Anthony wrote and sent something last week that he felt God placed on his heart for the blog. I don't think it needs much of an introduction, and so here it is.
I've been listening to a new CD I got by Thousand Foot Krutches titled "The End is Where We Begin." It's a great CD, and the title has been stuck in my head. As a Christian, I know that at the end of this life, our eternal and perfect life will begin. But for me, this title took on a new meaning two months ago.
I had just finished reading the eighteenth and last chapter of Laurie's book. I put the pages down with tears in my eyes. (Actually the last two chapters had each brought tears, and I know prison isn't making me soft, so it must be God!) Now our story would go out to others. The battle had been fought and won. Then I found out the end is where we begin.
Slowly, fears and apprehension started to creep into my life after that. Not about the book, but other things. The first fear was going to church, or more specifically, worship. Our worship team suddenly grew by five members and as worship leader, I found myself trying to blend different playing styles. I met resistance, and though I had leadership backing, I still didn't want to deal with it. Conflict in prison can escalate in the blink of an eye. I wanted to run from it and go back to just cruising along. God, of course, still showed up, and we sounded good every time, but apprehension still pops up every Friday.
I started having a hard time at work, so I didn't want to go in. I began to dwell on dying in prison. Then Laurie and I talked a few weeks ago, and when we got off the phone, I felt as low as I had been in years. I realized then that I had been in a battle for God going on three years and now that the battle was over, I had let down my defenses. The accuser had attached, but the end is where we begin!
When we are in that battle with God over Satan, be it for our family, ministry, work, or personal life, we are focused on God. We grow near to Him. His Word speaks to us. We see God work. But when that battle is over, we think we can relax––not so! The end is where we begin. I had to be more specific in my prayers, read His Word, even when I felt distracted, and I had to realize my battle will never be over.
Keeping our focus on Christ is a daily struggle. Just because we come to a pasture after being in the desert for a time doesn't mean we can let up. Our battle is not with flesh and blood, after all. And as God's children we are always, always in Satan's crosshairs.
The end really is where we begin to fight, to grow, to live!
I did not tell Anthony this prior to receiving that letter last week, but I have been in a similar place since finishing my manuscript. It's interesting that both Anthony and I have felt particularly vulnerable to attack lately. There are some big things on the horizon. I'm going to a speaker's conference in a couple of weeks, the Billy Graham film will be coming out in November, and my book will be released next spring––all of which are from God. But what God wills, Satan opposes, and so I'd like to ask for prayers.
Please pray for protection and strength for both Anthony and me. Pray that the message God has entrusted to us will go forth like wildfire, impacting and changing the lives of millions. Pray that my publisher will be directed by Jesus in all their decisions pertaining to my book.
This is my prayer, and I would be incredibly grateful if you'd join me in it! I believe the message of redemption that Anthony and I have been given has the power to transform lives to the glory of God, but quite honestly, that won't come without a fight. I'm sure fighting on my end, and I think Anthony is as well, but we sure could use the strength that comes from the prayers of God's saints! And I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for each and every prayer you pray and for being a part of what God is doing in and through our story!
I pray for the fullness of God's blessing on each one of you!
Moment by moment, I'm kept in His love;
Moment by moment, I've life from above;
Looking to Jesus, the glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, Oh Lord, I am Thine.
- Andrew Murray
I started reading a book––well, I guess it's actually more like a long essay––written by Andrew Murray called Humility. Murray was a pastor, evangelist, educator, and writer during the nineteenth century who was educated in Europe but primarily lived in South Africa. Honestly, if you have a chance to get your hands on any of his writings, I highly recommend them, but I do have to admit, they can be a bit dense.
As I read Humility, I was having a hard time retaining what Murray was saying simply because of the way he writes, and so I began to rewrite his writings in note-taking form to be sure I'd be able to internalize this important message. Humility is something to be sought after. Something we ought to strive toward, and when I'm completely honest with myself, I must admit that it's something I have yet to grasp. I'm not quite sure humility is completely attainable this side of heaven, but it is something we can certainly grow in, and to that end, I've decided to share my rewrite of the beginning of Murray's book.
Just to be clear––what I have written below is not original content. While these points are written in my own words, they're derived and paraphrased directly from Humility.
- We get to be participants in God's perfection and blessedness to show the glory of His love and wisdom and power. God chose to reveal Himself in and through us by showing as much of His goodness and glory as man could understand. But this does not give us something we can possess in and of ourselves. When we abide in Christ, we display God's glory, not our own.
- Our relationship with God can only be one of absolute dependence. We are nothing apart from Him. It is God who sustains us.
- We owe everything to God––our care, our virtue, our happiness––and so we must present ourselves as an empty vessel in which God can dwell and manifest His power and goodness. We remain dependent on Him every moment for this. It is not a one time thing. We are not filled to completion one time but must continually come to God to fill us moment by moment.
