A few years ago, through a series of events, I found myself stirred to write. Not knowing what that looked like or where to begin, I started a private blog on Blogger. At the time that seemed far less intimidating than the blinking cursor on a blank word document. A few months later, I moved from a private Blogger blog to this site on WordPress, where I have remained for the past two years. And now, I am moving again.
When I first started on this journey two years ago, I had no idea where it may lead. What was an initial stirring within, which seemed ludicrous at first, has developed into quite the adventure with God. I’ve learned more about myself, more about God, His Word, the Gospel, and so much more.
I appreciate those of you who have walked alongside me over the years – who have in some way been my traveling companions. Your fellowship has blessed me in so many ways. I appreciate the time you have spent reading, commenting, and encouraging me. I pray that you have been blessed as well.
After much thought and discussion with others, I am relocating my blog to a self-hosted site. The new web address is http://chrystiecole.com. I wrestled with that idea for a while because it seemed arrogant and egotistical. But the truth is, it is much easier to remember than Path From The Head To The Heart, or as my friend Matt likes to jokingly call it,”Whispering Wind Echoes of Encouragement I Can Only Imagine Leaving Footprints In The Sand.”
For those of you who have subscribed to the site by email, I will be moving your subscription over to the new site. Should you desire to no longer receive emailed posts from me, please let me know. For those of you who are subscribed through WordPress, I hope that you will re-subscribe to the site. I am also working toward enabling people to subscribe to the RSS feed through Feedburner. I hope to have that up and working soon. For those of you who have kindly linked to me on your own blog, I will point this site to the new site. I will no longer be posting here, so if you desire, you may want to correct your links to reflect the new site address.
I’ve prayed for some time for God’s leading for this site, sometimes feeling a bit directionless. Over the last few months, I have discovered I have a love of teaching, a love and passion for the Gospel and for the awe-inspiring beauty and brilliance of His grace in the middle of our brokenness.
This quote by Oswald Chambers long been a source of inspiration:
“I indeed am at the end, and I cannot do anything more— but He begins right there— He does the things that no one else can ever do. Wherever I know I am unclean is where He will put His feet and stand. ‘I indeed’ was this in the past, ‘but He’ came and something miraculous happened. Get to the end of yourself where you can do nothing, but where He does everything.”
I have experienced many moments of, “I indeed was this in the past, but He came and something miraculous happened.” These moments continue to come. They come not just as one-time conversion type moments, but also as the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of sanctification in us. As we continue to grow in Christ, we hopefully grow more and more into someone entirely unrecognizable – reflecting to the world less of ourselves and more of our Savior.
There is something absolutely beautiful and freeing about coming to the end of ourselves, knowing and believing that our Savior will put His feet in the exact place we know we are unclean. He doesn’t require us to clean ourselves up to come into His presence. He doesn’t wait for us to get our act together. On the contrary, He waits for us to acknowledge that we don’t have our acts together; He waits for us to come before Him, filthy and broken and humble. He celebrates the moment we come to understand, “Not I, but He.” (Luke 18:9-14 is a beautiful reminder of this.)
There is something about the Gospel of grace, the kindness of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ, that has mesmerized me. And it is from that, I write. That is the direction I pray the new site will reflect.
If you wish to journey along with me, come join me on the new site at http://chrystiecole.com . I welcome you as my traveling companion as we grow together in His grace.
Last night, I had an opportunity to share God’s story of rescue, redemption, hope in my own life with the Celebrate Recovery group at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, SC.
Here is a brief excerpt of the testimony:
Just like Gomer and the Israelites, my cravings drove and enslaved me. Like the belly of a hungry wolf, I labored to feed them day and night. I knew all too well the huge hunger, a void that I could never seem to fill. Even today, I can fall prey to that same worldly hunger. Over the years, I’ve tried to fill it with relationships, with jobs, with shopping, with food, with alcohol and drugs, with the approval of others, and, sadly, even at times with ministry. No matter the method, the end result is always the same – dissatisfaction, emptiness, isolation, shame, frustration, brokenness, and despair.
I was attempting to treat an internal, spiritual problem with an external, physical solution. Like the Samaritan woman, I was drinking deeply of a worldly well and my thirst was never satisfied. The more I drank, the more I wanted. Each day, my thirst drove me ever more deeply into an endless well, searching for life, for satisfaction, for fulfillment, for peace. And each time, I came up more empty than before.
