Know your identity in Christ

When you know your identity in Jesus Christ, it changes you. It changes everything. You realize that in Christ you are free. God has always given us the freedom of choice. He did not create us as robots. He has never forced us to love Him or obey Him. However, if we choose to follow Christ, we enjoy a new kind of freedom because “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2 NIV). In Christ we are free from the control of our sinful nature and the death it brings. We are free to turn away from sin. When we are tempted, we have “a way out” (1 Cor. 10:13 NIV). We are free to choose love and let go of hatred. We are free to move beyond the pain and guilt of our past. We can live in freedom as a result of God’s grace and mercy.
Let’s examine mercy and grace. We are the objects of mercy when we are spared the punishment we deserve. We experience grace when we are offered a free gift we did not earn. It is difficult for us to comprehend grace fully because our society is work-oriented and proud. We have a hard time receiving gifts we haven’t earned. We believe we should put in our eight hours and then receive the pay we are due. Here’s the problem: God does not owe us anything good. God challenged Job, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11 NIV). We cannot give anything to God that does not already belong to Him. Therefore, God does not owe us any benefits, favors, gifts, or blessings.
In fact, what we are due from God is a sentence of death because the just penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23 NIV). God sent His sinless Son as a sacrifice to suffer our punishment for us (Rom. 3:25; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18–19 NIV). We deserve death, and God sent His Son so we could experience life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23 NIV). We are no longer bound in slavery to death thanks to God’s mercy.
God not only cancels our debts—He also gives us, who put our faith in Christ, life “to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). We need not pay the price for our sins, yet we also receive an additional gift—a gift of grace. We do not have to wait for our new blessed, eternal life. It begins as soon as we accept, through faith, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. God places His Spirit within us, and we embark on a life of fellowship with Him (John 14:16–20, 23; Rom. 8:11; Titus 3:4–7 NIV). God offers us the gift of a personal relationship with Him. We enjoy the entirely undeserved privilege of conversation with the Lord God Almighty. He ministers to our hearts and maintains His hand in our lives to protect, bless, guide, and teach us. We never need to stand alone.
It is humbling to consider how we never can earn or deserve God’s great gift to us. Not one of us is good without Him. Paul wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 7:18 NIV). Not a single hair on our heads, nor a cell in our bodies, is good apart from the Lord. If we could achieve salvation by our own efforts, there would be no need for God’s grace (Rom. 11:6; Gal. 2:21 NIV). We would not need a Savior, and our faith would be meaningless. In truth, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23–24 NIV). God “saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4–5 NIV).
There is actually freedom in the fact that God’s gift of reconciliation with Him is and must be free. Since the covenant is based on who God is and what He has done, we can rest in this understanding: our salvation is secure. We no longer need to be defined by our sins. We can move forward in grace, knowing we have been forgiven and restored completely. There is nothing in our past God is remembering and holding against us.
It can be difficult to believe we have been redeemed when we feel guilty over past sins—when we feel stuck in our sinful nature and incapable of being anything else. When our faith falters, we need simply to turn to God’s word, which is full of assurances. Paul asserted that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 NIV), for “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19 NIV). Jesus Himself declared, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
