I’m not talking about the kind of disappointment that comes and goes within a few hours. I’m talking about the kind that’s deep, deep in the heart. So deep that the people around you are oblivious to it because of how fiercely you guard it. The kind that lingers – and aches so badly at times that you avoid “that” subject altogether. Because voicing this deep disappointment would cause the floodgates to open.
This kind of disappointment is usually attached to a long-term situation.
Maybe it’s a broken relationship; you haven’t spoken to your parent or sibling in years. Or maybe you do talk to them but feel that they are forever missing your heart – and conversations with them continually leave you deflated. You keep hoping that things are going to change, but the relationship is just as hard today as it was ten years ago.
Maybe it’s a loved one’s addiction. You’ve prayed and prayed and yes, have had seasons of breakthrough… but those seasons were shorter-lived than you had hoped. And when they go back to old patterns, it feels like a truck load of bricks has crashed down on top of you, crushing your heart under the weight of unspeakable disappointment.
Maybe it’s an untimely death. You loved that person so dearly, and everything in you wanted them to live. But they died. And you loathe the fact that they are gone. You rehearse in your mind how they might have lived if… But inevitably, you are forced to come back to the reality that they died. And it hurts so badly.
Maybe it’s a lingering illness – yours or a loved one’s. You’ve done everything you know to do, and it’s still there. And people were so supportive and involved at first, but support slowed down over time. And you’re still left in this condition, wondering if it’s ever going to get better.
Maybe it’s the fact that your life has turned out so differently from what you pictured. You had a dream when you were younger, but it didn’t happen – and your life doesn’t look at all the way you thought it would by this age. You’re not where you thought you would be financially. You’re still single and thought you would have been married long before now. You’re still struggling with your weight after all these years. You still feel no sense of direction in your career.
Maybe it’s a wayward child. You weren’t a perfect parent, but you did the very best you could. And you had such high hopes for your child. But those hopes have been dashed. Your son or daughter is going down a path you never would have imagined. And it’s so painful to watch. You wish you could change the direction of their life, but you can’t.
Maybe it’s a hard marriage. You had hoped years ago that eventually things would get better, become easier. But it doesn’t feel like they have. The marriage you had hoped for feels nonexistent, like a naïve fantasy.
Whatever it is, it’s ongoing. You can’t escape it. It’s a thorn in your flesh. You’re not consumed by it 24/7 – life must keep going. But it’s always there. It sits just beneath the surface. And when given the chance, the sheer thought of it brings the tears so easily. You work very hard to avoid this because the pain runs so deep. But sometimes, you just can’t hold it back. It demands a voice.
What are we to do with such deep disappointment? What are we to do when pain lingers? What are we to do when our life reminds us, once again, that things are not as they should be?
Well, I think admitting our pain is a good place to start. Instead of avoiding the subject and trying so very hard to keep our heart from going there, maybe we ought to yield and follow our heart to this place of hurt.
It’s scary at first, but what do we really have to be afraid of? There is no fear in love (I John 4:18). And oh, how he loves us. Let the tears come. Tears are healing. And in our tears, we invite the Spirit into our place of pain. Sitting alone in our pain won’t do any good. No… we desperately need the Spirit’s presence.
He is able to take our ashes and transform them into something beautiful (Isaiah 61:3). And he will do this every single time, if we’ll just keep inviting him in.
And you know what else he promises to do? He gives us joy in place of our sorrow (Isaiah 61:3; Psalm 30:5). Joy is not a fleeting happiness that changes with the ups and downs of ongoing pain. Joy originates in God himself, and it springs up and grows even in the midst of long-term hardship.
We’ve got to keep grabbing hold of his grace as many times as we need it. And stop beating ourselves up for not being stronger. We don’t have to be strong. In our weakness, HE is strong (II Corinthians 12:9-11). And this painful constant in our lives keeps us desperate for him, which is not such a bad place to be.
Not only do we invite the Spirit into our pain, but we also choose to hand our disappointment over to him. We can’t bear it – and he never meant for us to. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We lay our disappointment at the foot of the Cross… and lay it down again every single time it re-visits us.
And we choose to fix our eyes on Jesus – to fully trust him as the Author of our story. To believe that he has not forgotten us, that he is fully aware of our situation (actually knows it better than we do), and that he IS at work even when we don’t see evidence of it. Just because we don’t see change in the natural realm doesn’t mean that the Spirit isn’t at work in incredible ways in the unseen realm. Beloved, only heaven will tell the glorious things God has been up to on our behalf in the unseen realm. He IS at work. We can rest in that.
And we choose not to be defined by our deep disappointment, but to be defined by him – the One who calls us
an overcomer (I John 5:4)
His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
reconciled to God (Colossians 1:22)
complete (Colossians 1:28; 2:10)
chosen of God, holy, and beloved (Colossians 3:12; II Thessalonians 2:13)
a child of promise (Galations 4:28)
a conqueror (Romans 8:37)
a son/daughter of God (Galations 3:26; 4:6-7; Romans 8:14)
I ask you, Father, to wash over the places of pain in our hearts. Give us the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Spring up inside of us with your unspeakable joy. Thank you for making all things new!
[See follow up post: Stop Waiting on Joy]
“I actually feel way dumber and more inadequate now than when I started.”
I said this in a recent conversation as I was discussing my experience as a graduate student. This was probably the first time I had actually said it out loud, though I’ve been feeling it from the moment I started. My words surprised the ladies I was talking to.
You see, there’s this perception that more education, and especially graduate education, increases someone’s intelligence exponentially. But the grad student knows that this is not the case. This perception is actually laughable to me.
And though some highly educated people act like know-it-alls, the reality is more like what my college professor said: “The higher you go in education, the dumber you’ll probably feel. You’ll be surrounded by seemingly smarter and smarter classmates the further you go, and you’ll be taught by more and more brilliant scholars. Yet you yourself won’t feel any smarter because of your studies – for there will always be sharper, better-studied people around you.” It made perfect sense when she said this, and now, many years later, it’s proving to be true.
I can’t necessarily speak for all grad students, but this has been my experience in seminary:
I haven’t become smarter by being a seminary student. Rather, I’m continually pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to trust God to come through for me. By his grace, I keep learning and writing and doing things that I feel totally unqualified to do. And the amazing thing is…He keeps coming through for me. Every. Single. Time.
I usually feel like the most unqualified student in any classroom – the biggest idiot of them all.
But this journey has taught me a few things…
First, I keep getting this sneaky feeling that I’m not alone in this notion of personal inadequacy. Many of my classmates feel the same way. We’re all stepping into new territory. Some just do it with more overt confidence than others.
And second: About that feeling of inadequacy… this journey has also unearthed for me a silent lie I’ve listened to my whole life. This lie has told me that other people always have the upper hand on me. In other words, I have approached every new obstacle in my life with this deep, but misinformed, conviction that I am somehow less able, less qualified, less equipped, and much more likely to be wrong and to fail than any of my peers. Seminary has not only unearthed this lie but has also given God instance after instance to refute it. In fact, he refutes it at the end of every paper, at the end of every presentation, at the end of every semester: I climb each new mountain, by his grace, and am stunned every single time that I actually can do this stuff after all. God keeps proving to me that the two of us can do anything. I don’t have to have the “upper hand” – I have him.
Third: I’m only going to scratch the surface in seminary. Seminary is simply equipping me with more tools in my toolbox. I will spend the rest of my life using these tools to know him more and to better understand his Word. I’ll have more questions than answers when I finish because the more I learn about him, the more I realize I don’t know. And that’s okay. Having all the answers was never the point in the first place. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
Fourth: God’s Word is so vast and deep. I will never exhaust its treasures. And I will never master its full meaning. I will never know all there is to know about the historical and cultural context in which the passages were written. I will never know with certainty why some passages read the way they do. I will forever be “unqualified” in this sense. But that’s okay too. God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called. And my obvious weakness will continually give him opportunities to show himself strong.
So yes, I’ve learned a whole lot as a graduate student. But as a result, I’m more aware than ever of how very little I know. And I’m totally okay with living in this paradox.
