The Study of Scripture

When we come to Christ for the first time and experience His salvation, we become new creations. But as we learn, grow, and develop in our walks with Christ, we are being shaped, molded, and formed more into His image. Spiritual formation is a journey, a process of becoming more like Jesus.

We are formed through discipleship, through practicing spiritual disciplines.

At the root, the word “disciple” means to be a follower, to be a learner.

If you are a parent, why is it that you discipline your children? You discipline them to teach them, to train them, to help them become the best versions of themselves. Simply yelling at them and telling them not to do something “because I said so” is not true discipline, because they aren’t learning anything. True discipline is loving correction. True discipline is helping them understand why they should or should not do something that’s in their best interest.

“By discipline we learn – and whether as children or adults, without it we cannot grow into the kind of persons we ought to be. The word has come to mean the formation of habits and patterns of life, usually by repetition until they become a part of us.”

– Georgia Harkness, Disciplines of the Christian Life

Think about it this way – How do you become a great athlete, musician, or artist? It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires daily practice. It requires surrounding yourself with people who have the same goals and interests. It requires a lifestyle change. It requires making diet, exercise, practice, and training a part of your daily schedule and routine. It requires commitment – commitment both to your end goal, and to whatever it is that drives and motivates you.

“The Spirit of the Disciplines is nothing but the love of Jesus, with its resolute will to be like Him whom we love… A discipline for the spiritual life is, when the dust of history is blown away, nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and His Kingdom.”

– Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are those daily practices of our Christian faith. They are the diet and exercise of our Spiritual development, and they are essential for our spiritual growth and maturity. They include:

  • Study of Scripture
  • Silence, Solitude, & Secrecy
  • Fasting & Prayer
  • Fellowship, Confession, & Submission
  • Service & Sacrifice
  • Praise & Worship

Why is the study of Scripture such an important discipline for Spiritual formation?

1) Jesus began His earthly ministry by reading from Scripture

In Luke 4:14-21, Jesus begins His earthly ministry by standing in the synagogue and reading from Scripture. Prior to begining His ministry, Jesus was baptized and then led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And how did He combat that temptation? By quoting Scripture. These are the first stories we have of the adult Jesus in Scripture. At this time He is estimated to be around 30 years old, approximately 3.5 years before His death and resurrection. Prior to this first entrance into public ministry, the last we had seen of Jesus was when He was 12 years old and His parents found Him in the Temple listening to the religious teachers and asking them questions. The early years of Jesus were largely hidden from Scripture, but in each of these early stories, we learn that Jesus must have spent a majority of time in His hidden years studying and gaining a deep knowledge and understanding of Scripture. As His disciples, we should make it a priority to follow the example He set for us.

2) Jesus is the Word of God in flesh

John 1:1-14 tells us that “In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God” and “The Word became human and made His home with us.” Jesus is God in human flesh. Jesus is God personified and dwelling among us. If we want to get to know the characteristics of God, we do so by looking at the life of Jesus. And if we want to get to know Jesus, we do so by reading the Word of God. There is so much power in His written Word. It is how we come to know God, it is how we come to know Jesus, and it is how we come to know ourselves.

3) All Scripture is Inspired by God and Useful

“The inspiration of the Bible does not mean that God dictated it, word for word, and therefore that its truth is unmistakable. The word ‘inspiration’ means ‘inbreathing,’ and in the Bible we find the breath of God’s Spirit for man’s invigoration as it comes through its human writers. Those who wrote the various portions of the Bible had a great sense of what God was doing in human life and history; yet they had their own prejudices and points of view as well. Inevitably, these crept into the record, so that we have in the Bible what Paul called heavenly ‘treasure in earthen vessels.’”

– Georgia Harkness, Disciplines of the Christian Life

Jesus is the Word of God in flesh, and just as Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, so is His Word. It was passed down through stories and written down by flawed human beings, but every word was inspiried by the the divine Word of God. As Andrew Wilson writes, “I don’t trust Jesus because I trust the Bible, I trust the Bible because I trust Jesus.” Our faith should be rooted in Jesus, and backed up by Scripture. All Scripture is useful and purposeful for our growth and development, and all Scripture should be used to bring us closer to Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (NLT).

What are some study traps to avoid?

1) Don’t just accept something to be true because it’s what you’ve always heard

So many people are following the faith of their parents and grandparents, and don’t understand why they believe what they believe. Study the Scripture for yourself. Seek the truth, and you will find it. Your relationship with God is personal. You get to know a friend truly and intimately by spending time with them, not by listening to gossip about them. It’s the same with Jesus. We get to know Jesus by reading the Gospel and studying His life. When you listen to other preachers and teachers and leaders of the faith, always make sure what you are learning is supported and backed up by Scripture. A solid knowledge of Scripture will help you to not be led astray by false prophets who use the pulpit as a platform to share their opinions and worldview or make a profit.

2) Don’t feel obligated to read the Bible cover to cover

Reading the Bible cover to cover is a great Spiritual practice, but what is your motivation for doing it? If you’re reading just to read, you’ll miss the meaning and mystery behind the words. Read with the intention of finding Jesus there, not to mark it off your “to-do” list. Truly dwell in His Spirit and reflect on the words. Don’t rush through them. Allow them to soak in and transform you.

3) Don’t try to find a text in the Bible to justify your beliefs or actions

If you go to the Bible with that intention, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for, but you’ll also skew and misinterpret the words in the process. We read the Bible so it can transform us into the image of Jesus, not so we can transform Him into our image. We read the Bible to get to know the source of our salvation and find forgiveness for our sins, not to find justification for our sins so we can continue living life as we always have.

4) Don’t try to explain the mystery away

You will not understand everything in Scripture. As Aristotle said, “The more I know, the more I know how much I don’t know.” If there was no mystery to the Scripture, then it wouldn’t be miraculous. If we could explain everything in Scripture with scientific fact and human ability, then it wouldn’t be God. It wouldn’t be Holy, and Sacred, and Set Apart. Find delight and adventure in the ambiguity of Scripture. Find joy in the journey. Wrestle with the parts that confuse you, and use your questions to take you deeper into the meaning, and purpose, and truth behind the text.

5) Don’t take it lightly

Honor the Word of God and keep it Holy. It’s more than just a text. It’s more than just a historical document. It’s more than stories, and poems, and songs. People have died trying to keep this book out of your hands and out of your language. Other people around the world, even today, do not have the same privileges that we do. Don’t take that gift for granted. Don’t let it collect dust. Let it transform you. As the saying goes, “A Bible that is falling apart belongs to a person who is not.”

What are some study tips to practice?

1) Find an accountability partner

Find someone you can study with, share your questions with, and bounce ideas off of. Find someone who can share in your excitement of the Scripture, and someone who will hold you accountable to your study time.

2) Make Scripture a visible part of your daily life

Consistency and repetition is key for memorization. Memorization is important for when you need to recall verses to your mind and speak truth to yourself in times when you don’t have your Bible in front of you. Make it visible by putting it in places you see every day – on your phone screen, your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator, or the dashboard in your car. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, the children of Israel were instructed to teach their children the words of God by talking day and night about them, binding them on their hands, wearing them on their foreheads, and writing them on the door posts of their houses as a reminder.

3) Set aside a fixed time to study

Make it a regular part of your daily routine. Choose a quiet time and place that works best for you. Get away from the noise and distractions for a while. Turn off your phone, prepare your heart, and sit attentively in His presence as you read and study.

4) Accompany study with prayer

Invite the Holy Spirit into your time of study. Seek Him. Worship Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Listen for His voice, and wait expectantly for Him to speak.

5) Focus less on technique, and more on the posture of your heart

Technique matters. How you study is important, but it’s just a means to an end. The end goal of why we study Scripture is to grow closer to Jesus and to be shaped more into His image. We read for formation, not just for information. The quality of our study is more important than the quantity of our study. Make the most of your time with Jesus by truly spending time with Him. Don’t rush through it. Take the time to listen, and respond, and allow yourself to be transformed.

