A New You!

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Our real, personal identity is not something we normally sit around thinking about like philosophers. It’s more a deeper, sub-conscious awareness of “how we really see ourselves,” and from that image, the way we actually respond to God, others and ourselves are profoundly impacted. In fact, it’s not going to far to say that your whole life flows out of how you interpret “who you are” as a person.

Too often, people base their identities on what they do (from their jobs to their roles in relationships), defining themselves by those pursuits. Sometimes people define themselves by what they don’t have and wish they did, or even by their relationship failures in life. But by doing so, they significantly limit their lives. The truth is that God intends for all people to find their identity in Christ.

If you’re a born-again Christian, your personal identity encompasses all the abundance of being a beloved child of God. Here’s how you can start living your life fully in Christ, keeping in mind that:

You’re loved. Regardless of your past mistakes, how you may feel about yourself right now or how others treat you, one thing is crystal clear; God loves you with a perfect love that is so great it is way beyond our ability to totally grasp. God loves you unconditionally in a way that eclipses probably the greatest human love on earth; a mother’s tender, dear, compassionate love for her child. You cannot make God love you any less or any more than He loves you right now. The only way you can begin understand this is to look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and why He gave His life for you, why He suffered everything to bring you back to God and transform your life in such a way from “ashes to beauty.” Once you finally grasp God’s absolutely, immense, cosmic love for you, it will radically change the way you treat others and accept yourself, as your Heavenly Father does.  While the people who love you can’t do so completely unselfishly, continually, or perfectly, God does. As a Christian, nothing can ever separate you from God’s magnificently great love for you!

You’re a saint. The fact that you’ve placed your trust in Jesus Christ is enough to qualify you to be a saint. Even though you’ll still struggle with sin while you live in this fallen world, your core identity as a Christian is as a saint, not a sinner – and you can always count on Jesus’ help to overcome sin in your life. Rely on His help to resist temptation. When you do sin, confess and repent. Maintain attitudes of humility and gratitude for God’s grace.

You’re blessed. God has given you the greatest blessing of all – Himself. No matter what other blessings God may or may not choose to send into your life, you can always be confident that God Himself will be with you, loving you, and working everything in your life out for good purposes when you trust Him to do so. God also brings many different, specific blessings into your life regularly. Make a habit of reflecting on those blessings every day (or every week) and thanking Him for them.

You’re appreciated. God notices and appreciates every good choice you make throughout your life – even when other people don’t. So change the way you live as a result. Exchange grumbling for praying, competing for celebrating, bitterness for thankfulness, performing for serving, and boasting for encouraging.

You’re saved. Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, you’re saved from: sin, death, Satan, your old human nature, and a pattern of worldly living. You can respond in gratitude to your salvation by doing good works that God has prepared for you to do, to help others discover relationships with Him and help redeem this fallen world.

You’re reconciled. Jesus has spiritually reconciled you to God and other believers. Since God plans for all Christians – from all the diverse types of backgrounds on Earth – to live harmoniously together in heaven forever, you should do your best to live harmoniously here and now. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be peaceful, humble, and compassionate toward other people.

You’re afflicted. Everyone in this fallen world – Christians and non-Christians alike – must endure suffering. However, as a Christian, your suffering can accomplish good, redemptive purposes. Rather than asking “Why?” when you suffer, ask “Who?” instead, shifting your focus from trying to figure out something that you may not be able to understand and toward seeking God Himself, who promises to always be with you. Ask Jesus to use the suffering you experience to make you more like Him and point more people to Him.

You’re heard. God always hears and responds to your prayers when you’re connected to Him through Jesus. Feel free to confidently express any of your thoughts and feelings to God at any time, expecting Him to listen to you and answer your prayers according to what’s best for you.

You’re gifted. God has given you special abilities that He wants you to use in the Christian ministry work He calls you to do – both inside your church, and out in your community. You can discover those gifts by asking yourself questions like: “Whom/where do you have a passion to serve?”, What do you have a burden to do?”, “What needs do you see in the church?”, “What do you find joy in doing for others?”, “What opportunities has God already provided for you to serve others?”, “What things are you best at and have the most success in?”, “What have godly people commended you for doing?”, and “What acts of service have given you the deepest sense of satisfaction?”

You’re new. Jesus placed a new spirit within you when you began a relationship with Him, so, at your core, you’re a new person than who you were before you became a Christian. However, you’ll keep learning and growing every day for the rest of your life as you gradually become more like Jesus.

