who do you say that I am?

One of my favorite stories in the Bible - and one I’ve written about several times before - is the disciple Peter’s confession of the Christ in Matthew 16.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19

I think this story has especially hit home for me in the last year or two, because wherever I go and whatever I do, I seem to hear echoes of the same question: “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a query that inevitably becomes louder and more urgent when life grows darker and more uncertain, because the answer holds the key to everything - literally. As A.W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Why is that? Because how we define our God, how we identify Him, will inevitably define and identify us.

It was only when Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” that Jesus replied, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.”

Peter’s whole identity hinged on how he identified his Lord, right down to his future calling, his spiritual power, his brazen courage, and his eternal hope.

How we see God is an inextricable part of our identities. Are we going to be people of fear who see God as angry and vindictive? People of shame who see God as distant and judgmental? Or people of faith who know that God is, for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend, truly compassionate toward every facet of our being and lovingly sovereign over even the minute details of our lives?

God has been asking me: “Who do you say that I am?” I thought I had answered this question before, but in reality I was still answering the first question - “Who do people say that I am?”

People say You are Yahweh, the perfectly loving and perfectly holy God of Israel and King of the universe. That’s what I’ve always learned, that’s what I read in the Bible, that’s what I was told in Bible school.

“But who do you say that I am?”

I wish that my answer to this question was always as confident as the other - even when I’m lost in worry and fear, or even when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow. But many times it isn’t (and clearly, if we keep reading in the Gospels, neither was Peter’s).

I may not achieve a perfect, unfailing faith in this life, but there is one place I know that I can turn when my answer to this question is shaky or, God forbid, untrue. And that is to the Word of God where He has chosen to reveal who He is - where He has painted a picture of His character using the vivid colors of His beautiful attributes.

I believe that the Bible is the story of who God is. That’s why I value it so much, and why I am still hungry to read it after six years of nonstop study. I am hungry for the true answer to this all-important question - the answer that never fails, even when I do.

How we see God is an inextricable part of our identities. Are we going to be people of fear who see God as angry and vindictive? People of shame who see God as distant and judgmental? Or people of faith who know that God is, for reasons we can’t possibly comprehend, truly compassionate toward every facet of our being and lovingly sovereign over even the minute details of our lives?

Who do YOU say that He is?

Maybe God is asking you this question too. Maybe you don’t know your answer. If that’s the case, I’d love to have you join me in reading through the Bible in 2019. It’s a 180-day challenge that will guide you from Genesis to Revelation with a focus on who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. You can sign up easily below, or learn more by clicking here.

on the road to glory

The approach of Christmas has been quick and quiet this year.

I have heard, from the many mourning souls who have walked the path of grief before me, that it’s quite normal for holidays to become difficult after a profound loss. And while I do immensely look forward to being at home with my family as I have been for twenty-four Christmases past, I know that when I arrive, one seat will be empty. One familiar and beloved voice will be silent.

Maybe it’s even more profound because I last saw my Grandma B on Christmas Eve a year ago; I hugged her goodbye for what I didn’t know would be the final time after we had all enjoyed our traditional family dinner and Christmas cookies and conversation. She passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after the New Year.

I know myself: I like to be prepared. I seek out others’ testimonials and experiences of grieving so that I’ll have a better chance of knowing what to expect. I even try to worry about every single possible outcome so that I won’t be caught off guard if the worst happens. In fact, one thing I’m wrestling with the most as Christmas approaches is the fear of being traumatized so very unexpectedly again, since everything about this time of year now brings the memory of that trauma to the forefront of my mind.

But I think - slowly - I’m beginning to learn that for some things, there is no adequate preparation. No one can tell me exactly how it will be. No one can predict exactly what will happen. There are no preventive exercises that can steel me against the pain of loss.

We don’t get to practice this ahead of time. There’s no test drive for our lives. There is only living.

There’s only the choice to keep walking, even when the path winds deep into the valley of the shadow and our surroundings become unrecognizable. There’s no recharting our course and there’s no turning back.

But there is a Guide, a Good Shepherd, who will gladly walk it with us.

One of my favorite passages to meditate on and still my soul when my life roils with uncertainty is Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

the road to glory through the valley of the shadow.jpg

Yahweh tends me - I have no need for anything more. He gives me such abundance and such peace that I can truly be at rest. He refreshes my being. He walks faithfully with me on the road that will bring Him glory.

Even when I find myself in danger and darkness, I need not fear harm, for He is with me. His correction, direction, and protection are my comfort. He gives me the courage to face my foes; He acknowledges and gently heals my pain; He blesses me with more than I can hold.

I know that His goodness and His covenant love will never let me go - and when this earthly journey ends, I shall dwell in the safety of His presence forever.

