Selfies Anonymous

What makes satire funny is the tinge of self-reflecting truth we find in it. Which begs the question: What can save us from… us?

What can deliver us from this narcissism? What can rescue us from the affliction of self-obsession? How may we find rest from our destructive pride?

Is it by choosing today to “be humble”?

Nope – anyone who has tried to do that knows the true insidious nature of pride, that it can manifest itself both in self-love and self-loathing, for in either case our gaze firmly rests upon us whether we are praising ourselves or despising ourselves.

We deal with pride not primarily through that kind of effort, but instead by finding something better upon which to fix our eyes. Something bigger. Something greater. Something more magnificent. Something that can hold our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection.

We battle pride by finding something better than ourselves to look at:

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus,the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Give us, Lord, a greater glimpse of Jesus, and in turn, deliver us from our fixation with ourselves.

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The Spasmodic Hercules

Tim Challies:

This is our temptation in all areas of life: to look for the quick fix, to look for the one or the few great moments that will accomplish more than the hundreds or thousands of smaller moments. “Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, ‘A small daily task, if it be daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules’. Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.”

The spasmodic Hercules: this is how many of us behave. We behave as if one moment of great activity can overcome a thousand moments of inactivity, as if one moment of taking hold of opportunity will overcome all those moments wasted. The unglamorous habit of frequency is what makes up so much of life’s progress. Yet we are constantly tempted to put our hope in the brief and the glamorous.

I see this in work. We are prone to believe that unless we can block off a significant piece of time to work on that book or project or task, we may as well not even bother. So instead of doing a little work, and advancing a step or two, we let it lie dormant and perhaps waste that time instead. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently.

I see this in parenting. We invest great hope in the big moments, the weekend away with the child or the special night out. But we may neglect those hundreds of evenings where we could simply talk while doing the dishes or where we could pray for just a few moments before bed. We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in their lives in a short period, and underestimate what we can accomplish over a long period, provided we are willing to advance slowly and with consistency.

But most of all, I see this in spiritual growth. We are often tempted to believe that one moment of great spiritual intensity will bring about greater and more lasting change than the oh-so-ordinary means of grace. We can have more confidence in the single three-day conference than in the day-by-day discipline of Scripture reading and prayer, the week-by-week commitment to the preaching of the Word and public worship. We tend to overestimate how much we can grow in a short period, and underestimate how much we will grow over a long period, provided we simply take hold of God’s ordinary means.

This is where so many Christians lose their confidence—they want quick growth and measurable results, and give up far too soon. Their confidence is not in God working through his Word as they open it each morning and hear it preached each Sunday, but in the big conference later in the year, or in that new devotional, or in that new study method. They are distracted and spasmodic rather than consistent and disciplined. They look this way and that, instead of than simply persisting in the means God prescribes.

The fact is, most growth in life—and spiritual growth is no exception—is measured in inches, not miles. The ground an army gains by a slow march is often safer than the ground it gains by charging over it. Spiritual growth is no less real simply because it comes slowly and is difficult to measure. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Christian, persist. Persist in the ordinary means of grace. Persist even, and especially, when the growth seems to slow. Persist in your confidence that these are the means God gives for your good, for your growth, for his glory.

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What Keeps Us From Believing Genesis 50:20?

Imagine the scene with me.

Years had passed since they had parted ways. Those years had humbled the brash, overconfident young man in the beautiful coat given to him by his father. Those same years, along with the struggle and famine, had softened the bitterness and anger of his brothers who had thrown him into a well and left him for dead. But all those memories, fears, and insecurities came flooding back in a moment.

Joseph was revealed. The same brother tossed into a well. The same brother abandoned by his family. The same brother who had been in and out of prison and now found himself with the fate of those who had betrayed him in his hands. And what would he do with that power?

It seemed, much to his brothers’ dismay, that he would do good. That all would be forgotten, and that he who could end their lives would end their suffering instead. But could this really be true? Experience had taught them it couldn’t be. They themselves had taught themselves it couldn’t be, for they themselves were the ones who had perpetrated the violence against the very one who now stood in power over them, and they quaked with fear. What would he do with that power? What would be his response now that the proverbial shoe was on the other foot? And then he told them:

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

As in most cases, there is as much in what Joseph didn’t say in that moment as in what he did. He did not say, for example:

- You’re pretty good guys after all.

- My political career would not be advanced by doing violence against you.

- I have hated you, but I still love my father. So for his sake, I am going to spare you.

