I Am Absalom

I grabbed Hannah’s keys off the counter at 7:25 on Thursday morning, making sure I left the keys to my and Jake’s car in case of an emergency. Hannah had been incredibly generous and let me borrow the car when necessary, since I was still waiting to be able to register my car in North Carolina. Logistics, yes. As I headed out the door and into the sweet sunlight to pick up Anna, I felt the exhaustion of the week hit me.

The passage of Colossians 1:28-29 ran through my mind as I hopped into Hannah’s car. I was supposed to be striving with all of God’s energy, and not with my own. I was supposed to invest in others with all of His strength and understanding, not my own. As I thought over this, I reminded myself that Hannah’s car is an automatic, and I don’t have to use both feet to drive, and the brake is not the clutch.

I drove to Anna’s house. We were meeting up to do our devotions together before I dropped her off at work. And so I prayed.

Without Jake being here, it’s been too easy for me to stretch myself too thin, to forget that I’m human and that God has designed me to rest in Him. And though the week had been spent on loving and listening to and praying for people that He loves, I was tired and feeling a bit drained.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

I breathed out and continued to pray for Anna. I had recently felt like a failure in the area of faithfully praying for people. And yet, it wasn’t because I wasn’t spending quality time in prayer…it was just that there were so many people and things to pray about! “Pray without ceasing” was suddenly making a lot more sense as a command. (Romans 12:12)

I hadn’t been able to talk to Jake for a couple of weeks, and I missed him terribly. But I was reminded that God is a better listener, the God of all comfort, the Father of compassion, and Jesus as living water and the bread of life is able to sustain me and bear my burdens far more effectively than Jake can or ever will be able to…Which is hard to remember sometimes, because Jake is so wonderful and I’m probably still wearing rose-colored glasses.

I pulled into Anna’s driveway and she ran out to hop in the car. I noticed she didn’t have her Bible and notebook. I wanted to facepalm because I hadn’t been clear that we were doing devotions together, and selfishly struggled with feeling like I’d yet again failed in communication. So I asked her if she’d run in and grab those things. As she walked back to her front door, I felt even more like a failure for not saying “Good morning” first.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Right, that’s true of me, I thought as Anna got back in the car. I said “good morning” and we started talking as I pulled out of the driveway. Right, I thought again. I can’t fail. I’m not failing. Christ has made me sufficient as His ambassador, and He’s totally equipped me to do what He’s asked of me, and going therefore and making disciples of all nations is not too difficult with Him. And I’m only meant to live by faith in Christ, who loved me and continues to love me…This is His life to live. I might not feel like I’m doing well, but I cannot be driven by my feelings.

Anna and I parked in the parking lot of The Coffee Scene, the coffee shop frequented by our circle of friends. As we walked in, I realized I’d never been in The Coffee Scene that early on a week day. Everything was quiet and the shop was nearly empty, save a red-headed woman sitting on the couch in the lounging area under the stairs, and a gentleman sitting outside in one of the black iron chairs smoking a cigarette and drinking a hot beverage. Coffee, probably black.

Anna and I ordered our drinks and we sat down at a high table by the window wall to the left of the entrance. I managed to bonk my head on the “OPEN” sign hanging on the wall as I adjusted myself on the seat.

Anna opened her notebook and Bible and started in on her time. I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel and prayed as I read.

I entered into the world of King David post-Bathsheba, and my heart ached as I read of Amnon and Tamar, of Absalom the kinsman murderer, of David’s cowardice and passivity, and of Joab’s anger. I used to see the people in the Bible as intimidating; they were perfect people whose faith I would never be able to emulate. But the more time I spent with God in His Word, particularly the Old Testament, I realized that people in the Bible are a mess.

Well, I can certainly emulate that, I thought.

And yet as I read about Joab (David’s army commander) sending a woman to tell David he ought to bring Absalom home (Absalom fled and was banished from Jerusalem when he killed his brother Amnon for raping their sister Tamar…it’s a mess…), the woman said something really cool.

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” (2 Samuel 14:14)

So, Jake has quoted this verse a lot, and I always thought “Oh! What a great verse about how God forgives us and pursues us! So cool!” But what I never realized was that the “banished person” used as an example was Absalom, a murderous son who would later sleep with his father’s wives and conspire against the king and make an even bigger mess of everything…and yet “God…devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.”

What?

I always associated myself with the position of the banished person for whom God makes a way. But when I read this, I was confronted by the murderous, lustful, deceitful, and covetous state of my own heart. I was Absalom.

“‘You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.'” (Matthew 6:21-22)

How many times had I hated someone, or simply been selfishly angry with them, even if it was just for a moment? I very often lived in fear of my own temper, because it was fierce and hurtful when left unchecked. I still had to give my anger over to God.

There in The Coffee Scene, I sat broken before God, ignorantly sipping a hot vanilla chai latte at the feet of the King of the Universe, who made a way through the sacrifice of His own Son to make sure I, a murderer via the hatred I’ve harbored in my heart, would not stay separated from Him. He wanted me to be with Him, even though I killed His Son with my sin.

Anna and I talked some more after we finished reading and praying. She shared some of her thoughts on Psalm 70, and she helped me with my Scripture memory (2 Timothy 2:24-25 and Psalm 75:2-3). Eventually we left The Coffee Scene and I dropped her off at work.