Psalm 106 says that the Israelites gave into their craving; they were bent on rebellion and because of that they wasted away in their sin. Paul warns us in Philippians 3:19 that when our god is our stomach, when our appetite is for the things of this world – whether it be acceptance, approval, fame, fortune, family, reputation, respect, security, whatever – that our destiny is destruction and our glory is in our shame.
I gave into my cravings and my rebellion led to an incredibly painful and disastrous drug and alcohol addiction, which resulted in medical issues, legal trouble, periods of homelessness, and relationships seemingly damaged beyond repair. Simply put, I lived to satisfy my appetites and the end result, my destiny, was destruction, shame, and death – death of my spirit, death of relationships, death of hope. Though I was physically alive, I felt nothing short of dead…
You can download or listen to the entire testimony by clicking the link below. (And, don’t let the introduction by my dad throw you. He introduces me by my maiden name. The old saying is true, “Once a daddy’s girl, always a daddy’s girl” And one correction, I stated my sobriety date as Sept. 7, 1976, which would have made me all of three years old. The correct date is Sept. 7, 1996. Click here to listen: zSHARE – SONG001.MP3.
In my last post, I focused on what the Bible has to say about who we are, our identity in Christ. But, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of daily life, rather than reaching for what the Bible says about who we are, we reach instead for something more tangible, more accessible. We reach for things like careers, reputations, relationships, accomplishments, hobbies and personal interests. We form and fashion our identities by how we dress, our height, our weight, our financial status, our education, our social circles. While some of this can be motivated by a desire for personal achievement, if we look deep enough we may also find it rooted in a desire to be well regarded, to be loved, liked, accepted, and appreciated.
Much of my life I have been a people pleaser. While some of it is rooted in love for others, much of it is a self-centered desire for approval. It is a need to control how others perceive me. It is rooting my hope in, my value and worth in, my identity in the opinion of man. It is fear of man.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Fear of man drives us to seek the approval of man. Fear of man robs us of peace, enslaves us to the pursuit of the acceptance of others, and hinders us from resting in our identities as children of God.
Fear of man is being more enamored with man than with God; it is elevating the thoughts, opinions, and approval of a broken, fallible person above the thoughts, opinions, and approval of a perfect, holy God. And, it is idolatry.
Fear of man is self-centered. It is being a “here I am person” clamoring for love, approval, and acceptance rather than being a “there you are person” giving love, approval, and acceptance. It is simply caring more for self than the other person.
Man is fickle, easily offended or disappointed. There is no security in the approval of man. You may have it one second and lose it the next. One may love you, while another despises you. Approval of man is a tyrannical idol. It is an endless treadmill – a treacherous journey never reaching its destination. There is no comfort, no security, no rest found there.
In Luke 6:26 Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” The true prophets were hated, excluded, reviled, spurned, beaten, tortured, and killed. The false prophets were well spoke of because they told people what they wanted to hear.
Perhaps worse than enslaving us, fear of man tempts us into sin. The false prophets were more concerned with being liked, celebrated, and praised than they were with speaking truth. They cared more for themselves than for God. They cared more about the fame of their own name, than making God’s name great. They cared more about their reputation among men than their place among the family of God. And, the same is true of us today.
The only way we will be freed from this desire for the approval of man is to become more enamored with the Gospel and what the Gospel says of us. Our key to freedom is to become less self-focused and more Gospel focused. It is to become more enamored with our identity in Christ than our reputation in this world. It is to echo the words of John the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
Unlike the approval of man, our Gospel identity is certain and secure.
It is something moths and rust cannot destroy. The Gospel tells us that we are loved, accepted, adopted into the family of God, heirs to the kingdom, valuable, and righteous. This is certain and secure. We do not have to fear losing it. It is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is kept for us by God’s power. And, it is ours right here, right now. We do not have to wait for it or earn it. He has already declared it. It is ours in Christ.
The Gospel tells us that this is who we are now. It is also a shadow of who we will be in the future, who we will be for eternity. In this and this alone, we find rest from the approval treadmill. To become more enamored with God, the Gospel, and our Gospel identities in Christ, is to find freedom from the fear of man. May we rise up as the children of God, celebrating who we are in Him, and who we will be because of Him.
 ESV Bible commentary on Luke 6:26
Numerous times in my life I have encouraged people to find their identity in Christ. Just as many times, if not more, I have spoken these words over myself as well. They certainly paint an ethereal, beautiful, lofty picture. They sound great in theory but finding rest in those words alone proves to be quite difficult. The words by themselves seem to carry no value. They are not substantial on their own. They do not give us an anchor for our soul or a firm foundation for our feet to stand upon. They are just words.