This message of hope is not limited to the New Testament. God reveals the loving, compassionate, forgiving aspects of His nature in the Old Testament as well. Through the prophet Isaiah, God proclaimed, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25 NIV). God urges us “not [to] dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18 NIV). He separates us from our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12 NIV). Our God “pardons sin” and “delight[s] to show mercy” (Micah 7:18 NIV). He “tread[s] our sins underfoot and hurl[s] all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19 NIV). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34 NIV). God has compassion on us “[a]s a father has compassion on his children” (Psalm 103:13 NIV). His love for us is unshakable, and His “covenant of peace [will not] be removed” (Isaiah 54:10 NIV).
God does not view us as worthless disappointments. Instead, He cherishes us as His children. When we put our faith in Christ, God removes our sin and gives us a righteousness we never could earn (Rom. 3:21–25; Rom. 10:4 NIV). As Paul explained, in Christ we can “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV). We are “clothed … with Christ” (Gal. 3:27 NIV), and Christ lives in us (John 14:20; John 17:22–23, 26; Gal. 2:20 NIV). When God looks at us, He sees Christ. He loves us as He loves Christ (John 17:23, 26 NIV).
We who believe in Christ have a new identity as beloved brothers of Christ and children of God (Rom. 8:14-17, 29; Gal. 3:26; Gal. 4:4–7; Titus 3:4–7 NIV). With that new identity comes a new way of worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24 NIV). We now “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6 NIV). In Christ there are no boundaries, only opportunities, because in Christ we are free from the law (Rom. 6:14; Rom. 7:4–6; Rom. 8:2; Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:25; Gal. 5:18 NIV). That doesn’t mean the law is now valueless and we should simply ignore the whole first part of the Bible. The law still has purpose today. Through the law, we learn what sin is and become aware we are guilty of it (Rom. 3:20; Rom. 7:7 NIV). The law exposes our inadequacy and so leads us to our Savior.
The difference in our new view of the law is the understanding we cannot gain righteousness by obeying the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:15–16 NIV). No matter what we do, we cannot meet God’s standard (Rom. 3:23 NIV). Only God can meet God’s standard, which is why redemption, forgiveness, and righteousness must come by Christ (Rom. 8:3–4 NIV). We need to be careful never to be trapped by the false belief we can meet God’s standard and achieve His glory by our own efforts (Gal. 5:1 NIV). It is important to God for us to walk in freedom by His Spirit (Gal. 5:1; 2 Cor. 3:17 NIV).
For people who are already saved, the law serves the further purpose of teaching us what matters to God so we can learn how to be more like Him. We are “dearly loved children” and have a deep desire to be like our Father, following Christ’s example (Eph. 5:1–2 NIV). The love of God explodes in our hearts, and we follow Him and obey Him out of this love. As Jesus told His disciples, people who love Him will obey Him (John 14:15, 21, 23 NIV). I don’t believe this means we obey God to prove we love Him. No, the love we have for Him because of what He has done for us is what creates a response of obedience to Him. Paul called it “the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom. 1:5 NIV). A life of loving God and loving people with our thoughts and words and actions is the evidence of our faith (Gal. 5:6, 14; Matt. 22:35–40; John 13:34–35; John 15:17 NIV).
God’s love within us brings us freedom because we dont want to sin anymore. We dont want to be in bondage to pornography or envy or hatred. We dont want to be slaves to bitterness. Ive already done this. I have lived such a life, and its painful. Holding a grudge against someone eats at you from the inside out. Its like cancer in your soul. When we are new in Christ and filled with the Spirit of God, we don’t want this kind of life anymore. We turn away from destructive ways. We know we belong to God, and we want to do His work (Rom. 7:4; Phil. 3:12–14 NIV). We want to love as He loves. We want to walk with Him and dwell in His presence forever.
God considered a personal relationship with each of us so precious He paid the highest price in order to reconcile us to Him. Now nothing and no one can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35–39 NIV)
I know I have not been rejected. I have not been abandoned. I am loved. I am loved beyond understanding. I have received the greatest gift and the greatest forgiveness. I don’t need boundaries. My God directs my steps. He changes my path. He is constantly straightening my crooked ways. In every step I take, I rest in God’s love and guidance. I have the fullness of joy and peace in every moment of my life. This is freedom.
 

