Friday, December 26, 2014

When the Resolutions Fail

image from shutterstock.com
It’s nearing the end of 2014. You might be looking back now and thinking, “I didn’t accomplish almost anything I planned to do.” That can lead to disappointment and despair, and a resolve to try harder this upcoming year.

You might be reprimanding yourself, all the while pondering how you will do better in 2015. It is good to plan ahead and to set goals. In that sense, New Year’s Resolutions can be helpful. But the problem is, we tend to set goals, and neglect to follow through with them. Sometimes that’s because our goals are too broad.

For instance, consider these typical New Years goals.

Read the Bible.
That’s a nice goal. It’s an admirable goal. But just putting that on your list of New Year’s resolutions won’t guarantee that you’ll accomplish it. Instead, think of what would help you to be faithful in that area. Do you need to do an in-depth Bible study of a particular book? Pick a Bible reading plan? List out how you will discipline yourself for godliness in this area.

Pray more.
Another way to set yourself up for failure. How do you know if you’ve accomplished this goal? How can you keep from making it a quick run-through the prayer list?

Life is bigger than New Year’s resolutions. If you look back at this year disappointed because you didn’t accomplish what you had planned, ask yourself two things:

1. Did I set myself up for failure by creating unrealistic or vague goals?
2. Have I plateaued in my relationship with God? Did I drift in seeking Him?

After you’ve considered those things, look to the cross. Your hope is not found in what you did or did not do this year. You will never perform enough to make yourself right with God. Even as believers, God's acceptance of us is not based on how perfectly we live, it's based on the finished work of Christ. When we sin, when we fail, instead of scolding ourselves, we need to remind ourselves of who we are in Christ. He has performed perfectly and cloaked us in His righteousness.We can run to His mercy and forgiveness and lean upon Him for grace to accomplish what we need to do.

If this year holds regrets for you, don't live in light of those. Live in light of who you are in Christ, and by His power, seek to be more faithful in 2015.


Allison

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Incarnation

image
Incarnation is a stunning word.

The infinite, eternal Jesus put limits on Himself. He, the living Word, became flesh (Jn. 1:14). He laid aside His Creator rights and willingly, humbly, came to live amongst us. Christmas isn’t about a sweet little baby bringing peace on earth. This is the one and only God coming down from His glory to our broken, sin-cursed world. Jesus willingly endured shameful treatment, wrong accusations, hateful words, rejection. And yet He never sinned. He lived the perfect life we needed to live and died in our place that we might experience forgiveness and freedom from sin.

When I ponder the outstanding humility of Jesus, I’m humbled because I don’t always like stepping into others’ lives, bringing truth or gentle correction. It’s hard. Bearing burdens, facing hurts, and experiencing rejection is not easy. My flesh wants to run from that. And yet when I look to Jesus, I wonder that the perfect, all-knowing God could step into our world, knowing what He would face. He had infinitely more reasons to not step into the darkness our sin had brought. Jesus didn’t receive the approval, the friendship, the recognition, the affirmation that often motivates our actions to help others. He was worthy of the worship of all people, and yet He didn’t receive it when He came to earth. It was the opposite.

And yet He came. This is the hope and the joy of the incarnation!

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” 
Gal. 4:4-5

What a perfect time to remember the purpose that Christ came—and to respond in gratitude and worship.

"Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King!"


Allison

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Books of 2014

A number of bloggers have been writing their top books of 2014. It’s neat to see what people have found to be the most impactful books they’ve read over the course of the year.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year compared to the last 5 or so years of my life. So I thought it would be fun to list some of my favorite books from this year, especially since I never got around to writing summaries for many of them. It’s hard to pick the best because I would probably recommend every book I’ve read this year! But here are some of my top picks and why.

What Do They Think of Me? Why Do I Care? (Ed Welch)
Geared towards teens and young adults, this book is easy to read, but filled with deep truths. With many practical examples, Ed Welch addresses common thoughts and struggles of young people, including people-pleasing, but always brings them back to the truth. He reminds that those things flow out of worship and asks questions to help you see what you're believing about God, yourself, and others.





Follow Me (David Platt)
This was one of the first books I read this year, and it inspired and encouraged to make disciples wherever I am. Following Jesus should result in us bringing others to Christ. He talks about crucial topics like salvation and the call to die as we follow Christ.









Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (J.I. Packer)
This is the best book I’ve ever read that clearly explains our part in evangelism and our trust in God’s ability to do the work He will do. I highly recommend it!








Counsel from the Cross (Elyse Fitzpatrick & Dennis Johnson)
This book helped me in its explanation that the imperatives (commands) of scripture are always preceded with the indicatives (who we are). It’s a transformative way to look at the commands of Scripture. We are never told just to obey, it always flows from our relationship with Christ. I love how this book helps you understand the application of the gospel to your own life and the lives of others.




