Is Your Life Remarkable?

“I don’t know why, still I try to wrap my mind around You, Your thoughts are higher, Your ways are better and I’m in awe, So bring me up to where You are.” – “Lofty” by Propaganda

As Easter approaches, I like to study the life of Jesus, so I’ve been diving into the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel is a Is Your Life Remarkablebit more concise than the other accounts of the Savior’s life, but still quite telling and profound.

In Mark 6, Jesus performs the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, multiplying the portion in order to feed about 5,000 people. Immediately after that, He sends His disciples across the sea ahead of Him. Later, as they’re struggling to row in windy conditions, Jesus comes walking on the water — totally freaking them out — gets in the boat and the wind and waves calm down. The disciples’ response was interesting:

And they were astonished exceedingly [beyond measure], For they failed to consider [or understand the meaning of the miracle of] the loaves; their hearts had grown callous [had become dull]. Mark 6:51-52

 

There aren’t many times when we see the disciples being “astonished” or in awe of what they see. At this point they had been hanging with Jesus a while and had seen Him heal plenty of people, and even they had went out and healed the sick and cast out demons themselves, so not too much came as a surprise to them. But seeing Jesus walk on water blew them away. It was a different level of miracle for them. But the Bible says it shouldn’t have been because hours before they saw 5,000 fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish. That miracle was just as incredible as Jesus walking on water. But Mark writes that “they failed to consider” the miracle of the loaves because their hearts had become dull or callous.

I wonder if our hearts have become dull to the things God has done and is doing in our lives because they aren’t as “grand” as we expect. Because we haven’t miraculously received a huge pay raise, a surprise check in the mail, a debt canceled, the man/woman of our dreams dropped at our doorstep, or a family member instantly saved, we feel nothing spectacular is happening in our lives.

But maybe something spectacular is happening. Maybe, just like the disciples, we experience supernatural things daily but we never consider or value them. To consider means to “think carefully about, regard, believe, take into account, or remember.”

I’m not sure what things God is doing in your life that are awe-inspiring, but I know they are happening. That’s how God operates. Think about it: Does the most renowned chef in the world ever cook an average meal? Does the world’s best artist ever make a mundane piece of art? So if we are God’s workmanship, crafted in His image and in whom He continues to work, how is He not doing something spectacular in our lives regularly?

He is. Our hearts have just become dull.

I challenge you to take time during your busy day, to interrupt your routine to consider (recall the definition) what God is doing in your life. It may be something spiritual or it may involve your career or family, whatever it is, recognize God’s fingerprint in your life and regard it.

In meditating on that scripture, I consider how far God has brought me in my career and the doors He’s opened for me. I’m also in awe that, through His Spirit, I hear from Him every day. And even each week, when I sit in front of this computer with absolutely nothing to say, He deposits inspiration, ideas, and thoughts in my mind to share with you. I’m in awe.

Take a few minutes to listen to this song “Lofty” by Propaganda, it expresses why we need to be in awe of our Creator:

 

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How Heartbreak and Grief Help Us

By Kevin HowellHow Heartbreak and Grief Help Us

Pain sucks.

I’m not talking about physical pain (though I’m pretty sure that’s high on the suck level as well), but emotional pain. When I think back to the hardest times of my life, they came from heartbreak, grief, and loneliness.

Though I learned lessons from those experiences, I couldn’t find a benefit of going through them.

Though the pain from those emotions pierces our hearts, we can’t avoid them. If we live long enough, we’ll experience heartbreak, grief, and loneliness multiple times to various degrees. They are a part of life…an unwelcome part of life.

I’ve been wrestling with this topic lately after hearing comments on the subject from a pastor and a comedian.

Rick Warren, a renowned pastor and author of Purpose Driven Life, was interviewed on CNN a few weeks ago, talking about the death of his son, Matthew, who committed suicide. It was a touching interview with Warren and his wife as they shared their heartbreak.

In explaining his grief, Warren said he has cried every day since his son died, and he sees that as positive. Yes, he believes those negative emotions are good: “Grief is a good thing,” he said. “It’s the way we get through the transitions of life.”

That statement stood out from everything else he said in the interview. It’s so profound, and honestly, I still don’t fully comprehend it.