As I drove back home, I prepared my heart for the time that Hannah I would spend with Jessica down the street (she and her husband are also part of the Navigator ministry here), and started thinking about what questions I had or wanted to ask her. We’d planned on meeting up with her at 9:00 that morning, so we’d have to walk down the moment I got home. The drive back, I felt bathed in God’s grace toward me, a murderer who once deserved judgment, thinking on how He showed His love for me by dying for me even as I continued to sin against Him, and who continued to love and forgive me every day from now until forever, as I continued to fall short in pursuing Him.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)

 

 

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Sunday Morning at Starbucks

The air felt like spring, despite it being in the middle of the North Carolina summer. Hannah and I sat outside in metal chairs at the South Commissary Starbucks reading our Bibles, sipping on steamed coconut milk and iced coffee. She’d officially moved in the day before, and her husband Matthew would be following her here mid-September. My journal sat open on my lap, my skirt flowing in the breeze.

The weekend overall had been rough in the area of missing Jacob, and part of me wanted to wallow and do nothing (sad, I know). But here, sitting in the sun on this Sunday morning, I had time to invite God into the dialogue that I had thus far only been having with myself.

On top of the emotions concerning Jacob, that morning in chapel I would be reading Scripture in front of the entire congregation, which was something Jake used to do. And he did it so well. What if I mess up? I thought there in the sun. What if I totally misrepresent my husband? Gosh, misrepresent God? What if I trip on the stage? Or read the wrong passage and read it too quickly? Or knock over the podium and somehow destroy the sound system and the lights go out and the whole service has to be canceled?

I pulled out my pen, sipped some coffee, and started praying onto the page.

It came down to my praying for the service, as I’d done almost every Sunday morning since five months ago, when in the same chapel I’d be going to this morning I’d been challenged to not simply judge the people in the congregation, or simply analyze and critique the sermon, or be put off when the worship didn’t go smoothly, but to actually pray for the people involved in putting the service together…oh yeah! I can do that! So I prayed for the chaplains, for the unity of the congregation, for the worship team and the sound guys, and the hospitality committee.

Hannah and I eventually left and headed to chapel, and I got to tell the hospitality people that I’d prayed for them, and had a pretty long conversation with one chaplain, Justin, about how God had been “enhancing” the chapel service each Sunday, at least for me, as I’d been praying for it…I feel like I’ve gotten more out of each Sunday and been more willing to give more of my time or effort because of the practice and what He was doing in my heart. It was much easier to worship freely and fully, to meet new people, and to gain insight, challenge, and encouragement from the sermons. It’s been really awesome 🙂

And that’s how the service was. And I read the Scripture just fine, and didn’t trip on the stage or bring down the house (hehe), and I didn’t forget anything. I kept remembering that, again, even if in the worst case scenario those things did happen, God was still God, I was still His daughter, and He still loved me completely. Even and especially in the small things I had to practice moving out of faith and not out of fear. The hope is that the more I practice this in the small things, the “easier” the big things will be, and the smaller and less intimidating fear will become.

And then after the sermon, in which the chaplain challenged the congregation to risk transparency with each other, confess their sins to one another, and even to pray in a way that allows our will to be overturned by God’s will (James 5:13-20) I went into the kitchen of the chapel to help with serving the people who wanted coffee, donuts, etc., without stress or panic.

As I was walking through the kitchen, Justin (the chaplain coordinating hospitality for that morning and the person I’d spoken to before the service) mentioned this grand idea about my setting up and leading a kind of regular faith-based meet up for military wives who just needed friends. I suddenly experienced a small amount of panic.

I know my own tendency to stretch myself far too thin. And now I didn’t have a reason to not take on this new endeavor of helping these women in this chaplain’s battalion.

But what about the ladies I’m already investing in and trying to pray for and pay attention to? What about everything going on with the Navigators? What about everything Jacob desires for me to accomplish while he’s deployed? What about all of the other things and plans and ideas God has laid on my heart?

After chapel, Hannah and I went to my friend Christie’s surprise birthday party, and I was reminded yet again of how awesome fellowship is 🙂 I walked into the house where the party was being prepared before Christie arrived, and immediately felt loved by everyone in there. And then Christie came! And she felt loved!

…There was just a lot of love…

For the rest of the afternoon, post birthday party, Hannah and I talked, worked out, worked on things, read, talked some more, and I felt very full. I had missed her as a friend. The day had been productive and satisfactory. Worshiping God had been wonderful. Everything was hopeful all over again, not necessarily because everything had gone well, but because I remembered how God moves on our behalf through life, and how He’s always going to be God, and He’s always going to do His part. He simply asks that we do ours, and move with Him despite our fears of tripping on the stage of life, knocking off the podium, and turning off the lights.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, that we may comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

 

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The One About Family and Friends

So there’s a part of deployment, it seems, where family and friends come to visit you, or you go to visit them, all out of a desire to support and be supported while your spouse is away fighting for the freedom of ‘Murica.

Well, this is how my visits thus far have gone:

THE FAMILY

When Mom, Gracie, and Jimmy came and visited, I felt like my head wasn’t totally in “people are visiting” mode. I basically forgot how to be a hostess, felt like I was failing in all levels of hospitality (though they definitely didn’t make me feel that way), and realized how lopsided I now felt around my family when Jacob was gone, like I didn’t quite know how to be myself.

