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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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Death, Life, and Resurrection Hope

CarissaPensive

Death terrifies me.

My greatest fear is being left behind, abandoned, forgotten. So death poses an immense threat, threatening to someday take those dearest to me.

Recent news of death crossed my path like an unwelcome tidal wave.

Old friends, family members, and coworkers. Cancer, car accidents, and a plane crash. Life’s light was extinguished, leaving survivors with stolen breath and sucker-punched guts, like from the force of water.

As much as the victory of Christ is a comfort, I often waver.


We’re visiting my cousin Aaron in Camarillo. The cemetery is tucked behind stratified layers of farms––crops of berries and knolls of flowers stretch across every corner.

Trees, rooted in the dead and fed by mortality, give shade to gravestones––some fresh, others worn by time. Tall rock faces stare sternly. Pinwheels provide a cheery pop of color.

33 years in the grave, and buried after only 7 months of life. But the memory comes back as fresh as the bouquet of flowers in my aunt’s arms.

Life reminds her of his all-too-soon absence. A solitary palm tree marks where he’s buried. A pause, and she speaks through tears.

“We used to do hayrides right around here.”

My grandma, mom, and I stand in silence, carrying the weight of heavy grief––trying to shoulder the burden my aunt carries.

There are no words to be said. Only our presence to offer, when the pain of absence screams to be heard louder.


The terror of death can become a living death, if I allow it to paralyze me from living. Instead of lingering in fear and anticipation of unimaginable grief, I take one day at a time, one step at a time.

Timid at first, faltering, but I move into each moment with immense gratitude. The gifts are reflections of ultimate Goodness.

Life is fleeting, yes, but magnificently beautiful––weighed down with gifts like the fruitful bough of a peach tree in spring.

Sorrowful, yes, but never without rays of everlasting joy and hope.

And though not fully experienced here, we get glimpses of the indestructible joy that awaits. I’ve started to look at loved ones with childlike wonder––like, “You’re really here, living in front of me.” I drink in the daily beauty of life, seeing everyday microcosms of glory.

Death and life are weighty subjects. The only reality that gives either meaning is truth outside those words.

Eternity exists. God’s ways are mysterious, but He promises present pain isn’t without meaning. Even grief has a place in what can feel like a scrambled jigsaw puzzle of experiences. His gospel gives hope, grace, triumph even in the mundane and the frightening.

His immovable character is the only thing that gives me hope and steadies me in life’s uncertainty, the suspense of tragedy lurking around the corner.

I can cast all my burdens on Him because rather than responding with cold indifference, He cares. Even more staggering, He is with me, even in my darkest moments.

I want to fill my lungs to capacity, plunge into each moment––each crystalizing memory––with bravery. That bravery is a gift––a by-product of resurrection hope.

Through the gospel, I am free of sin’s tyranny, the terror of the grave. Death is a now a threshold to eternity resplendent.

“[Christ] Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” –Hebrews 2:14b-15

The power of resurrection hope overrules the terror of death’s tyranny. I do not face an abyss of nothingness when I think of mortality. Rather, it means my mission of joyous obedience to the One who saved me is complete.

And the burden for those who don’t know Christ’s redemption is that they are hurtling toward death without purpose or living hope.

The burden of every redeemed heart is for others to know the fullness of abundant life Jesus promises. He came that we might exchange hearts of stone for hearts of flesh––restoring us to our intended humanity.

Judgment is as real as eternal bliss. We’re all guilty before a perfect Judge. But He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Christ is the way, truth, and life. He died the death we deserve and rose from the grave to seal our salvation, setting our souls free from the bondage of sin and fear. Wrath rained on him so we would be free.

In trusting Him, eternal life is the gift freely given.

Don't depart this glimmer of life without reconciliation to God. He offers hope indomitable, peace that surpasses understanding, infinite communion in His glory.

“You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

–Augustine

Without Him, we’re hollow souls chasing after shadows of fleeting pleasure. He promises rest, as you turn from a shell of life lived for lesser things, to the Fountain of all life and joy.

There is infinite meaning found in the finitude of our humanity. Grasp Him by faith––He’ll not abandon your soul, even beyond the grave.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

–Romans 8:38-39

This side of eternal joy, fear isn’t altogether banished. But even on the days where the promise of victory seems like a facade, we have a lasting treasure. Hope is rooted in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection––it promises life beyond the grave, bursting from tombs.

Grief is crushing. The pain of loss pierces deeply. Life bears heavy on the soul. And yet there is hope, for those who cling to the Hope-Giver.

In Christ, decaying bodies are eclipsed by resurrection hope. Death’s sting is exchanged for radiant joy––knowing Jesus is victor, redemption is real, and enduring hope is forever secured in the gospel.

“He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
   and the reproach of His people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
   “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us.
   This is the Lord; we have waited for Him;
   let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

–Isaiah 25:8-9


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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

When Anxiety Strikes, Fight Back


I bury my head deep in the vinyl booth corner––hoping against all reality that it will absorb me into invisibility.