Who Am I? (Jerry Bridges)
Great book on what identity in Christ means and looks like. The phrase “identity in Christ” is one that may not make a lot of sense but it is definitely a Scriptural one, with so many passages in the New Testament speaking of us being “in Christ”. It’s easy to look for our worth, our satisfaction, or our approval in the things we do or the people around us, which inevitably leads to pride as we do well, and depression as we perform poorly. Jerry Bridges expounds on what it means to find our worth and identity in Christ.




The Pursuit of Holiness (Jerry Bridges)
Another fantastic book by Jerry Bridges. This is so helpful in helping believers understand what it means to fight sin and pursue holiness, motivated by the grace of God.


Rescuing Ambition (Dave Harvey)
I’ve read this book before, and this year I listened to the audio version. It reminded me over and over that my problems are worship problems—that my sinful heart often wants to pursue my own glory (selfish ambitions), instead of the glory of God. Dave Harvey writes great personal examples and stories that you can identify with, and then points you to Christ and your need for Him






Relationships: a Mess Worth Making (Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane)
No, this isn't a book about dating, which many have asked me since it's about relationships. It's about all relationships and what God is doing through them. If I was to pick the most influential author in my life this year, it would probably be Paul Tripp. Doing a small group study of “How People Change”, re-reading “Relationships”, and reading many blog articles by Paul Tripp has helped me to look to myself and my sin first in the midst of relationship challenges. This book in particular gives Scriptural hope and helps for dealing with conflict and reminding you of your identity in Christ as you deal with sinful people in a fallen world (yourself being the #1 problem!).



Just Do Something (Kevin DeYoung)
The more I’ve thought about what is taught in this book, the more I've realized how true it is. God used Kevin DeYoung to remind me that one of the most important things in determining God’s will in regards to a decision about school or ministry or a job, is asking if there is a good, local church that I could be a part of where I want to be. Kevin DeYoung makes some excellent points that we tend to be more concerned about our non-moral decisions than we are about God’s commands in Scripture to be holy and to love God wholeheartedly. Through seeking God's face, pursuing the wisdom of other godly believers, and reading Scripture, we can make decisions that honor God, without over-stressing whether we'll be outside of God's will.



Allison

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Looking Back Over 2014

This year has been full.

Full in what sense? In every way. Full of difficulties and joys, full of excitements and disappointments, full of changes, full of burdens, full of God's grace.

In some ways this year has been hard, but God has proved faithful again and again. While I’m often resistant to change and to the difficulties as they come, as I submit my heart to my loving Father, I see Him working to change me in ways that I didn’t realize needed repentance and change. Studying biblical counseling, reading many great books, attending a conference, listening to sermons, fellowshipping with believers, and serving others have all been factors contributing to a deeper understanding of my sin and gratitude for what Christ has done for my sin.

God has shown me areas of complacency, idolatry, worry and fear, ingratitude, self-pity, and selfishness. He's deepened my grasp of the desires that motivate me, and reminded me time and time again that it's not about me. It seems like as soon as I start to understand and take responsibility for an area in the put-off/put-on process of sanctification, God reveals another area of sin in my heart. How gentle and gracious He is with me.

God has been strengthening my faith this year through intercession. Burdens have a way of forcing you to pray, and those times of prayer have been so rewarding as they have prepared me to watch God work. I’ve seen abundant answers to prayers, and while there are still many things I’ve not seen answered yet, God has made Himself known in powerful ways. In prayer, He has often redirected my heart to behold Him and His glory, which makes me more concerned about what He wants than what I want. I'm so grateful for God's goodness to me. 

How has God been at work in you this year?


Allison

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Faithful God

Sometimes my lack of blogging stems from not knowing what to write. Sometimes it's due to lack of time. But other times, it's because God is doing so many things in my heart and life, I don't know where to start. This year has felt that way in a variety of ways.

As I've been working to summarize some of the main things God's taught me and ways He's refined and changed me, I've been in awe of His goodness. I've seen His mercy overflow in new ways each morning.

This year, one of the songs that has ministered and encouraged me and reminded me of the powerful God I serve is this one:

Faithful God by Shai Linne

Part of the lyrics state:
When we believed, You were faithful to save us
And that means You’ll be faithful to change us
And the Spirit of Jesus will keep us ’til
You make us holy and blameless


It's such an incredible truth that God remains faithful even when I am unfaithful to Him, and He continues to work in me, revealing sin, unveiling His holiness, giving me desires to please Him, conforming me to His image. I quickly give up on others, but He never gives up on me. What a great God we serve!

How has God been faithful to you this year?


Allison

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mercy in Not Knowing

I like to plan ahead on everything.

I want to know what's happening next week, next month, and ideally, next year. Make that 5 years. I want to know what God's plans are and how things will happen. I want to be prepared.

But many times I don't know what's happening. There have been times, when as I’ve cried out in prayer about difficult circumstances, relational strain, changes, decisions, or just confusion about the future, I’ve said things to God like:

"Why does this have to happen?"
"Why can’t things stay the same?"
"Why can’t You help me understand what you’re doing?"
"Why can't You just tell me what to do?"
"WHY?"