6) View the Bible as a library of writings, not just as a singular book

We can’t read every book of the Bible in the same way. The Bible is a compilation of different genres, written by different authors, in different time periods, with different points of view. When we read the Bible with that perspective in mind, it truly comes to life and takes on the multi-dimensional shape that is representative of the Kingdom of God.

7) Study the passage within the full context

When reading a passage of Scripture, be sure to read the verses before and after. Get a Study Bible or read along with a commentary. When using a Study Bible, be sure to follow the references in the margins, read the footnotes after each passage, and read the introductions before each book. Learn as much as you can about the historical context, the geographical context, and the background of the author. The details will help make the difference in your understanding of the passage.

8) Pay attention to the details

Read slowly and carefully. Read out loud to help channel your focus if you need to. Pay attention to words and phrases that stand out to you. Ask yourself questions as you’re reading. Why did the author include this? Why did Jesus say this or do that? Where were they going? Where were they coming from? Study the words, the names, the cities and towns. Look up the definitions in the original language. Follow every rabbit trail that God leads you down. Every detail is there for a purpose. Every word was intentional and divinely inspired.

9) Make Jesus the center of your study

Everything in the Old Testament leads up to Jesus, and everything after the Gospels point back to Jesus. Read with that perspective in mind. He is the center of the story, and He should be the center of our study.

“So, if we find passages that seem somewhat dull and even boring, as we may in Leviticus and Numbers, or passages that seem a bit shocking by present standards, as in the polygamy of the Old Testament patriarchs or the cruelty of the wars of conquest, these things need not bother us. They reflect the human element in the Bible. What is divine about it is the message that comes to its climax in Jesus. Using Him as our standard, we can look at the rest with a fresh perspective.”

– Georgia Harkness, Disciplines of the Christian Life

10) Be sure to close the study with a time of reflection and response

Take it personally. Apply it to your life. If you have doubts or questions, ask God. If it compels you to worship, then worship. If it convicts you to make a change in your life, take action and make the change. Spend time in God’s presence once you’re finished studying. Don’t jump right back into daily life without allowing yourself the opportunity to soak in the truth. Feel what you’re feeling. Rest in the presence of His Word and be transformed by the power of His Word.

Canvas & Clay: A Study of Spiritual Formation

If I had a coloring book in one hand and a blank canvas in the other, and I asked you to choose which one you wanted – which would you choose?

If you asked for a coloring book, and I handed you a blank canvas – how would you feel?

I don’t know about you, but blank canvases make me nervous. They give me anxiety. There are so many options, and so much room for error. Coloring books are easy. It requires no thought. The lines are already drawn, and you just have to fill it in with colors. With a blank canvas, you’re starting from scratch. Every decision is up to you, and every mistake is your own making.

Have you ever felt like you asked God for a coloring book, and instead He handed you a blank canvas? Lysa Terkeurst talks about this in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. She describes the end of her marriage as feeling like all the perfectly drawn pages of her coloring book had been erased. She writes, “I opened the coloring book and someone had erased all the beautiful drawn lines. There was nothing but white pages. Empty spaces. Endless possibilities of fear and failure. Metaphorically speaking, my life was now a blank canvas.”

Why do blank canvases fill us with so much fear and anxiety?

I think we are anxious and afraid in these moments of our lives because we are under the impression that we are the artist, and therefore we we are in control of the outcome. We take the weight of that fear of failure on ourselves. We’re afraid of making the wrong decision – drawing the wrong line here, or putting the wrong color there. We’re afraid our bad decisions will mess up the whole painting. But that’s not our burden to bear. Will we make bad decisions in life? Yes, absolutely. But we’re not the artist. We are the canvas. We’re the paintbrush. We’re the color on the pallette. We are the method God is using to paint His masterpiece. And He knows exactly what He’s doing. He takes ALL things and works them together for good – as any masterful artist can and will. Broken pieces? He can use them. A wrong color here, a jagged line there – He’ll smooth out the edges. He’ll add light to the shadows. He’ll blend it together. He’ll make it beautiful. We might not be able to see the finished product yet, and it may get messy in the middle, but we can trust the process. We can trust Him because He knows what He’s doing. God is a creator. It’s what He does. It’s who He is. It’s the first characteristic we see of Him in Scripture. “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth…” The earth was void and formless. It was a blank canvas, and God spoke creation into being.

When God walked this earth in human flesh, He took the role of a carpenter – yet again, a creator. An artist. A skilled craftsman. Where once He took nothing and made something, now He took something and made something different. Where once He created, now He formed. He took that tree He had spoken into existence, and with His hands and a few tools He transformed it into a table or a chair. He took the splintered pieces of wood and smoothed out the edges. He cut it here, and added a nail or two there, until it started to take shape and become something useful and purposeful.

What is Spiritual Formation?

Spiritual formation is the process of being formed into the image of Jesus. According to Christianity Today, “To be formed spiritually means to engage in specific practices and disciplines with one clear goal: to draw nearer to God in Christ and so focus less and less on self.” In Isaiah 43:1 the Prophet Isaiah writes, “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says…” The opening words of this verse are ones we would normally skim over and not give much second thought to, but it speaks a lot of truth in a few simple words. It tells us that formation is different than creation. It tells us that Jacob was created, but Israel was formed.

Creation happens instantaneously. At the moment of conception, life is created. But the formation of that life that takes place over nine months of growth and development in the womb. When we come to Jesus, we become new creations, but that process of becoming like Jesus – that’s a hard fought battle of strength and determination. That’s a wrestling match, and that’s what spiritual formation looks like. In the Old Testament, Israel was the new name Jacob received after his wrestling match with God. Jacob was the name he was given at birth. One name was given to him in a moment, the other was given to him after an all night battle.

To create means “to bring into existence.” When Jacob was born, he came into existence holding on to the heel of his twin brother, Esau. At that time, and in that culture, birth order was important, because it ultimately determined who received the blessing and inheritance of the father. Jacob’s name literally means “deciever” or “supplanter” because he came into the world trying to ussurp the role of the firstborn son. From the moment he was born, Jacob was trying to take what was not his to receive. And as he grew older, he continued to live up to the name that was given to him. Later in life, Jacob tricked and deceived Esau in a moment of weakness to rob him of his birthright. When their father was blinded in old age and on his death bed, Jacob deceived his own father in order to receive the blessing that was intended for Esau.

But in Genesis 32, Jacob found himself nearing an imminent encounter with his brother, and he was afraid that his past would catch up with him. He was afraid that the vengence of Esau would overtake him, his family, and all of his possessions. He sent messengers ahead of him to greet his brother with a gift of peace. He sent his family ahead of him across the stream. And there he waited, all alone. And that night a man came and wrestled him. The man wresteld him until daybreak. When the man could not overtake Jacob, He reached out and touched His hip so it wrenched out of socket. Jacob refused to relent. Even as daybreak broke, he declared, “I will not let go unless you bless me.” Then the man asked a question, “What’s your name?” When Jacob answered this question, He wasn’t just telling his name, he was making a confession. “I am Jacob. I am a deceiver.” And the man replied, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 NASB). Afterward, Jacob named the place Peniel because he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Genesis 32:30 NASB).

For the first time, Jacob received a blessing that was freely and conciously given to him. It was the first time he asked for a blessing rather than stealing one. He proved he was willing to fight for it. He proved he was willing to suffer for it and sacrifice for it. His battle was a battle to right the wrongs of his past, and he came out victorious, but not without scars. He left with a limp to keep Him humble and remind Him that the victory came only because of God’s mercy and grace. Lies and deception had been the joint and marrow of Jacob’s story, but now he was given a second chance and a new name.

