Bible

Only God Has No Achilles' Heel: A Critique of Celebrity Culture in the Church

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In our search for security, we too easily construct cardboard thrones for our role models. We build shanties on sand to house our heroes––to simulate comfort rooted in our adoration. 

Like action figure warriors of the faith, we crowd the shelves of our souls with our favorite preachers, musicians, and even godly laypeople.

And like waves washing away huts on the sand, reality hits like a tsunami. 

Security in fallible man is a sorrowful illusion. Even the most prestigious leader with the greatest platform is a broken sinner, continually in need of grace.

Years ago, the famed pastor Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sat in his office speaking with a congregant. After hearing the woman gush about his powerful preaching, he simply responded: “Ma’am, if you know what was in my heart, you’d spit in my face.” 

Where is that same self-effacement in spiritual leaders today? We do not need more morbidly self-centered cynicism––“I am just so wretched!”–– but something greater and more glorious.

Fame and affirmation are often our greatest traps. Prosperity pampers our hearts into complacency at best––greater vice at worst. 

It is easy for us to elevate heroes as having reached a higher plane of enlightened existence. This spiritualized fangirling consumes our minds with the dust of mortal men.

When we glorify mere people, it has two destructive ripple effects:

1. It cuts off church leaders from the life-giving transparency and nurturing they need, as all believers do. Even shepherds need shepherding. 


2. It keeps power-hungry men in lofty positions of unquestioned authority––free to spiritually abuse others, build their own kingdoms, and nurse secret sins.

Both options destroy the bride of Christ. 

The first effect weakens leaders who are simply given a role and responsibility to build up the church, pigeon-holing them and forcing them onto a pedestal where they do not belong. 

The second enables destruction of people’s souls, as self-focus drives ministry and leeches the gospel of its life-giving power. Dogma trumps grace. The Bible is used as a bludgeon to batter broken hearts.

Instead, we ought to acknowledge anything good in the people we admire as a manifestation of the lavished grace of God. 

Only God has no Achilles’ heel—no hubris, no hidden vices, no fatal weaknesses. 

Therefore, He is the only fully trustworthy One. 

A corporate understanding of leadership has seeped into the American church––twisting the role of shepherd into the platform of a CEO. 

Rather than unending idolization, we must create church cultures that even the playing field, foster open lives and open hearts––with leaders leading as servants, primarily.

We do not need more faux-biblical guilt-trips. We do not need pompous, seemingly pious men in our pulpits. We do not need more examples (and statistics) of the rampant reality of abuse in the church.

We need men and women bold enough to be broken. We need churches that embrace a holistic understanding of humility––from the pews to the pulpit. We need a renewed focus on the immense love of Christ that drives our ministry, our passion for justice, truth, and transformation. 

Only as we dwell in joyful communion with God can we fearlessly move into the hearts and lives of those around us. Our identity is not in our achievements, our ministry, or the amount of adulation we receive from functional fans. 

“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus said.

With Him, we can do anything. But without Him, we are nothing. Let’s not prop up our insecurities with spiritual platforms and applause, busy schedules and unending ministry responsibilities. 

Christ is all and in all. His love is the fuel that gives us the fire of our identity, our purpose, our hope.

Let’s leave the platform and return to Him––together.


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Confessions of a Self-Righteous Soul

Carissa Forest

Self-righteousness (n):

1. the art of seething at someone else’s sin while remaining passively tolerant of Your own inward corruptions.

2. the delight in subtle self-exaltation over Christ-exaltation in doing good deeds.

The Respectable Sin I Tolerate

Self-righteousness is an insidious, “respectable” sin that often masquerades as holiness.

I know, because it’s always been a lurking temptation for me, my own master deceiver.

All-too-aware of how others violate God’s law, I allow a free pass for my flesh to slip past His commands––magnifying the sin of others while minimizing my own “shortcomings.”

My eye-roll, scoffing laugh, pious head-shaking at the sins of the culture, the church, my family, all betray the fact that I implicitly believe I am better than all of them.

Unlike Christ, who looked on the masses with compassion, “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36), I choose to focus entirely on others’ sinful inclinations as an ego-booster—a way to elevate my spiritual status.

