He was so confident that he was always right.  And he was so sure that he would never forsake his Lord.  

After all, it was Peter who said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away,” (Matthew 26:33).  Even after Jesus told Peter that he would in fact deny him three times that very night before the rooster crowed, Peter did not believe him.  Peter emphatically replied, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”  Peter had such zeal and loyalty.  He loved Jesus.  Which made the reality of his denial all the more heartbreaking.  

We know the story.  Following Jesus’ arrest Peter warmed himself by a fire and was there accused by a servant girl of having been with Jesus.  Peter said he didn’t know him.  When someone else said that Peter had been one of Jesus’ followers, Peter said, “Man, I am not.”  And then came the third denial came.  The account in Luke chapter 22 says that immediately the rooster crowed- and the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the words of the Lord (v.60-61).  

Oh Peter.  The guilt and shame he must have felt for what he had done.  Verse 62 tells us that Peter “went out and wept bitterly.”  I can only imagine his crushing sorrow. 

Tonight as I type these words recounting this story, it feels so heavy.  So sad.  But I also think Peter’s denial served a great purpose.  

Think back with me for a moment to Luke chapter 7.  Jesus was eating at the home of a Pharisee when a sinful woman came and annointed his feet with both her tears and an expensive bottle of perfume.  Indignant, the Pharisee said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is- that she is a sinner,” (v.39).  Jesus responded to this man’s thought by telling him a parable of two men who owed money to a moneylender.  One owed 50 denarii another 500.  As neither men had the money to pay their debts, the moneylender canceled the debts of both.  Jesus then asked the Pharisee, “Now which of them will love him more?”  The Pharisee responded, “The one with the larger debt.”  A brilliant story to illustrate a beautiful truth.  

Do you see where this is going?

Peter’s story doesn’t end with his large debt of denial.  In many ways, it was his beginning; for we have a Savior who redeems us.  We have a Savior who graciously makes breakfast on the beach…

We pick up the story of Peter in John chapter 21 in which we read of the third appearance Jesus made to his disciples following his resurrection.  After a morning of fruitless fishing Jesus called from the shore instructing them to cast their nets on the right side.  The result was another miraculous catch of fish.  As the disciples towed their boat to the shore they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.  And Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.  Come and have breakfast,” (v.9-12).  

When they had finished eating breakfast, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John do you truly love me more that these?”  Peter answered, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.”  Jesus then said, “Feed my lambs.”  A second time Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved him and a second time Peter replied in the same way.  Jesus then said, “Take care of my sheep.”  A third time Jesus asked Peter if he loved him.  Peter replied, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said once more, “Feed my sheep.”  

Three denials and three redemptive affirmations of love.  Peter’s debt had been forgiven.  And consequently, just as the sinful woman, he loved much.  

I have no doubt that the grace Peter experienced following his denial intensified his love and commitment to his Savior.  And I can’t help but think that the depth of his forgiveness is in part what made him a fearless proclaimer of the gospel.  It was all necessary.  For Peter was also given three commands after each “I love you.”  He was to preach, proclaim, and die for the Gospel.  

After the third command to feed his sheep Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  In verse 19 we see the explanation: This was said to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.  Peter would spend the remainder of his days glorifying God in both his life and in his death. 

I love the story of Peter.  While Peter was absolutely responsible for his sin, God used his denial and redemption as an event to strengthen Peter’s love and obedience to Christ.    

So with us.  When we think of how greatly we have sinned, may it be a call to repentance and to a deeper commitment to live our lives fully and only for the glory of God.  And may the depths of our sinfulness cause us to fall on our knees in praise that there is nothing our Savior cannot redeem.  The same Jesus who forgave the sinful woman and Peter, and who made breakfast on the beach for his disciples is the same Jesus who offers us forgiveness and grace.  This is the Jesus who bids us as he did Peter to follow him.  I pray we all accept this glorious invitation.  

As He Said

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay,” (Matthew 28:5-6).

He told them.  He told them multiple times.  Yet, somehow they didn’t understand.  It seems so obvious to these eyes that have read the story hundreds of times.  How could they not have known? He told them, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” (Luke 9:22).  

It’s easy to shake my head at the disciples.  But I have to ask myself, “Would I have understood?  Would I have believed?”   