Separation Anxiety

I thought I had picked out this great day care. I was really excited about it.

You know, I’m a first mother anticipating my first child while balancing a career. I’m working my way to be a partner in my firm. I’m now a manager. I worked really hard to get where I am and I want desperately to continue my career and be a mom.

The anticipation of this baby—planning and preparing—I’ve got her life planned out for her. I’m going to stay home, on maternity leave for ten weeks. Then I take you to this great daycare I know you’ll be loved and cared for. We’ll spend our evenings and weekends together. In just a few short years, you’ll be off to school. I can come home early in the summers and spend time together. We’re gonna have this great life.
Until I’ve been home for ten weeks and I realized that I have never loved anyone like I loved my baby girl. I didn’t even know that was possible. Literally, when she was born it was like, my heart was unbound and it exploded and grew.

I had loved so deeply and at the end of ten weeks, I woke up and got myself ready for work and got her ready to be dropped off at day care. I’m ready to go back. Let’s get this thing started.

I walk in, I carried her in her car carrier. I carried her inside and I talked to everyone and I asked—she fell asleep in the car seat. I asked, like, “Who wants her? What shall I do with her?” They told me, “Take her out of her car carrier and just lay her down in the crib. She’ll be fine in there.” These cribs were just plain; they were like jail cells. All I could see was like, “Mama, let me out!” You know, those babies behind bars.

They said, “Just lay her down in her bed and she’ll be fine. We’ll get her when she needs us.” I looked around and I’m in this room with infants in their cribs and no one’s in there. Everyone’s in the adjacent room. I picked her up and I hold her. I start to weep and I just think—I don’t think I was made for this. I don’t think I was designed to take my baby and lay her down and leave her for someone else. I picked her up, I held her for a really long time. I started to weep silently, soft sobs. No one could tell. The tears weren’t flowing. No way. I didn’t want anyone to see this tough business woman as sensitive. I’m dressed in my suit, ready to kill that day. I lay her down in her crib and I hesitate to leave. The crib looks cold to me, looks lonely. I stood there for a minute with my hand on the side of the rail. Can I leave? How am I gonna leave? How do I do this?

Silently, without even a single day care worker saying anything to me, I picked up my car carrier and I walk out. I slowly make the walk down the hallway out the building, put the car seat in, get in my car and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. How will I go through an entire day with her being in this place where I’m confident those people will not take care of her the way that I would because I was designed to be her mama.

Only a mama knows. God designed us beautifully for this love affair that’s why it hurts our hearts. Happy mother’s day to the women who lay down their lives every day for future generations!! 

Encourage yourself in the Lord

Several years ago, I got an offer to go to work for a company in Dallas. I drove down to check everything out. Wow. I couldn’t believe rush hour traffic. Rush hour started at three o’clock and lasted until seven o’clock every evening. That is four hours. Your commute from home to work could easily be up to two hours just for you driving. Ninety minutes to two hours, my friends did it often. They would leave for the office by six am so they could beat traffic on the way in to the office and they would come home at seven. I just thought about the quality of life and I turned that job down quickly.

In rush hour, you never are alone. There’s traffic everywhere. You constantly have to look and see—you see people, and you can wave at people and smile at people. They are everywhere, just constantly busy. But at night, when you’re driving—sometimes, you might be in a drive in a country road, and not see anyone for an hour.
                                     
Scripture says that there is a wide path and a narrow path. I think of those like traffic. The wide path is like rush hour traffic. It’s busy. Everyone is on it. Everyone’s going the same direction. They are all heading towards home. They’re all on a mission to get somewhere, from here to there, point A to point B. But the narrow path is a less-travelled road. Sometimes, people that are on it are few and far between. You might be walking a while all by yourself until you see another person passing you by.
I think the narrow path in Christ can feel lonely at times. You can look around and you can see the busy rush hour traffic but you don’t jump in and go on it. You choose to take a secondary road. If you’ve ever been on a trip or you’re like, “I’m getting off of interstate 40 and I’m going to go on this side road and backwoods.”
Think about it. When you get off on those roads, they’re more peaceful, they’re more winding. They’re beautiful. But sometimes the rest stops are a backwoods mechanic shop and its bathroom is filthy, dirty. There are few, far between. Sometimes you have to pee in the grass. It’s because, truly, the narrow path of God isn’t travelled by as many people. You’ve got people that are going to movies that may jeopardize your own purity because we gotta protect the wellspring of life which is our heart and make good choices.
So every choice we make, we never make it because everyone else is doing it or, “It’s okay for this family so it’s okay for our family.” I see Christians doing this every day. Every day, they are giving their kids wider and wider boundaries. What they are doing is they are taking them from the narrow path to a wider path. They are increasing their path from the narrow path into the wide path. So all of a sudden, the world is leading our children, not our children being led by God.
I believe that Christians should be the front. People should wanna be like us. They should be following our way. They should be making choices that we’re making because our fruit is awesome. We don’t look like the world. We love the world, but we don’t look like the world. We’re in the world, but not of the world.
I will tell you right now, making the decision to stay firmly planted on the narrow path no matter what is lonely at times. I think if you’re in your twenties, you’re gonna find that your friends on a narrow path is gonna be in a huge age range. Say 70 down to 12. There are so few people—few, and far between. You have to change your perspective of what your friendship circle is going to look like so that you can have an inner circle that is close and tight and the people that you know are making those choices with you.
I would encourage you to connect. When you feel lonely, just encourage yourself in the Lord. Keep yourself encouraged like 1 Samuel 36. Don’t look to anyone else to encourage you. Enjoy their encouragement when it comes along but don’t look to it. Don’t stand on it for strength. Stand on the Lord and His strength and what he has done for you already.

