Recovering What Matters Most

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I subscribe to a daily email subscription from a website called Of First Importance.   The premise of the site is simply to post quotes from both current and past theologians, pastors, and authors with the intent of keeping its readers focused every day on the core and most important message of Christianity, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  If you liked Higher Ground’s Facebook page, you have likely read one of these quotes.

Paul the apostle, in his first letter to the Corinthians, reminded them, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, ESV).  Christ’s death is at the very center of the Gospel message, and for Paul, there was no more important message that piloted his life and ministry.  Since April of this year (2013), I have been preaching this same message weekly in church.  My one greatest desire as a pastor is to encourage every man, woman, boy and girl to live their lives in the power of the Gospel.  The Gospel message is not, as Tim Keller has said, the “ABC’s of the Christian life,” but rather, “the A to Z of the Christian life.”  Christ’s perfect life, atonement, and resurrection is the power of God unto salvation, not only when we are raised to new life in Christ initially, but every single day after that until we see Jesus face to face.  When you and I can begin to grasp, even just in a small way, that every facet of our lives can be wonderfully impacted by the doctrines of the Christ’s work, we will begin to experience a joy, peace, and contentment that most have never known.

All this to say, I really wanted to share the Of First Importance entry for December 26, “The Amazing Graciousness of Grace.” It is an excerpt from Sinclair Ferguson’s article, “Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection.” Have you been a Christian for some time, but have lost your affection for Christ? You may need to return to your first love.  Ferguson helps to place us back on the old path of renewed affection for Jesus in this brief excerpt.  I encourage you to shut out all distractions and read it slowly and thoughtfully.  Afterward, simply call on your God who desires to pull you back into His love.

 “How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amazing’ to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.”

If you wish to begin your journey of a deeper and richer personal impact from the Gospel, may I suggest reading Living the Cross Centered Life, by C.J. Mahaney?  I picked it up in April and read it in under three hours (I am a slow reader, too).  It’s simple but powerful message made me hungry – really hungry, for more of Jesus.  If you attend Higher Ground Church, I have several copies available in the Pastor’s Library for those who wish to borrow it.  You will be blessed, and dare I say, changed as you read.  

If you have lost (or have never found) what matters most, come back to the Gospel.  Immerse yourself in Scripture (like Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Galatians, et al), read Gospel-centered books (like what I have put in the Pastor’s Library), and rediscover the one simple fact that Christ’s grace was and is poured out on you, even in the midst of your own sin. 

Grace and Peace,

Josh

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What Are You Looking For?

mansearching“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:4-5

Jesus once declared to Thomas, His disciple, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). This statement has been a source of offense for many people. For anyone to declare that outside of Himself, mankind would be lost forever is both a bold and cutting claim. If this claim was a lie, then Jesus would have been nothing more than a crazy man. However, if this claim was true, then all the peoples of the earth are forced to make a decision: look to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, or reject Him and be lost forever. Jesus was telling Thomas that he could search the world over and never find life outside of Himself. He could experiment, he could indulge, he could even run and hide. But, apart from “the Life,” Thomas’ life would end in a desert of futility.

I expect the Gospel to be foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). Those who are perishing will find Jesus to be nothing more than a bloody martyr on a Roman cross. And until the Father draws them with that effectual call, Jesus will always be foolish to them. But, what about those many today in the Christian church that have seen Jesus as who He claimed to be, but then still run off and search for life elsewhere? As a pastor, I have seen this time and time again. Is the darkness so intriguing? Does the world’s false image of “life” draw so strongly that Jesus becomes merely a religious symbol? Why do so many who have declared Jesus to be their God turn away to set up graven images of self-pleasure, hoped-for success, and personal comfort?

My thought is, the god of this age is good at what he does (2 Corinthians 4:4). See, Satan cannot hide the Light of Life. But he certainly can blind the eyes of man. We humans are so fickle and so dissatisfied with awesomeness, that we continue our search even after we have found that only truly Awesome Delight. Satan indeed works to blind and deceive – and he works especially hard to incite dissatisfaction in the hearts of believers.

I remember a time where, I too, was once drawn away by Satan’s lie. There was a time in my young life where Christ, the only truly awesome, awe-filled delight, began to look mediocre. My enemy had deceived me into thinking that the darkness was more fulfilling, and I groped about in the darkness for a time. But then, the Way began to shine into my darkness. This light did not burst in like an explosion, but more as if through a pinhole. Little by little, the hole became larger and more glorious, and before I realized it, my eyes were no longer blinded by the darkness, but by the light. I was so surrounded by the brightness of that light, that I dropped to my knees and confessed my time of futile searching to Jesus.

That was close to ten years ago, and I’ve never looked back. I thank God for His powerful, sovereign arm in the midst of my deception-riddled rebellion. I believe He allowed me to see how ugly this world is- how dark, how unsatisfying, so that today, I can exhort those who have settled for worthlessness: What are you looking for, friend? “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God… lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14)!

Have you nurtured a heart of unbelief within you? Has the darkness become so appealing that you no longer know who Christ is? I exhort you today then, brethren, return to the only Life and partake of Him! Do not allow the deceitfulness of sin to blind you from sharing in the Light of Life. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). You will not find life, nor fullness, nor peace, nor joy in any other place other than Jesus – the LIFE who is the light of men.