Yes, I’m talking to you. The one sneaking glances when you think your significant other isn’t watching. The one looking every place except the eyes when interacting with a woman. The one shamelessly going for the second, third, and fourth glance.
There’s a few things you ought to know…
First, we see you (we being the women you’re staring at). Your “secret” glances aren’t so secret. In all your perusing you forgot something: just because you broke eye contact with us doesn’t mean we broke eye contact with you. We see your eyes fall, and it feels awkward on our end. We’re left hanging in those moments as you obliviously gaze. We watch… and wait for you to snap back into the reality of our original interaction.
Second, we feel defiled. In general, women are very discerning. They easily pick up on unspoken variables, which means that most of them find it quite easy to tell when a man’s thoughts are X-rated. Women do want to feel beautiful and desirable – don’t get me wrong. And a man’s discreet, honorable response affirming our beauty is fine. The key words, though, are discreet and honorable. Some responses to beauty edify and honor women, while others degrade them and make them feel defiled. The former type is what the feminine heart was made for. [See the aside at the end of the post.]
Third, your significant other notices when you repeatedly stare at other women in her presence. Your gazing isn’t lost on the other woman, and it’s no secret to your wife either. She sees it. And it hurts. In fact, it feels like a knife in her heart, and the pain is accompanied by a lie whispered into her ear: You’re not beautiful. He doesn’t desire you. You don’t satisfy him. She has what you don’t. You’re not enough. She sees and is so deeply hurt by your wandering eye. Don’t be fooled if she pretends to be unaffected by it. She likely learned a long time ago to bury her hurt because, as she’s been told, “that’s just the way men are.” So over time she has lowered her expectations, having been convinced that she was wrong to have ever expected better.
Fourth, inside of your wife’s heart is a deep longing – for you to recognize and value her individual beauty and for you to be satisfied in it. Though she might have buried it long ago, it’s still in there. This longing of hers is first to be met by God himself. But you, by His grace, can also play an important role in meeting her heart’s desire. You can choose to rise up as an affirming voice in her life. Every time you choose not to gaze at another, you communicate to her that you are satisfied in her, that she is desirable, that she is enough. I realize that the mental battle men face is very real. And the honor with which God calls men to live is impossible with human strength alone. Thankfully, God offers his very own strength as the means of living with such honor. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Fifth, your wandering eye will only be tamed from the inside out. Transformation begins in your heart and your mind. Something has to rise up within you that wants to be a man of honor. And the Holy Spirit must be invited into the process. He’s the only One who can change anyone. What you feed your mind is also crucial. Watching porn is only adding to your bondage. Acting honorably is the overflow of thinking honorably. Purifying your inner life will naturally transform the rest of your life.
Sixth, this discussion applies just as much to single guys as it does to guys who are married or dating. Being single isn’t a license to look at whomever you want with whatever X-rated thoughts you want. Honor is the standard for every person, regardless of his/her context.
Seventh, it’s worth it. God’s ways satisfy. Pursuing inner wholeness is worth the time and effort. His Word wasn’t written to steal from us but to give to us. Pursuing him and yielding to his ways lead to joy. Cultivating a heart that is fully satisfied in God and fully satisfied in your spouse yields an abundant life. Instead of being caught in the trap of an untamed thought life which fights against your real-life relationship, you are free to actually be in the moment and enjoy the life God gave you to live. Lust is an endless cycle that always pulls a person back in because it never satisfies. God has so much more for us. He invites us not into a shameful fantasy world but into a real, abundant life.
I can hear what some of you are thinking in objection to what I’ve said: Many women send the opposite vibe of what you discussed as being a woman’s perspective. There are two factors to remember concerning this: First, this discussion is a woman’s perspective, not the final and exhaustive perspective of all women. Second, and more importantly, we live in a fallen world which is home to many wounded women. When women are wounded, one of the most common manifestations of their brokenness is dysfunctional relationships with men. Some subject themselves to controlling and abusive relationships because of their wounds. Others thrive off of seduction, promiscuity, and degrading attention from men because of their lack of self worth. A woman who seeks such devaluing, negative attention from men is acting from woundedness, not from her God-given desires.
This discussion has no goal of diminishing a righteous appreciation of beauty or attractiveness in the opposite sex. God created men and women with the ability to recognize and enjoy beauty in each other, and the human eye is naturally drawn to things and people that are beautiful. It’s when the thought life moves beyond recognition and appreciation into the world of defilement that we cross the line. People are not objects to be used, nor are they to be subjected to someone’s twisted, sinful imagination. We are each made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and, therefore, ought to be treated and thought of with honor. It is truly a beautiful thing when one person’s attractiveness arouses an honorable response in the other.
Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
Jealousy. It’s one of the deadliest poisons in the universe. And while it can be quite easy to spot in others, it can function so subtly within our own hearts that we fail to discern it. This is partly what makes it so poisonous. It can drive a person’s life without ever being recognized for what it is.
It rears its ugly head when we hear about a coworker’s promotion and are immediately outraged inside, thinking of reasons why he didn’t deserve it. It pops up when our friend steps into a season that we’re still waiting to enter. She gets pregnant. He finishes grad school. She gets married. They buy a beautiful house. Our hearts will secretly loathe this person’s new season because it’s a reminder that we’re still waiting. And we’ll think of a hundred reasons why we deserve to take that next step more than they do. This spirit also makes itself known when favor shines on someone around us while we continue to go unnoticed. We’re doing the same things, we say to ourselves. In fact, I’m doing these things better than so-and-so. So why are they in the spot light? Why are they moving forward while I’m stuck? Then there are the times we experience hard circumstances. We compare our lives to that one person who never seems to have anything bad happen to them. Ugh! I wish for just one day the she wouldn’t look so beautiful! I wish, just once, they actually had to experience what tight finances feel like. On and on we go…
Jealousy can be especially strong when someone is within our own field of expertise or passion. It’s one thing to admire and perhaps envy qualities in another person that are completely different from yours. I wish I could sing like her. I wish I were athletic like he is. I wish I were smart like her. It can be much more intense though when the person has the same gifts as ours. It can lead to an entirely new level of comparison. We are tempted to evaluate ourselves based on how “they” are doing. We admire their gifts because they’re the same as our own, but we don’t want their gifts to shine brighter than ours. We want the edge.
This jealous thinking is rooted in a very specific lie: “There’s only so much [favor, promotion, destiny, beauty, fill-in-the-blank] to go around. So other people’s victories are lessening my chances.” I doubt that anyone has ever said these words out loud. But in their hearts, those under the sway of this jealous spirit believe this. Otherwise, her gifts wouldn’t be such a threat. His favor with the boss wouldn’t get under your skin. Her beauty wouldn’t be so annoying. Their happy marriage wouldn’t be so hard to watch. Their thriving ministry wouldn’t be so difficult to celebrate. When we believe that there is a limited supply of God’s goodness and blessing, we see other people’s successes as threats. There’s only so much pie, and they just took a big slice. This thinking occurs on both the individual and corporate level. Entire organizations can be fueled by a jealous spirit.
But the truth is, God is limitless. His love, power, goodness, favor, and blessing know no bounds. His glory upon one person’s life doesn’t in any way leave less glory for another’s. Besides, it’s HIS glory anyway. Can’t he do with it what he wants? It’s HIS story, not ours. And he truly treasures each of us. We can’t begin to understand his love for us. He has a unique way of revealing himself through each and every one of us. Our life doesn’t look like so-and-so’s because it’s not supposed to!
If only King Saul had understood this. His story could have turned out so differently. He was anointed as King of Israel (I Samuel 9) but was never willing to fully obey God. He thought his ideas were better than God’s. So God rejected him and anointed David as king instead – the least likely candidate. Saul’s envy burned. After all, Saul stood a “head taller” than everyone else. David was a small, young, insignificant shepherd boy. How dare God choose him over me! So Saul spent years pursuing David with evil intent. Jealousy drove his life, and his story ended very badly (I Samuel 31).
This is a great picture of what jealousy ultimately does to a person. Given free reign in our hearts, it will snuff out life completely. The wages of sin is death.* We will never get anything in return for jealousy except death. That death may not be physical, but it is death nonetheless. “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30).