He received this new name through wrestling. The definition of “wrestled” in this passage is “to grapple” or “get dusty” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition). This was not a boxing match where they were standing on two feet and throwing punches. This was a wrestling match where they were on the ground, rolling around in the dirt, stirring up dust. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the creation of Adam in the very beginning of scripture. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (NASB).

We are formed from the dust of the ground. We are formed through wrestling with God in the dust of this earth. We are formed when the breath of God touches the dust of this earth. Did you know that the word “Spirit” comes from the word “pneuma” which literally means “breath”? Did you know that in Hebrew, the name of God which we know as Yahweh cannot even be pronounced, but when attempted, simply sounds like the exhaling of a breath? That is how Holy His Spirit is, and our spiritual formation happens when His Holiness meets our humanity.

Think about this…. Adam was the son of God, created by God and breathed into existence by God. His name means “man” or “earth” and that is exactly what his name represents – the fall of man, this sinful world that we are born into. Jesus is also the son of God, His only begotten son. The word begotten means born. Jesus was not simply created and breathed into existence – He was knit together in His mother’s womb. He was formed, and His name means “God with us.” He is our salvation from the sins of this world. He is our deliverance, our redeemer. It is through Him that we receive the hope of eternal life. It is through Him that we are able to be made new and receive new names.

When God created the heavens and the earth, the word “created” used in the Genesis account means, “to cut” (Strong’s Definition). This is an interesting definition, but it makes so much sense when you think about it. Think about a chisel in the hand of a sculptor, cutting away the stone and bringing life to the beauty hidden within. The famous sculptor, Michaelangelo, is quoted as once saying, “I saw the angel in the marble, and I carved until I set him free.” God spoke creation into being. His Word is His chisel, and His desire is to set us free. His words literally cut through the darkness and bring light into the world. That’s how He creates. That’s how we are created – when His Word cuts through our darkness and chisels away at our hardened hearts. Hebrews 4:12 tells us His word is powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword, cutting between the soul and spirit, exposing our innermost thoughts. John 1:1-5 tells us the Word existed in the beginning and gave life to everything that was created. Our creation story is our testimony. What is your story? How did you become a new creation? (For a powerful demonstration of this, watch “God’s Chisel” by the Skit Guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QCkBL2DfVg).

If our creation story is our testimony of salvation, then our formation story is the process of our sanctification. It is the process of being shaped into the image of Jesus. Formation is discipleship. A poem by Tquan Moore describes being a disicple of Jesus as being “covered in the dust kicked up by His stride.” It is following so close behind Him that you hear His every breath and cling to His every word. It is walking in His footsteps, and going wherever He leads. It is following His example – living as He lived and loving as He loved. So how are you being formed right now in your walk with Jesus? What are you learning? What questions are you asking? In what areas are you growing? What is challenging you? Do you have a mentor in the faith? Are you being a mentor? Who is pouring into you, and how are you pouring yourself out to others? Discipleship is about more than being a disciple, it’s also about making disciples. Formation is a journey, a process of moving from one place to another. It is a journey from who you are to who you want to be. This type of transformation requires sacrifice. Romans 12:1-2 says to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. It says we are transformed by changing the way we think. We are transformed from the inside out. After his transformation, Jacob walked with a limp, but that limp kept him humble and served as a visual representation of God’s victory over his sinfulness. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from becoming prideful. Thorns are sharp, they pierce our flesh and expose the blood within, revealing our physical weakness. But Jesus wore our thorns, and His blood brings healing and cleansing. The pain we endure on this earth is temporary, but the purpose it serves is eternal. Keep the faith. Keep pressing forward despite the doubts, discouragement, and difficulties. Spiritual formation is not about perfection, it is about progress. It’s not about what we’re doing but about who we’re becoming.

When you start to doubt, just remember… He is the Artist and the Potter. We are the canvas and the clay. He is not finished with us yet.

Reflection on a Decade

191223-10th-anniversary-year-end-decade-end-reporting-food-farming-agriculture-top

As I reflect back on this past decade, I have so much hope for the road ahead, because I can clearly see how God has been working all things together for good. When I think back and remember who I was on January 1st 2010 – I see so much personal growth. On a day-to-day basis it’s easy to look at my life and be discontent. This isn’t the way I pictured it. I should be doing more. I should have accomplished more. There are so many goals I set for myself and never completed. But on January 1st 2010 I was a shy, high school senior, attending youth group each week, and trying to decide where I should go to college.  I was scared. I was full of hope. I was in a season of learning to navigate grief and loss. I had little knowledge about the world around me outside of my church, my town, and my family – let alone any knowledge or confidence of who I was and what my purpose in life was. Would I stay home and go to the college 20 minutes from my house? Or would I go to the school 1.5 hours away? It was the first major life decision I ever made. I remember going to the Gardner-Webb campus in February 2010 for a scholarship interview. I did not get the scholarship, but the experience confirmed that Gardner-Webb was where I needed to spend the next four years of my life. I didn’t take in the full picture of the cost. I didn’t anticipate that financial aid would slowly dwindle away each year, and I didn’t take into consideration the loans I would still be paying off 10 years later – I just knew there was a nudging in my heart for me to step outside of my comfort zone, to leave home for least 5 days a week and experience something new. And although I sometimes resent that 17-year-old girl for her choice when I am making those student loan payments each month, I am so proud of her decision to walk bravely scared into an unknown future, because that decision made me who I am today, and I am eternally grateful.

If it wasn’t for the grief and the loss, I might not have made that same decision. I wouldn’t have understood the brevity of life. I wouldn’t have appreciated the little moments that make big impacts. That year opened my eyes to so much. I learned about the power of brokenness and transparency among a community of believers. I learned about the power of worship. I learned about the beauty and history of scripture and the church. Until then, I had only ever accepted everything that was told to me as truth without reading and understanding the context for myself. It was the first time I started to see that there were people who believed differently than me, went to different types of churches than me – but still desperately loved and served Jesus. It was the first time I started to read through the Gospels and get to know Jesus for myself. It was on that college campus that Jesus became so much more real to me. His Kingdom was so much bigger. His love was so much deeper.  His presence was so much more real. His purpose was so much more passionate. His friendship was so much more personal.

It was in October of that year that I found myself on my knees alone in my dorm room floor with an open Bible and an open journal in front of me when I made the decision to start a blog. My expectations were not aligning with my reality, and I felt spiritually weak, but I met with God in the place of my pain. I put pen to paper to write what He was speaking to my heart, and then decided to share those words with the world. That first post was titled “Weakness in the Spirit: Where do I find my strength?” and I remember it vividly. Although I sometimes cringe when I go back and read some of those early writings, I am grateful for that lonely college freshman who decided to once again step out in faith and do something she had never done before. A few months later I posted a blog with lyrics to a song we had been singing on campus. The song was “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit and it was not well known at the time. My post showed up in the Google results when people searched for the lyrics. I started having comments come in from all over the country of people who had found my site after looking up the words of the song. People I had never met were telling me my writing encouraged them and gave them the kick-start they needed. They thanked me for my faithfulness and encouraged me to keep writing. I received comments telling me my blog provided the confirmation they needed. I received comments asking deep questions about whether or not I believed God could heal the sick, and if so, why did He heal some and not others. I never set out to reach the world, but somehow, I was making an impact on the lives of people I had never met, and I was doing it from within my dorm room. I found passion and purpose in writing. Over the years, that blog would receive over 45,000 views. Not much to some – but more than I could have ever imagined when I first started writing and hit the “post” button on that Tuesday night in my dorm room.

It was in my University 111 class during that freshman year that I took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time and discovered my personality type was an INFJ. The “I” stood for introvert. It was the first time my personality had a name. It was the first time I realized why I was the way I was. It was the first time I realized I was not alone in the world – I was rare, but I was not alone.