The cacophony of loud, magnified laughs and my own pent-up pressures catalyze heart palpitations. I tug my forest green cardigan over my face and clench my jaw to stem the tide of tears.

In a temporary shelter of primitive security, I feel my shaky breath bounce back to me, and I try to gather myself. My family on either side of the U-shaped booth murmur on. Occasionally concern layers their conversation as they turn to me, a curled-up form half-buried in upholstery and near-panic.

As I try to slow my thought process down, I feel like I'm chained to the back of a moving truck that continues to steadily make its way toward a dark downtown. 

I faintly remember sequences of numbers help derail anxiety attacks. 

3. . . 27 . . . 8 . . . 

I stop. 

Textures. Yeah, certain textures help, too. I grip the cloth napkin bunched in my fist, but it might as well be sandpaper, for all its ineffective comfort.

Almost as a last resort, I pray. The concept of an all-loving and gracious God is currently a framed antique in the hallway of my mind. His character and purposes are facts I know to be true. But in my terror, they have been relegated to confined artifacts.

If only I can grasp the goodness of His sovereignty right now. A weary thought. Lord, help me.

Think of His promises. My mind goes blank. Maybe there's another framed manuscript with a reference starting with. . . Psalm . . . ? Right now, my mind grasps at truth like all-too-elusive smoke.

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." –Romans 8:26

The Spirit administers comfort and helps my weak clinging to truth, even when hope seems altogether out of sight. And I end up with just enough strength for the next step––slowly turning around for a sip of water, to face the penetrating gaze of curious eyes.


Every so often, I suffer a massive panic attack. It happened in Portland, Oregon, when I was freshly 18 and had a cup too many of strong coffee. I started hyperventilating in Powell's giant book haven and could barely breathe even an hour later.

It happened in the middle of a crowded McDonalds in India. To my horror, the bathrooms were closed, the second floor dining area was packed, and my only visible refuge was the protecting embrace of a dear Indian friend who plopped next to a turbaned stranger. I'm indebted to my friend for allowing me to sob into her neck until the red sirens in my head faded to a dull roar.

And yes, I very nearly had a panic attack in a family restaurant a few weeks ago. Would I call it a victory? Hardly. But by the Lord's strength, I fought back. Did it feel like I was warring against anxiety with a foam sword? Oh, it often does.

I hate that anxiety makes me feel weak. Or, reminds me of how weak I really am. I hate the feeling of helplessness, exposed once I build up enough resistance against the dam, eventually releasing the floodwaters of fear that rush through my whole system.

The struggle underscores my utter human vulnerability and magnifies the anchoring constant of God's love and care for me. Apart from His provision of strength, I'd be wrenched apart by anxiety.

Even if victory over the ghosts haunting my mind seems distant, I have complete faith in the goodness of God's character and long for the day when He will bring final fulfillment to His glorious promises. Through the most intense panic, I encourage my heart to "weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered" (Rev. 5:5).

It is only by His grace that I stand, stagger, and limp out of a fear-filled prison into a world governed by the gracious rule of my Heavenly Father. When I fight back, it doesn't feel like much. But I know who fights for me. Thanks be to Christ, whose redemptive work has secured victory over all effects of the fall––including my proclivity to anxiety.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today...The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” –Exodus 14:13-14

Braving the September Blues


"Help me to navigate September's stormy sea with grace and resilience, resting on my divine captain, Jesus Christ."

–an evening prayer, 9/6/17

I have the September blues.

It's a strange feeling. There's something about the euphoria and adrenaline of a new semester plummeting to the dread of impending reality. Even summer crashes hard on the rocks of academic responsibility.

Septembers are odd. Unlike the delight of crisp October, September finds itself in that underwhelming portion of the year between rising action and final denouement. No more are jubilant beach days glittering and glorious, with life seeming like a constant adventure. Instead, now I find myself stuck in the hamster wheel of senioritis.

The drowsy blend of heat and syllabus shock.

The discomfort of settling into a new social rhythm.

A strange, September-bred existential dread.

When I often don't know why I'm upset but still I sink under the weight of a mind fraught with care.

Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Brokenness all around.

 

Even in my most cynical moments, I know this too shall pass. The September will conclude, the metaphorical sun rises, and I journey on, aided by a steady, supernatural hand. Even my own frailty doesn't prevent the God of time from having His way with my life.

Fear not, for I am with you;

be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

–Isaiah 41:10

Everything God has given me is lightyears beyond what I deserve. His mercies are new, September will end, and His grace prevails.

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him."

–Psalm 34:8

His grace is daily flowing for me, because of Christ's atonement. Sufficiency and efficacy are twin facets in grace's multidimensional beauty.

September has been rough. Crying out for help, resisting it, fleeing and fearing, praying and persisting. Where is it at? Elusive contentment, heart-rest, abundance of life?

Christ is the one who sustains––ad infinitum. He is all in all. Salvation, peace, and bravery are all found in Him alone––now, and every September until we reach that golden shore.

"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;

His going out is sure as the dawn;

He will come to us as the showers,

as the spring rains that water the earth."