We went to Tuesday night study on post, traveled to Florida to visit my grandparents, traveled to Georgia to visit my great aunt and uncle, and then traveled back to Fayetteville for some R&R before my family headed back to the Sticks.

During this whirlwind trip, I struggled with serious self-righteousness, pride, selfishness, as well as a deep sadness for Jacob’s absence, for some of the marriages in our unit that are struggling, and for the general and worldly hopelessness for marriage to be fulfilling and thriving for more than five years. It was rough. I ended up reaching some kind of breaking point, having a total meltdown, and saying some pretty hurtful things to my family.

During our first morning in Florida, I laid in my room, crying to God because I felt so ashamed. How could I talk about Him, praise Him, depend on Him, and help others do all these when I was being such a poor representative of who He is? As I prayed for forgiveness, I realized that the reality of God’s mercy and grace almost made me feel worse, because I just don’t deserve it, and couldn’t even convince myself that I’d done anything worthy of it. This is the reality of the gospel.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Against you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak, and justified when you judge…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:1-2, 4, 10)

I also learned after their first day here, that I depend a lot on Jake to balance out my emotions, whereas I used to be able to only depend on Christ to do so. I had fallen out of practice in doing the latter. Leilani, one of the ladies in the Navigators, mentioned that when her husband deploys, she realizes all the ways that she’d been subconsciously depending on her husband where she should’ve been depending on God. Well, that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t talk through all of my thoughts and feelings with the ever-so-patient, gentle, and gracious Sir Jacob, and so I was forced to submit them to and depend on the everlasting, perfectly loving, infinitely more gentle, gracious, and capable of giving guidance and comfort God.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

While my family was here, I also discovered another moral dilemma was happening back at home, and on top of my self-righteousness and pride, I began to struggle with deep hatred and confusion. The poisonous roots of bitterness and unforgiveness started to grip my heart and I nearly felt suffocated and unable to resist them; I wanted to be bitter. This bitterness reached so far so quickly that I struggled with wanting to cut my family (who are also part of my spiritual family) out of my life completely, but I knew that was not God’s will and that this was not who I was, nor who they were. My family was not the enemy. This was a lie.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

The bitterness didn’t last long, and quickly abated as the truth of God’s Word settled further into my heart of hearts. This would be okay. And an abundance of grace and love was shown to me by family, regardless of my outburst and unkindness.

THE FRIENDS

My friend Holly and her niece Haley were next to arrive, and they stayed for about a week. Holly had recently torn her ACL, and Haley had recently had her wisdom teeth removed, and I had recently finished babysitting a toddler for about a week…we were a rough bunch.

We spent the first day or so hanging out, shopping, and movie-watching. We made our way to the beach for a day and endured a serious thunderstorm to find the sunshine on the other side. The final day was more shopping and hanging out, coffee-drinking, and nail-painting. All of it was good girl time 🙂

Throughout the week, however, a whole bunch of logistical things having to do with finances, the car, and the house happened all at once. I received my first speeding ticket (EVER), discovered I’d been driving around with an expired registration for nearly a month, renewing the registration wouldn’t work because I had an inspection out-of-state of the original registration, there were still some pending things needed to be sent in for Liberty so I could start school in the fall semester and I was waiting on 5-10-business-days to arrive in the mail, there was a bill that I’d tried to pay but it decided that it was going to tell me the information I had was incorrect and I had a mini-panic attack, and there were what looked to be fraudulent activity on my debit card. All of these, in light of eternity, are very small. Alas, they appeared huge and overwhelming and there were of course turbulent emotions wrapped in everything to make it all feel much more complicated than was necessary.

The whole time God was poking me, and reminding me of the power of prayer, reminding me of His ability to take care of things for me if I’d simply ask.

“But Lord, these are all practical things that require, ya know, practical steps and stuff. They’re small and insignificant compared to things of ministry, which are what I really need to be praying about.”

I’m sure God facepalmed at that: how can I say that God is not worthy of my small things?

My judgment of others got another big hit while Holly and Haley were visiting, as well as my selfishness, not that they did anything that merited either of those perspectives, but they came up and had to be fought. Through God’s refining of my perspective, I got to really learn a lot about Holly and Haley that, in my few years of knowing them, I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. I heard tales of how God has loved them in huge ways, of ways He’s abundantly provided for them, and of ways that He’s used them to challenge and encourage others.

TO WRAP IT UP….

So, as the deployment goes on, God continues to sift out the things I’ve so desperately asked Him to kill in me, and He continues to do so in His perfect timing and in ways that will make me actually get it. Hannah (my sister-in-law!! :D) is coming soon, so that will be yet another adventure 🙂

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

 

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Behold, Another Review

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“Here’s the bottom line: Jesus loves lost people. He wants us to love lost people too.

We worry about trying to build intentional relationships with non-Christians: Will we understand one another? Will we offend them? How uncomfortable will it be?

“Jesus regularly ate with sinners—people in need of God, just like you and me. Why? Because Jesus longed to eat with them in heaven.

The incredible journey of following Jesus involves sharing who he is while sharing our lives with others. Over food and drink, through conversations filled with stories and insights, people come to know the love of God and the hope of salvation.

