Don’t Stop the Madness

 

As I sit down to write this post, I’m mentally running through how each group of people reading this may or may not respond to whatever I write. Some of the imagined responses contribute to my pride. Others contribute to my fear. The extent to which this process of thinking affects my actions is deep enough that some people would say I have anxiety…frankly, it’s not anxiety; my thoughts go to this place because I’m selfish, overly-concerned with what people think to the point of being tempted to compromise truth, namely truth about God and about how He sees me, and because the enemy is taking a desire to humbly consider others and twisting it.

I want to talk about confusion, and how the enemy uses it to divide, enslave, and brew chaos in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:33, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:6).

I want to talk about the need for unity in the Body of Christ, not just the local assemblies, but the universal Church…all of it (John 13:34-35).

I want to talk about the problem of selfishness that all humans are inclined to struggle with until we live in eternity with Jesus (Numbers 15:39).

And I’m frustrated because there will be many readers who’ll read whatever I say on those topics and think, “Amen! That really does need to happen!” all while they sit in judgment and unnecessary criticism towards their brothers and sisters in Christ over traditions, methods, experiences, ways of learning, ways of teaching, worship, communion, vision, and a host of other things that ought not to be issues in the Body…and, if they are issues, they ought to be handled in love and out of an eagerness to maintain and pursue unity, of course not at the cost of compromising the Truth of God’s Word, but yes at the cost of compromising preferences.

*Face turns red from embarrassment; gets down from soap box*

And then I’m here, struggling through the same difficulties of loving my brothers and sisters in Christ because of those same things. I know that some of the things I’m holding to are preferences, and I am learning to sacrifice them in pursuit of the Truth, but there are still some things that I believe are true but that I can’t totally justify through Scripture. And then there are things numerous Christians describe with such conviction and overwhelming emotion but with hardly any biblical basis and yet I feel helpless to challenge or question them because of my own insecurity about my knowledge and understanding of the Bible. When did ministry become so absolutely messy?

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'” (Mark 10:29-30)

…Well, okay, sure, Jesus promises a whole lot of persecution and messiness from outside the Church, but what about inside?

“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ But Peter began and explained it to them in order….’If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’ When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'” (Acts 11:2-4, 17-18)

“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.'” (Mark 9:38-40)

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

The New Testament is full of challenges posited to believers in their interactions with each other (Philippians 2:1-4, Ephesians 4:25-32, Hebrews 10:24-25); God knew that, as we love each other, as we get into each other’s lives, even confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) things are going to get a little messy.

And yet, it’s okay…

“What? How can all of the nonsense you just listed be at all good? It sounds exhausting, dramatic, stupid, and frustrating, as you said.”

Yeah…It certainly seems like loving the world is easy (I can’t believe I just said that), but loving my brothers and sisters in Christ is difficult, simply because of my own pride, selfishness, and struggle with judging others. And yet, I don’t know the world…we don’t have the same Father. But I know the people in my family…I know their sins, their struggles, their joys, their pitfalls, their spiritual giftings, their personalities, their internal reactions. I cry with them, I laugh with them, I eat with them. The real stuff comes out when you actually live life with people. I get to see their bad side. I am privy to the hard stuff in their lives, and they’re privy to that of mine.

And so, while the beginning of this post started out as a rant, as a desperate plea for it all to stop, I’m actually really thankful for it. I’m thankful for the privilege of all of my struggles being known by them. I’m thankful for the opportunity to love them and be loved by them in spite of all the garbage we carry around with us until we see our Father in eternity. I’m thankful that the goal in our relationships with each other is to continue loving, forgiving, challenging, encouraging each other towards Christ, who binds us together. I’m thankful for the work that it takes to push past my own emotions and selfishness to really have relationships with people following Christ and that it’s a value of God’s that we actually have relationships with each other, especially in a world where superficiality and false friendship is often the order of the day. I’m thankful for the work ahead, in myself and in the world, concerning uniting the Body of Christ, regardless of how impossibly divided it seems.

I am thankful for the mess.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)

PS: Not to freak anyone out, but there will soon be a post on here that reads very much like a book review…because it is. I’m not intending for this blog to turn into a review blog, but there will pop up a review every now and then…that is all.