There's a sense of control in knowing what's happening, even if that control is merely perceived. It also seems logical that we deserve to know what's happening in our lives, and why it is happening. So my heart rationalizes my demanding attitude or complaining spirit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting we hide our true feelings or fears, because God already knows them. It is good to be honest with God. But where should that honesty take us? Like David in many of the Psalms, does it remind us of God’s goodness, His wisdom, and His power? Or does it take us down the road of self-pity, questioning how God could allow such horrible things to happen to us?

Ultimately, do we want to know things that God does not intend for us to know or understand?

“God is also a wise Father who knows when knowledge is too heavy for us. He is not being deceptive when he does not give us the full explanation. He is carrying our burdens (1 Peter 5:7). If we think our burdens are heavy, we should see the ones he’s carrying. The burdens he gives to us to carry are light (Matthew 11:30).” Jon Bloom, God is Merciful Not to Tell Us Everything
What a perspective change! It isn’t cruel of God to not let me in on His plan, to give me a full explanation or to inform me of the outcome of a circumstance. It's His great mercy! He wants me to trust Him, and not to lean on my own understanding.

I like to think my own “wisdom” or understanding is right. I have to recognize that I am finite and limited, but I serve One who is infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful. If I would only look at my situations in light of His glory and grace, I would be much quicker to respond in worship. He is in complete control.

Next time you’re questioning a particular difficulty, be honest with God and remind yourself that He is a wise Father who gives us exactly what we need. It's not always what we want, but it is what we need.



Allison

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gratitude: Responses to Difficulty

The times when our hearts are really revealed come when things are difficult. What is our first response when things get hard?

To complain?
To withdraw?
To find an escape?
To blame God?
To blame others?

We all have sinful responses that come naturally to us, and the difficult circumstances squeeze them out the most. Have you ever heard testimonies of missionaries or those who’ve faced incredibly difficult physical strains, persecution, or other immensely challenging situations, but continue with unwavering hope in Christ and gratitude in Him?

And I complain when my schedule gets interrupted.

The apostle Paul’s attitude as he wrote the book of Philippians is a great example of unwavering hope in Christ. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul didn’t say that because it would be a good catch-phrase for sports’ teams or things we want to accomplish. He wrote that in the midst of very challenging physical circumstances. He had faced tremendous persecution and was writing from prison. I think we often miss the depth of Paul's writing when we turn verses like Philippians 4:13 into a slogan for everything. Paul expressed a few verses before, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Is that your natural response when things don’t go your way?

I'm afraid it's not always mine. 

Paul’s response in Philippians 4 is deeply theological: it’s rooted in His understanding and relationship with God. And yet it’s deeply personal, because his response isn’t something he thought would make a nice statement, he was experiencing it. He knew that God was enough. He grasped what God had saved Him from. And he realized that he could respond in thankfulness no matter what temporary afflictions or troubles came his way.

I pray that God would deepen my understanding of the foundation of my gratitude, that I might respond in thanksgiving no matter what comes my way.

Nancy DeMoss asks,“The choice before you and me today is: Do we only give glory to God for the part of our life that’s going the way we want? Or do we worship Him, trust Him, and give Him thanks, just because He is God—regardless of the dark, painful, incomprehensible places we encounter in our journey?

Giving thanks amidst difficulty isn’t easy. That’s why we need Christ. That’s why our union with Him and our understanding of the gospel is so important. Because gratitude and thankfulness is so much deeper than thinking of the good things God has given us or the blessings we’re experiencing. Because things change, and if our gratitude is based on when life is good, it will falter when we perceive things to be bad. That is why it is essential for our gratitude to be rooted in God. Until we experience everything as loss compared to knowing Christ, it will be hard for us to be truly grateful people.

But when we do experience Christ's redeeming power, we will overflow with thanksgiving!

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your Name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:1-2



Allison

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gratitude: Grateful Responses

In Choosing Gratitude, Nancy DeMoss says that we have two options of responses regarding our circumstances: we can whine, or we can worship. Instinctively, my heart tends to move to whine more than it does worship.

“This is too hard.”
“Why does everything bad happen at once?”
“Why doesn’t God just remove this hardship?”
“When will this situation change?”
“Why am I not seeing this answer to prayer?”

If I would look to God, I would remember that He holds all things in His hands, that He is good and does good, that He is the source of all power, that no purpose of His can be thwarted, and that I can trust Him. But where does my heart naturally wander? To complaining or whining, as if I had a better idea than God Himself.

Reminds me of Moses, who when God told him He would use him to rescue the Israelites from slavery, retorted, “I’m not eloquent…I’m slow of speech and tongue." (Ex. 4:10) He dared to question God’s wisdom. God’s response was to rebuke him: “Who has made man’s mouth?” Oh yeah...

Nancy DeMoss says, “Forgetfulness and ingratitude go hand in hand.” It sounds silly when we read a story like that of Moses’, until we compare it to our own lives. How often does our forgetfulness of God's power and wisdom lead us to respond in ingratitude?