Pray without ceasing

Our tree was blooming this year. It had this pink, beautiful—we used to call it propellers when I was a kid but they were seeds, pink propeller seeds. They were everywhere. I’ve never seen this tree produce pink ones before, so that was unusual. I wasn’t actually sure what they were until they started to fall off the tree. When they started to fall off, I realized—oh my goodness, these are those brown propeller seeds!
I’ve just been thinking about that for a long time. That the tree produced a thousand seeds. Four thousand new trees—the wind blew them around. As of today, I have about 25 new trees growing in my yard. And I was thinking, you know what we’ll do with those trees—because they’re not beautiful, they’re not placed in the right spot—is we will pull them up, mow over them or something. But at the end of the day, that tree that produced a thousand seeds, not a single one of those trees will actually grow into a tree.
This year, for some reason, it just broke my heart. I just thought why would God make a plant reproduce itself and produce so many seeds if he didn’t want to see those seeds come to life and come to fruition and come to a full maturity and a full harvest.
    
        
And I just thought about we’ve become a nation in America that we care more about beauty than we do creation. We care more about the right placement of the tree rather than the tree. The tree is the very thing that gives us life. It gives us oxygen and we don’t let them reproduce, are we actually causing a bigger problem later down the road? Something we can’t even imagine at this time? Nor would we want to?
I’m wondering in what way are we stifling what God wants to do on this earth because the way that it happens naturally isn’t okay. We gotta realign it and make it better. What in your life have you stopped God’s creation or God’s work in you? What have you done out of your own flesh that has caused God’s creation to cease in your life?
Every waking moment is to be lived in an awareness that God is with us and that He is actively involved and engaged in our thoughts and actions. 

Unfortunately, many believers hold their “spiritual breath” for long periods, thinking brief moments with God are sufficient to allow them to survive. But such restricting of their spiritual intake is caused by sinful desires. The fact is that every believer must be continually in the presence of God, constantly breathing in His truths, to be fully functional.



 

Finish what you start.


Have you ever given 100% of yourself to something? 

I’m talking aboutno shortcuts, no cheats, no bending the rules, but simply selling out for something bigger with everything you possess?
This world is packed full of distractions, which become hurdles in the race called life. Every time you approach a hurdle, you likely tend to slow down or stop, and perhaps you walk around it. Yet were we designed for a hurdle to slow us down or keep us from running the race? 

No! 

We were designed to blow over those hurdles. 
We were designed to invest 100% from the start all the way to the finish!
We were designed to be overcomers. We were designed to sell out—to give it all. Have you lost your original design?
For several months I have been taking back my health by force. I started on October 14, 2014, after deciding in August to undertake this challenge. I chose from the beginning to sell out to it—to devote my all and give my all.