I can only imagine how the words of Jesus must have flooded their minds when the angel rolled the stone away.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  With widened eyes and racing minds I bet the pieces came together.  It all then made sense.  Yes, he did tell us! This is as he said.  And we know that all he says is true.    

Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature.  Just as God is Yahweh, the great I AM, so is Jesus.  As God must act in accordance with His character, so must the Son.  And just as there is no deceit in the God who faithfully keeps all of His promises, so it is with our Savior.  We can trust the words of Jesus who is himself the Word.  

Consider then his statement in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  This is absolute truth and the source of our joy!  These words proclaim we have an eternal hope; for we know that those who receive Christ are hidden in him (Colossians 3:3).  This means that his defeat of death has become our defeat of death; as Jesus has conquered the grave, we have become more than conquerors (Romans 8:37); and just as he has risen, so we have been raised to new life (Romans 6:4).  The empty tomb is the guarantee that even death cannot keep us from life.  

And still I, like the disciples, must ask myself, “Do I believe all his words?”  Do I believe the things yet to be seen?”  For Jesus also spoke these words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2); and “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done,” (Revelation 22:12).  

In light of the empty tomb my answer is a resounding “Yes!”  For I know that I serve a living Savior.  As the Apostle Peter said, we have “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  These words affirm the words of Jesus himself.  And I have no doubt that all will be just as he said.    

Fully, Finally, Completely

“It is finished.”  These three words declared the free gift of our salvation.  Yet, these three words are almost too wonderful to fathom; for they are the words that tell us the work has been completed- and there is nothing we can add.  Try as we might, that truth is immovable.    

And so uncomfortable.  

Because we don’t really want free.  What we want is some inkling of merit within ourselves that we can point to as an explanation for our good standing with the Creator of all.  Deep down, we desire our good works to “count” towards something.  We yearn to give an offering of self-righteousness, even if ever so small.    

But praise God that is not the way He has written the script.  His way is so much better!  It is beautiful, gracious, and glorious.  And above all, it is unearned.  The words Christ shouted from the cross made that abundantly clear.  For those words signified that our debt to God- the debt created by our sin soaked hearts- had been paid in full.  As Romans 5:9 states, we are justified solely by the blood of Jesus.  To suggest otherwise is to mockingly reject the sufficiency of the cross.

The great Jonathan Edwards once said, “The only thing I contributed to my salvation was the sin which made it necessary.”  Amen! How could we contribute anything more?  For what could we possibly add to Jesus’ suffering and wrath-filled death on the cross?  The answer is absolutely nothing.  For as the prophet Isaiah reminded us, all of our good works and righteousness are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  

All we sinners can do is receive with open hearts the precious gift He has given us in Christ Jesus.  The Apostle Paul presented this beautifully when he wrote these words, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  It has been made clear: we enter the gates of heaven purely by the blood of Jesus alone.  

This is the assurance that brings us freedom here on earth.  We don’t have to hope, anxiously anticipate, or guess if we have qualified.  We can have full assurance of our salvation knowing that Jesus has paid it all- fully, finally, and completely.  This is the good news of the Gospel and our gift to receive by faith, knowing that our salvation is secured by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  To the glory of God alone we can confidently rest in the work of our Savior.    

Wrath Satisfied

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”  Romas 5:9 

Wrath.  That’s not a word we think about too often in our day to day lives.  Even at Easter, it may not be a word we give much consideration.  After all, Easter is about the glorious resurrection of our living Savior…and that’s a far more pleasant thing to think about than wrath.  But for a moment, I’d like to reflect on the holy wrath of God.   For in order to truly understand God’s wrath, we must first understand the seriousness of our sin and the justice that flows from His holiness.  

First, the seriousness of sin.  As stated by R.C. Sproul in The Holiness of God (one of the most theologically influential books I have ever read), “Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign…the slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act were we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything,” (pp.151-152).  As R.C. often stated, “We forget who we are and who God is.”  And who God is is supremely perfect, righteous, and holy. 

While we’re quick to acknowledge we’re imperfect we’re also quick to think we’re not “that bad.”  And when using worldly standards of comparison we may be right.  We may in fact not be “that bad.”  But compared to the brilliant holiness of God we have not one iota of righteousness within us.  We must then face the reality that God’s holiness- not man’s- is the standard by which we will be judged.  It is a standard by which we all fall short, and the standard by which we deserve God’s wrath (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23).  