- Okay, you get a reprieve. But it’s only so that I can have the satisfaction of knowing that you are in my debt forever.

Instead of these things, Joseph turned his eyes upward and drew on the truth of God’s sovereignty that had been forged in his own mind and heart through the years in slavery and in prison. And he passed along the truth of providence he had learned through those years to his brothers: “There is no doubt you meant what you did for evil. And yet there is also no doubt that God meant what you did for good.”

If we look back over the course of our lives, no doubt there are several events we can frame like this. We can see the redemptive hand of God, weaving the pain and hardship we’ve experienced into something good. And, at the end of that road, sitting in the midst of the apparent good, we can see His wisdom and power. We can do that for some things… but not everything. In the case of Joseph, he was standing in the middle of the good. It was tangible and visible. He could see that lives were being saved day in and day out. And to see that visible goodness is a gift, but it’s not one that always comes. Sometimes Genesis 50:20, when you can’t see the good yet, is less an expression of the reality of the moment and more an expression of faith. And in those moments, it is only by faith that we can look around, still in the midst of pain, still in the midst of brokenness, still in the midst of hardship, and say, “I choose to believe that God means this for good.”

That’s when we might be called strange. Or overly optimistic. Or out of touch with reality. It’s when there is no evidence in our present circumstances to warrant a confession like that. This was the case of some of those listed in Hebrews 11 among the heroes of the faith:

And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead—they were raised to life again. Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment.They were stoned,they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us (Hebrews 11:32-40).

Some of them died. Some of them suffered. Some of them knew only the reality of pain. And yet they believed.

For those who do not get to look around them and see the good that God intends, they must look to something else beyond their circumstances. They must instead look not to what they can see but to what they know – the character of their God. We look to that character, above our circumstances, and we can say no matter what comes that God intends this for good.

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Cultural Engagement

A great post about the nature of cultural engagement from Russell Moore:

Early in my ministry, I served as a youth pastor, and like every other evangelical youth minister, I received all the advertisements from youth ministry curriculum-hawkers telling me how I could be “relevant” to “today’s teenagers.” The advertisements promised me ways I could “connect” with teenagers through Bible studies based on MTV reality shows and the songs on the top-40 charts that month.

All I knew how to do, though, was preach the gospel. Yes, I knew what was happening on MTV, and I’d often contrast biblical reality with that, but I fit nobody’s definition of cool—including my own.

I remember, too, when a group of teenagers—mostly fatherless boys, some of them gang members—started attending my Wednesday night Bible study. I found they weren’t impressed with the “cool” supplemental video clips provided by my denomination’s publisher. They laughed at Christian rap stars in the same way I laughed at my high school history teacher’s effort to “have a groovy rap session with you youngsters.”

But what riveted their attention was how weird we were. “So, like, you really believe this dead guy came back from the dead?” one fifteen-year-old boy asked me. “I do,” I replied. “For real?” he responded. “For real,” I said.

In a day when many people are (rightly) seeking to think through ways to engage the culture with the gospel of Christ, it seems that the Bible, in Acts 17, gives us a pattern for doing so in a way that some might not expect—by embracing the “freakishness” of the gospel.

Christians seeking to “engage popular culture” often point to this passage—the Apostle Paul’s speech on the Areopagus in which he cited the lyrics of pagan poets and the architecture of pagan temples. Christians, they argue, should follow Paul and use popular culture to “build a bridge” with its consumers, finding in popular works a “common ground” through which we can attract their interest and later communicate the gospel.

And yet, Paul’s discourse on the Areopagus is strikingly different from many Christians’ attempts to be relevant to popular culture. He points to the Athenians’ culture not so much to bring out what they know as what they deny…

Read the rest here.

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Loaves, Fish, and Un-Self-Conscious Little Boys

A long time ago, Jesus said that if we want to come into the kingdom of God, we must become like little children (Mark 10:15).

As a dad of three young kids, this stirs my soul. When I look at them and see the way they see the world, I get a sense of longing for simplicity and trust. Of self-forgetfulness and joy. It makes me think of the picture of Jabba the Hut that I have on the wall of my office.

Joshua, my now 10-year-old, colored it for me when he was 4. I like to look at it sometimes, but not because it’s a technically awesome picture. Everybody knows that Jabba is brown – not green. And I think even Jabba himself might be offended at how liberally the crayon goes outside the lines. Furthermore, Joshua’s message at the top of the paper, “I LOV YOU,” is misspelled.