You’re forgiven. Since Jesus paid the price that God’s justice demands for your sin and took God’s wrath for you upon Himself, you were forgiven for all of your sins (past, present, and future), when you placed your trust in Jesus. You can thank Jesus for forgiving you by obeying His commands to forgive others who have harmed you and to seek forgiveness from people you’ve harmed.

You’re adopted. As a Christian, you’ve been adopted into God’s family. The work of your big brother – Jesus – on the cross has made it possible for you to become one of the sons or daughters of God the Father. So make your main goal of life learning how to know, love, and trust God as your Father.

You’re rewarded. God will reward you for everything faithful and holy that you do as a Christian. Although you can’t earn your salvation, after you’ve been saved you can earn rewards in heaven for the work you do serving God on Earth.

You’re victorious. Jesus has given you the power to ultimately overcome evil, sin, and death. Use the spiritual weapons at your disposal as a Christian (truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, scripture, prayer, and the strength to stand) in spiritual battles, trusting that you can always emerge victorious.

The more we meditate on our brand-new identity in Christ, the more our character and actions will change. Daily remind yourself of how God defines you through Christ, not your actions or the way others see you. What matters ultimately is what your eternal, loving Heavenly Father says, not this fleeting world. Embrace your new identity today!

You’re a new creation in Christ Jesus! 

David Crews 

 

Embrace Your Race

 

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You have a race to run. I have a race to run.

Your race is not exactly like my race and neither is my race like yours.

To run your race successfully and faithfully, God has already put your beautiful feet into your own special pair of spiritual Nikes custom-made for how God made you, who you are and what you will become in Christ. Your shoes are awesome, but not nearly as amazing as your race!

Your race is a very personal race you’ve been given. Your Creator planned out your course to run long before you came into this world. Perhaps, you realize this truth more at times than at others or maybe never at all. Nevertheless, this race is for you. It is your race to run. It is unlike all others.

It’s quite possible you wouldn’t have chosen your race at all, had the choice been yours. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have chosen this particular route. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have chosen your pace. Or perhaps you would have chosen different racing environments, teammates, or coaches. Or perhaps you would have chosen different capacities, strengths, and resources, ones you believe would help you run more effectively. Or perhaps you would have chosen a different distance.

But here you are: in this race, on this route, at this pace, on this terrain, in this climate, with these people, and your strengths, and your limitations, for this distance. Like it or not, this is your race.

And the question is this: “Will you embrace your race or keep trying to escape it? What mindset will you choose?” For though you may not have chosen your race, you do get to choose how you run it.

How to Run Free
There’s only one way to real freedom and real joy: we must renounce our fantasy races, routes, paces, terrains, climates, teammates, strengths, or distances, and embrace the race we have been given. This is how to run free and for joy:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2)

This text shows us how to run our race and run it well.

1. Learn from great runners.
You are running a unique race, but not an unprecedented race. No one has experienced exactly what you have, but many have experienced the same emotions, temptations, and various other challenges common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). That’s why the Bible includes a “great cloud” of examples of faithful race-running.

If you want to run well, study other runners. (Hebrews 11) provides a helpful starter list, but it is by no means exhaustive. Study the great faith-runners. Examine all aspects of their courses. God did far more abundantly than all they asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20). He will do more for you, too, if you run faithfully.

2. Run as light as possible.
This is your race. God has given it to you. This truth is for your liberation, not your limitation. It’s meant to free you, not constrict you. It’s folly and sin to waste time wishing your race were different or resenting God’s choices. Most of those in the great cloud of witnesses had no idea all that God was doing while they were running very difficult races. Neither do you. But learn from the witnesses that God’s purposes are bigger and better than you can imagine.

Lay aside all the weights of fantasy and escape. Lay aside the weights of past sins and regrets. It makes for miserable, slow running. The cross pays for all the past, and the future joy will make all present difficulties now seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Focus on your race, and only carry what God gives you. His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

3. Run with endurance.
Endurance is only increased by pushing our current limits. It’s hard, yes. And you don’t know how you’ll ever be able to run like other great faith-runners. Neither did they when they began. This is not a short sprint—this is a marathon.

Begin today, and push your limits. When tomorrow comes, run and push your limits. What exhausts you today will be much easier in six months, but then you’ll be pushing different limits. Don’t look at your fantasized ideal of a great faith-runner. Let Jesus make you into whatever runner He wants. You faithfully and prayerfully aim to increase your current endurance limits.

4. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Look to Jesus — He is your greatest example, your Savior, and your greatest intercessor (Hebrews 7:25). He is the source of your greatest joy — your one great prize for running well (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11). A race is only run for a prize. If the prize is not before your eyes, you will lose motivation. If you feel unmotivated to run your race, it may be because the prize has been obscured. First priority: eyes on the prize again, whatever it takes — whatever it takes! And then “run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Embrace Your Race
This is your race. God has set it before you. There is more glory in it than you yet comprehend. “How are you going to run it?”

You can’t change the past; stop trying. There’s much you can’t change about the present; stop trying. There are many fantasies singing like sirens to allure you into the illusion of indulgent escape; stop listening, and don’t let them eat your race time and weigh you down. Understand God has already equipped you to run it. His daily supply of grace is more than you actually need, it’s abundant. You can totally trust Him for that. He would never put you on a course and not provide the means for you to complete it gloriously!

Embrace your race. Study the great faith-runners, run as light as possible, push your current endurance limits, and get your eyes on the Great Prize. Run freer, run faster, and run for joy. Millions of heaven’s runners and saints from the past and now in eternity are cheering you on loudly as you read these words. Can you hear them? “Go! Go!! Go!!!”

Let nothing hold you back or slow you down today. Let nothing hinder your progress now. Give your race all you got and you will celebrate with heaven forever your finish to God’s glory! Your level of joy in heaven’s eternity depends on how you run your race here and now on earth. Believe me, your race is worth the extra-effort. The grandstands are filled with cheers for you to run with dedication, strength and faithfulness. We are all rooting you on! Finish strong my friend!

Your fellow race-runner, 

David 

Book Review: “God’s Grace in Your Suffering.”

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“God’s Grace in Your Suffering”
Author: David Powlison
Crossway Publishers, (2018), 127 pgs.

“Why me? Why do I have to suffer as I do? What have I done to deserve this? Where is God in all my affliction? How do I deal with this? What do I do now?”

Common questions humanity has asked in the face of pain since the dawn of time. The author, David Powlison, takes these questions to the next level and asks a deeper, more applicable question especially for Christians today, “How does God meet you in trouble, loss, disability and pain?”

Creatively, the author asks the reader to personalize their particular suffering and visualize it in the form of a workshop using the backdrop of the beloved church hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” as the stage on which he biblically portrays how God’s grace dramatically performs in our life challenges to bless us beyond our wildest imagination.

Through this classic hymn, Powlision extrapolates rich expository truths, stanza by stanza, that resonate through Scripture. His keen grasp of our typical negative reactions to suffering is readily apparent in his writing which no doubt originates from his extensive Christian Counseling ministry background.

The central premise of the book is clearly pastoral and devotional, not academic or philosophical, “How can God’s goodness help me to respond to my affliction in a way which will honor Him and bless me at the same time, in the most spiritually productive manner?”

Suffering is a very personal, sensitive experience. Physical ailments, mental health issues, grieving over a lost one, “God’s Grace in Your Suffering” gives you the freedom to make this journey of reading it as personal as possible. A lot of emotions might come up while reading this, but that’s okay. When you answer the questions in the book, you’re bound to take a good hard look at yourself and your suffering. “Various trials” are inevitable in life. Christianity isn’t a breeze. God doesn’t promise you an easy life. What He does promise you is that He will be there in the midst of your suffering. “A sufferers primal need is to hear God talking and to experience him purposefully at work. When you hear, take to heart, and know that he is with you, everything changes, even when nothing has changed in your situation.”

Perhaps the greatest take-away I experienced from this book is a freshly renewed, profound sense of new gratitude to God for how His goodness promises to use suffering in my Christian life and how I can better cooperate with His grace towards that end. I could keenly sense God’s loving, encouraging, strengthening voice filling me with enduring hope to run my marathon race of faith with a new depth of courage and determination I did not have before I read this book.

My heartfelt prayer is that your perspective on suffering will change through reading this book. That you will understand God’s perspective and good purpose on suffering. This book is vital for the Christian, because suffering is inevitable. Powlison invites his readers into his world and how God worked through his own suffering. By doing that, he warmly encourages his readers that they don’t have to walk through suffering alone. I highly recommend this book to all believers.

Crossway Publishers, through the Blog Review program, provided a complimentary copy of this book for my review.