This scripture offers an antidote to envy: a heart at peace. This kind of heart is convinced of God’s deep love – his deeply individual and passionate love. And it’s a heart at rest, a heart that is free to watch God’s story unfold without comparing it to the story he’s unfolding for others. It’s a heart fully aware that many hidden factors play into individual blessing. I once heard a preacher say, “Don’t judge the size of my harvest until you’ve seen the size of my seed.” We have no idea the tears, patience, prayers, resources, money, and waiting that someone has sown into his/her current blessing. A heart at peace recognizes that people have tapped into varying depths of treasure in their secret life with God.
This scripture also serves as a guardrail. A heart at peace must be the standard for one’s inner life. Asking ourselves some questions can be helpful as we monitor the condition of our hearts:
Am I able to genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice, or do I find fault with those who rejoice because I’m threatened by their blessing? Scripture urges us to rid ourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (I Peter 2:1). I don’t think it’s accidental that envy and slander are listed side by side. People who envy tend to slander. Someone mentions what God is doing at another ministry, and the immediate response is to criticize that ministry and trivialize its victory. Another person’s promotion comes up in conversation, and the reply demeans the promoted person.
Am I more concerned about God’s Kingdom story being told in my life, or am I driven by selfish ambition? “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). This pairing of envy with selfish ambition does not seem accidental, either. If you writhe with envy, you will also be driven by selfish ambition. You will always be promoting yourself, seeking your own advancement, and looking out for number one. You will even try to suppress others (especially if you happen to be in a position of leadership) as an attempt to secure your place. This gets tiring – and can’t be done with honor, which is why it inevitably entails “disorder and every evil practice.”
Am I striving to make things happen on my own, or am I resting and allowing God to open doors for me? This tiring lifestyle of “working your way up” and pursuing things in the flesh is the antithesis of how God brings promotion to his children. Thinking that if you work hard enough, connect with the right people, and build your network, you can get where you want to go is faulty on so many levels. God gives to his beloved while they sleep (Psalm 127:1-2).** As we rest in him, he promotes, he opens doors, he unveils his glory upon our lives. The whole idea of networking is laughable. It usually refers to an attempt to get to know the “right people” and then use them as tools to further your own goals. Ladies and Gentlemen, if we’re in Christ, we’re already “networked” with the highest authority in the universe! He is unstoppable, all-powerful, limitless in love, and is completely FOR US (Romans 8:31). That’s the only connection we need. And yes, people will play a role in our Kingdom story – but God can be trusted to bring about those divine connections without any striving or scheming on our part. [I could break out in a dance right now.]
Beloved of God, there is a better way than jealousy. Let’s choose it. Let’s choose to believe that God loves us – outrageously, unimaginably, insanely – and that he is for us. That he has already written a better story for our lives than even our best attempts could ever dream of. That other people’s blessings have no bearing on God’s heart to bless my life. That there is enough of God to go around. MORE than enough.
*This link offers a fuller description of the sin=death principle.
**Most translations read, “for he grants sleep to those he loves.” However, the wording used in this post is more congruent with the Hebrew text as well as with the context of the Psalm as whole. Hebrew-savvy speakers preach the passage this way for this reason. Nearly the same idea is conveyed with the more widespread translation, but this wording (gives to his beloved while he sleeps) conveys the idea more sharply.
I hear people complain from time to time about the seeming absence of God’s voice in their lives. They’ll hear stories of God clearly revealing himself to someone and then respond that they don’t have any stories like that… or ask, “Why does he never do that kind of thing for me?” Though we all, in certain seasons of our lives, may experience what feels like distance from God or silence from God, what I sense in most of these interactions is not this relational ebb and flow. Rather, it seems to reveal a misinformed perspective with which many people view God.
This perspective expects God to offer the deepest parts of himself to perfect strangers. While it’s true that God knows each of us through and through (after all, he is God), the same cannot always be said of us knowing him intimately. To expect him to unveil pieces of his heart to strangers – who may or may not have any desire what-so-ever for them – is unfounded.
We have words for people who offer intimacy to strangers. And they aren’t good. There’s a reason why prostitution is stigmatized. It goes against something we all know in our hearts to be true: intimacy is not for strangers. It is meant for the context of loving relationship – covenant relationship,* to be exact.
God has placed this truth in each of our hearts because we all, as human beings, are made in his image (Genesis 1:27). Women bear this part of God’s image in a unique way. John and Stasi Eldredge capture this beautifully in their book Captivating. “Just like God, a woman is not a problem to be solved, but a vast wonder to be enjoyed. She yearns to be known and that takes time and intimacy. It requires an unveiling. After she is sought after, she reveals more of her beauty. As she unveils her beauty, she draws us to know her more deeply.”
This is even illustrated in a woman’s sexuality. In the context of pursuit and intimacy, she is free to unveil more and more of herself because it is safe to do so. [This is why today’s “casual” sex culture is so destructive. It goes against our very nature. God didn’t make sex casual. It is an intimate act that involves our spirit, soul, and body and was designed to glue two people together for life.]
A woman’s revealing of herself in the context of intimacy reflects God’s character and the ways in which he chooses to unveil his deepest secrets. “God yearns to be known. But he wants to be sought after by those who would know him.” You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings (Proverbs 25:2). Do not give to dogs what is sacred, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet… (Matthew 7:6).
This rings in my ears when I hear people accusingly complain about their lack of intimate moments with God. More times than not, people are expecting him to be a harlot. They are prioritizing their flesh more than their spirit (I hope to write more on this later) and generally living with a disinterest in the things of God. And God is no harlot. He will not throw himself at people who have no desire for him, who don’t prioritize him, who see him as someone they’ll fit into their lives “if they can” and “when they have time.” Ouch. Haven’t we all fallen into that trap at times? God is never the one who drops the ball. We are the ones who too often crowd him out of our lives and fail to make room for intimacy with him.
What might it look like to seek him with our whole hearts and thereby gain access to his beautiful mysteries? Well, for starters, we ought to ask him to turn our hearts toward this life of intimacy, to stir up our desires for what he values. Only he can change our hearts. Another step toward this intimate connection is starting each day with him, even if it begins as just five minutes each morning. There’s something powerful about taking time to quiet ourselves in the morning, surrender the day to him, and invite him into the details.
Another step toward true intimacy is finding out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). We, by God’s grace, can grow in our sensitivity to what feeds our spirit instead of our flesh. For example, I am very careful with what I give an ear to. Whether it’s a movie, a song, a conversation, or anything else, I’m always attentive to the condition of my heart, and if I sense anything contrary to the Truth, I will turn off that movie, that song, etc. I have no interest in allowing lies to be spoken over my heart through media or circumstances of any sort. Just because a song has a pretty melody doesn’t mean it’s worth listening to. There was a pretty sounding country song I heard several years ago that began, “If I die young, bury me in satin…” As I listened to the lyrics, I sensed such hopelessness, which is the exact opposite of what Jesus offers. Unfortunately, it has a very pretty melody which I’m sure caused a lot of people to like it and listen to it repeatedly. No thanks! I don’t care how pretty a song sounds, I’m not having hopelessness sung over my life! “Same Love” is very similar, though the lie is not subtle at all: “I can’t change, even if I tried…” WHAT A LIE! Every person on the planet can change; it’s what Jesus came for!
I have also had some bad movie experiences where the story was subtly communicating a lethal lie, and I felt defiled after watching it (Philadelphia and Million Dollar Baby were two such movies) – to the point that I prayed over myself afterward, releasing my heart from any lie the enemy was trying to sow through the experience. I used to love the movie The Bridges of Madison County, but I don’t plan on ever watching it again because the story champions adultery and causes you to root for the other man. LIE, LIE,LIE. Now I’ve learned to just turn things off when I feel this way – and instead, to only allow things in that keep turning my thoughts and my heart toward the Lord – his goodness, his bigness, his miracle-working power.