–Hosea 6:3

40 Lessons I Learned in India

  1. Always bring snacks (and toilet paper).

  2. Start packing earlier.

  3. When in doubt, pray first.

  4. Don't be afraid to speak the language, even if you embarrass yourself.

  5. Be a listening ear for verbal processors before lecturing.

  6. Care deeply about the nationals and get to know them individually.

  7. Missionaries are sinners, too.

  8. Always confess your sin and seek forgiveness first.

  9. Look like you know where you're going, even when you have no idea. Walk with purpose. :)

  10. Comparison is deadly, hinders ministry, and dishonors Christ.

  11. People are not less intelligent just because they speak less English than you do.

  12. Deep conversations are worth missing sleep for.

  13. Allow at least 30 minutes of extra time in the morning so you're not rushed.

  14. Talking to Mom and Dad won't magically solve your problems.

  15. Spiritual warfare is a constant reality, and it affects things more than you know.

  16. That person you have the hardest time with can grow to be a kindred spirit.

  17. Sometimes loving and serving looks like being ridiculous on stage––deny yourself!

  18. Sing loudly and dance how you imagine in your head.

  19. Don't live for affirmation. It won't satisfy or bring lasting joy.

  20. Don't underestimate the power of reading Scripture throughout the day.

  21. Keep an internal dialogue with the Lord––thanking, beseeching, praising, processing.

  22. It's okay to smile and be warm behind a microphone.

  23. You're probably less awkward than you think you are.

  24. Too much sugar throughout the day will make you irritable at night.

  25. The world will not end if you don't check Facebook for a few days or don't respond right away.

  26. God is always working, even when you can't see it.

  27. It's okay to be sweating a ton––wear dark colors if you don't want it to show!

  28. Forget "cool." You're called to be faithful, not enslaved to others' dictates/standards.

  29. It's better to humble yourself and admit when you're not okay.

  30. If you're tired and rambling, just stop talking and go to bed.

  31. Having no concrete schedule is actually really freeing, even though it terrifies you.

  32. Notice little details to anchor memories to.

  33. People love and affirm in different ways. Learn to recognize and appreciate those ways without being enslaved to them for happiness.

  34. It's not about you.

  35. Just do the dishes.

  36. Choose the adventure.

  37. When you're weak, that's when you're strong.

  38. Music isn't your savior.

  39. Always go to the bathroom before you leave—you don't know where the next one could be. :)

  40. He is able to do far more abundantly than all you can ask or think.

Consider the Stars

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"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?" –Ps. 8:3-4

I saw more stars than I ever had on a late November night in remote Williams, Arizona.

My brothers and I had slipped outside and shivered under a brilliant night sky glowing in 30 degree air. Gripping mugs of hot chocolate, we traced our initials in the frost on the car and exhaled foggy clouds of breath. We talked, laughed, pointed at the sky.

They soon returned inside to our host's home––a solitary glow of warmth in a high desert landscape of near desolation. The conversations drifting from inside resonated with the sweet melodies of Christian fellowship.

I stayed and sat under celestial resplendence, vulnerable and coram Deo––before the face of God. I found the constellation Orion and smiled at its familiar form, one I knew from even the minimal scattering of stars in San Diego suburbia. The longer I spent in the darkness of that night, the more stars came to light. The vast sky was a bright reminder of the glory of His limitlessness. I stared at the stars and pondered.

Here, although I was several hundred miles away from home, I couldn't escape my fears, doubts, heart wounds. These, my Achilles' heel, lingered like a malignant shadow.

While sitting under this breathtaking view, I wrote this prayer––one I continue to echo for 2017.

God, You are altogether worthy of my trust and my praise. Help me to see my own wretchedness––the ways I seek to dethrone You. You are the Lord of the galaxies and here tonight, witnessing the awe-striking splendor of those galaxies, I bow. I confess. I seek Your face, Lord, rather than demanding Your hand. You are righteous and just in all Your judgements. You do all things well for Your glory and through Your grace. I must cling to truth. I am my own worst enemy. Pride claws at my best motives and I scream in my heart toward image-bearers of you. How can I?

The Lord of the universe––asteroids, black holes, fiery Jupiter, distant Neptune and Andromeda––condescended to minuscule, insignificant Earth. Oh, but Earth is magnificently significant in your gloriously perfect plan of redemption. Fallen man reconciled to his Creator, to live in loving communion with and worship to Him for the rest of his days––and all eternity. Stars sing His praises. And one day, in ultimate perfection with all of God's redeemed, so shall we. 

Now Lord, quicken my soul to do Your will.

Stars give me perspective, reminding me of my littleness and God's great magnitude. He is both transcendent and immanent––a mystery more lofty than the knowledge of the universe itself.

"He heals the brokenhearted     and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars;     He gives to all of them their names." –Ps. 147:3-4

How can the One who gives the stars their seemingly immeasurable number be the same Great Healer of wounded human hearts?

Pause and consider the stars. They are but a glimpse into the incomprehensibility of our God's grandeur.

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).