“At least I’m not like them, right?”

Self-righteousness masks deep insecurity—the fear that I am actually not as great as I think I am, hiding the truth that I am rotten to my core. Vanity and self-loathing are two sides of the same coin, feeding and driving each other.

Self-righteousness corrupts even outward service. Patting myself on the back for serving my family is not the humility-driven cry of the servants, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

I often breathe a sigh of relief, thinking I need less of Christ’s shed blood than that person over there.

I forget a crucial truth––we are all equal at the foot of the cross.

Redemption loses its luster when I am able to identify more sin around me than in my own heart of hearts.

Christ came not to call those who think they’re righteous to repentance, but sinners.

He came to seek and save the lost—those lost in a labyrinth of sin and those lost in the lie of self-atonement.

I stiff-arm the love of God when I say I am no longer in need of daily, continual grace.

The result? The gospel is flattened, Scripture becomes one-dimensional, and grace is cheapened and cheated of its full splendor.

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’” Luke 18:11

Praise God, His mercy is strong enough to break the stubbornness of sin and the stubbornness of self-righteousness.

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Luke 18:13

It is that kind of humility that breaks a cycle of self-righteousness.

A Church-Wide Epidemic

An anti-gospel view can all-too-easily seep into the church––that grace should be extended to others with sparing stinginess and countless strings attached.

Incurvatus in se (curved in on oneself), the self-righteous are doomed to the twisted perspective that grace is received through entitlement.

The gospel does not free us to look with condescension on those who are trapped in sin. It does free us to come alongside a struggling brother or sister and exhort with a blend of grace and truth.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Gal. 6:1-3

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor. 10:12

It’s often easy to look down on those who don’t listen to a particular Bible teacher, don’t subscribe to a particular strain of theology, or wrestle with a sin-struggle foreign to our own experiences.

It’s easier to apply God’s truth to that person or that church than to turn the lens inward.

The gospel frees us from a theological superiority complex. It gives us the honor of proclaiming Christ crucified––foolishness to the world, and a mere arguing point for those trapped in self-righteousness.

The only way to fight self-righteousness is for the abundant grace of God to break us.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” Eph 2:4-5

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Rom. 2:4

Beholding the riches of God’s kindness and grace––bridging the chasm between His holiness and our utter unworthiness––is true freedom.

The only difference between us and unbelievers, quite simply, is Christ. Not intrinsic worthiness, not the weight of our offering to God of our “goodness,” not anything but the free and undeserved measure of God’s grace in Christ.

That grace, as it has been lavished, is a stewardship.

We have received grace upon grace (John 1:16), and we must display that––not only in a passion for the truth to be upheld and submitted to, but in the care and building up of the sinners around us.

God didn’t save us because of something in us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Now after salvation, God does not show favor on us as mechanical do-gooders, but because we are His children, justified by Christ’s redemptive work.

We are seen as righteous because of His imputation, not our inward righteousness. The point of Christ’s active obedience is that He lived the perfect life we never could.

Not only must we repent of blatant sin, but repent of the gospel-scorning poison of our own self-righteousness.

“We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Is. 64:6a)

Piosity—that vapid attitude filled with empty platitudes—is no substitute for robust piety.

The word “piety” often conjures up a caricature of tight-lipped, lemon-sucking, severe Puritans.

But true piety emanates the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—like rays radiating from the sun.

Our actions should be motivated by deep love and devotion to the One who enables us to display His glory through gospel activity in the world. No other motivation will suffice.

Compassion for the lost. A desire to see God’s Word honored and obeyed. A deep hatred of the sin that plagues our fallen consciousness. These are the motivators that will fuel humility, as we keep a gospel-saturated perspective with profound thankfulness for His divine grace.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Gal 6:14

See Christ as lovely, and the ability to do any good a reason to praise Him––as a gift of His sealing Spirit, continually refining the rough edges of our fallen hearts.

When we see Christ face-to-face in eternity, all our mixed motives, contempt for others, and disregard for God’s grace will be swept away in the staggering reality of His radiance.