When I started college, I thought I would make lifelong friendships and maybe find my future husband while I was there, but that did not happen. I met some amazing people who significantly impacted my life, but college didn’t miraculously change my quiet, guarded, and reserved personality. I didn’t magically start opening up and allowing people to get to know me. In fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated college and moved back home that I first started to establish my closest friendships. I remember the early days of our friendship so clearly, because it was all so new to me. It was exactly what I had always hoped and prayed for – and they came into my life without me ever going out looking for them. They showed up uninvited during a time when God knew I needed them the most. They welcomed me in without me ever asking to be included. They climbed over walls I built to keep them out. They kept asking questions when I tried to shut down. They continually challenged me and never accepted my silence as an answer. They forced themselves into my introverted life, and my life has been changed for the better ever since.

Ten years ago, I would get anxious at even the thought of getting on a plane or a boat. My dad offered to take my sister and I on a big trip the year she graduated high school and I graduated college – but I couldn’t accept the offer. I was too afraid. It made me sick to my stomach to even think about being in the open sky or open water. I looked at the shortest flights and cruises I could find, but I couldn’t manage to choose where I would want to go. The fear was overwhelming and I couldn’t conquer it. I remember those tears so clearly. I was so disappointed in myself.

But since that day, I’ve stood at the top of the Gateway Arch. I’ve been on a riverboat cruise in the Mississippi River. I’ve been on two cruises to the Bahamas. I’ve flown to Washington DC on a spontaneous whim just to conquer my fear of flying. I stood at the Lincoln Memorial and witnessed a march for peace and civility. I visited the Holocaust Memorial, the Museum of Natural History, the National Art Gallery, the Bible Museum, and countless other historical landmarks and memorials. I flew to New Orleans, walked Bourbon Street, participated in a Second Line, and ate gumbo and beignets. I flew to Chicago, walked along the Riverwalk, ate deep dish pizza, and stepped out on the ledge at Willis Tower. It was as if one day my desire to see the world suddenly became bigger than my fear of how I would get there.

So, when I say this decade has been life-changing and life-giving, I mean it with all the sincerity in my heart. I am not who I was ten years ago. I am not without fear, but I am learning to let my faith be bigger than my fear. I am not without insecurity, but I am learning to stand securely on the promises of God. I am not without discouragement and disappointment from time to time, but I am learning to find peace, contentment, and joy in who I am and where I am at this point in my life.

In the past ten years I’ve graduated high school, college, and graduate school. I’ve established a career in human services, and I love the work I’m able to do and be a part of in the community. I’ve counseled, mentored, and coached people who just needed some extra support and encouragement. I’ve been counseled, mentored, and coached myself. I’ve become a homeowner. I’ve led Bible Studies. I’ve wrote blogs. I’ve completed training to become a licensed foster parent. I’ve watched people I love get married, have babies, and buy houses. I’ve seen God answer prayers, break generational strongholds, and show up in ways I never even thought to ask Him to. I’ve seen Him exceed my expectations time and time again. And I know this is only the beginning. He’s just getting started. There is still so much more beauty and adventure left to come.

In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about poverty, injustice, racial inequity, systematic oppression, abuse, neglect, and trauma. These are heavy topics. And compassion fatigue is real. It’s easy to burnout when the problems of this world are so overwhelming and you feel so powerless to change them. It’s easy to scroll through social media and pretend the social justice issues don’t exist simply because they aren’t impacting you directly. It’s easy to binge watch mindless tv shows to escape the harsh reality of the world for a brief period of time. But I can’t let those habits continue into this new decade. God has done a great work within me these past 10 years, and as I move into this new decade, I’m asking Him to do a great work through me. I want to be less passive and more active. I want to be less self-centered, and more kingdom-focused. I wanted to be less distracted and more attentive. I want to be less hidden and more present. I want people to see Jesus when they look at me, hear Jesus when they speak to me, and feel Jesus when they are near me. I want to be His hands and His feet. I don’t just want to be changed by Him; I want to be used for Him. I don’t have a perfect vision for what 2020 will bring, but that’s okay, because I’m walking by faith and not by sight.

Enough is Not Enough

enough

The word “enough” has been a common theme throughout my spiritual journey. Barlowgirl’s song “Enough” was my lifesong throughout those dreaded middle school years. The first time I ever shared my testimony in church was right after a group of girls in our youth group sang it during a youth-led service. The song boldly declares, “All of You is more than enough for all of me. For every thirst and every need, You satisfy me with Your love. And all I have in You is more than enough.” As a young teenager struggling through the pain of loneliness, this song provided me with an anchor of hope. God was enough to satisfy every longing in my heart. But fast forward 11 years later, and I distinctly remember one night in particular when I found myself sitting all alone in my bedroom floor as a grown adult – crying out to God with that same brokenhearted loneliness I had felt so many years ago. And I was still praying the same prayer, “God, You’re enough. You’re enough for me.” And I desperately wanted to live like I believed it. But even though I knew the words were true, I still couldn’t deny the deep aching void that I still felt all these years later. This time the song I had playing in the background as I cried out to God was not Barlowgirl, but a worship song from Elevation. The words of the song declared, “I know the night won’t last. Your Word will come to pass. My heart will sing Your praise again. Jesus, You’re still enough.” And though I had cried out in worship to God countless times before through this song, on this particular night the words didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t any fault with the song; it was simply the status of my heart in that moment.

In that moment, I started to question what it really means when I tell God that He’s “enough” for me. I started to question if that’s really what God wanted to hear from me in my worship. Did it bring His heart joy to hear that He was “enough” for me? How would I feel if someone told me I was good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough? How would I feel if on my wedding day the man I was marrying looked into my eyes and said, “My heart is heavy with so many other desires, but you’re enough for me.” It doesn’t seem like the best way to declare your love to someone. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t want to be “enough” for the person we love – we want to be their only desire. We want to be the object of their affection and the center of their attention.

When we declare to God that He is enough, it gives the impression that His love barely scratches the surface of what we really want and desire. This realization pierced my heart. It hurt to think that my well-intentioned words were not coming from a true place of worship. I began to realize that these continuous declarations to God that He was enough usually tended to lead me more to a place of self-centered pity rather than Christ-centered worship. By focusing my thoughts on God being “enough” the object of my worship was more on my unmet desires and unfulfilled expectations, rather than on the all-sufficient goodness of God.

When God created us from the dirt of this earth and breathed His life into our bodies, He did not step back from His work, wipe the dust off His hands and say, “That’s good… enough.” No, Instead He said, “That’s good…. That’s very good.” So why isn’t our worship more reflective of the same love and awe our Savior demonstrates towards us? How can our response to His love, which is full of grace and mercy and compasion, be anything less than “You’re good. You’re very good.”

“Enough” is not enough when it comes to our worship. The word is simply unnecessary. Even “more than enough” does not do justice to the worship our God is worthy to receive. Our worship could start and end with “God, You Are” and it would be more representative of the worship He deserves. Afterall, He is the I Am.

We need to change our perspective and shift our focus. If all I ever think about is emptiness, all I will ever feel is emptiness. The more I think about my unmet desires, the more my unmet desires consume me. But when I think about the fullness of God, I am filled. When I think about all that God is, I have all that I need. My worship should always point upward, and never inward. There is a time for inward reflection and lamenting before God, but it is not to be confused with worship.

God, You Are.

You are the Great I Am.

You are Good.

You are Faithful.

You are Truth.

You are Life.

You are Light.

You are Love.

You are Peace,

You are Friend.

You are Counselor.

You are Father.

You are With Us.

This is my worship. This is why I love You. This is why You are worthy to be praised. It’s not because of anything You’ve done, but it’s about everything You are.