The truth of the matter is it is because of His holiness that He must be just.  And His justice necessarily includes the punishment of sin.  As stated by ligonier.org, “For God to maintain His justice, He must punish sin.  To forgive at the expense of His just wrath would be inconsistent with His character; according to His holiness, those who have sinned must die.” 

And we indeed are sinners.  

In the Old Testament God displayed His grace to the Israelites by giving them a system of sacrifice to atone for their sins.  This system included sacrificing an animal from a herd or flock to symbolically represent the individual.  Before offering the sacrifice, the individual would place his hands on the animal’s head as a way to demonstrate his identification with the animal.  This gave full acknowledgment that the animal represented himself, and that he, the worshiper, was deserving of death.  The animal then became the propitiation for sin, the substitutionary means by which God’s wrath was satisfied.  

By the sheer mercy and grace of God we no longer have to make these sacrificial offerings.  How can this be?  Surely on account of our sin we are deserving of God’s wrath!  The beautifully horrific truth is that God’s wrath was poured out on His Son as he hung on the cross on our behalf.  Through this sacrifice God fully displayed His divine justice; for sin was punished through the sacrifice of His perfect Son.  

As Jesus bore our sins in his body on that tree, God’s wrath was poured upon him.  I can’t pretend to understand the anguish and pure agony our Lord experienced as He was forsaken by his Father.  But of one thing I am certain- the wrath he bore on our behalf was total and satisfactory.  And because of this perfect sacrifice, we are recipients of a better propitiation; for we are not saved merely by the blood of an animal, but by the blood of Christ (Romans 3:24-25, Hebrews 2:17; 9:13-14).

Think of it: the wrath you and I are completely deserving of was fully satisfied on the cross.  Because of Jesus we are saved from the wrath of God!  Amazingly, He has rescued us from Himself by simultaneously demonstrating His grace, mercy, and justice.  As stated again from the aforementioned book, “The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath.  It was the most just and gracious act in history,” (p.158). 

Oh, how we can rejoice!  For those who are in Christ there is no condemnation and no wrath to receive.  As we contemplate this truth, may our hearts be drawn to utter praise and thanksgiving as we consider the wonder of the cross knowing that God’s wrath has been satisfied.       

Even Me

My mind can scarcely comprehend it.  Try as I might, I do not know why God invited me in.  Me, a sinner with no righteousness of my own.  What business have I to enter into the courts of the most Holy One?  

As I reflect, I remember…

Human rebellion and garments of skin.  Noah’s family, the lone remenant.  The choosing of a people, a nation.  A baby drawn from the water to lead.  One shepherd boy turned mighty king, one meek man turned warrior.  A prostitute in a Messianic genealogy, and twelve men chosen to follow.  One blood stained cross.  One empty tomb.  

God chose that way.  He chose the people, the history, the story of redemption.  And He chose to love even me.  How can I fully fathom the magnitude of this truth?  I can only through tears ask, “Why?”  

The answer is the same as it has been from the beginning: mercy and grace, glory and good pleasure.  All belonging to God alone.  

He is just to give justice and loving to bestow mercy and compassion.  His attributes never wavering, He is all of who He is at all times.  Doing all for His glory, He does all that He pleases.   

He was pleased to make coverings, to save and redeem.  Pleased to invite me in.  

In all He is glorified, for He alone is sovereign over all.  I, only a sinner saved by grace.     

I can only marvel- and tremble- at who He is. 

The Lord of all chooses the plot and He has called me by name.  His ways are higher, how can I possibly understand?   

Again I remember…

An imperfect rock to start His church, and a zealot in chains to spread His Word.  One man to be martyred by stones.  Another to behold a beatific vision of what is yet to come.  

Why and for what reason He has chosen even me, this side of heaven I cannot fully know.  Of only this am I certain: it is for His glory and because it pleases Him to do so.  What response can I possibly offer my King but that of surrender and reverent worship?  With a humble heart I can only pray it will be ever so. 