David Crews, Ph.D.

Dealing with Braggards Nicely

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We all have that one friend or relative—the one who just has to “casually” reference the BIG raise $$$ he got again and again and again. Or the one who won an iPad in a raffle and now she can’t stop showing it to you as if it’s the Hope diamond. Or the one who always finds a way to mention in conversation how he runs a marathon every year. In fact, I have an in-law relative who constantly, daily brags about their tennis game to the point of annoyance. A braggard can’t stop talking about themselves. “How do we deal with these people nicely, as Christians?”
 
Whether these people worked hard for their successes or just got lucky, their bragging is annoying either way. In addition to being irritating to listen to, braggarts can make you feel inadequate. It makes you want to cover your ears and say, “I get it! You’re special, and I’m not!”
 
So, short of insulting and/or avoiding these people, how can we stop them from getting under our skin? 
 
All of these people have the same bragging syndrome which is spoken of so often in the Bible as a sin.
 
(Proverbs 27:1) states, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
 
(Galatians 6:14) states, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
 
All of us should remember that it is not by our own power that we gain rewards on earth, but by the grace of Christ. No matter how much money we have, how great our talents or how much we feel Christ needs us to show other humans how they should live, ultimately we are all fallible and all fall short of what Christians are called to do and be.
 
“So why do we brag and what is the difference between sharing something we are excited about, and making someone else feel less than ourselves?”
 
Is it okay to post on your Facebook page, “yay, I aced my math test,” or “just got a huge promotion at work” or, “lost twenty pounds on the new diet”?
 
The answer to that lies in the [INTENT] of the post/statement. If you imply that you are the smartest in the class and no one else can touch your status, then bragging about your grades might be more rude than celebratory.
 
The difference is the intent. Braggers generally lift themselves up while at the same time putting others down. They only recognize their own talents and ignore the contributions of others to their success. This is when bragging becomes sinful.
 
When we do something well, if we acknowledge that Christ gave us this gift; this opportunity to serve others, then we will give Christ the credit. If we think we are all that and then some, we will use the words “I” and “Me” more often than the words, “because of him”.
 
Sometimes we don’t think that we are bragging, but everyone else around us feels that we are. This often causes people to say, “well, they are just jealous of my success and that’s their problem, not mine.” But, as a Christian, if we cause problems for someone else, then it is our problem as well.
 
If your friend is childless and your constant updates on how wonderful it is to have such perfect children bothers them, then you are a part of “their problem”!
 
You can tone down your excitement around them or better yet, invite them to be part of your children’s lives so that they can be as excited about your kids as you are and want the best for them and you both! If you exclude the person and hold your own ability to have a family as superior to those who cannot, then you are contributing to the problem and not showing concern for others, though there are always exceptions to that rule and you can’t please everyone every time.
 
Some people can go all their lives without bragging until they actually find themselves in the company of a braggart, or worse yet, in the company of someone who raises up the braggart as even more wonderful, while ignoring that you may share many of the same traits and abilities. Then, it is very difficult not to say… “well, I graduated with honors too, and I won an award for my paintings and had them exhibited in a gallery as well….”
 
(Galatians 6:1) states, “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.
 
While this verse is usually quoted to teenagers to convince them not to hang out with people who are not Christians, by action or deed, it is also very applicable to bragging.
 
If you have a friend who leans toward bragging on a regular basis, you can gently steer them back to reality, by jokingly saying, “Well, it sounds like you need to be given the title of Super Hero. There’s a fire burning in Texas, maybe you can cape up and help them put that out too while you are at it…”
 
While that might be a little too ungentle, if someone is a close friend you can be more honest with them and just let them know they sound a little full of it. If they really love you, they might get a bit miffed, but will then think about what you said and normally work to control their bragging or at the very least, tone it down a bit.
 
If someone is not close, but is a Christian, you can turn it around by saying, “Christ has truly blessed you with some wonderful talents and I am sure you are using them to help others and give them the same opportunities Christ has opened up for you….”
 
This tends to make them refocus on Christ and less on themselves, though let’s be honest, some people just don’t get it no matter what you say or do.
 
In such cases it is better to follow the advice of Paul in Galatians and not let yourself be tempted to out-boast them in order to soothe your own wounded ego or to make the braggart look small in your presence.
 
When you boast, remember that you are building yourself up, by taking away from others. .
 
When you find yourself wanting to brag about your accomplishments, take a step back and ask yourself who got you to where you are?
 
