Monday, August 26, 2013

Grasping for Hope

Please welcome guest author Melissa Dorrance! Melissa works on staff for DiscipleMakers and has a passion for seeing others grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. She also loves sunshine, breakfast, and silliness. For anyone who is weary in the fight and in need of some encouragement, this post is for you. 

“He has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3)

Sometimes it’s hard to hope.  You are stuck in your sin, you are drowning in life’s circumstances, or maybe you are just weary of fighting the same battle day in and day out.  The absence of hope is draining: it leads to exhaustion, anger, guilt, despair, and giving up the fight.  Satan seems to have won.

NOT TRUE! The battle is not over, Satan has NOT won, and you should not give up!  We have a hope to hold onto in the midst of the longest, bloodiest battles.  1 Peter 1:3-4 reminds us that we have a LIVING HOPE in Jesus Christ.  This is not a hope that is merely “personified” into an animate idea, but He, Jesus, our Hope, is actually a living, breathing real person.

Jesus as a Living Hope:
  1. Death could not bring Him down.  No matter how deep your sin seems to run, no matter how much suffering you are experiencing, you can bank on the fact that it is NOT bigger or stronger than Jesus.  If you put your faith in Him, you have hope because He will win. He is alive.
  2. It’s not just that you hope in Him, but your hope is Him. Your Hope went to a cross for you and for your hopeless times so that you would NEVER have to be without Him. And now He promises to live in you through His Spirit.  Radical.  You actually have an embodiment of hope with you always to strengthen and encourage you.
  3. Because hope takes the form of Jesus Christ we don’t have to wait for salvation, it is already here. Grasp the hope that is ready for the taking.
God’s Word is full of reminders that we have this hope.  It is filled with promises that should spur us on and remind us of the hope that we always have.  Read them, mediate on them, say them out loud to yourself and then REBUKE Satan and your own flesh (out loud!).  These hope-filled promises are in the Bible for a reason; they are there because they are deeply true. They are testified to from One who is our Living Hope.  Here are just a few:

1 Peter 1:4 “You have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” You cannot mess it up.

Philippians 2:13 “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God has not abandoned you and is still at work!

Ephesians 3:20 “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” You cannot even imagine the works God is doing in your heart and in your life.  Jesus outdoes your very dreams.

Joel 2:25 “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.” What has been lost will be redeemed. 

Jeremiah 29:13-14 “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD.” God is not playing hide-and-go-seek.  He has not abandoned you.  He is there and available.

Have hope!  Jesus is alive; the promises for redemption are not just far away dreams, but immediate realities that can happen in the midst of raging battles. Jesus’ resurrection authenticates the real, tangible truths of the Bible that we can hold onto when despair creeps in.

It is not easy to always choose hope, but if we believe in Jesus it is what we are called to do and it is a gift we receive.  When despair creeps in, cling to your Hope and His promises.  You may not always believe the promises for redemption are true, but you can KNOW that the author of them is true.  And because the author is true and living it means there MUST BE hope and thus that the promises are real.  Sin is being defeated and victory is imminent.

The hope Jesus bought on the cross covers all sin and redeems all brokenness.  He is our hope for today, tomorrow, and eternity.  Drop whatever else you try to put hope in.  People: dead or dying. Money: not a living thing.  Other prophets: dead.  Jesus: ALIVE!

Painfully hoping,

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Fight for Joy

Please welcome guest author Ian Busko! Ian is a software developer, and he blogs at Blood on the Altar. He loves scripture, Biblical preaching, and lolcats.  Enjoy this vulnerable post, and may it encourage you to fight for joy in Christ!

I am a Christian. I walk with Jesus and talk to Him every day. Two years ago, I preached on the duty and delight of following Jesus. My sole mission is to remind people that Jesus is better than anything else they can imagine.

Confession: I feel like a hypocrite. After this self-exalting and  religious-sounding boast, my private life is characterized by depression and struggling to believe the gospel. Some days I wake up. Some days I wish I hadn't. Some days I run to God, others I run from him. It happens. I feel like I live in a pit, trapped by my own emotions.

In my struggle, I feel completely alone.

Which is not true, unless, of course, Paul is a liar.

The Christian worldview gives us reason for rejoicing. While it does reveal that we are more sinful than we could ever hope, it boldly proclaims that we are more loved than we can ever imagine. The God of grace is not only with us, but is making all things new. "This light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Cor. 4:17)."

It often feels like a struggle to believe that I should be rejoicing. Life is hard. I sin. Other people sin against me. I make bad choices. Other people make bad choices for me. I can't think of a single person I've that I haven’t let down. Some days big things happen, other days the little things seem big. There is a real fight to be joyful in God.

Too often, I go to God to feel better. What if that isn't God's plan for the suffering?