Though I have followed through with this, it is not easy. I approach a hurdle every single day. One hurdle is my food tastes boring. I’m hungry. I want to eat what I want to eat. I’m sick of Coach Bailey telling me what to do. At times I find myself in a crunch, without any healthy snacks on me—so then what do I choose to do? Do I choose to hit a drive-through out of convenience, or do I buy a healthy snack?
Usually, once a week, I fully prep my meals. Each day I pack all my meals before I leave the house, so if I end up in a crunch, I have food to eat. And I am willing to eat a cold turkey burger or frozen turkey burger because I am supposed to do so. When you’re giving one hundred percent to something, you do it regardless of your immediate desires. You eat the frozen turkey burger; you eat the walnuts off of the ground when you drop them; you deviate sometimes from your family’s plans so you can drive home and retrieve the healthy snacks you forgot. You don’t offer excuses.
Macaroni and cheese may tempt you, or a slice of pizza—one pepperoni couldn’t hurt, right? Wrong! Caving to those cravings is not giving one hundred percent. Every bite I take, everything I do, if I don’t do it with excellence and commitment to my goals that I have, always falls short of my one hundred percent.
There is more in me, and there is more in you, but we will never find it unless we are willing to offer our all.
So for those of you taking back your health, too, I want to push you today. 

There’s more in you, so find it! Give more; sacrifice more. Below I provide a few practical ideas, but be prepared: they will squeeze your comfort zone a bit.
Don’t go out of your way to make your food taste amazing. In other words, do not go out of your way to make food pleasurable; instead, change your view from food as entertainment and enjoyment to food as fuel. When you’re fueling your body, you fill it with the best fuel. When you’re pleasuring your body, however, you will tend to make compromises.
Don’t cheat yourself by taking nibbles of your kids’ food or eating a snack off-plan. Commit to this rule for four weeks. For four weeks, can you refrain from cheating? Maybe you should back up and try it for a day first; then try it for a week, for four weeks—and afterward for three months and six months at a time!
Don’t indulge in an extra helping of your allotted serving or approved meal. Instead, only eat precisely what your plan prescribes. Do what you’re told! Be an obedient follower because the most effective leaders are the most committed followers.
I believe you were called to lead and to influence nations. I believe there’s more in you. I believe you can push yourself further. After all, do you desire the best version of you? Or do you want only a so-so, wishy-washy you?
Do you want to be the you who gives 100% and succeeds, or do you want the you who is always cheating “just a little bit”—always selling yourself short? “Hey, I am engaged in my transformation … but I cheat a little.” Is this the witness and the testimony you want to carry?
People may push back against you when you offer everything to ONE cause. They may seem like critics, but I assure you, they will respect you—because they have probably never given one hundred percent to anything in their life. So don’t listen to them. Don’t listen to people’s criticisms. Bring excellence to the table and allow God to judge their criticisms.
How in the world, though, can we avoid living out of the temptations of our flesh but instead actually accomplish this goal? How can we accomplish one hundred percent in living, giving, and following?
#1, this starts by taking every thought captive. The moment cheesecake or pizza starts to creep into your mind, you must stop intentionally. You need to say, “Stop! You know what? This is not my portion. I already have healthy, nourishing food to enjoy.” Turn your mind to what is wholesome and healthy: “I can walk with my kids now, and I can carry them on my shoulders. I lift them up and help them down safely. We won’t tumble or fall—because I’m strong.” I choose strength over pleasure every day of the week. You simply must learn to take your thoughts captive.
#2, it is truly vital for you to pray against temptation. I love when, the word of God tells us, Jesus told his disciples to pray against temptation. He told him this several times, yet they continued falling asleep while they were praying (Luke 22:45). We do this, too: we fall sleep on the job. But we need to pray against this! We know Jesus was tempted, but He was never tempted to the point of sin; and I know if He overcame it, we can overcome it as well because His power for life—His resurrection power—lives in and for us.

So I hope you are challenged today to reclaim your health 100%. Give yourself entirely to your God-given commitments, and refuse in Jesus’ name to sell yourself short!

What hurdle do you need to overcome and sell out to?