When you lost all that weight, who was backing you up, who was supporting you, who suggested a good diet and exercise program to follow? Then, instead of stating, “I lost 20 pounds through hard work and discipline,” making your slightly overweight friends feel as if you have better control of your life than they have of theirs, you can say, “It was a struggle, but I have lost 20 pounds thanks to the help of Weight Watchers and all the people who helped support me when I did not think I could go on and wanted to stop.”
 
The former statement declares how great and wonderful you are. The second shows a thankful attitude and admits that your accomplishment was the result of many people helping you.
 
The former is self centeredness; where you put Satan and the self in the forefront.
 
The latter is Christ Centered and shows thankfulness to others and a desire to help others reach the same goals you did by encouraging them rather than putting them down.
 
(Hebrews 4:15) states, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
 
This verse reminds us that when we boast and boost ourselves up to a high level of envy, we fail to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and do not see their problems, their hurts, their desires, only the greatness of who we think we are, not the greatness of others.
 
When you find yourself tempted to boast of your own abilities, take a time out and ask yourself what brought this on.
 
“Are you feeling underappreciated by others?” If so, the best way to overcome this is not by lifting yourself up, but by lifting up others, not so much by bragging on them, but by showing thankfulness for who they are and what they do. This encourages them to do the same for others as well.
 
Remember almost everyone who brags does so to prove their worth to others. They may brag to fit in, or brag to stand out, but they brag mainly for attention from others, possibly because they have been so overlooked earlier in life. The expression, the squeaky wheel gets the grease is very appropriate to braggers as well. They hope by calling attention the themselves, that they will recieve special honors that they would not get if they remained quiet and in the background.
 
In Christ we are all special. We all have our talents; we all have our gifts that we can share with others. No one is greater than any other and when we all work together, we show others how great our father in heaven is, not how great we are.
 
All of us brag sometimes, especially to close family and friends who know they can do the same with us! If you love someone, you get excited when things go well for them and want to hear good news, but we all need to be careful not to pull others down by lifting ourselves up, as this raises us up to god-like status and puts us more in the thinking mode of Satan than of Christ.
 
Share the good news of your life with others, welcome their good news without bitterness, be careful not to get too full of yourself and remember to give credit where credit is due and even if you do occasionally brag on yourself, you will be forgiven and probably find yourself surrounded by friends, not because of how great they think you are, but because of how loved and appreciated you make them feel. Seek out opportunities to lift up others and you will have less of a tendency to lift up yourself and don’t forget that you are no greater and no less than anyone else in the world.

Here are a couple of more pointers to keep in mind that will help you deal with braggards. 

 
1. Reframe the Situation in Your Mind.
Be aware that even though your friend’s bragging may annoy you and sometimes make you feel bad about yourself, this result may not be intentional. Your friend may be so insecure that he is overcompensating for other areas in his life where he thinks he does not measure up. If the bragging happens only occasionally, try to simply smile and accept that you are important enough to this person that he has a need to impress you. Take it as a compliment—and then change the subject to something that does not involve whatever your friend is bragging about.
 
2. Speak Up.
If the bragging is more frequent or if you feel like you’re going to explode the next time your friend brags, then confront him. Your goal is to alert the other person that he is bragging so that he realizes that he is doing it and to let him know that it annoys you and (possibly) makes you feel bad about yourself. So the next time the bragging starts, try saying, “When you name drop about all those rich people you hang out with, it makes me feel as if you like those people more than you like me” or, “When you talk about how many races you’ve won, it just reminds me how I haven’t been to the gym in weeks.” You might find that he is surprised and apologetic, because nobody wants to sound like a braggart.

3. Simply Change the Subject.
If you friend or relative has a chronic problem with boasting, then as nicely as possible, when they start their braggard session, simply change the subject and smile. It’s possible they have been doing it so long that they may not even realize how ridiculous they are looking. Without a doubt, chronic boasting projects huge insecurities. But, by changing the topic of the conversation, this may get their attention.

4. If All Else Fails–Just Walk Away.
Sometimes “tough love” means doing what you have to do to help the other person, if it hurts them a little. Apparently, they are blinded and not only insensitive to their problem, but also you as well. Sometimes walking away in love and respect is the best thing to do. Don’t forget to pray for them. You may very well be the person God wants to use to help them not only see the error of their ways, but begin to work in the direction of positive change and growth into humble Christlikeness.