Eats with Sinners shows you how to let down your guard so God’s love can flow through you and get across the table to your non-Christian friends. They’ll taste and see that the Lord is good as you invite them to one day feast with Jesus in heaven.”

The book Eats with Sinners by Arron Chambers is a story-based expository work in the genre of Christian Ministry and evangelism. It pursues the themes of the example of Jesus’ ministry, His outreach to the lost and lonely of the world, and of how He’s called Christians to follow in His footsteps today. Chambers addresses the pitfalls of modern Christianity, and seeks to highlight ways in which Christians can more wholeheartedly live a life of loving the lost.

A couple of things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

The first thing is the message. The message of the book was, as per the synopsis, “Jesus loves lost people, and He wants us to love lost people too.” Chambers presented a very uncomplicated approach to loving the people who have not excepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and sought to challenge the reader to pursue this approach: invite hurting people into your life, and love them, and God will do the rest.

The second thing is the applicability. Chambers’ message made its way into my day-to-day thinking and applied to my immediate circumstances, and as I read I began to look for and find ways to be friends to the people in my life in desperate need of Christ. This has been very freeing, and has reminded me of how I am merely meant to be a conduit through which God works in the lives of others, and I am not God Himself.

And the final thing is the testimony of it all. Chambers bases much of his book off of stories of how people came to Christ, how God has used his life and the lives of those in his church to bring people to Christ, and illustrative stories from the news and from personal experience that provided both humor and relatability.

A couple of things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

The first thing is the structure of it all. While the message was important, the purity of it felt hindered by the way the book was set up. Chambers included block quotes that often disrupted the flow of the book, and even the way the stories were inserted to prove his point sometimes made the point difficult to follow. Many people can read past a convoluted structure to see the true message, absolutely, but the book would’ve been all the more enhanced if the writing itself had been more organized.

The second thing is the delivery. This seemed like much more of a frustrated rant as opposed to a thought and pointed challenge. Chambers often pointed out how the church has failed in loving lost people, and he often seemed like he was puffing himself up and not showing the reader the personal ways he has failed on his journey to love people, which was certainly not the intention behind his writing the book, and he sought to make the disclaimer of not hating the church, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t think the disclaimers did anything to soften the tone, or to communicate humility. So, Chambers desired to challenge people to love lost people, but his tone and the way he said things as though they were obvious made it difficult not to judge or criticize his method and lose the message altogether.

The third thing is the range of depth. I feel like so many of the points made by Chambers could’ve been expounded upon so much more. I feel like he tried to communicate so many big things in  such a small space, and yet I also felt like, after the first three chapters, he was saying the same thing, simply in different ways, and part of me felt like I’d understood the crux of the book halfway through it. That being said, the conclusion could have been stronger as well. I kind of felt like the book just ended, like it was getting too long and needed to end and didn’t have room to properly climax and then leave a strong impression on the reader in its descending points.

Despite the criticisms, the message is seriously important, and is something I don’t think Christians can hear enough, or, I certainly can’t hear it enough. I would recommend this book to you if you’re particularly desirous of changing how you follow Christ, getting outside of your comfort zones, and learning what it looks like to eat with sinners.

About the Author:

ARRON CHAMBERS is the lead minister of Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado. He is a contributing editor for Christian Standard, a coach, an inspirational speaker to thousands of people each year, the husband of a lovely wife, and the father of four beautiful kids.” (From the back of Eats with Sinners).

“Who is Arron Chambers? Lead Minister of Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado, Author, Husband of a Lovely Wife, Father of Four Kids, Evangelism Champion, Leadership Consultant, Marriage Coach, and Blogger.”

Also, if you’d like to know more about Arron Chambers, behold, I present thee with the links to both his blog and his church website 🙂

Blog: https://mylordandmyblog.wordpress.com/

Church: http://journeychristian.org/?view=mobile

 

*A complimentary copy of this book was given to me by Tyndale Press.

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The One About Pre-Deployment Leave…

Jake was given seventeen days of leave before deployment. We’d spent six days at my family’s house, and then six days with the proper Brocks, all in Central NY.  The final five days we spent in Oak Island, NC, in a rented beach house only an eighth of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean.

The time in New York was a test for me, but a really relaxing one, if that makes any sense. Basically, God was challenging me to love. That sounds weird, but what I mean is that He was challenging me to not take control, to not try to challenge or fix people, but to just serve, love, and submit to them as to Christ…And it felt really good. There were a few difficult times of doing so, like when my little brother Jimmy fought with Mom over something, and I wanted to jump in and mediate and instruct, and was led to instead let Mom be the mom. But most of the time, God brought about deliberate and challenging conversations without my even trying…imagine that. God also answered a prayer I had prayed while at my family’s house, for God to help me to not think poorly of someone else just because they were different than I, or because they don’t socially fit in to the mold of the world. And then a conversation on the front porch of the proper Brock house with Aunt Lori and Uncle Doug broke me down, and made me realize that half of my problem lately is that I have not yet really been vulnerable with the people around whom I live my new life.

This past Sunday was our final day of leave. We cleaned up the beach house, packed, and checked out. And then we headed down the road for church.