The problem when we whine is that it destroys how God wants to use that difficulty to refine us.
Complaining prevents me from being grateful for what God has given.
Stewing over a relational challenge prevents me from being grateful for that person.
Lamenting over something not happening prevents me from being grateful if it does happen.

It takes a lot of humility to be grateful. To be grateful, I must realize that any source of good is outside of me, and I often want the applause and approval of others for myself. Ingratitude ultimately stems from pride—thinking I deserve better, that I need a particular thing, that it’s owed to me.

In order to become grateful people then, we must make a habit of confessing and repenting of our ungrateful attitudes, and then renew our minds in the truth of the gospel (what Christ has done for us when we were completely undeserving). Identifying specific places where we are prone to complain and express ingratitude is another step towards becoming a grateful person. We cannot put-off what we have not identified, and we cannot put-on if we haven’t put-off. Merely confessing to God, “sorry for being ungrateful” will not change your future actions. Without heart transformation, your ingratitude will seep out, even if it's not in the exact same area as before.

What areas is God convicting where you tend to whine instead of worship? 
What would biblical repentance look like? 



Allison

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Heartbeat of Reformed Theology

What comes to mind when you hear the term reformed theology? There are lots of things that people automatically think, some positive, some negative. 

I wanted to share this article I read that I believe encapsulates reformed theology well. The author gives many aspects of the "heartbeat of Reformed Theology," but in the end, sums it up:

"I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after."
Jason Helopoulos
Everything--from salvation, to sanctification, to glorification--is ultimately about God's glory, which is why John Piper asks, “Do you feel loved by God because you believe He makes much of you, or because you believe He frees you and empowers you to enjoy making much of Him?”

P.S. Gratitude series will be continuing soon!



Allison

Monday, November 3, 2014

Gratitude: Gospel Driven or Blessing Driven?

There is a lot of talk about thankfulness and gratitude. After all, no one wants to be around a complaining person. And gratitude is said to boost your emotional state. But what is our gratitude based upon?

The blessings we enjoy?
The people we love?
How life is going?
Comparing to those worse off than us?

While those could be reasons for gratitude, in reality, our gratitude is based on none of those things. Its basis is not things we receive, but a Person. Our gratitude should stand in stark contrast from the shallow gratitude the world offers, because our foundation for gratitude is based upon the finished work of Christ on the cross.

“…if we turn our gratitude for all these blessings away from the One who provides them, we’re left with a handful of colorful thread—yes—but no pattern, no connection between them, nothing to arrange these scraps into anything truly useful or even just plain beautiful.” Nancy DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude (emphasis mine)

Oswald Chambers remarks, “The thing that awakens the deepest well of gratitude in a human being is that God has forgiven sin.” Has God forgiven your sin? Those who have been forgiven of their sin should be the ones filled with the deepest gratitude. Sadly, instead we often complain, whine, and express discontentment. In reality, we’re a lot like the Israelites, who experienced God’s power and goodness and faithfulness, and then turned around and complained about something else.

I’ve recently been listening to the song “My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness” by the Gettys. It has beautiful words. Consider the first verse:

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who bore my pain;
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace
And gave me life again;
Who crushed my curse of sinfulness
And clothed me in His light
And wrote His law of righteousness
With pow'r upon my heart.

When’s the last time you spontaneously responded in praise and worship to God for what He has done for you in Christ? If it’s been a while, maybe you haven’t been immersing yourself enough in the truth of the gospel. Because if we really see who we were before Christ— foolish and darkened in our understanding, disobedient, led astray, without hope, dead in our trespasses, strangers and alienated from Christ, then that should well-up gratitude in our hearts for what He has done for us.

Don’t think there’s anything in your life worth thanking God for? Pour over the Scriptures and see what God has done for you. If you have been redeemed, then you have much to be grateful for!



Allison

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gratitude: Intro

One of my top viewed posts here on my blog is one I wrote years ago on complaining vs. thankfulness. Since it was such a long time ago that I wrote that, I’ve considered writing more on thankfulness for a while, but have been slow at getting around to it. Recently I determined that this would be good timing, since Thanksgiving is approaching.

I began thinking about aspects of thankfulness, and pulled out a book to read to get me started, “Choosing Gratitude” by Nancy DeMoss.

Little did I know that God’s purpose for me in writing on thankfulness was not to just write on thankfulness, but reveal to me how ungrateful I am.

I know I don’t always express my gratitude as I should, but I didn’t consider myself ungrateful. Isn’t it funny how we can view ourselves in such a positive light, minimizing our sins, yet often magnify the sins of those around us? After all, I’m not one to complain about much. Other people are a lot worse, right? But when I honestly look at my life, and see how often I’m looking at circumstances in light of me and responding based on how things affect me, well, that’s another story. Maybe I’m not as grateful as I’d like to think.

Choosing Gratitude” has challenged me, and God has been using it to show me that I need to cultivate a spirit of gratitude more intentionally.