[As a side note, I would just like to say this kind of sensitivity to the Spirit is the common denominator in everyone I look up to in the Body of Christ. Bill Johnson, Heidi Baker, Andrew Wommack, Joyce Meyer, and Christine Caine (among many others I greatly respect) all have the Kingdom as their number one pursuit. They often refer to the fact that they aren’t filling their minds with lifeless media intake and constantly feeding their flesh; rather, they are continually protecting their connection with God. And just look at the fruit. The miracles they see and the encounters they have with the Lord are not accidental. God is no harlot. They have prioritized intimacy with him, and he in turn as has entrusted them with great riches. This is why I completely disagree when people tell me that music and movies and TV shows have no effect on them spiritually (meaning they can hear filthy language, see risque sex scenes, and take in all the subtle lies and be completely uninfluenced by them). These same people have a pretty obvious lack of divine encounters and sensitivity to the Spirit. I’m not at all for legalism, nor am I saying that watching TV or listening to any secular music is bad altogether. What I am saying is that guarding our hearts is a must if we desire intimacy with the Father. Our Spirit must be fed more than our flesh. Being in covenant relationship with God means that our hearts want to make decisions that honor him and strengthen our connection with him, just like a marriage relationship.]
Making room for this intimacy with God is simply learning to put him first in every single part of our lives. We choose to seek God about everything, to hold nothing back from him (since he knows it all anyway). And we choose to keep moving toward him when we feel we’ve blown it and disappointed him. His grace empowers us to keep running into his arms when we fail instead of running away from him. Some of our most beautiful encounters with him are when we choose to actually believe that HIS LOVE IS UNFAILING and draw near to him in our mess. He’s after our hearts, not after our perfect behavior.
This deep intimacy is available to each of us. But for a relationship to be real, it has to be two-sided. We have to make room in our lives to get to know him – and then make choices that protect our connection. God is no harlot. He is a Groom pursuing his bride. He wants to be known but must be known in the context of intimacy.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
*A covenant relationship is one in which both sides willingly lay down their lives in order to love, serve, and better the life of the other. It is forever, and it means that each party is resolute in keeping his/her side of the commitment, even if the other one fails. This is exactly how God relates to us. He always, always follows through on his part of the relationship!
[Thanks to John and Stasi Eldredge, whose writing inspired the title for this post.]
[I strongly encourage you to curl up with some hot chocolate as you read this letter.]
Dear Family and Friends,
What a year of jubilee 2014 has been. From exegesis papers to business trips, Hebrew flashcards to expense reports, this year has been a WILD ride. I feel like we’ve been flying downhill on a roller coaster, heads thrown back and arms in the air, since January 1st. It makes me giggle with joy just to think about it.
We dove into the deep end with demanding work and school schedules for the first several months of this year. During this time we celebrated Andrew’s 30th birthday, as well as Martin Luther King Day and Groundhog Day, all while juggling the intensity of work, school, subbing, meetings, daily exercise, and maintenance of personal hygiene.
I ended my super busy semester with a bang by hopping a plane to Hawaii. My, my… what a fabulous trip! The beaches were breathtaking, the food was mouth-watering… But what really knocked us off of our feet was the favor Andrew and I found with the hotel staff. Each day while we were out and about, the staff snuck and put fresh sheets on our bed and supplied us with new towels. I picked up on this after the first few days. We couldn’t get over such special treatment – and tried to be as discreet as possible so the other hotel guests wouldn’t grow jealous. It ended up being one of those defining moments in which one has to make a decision. “Hayley,” I said to myself, “you can either allow these fresh sheets to make you arrogant, or you can choose to walk in humility.” I chose humility. “For great is my reward in heaven!” The other hotel guests never even knew the difference. [I just got chills.]
Summer officially rolled around once we were back from our trip – and you know what that means. Time to change the filters and start using the AC again. Whew! These transitions throughout the year can really throw a lot at you! Especially when you add school work and your mom’s 60th birthday video shoots to the mix! But my world finally got settled again, and we were able to enjoy several summer getaways in the midst of all of my scholarly research. Primary source research was new territory for me, but I quickly got a handle on it and even feel competitive in my ability to navigate it now.
That reminds me of a sweet memory from when I was in the sixth grade. On honors day, I ended up receiving such a high number of awards that my principal asked me to just remain standing on stage so I didn’t have to keep walking back and forth. I heard later that this was the first time a Gable student had ever been asked to remain standing on stage. Wow. It was so rewarding for my brilliance and uniqueness to be recognized. How humbling!
This year I realized that my Kohl’s anointing (i.e. my supernatural bargain gift that manifests every time I shop at Kohl’s) is more than a simple Kohl’s anointing. It’s much bigger than that. It’s been manifesting for me in so many different ways and places that I have had to broaden my understanding of it. It has shown up, for example, even in our oil changes. Andrew and I discovered a place on the east side that “tops him off” before he needs a full-fledged oil change – and charges very little to do it! Just a glimpse of this bargain anointing in action. It has also manifested itself through Old Navy Rewards points. We simply charge large purchases on our Old Navy Card and thereby earn rewards which can be redeemed at GAP, Old Navy, or Banana Republic! I ended up getting a beautiful navy jacket FOR FREE because of these wonderful rewards. The magnitude of this bargain anointing is blowing my mind. I am at a loss for what to call it. There’s something mysterious about it. For now, I still refer to it as either my Kohl’s anointing or simply my bargain anointing.
And speaking of anointing, the Catching Squad which God birthed through Andrew and me last year has FLOURISHED this year! We have grown in both our number of catchers as well as each catcher’s “catch capacity,” as well call it. On more than one occasion, I have spontaneously caught 300+ pound individuals, who do not even attend Evangel might I add. God moved unexpectedly, and BAM! That’s why we stand by our motto: “You have to be ready in season and out of season.” Andrew and I picked that motto when we first started the Catching Squad. It has proven to be so appropriate – and so prophetic!
By now I’m sure you’re down to your last sip of hot chocolate. So I’ll leave you with this simple but spectacular Christmas quote: “Jesus is the reason for the season!”
Hayley and Andrew
“Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me. There’s no need to cover what I already see.”
I was undone from the very first line. And months later, I’m still undone. Every single time I hear this song. I could write and write about all that these lyrics say of God’s heart. But instead of writing and writing, I simply invite you to listen to this song and let the Holy Spirit sing over you.
This is the Father’s heart: unhindered intimacy with His children, all barriers removed. Let everything within us say ‘yes’ to this invitation.
Out of Hiding (Father’s Song) by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook
Come out of hiding
You’re safe here with Me
There’s no need to cover
What I already see
You’ve got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You’ve been on lockdown
And I hold the key
‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that I was thinking of
When I rose from the grave
Now rid of the shackles, My victory’s yours
I tore the veil for you to come close
There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore
You’re not far from home
I’ll be your lighthouse
When you’re lost at sea
And I will illuminate
No need to be frightened
No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me
‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that I was thinking of
When I rose from the grave
Now rid of the shackles, My victory’s yours
I tore the veil for you to come close
There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore
You’re not far from home
Keep on coming
And oh as you run
What hindered love
Will only become
Part of the story
Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to Me
Let it die.
God has been saying this to me in recent days concerning a specific part of my life.
Sometimes there are things in our lives we’re determined to keep alive when it’s actually time for them to die.
Isn’t this too often the case with past offenses and disagreements? Months and even years after a negative experience with someone, we still relive the whole thing in our minds as if it happened yesterday – or worse, we continue to retell it as if it happened yesterday. This is a snare to which many of us fall prey when we experience conflicts that never get fully resolved or don’t get resolved in the way we think they should. Oftentimes, the person never even realizes what he/she did wrong, and therefore, never takes ownership of it, and therefore, never acknowledges it. No apology. No remorse. No request for forgiveness. Nothing.
Because of this perceived (and perhaps real) injustice, we feel justified in holding the offense against them. The justification can feel even stronger when the offending party is a fellow believer. After all, she, of all people, should have known better! So we sit in our self-justified resentment and unleash our minds to relive events, stir up emotions once more, and reinforce our rightness and their wrongness. Around and around we go, all the while trying to convince others that we “have forgiven them.”