Until then, be diligent to fight “respectable” sins like self-righteousness––to the praise of His glorious grace.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever and ever.” Rom 11:36


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Guest Post: Accepting God's Discipline

Aliya McReynolds God's Discipline

First I want to say I am honored that Carissa asked me to be featured on her blog. Hopefully I can be as eloquent and encouraging as she is as I talk about a topic that is currently on my heart––accepting God's discipline.

Not sure about you, but I don't often think about the discipline of God when I am walking in sin. Of course I know God disciplines us because the Bible says so, but when I am about to do something I know is wrong, I tend to focus wrongly on God's grace.

I think, "Oh, He'll forgive me,” “Everyone messes up in this area,” and "It's not a big deal.”

Oftentimes I forget that my disobedience has consequences and when they hit, I am tempted to act like a victim.

"How could God let this happen?”

"Why is God so hard on me?"

"Why can't things be easier?"

In reality, a lot of times I bring these unfortunate events upon myself. Of course there are trials and tests God puts us through that have nothing to do with our disobedience, but I think it would be good for us to reflect on the times that it does.

Having a proper view of God's discipline should give us a proper fear of the Lord.

“The fear of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.” Proverbs 19:23

This fear and reverence should make us reconsider the sin we are tempted to commit. If we are to properly fear God’s discipline, we need to first be able to recognize when God is disciplining us in the first place.

How do we do that?

Well, by acknowledging the cognitive dissonance in our lives. The definition of cognitive dissonance is: The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

If our identity is in Christ, yet we are living in sin, we can begin to feel as David does in Psalm 38:3-9 after he sinned with Bathsheba.

“Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
    there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
My guilt has overwhelmed me
    like a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and are loathsome
    because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
    all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
    there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
    I groan in anguish of heart.
All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
    even the light has gone from my eyes.”

When we are living in sin, we can literally become sick to our bones. We can feel physically, mentally, emotionally drained.

That clash of our flesh doing what it wants and the Holy Spirit convicting us is one of the ways God shows us we are not right with Him. He takes away our peace.

In times like this, we don't even want to approach the throne room of God in prayer. We don't want to read. We feel in a lot of ways separated from Him, like God is somehow targeting us.

But this response is wrong because it forgets the gospel.

It forgets that whatever sin we've committed was already paid for––that in our darkest moments of sin, we shouldn't run from God, but to God for His abundant grace.

However, the balance between accepting God's grace after committing sin and abusing it is a thin line. Sometimes it's hard to know if we are giving ourselves a false peace when our heart isn't truly repentant.

John Owen talks about this in his book The Mortification of Sin.

“When peace is spoken, if it not be attended with the detestation and abhorrency of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God’s creating, but of our own purchasing.”

What he is saying is if we nurture the sins in our lives instead of mortifying them out of an absolute hatred for sin, we are not truly repentant and the peace we have with God is strained. This will affect our relationship with God, our prayer life, and our overall being.

This doesn’t mean that these sins aren’t forgiven––because of course God forgives all of our sins, even the ones we are unrepentant of. But there are consequences that come with giving ourselves false peace.

What we should be doing instead is following steps to accepting God’s discipline.

1. True repentance rooted in the hatred of sin

We must truly recognize that we have affronted a Holy God and that thought should break our hearts like it did David’s heart in Psalm 51:17.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

John Owen puts this in words in a way that I can’t quite do justice to, so instead I will just quote him again.

“Bring thy lust to the gospel, not for relief, but for further conviction of its guilt; look upon Him whom thou hast pierced, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul, “What have I done? What love, what mercy what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace?
Do I thus requite the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold my head with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in my heart?
How shall I escape if I neglect so great a salvation? In the meantime, what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation… I have despised them all and esteemed them as a thing of nought, that I might harbor a lust in my heart.
Have I obtained a view of God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face and provoke him to his face? Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements? Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of the death of Christ? Shall I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?”
Entertain thy conscience daily with this treaty. See if it can stand before this aggravation of its guilt. If this make it not sink in some measure and melt, I fear thy case is dangerous.”

The first time I read this, I cried.

It is so often that we forget the gospel in the mundane, that we let sin slip into our hearts without a second thought.