But I love that picture, and it will hang in my office for some time. The 8-year-old Joshua wouldn’t present me with such a picture, because now he would deem such a creation as unworthy of his skills. His internal monologue has changed. It once was, “My daddy will love this. He will be so proud of me,” but I fear it is becoming “I didn’t do a very good job. I can do better. I can’t give him something like this.”

That makes me very sad.

I don’t think this shift in thinking is because Joshua is being raised in an environment where he has to jockey for his parents’ love and approval; by God’s grace, we are generous with praise and he knows he is unconditionally loved. Instead, I believe it is the process that happens to all of us when we become more and more conscious of ourselves.

We care about our physical appearance more than we used to.

We notice how our voice sounds in comparison to others.

We, for the first time, start to wonder if we are actually “cool” or not.

You know the feeling. It’s the one when you find yourself surrounded by people who work more interesting jobs, take more interesting vacations, and live generally more interesting lives. Suddenly, you find yourself shrinking into yourself, very conscious of your normality in light of what’s surrounding you.

It’s that sense of self-consciousness that Jesus speaks into. His advice is simple – become like a little child. Abandon that self-consciousness and instead find a renewed and simple sense of wonder. Revert back to innocence, to the days when we gladly gave our fathers those metaphorical pictures of Jabba the Hut with misspelled messages of affection. Here’s a case study that might help.

Think about the miraculous lunch in John 6. The disciples faced a seemingly insurmountable issue, and they were at a loss. The people (at least 5,000 and probably twice that at least) were hungry. But, as the disciples so aptly put it to Jesus, it would take almost a year’s salary to buy enough food to feed them (John 6:7).

Perhaps you remember the end of the story, too. Jesus used the gift of a little boy – five barley loaves and two fish – to feed a multitude. It’s a great story, but here’s the thing: Are we to believe that this boy was the only one in the crowd who had remembered to pack a lunch for the day? Probably not. Surely there was a conscientious mother somewhere on the hill who had a package of crackers in her purse. So where were all the other volunteers?

We can’t say for sure, for the Bible does not. Maybe their food was spoiled. Maybe they were selfish and didn’t present it. Maybe this boy was simply the one closest to Andrew and so his lunch box got chosen. We don’t know, but maybe…

Maybe the adults in the crowd had the same attitude as the disciples. They were self-conscious about the best they could do, so they kept their lunches to themselves. Maybe they looked at what they had to offer and were suddenly overcome by the overwhelming sense of normalcy: This isn’t enough. It’s not even worth putting out there. I don’t have anything valid to offer. Somebody’s going to laugh at me if I walk up there carrying this. Driven inward by their self-consciousness, they were paralyzed into inaction and silence.

We will likely have the same feeling as we seek to find the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. We will have a heart full of wonder, and yet at some point we will be tempted to look at our own boring potential and, like the self-conscious adults we are, just go about the business of life.

Part of following Jesus is overcoming that self-consciousness. It’s coming to Jesus with all we have, small though it may be, and giving it to Him.

The real issue with self-consciousness is the “self” part. We’re too busy thinking about our own weaknesses and inadequacies to consider the greatness of Jesus. Our focus is on ourselves rather than on the multiplier of fish.

I want to bring my badly colored pictures to God. My measly fish and broken bread. My weak faith and my inconstant prayer life. My normal routine of everyday stuff. I want to bring them to Him because I believe that the One I’m presenting them to is bigger than my weakness. Oh, to forget myself and be lost in the grandeur of Jesus. Oh, to regain the sense of wonder that characterizes little children who haven’t yet grown into that self-conscious sense of foolishness. We must regain this sense of wonder that motivated a little boy to bring his normal, little lunch box to Jesus and see what happened. We must not be too grown up to believe. We must, in the end, focus our gaze on Jesus, for it’s only in and through Him that we will see the boring issues of life suddenly be multiplied and transformed.

Excerpted from my book Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.

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The Glorious Freedom of Mattering… and Not Mattering

Sometimes I feel very, very small.

I feel small when the tasks of the day – even simple tasks – seem to dwarf me when I consider the amount of patience, intelligence, or perseverance they will require. Or when I am able to pry my eyes off myself for a bit and gaze at the world around me only to be confronted with disease. War. Hatred. Slavery. All things that are impossibly big, and all things that make me shrink inside myself even more. Or when I come home and find that my children are growing, and with each day there is a new challenge that I am unequipped to handle. Who am I to guide them through these years? Not small me.