So, church this Sunday was different for me and Jake. When we’d initially driven through Oak Island, we saw a white church labeled as “Evangelical Presbyterian,” and it piqued our curiosity, though I don’t know why. The idea of denominations has been the thing that’s burdened and confused me most lately about the Church, and the thing that’s caused the most “disturbance in the force” of my mind concerning unity. Why are there denominations? Are they necessary? Do they represent disunity? Or is it something else? If we’re all following Christ, then is it possible for us to be ultimately united by the Gospel and not pay attention to all of the other differences, but still have denominations?

My conclusions are slowly moving in the direction of the last statement…but I have not yet arrived.

Anyway, Jake and I wanted to see what this was like. The only experience I have of the Presbyterian denomination is when I attended a few services and even debates held at Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer, located in Manhattan, New York City. The service at Redeemer was typically more liturgical than I was used to, but not unbiblical. Edward, one of the people with whom I attended, mentioned that the main doctrinal issue with the Presbyterian denomination was their belief in the baptism of infants and the practicing of “reformed faith.”

Jake and I parked in a shaded area away from the main lot, so that our black car wouldn’t fry in the sun while we were inside. We were early, and so we sat there for a few minutes in silence. I already felt a spirit of judgment, criticism, and pride creeping into my heart. Regardless of the denomination and their biblical stance, there’s no place in God’s Word that says He accepts or caters to those attitudes. He is in fact opposed to the proud (James 4:6).

I realized then that I had not yet prayed for the service I was about to attend. A couple of months ago, I was convicted on not praying for the service and instead judging the things I believed to be wrong with it. Since then, I’ve been praying for the service each Sunday before the service actually happened, whether it’s at All American Chapel, First Baptist Church of New Berlin, or even this Evangelical Presbyterian service. So I started praying aloud.

Immediately the desire to judge and criticize was gone, and half of the things I was thinking about that caused me to feel judgmental evaporated. I could finally focus. I should be pursuing unity with all eagerness (Ephesians 4:1-3). Though this doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to false doctrine, it does mean that I learn to distinguish between things that are actually wrong and things that are merely matters of conviction, preference, or interpretation.

Jake and I walked between the tall white pillars outside the church and into the red-carpeted foyer, the red stretching further into the wide and spacious sanctuary. The walls were all white, like the exterior, and at the front of the sanctuary, behind the elevated pulpit, was a choir loft. On either side of the choir loft was an organ (to the left) and a grand piano (to the right). The sanctuary was small, about the size of and with a layout similar to that of my hometown church.

When I saw the organ, I swallowed hard. Out of all of the instruments created by the hands of man, reflective of the genius and creativity of their Maker, the organ is my least favorite…to me it’s overwhelming, overbearing, and painful to listen to. Thankfully, this distaste for the poor instrument has never prevented me from truly worshiping God, since it is, after all, merely an instrument, and it is, after all, merely my preference.

We sat in a pew about four rows from the front, among a few elderly couples. We would quickly see the sanctuary fill up with the same sort of people, all of whom would be dressed in pastels, mostly browns, purples, whites, and yellows. We soon learned that the pastor’s name was Walter Taylor, the pianist/organist’s name was “Squeaky,” and the sermon was on Romans 6:15-23.

The hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” was accompanied by the organ, and then we all recited the Lord’s Prayer. This was followed by a recitation of what this congregation called “Confession of Sin,” and is basically exactly what it sounds like. The confession was printed in the church bulletin.

The first part of it cut me to the core as I spoke the words, simultaneously praying through their meaning and what they mean to the people around me, and if all of what we’re doing was doctrinal, biblical, right, and good.

“O Lord our God,” it began, “we remember our sins before you; we cast ourselves upon your compassion. Be merciful to us sinners. We have not loved you, our Father, with all our heart; we have been unfaithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, our Shepherd and Head; we have grieved the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance. We have not been pure and holy; we have not been faithful and true; we have been entangled in the world and overcome of evil.”

Woah…ouch…I mean, yeah, this is true…O Lord, yeah…”We have not loved you…we have been unfaithful….we have not been faithful and true…” Granted, my state before God is secure, and my adoption into His family for eternity has not changed and never will, but I still sin, and there is no room for me to defend myself against these confessions. At some point, during some time, I have not loved God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Thankfully, the second part of this “Confession of Sin” brought my attention back to my complete redemption, forgiveness, and guaranteed place in the affections of my Father.

The line in the second half that took me out of the moment of confession, however, was a line that echoed David’s cry to God when he’d sinned with Bathsheba, “take not your Holy Spirit from us,” (Psalm 51:11). While I know I’ve had times of darkness when, out of ignorance, I’ve begged God for this same thing, God does not take His Spirit from people any longer. The Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), or, to put it in Jess Snyder terms, the Spirit is God’s engagement ring, given to us as a promise of marriage. God will not take His Holy Spirit from the one He’s now saved and claimed for the rest of eternity.

I don’t know if the intent of this cry to God was meant to suggest that this body believed the Holy Spirit, our Engagement Ring, could be taken away from us because of sin. It could have been written in there for the exact reason I might ignorantly and emotionally and fearfully pray for the same thing. Or, maybe they do believe this, which could, maybe, kinda sorta be a big problem.