It wasn’t until this year, when I started memorizing Bible verses centered on the Gospel, that I began to understand who we are in Christ. I did not know then the treasures the Gospel would unlock for me. I thought memorizing Gospel-centered verses would teach more about Jesus, more about God, more about the Gospel story. And they did. But they also taught me more about myself than I ever imagined possible. It was in the Gospel that I found the meaning to the phrase, “find your identity in Christ.”
As a new Christian, I knew I was a sinner, but my concept of sin related mostly to my past. I didn’t understand that even as a Christian my propensity for sin is great. I thought I was a relatively good person who still made some bad choices every now and then. I did not understand the depth of my sin and that even now my best intentions almost always have mixed motives.
To begin to understand who we are in Christ, we first have to understand who we are apart from Christ. Apart from Christ – meaning without accepting and believing in the perfect life He lived, the death He died, and the resurrection of His physical body that symbolized His victory over sin and death and God’s acceptance of Him as a perfect sacrifice for us – we are:
- Enemies of God
- Eternally separated from God
- Slaves to sin and death
- Under God’s judgment and wrath
- Deserving of nothing
It is ugly, but its truth nonetheless. It is the bad news of the Gospel. But coupled with the bad news is some really Great news.
The Gospel tells us that through Christ, through His life lived in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, WE ARE:
WE ARE…Chosen (Eph 1:3-4)
WE ARE…Holy, blameless, and without blemish before God (Col. 1:21-23, 1 Peter 1:3-5)
WE ARE…No longer separated or enemies, but reconciled with God (Col 1:21-23)
WE ARE…Free from accusation
WE ARE…Heirs to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pet. 1:3-5)
WE ARE…Adopted into the family of God – considered sons (Eph 1:5-8) and WE ARE…Recipients of the full rights of sons (Gal 4:3-7)
WE ARE…Redeemed – purchased, set free from slavery to sin and death (Eph 1:5-8)
WE ARE…Forgiven of all sins – past, present, and future
WE ARE…Recipients of lavish grace
WE ARE…Called (Rom 8:28-39)
WE ARE…Predestined to be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ
WE ARE…Justified, declared righteous
WE ARE…more than conquerors through Christ
WE ARE…Secure in the love of God through Christ.
Being in Christ means WE HAVE…
WE HAVE…Atonement (restitution, payment) for our sin (Heb 2:14-18)
WE HAVE…A merciful and faithful high priest
WE HAVE…A Savior who identifies with our suffering and temptation because He suffered and was tempted in every way (Heb 4:14-16)
WE HAVE… Been set free from sin and death to become slaves to God, which reaps holiness and leads to eternal life (Rom 6:20-22)
WE HAVE…Received mercy as sinners, not as righteous people who deserved mercy (1 Tim 1:15-17 and Titus 3:4-7)
WE HAVE…Been washed, cleansed from our sins (Titus 3:4-7)
WE HAVE…Been given new life thru the Holy Spirit
WE HAVE…This hope as an anchor for our soul
AND WHEN JESUS RETURNS…We will be glorified
Though we are none of these things, He calls us as though we are. Though we deserve none of these things, in His kindness and mercy, He has lavished them on us.
This is who we are, what we have, and what we hope for in Christ. This is more real, more secure, and more fulfilling than anything this world has to offer.
This is the truth of who we are in Christ. Everything else passes away. Beauty fades. Roles change. Health dwindles.
The good news for a Christian is that we don’t start at a deficit and try to earn our way into God’s grace. To be in Christ means that we start as justified – just as if we never sinned. We start as accepted – adopted into the family of God. Christianity isn’t about what we do to get to God; it is about what Jesus did to bring us to God.
I now know that I am a miserable sinner, but He is an all-sufficient Savior. I’ve learned that I am still broken, but I am being made whole. I am a sinner, but I have been declared righteous. Though I am not, I am counted as holy and blameless before God. I am guilty, but I have been pardoned. Though, in and of myself, I am powerless, I can rest knowing that I (my salvation, my sanctification, my righteous standing before God) am being guarded by God’s power.