A Call to Abide: The Quenching of a Rebellious Spirit

I’m not what most people would call a rebel.  I follow the rules, prefer order and schedules, and generally like to color inside the lines.  Yet somehow all of this changes when I sit in the driver’s seat of my car.  For whatever reason, I cannot bring myself to simply drive in accordance with those numbers printed on the large square signs!  Be it a 35 or 70 mph zone, I find myself consistently- and intentionally- disobeying the law.  Ahhh, a rebel revealed. 

A rebel by nature.   

Genesis 3 explains our fallen condition, how we are by nature rebels against a holy God with a desire to rule ourselves.  In the event we should ever minimize the depth of our depravity, Scripture is replete with clear depictions of our fallen human nature.  Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all like sheep have gone stray; we have turned- every one- to his own way.”  Rebels we are.  Rebels who a part from Christ are enemies of God and children of wrath with a hostile mind (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:3, Colossians 1:21).    

But God.

Perhaps two of the best words in all of human language.  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).  Praise God for this most beautiful salvation: rebellious sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, all for the glory of God alone.  

Although I am a sinner saved by grace who now delights in God rather than sin, I and all believers will continue to wrestle with the flesh- our fallen human nature- for the remainder of our time on earth.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this struggle in Romans chapter 7, reminding us that this ongoing battle is present because we are in Christ.  If his Spirit were not within us there would be no battle!  We would simply continue in our flesh, living unconvicted of our sin.  

But what a battle it is.  Our innermost desire is to please Christ, yet we are tempted by the desires of our flesh.  As a new creation we love the Gospel and God’s word but struggle at times with a rebellious heart.  What then can be done?  Thankfully, the disciple whom Jesus loved recorded the words of our Savior, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  

Because Jesus knew.  He knew the condition of our wayward hearts, the weaknesses of our flesh.  This is why he calls us to abide in him.    

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

In the above verse the Greek word ‘meno,’ (translated ‘abide’) means to remain or to stay.  Furthermore, meno means “to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may not end or stop” (www.stepbible.org).  Jesus makes it clear that we are to remain continuously in him. 

How then do we abide in him?  

The truth is that in order to abide in Christ we must abide in his word.  Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  John later wrote in his second epistle, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.  Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (2 John 1:9).  To know Christ is to know his word; for it is in his word that he has revealed himself as the Word incarnate, the truth, and the only way by which we come to the Father.   

Peter knew the power of Jesus’ words.  Although he was often stubborn and hard-headed, he got it.  He knew who Jesus was.  When the disciples were asked by Jesus if they also wanted to leave him (as many others had) Peter exclaimed, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  This is one of my favorite statements from Peter in all of Scripture.  Indeed, the words of Jesus bring life and have the power to tame our rebellious hearts and lead us to true freedom.  For if we abide, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).      

However, true abiding comes not only through knowing and believing the word, but through obedience to it.  James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  John emphasized this as well when he wrote, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6).  

And how did Jesus walk?  He walked in perfect obedience to his Father; for it was this obedience that lead him to the cross.  While perfection is impossible in our flesh, the Holy Spirit continues the work of sanctification in our hearts.  For as we are transformed through the reading and the application of the word we will grow in our desire to live a life of obedience to the will of God.  We will become not only hears of the word, but doers as well.  We will live a life in submission to God’s will rather than to our flesh.   

As followers of Christ we must pursue God’s word with intentionality and zeal, resolving like the Apostle Paul to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).  For the more we read, the more we will know Christ.  And the more we know him and are obedient to his words, the more our hearts will be continuously changed; for our desires will align with his and we will be made more like him, bearing fruit and growing in holiness as we resist and flee temptation. Indeed, our rebellious tendencies will crumble and we will find true joy and freedom as we abide in our Savior.      

Truth for These Hard Times

In the fall of 2001 I had no idea I was taking one of the most important courses of my entire academic career.  If you had asked me about it at the time, my 19 year old self would have rolled her eyes and told you what a drag the required Intro to Philosophy class was.  In retrospect I suppose there were some aspects of the class I found interesting, but overall it was not at the top of my priority list.  But here I am 20 years later wishing I had paid more attention.  

Although I don’t recall much of that class, I do remember being surprised when the topic of truth became the focus of study.  I remember thinking, “How could truth be up for debate?”  After all,  truth is what guides us and what ultimately determines how we live our lives!  I could understand the concept of disagreeing about what is true; I just had no idea there was disagreement about the existence of truth.  Turns out I had a lot to learn about not only the world of philosophy, but the world in general. 