When I feel small, there is the gospel that reminds me that my size and worth is determined by that which was sacrificed for me. And there is no greater sacrifice than that which has been given. Thanks to that sacrifice – His sacrifice – I am not small. I matter. I matter in the kingdom, and I matter in the world. And when you matter these challenges are not to be shrunk away from out of fear but are to be counted with courageous hope.

And oh the glorious freedom of mattering.

But then again, sometimes I feel very, very big.

I feel big when someone notices the hard work or laughs at the witty retort. When the retweets flow like water and the acclaim starts to come. When I look into the eyes of those kids and know that, at least for a while, I am invincible and infallible in their eyes. When there is money in the bank and food on the table and nothing at all seems to be threatening this insulated life we have built for ourselves. Nothing can touch me then. Not big, big me.

When I feel big, there is the gospel that reminds me that I was dead in my sin and transgression, too lost to even know that I was lost. That every supposed righteous thing I might do, say, or think is tainted with my own selfish ambition and vain conceit. That although I might be the instrument that offers the word of peace or comfort to another, I am far from necessary when I consider the hand of the One holding me. That it could just as easily be another who was speaking or writing or talking at a given moment, for God will have His way with or without me.

And then oh, the glorious freedom of not mattering.

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This is One of the Things That Made Me Want to Be a Writer…

… and also tear up books.


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“Remember Who You Are”

Today two of our three kids will get dropped off at school. It’s the yearly ritual of picking out the right first day outfit, getting back into the routine of making the lunches and getting up on time, pictures alone, pictures together, getting the right shoes on the right feet, and then eventually getting out the door.

And as the faithful minivan pulls up to the drop off point again, my wife will contribute her own part of this ritual. She will say the same thing to our son and daughter that she’s said every day at drop off for several years now. As the seat belts are unbuckled and the backpacks are grabbed, she will look at both our son and daughter and repeat to them:

“Remember who you are.”

She could say any number of things to them at that moment:

“I love you.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Try and learn something.”

“Whatever they tell you, don’t eat the meatloaf.”

All good, and all valuable. But the phrase she has instead chosen to mark this point in the daily routine is instead, “Remember who you are.”

That’s very Pauline of her, don’t you think? What I mean is that in a way, Paul the Apostle is constantly saying that to anyone who picks up his letters. Sure, he’s going to tell them a lot of other stuff, too. He will tell them how to live in the world. He’ll have instructions for fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, masters, slaves, deacons, elders, older and younger women, and older and younger men. They will deal in subjects as wide and varied as his audience. All of these things will be very practical in their nature, and yet the vast majority of them won’t come until the back half of his letters. He will spend the first part of his letters, if you had to sum it up in a phrase, simply saying this:

“Remember who you are.”

That’s because what you do should flow from who you are.

Remember who you are. That you once were lost in darkness. That you were dead in your sin and transgression. That you were without hope and direction. But you have been changed by the matchless love and unending grace of Jesus. You have been made new in Him. So remember, and let that remembering fuel all the hundreds of decisions you will make today.

The pattern, then, is this: You believe. Then you become. Then you behave.

So says my wife to our kids, “Remember who you are.” Don’t forget it. Don’t forget the nature of your family and your faith that gives you your sense of self. In all the challenges you will face today, remember who you are.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good thing for me to say to myself as I get out of my own car today. Or, put more rightly, it’s a pretty good thing to listen to another voice inside of me who says this very same thing:

“All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children…” (Romans 8:15-16).

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9 Things You Should Know About Hamas

If you’re like me, the conflict in the Middle East is often blurred into a constant barrage of attacks and tragedies. Because it is and has been so prevalent, it fades to the background. That’s why I appreciated this article at The Gospel Coalition for helping me understand a little more. Here are 9 things we should know about Hamas, posted in their entirety:

1. Hamas is a militant nationalist-Islamist movement founded in 1987 as a spinoff of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Along with Fatah, it is one of the two major political parties in the occupied territories. Hamas candidates won Palestinian elections in 2006, but their government was dismissed in 2007, resulting in the political bifurcation of the West Bank and Gaza. While Fatah reasserted its authority in the West Bank, Hamas has continued to rule over the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians.

2. Hamas has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, Jordan, Egypt, and Japan. However, several other countries — including Iran, Russia, China, and many Arab nations — have refused to designate the group as terrorists.