It’s an inner cycle with which too many of us are all too familiar. We are annoyed when we see the pattern in others. “Here we go again. She’s going to tell another story about being a victim,” we think to ourselves. All the while we fail to recognize the same pattern in ourselves. It’s easy to let go of other people’s offenses for them. Not so with our own. Our grip gets a little tighter when we have our own offenders.
So what is the antidote for this hidden and life-zapping cycle?
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18-19
Forgiveness is an essential in turning the tide of our inner life. I’ve learned that forgiveness is something we can extend, by our will, in Jesus’ Name and that it is also something that manifests itself over time. It’s okay if we simply forgive by our will at first, to start the process. Then we keep pressing into God, asking Him to align our hearts and our emotions with forgiveness – to give us His heart toward the person, to uproot any seed of resentment and bitterness, and to complete His work of forgiveness in our hearts. I’ve learned that we can’t force our emotions to change. Nor can we change our own hearts. These are works of the Holy Spirit. What we can do is keep inviting Him in to cleanse, release, and shape our hearts so that they increasingly align with His. He is able to do what we, in our own strength, could never do. He is also endlessly patient with us, desiring that His work be completed in us more than we could ever desire it.
* I feel the need to say at this point that forgiving someone does not mean that you trust the person. Forgiveness is a gift, but trust is earned. Some people will earn our trust again, but some people in our lives were never meant to be trusted in the first place.*
Along with forgiveness comes another essential: forgetting the past. Not “forgetting” as it is usually understood, but rather, a releasing of past experiences to the Lord. We give them to God, lay them at the altar, and relinquish our “right” to hold onto them any longer.
Why do we release them to God? Not to let the other person off the hook. Not to say that what they did wasn’t a big deal. Not to condone unjust treatment. Nor to become best friends with our offender. No. We release them to God so that our hearts are free. Free to live the abundant life that God has for us NOW. To be Kingdom-minded is to be fully present, ready to embrace what God is doing in the here and now.
How will we ever discern God’s voice and sense what He is doing in the present if we keep clinging to negativity from the past? How much time do we waste reliving old offenses that we supposedly have forgiven? How much breath do we waste retelling the stories of what “they” did to us? How much energy do we waste trying to prove the rightness of our position in past conflicts and attempting to gain recruits for “our side”?
We’ll miss the life he has for us today if we keep spending all of our energy on the past. Let’s choose, as sons and daughters of God, to forgive past offenses, release them to God, and experience the abundant life He’s inviting us into NOW.
Stop reliving the past.
Stop retelling the story.
Let it die!
The Holy Spirit is the greatest gift we’ve been given as believers, and yet, masses of people live as if they have no access to Him. They are unaware of the here-and-now, living, deeply personal ministry of the Holy Spirit. They’ve been taught to settle for a God that’ll get you into heaven but pretty much leaves you on your own for everything else. This is the exact opposite of how God actually works.
One of my favorite passages is in John 16:12-15 when Jesus says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
This passage is LOADED with everyday, ongoing, easily-accessible, yet life-changing promises of God. When God began speaking to me concerning this passage several years ago, He pointed out four specific things to me that the Holy Spirit is continually doing for me, if only I have ears to hear and a heart to discern:
1. He is guiding me into ALL truth. I stress the “all” in this scripture because it’s an unbelievably vast statement Jesus made. ALL truth is an inclusive phrase that encompasses every single part of my life. Too many people, for whatever reason, have a discouragingly narrow understanding of what type of truth the Holy Spirit would reveal. They believe that all He ever does is give people “warm fuzzies” when they read certain scriptures and bring conviction to draw people into salvation and save them from hell. What a sad perspective! If that’s all the Holy Spirit ever did, life as a Christian would be pretty boring. (And honestly, most of the bored Christians I know have this kind of understanding of the Holy Spirit.) Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is unfathomably deeper and vaster than people have ever understood Him to be or given Him credit for. He doesn’t just “lead us into truth” about how to go to heaven or how to be forgiven by God; He leads us into truth about our daily lives: which job offer is best to take, whether it’s time to move forward with a dream, when it’s the right moment to confront an issue in a relationship, which people to stay away from, and which items to cut from our schedule when our plates are too full. He cares about ALL of it and is leading us into truth in ALL of these intricacies of our lives, if we’ll only take time to listen to Him.
2. He is speaking to me what He hears. The Holy Spirit is speaking to us everyday. I believe that the Holy Spirit is pursuing and speaking to every person on the planet, every single day. God desires that NONE would perish but that ALL would have life by coming to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So clearly the Holy Spirit is speaking not only to the redeemed but is also speaking to non-Christians, drawing them to God’s heart. This, of course, is heightened and more easily discernible (or should be), in the life of the redeemed because the Holy Spirit is actually living inside of them. His voice often remains difficult to perceive even for Christians when they are living and thinking according to the flesh and are not walking in the Spirit (renewing their mind by being in the Word, intentionally turning their thoughts and affections towards Him, living in a posture of worship, etc.). For believers, though, hearing the Spirit’s voice is sweet, life-giving, and addictive. You grow in your recognition of His voice as you desire it more and give greater place to it in your life.
3. He is telling me what is yet to come. This is one amazing promise! As children of God, we don’t have to wander around aimlessly, unable to discern what God is doing or when something major is about to happen. The Holy Spirit is so sweet in the way He gives us unctions about things that are about to happen. This forewarning/expectancy He stirs in us prepares us for what’s ahead, be it something good like a long desired breakthrough, or something hard that we’ll need His strength for. He gives insight into both positive and negative future happenings. It isn’t one or the other. But there is always purpose in His revealing something to us ahead of time. It isn’t simply to wow us. It is often a prayer directive (our prayers can play a part in seeing the thing manifest, come to a head, etc.) or an anchor of hope that assures us the breakthrough is coming. Even when it’s a forewarning of something hard, the Holy Spirit always speaks in a way that brings peace; He does not stir up fear and is not the author of confusion. Those are from the kingdom of darkness.
4. He is taking from what belongs to Jesus and making it known to me. Wow! In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)…and Jesus promises us in the passage that the Holy Spirit is accessing those treasures and making them known to US! There is a depth and a beauty and a mystery to this promise that can’t be put into words. I have access to everything that’s inside of Christ???? It’s a privilege beyond comprehension that very few of us have even begun to tap into. This stirs such expectation in my heart as I get into the presence of God: the cure for cancer is hidden inside of Jesus, the cure for AIDS, the answer to that business issue, the strategy to rebuild that broken relationship, the creative idea that can take a ministry to the next level, the words to pray that will break the yoke of bondage over a person’s life, the song to sing that will cause Jericho’s walls to fall, the response that will run strife out of the room and restore peace, the story to share that will ignite fresh hope inside of a person, the gift to bless someone with that will speak right to their heart and restore their faith, …the revelation to which we have access in Christ is ENDLESS!
I have so many awesome stories of how the Holy Spirit has done each of these things in my life. I plan to share some of them in my next post.
Ten years ago today, May 25, 2004, I walked across the stage at my high school graduation. In a way, it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long because the time has passed so quickly, and I still have so many vivid memories from high school. But then again, it also feels like it’s been an eternity since then. So much has changed. I don’t think any of us had a clue that night what we were embarking on as we left our familiarity of the last thirteen years of school.
Sadly, some people for whom I had high expectations have surprised me by not living up to their potential. People who had a real heart for God in middle school and high school got caught up in the darkness of our culture and started blending in with the world instead of being a voice for the Kingdom. Others who are so brilliant have allowed their minds to sit on the shelf because of the scary and destructive paths they have taken with drugs and alcohol. Some have even lost their lives on the journey since high school. The disappointments make my heart ache. Oh, but how big, redeeming, and kind our God is! It’s NEVER too late for God to invade a life and transform it – to resurrect dead places in a heart and call to life the dreams He placed in a person as a child. This is my prayer over our graduating class… that we would come to know God as He really is, be transformed by His saving love, and walk in our true identity as sons and daughters of God! Let it be so, Lord!