As I sit here reminiscing about those long ago discussions of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, it occurs to me that truth has been up for debate ever since the third chapter of Genesis.  And what a dispute it continues to be.  

In our post modern world we are told that truth is perception.  That it’s relative.  We see this concept at work daily in the ever changing standards of cultural virtue.  Behaviors and language deemed appropriate six months ago are now considered offensive, oppressive, or racist.  It seems the rules are always changing- and there’s no way to win.  

We’re even told we can be the possessor of our very own “truth.”  Catchy phrases such as “speak your truth” or “live your truth” have been the battle cry of this modern time.  The idea that what is true for me may not be true for you has been readily accepted.  But all of this begs the question: If truth can change and is different for every person, then does it even exist at all?  

And let’s not forget the contradictory storylines fed to us by the media.  Sifting through the daily headlines and articles of various news sources can make our heads spin.  How are we to know what to believe and not believe?  If truth does exist, is it possible to even know it?  

We live in a world of confusion so of course we’re confused….how could we be anything less? 

Interestingly, confusion was the serpent’s MO in the Garden of Eden.  And all it took were four words:  “Did God actually say…”  These words were enough to plant the seed of doubt in Eve’s mind; enough to make her question the truth spoken to her by her Creator.  Two verses later she was fed an outright lie: “You will not surely die.”  Confusion and doubt quickly gave birth to the abandonment of absolute truth.    

It seems the enemy hasn’t changed tactics.  Because as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.    

How then can we escape the enemy’s lies and this worldly confusion regarding truth?  Only one way: by holding fast to the Word of God, knowing that all Scripture is breathed out by God himself (2 Timothy 3:16).  For just as God does not change, neither does His Word!  Our God is the great ‘I AM’ who is the same today as He has been from all eternity.  Therefore, His Word stands unaffected by the passing of time or the changing of culture.  As Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” 

As we cling to the reading of God’s Word, we are lead to hold unswervingly to he who is truth.  I invite you now to join me for a brief “tour of truth” of the gospel of John; a tour that introduces you to the person of Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate.     

John 1 is without a doubt one of my favorite chapters of Scripture.  (I encourage you even now to pause and read it in its entirety.)  The first sentence of this great gospel begins this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”   A few verses later we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v.14).  From the beginning of John we learn Jesus is the Word, and that he is one with the Father containing glory, steadfast love, and truth.   

Jesus reiterates this truth a few chapters later when he addressed both the Jews and the Pharisees.  In John chapter 8 Jesus clearly proclaimed he was the Light of the World and one with the Father.  Though the Pharisees scoffed at his words, Jesus continued speaking to the Jews who had believed him: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” (31-32).  What a beautiful invitation to freedom; for to know Christ is to know the truth of salvation and sanctification.  

In John 14 Jesus assured Thomas he knew the way to the place Jesus would prepare for him in the future.  Not understanding, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus’ response?  He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (v.6).  Jesus clearly stated again that he is truth and the only name given to men under heaven by which we must be saved.      

The night of his arrest, Jesus prayed a high priestly prayer for his disciples and for all believers (John 17).  Part of his prayer was for the sanctification of his disciples, for Jesus knew the world would hate them as it hated him.  In light of the coming trials they would face, Jesus prayed for them to be set apart and holy.  The means by which Jesus prayed for their sanctification is found in verse 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  This verse speaks to my soul.  Indeed, truth is the means by which holiness is attained, and is the way by which we have peace. 

Before his crucifixion Jesus was brought before Pilate for questioning.  When asked if he was in fact the king of the Jews, Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world.  Pilate again asked if he was a king.  Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king.  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world- to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (v.37).   Pilate retorted by asking, “What is truth?” as he walked away.  Imagine.  Pilate’s eyes beheld the answer to that philosophical question of old as he stood within feet of the embodiment of truth.  And he didn’t even recognize it.     