This reminds me of a passage to me in the Psalms from Psalm 40:1-5. It talks about God’s deliverance, pulling me out of the pit of destruction and setting my feet on firm ground. Verse five responds in thanksgiving:

“You have multiplied, O Lord my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us; none can compare with You! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.”

I want my heart to overflow with thankfulness like this far more than I do. I want to be known as a grateful person, not so people will look to me, but so that they will see how much God has done for me and praise Him! I don’t want to steal the credit from the One who deserves it.

God has much to do in me. This series on gratitude is not so much of a list of steps to make you a more grateful person, but preaching to myself, because I need this the most.


Allison

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Selfishness of Irritation

Have you ever considered how selfishness generally drives your irritation? Consider this portion of an article from Desiring God:



The Selfishness of Irritation
Our irritability never has its roots in the soils of righteousness. It springs out of the soil of selfishness and springs up fast, like the sin-weed that it is. We get irritated or easily provoked, not when God’s righteousness or justice is scorned, but when something we want is being denied, delayed or disrupted. It works like this:
  • When I’m weary I want rest, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m sick or in pain I want relief, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m preoccupied I want uninterrupted focus, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m running late I want to avoid appearing negligent, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m disappointed I want my desire fulfilled, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m fearful I want escape from a threat, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m uncertain I want certainty, preferably reassuring, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m enjoying something I want to continue until I wish to be done, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.

Do you ever find yourself doing those things? I can think of personal examples, and I'm sure you can as well. The article continues...
  
"The reason irritability is unloving, unrighteous anger is that it is a selfish response to an obstacle to our desire. What we desire may not be sinful, but a selfish response to its denial, delay or disruption is a failure to trust God at all times (Psalm 62:8)—and often a failure to value, love, and serve another human soul.

Jesus didn’t die for our punctuality, earthly reputation, convenience, or our leisure. But he did die for souls. It is likely that the worth of the soul(s) we’re irritable with is infinitely more precious to God than the thing we desire. We must not dishonor God, whose image that person bears, by being irritable with them. There are necessary times for considered, thoughtful, measured, righteous, loving anger at priceless but sinful souls. But there is never a right time for irritability. Love is not irritable."


You can read the conclusion for how to biblically deal with irritation here.
 

Allison

Monday, October 13, 2014

True Woman '14 recap

This weekend was the True Woman 2014 conference. While I wasn’t able to attend, I had the opportunity to live stream many of the sessions. It was powerful!

Joni Eareckson Tada shared her testimony and some of the work of God in her life in the last 47 years. She was paralyzed in a diving accident at the age of 17. She shared the realities and struggles of living with paralysis, chronic pain, and cancer, yet her unswerving confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness overflowed as she spoke. A couple quotes that stood out to me were these:

"God does not remove hardships. No, He pushes them my way to reveal the spitefulness and selfishness within me."

"Suffering is the textbook that will teach you who you really are."

Mary Kassian spoke from 2 Timothy 3:6-7. I’ve never thought that deeply about that particular passage; so many things about it were striking. The main thing I was reminded of is how sin creeps in so deceptively. I need to fight hard against even seemingly small sins, to immerse myself in the truth of God’s Word, and to not cater to my flesh. Failing to deal with sin allows others sins to pile up. Sin is such a serious matter, yet it’s tempting to make light of it. I daily need to be reminded of what the penalty Christ had to pay for my sins.

I was reminded through this conference that I so easily get caught up in wanting circumstances or situations to change. But as Nancy DeMoss said, “Anything that makes me need God is a blessing.” He wants to use my circumstances to draw me closer to Him, to reveal the sin and selfishness in my own heart, to break me of my idols, to uncover the wrong desires and motivations. He wants to change me! If I would only remember that the deepest work needed is not outside of me, but in me. And what a blessing it is that the trials and difficulties I've faced have been some of the sweetest times of fellowship with Christ, as He has refined and changed my heart.

I’m so thankful for the grace of God and His goodness in the midst of great earthly difficulty. The testimonies I heard through the True Woman conference expressed much greater difficulty than I’ve ever faced, and yet the hope they have in God is unshakable. My heart longs to say, “Yes Lord” to whatever I may face, knowing that it could mean great difficulty, persecution, trials, and suffering. But He is enough, and His ways are best. I can consider any circumstance or trial pure joy, knowing that the testing of my faith is developing the character that God needs to develop in my life.



Allison

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yet Without Sin

"He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin"
 Hebrews 4:15

Hebrews 4 displays a tremendous, hopeful picture for a believer. On earth, Jesus had to deal with sinful people and the effects of a broken world just as we do. Yet even in the midst of temptation, Jesus never sinned. He never got sinfully angry. He never retaliated. He never complained. He never feared the future. He never sunk into depression. He loved perfectly. He served humbly. He gave sacrificially.