How can grief be good?

Inherently, it isn’t good because it comes from some sort of loss. But it’s good because of its purpose, as Warren explained. It helps us transition. It’s the way we move on. We let it out. We hurt. We let it burn — Usher style.

The alternative is burying the pain somewhere in our psyche to avoid the onslaught of negative emotions. The bad thing about that is it delays the transition. Comfort, peace and joy await on the other end of grief. The longer we hold the emotions in, the longer it takes to arrive there. Though we can arrive there partially by bottling up emotions, the pain still emerges without proper grief.

Experiencing negative emotions makes us human. Ironically, comedian Louis C.K. explained this perfectly — and quite off-color — during an appearance on the Conan show. He said sadness is poetic and we’re lucky to live sad moments. It’s a human emotion. It’s a part of the human experience. Yet, most of us do anything to avoid it — including occupying ourselves with our cell phones to avoid feeling lonely.

I’m no different. I’m a pro at bottling up emotions and avoiding pain. Ultimately it catches up to me. Pain sucks. But it doesn’t last forever. It eventually dissipates. Contentment and joy settle in.

I don’t think I’ll ever welcome grief, heartbreak or loneliness. But they will come. And when they do, I know the pain is simply a vehicle to help me transition. It is healthy. It heals. It makes way for peace and joy to return.

After pondering Warren’s statement that grief is good, I wonder if God created grief. We know every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), and if grief has a good purpose, is it godly? It’s weird to think God would “create” grief, but I know what God calls “good and perfect” doesn’t necessarily mean comfortable and easy.

Whether He created grief or not is probably not important. What’s important is how He uses it and how we respond to it. Our response determines whether, in our lives, grief is good.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency. Connect with him @transparencymag or kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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Your Past has a Purpose

By Kevin Howell

The Past

photo by kusito via compfight creative commons

Your past has a purpose.

I know we’ve been told to move on from the past in order to grow, and even a certain R&B singer hates it when we bring up the past, but what we’ve been through shouldn’t be forgotten or hidden.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy that God shows him off as proof of His mercy and patience to those who have yet to trust Him.

His past had a purpose.

As wrong and forgettable as it was, his past pointed to a beautiful attribute of God. Your past and mine are no different.

If you’ve been around the church, you’re familiar with hearing testimonies of what God has done in people’s lives. You may have even shared your testimony with a friend, relative or co-worker in hopes of changing their lives.

But that doesn’t come easily for everyone. Some of us don’t freely and confidently share our past. No matter how much we’ve changed, no matter how much we’ve grown in God, it’s still difficult to reveal our “past life.”

The primary culprit is shame. We’re ashamed of what we used to do and who we used to be. That’s understandable. But if we keep letting shame of the past impede us from sharing our lives in the present, it not only hinders our growth, but also the growth of others.

OVERCOMING SHAME

If anyone had a shameful past it was the Apostle Paul. His mission was to persecute Christians, throw them in prison, and rid Israel of what he considered heresy. I’m sure along the way he may have cursed Jesus and His followers. He was anti-Christ in many ways.

After his dramatic conversion, Paul probably felt a sense of guilt. And even when God called him to share the Gospel, he felt inadequate, unqualified, and unworthy because of the shame of his past. Yet, he recognized Jesus made him adequate for the work, and “grace mixed with faith and love” cleared the shame that hindered him from ministry.

His testimony became his greatest tool in ministry. He realized his past was not about his mistakes but about God’s character. Paul’s past is evidence of God’s “endless patience to those who are right on the edge of trusting God forever” (1Timothy 1:16).

Paul began to freely share his testimony because it could help others who felt shame. Those who felt they weren’t good enough for God. Your past can do the same. It can help those who think they need to get their lives together before they can go to church. Those who think they’ve done too much to be forgiven and accepted by God.

SECURE TO SHARE

We carry shame of the past because we haven’t given it to God. Either we haven’t fully accepted His forgiveness because we haven’t forgiven ourselves, or we still feel the sting of past hurt so we can’t bear to bring it up.

Security in our relationship with God buries shame. It gives us confidence in His forgiveness. It helps us find a redemptive value in our past. Once we do, the past no longer becomes shameful, but useful.