Resources I found very helpful:
The Two Prodigals, sermon by Tim Keller
In Christ Jesus, sermon series by Tim Keller
The Books of Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, Romans, and Hebrews
I’ve realized lately there are many things we say as Christians that are almost cliché. We talk about the Gospel. We talk about preaching the Gospel to ourselves. We talk about guarding our hearts. We talk about finding our identity in Christ.
We hardly skip a beat in conversations with others, using these phrases as words of encouragement or exhortation. And, when we find ourselves struggling, we use them on ourselves as a kind of positive self-talk, doing our best to apply them.
Then there are those oft-repeated phrases that have been attributed to the Bible that aren’t from the Bible at all. Phrases like, “God won’t do for you what you can do for yourself” or “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” It’s no wonder it is all a jumbled up mess.
I have to be the first to confess that I am guilty of this. I have said these things many times – letting them roll right off my tongue, confident in the Biblical encouragement I was providing to another. And yet, as many times as I have said them, I can’t help but wonder now if they have just become overused phrases void of any depth or meaning. I wonder if these words have lost their power because we don’t really understand them at all; because we can’t put hooks around them? I wonder how many of us actually know and understand what these things mean, the power they hold for us, that they are more than just Christian platitudes?
Over the last year and a half, it became very clear to me that many things I thought I understood were actually about as clear as mud. Many things we talk about, as Christians, never made it past a surface, churchy understanding. It was only after I began to learn what these things mean, the depth of treasure to be mined from them, that I can look back and realize I had no clue before.
- What is the Gospel?
- What does it mean to preach the Gospel to yourself?
- What does it mean to find your identity in Christ?
- What does it mean that we are created in the image of God?
- What does it mean when we say marriage is a picture of Christ and the church?
Whole books could be, and have been, written about these things – some I have read and some I haven’t. But, in the coming weeks, I will attempt to write what I have been learning about these things in a blog post. Obviously, these posts will not be exhaustive because there is only so much you can do in a blog post, but I will include other resources I have found helpful for further reading on each topic. I am also not writing as an expert, but as a fellow sojourner – one who is still learning. What God has been faithful to teach me thus far has been transformational and it is my deep desire to share it with others in hopes of providing the same joy, hope, and encouragement I have been given.
What other Christian phrases do you hear used a lot? Have you ever sat back and thought, “That’s great but what does that really mean? How am I supposed to apply that to my life? What in the world am I supposed to do with that?”
I do not have a green thumb. My gardening skills are severely lacking, so much so that it took me months to realize that the big, green leafy thing growing in my planter was not the perennial I planted the year before, but a wildly abundant weed garden instead. A gardener I am not.
But, God is the master gardener, is He not? Multiple passages in Scripture utilize plant or fruit analogies. There’s the tree by the stream in Psalm 1; the tree planted by water in Jeremiah 17; Jesus’ discussion of the good trees and bad trees and the fruit they produce in Matthew 7; and Jesus’ reference to himself as the vine and God has the gardener in John 15 – just to name a few.
Yes, God is the ultimate cultivator. He is the Gardener, we are His garden and He tends to us with the utmost care and attention to detail. In Matthew 13:4-22, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. The sower went out to sow some seed. Some fell along the path, some along rocky ground, some among thorns, and other seed fell among good soil. The seed that fell along the path was snatched away by the evil one. The seed that fell on rocky places couldn’t flourish because it had no root. The seed that fell among the thorns was choked out. Only the seed that fell among good soil flourished.
The key to the health and fruit of the seed is the soil in which it is planted.
Farmers know and understand this concept and therefore take great measures to cultivate their soil. Soil under adverse conditions may become compacted…the little pockets of air beneath the surface are squeezed together. When this happens, water and nutrients no longer move through the soil, making it more difficult for roots to grow.
And yet, care also has to be taken not to over-cultivate the soil. Cultivation disrupts the soils natural structure. Extreme cultivation pulverizes the soil’s structure in such a way that it may become even more compacted in a short period of time, again making it difficult for roots to grow. Cultivation also brings weed seeds to the surface. Weeds, like thorns, can ultimately choke out the good seed, making it impossible to gain the nutrients needed to grow. (Source landscape-america.com)
So what does all of this have to do with cultivating bold-humility? At the beginning of the year, I prayerfully sought the Lord to grow me in bold-humility in 2011. Since that initial prayer, I have consistently, even persistently, prayed to see this fruit produced in my life. And the Master Gardener has been faithful.