3. The slogan of Hamas is “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief.”

4. The Hamas Charter (or Hamas Covenant) “reveals its identity, outlines its stand, explains its aims, speaks about its hopes.” Hamas considers nationalism part of its religious belief and the most noble goal is “waging Jihad against the enemy and confronting him when he sets foot on the land of the Muslims.” The charter claims that “so-called peaceful solutions” are contrary to the movement’s beliefs. For Hamas, “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.”

5. According to the Hamas Charter, the “wealth” of the Jews allowed them to “take over control of the world media such as news agencies, the press, publication houses, broadcasting and the like.” Additionally, the document claims Jews were behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, “most of the revolutions we hear about here and there”, all wars throughout history, and the establishment of the United Nations. The Jews are also credited with founding “destructive spying organizations” such as the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, and Lions Clubs.

6. Hamas has been open about their denial of the Holocaust. They claim that teaching the Holocaust in UN schools in Gaza is a “war crime.” The Hamas charter also refers to the “Nazism of the Jews.”

7. A 2007 study of Palestinian suicide bombings found that 39.9 percent of the suicide attacks were carried out by Hamas. Currently, 46 percent of people in Gaza support the use of suicide bombing, a drop from 70 percent in 2007.

8. Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations has fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel. To curb retaliation, Israel claims that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields” since Israeli policy is to limit civilian casualties whenever possible. As the New York Times notes, Hamas has “encouraged residents not to flee their homes when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared extensively for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.”

9. The ultimate military goal of Hamas is genocide of the Jewish people. As stated in their charter: “Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

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The One Phrase That is Helping Me Embrace the Cost of Relationships

Every relationship you’re in is going to cost you something.

If you’re a parent, you know it’s true – your relationship with your children is going to cost you some patience, some frustration, or some preference. That’s why we eat at Taco Bell – it’s not because the fare is delectable; it’s because that’s where our kids want to eat. So we “eat” the cost and we take them.

Marriage is going to cost you. It will cost you your desires, your forgiveness, and your pride almost on a daily basis.

That relationship with your co-worker is going to cost you. It will cost you your to-do list when they need someone to talk to for a few minutes. It will cost you your energy if they are difficult to engage with.

Even your relationships in the church will cost you. They will cost you your comfort as you move from soaking to serving. They will cost you your presuppositions as you engage in community with people who are different than you are. They will cost you your energy as you make the on-purpose choice to reach out to someone and lead in the conversation, asking question after question to try and get them to crack the door a little bit.

These are costly endeavors, and if you’re like me, it’s a battle many times to get passed that cost. It would be so much easier to have it your way. On your time. With your preferences. So much easier than embracing the self-sacrifice that comes with genuine relationships. But there is a phrase you can say to yourself that will help you embrace that cost, and it’s not as complicated as you might think.

Ready? Here we go…

“God will take care of me.”

No brainer, right? Of course God will take care of me. That’s what the Bible teaches. That’s what we teach our kids. It should go without saying, but at least in this case, it can’t. Trace the progression back with me to find why my heart (and maybe yours, too) is so resistant to this kind of self-sacrifice:

This relationship is going to make me give something of myself. Most of the time, I don’t feel like I have that “thing,” be it patience or energy or kindness or time, to spare. In fact, I feel like I have to guard what little of it I do have because if I lose some of that “thing,” small in amount though that loss will be, then what will happen? Nobody’s going to give me what I need so I have to guard what I have…

But God will take care of me.

That’s why I can give some time to the person on the other end of the phone even though it means I’m sacrificing my priorities – God will take care of me.

That’s why I can give some more patience to my kids even though I feel like I’ve run out and simply must rest – God will take care of me.

That’s why I can sit down and indeed rest without anxiety even though there are 50 other things I could be doing – God will take care of me.

Again and again I can say it to myself – God will take care of me.

And you want to know the best part of that phrase? We don’t have to wonder if it’s true. We know God will take care of us because God has taken care of us. When we find ourselves in the grip of despair facing the self-sacrificial nature of common relationships, we need only look to the cross of Jesus to know it’s true. God will take care of us now because He already has taken care of us then – He has taken care of us in a much greater way than we even knew we needed. For all of efforts at self-protection pale in comparison to the gravity of our greatest need. We once were in the clutches of an enemy far greater than the threat to our lifestyle, our time, our rest, or our energy. But Jesus snatched us from the jaws of sin and death.

He took care of us. And so He will continue to do so. Because He will take care of us, we can embrace the sacrifice that’s needed.

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