God has made us adequate. Adequate and strong enough to share our past without fear. Our past, no matter how bad or hurtful, doesn’t hinder our purpose, it empowers it. So go ahead and bring up the past. It points to God’s redemptive work and will help set someone free.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency Magazine, and yes, he used the Shaliek song as partial inspiration for this article.

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Finding Freedom

By Nadia Atkinson freedom

I grew up in a divided household. My parents split when I was 6 years old and my dad married shortly after. I had weekend visits with my dad, who was a Jehovah’s Witness.

I enjoyed the visits and the foundation that was being built: a father and mother in the home, religion, and two siblings — one step-brother and a half-sister, I was the oldest.

When I was 12, I was a shy, quiet, skinny little girl who didn’t talk much except to certain individuals. I have always been extremely observant from a young age. I recall a time when I was going out in field service for the Jehovah’s Witnesses with a young lady who I was supposed to confide in. Being a habitual thinker, I felt that I shouldn’t tell her anything because it would get back to my parents. After all, that was the point of us working together that day. Although I was alone, depressed, and suicidal, no one knew except my brother.

She realized that she wouldn’t be able to get through to me so she asked if I ever talked to God about my issues. I hadn’t, so she began to explain to me that she talked to God when she drove to work in the morning, and when she read her bible, she always read it out loud as if she were reading with Him. I decided to try this one day. I thought prayer was reserved for waking up, meals, and bedtime. I had no idea it grow to something bigger than that.

I knew many stories in the Bible and where all of the books were in the Bible, but I never thought to read it out loud when I was alone. I always used it to study The Watchtower and for family studies, but that was it. Once I started to talk to God, I knew that I developed a great relationship with Him shortly after. I became a great student of the Word. During our family studies at my dad’s house, I would answer all of the questions that were asked and I knew that I would be a great bible scholar one day.

It came to a standstill once I went to high school. I no longer had suicidal thoughts but I went to school with 1,500 students who looked and acted differently than I did. I needed to fit in because I couldn’t be the smart girl in the geeky high honors program who was a Jehovah’s Witness. I could deal with the first two but the latter is what I grew ashamed of. Of course, I folded and gave into peer pressure and started to examine what being a Jehovah’s Witness was all about. I struggled in my relationship with God and my prayer life became non-existent. Everything I valued soon took a back seat, and after eight years, my relationship and prayer life were a thing of the past. I literally checked out. I was going to the Kingdom Hall but I wasn’t there mentally.

The last time I recall going to the Kingdom Hall was in 2005, I was 20. I remember thinking about the music I couldn’t listen to, the movies or shows I preferred to watch that I couldn’t, the people I preferred to hang around who were looked down upon because they were not studying to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. These people weren’t bad people, but I recall the scripture, “Bad association spoils useful habits” (1 Cor. 15: 33) being embedded into my brain since I was young.  The music I listened to was mostly R&B music that had great lyrics and something one could relate to, but that, too, was frowned upon.

However, there was no music to uplift you like there is gospel music for the Christian world. I didn’t want to screen my music or television shows anymore. I wanted to celebrate holidays with my mother because she was Christian. There were too many rules that I didn’t understand and I realized I was trying so hard to be this perfect person all the time, I was forgetting to live life. My friends said I was too serious. I was 20 going on 35 and I needed to live a little. Eventually, I stopped going and I entered “the world.”

For two years I managed to keep a full-time job making excellent money, take five college courses each semester, have a live-in boyfriend, and party three to five nights a week. I was fearless, angry, unruly, crazy, and I never felt tired. The world gave me something the Kingdom Hall couldn’t offer me and that was freedom. I did whatever I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, and no one could tell me anything. Then I woke up one day and I was bored. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars in the club on a weekly basis; I didn’t want to live a meaningless life any longer. I wanted a life of substance and I began to weed out everyone around me, even if they were positive forces in my life. I wanted a new slate. That was at the end of 2009.

During the summer of 2010, I met a young man who I started dating after a few months of being friends. He was saved two weeks after we began dating and he called me shortly after and asked how I felt about becoming more in tune with God. I was open to it, after all my time in the world I was ready to get my life back on the right track. We made it a point to visit a few churches. The first one we visited was the one we became members of.