 

I won’t go deeply into the rest of the service, but (excuse me while I start going deeply into the rest of the service) I will say that the sermon was challenging, and God used it in more ways than one to clear up a lot of confusion that I hadn’t recognized as confusion. Like, the Westminster Shorter Catechism that reads “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” As I’ve come across this again and again, I’ve seen it as somehow incomplete. During this sermon, since it came up as Pastor Taylor spoke on “You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody,” I think I concluded my thoughts on it: I’d only been looking at the statement through a filter of how it could be abused to be stagnant and not actually pursue glorifying God at all. If I were to use it as an excuse to be stagnant (i.e., not pursue obedience, or follow God, etc. and just do what I wanted to), then I don’t really understand what it means to glorify God in the first place. But if everything I do and think and say and feel is filtered through “does this glorify God? Does this encourage me to enjoy and better understand Him?” then I have the entirety of Scripture summarized in a single sentence. God does call me to love Him will all my heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). This calls on my internal self to be so in line with and sold out to God that I am loving nothing else, and so therefore my actions follow suit. I cannot glorify God without enjoying (loving) Him, and I cannot love (enjoy) God without glorifying Him.

….Hopefully all of that makes some kind of sense. It felt like a big deal to me 😛

After church, Jake and I walked around Southport for the afternoon, going into different shops and gazing through store fronts. The sun brightened as the afternoon came to replace the morning, and a spring breeze broke the heat every now and then. We bought a porcelain mug with a blue crab painted on the front from a store called “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and I found myself thanking Jacob for loving me.

We eventually stopped at a bistro called Deborah’s Place. Stepping through the door, we were met by a cool darkened room with a bar to the right and a glass-tabled seating area to the left. Our hostess had long beach-blond hair with the salt water waves to boot, draped over a white peasant blouse and black slacks. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen. Each of the tables had a piece of a world map squared off and pressed between the table surface on the bottom and a glass square on the top. Our piece of map was Afghanistan.

Our waiter came up to us, and I felt immediately thrown into battle mode. Now, this isn’t to say that I felt the need to fight the waiter, or really to fight anyone except the enemy. Our waiter’s name was Cameron, and he spoke in a masculine-toned voice, but as if he were a woman. He used mannerisms and language that echoed of Southern hospitality, though typically from southern belles. Yes, our waiter was transgender, and trying very hard to interact with us as if he were a woman.

So, when I said “battle mode,” the suggestion was not that this person was my enemy, or that I must now fight the sin in him. For me, it was more a realization that God loves this man, and He desires that his identity be found in Him, and not in his gender…But the temptation was to be so appalled by the sin that the sinner was virtually invisible, and therefore unlovable. And the enemy came in immediately to throw hate at this person loved and meant to be purchased by the blood of the Son. And as the hatred of sin and the sin of pride met in my heart, I struggled a lot.

I remember back in Brooklyn, when Kat, Bree, and I were consistently meeting up with the Navigator ministry over at NYU, that this topic of LGBT came up a lot, specifically the question of how we love them without compromising the truth. Where is the line between not causing unnecessary offense and accepting/condoning practices that God doesn’t agree with? Do we call them by their pronouns/desired gender names, or do we call them by the names on their birth certificates and by their actual gender? And how do we help heal the injuries inflicted by other Christians, saying that God hates them and will never accept or love them because of this choice?

Jake and I interacted with Cameron out of love, smiled and treated him as if he were any other person. God worked out the kinks in my heart and overcame the lies. The food was delicious, and we were served very well. We talked more about the sermon, about Jesus, about deployment. We made sure to tip well, as we always try to do (We think it’s a bad testimony to have conversations about Jesus in restaurants and then tip poorly). And then we left.

We ended our time at a coffee shop called Port City Java, where we read Deuteronomy together, and I prayed over the thoughts God brought into my heart from the sermon, from the time at Deborah’s Place, and from all the things He’s pulling at, moving, and bringing about.

Leave is over now, and there’s only about a week and a half before Jake deploys for nine months…Yes, I am a mess, and I’m feeling very pathetic. But this is not without hope, without excitement of all that God is going to do through us, in us, and around us, as we try—pathetically and quite clumsily—to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

“The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted, you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:16-18)

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This Is That Book Review I Told You Was Coming…

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“WHAT HAPPENED TO BRIGITTE BERTHOLD?

The question has haunted Daniel Knight since he was thirteen, when he and ten-year-old Brigitte escaped the Gestapo agents who arrested both their parents. They survived a harrowing journey from Germany to England, only to be separated upon their arrival. Daniel vowed to find Brigitte after the war, a promise he has fought to fulfill for more than seventy years.

Now a wealthy old man, Daniel’s final hope in finding Brigitte rests with Quenby Vaughn, an American journalist working in London. He believes Quenby’s tenacity to find missing people and her personal investment in a related WWII espionage story will help her succeed where previous investigators have failed. Though Quenby is wrestling her own demons—and wary at the idea of teaming up with Daniel’s lawyer, Lucas Hough—the lure of Brigitte’s story is too much to resist. Together, Quenby and Lucas delve deep into the past, following a trail of deception, sacrifice, and healing that could change all of their futures.”

The novel Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson is a historical fiction novel with strong themes that speak of the Christian romance genre. This book mainly addresses the heart-wrenching aches of abandonment, and seeks to satisfy the longing for redemption, reconciliation, and reunion.