Too often we try to bandage the pain. When we do this, we ignore the chance to grapple with God and our own hearts. Scripture paints a vivid  picture of this fight in Psalm 42.

In the beginning of the Psalm, the psalmist longs for the day that he will again see the goodness of God. "All the day long, my tears have been my food!" is his cry. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" is his refrain. After he's done here, he keeps going for another full Psalm.

But he doesn't stop there. He isn’t content in being upset.
He's fighting for joy in The Lord.

After his lament, he goes on to remind himself of the character of God. In verses 6 and 7, he writes that his soul is cast down, THEREFORE he will remember God and his mighty works, his awesome power, and his steadfast love. While he certainly hasn't climbed back out of the pit, his refrain has changed: "hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."

This should be our goal as well. While we may or may not feel joyful, we have a tremendous opportunity to shut up and listen to the truth. We must learn to meditate on the character of God. We can fight to find joy in God.

Ultimately, this fight is an opportunity to know Jesus. He experienced trials. He faced temptation. He poured out his life for others, expecting nothing in return. He endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy set before Him. His joy, the goal of everything he worked and suffered for, was our redemption. It's personal.

For us, the fight for joy involves a lot of hanging on and waiting for God to show up.

If you feel like life right now is a fight for joy, I have found the following to be helpful:
  1. Don't stay silent (Colossians 1:24, James 5:16, Galatians 6:2). Use discretion, but don't let feelings of isolation become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Paul said that we fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, I believe he meant that we as a body could relate in specific sufferings that Jesus didn't endure, like divorces, break-ups, financial failures, homework, or broken smartphones.
  2. Don't rely on your own strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10). At the end of the day, you may succeed and you may fail. Either way, God is working things out for your good and His glory. Being prideful and being 'right' might bring momentary comfort, but it won't help you find real, lasting joy.
  3. Remember the gospel (Romans 8:1, 2 Cor. 4:16-18). You are saved by Jesus and His faithfulness alone. Your destiny is eternal, this suffering is temporal. 
If you feel like this is a joyful season, praise God! But also, think about doing some of the following:
  1. Bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:1-5, Romans 12:15). If your spiritual life is full of joy, try listening to someone who isn't feeling so joyful. Encourage them. But mainly listen. This will also benefit you later when it is your turn to need help.
  2. Meditate on the promises of God (Psalm 119:9-16, Psalm 16, 63). Life won’t always be easy, and if you don’t prepare then you will be in for an unpleasant surprise.
In closing, if you have the time, I'd also recommend taking some time to read and meditate on Psalm 88. I believe this is the penultimate psalm of suffering, but it is also the psalm that most accurately portrays the suffering of Christ on the cross that ultimately sealed God's promises for you and I, if you are in Christ. And if you aren't, I'd recommend jumping on the boat.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breaking the Silence

Please welcome guest author Katie Mumper! Katie works on staff for UnWorthy Servants, blogs at Beauty Restored, and would describe herself as "busy living the season of life I'm in while keeping my eyes and heart open to whatever God decides to bring next." Enjoy her challenging post, and join her in breaking the silence.

Have you ever been intrigued by the fact that a recovery program that's all about groups and sponsors would have the word "anonymous" in its name.  It's not very anonymous to stand in front of a group of people, announce your name, and then admit to being addicted to alcohol.  But perhaps some of the power of the program comes from the fact that anonymity isn't really an option.  The message seems to be: You think you're alone in this, that no one sees or understands your situation, but that's not the case; there are others who have struggled and found freedom, and they want to help you.

Have you ever wished church services were more like AA meetings...  People could stand and share their struggles without fear of judgment.  Everyone else would respond with understanding nods as they think of their own struggles.  Once you shared your story, you would be paired with someone who would be your mentor.  This person would tell you their own story of finding freedom in the Gospel, how they're still learning to walk in the grace of God.  They wouldn't be a mentor because they had it all together.  They would be a mentor because they would know how far they had come and Who had brought them that far, they would know that walking in the truth of freedom is a daily process. You would know that you are not alone and that there is hope.

Perhaps our unwillingness to be real and honest with each other about what’s going on in our lives has been detrimental to ourselves and to others. How many people go through life missing out on what God has to offer them because they're stuck in sin and pain and lies?  How many are stuck because they don't want anyone else to know what's really going on, because they fear that judgment and disappointment will be the reaction?  How many spend every Sunday morning never realizing they’re sitting next to someone who is going through or has gone through the exact same thing?

So how do we fight the silence? With the Gospel, of course!