I remember giving my life to Christ and feeling awkward. I knew I made a huge decision; I knew I would die for Him in a second, but I had to start the process of unlearning. Although I hadn’t been to the Kingdom Hall in years, the lifestyle of being a Jehovah’s Witness was embedded in my heart and mind. If it weren’t for the 12-week Bible crash course that my church offered I probably would’ve still been praying to Jehovah God of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and not Jehovah God. Sounds a little crazy but there was truly a clear difference for me.

As a Christian today, I freely want to surround myself with like-minded individuals who want to achieve personal goals, who encourage me at all times, who don’t question what type of music I listen to, or what television shows I choose to watch. I naturally screen what is right from wrong but it isn’t coming from church leadership, which allows me to understand what free will truly is. Although some of the individuals I surround myself with are not those who are in church services as many times as I may be or read their Bible as much as I may, they are good people who genuinely care to do good in all things. I want the same for myself and I know God wants the same for all of us.

I remember sitting home on the night I gave my life to Christ, the habitual thinker started to take over and I began to cry. I once again felt alone and completely distant from everyone in my life. The thought of being able to have that relationship with God all over again was refreshing. The thought of knowing that I didn’t have to worry any longer was the best feeling. The thought of Psalm 138:8 — “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands” – amazing! It still speaks volumes today as it did three years ago.

I encourage anyone who has come from a religion where rules overlook your relationship to be open-minded and know your walk with God is real. It is up to you to be open to where He is going to lead you. Trust Him. He is faithful. Know when He is talking to you. God doesn’t scream and shout, He whispers (1 Kings 19:12). Keep your eyes and ears open, He is always talking but are you listening?

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There’s No Fear in Love

By Kevin Howellno fear in love

Fear has been a common thread in my writing lately. It’s not been on purpose, it’s just what comes out when I sit down in front of the computer.

I guess that says something about what’s deep inside. It’s something my soul is trying to convey to myself and to you. We don’t have time for fear.

No time to dwell on it.

No energy to waste fighting it.

We all know fear can holds us back from doing great things in life. And, what we fear most points to our greatest dreams and desires.

Our focus should be love. Love may not seem as the proper way to combat all your fears, but it can dissolve most.

When we’re focused on love, and living in love, we don’t give thought to fears. We don’t hesitate to do what our soul is stirring us to do. Whether it’s inviting a friend to church, making time for your irritable co-worker, starting a business, buying a house, moving out of the state or country, or simply saying “no” when you always say “yes.”

We fear these things because of our insecurity. It’s not necessarily because the tasks are too great, it’s because our faith is too small.

I don’t mean our belief has to be great in order to overcome fears. Jesus said faith the size of a mustard seed can accomplish great things. The faith I’m talking about has more to do with trust. The more trust we have in someone, the more secure we are around him or her.

I realized most of my fears were rooted in insecurity. They were internal. I was afraid to do things because I was afraid to fail and fall flat on my face, so in order to save face, I stayed safe.

But the more secure I became in God’s love, the less I thought about failure. The less I cared about failure. I felt free. Doubts and concerns became minimal.

It’s weird, but something I would consider solely spiritual or theological was so practical, it permeated my entire life.

The Bible says love covers a multitude of sins. It covers a multitude of fears as well. 

Love provides security, ensuring that no matter what you venture to do, someone trustworthy is always there. Love doesn’t minimize the risk associated with fear; it just changes the perspective of it. When we live within God’s love, we see everything through the lens of His loving security.

What people think no longer matters. Our weaknesses no longer matter. Who’s with us and for us means everything.

“There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.” 1 John 4:18

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Why Your Destiny Doesn’t Matter

By Kevin Howell

photo via Creative Commons

photo via Creative Commons

I was reading the book of Jonah recently, and my eyes were opened to just how meaningful of a story it is. For the most part, Jonah is taught in children’s church, seen in Bible cartoons and whatnot. But there are powerful, relevant lessons in this Old Testament prophet’s life.

Many times when we hear a message based on the book of Jonah, a minister will point out that no matter how much you run, God will get you to your destiny. Or that nothing can stop God from seeing you fulfill the plan He has for your life.