We don’t hate our sin enough, because if we did, we would be doing everything we could to turn from it. Not perfectly, but with all of our strength we would be striving for holiness.

Once we have truly repented, then comes the second step.

2. Accept whatever consequences follow

If you're a glutton, you will have to live with the outward, superficial consequences of being overweight. 

If you're addicted to pornography, you will have to accept that those images will likely never leave your head, and will to some degree taint and influence your proper view of sex.

If you've constantly lied in the past, you will probably have to regain the trust of whomever you lied to, and that might take time.

In times like these, I realize that God says no for my benefit. That sin truly hurts me and others around me. That its effects are long-lasting, and can even be carried down generationally.

Even so, God is gracious. The more I fill my mind with things of God, the more quiet the echoes of sin sound. While once they were blaring in my ear, with His healing they are a faint whisper in a far away place, and some days I don't hear anything at all.

Either way, I am certain it is far better to deal with the temporal consequences of sin than the eternal consequences.

The discipline of the Lord hurts, but He does this from a place of love. Even though it doesn't feel like it at the time, His discipline is for our benefit and isn't without instruction.

"Blessed is the man You discipline, O LORD, and teach from your law." Psalm 94:12
"I know, O LORD that Your judgments are righteous, and that in your faithfulness You have afflicted me." Psalm 119:75
"Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent." Revelation 3:19

These truths should humble us. It should make us realize that without Christ we would be lost in our ways, enslaved to our desires.

Knowing this should affect how we love others who are also struggling. It should make us less judgmental of other believers' sins. This humility is what sows seeds of change in our lives so that we can grow.

"For The Lord corrects and disciplines everyone whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges, every son whom He accepts and welcomes to his heart and cherishes." Hebrews 12:6

God uses our newfound dependence on Him to bring us back into His fellowship and into fellowship with others.

As the saying goes, if we feel far from God it wasn't because He moved, but because we did. And that lasso He throws around us to reel us back to him isn't pleasant, but it is a sign we are His sheep, and it is far better than the judgment that was due us. So don't fight the pull, go with it. The harder you fight, the tighter the strain of the rope.

Learn to accept God’s discipline––it is another form of God's love.


Aliya McReynolds is an author, blogger, model, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow her on her blog and on Instagram.

 

Defiant Gratitude

Carissa Defiance

"Gratitude is liberation." –N.D. Wilson

Last week I visited my former university––a place heavy with memories.

I assumed I’d be long-forgotten, swept away by the tides of time. But rather than ruthlessly forgetting, the people I knew welcomed me with open arms and soul-stirring encouragement.

Ghosts of past friendships and my collegiate identity tugged at me, and I wrestled with longing for those former anchors of my heart.

Humbled by God, I recognized my limited perspective and prayed for gratitude in the bittersweet.

God, thank You for the time spent here, the lessons learned, and the friendships developed. Thank you for the brilliance of the sun, the splendor of vibrant colors, and the joy of shared laughter.

Thankfulness opens my eyes anew to the wonder of God’s orchestration in my life––and the myriad of blessings He’s given along the way.


But in the grit of everyday living, gratitude is difficult.

It takes resolve to place my faith in God‘s perfect providence, and to trust the path of pain will lead to the fruit of peace.

Instead of caving to the pressures of my melancholy flesh, I rejoice that God hears, sees, and delivers.

Instead of allowing a labyrinth of feelings and thoughts to frame my reality, I remind myself that the truth has set me free to live for Christ.

Instead of allowing the pain of loss to hinder me from praising God, I choose to see beauty in every facet of this season––the complexity of a night sky as well as the instrument of suffering in a gracious God’s hands.

In defiance of my sin nature, in defiance of circumstances that threaten to drag me into despondency, I am thankful.

Joy and gratitude really are the keys to liberation. When I struggle to see the freedom that Christ has accomplished for me, I turn weary eyes to the source of all gratitude, the gospel.

Longing for the past can only rob me of present joy. Only when I reflect on God’s previous faithfulness can I see my past, present, and future in the light of liberating truth.