Running This Race

Dear Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter-using, Homeschooling mothers of 6 with one on the way, yet still an avid blogger, food blogger (with pictures of recipes step by step), and all those other people that seemingly have it  “all together.”  And Tumblr-using moms.   Whatever that is:

I confess to you that I can’t keep up.  I don’t know how everyone does it.  I try to keep up and I end up just feeling extremely inadequate and beat down at the end of the day.  I would love to blog regularly, sew my kid’s clothes, refurbish an old dresser, cloth diaper and puree all of Malacai’s baby food.  But who has the time? It’s an effort for me to keep the house clean, laundry done, menu plan, spend time with the kids and apply proper love and discipline, do devotions, and take care of church stuff – all the while striving to be a patient and loving mother and wife who displays Christian qualities and enjoys the everyday repetitions of life.

It’s true that I love and enjoy reading blogs.  I follow quite a few awesome mommies who love the Lord and seek to be more like Him in the midst of their chaos.  I find encouragement and fellowship in their writings.   It’s true that I think all of the above mentioned social media platforms can be wonderful.  It’s no lie that I have spent way too much time moseying around on Pinterest or scrolling my Facebook feed just because I want to do something mindless.  Meanwhile, my 9 month old is whining in his highchair and my 4 year old won’t stop interrupting my research of the latest status updates, the amount of “likes” my kids’ pictures have gotten, and what political platform meme someone has shared.

So, what is the problem here?  Why do I feel that I can’t keep up? The problem is ME.   My focus is always on me, my inadequacies, and my failures to measure up with everyone else.  I don’t like it.  I don’t intend to be so selfish.  I don’t wake up and think, “How can I magnify Michelle today?!”  Unfortunately, my flesh always creeps up and rears its ugly head.

In January 2010, Josh and I attended a Passion Conference with the college and career group from church.  Beth Moore preached a sermon using a word picture that I will never forget.  (All credit here goes to her.)  Although I remember it, I don’t often apply it.  Lately, it has been resonating in my heart and I need it to revive my selfish soul.  According to Hebrews 12:2, this life is a race we are running.  And though we have a tendency to look at everyone around us, we need to keep our eyes on the finish line, on Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  The only thing I need to do is run and focus on Him.  Keep going, eyes fixed on HIM (not the homeschooling mother of 6, all the blogs writers that I wish I would be like, and the moms who seem so much more patient, and kind, and creative with their discipline).  Stop focusing on all the other runners in this race and what they are doing, and look to the One who makes all my inadequacies adequate by what He did on the cross.  If we only realized the glorious justification that was accomplished when HE arose from the dead, we would stop trying so hard!  We would stand in the grace of God knowing we are totally okay!  Totally set free of false expectations.  Totally set free from the bondage to this world and all the temporary pleasures it teases our minds with daily.

So I am going to read and re-read Hebrews 12:1-2.  I am going write it on a Post-it and place it in front the window where I do dishes (because you know we spend a lot of time there), and I am going to soak in the truth of where my focus should be.

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“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Nothing (not even parenting) Can Separate Me…

After a long, exhausting day a few weeks back, I was feeling particularly sinful.   I could accurately describe it as at my “wit’s end.”   The whole day I dealt with a sick, feverish one-year-old who lived on my hip, all while trying to teach my three-year-old that the world is not hers and that everything is not all about her.   Add to that a few nights of short, broken up sleep, and you had yourself one worn out mommy.  I was impatient (I snapped at them several times), stressed, and emotionally and physically exhausted.

The worst part was the guilt I felt for feeling this way!  Where was my gentle and quiet spirit?   If this is so precious to the Lord, then this is what I desire, but on days like that, I feel worlds away from attaining it.

That night after my kids were finally asleep, I opened my Bible with a guilt-stricken heart, feeling like a failure in the most important area of my ministry, parenting.  I was disgusted with my lack of patience.  I hated to feel that way.

I began to remember why I needed a Savior in the first place.  “Did you really die for me?  Jesus, did you really give up ruling and reigning in the heavenlies to die for our screw-ups?” At that moment, He opened my heart and I began to give Him my attention and adoration.  I opened to Romans 8:48-49, a Scripture I know by heart.  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The words struck a chord with me at that moment: I could not be brought away from the love of God that is found in Jesus Christ!  Nothing I could do could ever tear me away – I cannot be snatched out of His hand!  These precious words became the peace needed to soothe my wretched soul.   God IS LOVE, and this Scripture is a perfect example of what that really means.  He loved me first, so that means He won’t love me any less on a day where I am feeling spiritually subpar, or on a day when I have “prayed without ceasing” for that matter.   He loves me just the same.  Jesus.  That is why God is love.   An elementary lesson, but I obviously needed a reminder.

As I sat down in my bed, grateful for these precious truths, I could not fully wrap my mind around all of it.  I still can’t, but I do aspire to spend my life searching the depths of Christ’s love.

By the way, the next day was better with my kids.   As Believers we have been given the privilege to repent, get mercy and find grace, and get back up again.   Proverbs 24:16 says it well, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again…”

I would also like to add that Connor (my one-year-old) is feeling better and he has detached himself from mommy (for the most part), while Kaelyn is still learning the principle of selflessness.  We’ll get there eventually…right?