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Sometimes To Stay Alive You Gotta Kill Your Mind

 

I slung the diaper bag over my shoulder, along with my ebony Guess purse, the double set of straps weighing on my arm. James, the toddler Jake and I were babysitting over night, was all set and ready to be taken to gymnastics. Jacob was waiting for Matt, one of the guys living in the ministry bachelor pad down the street; the two of them were heading out to help a gentleman named Fernando, who had recently been evicted from his apartment and was looking for a new home. And so we were dividing and conquering.

As I rushed out the door with only fifteen minutes to get to the rumble and tumble gym for small children to which I’d never been before, my arms full of bags and my hands full of small fingers and car keys and my mind full of pressure and want for control, I wondered with no small amount of insecurity if this is what I would look like as the mom of a toddler. I shivered at the thought as I strapped James into his car seat, and buried the image in the back of my mind as Jacob hugged and kissed me goodbye.

As I drove James to gymnastics, the word “helicopter mom” flew across the screen behind my eyes, and I became painfully aware of my constant struggle against control, and fell back on my godly desire for joy emanating from deep trust in Christ. Fears of the future piled one on top of the other as I drove and talked to James, who grinned at me from the back seat.

We walked into a place called The Little Gym, and I looked through a wall of glass doors, gazing at them like TV monitors as they revealed a bunch of toddlers maneuvering all sorts of padded blocks and arches, rings, balance beams, and trampoline-like mattresses, all primary colors.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

I sat down on one of the little blue chairs facing the wall of doors, putting both of my bags in my lap while trying to help James take off his shoes and jacket. 

“Are you with James?”

I looked up to see a tall, lanky African-American man wearing a bright blue pull over and black trainers. He addressed me kindly and smiled at James, like he was seeing an old friend. Apparently, a class had just ended, and the gym was now empty, and prepared to receive a new wave of toddlers, one ripple of which would be James.

“Oh, yes,” I finally said.

“Okay,” he said. “You have to come in with him.”

I had expected this, so I slipped off my flip flops and stuck them in the diaper bag along with James’s shoes and jacket. There were cubbies a few steps away, so I claimed two and filled them with our things. 

As I walked into the gym, now full of new little ones, a thought from my neighbor came into my head. Her name is Kathi, and we get together almost weekly and talk about what God is doing in our lives, what we’re struggling with, how we can pray for one another, and so often we pray throughout, and it’s always a refreshing and sweet time. She was talking to me once about how much influence a mom has in the lives of her children. She’s the one who spends most of the day with them, and will be the example of adulthood and general functioning personhood that they see most often. Building a functioning human out of a small child is a demanding job, and it is of the utmost importance. 

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

As I watched James run around, and as I ran around with him (the parents and babysitters—that would be me—were instructed to help their kids learn the basics of baseball, starting with illustrating the concept of running around the bases, starting at home plate), I think I caught a small glimpse of the importance of being a parent, and a good one at that. 

I had been struggling lately with selfishness and anxiety about the future, particularly concerning parenthood (I am not pregnant). Selfishness, because of how I was perceiving all of Jacob’s actions (and I do mean all) as being against my own. Thankfully, God made me aware of my tendency towards control and selfishness before we got married, so that the pattern of perception was a war, and not merely my submitting to being a victim of temptation. Anxiety about the future, because of how it seems like motherhood consumes a woman’s identity, and leaves no room for her to be a real person anymore, which, as I’ve spent time with the godly moms around me, who are joyful about having children and discipling their kids, is one of the biggest lies with which I have warred. 

“Think of what you know of God through the gospel, says Paul, and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the belief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking.” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God

That same day, when James and I returned to my and Jacob’s house and I fed him lunch, Jake came home emotionally exhausted. Spending hours with Fernando had drained both he and Matt. For a year, God has been using Fernando to challenge both of us, though mostly Jake, to love the unlovely, and to reach out to and serve those who don’t always fit our mold of “worth loving.” This was how we were figuring out what it truly looked like to love the least of these, and the process thus far has revealed many flaws in the intentions of our hearts, and challenged us to genuinely and sacrificially love those who do not love in return and cannot repay us. It has been harder than either of us had expected.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)

Needless to say, we were both struggling. We were struggling with correcting our perceptions of each other, with the lies we knew the enemy was throwing into our relationship, and with our own pride and selfishness. 