On the other hand, some classmates have pleasantly surprised me by coming into their own over the last ten years. They have found their niche and are pursuing things that no one in high school would have ever guessed! I have loved watching this! People have gone to great colleges that seemed out of their reach at Dorman and have done incredibly well. Others have excelled in starting careers which they enjoy and for which they are really gifted. And others who seemed to struggle with weight in grade school have had some kind of awakening and are in the best shape of their lives. Some who seemed to struggle in one way or another with the dating scene in high school have met their match and are happily married now. And perhaps my personal favorite has been watching the girls (and I suppose guys too) that got overlooked in high school because they were “plain” or simply didn’t hang out with the “right” people (such a stupid lie that high schoolers believe) blossom into these drop dead gorgeous women! The “ugly duckling turning into a swan” story really does happen! On a side note, so does the opposite story; some who were “swans” in high school grow into not-as-cute “ducklings.” Sad, but true!
Another neat experience I have had since graduation is getting to know people I attended Dorman with but yet didn’t really know in high school. There are so many classmates that I’ve connected with more since graduation than when we were actually in school together. It’s been a neat experience. I think it’s easier to connect with some people once you’re past school because a lot of the artificial barriers of high school are removed. Through several of these connections, I’ve seen that many of the most overlooked, “hidden” people at Dorman were actually the greatest treasures of our graduating class. I see God in that in a beautiful way.
As I look back to our high school days and think about all that has transpired over the last decade since we finished, I can only be grateful. Grateful for the people God has brought into my life and grateful for the beautiful story He is telling. And the story isn’t finished yet!
Since starting seminary about year and a half ago, I’ve picked up on some common misperceptions people have about it. For whatever reason, the ones I’ve encountered repeatedly started running through my mind recently…and I realized that it was worth writing about, in hopes of dispelling some of these widely believed myths.
Misconception #1: Everyone who goes to seminary wants to be a “preacher.”
This is probably the response I hear the most often when someone hears about what I’m studying. The conversation usually goes something like this:
“Oh, what are you in grad school for?”
“Well, I’m in seminary…”
And before I even have the chance to elaborate comes the reply,
“Oh! You want to be a preacher?!”
Then I take a few minutes to clarify the different capacities in which one can serve and minister, depending on which particular seminary degree one chooses to pursue. This preacher response cracks me up – first of all, because “preacher” isn’t a term I tend to use. I usually say “pastor,” “speaker,” “minister,” etc. Not that anything is wrong with saying “preacher.” It’s just never been a term that I’ve used. I do think the term is too narrow of a description of what various ministers actually do. Preaching/speaking might be a regular part of their ministry, but studying, writing, serving people in tons of practical ways, counseling, administration, and many other tasks are also important parts of ministry.
Among my seminary classmates, there are equal numbers of people pursuing teaching, writing, and general ministry with their seminary degrees as there are people pursuing the stereotypical pastor (“preacher”) role. I happen to fall into the teaching-writing-general ministry category. God might surprise me, but I personally have no aspirations of being a pastor or even associate pastor of a church. My heart is in the college sector. I am very drawn to college chaplaincy, teaching on the college level, and writing in general. I also know some seminary students who are pursuing their degrees simply for a deeper understanding of their faith and in order to be better equipped to engage in effective conversation with non-Christians in their spheres of influence.
All of these various aspirations are valid, well-represented reasons for attending seminary.
Misconception #2: Women don’t belong in seminary.
I won’t go into my full treatise here. 🙂 In a nutshell, women holding leadership roles in the church and in ministry in general is a precedent set in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, one of the most emphatic statements about God’s heart toward women leaders/ministers is found in John 20:11-18. The Resurrected Christ chose to reveal Himself FIRST to a woman – and in a culture that kept women in an extremely subordinate role to men. If this weren’t enough already, He also instructed her to go tell His brothers (the MALE disciples) the good news of His resurrection. The Resurrected Christ is the message of the Gospel; Jesus entrusted that universe-shaking message first to a woman and instructed her to share it with others, namely, men. This eliminates any room for a mindset that will allow women a tiny morsel of ministry opportunity (bake sales and stuffing newsletters) but asserts that they can’t teach or preach (or if they do, it can only be to children or other women…it’s amazing the rules people come up with!).
The fuller treatment of this topic is in my paper, but bottom line: women absolutely have a place in seminary. This is part of the reason why I chose to pursue my seminary education at Gordon-Conwell. It’s an interdenominational school that recognizes the important leadership roles women play in ministry. Most seminaries are full of white, middle class men. One that I considered before Gordon-Conwell fit this description precisely. But at Gordon-Conwell, women have a strong presence. And not just white women. African Americans, Asians, and many other nationalities and ethnicities are well represented. I absolutely LOVE that! It’s a picture of what heaven is going to be like: a beautifully diverse assembly of the redeemed – with none of these man-made, arbitrary segregations that so often plague earthly institutions.
Misconception #3: Seminary is like an ongoing church service or Bible study and is not academically demanding.
This one makes me laugh every time! No one would actually say this out loud, but over time it’s become easy to tell when this is someone’s perception of seminary. Half of the general population has no idea what seminary is; and most of the ones who have a roundabout idea of what it is picture us constantly praying over one another, singing songs, and talking about what a Scripture “spoke to our heart.”
[Insert the Family Feud buzzer sound here!] That is not at all what seminary is like! While we (and I can only speak for GC) do stress our individual relationships with God, prayer, and encouragement, we also are constantly being pushed out of our comfort zone academically. Master of Divinity students in our program spend five semesters on Greek and five on Hebrew. That alone is practically a full time job. Learning ancient languages isn’t quite like singing a worship song. And the ten semesters (four of which can overlap) spent on ancient languages is just one part of the M. Div program. We are also being trained in the areas of theology, world religions, practical ministry issues, leadership, church history, missions, social class-related issues, primary source research (what I’m diving into this summer) for Old and New Testaments, exegesis of the Scriptures, and the list goes on and on and on. And besides writing papers, etc., each course has an average of 2,000 pages of reading per semester.
I list all of these things simply to illustrate the point that three classes per semester is easily a forty hour a week job. So when some people have looked at me with a puzzled face when I say that I transitioned out of full time work to do seminary, it’s obvious to me that they have no idea how demanding it is. I am a rare seminary student in that I am, for the most part, solely focusing on full time school. Most of my classmates have children and full time jobs, besides ministry responsibilities. Those students tend to take between five and ten years to finish an M. Div degree (which is a three year degree if you take a full load year-round). I am tremendously blessed to be in the position I am – having a completely supportive husband, no children, and the freedom to pursue school full time.
Misconception #4: Seminary is THE qualifying factor for ministry – anyone without an accredited seminary degree would be a second-tier minister.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Above all, a pure and passionate heart for God is the central “qualifier” for ministry. Seminary definitely has its place, and I would encourage every believer to pursue theological education of some sort. But seminary can’t anoint someone for ministry any more than listening to Hillsong everyday can make someone an awesome worship leader. These types of gifts and callings are birthed through a living, breathing relationship with God, not through academic degrees. An academic degree can sharpen gifts that are already present and can establish a firm foundation of knowledge to better equip one for ministry. In increasing a person’s knowledge base, it can also increase his/her validity and influence in non-Christian academic conversations, as well as among other Christians who simply can’t articulate their faith the way the educated person can. Clearly, seminary can be a huge asset to a person whose heart is already on fire for God. It adds knowledge to his/her zeal (Proverbs 19:2).
But if someone enters seminary without passion for God, they probably won’t have passion once they graduate either. If they enter as a terrible speaker, they will probably still be a terrible speaker when they finish. If their fire wasn’t burning for God before they started, it isn’t going to magically ignite while they attend classes. The call to ministry is about the heart and about one’s ongoing connection to God. It is for this very reason that so many “seminary graduate” pastors are as dead as a door nail. You can have all the degrees you want and still be unable to hear God’s voice, still not have any revelation of the Father’s heart, and still live with a hard heart. I’ve seen people like this. It’s very sad. And what is sadder is that lots of churches would still pick the person with the degree over the person with the right heart.