Those messages are encouraging and inspiring, but that’s not the theme of Jonah.

The book of Jonah is not actually about Jonah. Sure, he’s the central character and involved in every scene, but the book is about the people of Nineveh.

It’s not about Jonah’s calling to preach. It’s not about him running from God. It’s not about him eventually fulfilling his destiny. Jonah is a love story. A story about God’s love for a city of people. A love so strong that God had a big fish swallow and spare a prophet so the people could be saved.

The people of Nineveh were wicked. They probably deserved judgment. But God was so slow to anger, merciful, and rich in love — yes, even in the Old Testament — He not only sent a prophet to preach to them, but He ensured that they’d hear the message.

We know Jonah was quite resistant to going to Nineveh. In chapter 1, he’d rather die than obey what God said. When he was swallowed by the fish, he then thanked God for rescuing him. Then he finally obeyed God, preached the message in chapter 3, and the people of Nineveh listened and repented.

Jonah’s attitude is quite similar to ours. Well, at least mine. Sometimes I resist obeying God and sharing the faith because of how people will respond. I think this person is so far from God, there’s no way he/she would receive the gospel. The truth is, just like the people of Nineveh, people we encounter today will listen and respond to the grace and love of God. People desperately need the grace and love of God.

The last verse of the book of Jonah, the conclusion so to speak, sums up what the story is about. God calls the people of Nineveh “more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.” That’s the heart of the Father. That’s how He sees the lost.

Jonah didn’t get it. Even at the end, he still didn’t get it. It’s not about punishing wickedness. It’s not us against them; saints vs. sinners; the church vs. the world. It’s not about our fears or our abilities or our knowledge. It’s about having the heart of our gracious, merciful Father. The same way He described Nineveh is the same way He sees the lost today: childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.

The principle of the story of Jonah applies to your story and my story. Your story is not about your destiny or call. It’s about those people around you. The hundreds of childlike people you encounter who don’t yet know right from wrong. Your life is about their destiny more than yours.

Kevin is the editor of Transparency Magazine. You can connect with him on Twitter @kevbhowell or email kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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The Beauty of Being Unique

By Kevin Howellunique

God is a creative being. He made us creative. Even from the beginning, when God commissioned Adam to name the animals, God was empowering man to be creative and use his imagination.

In being creative, we display a characteristic of God. It’s not something the church champions as much as love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and patience, but it is an essential part of who God is and who He made us to be — unique, creative individuals.

The Message Bible uses the word “creative” interestingly. In the context of living a life led by the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, the translation tells us to live creatively. Back when Paul wrote his letter to the church of Galatia, human nature was no different than it is now: We compare ourselves to each other. We get jealous, we envy, we have pride, we ego trip.

No matter the area of life — career, family, spiritually, financially, intellectually — we tend to measure ourselves against others or popular society. We determine our progress and success by where we are in relation to others:

I’m still single at 28 while most of my friends are engaged or married.

I’m not working in the career field I want to be while everyone else appears to be established.

I don’t study the Bible or know scripture as much as others in church.

I struggle with sins while everyone else is living free.

I should be making as much money as this person.

And on the flip side, we can think more highly of ourselves because we are so-called “ahead” of our peers because we were the first to own a home, get a promotion, or have a title at church.

Paul says that we have “far more interesting things to do with our lives” than compare ourselves with others. He says, “Each of us is an original” (Gal. 5:26)

He then challenges us to “live creatively” (Gal. 6:1). I’m pretty sure he isn’t calling us to be artists or designers, in that creative sense. But he is saying, as individuals–uniquely gifted and crafted and anointed by God — to live in a manner free from the standards of others, and the standards of society.

It’s not by happenstance that we’re warned against comparisons after Paul teaches on the fruit of the Spirit. It’s easy to look at those traits and determine our proficiency based on how we compare to others. But comparison chokes the life of the Spirit within us. Creativity allows the character of the Spirit to uniquely flourish within us.

So what does it mean to be creative?

It means to be ourselves. It means to love like no one else can. Serve like no one else can. Be kind like no one else can. Be compassionate like no one else can. Not because you can do those things better than anyone else, but because no one else can do them the way you do.