A couple of things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

The first thing is the plot structure. I really appreciated how the different threads woven throughout the story ended up being connected in the end. While it seemed too neat of a connection at times, I still think it’s cool that there were no loose ends, every puzzle piece fit at the conclusion, even though the threads all seemed separate in the beginning.

The second was that there was heartache, scandal, and pain. What I mean by this is that there is sometimes a stereotype of Christian fiction that it presents itself as unrealistic: the stories aren’t as messy as real life. And yet Dobson did a brilliant job of including broken marriages, affairs, unforgiveness, betrayal, and other difficult themes to give the story the depth of reality.

The third thing was the history. The historic aspects of the story were really educational. I learned a ton about the London Blitz and about the tragedy faced by so many during the war. I was totally unaware of the existence of Hutchinson Camp, smack dab in the middle of Douglas, on the Isle of Man. Throughout my primary education, I hadn’t been really informed of all of England’s part in the war, and Dobson successfully piqued my interest in this part of world history.

A couple of things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

The first thing was the writing. There was a lot of telling but not a lot of showing. I didn’t feel like I had to work to figure out the story because all of my questions were answered for me through Dobson’s exposition laid out in Quenby’s mind. I think that if Dobson put more of what Quenby was thinking into dialogue with the other characters, it would’ve been a more challenging read. As in, I would be having to figure out Quenby’s wounds and difficulties and values instead of her just telling me everything, and in the end, when Dobson would seek to expose big things about Quenby, I would’ve either enjoyed my success at “figuring out” Quenby, or I would’ve grown through my misinterpretation. There were also several times when the point of view shifted that were awkward and distracting because the shift was inconsistent.

The second thing was Lucas and Quenby’s relationship. I don’t feel like two weeks together was enough time for them to bring in romantic love, at least not when it seemed like Quenby was meant to seem so averse to getting close to anyone…I feel like Lucas would’ve had to work a lot harder. Also, there were times when Quenby thought through how she didn’t care about Lucas’s opinion, or stated that he’d have to gain her trust, or mentioned that he was annoying and that there was nothing between them, and these thoughts came up really often, as if Quenby were convincing herself of them as well as trying to convince the reader, when, in reality, the very fact that convincing was needed suggested that the opposite was true: she likes Lucas from the beginning, she doesn’t find him annoying, she’s trusting and depending on him already and freely.

The third thing was the presence of faith. I don’t feel like faith carried as much weight in the story as Dobson desired. While the gospel of Jesus Christ was brought in at both the most heart-wrenching and the most casual of moments in the book, faith didn’t really seem that important to any of the characters. Brigitte seemed to be the most faith-driven character in the book, and yet we’re not privy to her relationship with Jesus before she gets to England. I feel like for some characters the presence of faith in their lives could’ve been removed and nothing would have changed. If Dobson’s intention was to make faith central to the book, then I would’ve appreciated seeing more of the small ways Quenby and Lucas operated out of their relationship with Christ, and more of the big ways they sought to obey Him. I think I wanted their faith to be central to their lives, when it didn’t seem that way at all, but came off more as seeing Jesus as their Savior, but not necessarily as their Lord.

Despite the criticisms, I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a wild journey through the history of friendship between two old souls, for a realistic look at the suffering of war victims, and a walk through the transformation of being wounded and then finally, after so long, being healed.

About the Author:

“Writing historical and time-slip fiction is really just an excuse for Melanie Dobson to explore ghost towns, interview fascinating people, and spend hours reading old books and journals.

Melanie is the award-winning author of fifteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Three of her novels, Chateau of SecretsThe Silent Order and Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa, have received Carol Awards, The Black Cloister was named the ForeWord Religious Fiction Book of the Year, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won best “Fiction of Indiana”.

Melanie met her husband, Jon, in Colorado Springs, but since they’ve been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times with Jon’s work including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. Along with their two daughters, Karly and Kiki, they now enjoy their home in the Pacific Northwest. The entire Dobson family loves to travel and hike in both the mountains and along the cliffs above the Pacific, and they enjoy serving together with the orphan care ministry in their church.Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master’s degree in communication from Regent University. Prior to her writing career, she was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and the owner of Dobson Media Group.

When Melanie isn’t writing or playing with her family, she enjoys teaching fiction writing, line dancing, and reading historical novels.”

If you’re interested in knowing more about this author, behold, I present thee with a link to her blog 🙂

http://melaniedobson.com/blog/

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Die to the Bench to Walk on the Sidewalk

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:16-18)

Jake and I attend All American Chapel on post at Ft. Bragg. This is has been a really cool experience thus far 🙂 Because so many of the members of this congregation are constantly moving, adapting, and cycling through because of the uncertainty of military schedules, it is a great challenge to get to know the people around me before they leave, or even before I might leave. It’s also big…or, it’s bigger than my small town church growing up 🙂 Jake and I have a personal challenge of getting to know one new person each Sunday, and we’ve met, been challenged by, and been able to challenge and love several people we might not have interacted with otherwise.

Another cool thing that has come of this was a challenge to actually pray for the service. So, I’d already been praying for the chaplains, but there was one Sunday where the congregation was challenged to pray for the whole service. That convicted me; I’d been coming in on Sunday mornings, struggling with judging people (as I wrote last post) for whatever reason, and not really knowing how to combat the false perceptions. Oh, right, I can pray for the actual service. Instead of judging the people around me, I can bring them and their work in the service before God and trust that He’ll change my heart towards them as well as enhance the entire service. How cool!