Thankfulness is so intrinsic to the Christian life that it is described as a facet of God’s will.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thess. 5:16–18

I was never meant to be fulfilled by another human or material blessings, but both are means to give the gracious Giver great thanks. He is a God of abundance, and each speck of the universe points to His worthiness to be adored.

“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Ps. 16:11

Our thankfulness cannot depend on the shifting sands of our circumstances, but must be fixed on the Rock––our Redeemer. It is that defiant faith, defiant gratitude that will anchor us when all around us gives way.

"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures forever!"
1 Chronicles 16:34

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Embracing Weakness as Strength

Carissa Thinking Church

I always wanted to be a heroine. As a child, I valued nobility and strength––fighting a lurking fear of insignificance by forging an ironclad sense of individuality.

I always worked to present an image of excellence––pushing my way through college in three years and maintaining a plate overflowing with responsibilities.

I always felt secure in the safe zone of risk-free vulnerability––sharing general “struggles” with no real cost and intact self-protection.


But pretenses of perfection fall away at the end of the day, and I face the truth.

I am weak.

In a whirlwind of uncertainty and change, I see new dimensions of my sin daily. Awareness of my personal weakness brings deep-seated fears to the surface.

I fear my sin will cause wildfire devastation, that joy is a temporary illusion, that God’s love will pale when matched with the force of self-idolatry.

I fear that trust in Scripture’s truth is a crutch, that self-deception trumps the Holy Spirit, and that His way for me is unnecessarily steep.

I fear being alone, being forgotten, being forgettable.

It’s not pretty. It’s not Facebook-worthy.

My identity is in Christ, but wrapped in weakness like flesh, I wrestle.

More than a transient pick-me-up, I need the grace of Christ to anchor my soul moment by moment. My fears are met with the comfort of His presence, as He promises to provide all I need in the eternal person of Christ.

Though I fear showing the weakness in my soul to others, Christ has seen all of it, and His light has shone into the darkest corners of my heart. In His light, I see light––I see hope. In the darkest seasons and the deepest self-doubt, He remains.

He is for me, even when I am my own worst enemy. I am unsteady as the waves, but He is the One who calms tumultuous seas. Peace is in His hand.

Draw near, and see His comfort. See the wake of redemptive power and worship in astonishment. Any strength I have is derived from Him, and apart from Him I’m lost.

“When it comes to identity, modern people have things completely back to front: Professing to be unsure of God, they pretend to be sure of themselves. Followers of Christ put things the other way around: Unsure of ourselves, we are sure of God.” –Os Guinness

When “I don’t know” is the ready answer on my lips, it can always be followed with “but I know God is.”

Unsure of myself, I am sure of Him. He is a Rock, and I am stormy weather.

My weakness is all I have in my finite self. My worth, though, is endowed graciously through the gospel of abundance. The Lord promises His presence, and His joy is my strength.

Christ died for my sin and manifold weakness so I’d have hope in His strength and not mine.

His strength gives me courage to leave my broken cisterns of independence, my fear of commitment, my propensity to anxiety, and rest, abide, delight. His grace is all-sufficient, and because He is for me, I can embrace weakness as strength.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” ––2 Cor. 12:9

Post Tenebras Lux: A Good Friday Meditation


Alas! and did my Savior bleed And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I had done He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown, And love beyond degree!

This, the darkest day in human history, is the one on which my hope hinges. Brilliantly bright hope in the midst of bleak blackness.

Good Friday. How can it be good? What agony my Savior suffered on that cross, in that garden, at the hands of hatred-filled men––bloody, beaten, despised, mocked, and killed.

For me.

I marvel at the glories of double imputation––my sin and just punishment imputed to Him; His righteousness imputed to my hopelessly bankrupt account.

Christ's death secured for me eternal life. What a grand, incomparable paradox. His triumphant resurrection is the lifeblood that gives me strength to carry on.


I am ashamed of my sin-induced amnesia. I chase after flitters of light on grey, routined walls––fleeting, unsatisfying shadows. I never lift my weary head to the Source of any and all light. "Christ alone" must be my battlecry as I traverse a world so fraught with lesser lights.