Consider this: shepherds were nothing special in the time of the Bible. They were poor and nomadic and spent their days and nights with animals known chiefly for their helplessness and frailty. Yet that’s what Jesus came to be for His people: A shepherd. The Good Shepherd, the One who lays down His life for the sheep.

He’s not put off by our fearfulness, our flightiness, our helplessness - He knows that these are all inherent traits of sheep. He doesn’t treat us harshly when we become afraid in the valley or punish us for hesitating to face our enemies. He knows us, all the way down to our deepest fears and greatest weaknesses. So He just gently speaks, and keeps leading us toward life.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me. . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:14, 27-28

I don’t know the way forward, but He does, and though I’m only a helpless sheep walking a treacherous path, I know that He goes before me as a warrior, a rescuer, and a comforter. . . and I know we’re on the road to glory.

biblical vocabulary: contentment

I’m not sure if this is anyone’s favorite word. I once attended a women’s retreat where the keynote was centered entirely around this concept, and I must admit it was some of the sharpest conviction I’ve ever experienced. To this day, it’s a word that inspires a little bit of a cringe in me, and it’s something I think most of us try not to think about too much. But what is it?

What is “contentment”? What does the Bible say it is?

This is our fourth lesson in the Biblical Vocabulary series. If you haven’t yet, pause for a moment to read up on faith, joy, and worship, because they’ll all play a role in our understanding of contentment.

What is contentment?

The dictionary definition of contentment is straightforward:

“The state of being satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”

Now you understand why this word stings the conscience a bit. I don’t know when I last met someone I could freely describe as “contented,” and I certainly don’t think I’ve ever met a contented version of myself.

For all secular intents and purposes, this definition of contentment is pretty good. But there’s one very important thing it’s missing if we want to develop a truly Biblical understanding of what it means to be content, so our next stop needs to be the Bible itself.

But I rejoiced greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

Philippians 4:10-14

We all know at least one verse in this passage: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Without its context, this verse becomes a mantra for athletes and a slogan for bumper stickers, but it gains a whole new power when we realize this isn’t about what we can achieve, or reaching for the stars. It’s about what we can be satisfied with - even if we never touch the stars.

Notice Paul’s situation as he writes these words to the Philippians. They’ve sent him a gift, something to help sustain him as he continues in the work of ministry, and he rejoices in their care for him. But he does not need their care for him in order to be content. He doesn’t covet their resources; he’s not driven to steal or con his way to accessing them. If God provides through the Philippians, Paul rejoices - and if He does not, Paul is content. It’s nothing about Paul’s circumstances, relationships, or potential that give him this power and freedom; it’s Christ alone (which should sound familiar to you if you studied the definition of joy with us!).

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” I am satisfied because Christ is my satisfaction and sustenance.

The dictionary told us that to be content is to be “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” The Bible tells us that the only way this state of being is possible, especially when we are truly “suffering need” as Paul said, is to be entirely dependent on Christ.

That’s the piece that our dictionary definition is missing.

We can be content even when we lack basic needs and wants because contentment is a theological acknowledgement statement that “God has done right.”

Contentment is born of surrender.

Biblical contentment is not just about being okay with it if we never get that new car or nicer house or better job. Like faith and joy and worship, true contentment is not a feeling; it is an action, a surrender, a way of living. We can be content even when we lack basic needs and wants because contentment is a theological acknowledgement statement that “God has done right.” It is rooted in the absolute dependence and surrender that can only come from trusting that God is who He says He is: good, sovereign, loving, personally invested in our lives, our provider.

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” That is, I have learned how to acknowledge, in every situation, that God has done right by me. Even in my times of need, I have more than I could possibly deserve. I have a relationship with the living God! And because of who He is, I can remain strong and satisfied in that truth, regardless of my circumstances.

There’s one more important thing I hope you see before we leave this discussion of contentment: Contentment can’t exist without an established foundation of faith (seeing things the way God says they are instead of how my eyes see them) and joy (the resolute assurance that God knows and cares about the details of my life). If my perspective is small and fearful, and I perceive God to be cold and distant, I will never be able to submit my heart to the truth that God has done right. I will always notice what I’m missing out on and become embittered toward God for seeming to not care about my needs. Eventually, this will lead me toward the three core sins of discontentment: covetousness, theft, and disregard for God’s Sabbath (see Exodus 16).

Faith, joy, and contentment are some of the key fruits of a life that is learning who God is and allowing His character to define reality. If you’re not there yet - maybe you don’t really know who God is, or you think you do but He doesn’t seem like someone who would inspire faith, joy, and contentment at all (you are not alone!) - I can only encourage you to spend time in His Word, where He reveals who He really is through the narratives, laws, poems, and prophecies of the Scriptures.

The Bible is a big book. If you need help tackling it or knowing where to begin, I’m leading a challenge to read through the Bible in 180 days again starting January 1 - I’d love to have you join us! You can learn more here.