Dear friends, God has graciously given us his written Word so that we can know absolute truth absolutely.  And even more, He has given us His Son, the Word in flesh appearing who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Do not then be deceived by the world or the tactics of confusion laid out by the enemy.  Rather, cleave to that which has been revealed: God, the creator of heaven and earth has made a way for lost sinners to be reconciled to Him through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.  Our Savior, once buried, has been resurrected and is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf.  Furthermore, our Heavenly Father has given us His Spirit and has made known in His Word how we are to live until we are united with him for all eternity.  This. Is. Truth.  It is the truth we must fix our gaze upon, and the truth that we, like the Apostle Paul, must resolve to know with our whole being.     

In these hard times, may we remember that our God is the God of truth, in whom nothing is false.  May this truth be our confidence and that which we love beyond anything else; for upon this truth rests the entirety of our lives, both now and forevermore. 

Goals and Growing Pains

Google tells me that approximately 50 percent of the U.S. population makes New Years’ resolutions.  While I prefer to think I make goals rather than “resolutions,” I guess you could put me in that category.  And while you’re at it, you might as well add me to the 38 percent of the resolution-makers who resolve to “get in shape.”  

Now, those of you who know me might be a little puzzled right now because you know I have never completely taken a break from working out…ever.  But over the last two years my desire for training has very much been replaced by a desire to drink coffee, write, and read.  And while I know this is okay, I nonetheless would like to swing back to a more consistent physical fitness routine.  That being said, I’ve been back in both the weight room and the pool over the last few weeks.  While it had only been a few months since I had last seen the weight room, it had been a year and a half since I graced the pool.  

When I think back to the kind of shape I used to be in- swimming a mile or more at a time with no problem- I am humbled to now find myself grow tired after only 100 meters.  And while I’ve never been a crazy heavy lifter, I’ve definitely been able to bench more than the bar in the past.  But that’s where I’m at right now.  I’m taking breaks after swimming 50-100 meters and benching and squatting an embarrassing amount.  And I’m mostly fine with that.  The part that’s not fine is the prideful competitor, impatient to be “back” to where she once was.  But the part that is fine is the part that had the gumption to start again; the part that is excited for the growth to come.  

Make no mistake, even though I’ve eased back in, I’ve had my share of sore muscles- and I know there will be more to come.  Many more.  Because as anyone who has ever gone after a goal knows (athletic or otherwise), there is no progress without growing pains; for these two truths are certain: 1) Getting better hurts and 2) We can’t get better on our own.  

As I thought about why those growing pains are so painful it occured to me that part of the growth (and therefore pain) happens when our pride takes some hits.  For progress to occur we have to be willing to look foolish and to perhaps even fail a time or two; to be willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything.  That is uncomfortable with a capital U.  I for one do not like to admit my shortcomings, faults, or weaknesses!  But while laying down pride is difficult, it is absolutely necessary if we ever hope to achieve what we have resolved to achieve.  It is the laying aside of pride that enables us to even start.  And it is the attitude of humility that allows us to accept help from others.  

As I said, we can’t make progress solely on our own.  Sooner or later we’re going to need a coach, mentor, teacher, or friend to sharpen us.  We’re going to need someone to tell us specifically where we’re falling short and what we need to do to improve.    

In writing this post I couldn’t help but think of the former world record holder and two time gold medal winner of the decathlon, Ashton Eaton.  The decathlon is a 2 day track and field event consisting of 10 total events: the 100 meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meter dash, 110 meter high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and the 1500 meter run.  Let me tell you: that takes a lot of coaching.  While runners absolutely have to work on their form and efficiency, field events and hurdles require a tremendous amount of finesse and technique.  I recall him once saying, “My entire life is people telling me what to do!”  I can only imagine the amount of humility it takes to be receptive to that level of constant correction and coaching!  Clearly, listening to the words of his coaches paid off.     

I had my own encounter with coaching this past week.  With a great amount of anxiety, I allowed a friend who is an accomplished writer and editor to read an article I wrote for simplydevoted.net.  I hate to admit it, but this is something I have shied away from as a new writer…even though I know it’s what I need. My issue is two-fold: I like to be naturally good at whatever I do, and I fear being told I’m not good at the thing I want to be naturally good at!  Ahhh, pride.  There it is, getting in the way of progress.  As it turns out, the constructive criticism I received was very helpful and will only make me a better writer.  This experience combined wtih Mr. Eatons’ example will stand in my mind as encouragement to face my fears and humbly listen to honest feedback from others.