What does this truth mean for us?
  • Jesus understands our temptations. Since He Himself faced temptation, Jesus is keenly aware of the temptation we face. In the midst of temptation, Jesus shows us much grace and desires for us to turn to Him and lean on Him (Pr. 3:5-6).
  • We don’t have to give into temptation. Life is full of difficulty. Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t have trials, but that we have a way of escape in the midst of temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). This "way of escape" isn't an escape from the reality of the problem, but an escape from a sinful response on our part. We don't do this by mongering up enough determination on our part. It requires humility and dependence on Christ. We can do nothing apart from Him (Jn 15:5).
  • We can receive mercy and grace in our need. We can draw near to the throne because of the Perfect Lamb who endured temptation and remained sinless, dying a substitutionary death on our behalf. It is His grace that is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:8, Heb. 4:14-16).

John Piper encourages, “So today, let’s trust that Jesus, ‘who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15), will provide a way of escape that is more persistent (Hebrews 13:5), far more powerful (1 John 4:4), and far more satisfying (Hebrews 11:25–26) than what our ‘common to man’ temptations are promising.”

This should give us great hope! In the midst of difficult situations, we can turn to the hope in Christ—that He understands our weakness and temptation and is eager for us to draw near to Him, that we may receive mercy and grace.

Are you turning to Christ in the midst of challenges, difficult situations, and temptation? Or are you trying to make it on your own? God doesn't give grace to those who try to do it on their own. He gives grace to the humble (Jam. 4:6). So humble yourself before God, and receive His mercy and grace.



Allison

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Desires for God

In light of my previous post, John Piper sums up the idea of tasting and seeing God:


“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”




Allison

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Taste and See!

 "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"

Psalm 34:8 tends to be used in context of wall art for the kitchen. Other than that, we don't always think that deeply about that verse. I've been pondering this verse recently, particularly in relation to media intake.


This is what I believe may be the problem for many of us when it comes to our love of media or anything else: we haven’t truly tasted of God. We’ve taken a couple nibbles from God’s table, but we are feasting from the table of the world. Because if we really tasted, we wouldn't be so easily satisfied.

So often we content ourselves with enjoying the temporary pleasures of the world--investing time, money and energy into things that will burn up. We know the pop culture references, the fashion trends, the latest movies, the popular books. I know how easily I can be distracted even by things that aren't sinful, but aren't pointing me to Christ and aren't encouraging me to point others to Christ.

Is it difficult for you to enjoy time in God's Word? Could it be that your time in media is drowning out your love for God? Is it filling up your appetite so that you can't taste from God's table and delight in it?

Think about what you do when you eat something incredible. It’s the best thing you’ve ever tried. Do you just walk away and think, “That was yummy”? No! You tell people...and you tell them they need to eat it too! In fact, you probably won't be content until they just taste it.

Does that happen in your relationship with God? Have you ever pleaded with someone that they need to taste and see God like you have?

Have you tasted so much of God’s goodness and seen His transformational work in your life, that you can’t help but share with others? Do you want more of Him and have an eagerness towards His Word and towards knowing Him? Do you long to see others experience and taste of God's goodness in the ways you have?

If not, have you truly tasted?



Allison

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Counsel Are You Giving?

Everyone gives counsel. We counsel one another when someone asks us a question or for advice in a situation. The problem is that we often give each other counsel without recognizing whether or not it’s biblical.

We all know the Bible has answers, but sometimes don’t believe that we can truly find them in the Bible, or don’t know how the Bible answers specific issues. We must grasp how the Bible applies to daily life, and the only way we can do that is by immersing ourselves in Scripture.  

What does the Bible say about its sufficiency and application to life? 
  • The Scripture is without error, making it trustworthy. Psalm 19:7-8 says the Scripture is perfect, right, and pure. It brings revival, makes the simple wise and rejoices the heart. The Word then is trustworthy, and because it is trustworthy, we can turn to it for answers for all of life. It is through the Scripture that God opens the spiritual eyes of people. Unmistakably, we must take people to Scripture if we desire to see God open their eyes to the truth. Mere talk or a 12 step program will not solve the problem; only the Spirit of God enlightening the soul to the truth of God can produce long-term change.
  • The Scripture is clear. John MacArthur conveys, “Because of its absolute clarity, Scripture brings understanding where there is ignorance, order where there is confusion, and light where there is spiritual and moral darkness.” It is because of the clarity, hope, and wisdom of Scripture that we should desire to take people straight to it and not to other humanistic sources. Hebrews 4:12 says the Word pierces to the heart and discerns its thoughts and intents. This passage shows us that the Word of God, by the illumination of God, discerns far deeper than any person could—the Word reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. If we fail to take people to Scripture, we are neglecting the primary source God uses to bring conviction.
  • The Scripture explains salvation and sanctification. 2 Tim. 3:15 tells us that the Scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”. Verse 16 continues by explaining that the Scriptures "are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". The reason that the Scriptures are sufficient is because they were written by the All-Sufficient One.  