Embrace your uniqueness. Live creatively, in the Spirit.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:4-5)

 

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Finding Peace When You Need It Most

By Kevin Howell

Finding peace

photo via Compfight Creative Commons

I’ve been reading the Bible from The Message translation lately just to provide a fresh perspective on the scriptures. The Message is one of the more modern versions of scripture, translated from the original language by Eugene Peterson. Petersen decided to write the translation because he felt adults in his congregation “weren’t feeling the vitality and directness” of scriptures, and weren’t “captured and engaged” by them as early readers of the scriptures were.

Well recently, a certain scripture captured me.

God knows exactly where we are at — emotionally, spiritually, mentally. And sometimes, He just uses a quote, a song, a message, and in this case, a scripture to ease our souls. I usually study the Word from a Bible app, and each day when I open it, a scripture of the day pops up on the screen. I usually ignore it. I treat it like those annoying pop-up ads you get when you’re on the internet.

But for some reason, this time, I decided to read it — Isaiah 40:27-31. It was in the Message translation.

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts…

Sometimes circumstances in life distract us from God. We focus on what’s around us instead of who’s in us, and who’s for us. We look at what we lack instead of Whom we have. Sometimes when reading about the unbelief of the Israelis in scripture, I shake my head at their doubt. But I realize I’m the same way. I complain. I whine. I think God lost track of me.

But just when I get tired — not physically tired, but mentally tired, emotionally tired, and spiritually tired — God does something. He doesn’t intervene in a huge, miraculous, sea-splitting, water-walking, five-loaves-multiplying kind of way. But He’ll encourage me with subtle words and actions. He’ll remind me, in unique ways, He’s here, He knows what’s going on, and He’s in control.

God knows how to push our buttons — in good ways. He knows what will bring us peace, individually and specifically. I can be mired in simple stint of loneliness, yet the God who controls the universe, watches over the billions of residents of Earth, and reigns over the creatures of Heaven, finds it vital to remind me I’m not alone. He’ll use phone calls, texts, Facebook messages from friends to reveal the loving fellowship in my life. It reminds me of a quote from author Mark Batterson:

“God is great not just because nothing is too big for Him; God is also great because nothing is too small.”

So, if you’re like me, and you’ve been distracted by the issues of life lately. Or, if you’ve grown tired within, stop trippin. He’s come through for you before, He’ll come through again. He’s never left your side, even if it feels that way.

Encouragement is on its way. Relief is on its way. As the rest of the scripture in Isaiah 40 says, “Those who wait upon God get fresh strength.”

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Understanding Grace

By Kevin Howell

grace

photo by Crazy Ivory via Compfight Creative Commons

 

As a young Christian, I struggled with sin. I understood it was part of the process of growing and maturing in God, and though I was no longer a sinner, I would still have to deal with sin for the rest of my life. In fact, I was told that in some way, every day, we all sin. So each night, before I went to bed, I reflected on my day to figure out how and when I sinned, because for sure, I did at some point.

I was sin-conscious, and more than bad habits, human depravity, my own lust, or temptations in the world, that’s why I sinned. Because sin and repentance was on my mind, daily.

There’s a theory in sports, whether shooting a basketball or a pistol, bowling, throwing a baseball or football, that whatever you focus on, that’s where the ball will go. Likewise, when my mind was focused on sin, avoiding sin, and repenting of sin, sin remained in my consciousness. So in spite of efforts to avoid it, I’d always come back to the same sins. Why? Because I was focused on them. I was trying to overcome sin by denying my flesh and building my spirit, based on principles we hear within Christian culture. However, I’ve found that to be ineffective and unbiblical.

I don’t have to try to overcome sin because sin has already been overcome.

My efforts were futile trying to win a battle I was incapable of winning. That’s why Jesus fought it for us already. Grace has taught me to accept the finished work of Christ. Do I still sin? Of course. But I’m no longer looking for it. I don’t try to figure out if and how I sinned every day. The Spirit of God will bring conviction to an area I need to address. I decided to live in grace instead of live in fear of sin.

Grace has become a controversial topic lately. As some people are leery of a hyper-grace message that is accepting of sin. But a true understanding of grace motivates us to live righteously.