Over the last six months the Lord has been cultivating the soil of my heart. Were He to have just sown the seed of bold-humility, it likely would have fallen on rocky or thorny soil. I might have seen some initial growth, but soon the heat of this world and the worries of this life would have destroyed it and I would be as barren as before. But, He knew that and has taken great stride to uproot the rocks and thorns and weeds that would hinder His purpose for me.
He has tilled up the soil of my heart and brought to the surface the roots of the fear of man; the desires for autonomy and control over all aspects of my life; and narcissism (an obsession with self manifested in desires for respect, affirmation, recognition, and glory, among other things.)
He’s used the tools of my godly husband who overcame his temptation to be passive and instead boldly stepped toward me, leading me in a discussion of these sins in my life. He’s used the tool of Scripture, namely Paul’s epistles that exhibit Paul as a man of great boldness, yet a man very well aware of his own insufficiency and unworthiness. He’s used the Gospel, which tenders my heart more each time I hear it, making me more receptive to the seed He is sowing.
His first step has been to uproot me, to turn the soil over, pulling everything to the surface that will hinder growth of bold-humility. One could easily be overwhelmed or tempted to despair in all of this, but I am not. Instead, I trust He is bringing me to a place of godly sorrow and repentance, which must be present if I wish to see fruit manifested in my life. I find I am eager, hopeful, and anticipating the fruit I know only He can produce. I am ready to be free of these things that choke out the life He intends for me – the life of His Son exhibited in me.
So, till, churn, and cultivate my soil, Lord. May your will be done, not mine. Don’t give me what my sinful flesh desires. Don’t give me over to my cravings (Ps. 106:14-15) Instead, increase my desire for you, your will, your glory. Help me be self-forgetting. Help me crave you above all else to the point that I am dead to the world and live only to you, in you, by you, and for you alone.
In our desert journey alongside the Israelites, we’ve learned how prone we are to forget the goodness of the Lord; we’ve learned that hard times and struggle often expose sin in our hearts; and we’ve learned that the desert humbles us by revealing our frailty and reminding us of our need for God. As I look back over my own desert experiences, whether the result of my own sin or someone’s sin against me or just the result of living in this broken world, one thing is certain:
In the desert, I become deeply aware of my need for something greater than me, something or someone to offer me a truer, deeper hope than this world has to offer. I need assurance that there is meaning behind the madness, that there is a purpose and plan for this life. I need to know it is not all for naught, but serves a greater purpose. I need to know there is hope for redemption, for restoration, for life.
The road the Israelites were on led to the Promised Land, the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham. Even though it was the road to the Promised Land, it was still full of suffering, hardship, sin, and rebellion. But, it was also full of God’s grace, mercy, patience, forgiveness, protection, leading, and provision.
The road we are on is also a road that leads to the fulfillment of God’s covenant with us. It, too, is a road full of suffering, hardship, sin, and rebellion. And like the Israelites, we too, have witnessed God’s grace, mercy, patience, forgiveness, protection, leading, and provision.
The Lord chose Abraham and determined to make him into a great nation. He set apart a people to be His own, not because they were holy, but because He determined to make them holy. He delivered them from slavery and drove out their enemies before them with His own hand.
The road they were on led by way of the desert.
The Lord chose us and determined to make us His children. He set us apart and determined before the foundations of the world to make us holy and blameless in His sight. He delivered us from our slavery to sin and drove out our enemy with two nail-scarred hands.
The road we are on leads by way of the cross of Christ.
The Israelites road led them out of Egyptian slavery and into the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. It was a road that led to the promise of life.
The road for a Christian leads them to the foot of the cross, flowing with Jesus’ blood. It, too, is a road that leads to the promise of life.
The desert exposes us to the elements of the world – extreme heat, drought, and to scarcity of shelter, shade, food, and water. The journey is at times arduous, full of hardship and struggle. The journey exposes us to our sin and to our limited power and resources. And we find ourselves, like the Israelites thirsty, hungry, humbled, and in need.
The desert drives us to find the life-sustaining, life-giving nourishment we need. Ultimately, and quite possibly the most important, purpose of the desert is that it leads us to the cross, to the feet of the One who fulfills every need.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is life we want, need, and seek. He shelters us from the storms. He provides us with shade. He clothes us in His righteousness. He nourishes us with living water. He feeds us with His Word. He leads us by the Holy Spirit. He sustains us by His grace and power. And, He will deliver us safely into the Promised Land.
“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7
What have times of struggle, trial, or hardship taught you? How has God revealed Himself to you in the desert?