We don’t take people to the Bible because it has a better system of living, more thorough rules or better results. We take them to Scripture because their only hope is in the gospel. If they merely needed a system or set of rules, we could create that. They don’t need rules or steps to follow, they need the hope found only in the Redeemer. And so the Scripture must be our first and primary source of hope, instruction, and counsel, and from that will flow the right results, a life transformed by the power of God.

If we don't understand how the Bible applies to our life, the problem lies not with the Scriptures, but with us. We must be faithful to point people to the hope found in Christ, as revealed in the sufficient Word of God.

Are you careful to point people back to the Word of God and give hope in Christ, or do you spout your own opinion?


Allison

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fear: Getting to the Root

Okay, so you’re convinced you struggle with fear. Now what? Consider these questions that might help you identify the root…


  • What do I worry about or fear? Control? Rejection? Bad news? Broken relationships? Conflict? Failure?
  • What do these fears show that I desire? Approval? A perfect life? Comfort? Ease? No pain? Health? Success?
  • What do I love more than God? Your answers above reveal your idols.
  • What attribute of God do I need to believe? Turn to Scripture to see God and how great and marvelous He is, and look at what aspect you need a deeper understanding of, then study it out and meditate on it. 
  • What should my response be? How should you respond to God?

Now you’re probably ready for some real-life application. Here’s one area of fear I sometimes struggle with:

What do I worry about or fear? Rejection, loss of friendship.

What do these fears show that I desire? Acceptance, comfort.

What do I love more than God? Friends; approval and acceptance from others.

What attribute of God do I need to believe? Goodness—He does all things well. His ways are perfect and I can trust what He’s doing even if it doesn’t make sense to me. God chooses better for me than I could ever choose for myself. He knows all things and works in ways to accomplish the greater good—His glory and my sanctification.

What should my response be? I only see a small part of what’s happening and can be shortsighted in believing I know what’s best. The Lord is my Shepherd—I shall not want. Any circumstance He allows is for my good. If He removes anything or person from my life, He is accomplishing a greater work in my heart. He is sovereign and could have chosen to not allow that circumstance, but His desire to refine me and point out idols was greater. God is a jealous God and will not allow idolatry in my heart to grow.

One thing I have to remind myself of: what if God’s agenda is different than my agenda? I need God to transform my agenda to be like His. I must pray earnestly, but not so I can see Him change my circumstance or fear, but so He can change me. I must humble myself before Him and submit to His leadership and then I can cast my cares on Him. “I cry aloud to God…He will hear me” (Ps. 77:1) and “the Lord hears the needy…” (Ps. 69:33). “As for me, it is good to be near God”. (Ps. 73:28)


Allison

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fear, Humility, and Prayer

In my last post, I shared about Scripture’s command not to worry, and how we need to turn our focus to God. Let’s delve deeper.

Look at what 1 Peter 5:6-7 commands:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 

We like to look at verse 7 in the midst of worry, but what proceeds that verse? Verse 6 tells us that we must humble ourselves. Why do you think those two verses are connected? Because we can’t truly cast our cares upon the Lord and trust in Him if we haven’t humbled ourselves. Casting our cares at that point becomes, “give me what I want”. Humility precedes laying our burdens at His feet.

“For many Christians, the difficulty is not the sovereignty of God, but rather the goodness of God. My problem is not that I doubt God’s ability to control everything in my life and protect me from harm. My problem is that I doubt He is going to do for me what I believe He is capable of doing!” Lou Priolo

Do you find this to be true in your life? You know God is sovereign, but you doubt His goodness to you in your particular circumstance? I know this is too often the case in my life.

Do you realize that worry and fear affect your prayer life? When we fear, we don’t pray, because we’re focusing on ourselves and not God. But if turn to God, then we will be able to humble ourselves, lay our burdens at His feet, rest in Him, and watch Him work. Then we intercede for others because we know He’s in control of all things. That is an area God has been growing me this year. He’s been graciously helping me see where I worry about situations I have no control over, and to instead intercede more faithfully for others.

God’s more concerned about changing you than changing your circumstances. Have you been praying for deliverance, or seeking the face of the Deliverer? Are you hoping for relief from the pain and problems, or redemption from the sin in your heart?

Recognizing our small views of God and readjusting our prayers to be more pointed towards the heart-change needed in us instead of the change in circumstances is vital. But what about some practical application for getting to the root of fears? Questions and practical application will be coming soon.



Allison

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Seeing God in the Midst of Fears

Our church’s monthly ladies’ meeting discussed fear, worry and anxiety this month. I admit, I’ve never considered myself a fearful person. I don’t worry or become anxious about a ton, and I don’t automatically think of the worst possibility in a situation and then worry about it. That’s what comes to mind when I hear the terms fear or worry. Worry is not my #1 struggle.

But the reality is we all fear something. And sometimes we see fear as an emotion that cannot be changed, so we think there’s nothing we can do. This lie causes us to neglect to get to the root and really deal with our fear.