Jake went back out in a couple of hours to help Matt and Fernando again, trying to secure a mobile home for Fernando. I stayed at the house while James took a nap. It would be another three hours or so before Jake and I reconvened. It would be later that night, after putting James to bed, when Jake and I could sit down and debrief. 

It would be emotional. It would be frustrating. It would be full of my talking too much. It would be us making sure we’re physically touching each other to reinforce mutual support and a desire for unity. It would be full of affirmation and honesty. It would be hard and uncomfortable. We talked about the struggles we could see ourselves experiencing when we became parents. I talked about my parents and sought to identify where I was projecting my understanding of what a father looks like onto Jake. It involved my having to confess my own critical spirit to Jake, as I had already confessed it to the One who was faithful and just to forgive me, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

And I was internally confronted with how little I’ve let God as my true heavenly Father affect how I see fatherhood here on this earth. Yikes.

This whole experience felt like the deep cleaning of a room that had been molded over and matted with cobwebs for years, hidden from sunlight and fresh air through a bolted door. It seemed like marriage continued to do that for me; God used Jake and our circumstances, our desire to figure out how to partner in ministry together, how to sharpen one another, and how to be united though we’re so different, He used all of these things to reveal more and more sin in my heart, more that needed to be confessed, more that needed to be surrendered. Oh, it was work. Spiritual warfare takes place on the battlefield of the mind.

And this time of considering parenthood has been one big struggle on top of the struggle of deployment. I think I had been in some kind of deep denial, or maybe just ignorance, when Jake first told me a little over a year ago that he’d be deploying in June of this year. I don’t know if I really understood what that meant. And yet this past week has been full of breakdowns, random crying fits, and a surfacing of deep insecurities and fears, all of which have been desperately poured out to my Father.

I feel like I’m talking about a lot of big and complicated things all at the same time, but I want to share with you just how big God is, though my words will fall short and my experienced is still so limited. These things sound despairing and difficult and heavy, and yet there is peace in all of it. How thankful I am for the Sword of the Spirit and its effectiveness against the desires of my own flesh, against the distractions of the world, and against the lies of the enemy. How thankful I am for the body of Christ and how He’s designed His community to operate, to mutually sharpen, encourage, challenge, and build up one another. And how thankful I am for God Himself, for His desire to see my desires match His, and for the fact that He is not against me when I ask Him to make me less selfish, less prideful, and less anxious about the future. How happy I am that He has been waiting for my admittance of my weakness, so that His grace might prove sufficient.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

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A Family Affair

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)

So, when I originally sat down to write up this post, I was going to go through all of the dark and confusing feelings that I’m struggling with, and talk about how I don’t understand how I could feel all of these things when I have Jesus.

But as I’m sitting here at my laptop, after spending a day of crying out to Him while doing household chores and tackling the “To Do” list that seems to keep growing, I have learned the same lesson I seem to be learning over and over again: His grace is enough.

I’m currently reading “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, and I recently finished his chapter titled “Sons of God,” talking about what it means for us to be adopted by God.

“Adoption,” Packer writes, “by its very nature, is an art of free kindness to the person adopted. If you become a father by adopting a son or daughter, you do so because you choose to, not because you are bound to. Similarly, God adopts because he chooses to. He had no duty to do so. He need not have done anything about our sins except punish us as we deserved. But he loved us; so he redeemed us, forgave us, took us as his sons and daughters and gave himself to us as our Father.”

I hadn’t realized it, but I’ve been struggling with the insecurity that I am an utter disappointment to God, that, in this striving to be like Jesus, my constant failure and fearfulness and fragility of emotion has caused my Father to look down on me with great sorrow. And yet there is meant to be such great security in God’s love for me, that pleasing Him and obeying Him, however imperfectly, can be characterized by joy and contentment, not desperation, fear, and insecurity. And it’s in my understanding of what it means to be adopted by God that affects my feeling of security before Him. One aspect of being adopted by God that I’d never really considered was (this is going to sound weird) thinking of myself as Christ’s sister. 

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:10-11, 17)

There has been this struggle, particularly when reading the Gospels, with wanting to be like Jesus but feeling helpless to do so.

“If only I could apply this verse to my life and be disciplined and consistent in it, then I’d be perfect, and I’d get that aspect of Jesus down.”