On the flip side, there is also a stream within the church that sees seminary as dubious altogether. These people are on the opposite end of the spectrum from the degree-obsessed Christians. Those who look on seminary with suspicion are often the flaky Pentecostal type. They say things like “Don’t go to seminary. You’ll lose the anointing.” The reason they probably say this is because of the phenomenon I was talking about earlier: seminary educated ministers who have completely intellectualized their faith and give every indication that they are spiritually dead. While there are certainly “dead” seminary graduates out there, there are also passionately alive ones. The being dead or being alive goes back to the heart, not to seminary. So I certainly don’t agree with this opposite take on seminary education, either.
Misconception #5: You can check your discernment at the door in seminary; any good, Christian school is going to teach sound Biblical truth.
Yikes! It’s alarming to me how many Christians drink freely from any well they come across that calls itself “Christian.” Here’s a newsflash: only God gets it right 100% of the time. Any leader we ever listen to and any writer we ever read sees IN PART (I Cor. 13:9). That means that everything our pastor says needs to be weighed in with God’s Word, and every book we read needs to be read with alertness. God didn’t tell us to guard our hearts and our minds for no reason! We must be on guard because we are constantly being exposed to “second hand” information about God. Why would it be any different in seminary? It doesn’t matter how well a professor knows an ancient language; he does NOT have the monopoly on Truth!
I am so thankful that I went into seminary with this guardedness. It has served me well. I have had more than one experience in which I intentionally disengaged with what a professor was saying because I knew it to be untrue of God’s character. One such example had to do with sickness. This particular professor is a serious Calvinist (not to say that all Calvinists would agree with him on this point) and, to be quite honest, has a very twisted understanding of God’s goodness and how it manifests. He believes that God intentionally gives people sicknesses to accomplish purposes such as teaching them something, getting glory in some mysterious way, etc. People of his mind love to go to the scripture in Isaiah that says His ways are not our ways, as if that verse leads to an inevitable conclusion that “good” completely loses its meaning and actually means “terrible,” “sick,” or “evil” as it relates to God’s “goodness.” This kind of theology makes me sick to my stomach! An underlying message is sent, in discussions like this one, that God does not delight in doing good, joyous things in and through our lives – rather, He just wants to put us through trials to teach and humble us. He does not delight in victories or breakthroughs in our lives, or in anything else that brings us joy for that matter; He basically just wants to give everyone cancer or at least put them in their place through correction of some sort. This does not at all reflect the God revealed in the Bible! In seminary, as in every other place in this fallen world, we need to be armed with Spirit-led discernment. Chew up the meat; spit out the bones!
So Andrew and I were on a group date this past weekend and ended up in a conversation about exes. If I’m remembering correctly, it was Zaina who brought up the subject. Our spontaneous walk down memory lane brought to mind several stories I hadn’t thought about in years. I ended up having a sort of epiphany while I was listening to everyone: I realized I was dumped by almost every single guy I ever “went out with” before Andrew. None of these were real relationships and definitely fall into the puppy love category…but still, what a lightbulb! And how funny it is to look back on it all now.
Grab a chair. My pitiful romantic past might be just the pick-me-up you need.
Flashback to my kindergarten year: The first crush I ever had was when I was five years old [no, I didn’t waste any time]. This was a church boy that all the girls liked, and amazingly, he ended up liking me back. He even got me chocolates on Valentine’s Day, which really sealed the deal. Unfortunately, this euphoric romance was short-lived. It wasn’t two weeks until I noticed he was no longer paying me any attention. Then I saw him giving another girl gifts. She was older – must have been 8 or so – and stole him right out from under me.
First through third grade was a pretty dry season. I did have a huge crush on one of my classmates, but he was infatuated with another girl in our grade and didn’t even know that I existed. [See the picture below, and you’ll understand why the crush wasn’t reciprocated. Oh the infamous, hideous, third grade haircut. It was all my dad’s fault. He got the bright idea that we should go to Hair Plus at West Gate Mall and get me a new, “shaggy” style. The cut in this picture was the sad result. I looked like the boy from Home Alone 3 for about a year…and still couldn’t understand why boys didn’t like me! A sad, but true story…]
Then in fourth grade I ended up “going out” with one of my classmates. We were both PERK leaders, which meant we each led our respective classes in a morning dance routine. [Gotta love awkward elementary school clubs.] It was at PERK practice one day that everyone talked him into officially asking me out. He finally asked me in front of everyone, and I said ‘yes.’ This ended up lasting for about a year, which is like a decade in elementary school years, right?? We even went on triple dates to the skating rink with two of my friends and two of his. We might have even held hands. It was quite the romance. But then things started to fall apart. My family moved to Roebuck, which meant that I was no longer a student at Fairforest. One day after the move I got a call from him and after a few minutes of conversation, he gave the phone to his older brother who began explaining to me that his younger brother just didn’t think things with him and me were going to work out – I was at Roebuck now, he was at Fairforest…it just wasn’t going to work. I was shocked and disappointed. It was on a Wednesday, and I was about to leave for hand bell practice at church when this shocking and very sad phone call happened. Off to church I went. I remember being so sad while I was playing hand bells that night. I put up a strong front though – chiming away.
[What makes me laugh is how vividly I remember all of these things. It’s as if they happened yesterday. And I bet none of these guys remember any of this stuff.]
So after that sad breakup around the beginning of fifth grade, I just laid low for the rest of the year. Then something just happened in sixth grade. I was on fire. I can’t remember the precise order, but I think Tyler was first. He was this hotshot sixth grader [at a church we attended for a while] who ended up liking me [always such a shock]. We started “going out,” and I was on cloud nine. Then lo and behold, he shows up to Sunday School one day with another girl! Her name was Stephanie – ugh. Tyler and I never really talked again.
Soon after that, though, I rebounded and started “going out” with another church boy, Brandon. I remember him telling me at Wednesday night AWANA that we were “never breaking up.” That one lasted all of a week. Later that same year I went on the sixth grade beach retreat with church. I ended up hitting it off with this boy named Cody on the bus ride down. We laughed together for the entire ride, and by the time we got down to Myrtle Beach, we were officially “going out.” I was so excited! That same night, our group went to the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Cody wanted to ride everything, but I was afraid of roller coasters and wouldn’t ride anything scary. This other girl started doing the rides with him, and I could see sparks flying between them. I was furious. By the end of that night, they were going out, and I had once again been dumped. It made for a rough retreat, at least for the first few days. I was rooming with the other girl! Such deep agony.
In the midst of all the church romances, my real infatuation was with a boy at school. For all of sixth grade and most of seventh, I was completely obsessed with him. It was ridiculous – just ask my long time friends Shannon and Kayla. They were there for every pathetic second of it. I was a big list-maker for the longest time. I used to make lists for practically everything. And this sad crush was no exception. I would list “signs” (as I called them when explaining them to Kayla and Shannon) he had given me that he liked me back. I guess I thought that if I wrote them down, they would somehow build momentum and make something happen between the two of us. The list sounded something like this: “He joked with me in band today. He played with the keychain on my bookbag last week. He stood near me in line on the way to lunch yesterday. He looked at me when he walked by my lunch table.” [You can see we had LOTS of chemistry.] Bless my poor, middle school heart. All the while, he had his eye on “the pretty girl” in our grade. She was the one all the guys liked in middle school. There always seemed to be someone pretty that kept crushes out of my reach, dang it!
Eighth grade brought another church romance. Gotta love “going out” with someone when neither person can drive and the only chance you ever have to see each other is at church services and Sunday School. But it was a thrill for me as an eighth grader, nonetheless. So things were going good, and then I got a call about a week before Valentine’s Day. We were talking as usual, and then he got his friend, Zach, on the line. Zach lowered the boom on me much the way my fourth grade boyfriend’s brother had. Wow, this was awkward. And how convenient- a week before Valentine’s Day.
But I moved on to bigger and better things that next summer…or so I thought. A Dawkins boy had spotted me at this Junior Scholar event at the end of eighth grade. [My XL men’s denim button-up did him in.]
We ended up “talking” [still don’t quite understand what “talking” meant] that summer and even went on a real date, with his parents driving us to the restaurant and movie theatre of course. Somehow things fizzled quickly though – for one, he was a fast mover and unbeknownst to me, already had a sexual history and more than likely had expectations for our relationship that I clearly was not going to meet. He even moved in for a kiss DURING A SEX SCENE in the movie we went to see. I could see it coming before it even happened. What a stupid move. What a dork. Thankfully, that whole thing was over quickly.
