Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mercies in Disguise

I love stealing.

Let me rephrase that...I love stealing certain expressions from other people. I follow the music artist Lecrae on Facebook, and nearly all of his statuses become mine. They are so full of wisdom and insight, and I love stealing those tidbits to share with others.

Laura Story has a great new song out, and I'd love to steal yet again to share some of her lyrics with you. The song is called "Blessings" and I find it so powerful and compelling in light of all that has happened recently in my life and the lives of those around me. You can check out the full song (with lyrics) here.

The whole of the song is basically summed up in a question: What if the hardships of this life are God's mercies in disguise? The chorus reads:

Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

Can you relate?

Earlier in the song is the line Your love is way too much to give us lesser things. This is so profound. I've never thought of trials as the result of Jesus loving me enough to allow nothing less. It is so utterly backward to the American way of thinking.

When we look at Scripture, however, this is precisely the truth. Hebrews 12:5-6 reads, "And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.'"

Christ's grace is so great that he doesn't want to short-change us out of the magnificent growth trials bring. It is all a part of the crazy love he gives us day in and day out.

"Well ok," you say, "I get that part, but how can these trials be a result of his mercy?"

From a personal standpoint, I never seem to understand the value of trials until I realize that I am a totally changed person as a result of them. My greatest periods of spiritual growth have resulted from the worst circumstances in my life. I know that if I were left alone to control my own little world as I please, I would be an utter mess. If I got my way all the time, I'd be as far away from Jesus as possible.

I am reminded of Philippians 3:19-21, which says, "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables himto bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

If the only thing I'm concerned about is feeding my desires, getting my way, and controlling my life the way I want, I'm doomed. That's an earthly focus. Trials have a way of capturing our focus and training it upon the only person on whom it is due: Christ alone.

The second part of that passage references transformation. When we surrender our agendas and selfish desires and give all our attention to Jesus, we finally come to a place where he can transform us. This is how Christ demonstrates his mercy. Rather than allowing us to wallow in our selfishness and earthly desires, he sends trials to transform us and draw us closer to him.

This leads to another startling realization. Our so-called disappointments may not be disappointments after all. When trials are viewed as instruments of God's mercy, our disappointments become mere extensions of that. Not getting our way might be the biggest blessing we'll ever experience.

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?

Trials continually bring us back to the place where we realize that Christ is all we need. Nothing in this world can possibly compare with all that he is.

Don't ever forget to listen for God's voice in the rain...his calm, reassuring, "I love you."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice: 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.' Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: 'I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.'...So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or the extension of justice? In the dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their enviornment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his enviornment. Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

That's Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. This piece was recently brought to my attention in English class as a reading assignment, and I must confess that it has become one of the very few reading assignments that I have gone back to read again. King's arguments in the letter are full of Biblical insight and knowledge of the gospel. The primary focus of his writing is the Civil Rights movement, but he also touches on a variety of other topics such as justice, the laxity of church, and the application of laws.

The quote above didn't catch my attention until the third time around, which I find hard to believe since it is so compelling. I love how King states that we are all extremists, and how he then points to Jesus as the ultimate example. John 15:13 says, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Jesus demonstrated the greatest amount of love possible in sacrificing his life for us. That is extreme. As followers of Christ, we are called to tread in his footsteps. He laid the foundations of an entire kingdom with extreme love. We are called to live out that kingdom in the same way.

I recently read about Thomas Cranmer, a Christian martyr who died in 1556. I find his story fitting because I believe it is an example of the extreme love Christ calls us to. Prior to his death, Cranmer recanted of his Protestant beliefs, only to regret it and return to the faith later on. He was eventually sentenced to be burned at stake, and at the very end he declared, "I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." With those words, he stuck his hand into the flames until it was burned to a stump before he surrendered the rest of his body to the flames. People would call such a display 'extreme.' Would your love for Jesus lead you to do the same?

So many times, I read these stories about people who have been killed for their faith and think that they were called to a different lifestyle than I am. We do this all the time in the church when we encounter 'extreme' faith. (We make excuses, too, like "I can't go to Africa...God has simply called her to go." or "I'm not qualified to head to the inner city...God has called others to do that.") The reality is this: God calls all of us to live the same lifestyle as Cranmer. In Matthew 16:25, Jesus says, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." He calls all of us to give up our lives for him. Whether or not we surrender our physical lives on earth for His name is a different story...the point is that Jesus calls us to live extreme either way.

"You may never have to face the decision of whether or not to die for your faith, but every day you face the decision of whether or not you will live for it." (Jesus Freaks, by dcTalk.) Remember, according to King, the question is not whether you will be an extremist, but what kind of extremist you will be. Christ said "He who is not with me is against me." (Luke 11:23) We can come up with excuses our whole lives about how we aren't living the wrong extreme, but do our lifestyles show proof that we are living the right one?

The picture at the top of this post is of a cross in Broad St., Oxford, and it marks the spot where two of Cranmer's friends were burned at stake a few months prior to his own death in the same general location. For more on Cranmer's story, click here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Abundant Life

In leu of this blog's title, I have a confession to make. I am the champion of starting projects and never finishing them. Journaling has never been a strength of mine, despite all my good intentions to be a faithful writer. I think I can now add blogging to the list. My last post was over a year ago...awesome.

Since it would be next to impossible to cover all the wonderful things God has revealed to me in the past 15 months, I will not attempt to. However, because 2010 was the most transformational year of my life to date, I feel like it would be foolish to not write about some of the lessons I have learned.

John 10:10 says"The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full." This verse jumped out at me in the midst of a particularly dark time period last year, and I have clung to the hope it offers ever since. After reading it, I came to a rather stunning conclusion. Jesus is not against me.

I don't know why, or for how long, I subconciously believed this lie, but John 10:10 brought me face to face with the consequences of my twisted thinking.

Now, to others, this conclusion may not be as earth-shattering as it was for me. You see, I am a people pleaser, and this forces me to feel like I must prove myself to others time and again. This has further lead me to a place where I feel like people are against me. It's a hard concept to wrap your head around if you're not a people pleaser yourself. Because this has dominated the way I do relationships for as far back as I can remember, it has also become a huge factor in the way I relate to my Heavenly Father. It has encouraged me slip into an unbiblical mindset that says I must prove myself to God, and therefore he is against me.

But He isn't. That's Satan we're talking about.

According to that verse in John, Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. People pleasing steals, kills, and destroys. It steals your hope, kills your joy, and destroys your identity in Christ. Jesus has come to bring life...abundant life. He isn't against me.

I cannot accurately describe what a liberating feeling that has been for me. In the midst of much pain this past year, Jesus has revealed that abundant life to me. It has never been sweeter.

God is good. All the time. Don't ever forget it.

Ellie V.