Beautiful in Time

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

– Galatians 6:9

Have you ever grown weary in doing good? You’ve planted in faith. You’ve watered the soil of that faith in tear-soaked prayers – and you’ve waited. And waited. And prayed. And fasted. And prayed some more. And waited. And waited. And still nothing. Years pass, and yet you’re still waiting with empy hands and a poured-out heart. It seems like that hope, that dream, that vision, may never come to fruition. It seems like time is running out. It seems like life is passing you by, and you’re just running in place. It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. It feels like you’ve been looked over, forgotten, and left alone in the wilderness. It’s spiritually draining, and emotionally exausting. But the Apostle Paul says, “Let us not get tired of doing what is good.”

This word “good” or “kalos” in the original Greek language means “beautiful… eminent… useful… excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends… beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy… affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming” (Thayer’s Definition). The good thing is the necessary thing. The good thing, that may not feel so good in the present moment, is affecting your future in ways you can’t see or understand yet. The good thing is going to make the difference. Your situation may not be changed, but your mind is being changed. You’re being prepared and positioned. So don’t grow weary, because the good thing is needed; the good thing is beautiful, and your beautiful harvest is coming… in time.

The word “time” that Paul uses in this verse is the Greek word “kairos” which means “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment” (Mirriam-Webster Definition). Some translations say “in due time” which means “pertaining to one’s self” or “belonging to one’s self” (Thayer’s Definition). We are all created by God. We all have unique callings, and positions, and purposes within the Kingdom of God. Someone else’s due time may have been five years ago, but your due time may be five months from now. It’s your time. It’s your story. It belongs to you. And your time is coming. Maybe God is still writing it. Maybe there are missing pieces yet to be filled, character arcs yet to be developed, or settings yet to be discovered. Whatever the case may be, you can rest assured that you are not forgotten. You’re just in process. A true artist will not release an incomplete piece of art. A true author will not publish an unfinished book. Our God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Asking him to release the answer to our prayers before the time has come, is asking Him to do what is not in His nature to do.

As I was reflecting on these thoughts this past week, I thought of the gardners and the farmers who plant their crops and wait patiently for the harvest. I thought about what might happen if the plant started to sprout before the right time. The fragile plant, not prepared for the bitter coldness of a lingering winter would likely wither and die shortly after breaking through the soil. And the hardwork of the farmer would be in vain, because the harvest that could have been would never fully come to be. So in order to avoid this heartache, the farmer may wait later in the season to plant the seed, and may dig deeper in the ground to place the seed. And the seed, unaware of the farmer’s true intention and purpose, may grow weary of the seemingly endless darkness. But, in due time, the harvest will come. And the season when the seed sprouts will be the season necessary, not only for it’s survival, but also for it’s growth and bounty.

Sometimes what we interpret as God saying “no” is actually God saying “not yet” – We have to trust God is a good Father who always has our best interests at heart and withholds no good thing from us. I recently heard it said that at the root of all our sin is the suspicion that God is not good. We grow weary and frustrated and feel like our prayers aren’t being heard, so we turn way and look to other sources for fulfillment. But God, in all His love and mercy and goodness, is just saying “The time is not right, the time has not yet come.”

Time is good. In the beginning, the first thing God created was the light. He seperated the light from the darkness. He called the light day, and the darkness He called night. The first thing He created was the way we track and measure time. And He said it was good.

I once heard Beth Moore teach a message on this subject, and she made the point that time does not pass like a timer counting down to a defining moment, but more like a stopwatch leading up to that defining moment. She made the point that we are not losing time, because scripture never talks about time going away, but rather always references the time to come (Luke 2:6, Galatians 4:4, John 7:8).

In this message, she also made the point that Satan is fully aware of this time yet to come, and the closer it gets, the angrier he becomes. So that battle you’re fighting, that uphill mountain your climbing, that resistance you feel – it’s because the enemy knows your victory is within reach.

One of my favorite verses in reference to time is Proverbs 31:25. There are several different translations, and I love them all equally. The King James Version says, “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” The New American Standard Bible says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.” The New Living Translation says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

She rejoices. She smiles. She laughs.

Without fear of the future.

In time to come.

When you study the original language, this smile or this laughter, is described as being in jest or play. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition says it is “usually in contempt or derision” and is “to laugh mockingly.” My roomate and I used to play pranks on each other all the time. So when I think about this definition, I think about that joy you feel when you’ve laid the trap and you’re just waiting for the other person to fall for it. I think about that joy, that laughter at their expense, when all your planning and preparation has paid off. I think about when you’re playing a card game with friends, and you look down at the cards in your hand and you see that one card that’s exactly what you needed – you know the next hand you’re about to lay down is going to ensure your eminent victory, so that smile creeps across your face. I think about football players when they dance in the endzone, rubbing that victory in the face of their opponent. Maybe they haven’t won the game yet, but they’re one step closer than they were before. So they smile. They laugh. They rejoice.

This is the same word used in 2 Samuel 6:2 when David danced before the Lord. In the New Living Translation, David says, “…so I celebrate before the Lord.” It’s an act of worship. David did not care how foolish he appeared to the onlookers. The woman in Proverbs 31 did not care what the future held, because she fully trusted God.

What I find fascinating is this word – which has been translated as to smile, to laugh, to rejoice, to celebrate – it is used more frequently in the book of Job, the book of suffering, than in any of the book in the Bible. When we are found righteous by God, when we are trusted by God to endure the testing of our faith, then we can rejoice despite our circumstances. We can smile through our discouragement. We can laugh in the face of adversity. We can celebrate our eminment victory. Because we trust in the goodness of God, we can trust in the goodness of the time yet to come.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood… Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blessed. Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with His goodness, lost in His love… This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

– Fanny Crosby

IMG_0689_original

Wrestling with God

“During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking! But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. He replied, ‘Jacob.’ ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.’”

Genesis 32:22-28 NLT

Jacob wrestled with God.

And won.

This passage of scripture has always been one of the most difficult for me to wrap my mind around. It’s confusing. It doesn’t make sense. I have so many unanswered questions. Mainly: How do you wrestle with God… and win?! How did Jacob have the authority to demand a blessing of God? I’ve never been able to fully comprehend it.

But guess what?

Lately, I’ve found myself relating to Jacob. Living my story has felt a lot like reading Jacob’s story – I can’t wrap my mind around it, it’s confusing, and it doesn’t make sense. But nevertheless, there are seasons in our lives when our past seems to chase us into an unknown future. And in this period of transition, in the darkness of the night, before the dawn breaks – there is an overwelming sense of fear and loneliness. And in the holiness of this moment, so shrouded in mystery, my Spirit wrestles with God.

And guess what?

It’s okay.

In fact, it’s more than okay. I’ve come to learn that God delights in our wrestling, because wrestling with God means being real with Him. It means we stop pretending everything is okay, and start being honest about our worries and fears, our doubts and discouragment. He already knows. He is truth, afterall. We can’t conceal our heart from the One who created it. He has just been patiently waiting for us lay down our facade and welcome Him into our internal struggle. It’s not that we’re wrestling against God, it’s that we’re wrestling with Him. And we are never so close to Him as we are in these moments of wrestling.

I’ve come to realize that the only reason I’m uncomfortable with the concept of wrestling with God is because it means I have to lay down my pride. It means I have to lay down this false image of holiness and reverence I’ve constructed in my mind about myself and my relationship with God, and I have to get down in the dirt from which I was created and wrestle with Him. Wrestling with God means I have to get to the root of my fears and motivations. It means I have to be honest about my hopes, dreams, and deepest desires. Wrestling with God means I have to open myself up and risk getting hurt. Jacob won the match, but he didn’t leave without scars. So the question I have to ask myself is this: Is the risk worth the reward? And is that a risk I’m willing to take?