What I have found as I’ve spent the last few months taking time to pray for the services, is that my heart has changed, so that worship is more valuable and more fulfilling, so that finding application, challenge, and encouragement from the sermons is much more at the forefront of my mind, and it’s much easier to be eternally-minded towards the people I talk to after the service, whereas before I struggled much more with judging them for not being exactly like me. It is easier to love those in the service and the congregation for who they are now, as opposed to waiting for them to become what I desire them to be.

Right now the chaplains are taking the congregation through the book of James. I’ve never done a study of James before…I’ve certainly read through the book, but never quite studied it. At the end of last Sunday’s service, the chaplain gave us homework. Yes, gave us homework (It was so exciting :D). It was this:

  1. Pull out a commentary on James
  2. Look up the song “I ask the Lord that I might grow”  (This is really cool…basically, we often ask for God to grow us by way of giving us rest from our sins, but it’s often the case that instead of giving us rest from our sins, He makes us painfully aware of just how sinful we are, so that He can get us humble enough to actually grow…dang)
  3. Pray for the chaplains

But all of this is merely to introduce you to why I started out this post with James 3:16-18.

The context of the passage is “I (James) know you know, but do you (the twelve tribes) practice it,” which I think (I think) means that the readers are understood to already know what “wisdom from above” looks, now the challenge is for them to live like they have that wisdom. And that’s really the push throughout the book of James: don’t just sit on the comfortable bench of knowledge, but walk on the sidewalk of works, of action, of obedience. In 3:13 it says “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” The rest of the passage all the way to the end of the chapter draws a line between what is wisdom from above, and what ways are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (v.15).

When I first started memorizing and meditating on James 3:16-18, the circumstances of my life suddenly made a ton of sense. I was acting from a place of jealousy and selfish ambition, which OF COURSE brought about disorder/confusion/chaos (every vile practice wasn’t necessarily present, but it could’ve gotten there eventually). Now, as we’re walking through James in chapel, the relevance of the passage has not changed. And the characteristics listed after introducing “wisdom from above” were what I wanted. I wanted and still want to know what it means to be “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” The three things that stick out to me the most are being “open to reason,” “full of mercy,” and “impartial.”

“Open to reason.” In my own life, I’m looking at this as how I handle emotional situations. This is a constant battle for me, and is always a way for me to practice and train depending on the objective Truth of God’s Word, of God’s desire, and depending on my relationship with and standing before Him. It is an exercise in discipline for me to push aside emotions, no matter how well-founded or valid I believe they are, to actually see what’s going on. “Open to reason” sounds a lot like not being beside myself with emotion or blinded by my own pride or naivety, but instead being sober-minded, and able to take criticism for what it is, able to see the logic in godly matters, and able to hear the wise counsel of others.

“Full of mercy.” There are a lot of times when my critical spirit gets in the way of genuinely loving other people, both inside and outside the Church. Mercy is not getting the punishment (esp. that of the eternal nature) what you deserve, or not giving someone what they deserve (concerning punishment). First of all, there’s a struggle of self-righteousness and judgment in my heart, where I play God and determine what is right and what is wrong. Which of course in and of itself is wrong. On top of being anti-gospel, this mindset leaves no room for mercy, no room for grace or a willingness to pardon or discerning wisdom to figure out which situations require mercy as opposed to punishment. Now, there’s the other extreme (opposite to constant criticism and judgment) of being a pushover, and allowing fallacy, deceit, and other things that are meant to be addressed to instead go by without question, which is unhealthy for both me and whoever is stuck in the fallacy etc. But I think “full of mercy” is listed as characterizing the “wisdom from above” because wisdom involves some level of discernment, so that someone who is full of mercy is always ready to give it, but knows when it would be more beneficial to hold it back.

And then finally there’s being “Impartial.” This one I think is and will be the most difficult, because it’s the one that I’m least aware of. Preferences and biases are so ingrained in me that I can’t often sift through what is preference and what is actual principal, or Truth. These would be the methods, visions, traditions, ways of teaching, ways of learning, etc. that I mentioned in my last post. Thankfully, however, I do have Christ, who is impartial, objective, and completely right. The idea, as I believe He designed it, is that as I learn to be loved by and love Him evermore completely, I become more like Him, less partial and stuck in my own preferences, and able to instead discern between what is a hard and fast Truth, and what is merely what I’m used to.

Speaking of Jesus 🙂 It was a while ago that I realized I could give all of my emotions over to Christ and He was able to balance and had always wanted to be the One to balance out my emotions. He has always been the objective, constant point in the midst of the chaos of my mind to hold me fast and bring the world back into focus. The best thing about being convicted by this passage is that it also comes with hope, hope for change in myself that God has promised. He has not started changing me simply to leave me where I am. His intention is to lovingly and thoroughly make me like His Son (2 Corinthians 3:18), and He will complete that work (Philippians 1:6).

I wonder what I will look like as I grow in these things, wonder how they’ll change how I see my God, and I wonder how they’ll affect the Christians around me. I wonder, as I seek to walk with God in these things that I think I understand and that I desire my heart to be characterized by, what will come up. It will be cool 🙂

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

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