“If only I could have the perfect eloquence and quick responses that Jesus had with the Pharisees, or if I could only come up with the parables that He does, then I could actually teach people things in a way that makes sense to them.”

“If only I were virtually homeless and spent all of my time witnessing to people, then I would be like Jesus and God wouldn’t be disappointed in me.”

Here I am competing and comparing myself with my Brother to gain the affection and attention of my Father, who, because of Christ’s death on the cross for all of my sins against God, sees only Christ when He looks at me anyway. There is nothing left for me to do to gain the approval, love, affection, attention, protection, comfort, or provision of my Father, because my Brother has done so much; He has taken care of everything. All that is left for me to do is be, and get used to living like the royal daughter of the High King. I am adopted, and I will not be cast out.

This is not to say, of course, that I’m not supposed to seek to do good, to be holy, and to please my Father with my actions before the rest of the world. After all, Jesus does say, “‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.'” And God does desire that I be like Him, but not by my own way and through my own efforts. So, the brotherhood of Christ towards me now intersects with the 100% divinity of Christ: He is my Brother; He is also my Lord.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

It is the Spirit that sets me apart as God’s adopted daughter, and it is the Spirit that seals me for eternal life. This is the finalized adoption document, signed by the Judge, fought for by the Lawyer. I am His by the Spirit. So, the inward change concerning me, in living this life that I have now been given by my Father, is begun by the Spirit and through the Spirit. This process of my internal sin being revealed the more I grow in Christ is painful and ongoing, but not without security and purpose.

“In this world, royal children have to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with the children of the King of kings. The clue to understanding all his dealings with them is to remember that throughout their lives he is training them for what awaits them, and chiseling them into the image of Christ. Sometimes the chiseling process is painful and the discipline irksome; but then the Scripture reminds us: ‘The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Heb 12:6-7, 11).”  —J.I. Packer, Knowing God

But then there’s this thought of not understanding grace if I mourn over my daily sins, if I’m aware of how it displeases my heavenly Father, and if I come broken before Him in confession. But this is in and of itself a misunderstanding: It is true that I do not have to do good works or keep the law in order for my sins to be justified, nor do I have to keep the law as a way of gaining eternal life, but being royally adopted implies gaining both position and the responsibility of keeping the instruction and the rules laid down by my new Parent. The law is now no longer here to condemn me, but rather to instruct me.

And so the feelings of being a disappointment, of guilt, of failure, are all rooted in lies external to my actual identity in Christ, before God. I am His daughter, who is unable to be snatched out of His hand, and He is pleased with me. He has already won, so I therefore cannot fail. Will I be disciplined? Yes, but not as a result of my Father’s disappointment, rather as a result of His love.

“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…” (Ephesians 1:18-19)

I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of—a happy life?—yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God

 

 

 

 

 

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Disappearing Into Christ

 

I was being short with Jake as we drove back from the gym. We’d done a chest and core workout at the Tucker Gym on post, where I was one of the few females, and one of the least muscular at that. The insecurities were overwhelming. I’d been struggling lately with not being as in shape as I have in the past, with not having as many opportunities to be sporty, and exercise my athleticism, and this fed into a lack of confidence and positive self-image….it was a vicious cycle, disrupted and defeated only by the truth of God’s Word, and His perspective of me.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:14-15)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

We went through the chest workout, and while I clearly couldn’t lift as much weight as Jake could, I kept up, and my mind went back to the days of soccer practice, wrestling matches, hurdle jumping, suicides on a basketball court, working out with my cousin and his teammates in the public school gym, swinging kettle bells, sprinting, plate circuits…

As we moved, the lies became louder.

“Everyone thinks you’re weak. Everyone thinks you have no idea what you’re doing in here. They think you’ve probably never seen a dumbbell before, never smelled the inside of a gym, that of sweat, rubber, and metal. You’re just a weak little military wife that needs her husband to hold her hand through a workout.”

Ouch.

Which reinforced the lie of:

“I’ll show them. I am strong. I’ll get stronger. I’ll get back to where I was. I’ll lift more than Jake. I’ll get faster. I do know what I’m doing. I’m not stupid.”

We ended the workout doing laps in the pool, and the lies of comparison followed me there.

“Yes, this is where I can be better than someone.”