My sin lingers, insidiously aiming at the utmost, and I am helpless to save myself. We all naturally wallow in the dark mire of iniquity. But now, His victory in the cross and resurrection give us the fortitude to fight vice relentlessly and chase after that truest light.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions;     he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,     and with his wounds we are healed." –Isaiah 53:5

For now, it feels like my flesh, Satan and the world are all triumphing, rejoicing over my prostrate body like bloodthirsty villains. I do not always hold onto Him in this spiritual war. But His is an everlasting grip. All I can do is cling to Calvary and in the power of His resurrection, walk––slowly but steadily––toward the light of a brilliant future:

"According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." –1 Peter 1:3

My flesh deceives me into thinking sin will have the greater payoff. What a lie. Sin leads to death. There is nothing benign about destructive malevolence. Christ suffered the full wrath of God for that sin. How can I do anything now but live for Him alone, before His face alone, all for His glory.

My blessed Redeemer has saved me from the shackles of sin, from the bondage of my flesh. I am in awe of His sovereign saving grace––an inexhaustible grace. But I must never seek to exhaust that grace by my sin. Christ is the champion Warrior, conquering sin and death, and He reigns now and forevermore.

May His name be lifted high as I sojourn and battle on, seeking the greater light and clinging to Him all of my days.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay The debt of love I owe; Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis all that I can do.

Dear Mathilda: Letter to a Grieving Friend

Dear Mathilda,

When you told me your mom recently died the air in my lungs evaporated.

We were standing in a lengthy line at the bookstore when that sad, haunted smile crossed your face. We had barely known each other a week. I no longer cared about my overpriced textbook––I wanted to leap across the divide of unfamiliarity between us and embrace you.

I wanted to tell you I know what it's like to scream with the Psalmist: "Why are you cast down, oh my soul?" (Ps. 42:5) Your heart feels such indescribable agony––your throat physically closes off and refuses to inhale oxygen.

Instead of verbalizing my lament, I stammered a shaky "I'm sorry."

I'm sorry for saying "sorry"––a sad, scrunched-up apology for my inability to cure you of your suffering. A few weeks later, you stunned me. You said I remind you of her––your mother.

I wish I had known Tammy.

Known her when all she loved was being under the trees near your forest home as she cared for outcasts. "The mountains and trees that call you were her home," you said.

That was before the devastation of cancer.

I haven't experienced the death of someone so close to me, but I do know something of the pain of loss. At times, it is excruciating when you miss someone that much––your spirit hardly stirs because it is so crushed.

These are the times when you cling to the promises of God with clenched, trembling hands, knowing He is "near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps. 34:18).

On Earth, we march to the beat of weary hearts and fatigued steps. But we will one day join all the saints in eternal, celestial song.

"High King of Heaven, my victory won, May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O ruler of all."

I urged you to meditate on the victory of Christ that one Saturday night when we ate Little Caesar's pizza under smog-layered stars.

What a joy––that we have a Great High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. "He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).

In our pain, we know He is intimately acquainted with our griefs, the sorrows over which He has triumphed.

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13).

There will be a day when we will join Tammy in ceaseless praise, singing a new song to the Lamb––our Redeemer, our Comforter, our Lord.

I love you. But He loves you infinitely more.

–Carissa

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And now she gazes at her Savior. (1959-2016)

Longing for Lion Eyes

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"You have lion eyes," my dad said. "Like mine."

I inherited his eyes – brown and molten gold in the sunlight, and I long for the heart behind those eyes – reflecting both warm tenderness and fierce flashes of fortitude. Instead, I wake from care-ridden nights of fear, tossing and turning the tables on myself.

As much as I long to have lion-hearted valiance, my eyes too often dim with hesitation and weariness. I turn my gaze downward, rather than setting my mind's eye on eternal things.

I can only be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Only then can I "not fear anything that is frightening" (1 Pet. 3:6). This is a faith-driven fearlessness in the face of the most menacing foes – even death itself.

We must have a reverent fear of God, awestruck and speechless in light of His infinite holiness. Through this worshipful fear, we move forward with a bravery provided through our Great High Priest, the Lion of Judah Himself. His atonement guarantees that we can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

This mercy and grace will carry us to a place of fearless determination, where our lives are spent for the gospel. It fuels a willingness to "run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:1-2).