- Humility (total dependence on God) is the first duty and highest virtue and is at the root of every other virtue. Pride then is the loss of humility and is at the root of every sin and evil. Pride and self exaltation is the gate and the birth and curse of hell. True redemption, then, is the restoration of humility.
- We deserve nothing. All we have is grace.
- Humility recognize that we are absolutely nothing and that God is everything. It sees our position before God rightly.
- Without humility there can be no real abiding in God's presence. We cannot experience His favor or the power of His spirit, and without this, we will not experience an abiding faith or love or joy or strength.
- "Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure" (p.7).
- Humility is not one virtue among many others. "It is the root if all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all" (p.7).
- "It is not something which we bring to God, or He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all" (p. 7).
- Humility quite simply is acknowledging the truth of our position as creature and yielding to God His rightful place.
- The Church has often neglected teaching humility, but it ought to be at the forefront of the earnest Christian, those who pursue and profess holiness.
- We must "admit that there is nothing so natural to man, nothing so insidious and hidden from our sight, nothing so difficult and dangerous, as pride" (p.8).
- Humility will not come on its own, “it must be made the object of special desire and prayer and faith and practice” (p. 8).
Murray closes his first chapter by saying, “Let us study the character of Christ until our souls are filled with the love and admiration of His lowliness. And let us believe that, when we are broken down under a sense of our pride, and our impotence to cast it out, Jesus Christ Himself will come in to impart this grace too, as a part of His wondrous life within us.” And to that, I say AMEN!
That's some pretty good stuff, isn't it!? Now if we could just do it.
Humility seems to be at the very heartbeat of Jesus. To be like Jesus is to be humble. Now, we may not be able to work humility in ourselves, but by God's grace, we can humble ourselves. We can start to position ourselves under God, in our proper place, and we can allow God to take His rightful place in our lives.
So, let's do that! Let's intentionally resolve to make humility the "special desire and prayer and faith and practice" in our lives today! And I'm pretty sure that if we do, we will see God do many many wonders before our very eyes.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. - 1 Peter 5:6-7
Andrew Murray, Humility & Absolute Surrender (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005).
Laurie Coombs will be featured in Billy Graham's new film, "Heaven," (November 2014) part of the "My Hope with Billy Graham" series broadcast nationally in an effort to reach people with the message of the gospel. She is a featured writer and blogger for iBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com and is currently working on first book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer: A journey of forgiveness (Kregel Publications, Spring 2015).
With a background in teaching, Laurie is a passionate speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption, and the blessings associated with following Jesus. She and her husband, Travis, make their home in Reno, Nevada along with their two daughters, Ella and Avery.
For more information about Laurie Coombs or to book her for a speaking engagement, please visit her blog, LaurieCoombs.org. And be sure to connect with Laurie on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. - Deuteronomy 30:19-20
We don't often like to talk about obedience. It's simply not a popular topic to address. Quite honestly, I don't think any of us naturally want to obey God. We all seem to have this thing in us that wants to go it alone. To do our own thing. To be masters of our own domain and live our lives however we so choose. Even the thought of having to obey seems to evoke the desire not to––the desire to rebel.
But I think we have gotten it all wrong. When we consider the need to obey God, we often think our obedience resigns us to live a dull, joyless life. And I have to admit––God's commands do seem burdensome, at first glance, but they're not intended to be. The law was given that we might experience a blessed life. Just as loving parents lays down appropriate rules for their children, God has given commandments to bless us and keep us from harm.
God does call each of us to obedience. He calls us to follow Jesus with everything we've got. And this requires us to lay ourselves down before Him. To do things His way. To follow His plan for our lives. But when played out, our obedience is anything but burdensome. In John 15, Jesus tells us to abide in His love. He tells us that if we keep His commandments, we will abide in His love and that when we do obey, we receive the fullness of His joy (verses 9-11).
Now, just so we're clear, we are not saved by our works. We do not achieve salvation through obedience, but we are blessed through it.
When I set out on my journey with Jesus, I pledged my unhindered devotion to obey His commands, and let me tell you, I saw blessings I never thought possible. That's when all that stuff with Anthony happened. When I followed Jesus into my scary places and chose to love and forgive my enemy––the man who murdered my dad. The things God did in and through me during that season were absolutely astonishing. But after that, I think I sort of settled into my faith a bit and complacency started to take root.