And we now come back full circle to when I was being rather curt with Jake in the car on the way home, all the while the defense of “I’m not stupid” reigning as an underlying message behind all of my words.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)

The verses came, and finally the leading:

“You can trust Me. I will protect you. You don’t have to defend yourself. It’s not about what you or others can do. It’s about what I can do.”

This softening led me to apologize to Jake, and just tell him what I was thinking, the stigmas that I was struggling with, the comparisons I was making between the two of us and everyone else, and the defensiveness I was feeling, manifested in my desire to prove myself strong, athletic, hard-working, capable.

Jake pulled the car into the driveway as I finished talking. My face was getting hot. As he cut the engine, he turned to me and confessed the stigma of “girls can’t or don’t lift” floating around in his head, certainly being ignored, but definitely there. And we talked. Jacob hugged me as I cried, frustrated with myself. It all ended with my cooking dinner as Jacob read “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and we both drank French press coffee. We were okay.

BE YOURSELF?

The reason I’m telling you this, is because it’s just one example of how an identity crisis has shown itself in my life. In this specific instance, I’m saying “I am an athlete,” and thus defining myself by my physical ability.

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about the differences between “being yourself in Christ” and “being like Christ.” They didn’t seem very different until I started seeing the difference in myself. I’ve lately heard the phrase “being myself” tied in with specific actions and personalities and even spiritual giftings. And so I wondered how I tend to identify myself in conversation with others. This is the list I came up with:

Athlete                                     Gym rat                                   College kid

Young                                      Hunter                                     Reader

ENFJ                                        Feeler                                       Writer

French                                     Runner                                     Housewife

Awkward                                 Incapable                                 Milspouse

Wreck                                      Mess                                        Encourager

Coffeedrinker                          Woman

So, what is the difference between “being yourself in Christ” and “being like Christ”?

This is what I have found:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, but also v. 1-17)

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

I am in Christ now, and belong to Him. Therefore, I am virtually meant to disappear. All that I cling to, all of my hobbies, skills, talents, passions are no longer who I am. My identity as an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-20) to the world and the security and humility that this is meant to bring transcends my personality, passions, gender, self-image, self-understanding, heritage, nationality, physical capability, occupation, familial position, spiritual gift, age, and even my own name (I think)…Not that I have to start introducing myself to people as “the one whom Jesus loves” (John 13:23), though that might be helpful…

Looking specifically at Acts 4:13, to target the lie of “I must prove that I’m not stupid.” Peter and John were perceived as “uneducated, common men.” High school dropouts. Stupid. Incompetent. Without schooling. Even simple-minded. And yet, these things were not the overwhelming factors that defined how the Pharisees saw these men. It was the second half of the verse: “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”

I have found myself fighting to “be myself” instead of becoming nothing and genuinely offering everything God has given me back to Him, to be molded, refined, and shifted to be made to look more and more like Christ, who transcends all of these things that seemingly set me apart. I am not meant to be set apart because of my talents or personality, but I am instead meant to be sanctified by the Jesus in me.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE HUMANITY

Two of the things in the list I gave have also brought up another thought about how I tend identify myself. The “Feeler” and “ENFJ.”

If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs personality types, you can check it out here. The third letter (each letter explains a general aspect of someone’s personality) of my own personality type, however, I will explain. The third letter explains how someone tends to make decisions (very, very basic definition, mind you). The two letters are “F” for “Feeler” and “T” for “Thinker” (or “Feeling” and “Thinking”, respectively). A Feeler tends to make decisions based on values and emotions (ex. what’s right or wrong, how will this affect others, what is my gut feeling?), whereas a Thinker tends to make decisions based on logic (ex. what makes sense, what will be most efficient, what is most practical?).

When I feel like (there we go, “feel like”) my “being a feeler” is being discounted or made to seem less than compared to “thinking,” then I immediately become defensive. Just like with the gym incident, I feel like I have to prove that I’m not stupid or a ditz, or an emotionally-charged drama maniac running around like a chicken with my head cut off. The other element revealed here, however, alongside identifying myself so much by my “being a feeler,” is ignoring my own tendencies to be overwhelmed and even being driven by my emotions. This of course does not mean I’m somehow “less than,” but just as “thinkers” have negative tendencies in the extreme, I do have the tendency to struggle against emotionalism.