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace."

Eyes that blaze with lion-hearted courage are only possible as we gaze on Him who redeemed us. Filling our eyes with the Lord's splendor and majesty, we behold His glory and reflect that glory with the brilliance of unshakable hope in our "sure and steadfast anchor" (Heb. 6:19).

May we run in His strength alone, pursuing lion-like boldness, confident joy, and courageous devotion.

The Fragility of Life

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“I was hit by a car."

There, the answer to my strangulated "Dad?" after muffled voices, road clamor, and the ominous absence of that all-too-familiar voice.

My stomach plunged to the depths of my worst fears. He was alive – that was all I knew. I floated in an eerie numbness from office chair to bedroom door to kitchen.

My mom flew out of the house and into the car, hurtling towards her husband and a mangled road bike. I continued cutting the cantaloupe she left in her wake, because when tragedy strikes, someone must continue the cutting of abandoned cantaloupe and ponder the fragility of life.

I surrender all.

Those words have new meaning when you prepare to bid farewell to the dearest objects of your heart. Am I willing to utterly and irrevocably surrender all to my King, whose reign encompasses my temporal and feeble existence?

When my heart becomes dulled to the life-giving gospel, I forfeit my ability to truly live as I am called to live. There is far too much at stake to waste this fragile life — this frail existence swinging over the brink of eternity, destined to drop away into the depths of infinity at any time.

Can I take the fall?

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17

All is from His hand – a full heart, broken heart, even a halted heart. These are multiplicities and prismatic variations, but in Him there is not even a hint of variation or change. In a vortex of changes, He remains the immovable epicenter. 

Even when life seems to be at its flourishing zenith, it is fleeting. Though awash in golden, ambrosial light, every morning comes to an end, speeding to the next stage of time. The morning of one's life quickly diminishes as the brilliant light of dawn melds into vibrant tones and shades and flavors throughout the lovely yet fleeting cycle. All too soon, night approaches. 

To whose light will you run to in the eventide of life? Whose light will illumine the dark trenches of dimming day? 

The Lord of light Himself is and must be your answer. He is the only one who can irradiate and eradicate the dungeon of death – both natural, inborn spiritual death and natural, inevitable physical death.

Life is more than gazing upon the sight of green-draped mountainous heights and stunning sea depths. A pursuit of the height and depth of Christ's magnificence is the only secure light, upon which we may be anchored in the everlasting morning of His love – stronger than death itself.

Abounding Grace

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"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." 2 Cor. 9:8

Grace is remarkable to me. It is the rushing power of God's grace that drives the past, present, and glorious future. His grace sustains every moment of my existence. As the years progress, I view in greater measure the depth of meaning behind my name – Carissa from charis, "grace" in Greek.

He is able to make all grace abound; therefore, He is far above all itself, attesting to God's infinitude and omnipotence. When we correctly align our doctrine of God with Scripture, we can affirm that yes, it is indeed in His character to make all the possible streams of grace accessible to us in Christ.

This grace is not merely accessible, but abounding, overflowing, and ever-increasing. Our God is outside the limits of confinement and constraint. He obliterates the floodgates of restraint with the truth of His boundless character. As a result, He is more than capable of granting to us all we need "according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19)

In Christ, we not only have "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3), but we have all sufficiency. The ultimate filling of our cavernous and thirsty hearts is possible through the atoning work of Christ alone, and it is complete for "all things at all times". Since the rich plenitude of this grace has been lavished on us (Eph. 1:7-8), we are able to abound in every good work as God causes all grace to abound to us. We are conduits of His grace to a lost and dying world.

We can trust that God is magnificently almighty in His lovingkindness and accordingly, we are enabled to joyously abound in the work He has called us to. He has provided an abundant reservoir of His mercy stored up for us in the place of well-deserved wrath, even when our circumstances seem to indicate spiritual scarcity. We can find joy in obedience, an overflow from jubilees of praise, and find fullness of satisfaction in Him alone.

He is more than able to meet every need in Himself, for His grace is far greater than the powerful cascades of any and every waterfall on Earth.