Sure, I had seen God do the impossible right before my eyes, but after a while, I started to go soft on the whole obedience thing. A seed was planted, a lie, that told me if I continued to be "by the book," so to speak, I'd become religious and legalistic, and I certainly did not want to go down that road. I wanted to live by faith––great faith––(and I still do!), as the men and women of the Bible did. But I believed then, as I continue to believe now, that religion and legalism kill real faith. Quite simply, we all have a little Pharisee in us, and I was afraid my pure faith would die at the hand of religion. And so, I began to sluff off a bit. Not much, but just a little. Just enough to make me a bit less effective. Not enough to diminish my faith too much, but just enough.
But I refuse to be like that any longer. I refuse to be fooled. God says we are to obey, and we must obey. I've already experienced the immeasurable blessings that come as a result of obedience by faith, and so I know what God does when we choose to obey. I've also played around with a small amount of disobedience, and I can tell you first hand that I was not blessed to the same extent during that season as I was before.
I had a dream about the time when I began to sluff off on my obedience. It was a crazy dream, and I woke a bit startled. In the dream, I was going about my day as usual with my girls in my house when I saw a man out of the corner of my eye in my backyard. I looked at him, and he stared back with eyes evil and piercing deep down into my soul. It was odd that he was there, but for whatever reason, I wasn't really bothered much by his presence at first. But then, I realized who he was. He was Satan, and as I came to that realization, I saw him walking slowly toward my back door. Panic suddenly struck my heart, as I quickly tried to close the door and lock it. I got the door shut, but it wouldn't lock, and as I frantically continued to work the lock, he looked straight into my eyes with a taunt and a smirk and said, "What? You think you can play around with me and expect to keep me out?"
The dream went on, as I gathered my daughters and ran upstairs to hide. I was looking for something. I didn't know what it was for a while, but then it occurred to me, "I need my sword," I said. I was looking for my sword. I was hiding my children in the upstairs closet, and then I woke.
It was the Sword of the Spirit that I needed. Scripture tells us our only defensive weapon against Satan and evil in this world is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. God's Word has power, but we cannot wield that weapon unless we're living it. God's Word is to be lived. And quite honestly, the only way we're going to live the fullness of life God wants to bless us with is through doing the Word.
That may seem burdensome, but it's not. Jesus tells us that the whole of the law can be summed up in two commands. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love others as yourself. It's pretty simple when it comes down to it. It's all about love.
But you need to know that Satan will try to bind you. He will try to convince you that you're powerless to obey, but you're not. You have been given the will and ability to do everything God calls you to do. Both you and I can do God's will, but it requires us to lay down our own desires for the sake of obedience. It requires us to say, "Not my will, but Yours!" And when you do, you best get ready for the blessings God will most assuredly rain down upon you. He will do things you never thought possible.
And so let's stop our rebellion and start obeying. Let's do life God's way and receive all He has for us.
He tells us we have a choice. Let's choose LIFE!
I recently heard a pastor say, "Fail fast and forget about it."* It made me smile and think about what Paul wrote to the Philippians, the scripture I used in my last post, where he said,
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:12-14
I know I'm stating the obvious, but we all fail. Everyone of us has failed in the past, and more failures are sure to come to us in the future. Failure, after all, is a given. We are imperfect sinners in need of God's grace and mercy. And while I certainly don't want to give the impression that I think it's okay to sin, I do believe failure has its purpose.
Quite simply, if God wanted us to be perfect, I think He would have made us perfect. But He didn't, and we're not. Now, I don't believe God intended for us to be sinners––He hates sin––but for whatever reason, in His sovereign will, God chose to give man the freedom of choice and with choice comes a propensity toward fallibility––the very thing that shows our need for God.
In the verses above, Paul writes of his imperfections. He freely admits that he is not a perfect man, and if you read the verses directly before those quoted, you'll see that what Paul was pressing on toward was righteousness through his faith in Jesus. Not through his works, not through his religious resume, but through his faith. What we see Paul continually strive toward throughout all his writings in the Bible was to move past his imperfections toward the goal of knowing and loving his Savior more.
Paul made plenty of mistakes in his past. He persecuted Jesus' early followers, even to the point of murder. But when Paul gave his life to Jesus, he knew what we all need to know in the depths of our heart––that he was washed clean by the blood of Jesus and that he was made new. No mistake, no sin could condemn him any longer. They were gone. Paid for and reconciled by God, Himself. This is why Paul could tell the believers in Philippi with complete assurance that he could forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead. He failed fast and forgot about it, trusting and believing in the One who took the toll on his behalf. And with Paul as our example, we need to lose our ties to our past sins. We need to realize that we have been washed. That we stand before God forgiven, white as snow because of our Savior. And if God forgives us, I'm pretty sure we ought to forgive ourselves as well.
Fail fast and forget about it.
* I listen to so many sermons by several different pastors on podcast, and I wish I could give credit, but I honestly can't remember who it was! I can tell you, however, that it was either Steven Furtick, Clayton King, or Matt Chandler.