Why do we stay silent? Because we fear the condemnation and shame that so often comes with admitting that we aren’t perfect. But the Gospel says there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1)! When Jesus said, “It is finished!” from the cross, He accomplished what was needed so we could break the silence. He ended our need to live perfect lives in order to be saved. He ended shame. He ended our identity as slaves to sin. He ended the power of condemnation by bringing grace and forgiveness, by giving us the opportunity to be new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), by defining our identity with His righteousness instead of our sinfulness. The Gospel gives us the ability to shout into the silence, “I’m not perfect, but Jesus is! And because of Him, I’m forgiven and free from the power of sin!” Not only that, but the Gospel also gives us the ability to encourage others to break the silence by extending to them the same grace God has shown us. Because we know that we don’t stand condemned, we can respond to others’ stories with grace and love instead of judgment.

So how do we take all of that and make it happen practically? Here are three things you can do to break the silence:

  • Ask For Courage: Fear will stop you from moving forward in this endeavor. Find courage by being secure in the truth of the Gospel, the truth that condemnation is gone and there is only grace. No matter how people react to your story, God’s grace and love for you are still real.
  • Share Your Story: This seems pretty obvious, but it’s probably the hardest. Sharing your story requires humility on two levels: 1. You need the humility to realize that when you choose to talk about it, you can ask for help and find the accountability you need to make (or continue making) freedom a reality.  2. You need the humility to realize that when you choose to talk about it, you can help others to know they're not alone and that there is hope for freedom. You share for God’s glory, not your own.
  • Create A Safe Space: This level of honesty and vulnerability doesn’t usually happen in a large-group setting, and it doesn’t happen easily. There's some work required to create a space where people feel safe enough to share.  You have to be willing to get to know people, to spend time with them, to listen to them, to begin sharing some of the small things before you move into the bigger stuff.  You have to be willing to do the work of building trust so they know their story will be met with grace and love and truth instead of condemnation. 

So do you have the courage?  Whether you're just stepping out in the search for freedom or you've been walking in freedom for some time, do you have the courage to break the silence and share your story?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sing the Triumph of His Grace

Please welcome guest author Mark Fodale! Mark works on staff for DiscipleMakers, has a passion to see college students be transformed by the gospel, is a godly husband and father of four, and blogs at The Lion Unleashed. Enjoy his seasoned insight, and may it encourage you in your remembrance of the gospel and fight against sin!

"True Christianity isn't primarily a matter of control; primarily it's overflowing fullness. That is the triumph of grace". - Raymond Ortlund, Jr.

We've all faced it, haven't we?

In the midst of the fight for holiness, we fail. Often miserably. Indeed, Jesus spoke truly when He said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak." (Mark 14.38).

And so, I fail. And then ... a disturbing pattern sets in. Its almost like clockwork. At first I am convicted by my sin, saddened by my weakness. And at that moment of sorrow, a familiar "friend" enters the scene - guilt. And that frequent companion whispers to me words of condemnation, "You call yourself a Christian?", and despair, "Things will never ever change."

Yes, its an all-too-familiar pattern.

And, in response, I typically have four reactions:

    1. I spiral downward, weighed down not only by my sin, but also by the guilt & despair over that sin;
    2. I focus inward, kicking and chastising myself for being a failure;
    3. I rest on self-discipline. That is, I promise myself I'll never do it again. I diligently think through structures and disciplines to curb my appetites and passions.
    4. And then I wait ... for the next time I fail.

Sound familiar?

Centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah pointed God's people beyond the false savior of their own guilt and discipline to the true salvation of God Himself.

You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”
- Isaiah 12.1-2

Could it be true?

Isaiah describes an amazing moment - as sin crushes us, as God's righteous anger is known, we can turn to Him with ... thanksgiving! We can rest on Him as our strength and our song! No longer do we need to sing the song of our failures. No longer do we need to feed the tune of our guilt. But we can trust that God knows us, we can rest that He has chosen us, and we can rejoice that He has rescued and redeemed us through Jesus.

That is the triumph of grace!

We do not need to make our sin all about ... us. We do not need to make our sanctification all about ... us. We are freed from the tyranny of self-loathing, self-discipline, and self-doubt.

Instead we can turn to Christ once again, knowing that He came to save sinners.

When we consider the grace of God rescuing us from ourselves, paying the penalty for all of our sins, restoring to us what we have messed up, and giving us far better than all we could ever ask or imagine, we will say with the apostle Paul, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8.31)

So, as you sin, turn to Jesus. Rejoice that He came for such a moment as this. Rest on Him by faith, knowing that forgiveness is yours. And ask Him to use even this moment to make you more like Him.

Repent? Absolutely. But let your repentance lead you to Jesus. Sing of the triumph of His grace.

"No duty is more pressed in the Bible than this, of rejoicing in the Lord always. It is no less a sin not to rejoice than not to repent." - John Trapp