I think it is. And I think it’s one you should take too.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Maybe there is a longing in your heart – a desire that has not yet been fulfilled, a prayer that has not yet been answered. Maybe your life has not turned out the way you hoped, dreamed, or imagined. Maybe you’re confused about your calling and purpose. Maybe you’re experiencing doubts you never thought your faith would come up against. Or maybe you’re still struggling with a particular sin you thought would be far behind you by now. Whatever this wrestling in your heart looks like, whatever it feels like, you can rest assured that you are not alone. Maybe, like Jacob, you’ve found yourself alone in the wilderness. Maybe, like Jacob, you’re running from your past. Maybe, like Jacob, you’re scared about the future. And maybe, like Jacob, you’ll leave this battle with permanent scars. But maybe, like Jacob, you’ll also leave this battle with an eternal blessing.

When you look at the definition for “wrestled” in Genesis 32:24, it means “to grapple” or “get dusty.” It’s important for us to recognize that this was not a boxing match as many of the images of this scene often depict. This was indeed a wrestling match. They were on the ground, rolling around in the dirt, stirring up dust.

Dust.

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

Mankind was formed from the dust of the ground.

We are formed in our wrestling with God.

If we really want to grasp the magnitude of this statement, we have to look back at Jacob’s past.

Jacob’s name literally means “heel holder” or “supplanter” because from the time of his birth, Jacob was always trying to take what was not rightfully his. He was known for his deceptive tendencies. He was born holding on to the heel of his twin brother, trying to usurp the power and authority that came with being the firstborn in that time. Later, Jacob would take advantage of his brother in a weakened condition and essentially rob him of his birthright. Then, in his father’s last days, Jacob would take advantage of his father’s waning eyesight and deceive him in order to gain the blessing that was originally intended for his brother. When Jacob was old enough to marry, he got a taste of his own medicine. After working seven years to marry the woman he loved, he was deceived by her father, and tricked into marrying her older sister.

Lies and Deception – that was the joint and marrow of Jacob’s story. Every blessing in his life was achieved through deceptive means. But here, in Genesis 32:22-32, when Jacob is on the run for his life and finds himself in a battle for his life – He demands a blessing. He demands a blessing that is real and genuine. He demands a blessing that is freely and consciously given to him. He proves he is willing to fight for it. He proves he is willing to suffer for it and sacrifice for it. He leaves the wrestling match with limp that he will walk with for the rest of his life, but he also leaves with a new name that will carry into future generations to this very day. In Genesis 32:28 the man says, “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” The name Israel means “God prevails” because this battle was one Jacob had to fight in order to prove to himself and future generations that deception is not the way to true victory – and even when we win the battle, it’s only because of God’s prevailing power and graciousness.

What I find most fascinating about this name change is something I read in Isaiah 43:1, which says, “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.'” In this verse, what stands out to me is that Jacob was created, but Israel was formed. This is a small detail that we often skim over, but it carries with it a much deeper message.

Typically, when I have read this verse in the past, I have always imagined that “Jacob” was referencing the individual person and “Israel” was referencing the nation of people. Jacob was the created person, Israel was the formed nation. However, it’s important for us to remember that the nation of Israel was named after the person of Israel. The 12 Tribes of Israel were the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob and Israel were the same person, but with one significant difference. The blessings of Jacob were obtained through deception, but the blessings of Israel were obtained through wrestling. Israel was Jacob’s new name, his new identiy. Israel was formed in the dust stirred up by wrestling with God and with man.

Just as Adam was created by both the dust of this earth and by the breath of God, we are made of both flesh and spirit. Where the flesh meets the spirit, there is bound to be wrestling. It’s a natural part of our spiritual formation.

So wrestle.

Don’t hold anything back.

Ask the hard questions.

Be persistent in those prayers.

Don’t relent. Don’t let go.

Press through the crowd until you feel His garment in your hand.

Cry out. Scream it out loud if you need to.

Pour it out like a broken box of precious and pricely oil at His feet.

He already knows your heart. He withholds no good thing from you.

He’s not intimidated by your requests. He’s not overburdened or annoyed by your questions. He is strong enough to bear the weight of every doubt and fear. His ear is inlined to your every cry, and He collects every tear because He cares for you. He is waiting expectendly for you to draw close to Him. If you pound your fist into His chest in your anger and frustration, you will feel He is strong enough to bear it. And soon after, you will feel His outstretched arms embrace your surrender. When the battle is finished, when the dawn has broken, you’ll receive the blessing He’s been waiting to give you.

We have the victory. We have the victory because He prevails. And just as a potter may have to break apart the clay to mold it, sometimes we’ll experience the displacement of a hip to remind us of that this blessing isn’t one we lied and deceived to receive, but one that was given to us with grace and compassion from the God who prevails over sin and breathes life into dust.

cbb62c35b45738be1c8235302b1072d9

When the Fog Lifts

fog

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

I Corinthians 13:12 NLT

     Have you ever drove through a dense fog? It’s terrifying, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area. Last year, my family went on our annual fall mountain trip and one day we decided to take a slight detour and drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while to enjoy the views, but that journey did not go as planned. As we drove, we entered into a thick fog and couldn’t even see the road in front of us, let alone the views around us. We had to significantly reduce our speed, and follow as close as possible to the car in front of us – just to feel safe and be able to see where we were going.

Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes?

Like a dense fog has come and settled on the plan you had envisioned for your life?

I know it has for me.

It’s scary to feel so lost, so out of control, so blinded by obscurity and insecurity. You can’t see what’s in front of you, you don’t know what you’re walking into, so you just have to follow close to the One in front you. You just have to slow down, and be still, and trust that you’re being led in the right direction. You just have to wait for the fog to lift.

On our trip this year, we encountered the fog again, but this time it was different. This time we weren’t driving through it, we were at the house – which sits on top of a mountain. This time we were able to step out on the porch and look out over the fog-covered country hillside. We were able to see the fog from a different perspective, and it was beautiful. The view from the mountain gave clarity to a cloudy situation.

We all took out our cameras to capture the image – so peaceful and and serene.

It’s amazing how a simple change in perspective can completely alter the way you see and experience things. The source of our fear in the valley, the challenge we were forced to overcome, became a thing of beauty to be captured and treasured from up above.

That’s the thing about fog – it looks like mystery, but it feels like peace.

And believe it or not, the two can exist simultaneously – I see it and feel it in the person of the Holy Spirit.

He is my mysterious sense of peace.

He grows my trust by clouding my vision.

He gains by trust by leading me through obscurity and into purpose.

He whispers, just be still.

And in the stillness of the moment, I sense the stillness of His presence.

So constant, so secure.

In the Old Testament, God led the Israelites through through the wilderness by a pillar of fire in the night and a cloud in day. He made His presence visible. He made His presence known.

What is the difference between a cloud and a fog? The only difference is that fog is a cloud which has made contact with the ground, it has touched the surface of the earth.

The Holy Spirit comes to us as a fog, because He has touched this earth. His feet have walked the same ground we have walked.

When life gets foggy, we should count it as a blessing, because that means the Holy Spirit has settled in around us.

In Numbers 9:15-23 when the Israelites had set up the tabernacle in the wilderness, a cloud came and settled over it. When the cloud covered the tabernacle, the Isreaelites remained encamped, but when the cloud lifted they set out and continued their journey. Scripture says sometimes the cloud would stay only a day or two, sometimes a month, or even a year. But no matter how long it lasted, the Israelites remained obedient and didn’t set out until it lifted.

God was in control then, and He is in control now. He knows if the place we are headed to is not ready for our arrival yet. He knows if the road before us isn’t safe to travel yet. He knows we may not be prepared yet for what we will encounter along the way. So He sends a cloud, He sends a fog. He clouds our vision temporarily to keep us still, and to keep us safe. At the right time, He will lift the fog and we can press forward.

But we have to trust Him.

I’m a writer. When I start writing, I like to have the end in mind before I ever get started. Once my starting point and ending point are established, I can build out and develop everything in between. I used to do the same thing when I was younger and would go pick out a book to read at the library, I would read the first paragraph and the last paragraph in order to decide if I wanted to read that particular book or not.