“Amazing Grace,” the classic hymn by John Newton, has a verse that illustrates the power of grace:

“T’was grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fears relieved”

Grace teaches us the fear and reverence of God. It gives us understanding of His power, sovereignty, authority, and dominion. It reminds me that I exist, breath, and am not consumed because of grace. Yet at the same time, that same grace relieves me of the fear of sin and its consequences. I don’t have to fear judgment; I don’t have to constantly repent to be accepted. Grace has taken away those fears.

I no longer struggle with sin. Not because I’m perfect, or because I don’t care about how I live. I’ve taken my focus off the negative and put it on the positive. That’s why I’m moving toward grace.

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How I Got Free From Fear

By Kevin Howell

photo by criggchef via compfight

photo by criggchef via compfight

For much of my life, I’ve dealt with fear. Fear of the dark, fear of rejection, fear of hell, fear of failure. It wasn’t just a part of my life, it was a part of my personality. It was as much a characteristic of mine as my height, skin color, and blood type.

I didn’t have an anxiety disorder, but I worried a lot. Even as I got older, and the little boy fears of the dark faded, the fear of judgment, rejection, and failure remained. Though the three seem like distinct phobias, they are actually intertwined.

Judgment

I feared judgment from God. I feared hell. I feared not living up to the standard of righteousness. I had a relationship with God, a true encounter with Him, and served in ministry. But fear drove the relationship. I spent each day trying to figure out how I sinned so I could repent. Anytime I sinned, I would spend anywhere from a couple of hours to a week wallowed in guilt and condemnation for screwing up the umpteenth time. I knew God was love, but surely I had to live worthy of that love in some way. I knew the life God expected of me, so I focused on how I wasn’t living up to the standard so I could rectify it and please Him.

Rejection

I feared rejection from people. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be liked, so much so that I was haunted by insecurity. I needed to make a positive impression on people — at work, at church, or just hanging out around town — so they would think highly of me. When I walked into a room, my first thought was what people thought of me and who noticed me. Was I good enough for them? Was I cool enough? Was I spiritual enough? Do they think I’m smart, attractive, intriguing? I was a prisoner to the perception of others.

Failure

I was afraid of failing, therefore, I was afraid to take risks… afraid I’d fall flat on my face and embarrass myself. So I didn’t ask the girl out, didn’t fight for the promotion, and didn’t start the business. I pretty much played it safe as much as possible, swimming in shallow waters because heading to the deep was too risky.

Love & Freedom

Freedom from these fears was a process, but it seems like it happened instantaneously. It seemed like in a moment, an epiphany caused them all to loosen their grip on my psyche. That epiphany was understanding the love of God, though it happened gradually. I heard plenty about God’s love and grace, but it never sunk in. Maybe because I couldn’t accept it — it seemed too good to be true. I had been a Christian for more than 10 years, and a true understanding of grace just began to hit me. God truly loved me, before I even accepted Him. His love is exclusive of my actions. No prerequisites required. Understanding and accepting that love freed me from all fears.

I no longer fear judgment because I know I’m loved not based on my actions, but His will. I know I still sin, but I’m no longer sin-focused; I’m grace-focused. I focus on His goodness, not my mistakes. I don’t sit and think of what I did wrong and how to rectify it; I think of how He loves me and I live and act in gratitude of it.

I no longer fear rejection because I know I’m fully accepted by God. I’m secure in my relationship with Him, so what others may think no longer matters. Finding security in my relationship with Him brought security in every other relationship. Understanding the love of God brings a new level of confidence that permeates all areas of life.

I no longer fear failure because, as author Don Miller says, “Failure is an education, not a judgment.” Love gives lenience. It allows us to take risks because it is a safety net. It reminds us failure is not final, it’s just a setback. If we fail When we fail, it doesn’t make us failures. We are still loved.

Hopefully this helps free you from fear. You may not have the specific fears I had, but His love conquers them all. It brings peace, security, and freedom. When I say I got an understanding of God’s love, realize it is a limited understanding. God’s love is way too deep, complex, and unfathomable to fully grasp. I just have grabbed hold of a portion of it, and it has changed my life.

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