Scripture is full of commands not to worry. Matthew 6:25-34 says multiple times “do not be anxious”. Philippians 4:6 also reminds of this. The problem is not that we don’t know the truth, but that it’s hard to apply it. And it is impossible in your own strength. You need the power of Christ within you, and you have to turn to Him. Putting off sin is never possible on our own, even if we know all the right things to do.

Getting to the root behind the worry or fear is always tricky though. The truth to remember is that if you are worrying, you probably desire something more than Christ. The Bible calls that idolatry. So, if most of our fear and worry is spurred by idolatry, then worry or fear is a sin that must be repented of.

As we see areas of fear or worry that we need to repent of, we must shift our focus to the worship and adoration of God, submit our desires to God, and trust that He knows best. Gazing upon God's attributes in Scripture, like how He is faithful and true, perfect and unchanging (2 Tim. 2:13, Mal. 3:6), reminds of His greatness. When we see God more clearly, it changes the way we view our circumstances.

“Is it possible that God has allowed these specific challenges to teach you of His goodness, to remind you of your inability to control circumstances and to set you free from fear? These trials are not a sign of God’s powerlessness, but a sign of God’s loving care.” Elyse Fitzpatrick

When’s the last time you saw a struggle or trial as God’s loving care to you? God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5, Deut. 4:24) who will not be content to allow His children to pursue idolatry.

We all know that we shouldn’t worry, but that doesn’t make our problems go away. Dealing with worry or fear is bigger than telling ourselves we won’t think about it or that we need to stop worrying. In the next post, we’ll dig a bit deeper into fear.


Allison

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"In the Lord"

"Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright."
Psalm 33:1

There are so many reasons to shout for joy. But I find it interesting that the Scripture says here "shout for joy in the Lord". It's not just that there are things to be happy about, but things to be joyful about in God. What else would there be to be happy in God about except things that relate to who He is?

God, the Creator, gives us life and breath and sustains us. He holds all things in His hands. He is the just and the Justifier (Rom. 3:26). My Redeemer and Savior (Is. 43:11). He blots out transgressions for His name's sake (Is. 43:25). He is compassionate and kind, patient and merciful (Ps. 78:38, 2 Pet. 3:9). He is generous and loving (Num. 14:18). He is the One who gives counsel (Ps. 16:7). My Rock, fortress, Deliverer (Ps. 18:2). All-powerful and mighty (Ps. 50:1). Sovereign (Acts 4:24).

These are just a few of the things we can rejoice over in Him. He is worthy of all our praise!




Allison

Monday, August 25, 2014

Interacting with the Psalms

Psalm 23 is one of those familiar Psalms that is frequently quoted in times of death or great sorrow. It’s so familiar to many of us that it’s easy to skip over the truth or miss what God is saying to us. There is so much application of Psalm 23 to everyday life, so let's try to see Psalm 23 with an open heart to what God wants to teach us.

What does this Psalm teach us about God?

He is our Good Shepherd (v. 1). He leads us wisely and faithfully, gently and lovingly. He knows what is best for us, and all His ways are right and good.

He is our Restorer (v. 3). We need this so often because we get bogged down with life, and we need His restoration.

He leads us in ways for His name’s sake (v. 3). God always is bringing glory to Himself. It’s about His Name being spread, His power being manifested in Your life, not your comfort, happiness, or temporary pleasure, as we so often want it to be. 

He is our Comforter (v. 4). God often uses the valleys of life to reveal areas in our hearts that need to be refined, wrong motives that need to be confessed, idols that need to be destroyed. Yet in the midst of those valleys, He comforts us. Isn't this an amazing God?


Truth about God can never be mere head-knowledge, because knowledge puffs up.  
So in light of those truths about God, what should our response be?

If He is our Good Shepherd, we should trust Him wholeheartedly. If He was an unreliable Shepherd we'd have reason to doubt, but God never fails and He never does anything that isn't perfect and right. 

If He is our Restorer, we should find Him to be our source of joy. Our treasure, our life, our all. He is the only One who can meet the deepest needs of our hearts.

If He leads us for His name's sake, we should follow Him, no matter the cost. If He did things for our sake, than it would be a small, short-lived glory. But we're following a King that is worthy of all our devotion and obedience! Because it's for His sake, we can obey Him when He commands us to love unconditionally. To serve joyfully. To give sacrificially. To fight sin. To pursue unity. To embrace accountability. To be vulnerable. To deny ourselves and live selflessly. To spread the gospel. To give our earthly lives. Every circumstance in your life is meant to bring you into deeper fellowship with Him. If God is more glorified in your life by bringing great trial or difficulty, wouldn’t you want to embrace it?

If He is our Comforter, than we can comfort others. What we’ve been given, we can then give. God works in our lives, not just so we can keep it to ourselves, but because He intends for it to be spread, through the body of Christ in the local church, and through the globe, as believers passionate about God's glory spread His name and share what He has done in their lives. But you can’t give what you don’t have. So if you aren’t experiencing these truths about God, how can you expect others to experience them?


How can you praise God for who He is today? What response and application should that bring?



Allison