But that’s not how life works. I can’t see the end, I can’t predict how the story will unfold. I am not the author of my life, and the pen is not mine to bear. It’s inevitable that you will always end up disappointed when you try to imagine the end of a story that you didn’t write. There’s always something you would have done differently, something you wished did or didn’t happen.

But what would happen if we always left the foggy situations out? What if everything was always clear and there was never any mystery? What kind of story would that tell?

Throughout Scripture, the greatest stories are those shrouded in mystery.

When Noah was instructed to build an ark because of an impending flood, rain had not yet fallen from from sky (Genesis 2:6).

When the Isrealites were hungry in the wilderness, God provided bread from heaven, and the Isrealites called it “manna” which means “What is it?” (Exodus 16:14-15)

When Sarah heard she would be with child in her old age, she laughed at the thought (Genesis 18:11-12).

When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and told her she would be with child, her response was “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

When Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, He was blinded for three days afterwards. And the men traveling with him simply stood there speechless as the event took place because they could hear Jesus speaking, but couldn’t see Him (Acts 9:7-9).

Imagine the fog these great leaders of our faith must have felt as they lived these stories out. Imagine the fear, the confusion, the cloudiness, and the disbelief. But imagine Noah, when that first drop of rain fell and He saw that what God had said was true, and He knew that His family would be safe because He had been obedient to God’s instruction. Imagine the peace that put His mind at ease when the ark came to rest and He saw the very first rainbow spread out across the sky as a sign of God’s promise. Imagine the Israelites, after praying and seeking God for provision, walking out and seeing the answer to their prayers on the ground before them – not at all what they expected, but exactly what they needed. Imagine the all-consuming joy of Sarah when she first held her son in her arms – the answer to a prayer she had already given up hope on ever receiving. Imagine Mary – giving birth, having never known a man. Imagine her watching Jesus grow up – holding his hand as he learned to walk, picking him when he fell down, soothing his pain we he was sick or hurting, wiping his tears when he was sad or upset… all the while knowing He would be the One to save mankind from their sins. Imagine Paul, the one who had dedicated his life to persecuting Christians and having them killed, standing up to preach for the first time and declaring the name of Jesus as the only way to be saved and made righteous. Imagine the first time he sat down to write a letter, never having been able to anticipate or imagine the lasting power and impact his words would have.

Imagine the perspective these saints of God have now – now that they’ve been raised from the fog of this earth. I imagine each time they hear someone call on the name of Jesus, or come to new life in Jesus – that they count every doubt, every fear, every earthly worry, and every earthly tear as worth it. Because Jesus is worthy.

The fogginess we’re enduring now is serving a purpose we can’t see.

This story God is writing is full of intricate details that we can’t see or understand, but one day we will. One day the fog will lift – One day it will all make perfect sense and we will see it all with perfect clarity.

An Insecure Identity

 

 

 

a_broken_mirror_by_yarjor-d3bylvz

What is insecurity?

The dictionary definition is “uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence” or “the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection.”

To me, insecurity is not being able to look myself in the mirror or make eye contact with strangers.

To me, insecurity is replaying conversations over and over again in my mind, wishing I had said or done something differently.

To me, insecurity is never being the first one to start a conversation or raise my hand to answer question.

It is always second-guessing. Always assuming the worst. Always waiting to make sure I’m not wrong, I’m not alone. Always making sure someone else agrees before I speak out. It is weakness disguised as meekness. It is shame disguised as humility. It is a web of lies that I’ve curled up in and called a safety net.

Insecurity is paralyzing. It is crippling. It is physically painful, and mentally draining. It is a parasite on the inside, eating me alive.

I’ve lived 26 years on this earth, and I’m just now beginning to recognize the damage insecurity has caused in my life. Insecurity is like a storm that I slept through, and now I’m waking up and looking through the window of my heart to see all the destruction left in it’s wake.

For years, I’ve masked it as a personality type. This label has instilled in me the lie that insecurity is ingrained into who I am. I’ve called it a “humble spirit” – but there’s nothing humble about a spirit that is so concerned about what other people see, and hear, and think about me that I’ve let their opinions shape and mold me. And I’ve taken that image, the image of who I thought they wanted me to be, and I’ve placed it on the throne of my heart. And I’ve bowed down. I’ve bowed down in worship to an image constructed by the chisel in my own mind. I’ve bowed down under the weight of a burden that is too heavy to bear, and wasn’t meant for me to bear. 

The only One strong enough to bear the weight of perfection, already did.

There has been a war being waged in my mind, and I’ve let it take me prisoner. I’ve surrendered in defeat to a war that’s already been won for me. I’ve locked myself up in chains, when I’ve already been set free. I can hear Him calling me out of hiding, but I’m ignoring His voice. I’m too afraid of being seen. I’m too afraid of disappointing, too afraid of being rejected. I’m too concerned with that self-image, forgetting that I was made in His image. So I keep it hidden. Out of sight, out of mind – that’s the lie that’s made me blind.

Only darkness. That’s all I see now. The lies have made me blind, so I’ve tried to navigate by depending solely on what I’m feeling, but what I’m feeling can be deceiving. And my soul can still hear You calling. Even in my wandering, even in my stumbling. When I feel myself falling, and my knees hit the ground, You reach out Your hand to me. And when I reach up and grasp Your hand, I feel the hole. And I feel whole.

Your word, sharp as a sword, the light of truth – It pierces through the darkness. When you speak, I know who I really am. You speak life, and purpose, and promise. You call me by a new name. You call me Your child. You call me beloved. You call me worthy, and beautiful, and chosen. You call me by Your name. You give me a new identity. And now I can rest in security.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

– Psalm 40:1-2 ESV

2017

My word of the year for 2017 was power. When I chose that word, I never could have imagined what God would have in store. In the past 12 months I have seen God answer prayers I never even thought to pray, defeat giants I never thought I would have to encounter, and move mountains I thought I would have to climb to get around. He has brought healing from sickness, life from death, victory from defeat – and so much more! There is so much to praise Him for, and my heart is overwhelmed even thinking about it all.

At the end of 2016, I set a goal for myself of moving out on my own in 2017. I never would have expected that on January 1st I would sign the lease on my first apartment. And I definitely never would have expected that only three months after moving out on my own, the opportunity would present itself for me to buy a house. But in April, I officially became a homeowner.

A week after closing on the house and moving in, I faced one of my biggest fears by getting on a cruise ship for the first time and spending a week on the open water.

And the day I got home from the cruise is the day my sister told me I was going to be an aunt.

In February, a vision became a reality when my roommate and I stepped out in faith and started leading a weekly Discipleship class to equip and empower people to grow deeper in their walk with Christ. Since then, we have led three different series of classes, met lots of new people, seen consistent growth, and watched God move in miraculous ways. In October, we were even invited to lead a small group for a Women’s Empowerment Conference at another local church.

In March, a close friend of mine faced an intense battle with cancer, defeated all the odds against him, and came out victorious. Six months later, he celebrated his daughter’s first birthday – a day doctor’s had previously told him he may never live to see – and even returned to active duty as a Highway Patrolman.

This year my best friend graduated nursing school, passed the NCLEX, became a registered nurse, started her dream job, bought her first car, and has seen prayers years in the making being answered.

In September, I conquered another major fear by getting on a plane for the first time – just to spend the day exploring Washington DC and marking a lot off the bucket list.

In November, I got to see one of my favorite worship bands and some of my favorite spoken word artists live – more items checked off the bucket list.

I also stopped procrastinating and finally applied to grad school.

And this past week, just five days before Christmas, I got to hold my new little niece in my arms and welcome her to the world… What a way to close out a year slam-packed with the power of God!