As we look forward to the coming year, I pray we will have the courage to go after our goals- be they related to fitness and health, education and career, improving a skill, or in regard to character.  May we all have perseverance to withstand the growing pains of humility as we allow ourselves to be sharpened by those who make us better.  I look forward to seeing our progress; the progress made one meter at a time, one word at a time, one day at a time.    

Hopeful Expectation

Following some time in the Word and prayer this Christmas Eve morning, I felt a twinge of sadness- of longing.  I have to say, this feeling took me a bit by surprise.  I had prayed for God to prepare my heart for the celebration of the birth of Jesus in the flesh, that joyous event filled with awe, wonder, and promise.  And I thought how amazing it is to live in a time to know the story of the Savior’s birth.  For thousands of years God’s people awaited the Messiah.  Thousands of years.  They didn’t know the story.  They had no idea about Mary, Joseph, shepherds, or wise men.  Nor did they know about the cross or the empty tomb. 

What must it have been like to wait for a promise for so long?  Then it hit me: the longing I feel now is the same of the Israelites of the Old Testament.  Like they, I’m waiting for the Messiah- though not for his birth, but for his return.  

As has been the case since the fall of man, this year the world has experienced illness, loss, and devastation of all kinds accompanied by fear, anger and sorrow.  I can’t help but think, how long must we wait?  My heart longs for the King to come and make all things new. 

But come again he will.  The book of Hebrews speaks of our glorious inheritance secured by the Prince of Peace, the author and anchor of our salvation who came to us as a babe in the manger.  The hope of all humanity who came once in flesh 2000 years ago will come again.  

This Christmas may we all be filled with praise and adoration as we consider the mercy and grace given to use from God at the birth of the Christ.  And in our restless longing may we not grow weary in our spirit; for the Son of Man will come again- though not as a babe born to a virgin, but as the Rider on the white horse coming for his bride.  May we  rejoice this season in the fulfilled promise of a Savior as we continue to wait in hopeful expectation of what is still to come.      

The Light of Life

*This post was published in this month’s issue of Faith on Every Corner Magazine. Please check out this amazing (and free!) online magazine at faithoneverycorner.com

It’s impossible to imagine the wonder of Christmas without the brilliance of thousands of twinkling lights.  In fact, the lights are one of my favorite parts of the season.  As a child, I loved riding in the backseat of my grandparents’ car at nighttime as we drove around our small town ohhhing and ahhhing at all of the festive lights.  And without a doubt, our church’s Christmas Eve candlelit service was my favorite service of the whole year. I loved the sense of awe and majesty those candles commanded.  As an adult, I still look forward to the cozy glow of the lights from our living room Christmas tree.          

Until recently I just assumed the lights were part of the holiday season in that they marked this unique time of the year; that they were nothing more than pretty decorations and tradition.  And maybe they are those things.  But for those who know Christ, perhaps they serve as a reminder of the essence of Christmas- a reminder that light has come into the world.  

The first 5 verses of the gospel of John give us incredible insight into the person of Jesus Christ.  It is in this passage we learn the baby who was born in Bethlehem is the eternal Word and the creator of all things.  And not only that, but all things were created for him!  He himself was the life and light of men, unable to be overcome by darkness.  

A few chapters later Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” (John 8:12).  He spoke these words during the Festival of Booths, a celebration commemorating God’s faithfulness to the Israelites during their time of desert wandering after the exodus.   During this festival, God’s provision of a fiery cloud at night would have been remembered:  

 “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night,” (Exodus 13:21).   

What Jesus claimed here was simply incredible.  He said that he was the light; the light to which the pillar of fire pointed.   

The glory of God had been in that great cloud night after night.  Later, His glory filled the tabernacle and eventually the temple:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” (2 Chronicles 13b-14)

This glory returned in Jesus who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  Imagine.  The glory of God in the face of a baby.  The glory of God laying in a manger.  

And this glory forever shines brightly in the face of Jesus Christ.  “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

This light is spiritual life in Christ who raised us from our spiritual deadness.  It is the light of our salvation.  For as Colossians 3:1 states, And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” 

This is the light we celebrate this Christmas season.  

700 years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”   Praise God that this has been and continues to be so!  May we give thanks now and always for the glorious light that entered the world as a newborn child; the light that now sits at the right hand of the throne of God; the light that will reign forevermore.

%d bloggers like this: