You Will Win!

I really like game shows, at one point I contemplated paying extra money to have the Game Show Network added to my cable package-Thank God for deliverance. Seriously, I really enjoy game shows. Do you all remember Weakest Link? I may be showing my age here, but the host was a very stern, extremely curt older lady-think Judge Judy, but the British version. The host, Anne Robinson, would fire off questions to a panel of nine or ten contestants. The more questions they answered correctly, the more money they would win. At the end of each round, the player with the least amount of correct questions answered was booted off the show, the host would turn to the contestant and in the most cynical, yet slightly entertaining, voice would say: “You are the weakest link, Goodbye.” That phrase made the show. Honestly, I remember saying it to random classmates as a way to be funny or sarcastic. I wonder what Anne Robinson is doing right now…Image result for thinking emoji

Anyway, do we ever think about the contestants who were the weakest links? We celebrate the winners of these game shows, yet the “losers” are distant memories, all because they did not know an answer or were told they are the weakest link. Do they just go home to a family that expected them to come home victorious? Do they put on a happy face, while others give them the look of, “aww” or “well hey, you tried.” Have you all ever felt that way, like the loser of a game show? We may not have been defeated on national television, but often times what we sought to do, what we attempted to achieve…fails. That’s tough.

While I thank God my failures were never on television, they were pretty public. I posted things on social media, I was excited about life and where I THOUGHT it was going. However, when my plans were thwarted, I began asking myself, do I delete my posts on social media to ease the pain? Do I run away from the inevitable questions of “what happened?” or “I thought you were going to become a lawyer?” For a moment, I did run and I did hide. I didn’t want to face the reality of going full force at something and ultimately hitting a brick wall. I truly felt like the weakest link.

It wasn’t until I found out that my failure was a set up for a breakthrough that I stopped hiding and running. So often, rejection or failure is God’s way of protecting us. He is so merciful that sometimes he gives us exactly what we want, simply to show us that what we’ve been desiring is the wrong thing. I know many of the thousands of losing contestants on game shows had every intention of winning, coming home as champions and small-town heroes. They perhaps had the expectation of doing news interviews and using their winnings to buy a nice house or pay off debt. It is tough when your expectations never meet reality. What if God is trying to show us that what we thought we wanted is not what he wants? Sometimes God wants to show us that winning isn’t everything!

Winning pleases our flesh, we feel confident, we may boast or become prideful in what WE accomplished. However, we are not called to win all the time! Matthew 16:24-26 tells us, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?’” Taking up our cross, means giving up our expectations and trading them for the will of our Father. No, winning isn’t everything, but it is in the moments of loss, that we are actually winning something greater.

Sure, our expectations have been shattered and we may have even taken an “L” or a loss publicly, but Isaiah 54:4 states, “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” You may feel as if you lost, but you have won. No matter what happened publicly, God will not allow you to be ashamed or humiliated. Sometimes he must do a work on us privately, in order to reveal his finished product publicly.

I am thankful for the times in my life I felt like I was losing, I felt as though I wanted to flee from everyone and everything and start over. I have learned that because of God’s faithfulness, he did not give me what I wanted. As my father, he protected me from a path that may have taken me away from him or my ministry. We do not see it at the time, because we are consumed by emotions and pain. Our expectations were shattered and we want to turn to comfort or simply disappear. However, that is not what we are called to do. We are called to share our testimony, share the fact that we lost and felt like the weakest link. Revelation 12:11 says, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” Our testimony is not just for us; Yes, we can overcome by it, but we also have the potential to help our brothers and sisters overcome as well. Do not be afraid or selfish with your testimony, it has power!

Friends, I lift to you, you are not the weakest link. Your loss or failure makes you great. It is an odd paradox, but God uses the broken, he uses the pain, he uses the weak things to get the glory. Begin to understand that rejection is protection and that our loss builds us for the win. What we are winning is the will of Christ which far outweighs the meager plans we have for ourselves. His ways are better, his ways are greater, and he is able to exceedingly and abundantly above ALL we can even ask or think. So, to all of the Anne Robinsons’ in your life, that may have told you that you were the weakest link, don’t get too deep in your feelings. Walk with boldness that it is only a matter of time before God reveals you as the true winner!

Working By Faith Alone

Imagine, you work 120 hours a week, you’re hands are covered in blisters, you’re mentally and physically exhausted, you’re running on 3 hours of sleep, and you’ve barely had the time to sit down and eat. When Friday finally arrives you go to the office to pick up your paycheck, excited for the payoff for all your hard work, but when you look at your check the amount says $0.00. Stunned, you go to HR to complain, but to your utter amazement, they say that it wasn’t a mistake, but that your hard work earned you nothing! You’re furious! What was the point of all this hard work if you weren’t getting paid?! The HR rep then hands you your employment contract, and it states that you are only working for the joy and thankfulness of having a job! Now, how does this scenario make you feel? Horrified? Stressed? Well, I hope you’re sitting down, because I have to tell you that this is going to happen to you.

In, Romans 4 Paul talks about the nature of our work in relationship to our righteousness. In verses 4 & 5 he states, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” So, what does this mean?

Well, when you work, you are actually creating a debt between yourself and your employer. Your time, your effort, and your attention all help create value for your employer, and as a result, your employer is indebted to you. 1 Timothy 5:18 says “the laborer deserves his wages” for this very reason! So, to the one who works, they are due a just wage for their labor! However, there is a very harsh reality to verse four, and it is that if we are working for our wage of “righteousness” we will actually fall further and further away from it as our motivation shifts from faith to moral-ism. That is why in Romans 4:2 Paul states that if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

If we could earn the righteousness of God through works, there would be no need for grace! We would be able to gain righteousness through our good works, but as Paul states, it would lead to boasting of a righteousness that would not be acceptable before God! Before Christ came, the Israelites operated on such a system, and it proved to be fatal! Christ had to come because God’s people weren’t able to maintain their righteousness through this system! It’s not possible! All of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God!

It’s for these reasons that Paul says in verse two, “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Additionally, in verse five, he states that it isn’t the worker, but the one who believes in Christ whose faith is counted as righteousness! How incredible is that! The only thing that Paul says we need to do is believe! That’s it! But, believe in what? In Romans 4:23-24 Paul states, “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Therefore, we are justified through our faith in God the Father, and in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ! So then, where do works come into play? I mean, there are a lot of commands and commandments in the Bible, and Jesus calls us to keep his commands. Well, first, here’s what work isn’t. Work isn’t striving to be faithful in hopes that God will bless you. Work isn’t keeping a checklist of all your good deeds so you can present it to God on the day of his judgment. Work isn’t a way to find your purpose, your identity, and your hope. So, what is it?

Well, the work of our hands is an important aspect of living out our faith! When you come to know the person of Jesus Christ, you will realize how amazing, how loving, how merciful, how gracious, and how mighty He is, and you will understand that our work is meant to give Him Glory! This then should be our motivation in relation to work; that our faith in Jesus motivates action out of the overflow of joy and gratitude in our hearts for the promise of an eternity spent with Him! And, frankly, this is the only motivation we will ever need! So, while our work on earth may not earn us the wage we expected, Christ has already freely given us the greatest wage we could ever hope for! He has provided far more than we ever deserve, and He has given us a purpose, identity and hope! So, from now on, let’s work with a motivation, joy, and hope that can only come by faith in Christ alone!

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever taken the time to look up your name? Do you know what it means? Is it accurate? Perhaps you are a parent and you took hours, days, or even months coming up with the perfect name for your child. While I do not have children, I have thought about what I would name my future children. I want my children to have a great legacy and I want their name to carry strength and honor. I was named after my father and I find my name empowering. I realize that I am carrying on something so much greater than myself.

Let’s take a look at various names in the Bible. Abraham, who was the biblical patriarch, his name means “father of many.” Daniel, a Hebrew prophet, means “God is my judge.” David, a great king, means “beloved.” Elisha, a mighty prophet and miracle worker, means “God is my salvation.” Habakkuk, the author of the book of the same name, means “embrace.” Leah, the first wife of Jacob, means “weary.” Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, means “pleasantness,” and finally Noah, the builder of the great ark, means “rest or comfort.”

All of these names hold great meaning, and for most of the above individuals, these names correlate to their destiny and their promise. Biblically, these individuals have amazing stories and their names continue to hold great power today. However, can we call on these names for rest? Can we call on these names as an act faith? Not at all, but there is a name, in which everything we need, lies.

There is a name above all names. Hillsong has a beautiful song that reiterates how powerful this name is. The lyrics state: what a powerful name it is, what a powerful name it is, the name of Jesus Christ our King. This name is derived from Yeshu’a and it does not end there, this man has many names. Isaiah 9:6, proclaims his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. He is proclaimed as the Lily in the Valley, the Rose of Sharon, and the Bright and Morning star. Apostle Paul, declares him a comforter. Exodus proclaims him as Jehovah, meaning “I am who I am”. He is proclaimed as a present help in the time of trouble, a strong tower, and a mighty warrior. In our intimate moments, he is Abba father. He is Jehovah-nissi, which means, “God our banner”. He is the immutable truth and the author and finisher of our faith. Ephesians declares him the chief cornerstone, while Romans proves him to be our deliverer. He is Alpha and Omega, the high priest, and the gospel of Matthew declares him to be Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” To the lady at the well, he was described as living water and in 1 John he is declared our advocate. Even unclean spirits in Mark 3:11 declared him as the son of God. Malachi describes him as a healer and a purifier. 2 Timothy declares him to be the Righteous judge and Revelation 5:5 declares him to be The Lion of Tribe of Judah.

This may be a lot to take in, but think of the heaviness and power that is in this one name. It is through this name that lives have been saved and hearts have been changed. It is through this name that shackles are broken and mountains are moved. How truly powerful! Not only is there power, but there is pure awe and beauty. As sons and daughters, we can call on his name to save a loved one. We can call on his name when we are weak, heartbroken, or in an inconvenient situation. Just at the sound of his name, demons tremble. It is through his name, we have access to our sovereign father. There is no greater name that has been spoken, and there will never be a name greater on this earth. His name brings peace, his name brings joy, his name brings comfort. His name compels the lost, strengthens the weak, and sustains the spirit.

What is this name? Jesus Christ. The name in which I found my hope and joy. The name in which I called out for salvation and the name that is truly the sweetest name I know. Do you all realize the access we have through this name? We are given authority and boldness to share his name with everyone in our lives. His name is the proclamation that will bring revival to our churches. His name will be the banner in which we wave in a generation that does not want to believe in his power. It is through his name that we can develop a deeper understanding of his character. His name imbues compassion, justice, and majesty. Are you calling his name?

In all honesty, I have wanted to see my name in lights. I have wanted my name to be known and world renown. I have continued to pursue my education, to have letters in front and behind my name. However, I have to be content, in the fact that my name has been changed to righteous, fearfully and wonderfully made, and son of the Most High. I will continue to pursue wonderful things and build a legacy, but I must remember that my name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. I must realize that when I call on the mighty name of Jesus, it brings power and peace to my situation. My name is not my own, I am now declared an heir to an inheritance and a promise.

So today, strip off any names you may have been called or heaviness that may come with the name you were given at birth. We may not embrace our birth given name, but we have been given a new name. Just as Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, our names have been changed. It is because of the amazing and omnipotent name of Jesus, that we can walk in our new identity.

Gluttony: Not Just About Portion Size

I LOVE food. I love to cook it, I love to eat it, I follow numerous social media profiles dedicated to it, and I’m even a sucker for watching it on TV. Even though I’m obsessed with the food I routinely shovel into my face, I still try to make healthy options and not to eat in excess. So, naturally I didn’t think I struggled with gluttony, but as it turns out, gluttony has less to do with portion size, and more to do with my relationship with food itself.

Recently, our culture has elevated food from a basic necessity to a necessary comfort. Advertisements today promise consumers that eating a certain product with lead to comfort, happiness, and can even mend heartache. On social media, we are often bombarded with images of cheesy pizza, gooey chocolate desserts, and other comfort foods that will invoke a desire to consume whatever we are viewing. As a result, and I’m speaking from experience, we often end up at the fridge or pantry searching for something to satisfy the cravings that our constant food fantasies create. There’s often an inner desire we can’t quite put our finger on, but we are willing to try the full spectrum of snacks, from savory to sweet, in order to quench it. So, what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong with being obsessed with food?

In C.S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon is writing to his nephew on how to capture the soul of the human he inhabits. When the demons discuss gluttony, there were two forms that came to light: excess and delicacy. The first form focuses on the quantity of food consumed, while the second focuses on the desire for a specific type of food. They determined that the desire for food can be such a strong motivator that quantity doesn’t matter as long as the human belly and palate can be used to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern. This is pretty concerning isn’t it? How often do we make light of “hanger”, as an excuse for our outbursts of frustration and anger, which stem from our desire and anxiety for food? How much time to we commit everyday to think about what we will consume at the next meal? How much of our money do we throw away on food that we know we don’t need but that we “have to have”? Our desire for food itself can be considered a form of gluttony, but where do we draw the line between healthy and unhealthy desire?

In Philippians 3:18-19, Paul wrote, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” So, why does Paul make such a specific distinction for food? Well, Paul is not focusing on food itself, but the desire we have for it. The individuals Paul discusses are those enslaved by the need to fulfill their bodily desires. They no longer look to Christ as their source of comfort and joy, but have created functional saviors (i.e. Idols) to worship, in the food they consume. Paul makes no distinction on how much a person needs to consume, but emphasizes that an individual’s source of worship itself is most important, because it can create a war in our hearts between God and our functional saviors.

So, is it bad to think about food or to desire to have a certain meal? Absolutely not! God created food for our enjoyment and to sustain us! However, God never meant for food to take His place in our hearts as our source of fulfillment, comfort, and joy. That place is designed for the one who fulfilled our ultimate need on the cross, for the one who provides and fulfills all that we could need, and for the one who reflects the glory of God. Our ultimate desire should be for a relationship with Christ Himself. He is better than any chocolate chip cookie. He is better than any tub of ice cream. And yes, He is even better than a perfectly cooked steak. So, after a long day, don’t run to the pantry, but to the throne of Grace, where perfect fulfillment, comfort, and joy can be found in the promise and person of Jesus Christ!