So, even though I should not define myself by these things, and should instead be defined by Christ, it would be unwise to ignore the Romans 7 principle of my flesh warring against the Spirit in me.

As I consider my own tendencies, I ought not to be defined by them, for my identity in Christ, the more I allow Him to control my life and the more I “work out my own salvation,” i.e., figure out what it looks like in my life and, in a sense, grow into this life that Christ has now given me, then those tendencies and pitfalls will be overwhelmed by the person of Christ shining through the broken cracks of this earthen vessel as I seek to share Him with the world.

“It is not better methods, but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience—men and women who see his vision and feel his passion for the world—men and women who are willing to be nothing so that he might be everything—men and women who want only for Christ to produce his life in and through them according to his own good pleasure.” —Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

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The Picketing Identity Crisis

It was almost one in the afternoon at The Coffee Scene, and my iced coffee sat half drank next to my open Bible and journal. Jacob had just left to pick up Manny, one of the godly guys living in the Pad, leaving me studying my things along with three other ladies, who we’d come to meet up with semi-regularly on the weekends since Jake and I had returned from our honeymoon. As we were sitting there, we started to talk about feelings.

I realize some of you might cringe at this, particularly those of you who are serious thinkers, but this was good, so bear with me. 

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

This verse came up as we talked. We all confessed a deep need and desire to have all of our opinions and thoughts be heard at any given time. If our thoughts remained unknown, we often felt like the people or person involved in conversation with us now lacked the benefits offered by the words we’d been unable to say.

In other words, our need for control in a conversation manifested itself through our inability to control ourselves. Examples of this, we confessed, included not listening to other people, or cutting them off, or trampling over them with our quickness to speak and our impatient approach to listening. None of these, we knew, were particularly Christ-like.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

All of this made me recall the truth of my identity in Christ.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!…Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (Psalm 139:1, 4)

Oh! That’s why I can be satisfied with being “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Even if my opinions and suggestions and whatnot are not heard, I am not somehow lacking in worth, and yes, “worth” is the right word to use. I do not have to be defined by being heard by others, because God hears me, knows me, and understands what I desire to say better than I could say it myself. He is the One who can truly use my words to benefit others and change the world, if I would put them first.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

I can securely default to listening to others, and have self control in my words (Galatians 5:23), so that, when the right time to speak arises, I can deliver my thoughts lovingly and prayerfully, and the person to whom I am listening can genuinely feel valued and heard. Or, I suppose another thought would be that I get to sacrifice my desire to be heard in order to fulfill that need for someone else. 

The reason I’m writing about this in particular is, yes, because of the sudden manifestation of the modern woman’s identity crisis happening in the news. Yes, this is an identity crisis. A woman’s need to be heard and valued has been placed in the wrong thing, and somehow we have confused “right” with “merciful privilege.” 

What I mean is this: without Jesus, no one, men or women, have a right to anything, especially being heard by anyone. Why would they? They are condemned before God, cut off from the One who controls and has power over everything, including the political circumstances in Washington D.C..

They are entitled to nothing but a one-way ticket to Hell, and, therefore, complete and eternal separation from the One who loves them most. 

So I should have no ability to be heard, especially not by God. And yet, because of Christ, I am heard by the only One who really matters. Those women who desire to be heard by the world are suffering from a lack of knowledge that they are deeply, fully, and intimately heard and known by God, a right and adoption paid for by Christ. 

I do not mean that women should never talk. But I do mean that we don’t have to act fearfully and offer panic-stricken demands and cling so desperately to our rights. 

Hello, ladies. You do not have to fight your way through politics, through the societal changes of our world, or through the opinions and wrong actions of others. You do not have to operate out of fear, outrage, or panic. There is a God who created you to be so much more than you are right now. He sees you as worth dying for, protecting, hearing, and acting on behalf of. He will be able to make waves in the White House far better than the small ripples of your marches and protests. Your insecurities and fears for the future of our gender can be satisfied in the One who made you to reflect His beauty, gentleness, security, and meek power. Jesus died so that you could have life, and have it abundantly.

Do you truly believe you have that now?

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One Team?

It was 5:30am when Jacob dropped me off at the Starbucks located at the entrance of Cross Creek mall, just next to Zoe’s Kitchen. The sky was still dark, and there was a layer of fog on the whole of Fayetteville. I was planning on meeting up with Christie, one of the ladies in the ministry and a developing kindred spirit, as the day for most of the military began.