“How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy it gives. But greater still, the calm assurance, this child can face uncertain days, because He lives.”

After all… any and all power we can possibly possess is only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s all because of Him, and it’s only because of Him.

That’s not even all that happened this year – that’s just some of the highlights. God has revealed Himself in so many different ways, even down to the smallest details. And what I’ve learned through it all is that if you ask for the power of God to be revealed in your life – then you better buckle up and enjoy the ride. I have learned that in order to experience the power of God, you must first endure the battle of faith verses fear. This past year, I have seen my friends and family face some of their greatest fears, and celebrate some of their biggest successes. I have seen the hardest struggles transformed into the greatest stories. There have been relationships to begin, end, and be restored. There have been dreams and opportunities lost, only to be replaced by bigger dreams and better opportunities. There have been long-awaited promises fulfilled, and new promises to be revealed. This has truly been a year of breakthrough, and this is just the beginning.

I had almost forgotten why I chose “power” as my word of the year until I recently stumbled on something I wrote on January 4th. In the note, I had written, “My goal for this year is to grasp God’s power like the woman grasping for the hem of His garment.” I went on to write, “We behold His power with the eyes of our heart, but if we only ever behold Him then we will only ever watch Him pass by. To grasp His power is to take hold of it and make it ours. That requires following Him and pressing our way through the crowd.” This year, our world has been in such a chaotic state, that I’ve felt much like the woman desperately pressing her way through the crowd just to get a touch of God’s power. I’ve witnessed so many miracles and felt so much of His power this year that it’s almost as if, above all the noise, I can hear Him saying, “Who has touched me?”

A few weeks ago I began praying and seeking God’s guidance for what my word will be going into 2018, and the word He laid on my heart was peace. So when I was reflecting on this past year and decided to go back and re-read this passage of Scripture that had been so heavy on my heart this time last year, I was amazed by what I found. What stood out to me this time was not what the woman did, or what happened to her, but what Jesus told her afterwards.

What did He tell her after He healed her? After she received His power?

Go in peace.

 

Taste and See

bread

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, Scripture says He hungered (Matthew 4:2). I’ve read before that for hunger pains to return after such a long period of fasting, it was sign that Jesus was literally starving to death.

Has the Spirit of God ever led you to a place where you felt like you were starving to death?

Spiritual hunger, much like physical hunger, makes us desperate – desperate for relief, desperate to be filled. Hunger humbles us. It produces a need for provision.

So how do we react in these wilderness seasons? How do we react to to the hunger? Do we look to Heaven for manna? Do we look to Jesus with His five loaves and two fish?

Or do we walk around downtrodden? Do we question God’s goodness for leading us to a place of such emptiness? Do we question His faithfulness leaving us so hungry?

I’ve noticed throughout Scripture, and in my own personal experiences, that when Satan attacks – the first thing he wants us to question is the goodness of God’s character.

He did it with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He did it with the Israelites roaming in the wilderness. And He tried to do it with Jesus…

But Jesus answered and said to him, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 KJV).

Jesus was prepared for Satan’s attack, because He had found nourishment and sustenance in the Word of God. Jesus counteracted Satan’s attack with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 – a reminder of what God had done for the Israelites.

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. God was leading them to a promised land, but they were longing for the days of slavery. They couldn’t see where they were going, and couldn’t understand why God was taking them the way He was. The desert is a dry and desolate place. It makes us doubt the goodness of God. It makes us doubt His presence, doubt His power, and doubt His promise. But even in our doubting, God is faithful still. The Israelites were starving in the desert. They hungered – they longed to be filled. The wilderness felt like a wasteland, like a waiting room – and death was just beyond the door. But the Lord heard their grumbling, heard their complaining, and He said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4 NIV).

God was faithful to provide what they needed most, when they needed it most. But God’s provision didn’t look like what they expected. In fact, God’s provision didn’t look like anything they had ever seen before. Scripture says when the Israelites saw it the next morning, they said to each other, “What is it?” because they didn’t know what it was. They called it manna, which literally means “What is it?”

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes, “Hungry – they chose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable. They eat the mystery.” I love that connection – because we all go through wilderness experiences in our lifetimes. We all go through dry seasons. We all go through times when we can’t wrap our minds around why God does the things He does. But if we could wrap our mind around it, would He even be God?

One of the Scriptures that brings me the most comfort in wilderness seasons is Isaiah 55:8-9 where the Lord is speaking and says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts’” (NLT).  We have to trust in that. We have to believe that God has something greater in store than we could ever imagine. We can’t fathom His faithfulness, because we can’t imagine the thoughts He thinks or the path He has prepared. All we know is what we see, and all we see is what we feel. We feel lost when a loved one dies, because we can’t see a future without them in it. We feel thirsty wandering a desert with no water in sight. We feel hungry when our strength is fading and there is nothing nearby to satisfy what seems to be our deepest need.

The sky may grow dark with sorrow, but by God’s grace, the sun will rise. Joy comes in the morning – even in the mourning. And in the morning, when we rise, we’ll see God’s grace. We’ll see His grace in the form of drops of dew on the ground. And from that dew will appear “thin flakes like frost” – and we’ll ask “What is it?” And we’ll hear the words of Moses echo, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:15 NIV).

The Israelites gathered the manna – whatever it was – and ate it. They ate the mystery, ate the provision. And Scripture says it tasted “like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31 NIV). When we taste God’s mysterious manna, we will taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). The Israelites couldn’t see the future. Their eyes couldn’t see, their ears couldn’t hear, and their minds couldn’t imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). But when they tasted that manna – they were getting a foretaste of glory divine. They were getting a foretaste of the Promised Land – a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3). They were getting a foretaste of the Promised Messiah – a Messiah who said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT).

When the disciples gathered with Jesus at the last Passover meal, they couldn’t see into the future to know it would be their last meal with Him. When He broke the bread and gave it to them, it was like gathering manna. They didn’t understand what He meant when He said, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19 NLT). The manna doesn’t make sense when it’s in your hand, but once it’s digested – you’ll look back and see the faithfulness of God. You’ll see His presence with you in the toughest battle. You’ll feel His power fighting along beside you. You’ll understand that the path He took you along was the path you needed to travel to fulfill His greatest purpose.

The disciples didn’t know what they were doing when they took the bread and ate it. But when they saw His body broken on the cross – did they remember the broken bread in His hands? And flash forward to a few days later… Still blinded by sorrow, they journeyed to Emmaus with the resurrected Savior and still their eyes couldn’t see, their ears couldn’t hear, and their minds couldn’t comprehend. They didn’t even recognize Him… until they sat down to eat. Scripture says, “As they sat down to eat, He took the bread and blessed it. Then He broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31 NLT). What was it that caused them to recognize him at that very moment? Every scar tells a story – was it the scars on His wrists that reminded them? Or was it the bread – the manna, the mystery? Did the words He had spoken replay in their mind at that moment?

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Everything we do should be in remembrance of the Lord. Every time we sit around a table and break bread together – it should be a reminder of the body broken for us. We need to be reminded. That’s why the Lord commanded the Israelites to preserve some of the manna. He had them put a portion of the manna in a jar, and that jar was placed with the tablets of the law in the sacred Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 16:32-34). He wanted them to preserve it for years to come so that future generations would also be able to see and know of His faithfulness in the wilderness.

The disciples recognized Jesus at the moment they did, because they remembered. They had seen the scars and heard the stories, and they remembered His faithfulness. The manna they had tasted at that Passover meal had since digested. Looking back, they saw with more clarity the hand of God at work. The manna made sense – it wasn’t so mysterious anymore. No longer blinded by hunger – they had tasted and seen! They had tasted the Bread of Life, and received the Word of Life. Never to hunger again, never to thirst again – Completely satisfied, completely fulfilled. Even in the darkest of days and driest of seasons – The Word of God remains, and His Bread sustains.