When I walked in, I quickly noticed that I was the only customer in the coffee shop. I took my place at the long table in the center of the majority of the other two-seater tables, slinging my heavy backpack down into the seat next to the one in which I would sit. There was a lone barista behind the counter, a middle-aged lady with her burgundy hair wound up into a tight bun.

I thought of the times back at Pratt, when I would finish basketball practice early in the morning, and would go to the Starbucks on campus around 8:00am, only minutes after it had opened. I’d often be the only one there as well, and it came to the point that I went there so often at that time of the morning that the barista knew my order, and we enjoyed seeing and speaking to each other. Those mornings were prayerful, and quiet.

Christie wasn’t coming for another hour or so. I began reading through the book of Ezekiel and praying to God. As I infrequently glanced out at the darkness of the morning, I thought it amazing how God can experience all of the mornings of every nation as the sun rises across the earth…but then maybe God instead doesn’t see any of the mornings that way, because He can see the sun as it’s remaining stationary, and the earth as it rotates…or maybe both…I think both.

As I read through Ezekiel, I hit the passage of chapter 33, verses 1-9.

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (v. 7-9)

Okay, so, Ezekiel is kind of heavy, and there’s some pretty wacky and inexplicable stuff going on here. But this particular passage struck me as reflective.

In the New Testament, there’s about eighteen spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16). One of these is the gift of prophecy. Now, going through Ezekiel, I’m equating “prophet” to “watchman,” or, someone who is watching the walk of those believers around them, and playing a significant role in telling those believers when they’re getting off track, or when their walk is steering contrary to the Word of God and His clearly revealed desires for their life. An extreme example would be to say that I’m deciding to spend tout les temps pursuing financial security and becoming a millionaire at the sacrifice of all fellowship and growth, and someone with the gift of prophecy would come alongside saying something like, “‘No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.’ (Matthew 5:24) ” Or, if we want to dive into areas of gray, Person A is a believer who’s planning on having a romantic relationship with Person B who is a confirmed atheist. Person C, who’s a believer with the spiritual gift of prophecy, comes alongside Person A, saying, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).”

The above description is more of how I think the gift of prophecy works today. As the church was getting started in the book of Acts, before the Bible was complete and everyone had God’s Word, prophecy was necessary in order to give the church direction and guidance on different issues. But once the church was founded and the word of God complete, prophecy seemed to be no longer necessary.

Some Christians do believe that prophecy as it was in the New Testament is still applicable for today, but I don’t think this is the case, since we have all that God desires us to have concerning principal instruction for living on this earth as we seek to follow Him, and any guidance we have comes from the outworking of the Holy Spirit based on the truth of God’s Word anyway. But hey, I’m no theologian. I’m a millennial writing a blog from my dining room table that’s still sporting a Christmas-themed covering.

Ahem, moving on.

The point! In Ezekiel 33, the implication is that God is giving Ezekiel (“son of man”) a responsibility as a prophet of the people. If this prophet doesn’t use his gift of prophecy to guide and direct the people concerning God’s wrath, will, and word, then Ezekiel is responsible for any suffering they endure because of his failure. And so, my thought, considering the New Testament gift of prophecy, as well as the other gifts, is a question of if our spiritual gifts and the use of those gifts are our responsibility to the body of Christ, the Church? So, if the Church is discouraged and struck with confusion and anxiety, and I have the gift of exhortation (consolation, comfort, solace; that which affords comfort or refreshment, def. found on Blue Letter Bible), then does that mean it is at least in part my responsibility to encourage and restore them to hope and comfort?

Sometimes we tend to treat spiritual gifts like we do personality types, but this thought makes it so that my spiritual gift, whether it be encouragement, teaching, shepherding, evangelism, or prophecy, to name a few, is not just some part of being like Jesus that I’m particularly good at, and certainly not just a part of my personality, or a Church niche/category into which I fit, but rather it is my necessary contribution to the unification of the Church and its growth in Christ-likeness. It is my responsibility to God and to this body, with Christ as the head, to figure out what my gifting is, to develop it, and use it to grow myself and the rest of the believers around me.

 

 

 

 

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Then, Now, and Later

The other day, I had the thought while brushing my teeth (this is optimal time for epiphanies) that if someone had told me about four years ago that I would end up going to college in New York City for three years, date my future husband who is ALSO my best friends’ older brother for the latter half of those years, and then get married, become an army wife, and move to North Carolina with him, then I probably would have entertained the thought for a moment, worried myself sick over how all of it would play out, and then would decide it was all nonsense and God had a different plan in mind. Surely.

But here I am. Oh, how small is my imagination.

And this shocking realization of how different life has turned out to be in the present time is not at all bad, no! But it is certainly perplexing. I feel like I started this blog to track my growth and adventures and such during college but now I’m not even in college…I’m a housewife living in North Carolina married to Jacob Brock!

Lord! How different are Your ways than my ways, and Your thoughts than my thoughts! You clearly know the plans You have for me, and they are far more than I could ever ask or imagine. (Isaiah 55:8-9, Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 3:19-20)

As if this newness needed further emphasis, about a week ago I was folding laundry and realized that a pair of my jeans had ripped in the washer, and another pair had been damaged by the detergent we’d bought. I only had two pairs of jeans, so I tossed the ripped pair and kept the damaged one. Jacob was watching me.

“We need to buy you new jeans,” he said.

I looked at him uncertainly.

“I’m not quite sure why you only have two pairs anyway,” he said. “So we really should get you new jeans.”

I frowned. He was being kind, saying it lovingly and without criticism, but I felt embarrassed.

“Jeans are expensive,” I said. “And I’m a college kid.”

“But you’re not a college kid anymore,” he said. “You’re someone’s wife.” He grinned. “You’re an army wife.”

Wait, what?

So then, there’s all of these thoughts about my identity ultimately being in Christ, that, even though my relational status has changed, it does not mean my identity has changed. God will not see me as “Jacob’s wife” or “army wife,” but He will see me as His. Right. Sure. But I’m still a wife. Je suis une madame et pas une mademoiselle! I mean, even following Christ has taken on new meaning, particularly as I continue to consider and look to apply what God says via Paul in Ephesians, in Titus, and everywhere else depicting husband and wife as Christ and the Church. How deep does this picture go? How far does its meaning stretch? How thoroughly is Christ wanting us to apply this in our marriage? And what will my and Jacob’s relationship look like the more we understand this mystery?

Again, this isn’t bad…it’s just, wow! This is real, and God has really, actually put me here. He has really, actually given me to this man, and this man to me, and He has really put us in North Carolina, and we really are bound by the covenant of marriage, we really are living together, and learning how to follow Him together. Wow.

Thankfully, in the midst of all this, God reminds me that it all comes down to my following Him. He’ll take care of the rest.

“But this is totally different!” I think, “I mean, this isn’t Pratt. The people around me aren’t liberal college kids. I’m not single. I don’t live in the dorms with Bree anymore. I’m not leading a Bible study. I’m not going to the Shire on break…”

“And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,  like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.’” (Hebrews 1:10-12)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

So God has done this amazing thing where He’s totally provided for His kids through the writing of His Word. God is so generous. Not only has He loved and pursued us from before the beginning of time, and provided us the opportunity for salvation and reconciliation to glorious and eternally fulfilling fellowship with Him through the death of His Son, but He’s also made sure that all of what we would need to know about Him, about the world, and about ourselves was written down so that we wouldn’t be seeking Him blindly, without instruction, unequipped.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Okay, I feel like this is turning into a mess of spaghetti noodle thoughts mixed with a marinara rant of some sort.

Anyway…I’m learning yet again that God uses change to change us, both good and bad change, which, when you look at change as God making us more and more like Him, then there doesn’t seem to be much room left to classify any change as bad. Regardless of circumstance, location, status, occupation, anything, God has equipped us to adapt, to thrive under pressure and in tumult, and to find deep comfort in Him as difficulty arises.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

With that last verse, I’m certain we have yet to understand what it means to find comfort and strength in Christ when we are truly brought low, facing hunger, and in need. Paul’s circumstances were much less comfortable than ours presently. And yet the truth still rings clear: the strength of Christ transcends all phases of life, all trends and changes, all circumstances, which is the secret to facing all of these, even the transition from being a city college kid, to being an army wife.

 

 

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