Besides a few almost-romances, there was only one guy that I “talked” to in ninth grade. I don’t know what in the world I was thinking. I had no business talking to him. He was a lot like the Dawkins boy from the summer before. He had already been smoking weed and having sex [at least, it seemed pretty certain that he had]. This was not at all the kind of guy that was in my heart. But somewhere along the way between middle school and starting high school, I had begun to think that I may have to lower my standards if I was going to find someone. It seemed that guys who didn’t drink and didn’t have a sexual history were nonexistent. So I was talking to this guy and could have easily drifted to a place of compromise…
Then God swooped in.
I had my first real conversation with him in the spring of ninth grade. I had known who he was almost the entire year, but it wasn’t until the end of the year at Relay for Life that I actually talked with him at length. My friend, Becca, had been using a wheelchair for a few weeks because of a bad injury she got at Blue Belle tryouts. She was at Relay for Life that night with her wheelchair in tow. She wasn’t a fan of it, though, and it was left sitting vacant around the time that Andrew came around our gathering. He sat down in the wheelchair and asked me to take him for a ride around the track. I obliged, of course. I was no fool.
So we went around the tracks and began to talk. And we talked…. and talked…. and talked…. and talked. I could have stayed in that conversation all night. It wasn’t long after we rejoined the group that I had to head home. I left that night with something awakened in me. The guy that was in my heart actually existed! Suddenly I knew I had to end whatever was going on with that other guy. At the time, the idea that something might actually happen with Andrew and me was unfathomable. There’s no way a guy like that [handsome, all-star-athlete-type, upperclassman] would notice a girl like me. But at least now I knew that guys like that were out there, and that was enough to get me out of that would-be relationship and back to the place of my rightful standards.
That first conversation with Andrew was on a Friday night, and I broke things off with that other guy on Monday. [He got a Dear John letter.] Over the next few weeks, it seemed like something might be happening with Andrew and me… but because I had such doubts about myself, I figured it was probably just wishful thinking. But I prayed that a miracle would happen. On the last day of the school year [my ninth, his eleventh], I got my miracle. Much to my shock and delight, Andrew asked me our on our first date. It was surreal. And as they say, the rest is history…
God has used Andrew in unbelievable ways to speak His heart to me. He is an awesome husband, and being on this journey with him has been a dream come true… But beyond being such a gift in my life in general, God has used him in a tremendous way to reveal His heart for me, His pursuit of me, His delight in me. And Andrew has also helped me to see myself in a better, more truthful light. He has helped me to see beauty in myself that I didn’t believe was there. Comparing myself to other people had left me with a continual feeling that I didn’t measure up. But his constant, life-giving words over these years have begun to take root, and I’m learning to believe them more and more. His affirmation always points me back to God’s unfailing love and to the value and beauty He sees in me.
When I look back, I laugh hysterically at the randomness of my past attempts at romance. But I also have to thank God for ordering my steps and protecting me from things that could have easily come into my life and hurt me. All of the awkwardness and perceived rejections led me to the place I am today. And what my third grade, ugly-duckling heart was oblivious to I now see clearly: God isn’t waiting for us to fit into some artificial mold to see us as beautiful. We’re beautiful now – because we’re His.
Fairy tales do exist. And they were in God’s heart before they were ever in ours.
I think 2013 might be the hardest year I’ve ever had. On the last Sunday of 2012, a prophetic word was given during the church service about the year ahead. The part that really stuck with me was when Laurie (our pastor’s wife who was delivering the word) said, “It’s going to be hard.” She had so much conviction in her voice when she said it and sounded like she was near tears. The end of the word was very encouraging and said that if we would hold on to God through 2013 and keep pressing forward in Him despite the difficulties, He would back us up 110%. Something was also said about Him using the difficult year ahead to prepare us.
Man, has this word proven to be true!! I had an idea in my mind of what the “hard” of 2013 was going to be. I was counting on it being an amped up version of the conflicts that had been present in 2012 and prior (which mostly centered around relationships)….but my interpretation of what the word was referring to was totally off!! The hardness of 2013 went in a totally unexpected direction and, among other unexpected turns, brought many deaths, five of which hit particularly hard. The first was on January 31 (our youth pastor’s wife, Debora Bunch, who was only forty years old), the second was on April 8 (my sister’s best friend, Tara O’Neal, who was thirty-two), then came Suzan and Stan on September 29 and October 6 (Suzan was my mom’s cousin, and Stan was my uncle – my mom’s brother), and finally, a dear family friend, Joey Lathan, on December 23.
Needless to say, I’ve probably thought more about death this year than every other year combined. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. But it brought a heaviness to 2013 that I don’t remember ever having before, at least not for this long. God has definitely been my refuge this year, and I feel like I’ve just hidden myself under His wing. One reason these losses hit so hard was because they each were too young to die (from my perspective). I personally am not ready to even think about someone dying unless they’re at least 90. 🙂 So 40, 32, 49, 62, and 44 stung really badly. But I’ve certainly learned some things from all of this. For one, I realized that I had been counting on some things being guaranteed that, in actuality, are uncertain. I would have never been able to verbalize it, but I see now that in my heart I had always believed that “C” is the only possible and only correct outcome if a person has done “A” and “B.” God-honoring people are supposed to live long, healthy lives. Fervent prayer should always yield a miracle that brings the happy ending… But sometimes, life doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes we are left with gaping holes in our hearts that only God’s presence can fill. And even when he binds up our broken hearts, it doesn’t mean that we suddenly understand why the event happened. What it does mean is that we are convinced to the core of our being the He does love us, does know what He is doing, does have a beautiful plan in place to redeem all that’s gone wrong on earth, and does give us supernatural grace to continue to trust Him and to move forward in spite of our questions.
My cousin, Barry (Uncle Stan’s son), posted something recently on facebook that touches on this. He said, “Learning to orient myself to live full hearted in a world where we perish like dust is difficult.” How do we do that? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with this year. How do we live fully and enjoy the people God has put in our lives despite our awareness that our earthly lives are all coming to an end eventually? My only answer for that is that we must stay connected to the Holy Spirit, the Life-Giver. He’s the One who brings streams in the desert and life to the dead and dying.
A truth that touches on this is something I read by C.S. Lewis years ago. I loved it when I first read it but now have a deeper understanding of it and appreciation for it. He said something to the effect of “Only those who have stared death in the face and tasted its despair, darkness, and emptiness can actually live and truly laugh and have genuine joy.” He expounded so beautifully the way only C.S. Lewis can, and his point was that only those who have come to grips with the gravity of life here on earth can experience true light-heartedness and supernatural joy. When those people laugh and enjoy life, it’s real. It’s very different from the ignorant joy of a child who has yet to learn the sad realities about life on earth. They’re fully aware that life on this side of heaven is hard and death stings and we are left with questions – but are even more fully aware that God has met us in these lowly places with a redemptive plan that supersedes our earthly experiences. We can still laugh and live fully, in spite of losing people we love and in spite of our awareness of our own mortality, because we know that life on this side of heaven is only the beginning of the story. We have an eternal “happily ever after” to look forward to. (And just to be abundantly clear, I’m talking about those of us who have come into right relationship with God through Jesus. Have you done that?? The invitation is open…)
So after this past year, I am different. My heart has been changed for the better after 2013. I’m learning to walk in peace and total trust in God’s heart toward me in the midst of uncertainty. I’m seeing, too, how life on this side is a beautiful mixture of very hard, sad things and unbelievably wonderful things too. We don’t experience just the bad or just the good. We have to experience both, and oftentimes, good and bad are happening simultaneously. I remember feeling this strongly as I was flying out to California to meet up with Andrew for our anniversary trip. My heart was heavy part of the time as I thought about Tara being gone (it had only been a little over a month since she died)….and yet, I was thrilled to finally be going to California and to be celebrating five years of marriage with Andrew. It’s amazing how a heart can be heavy and happy at the same time!
I’m also learning to see life and loved ones as gifts. Rather than holding resentment against God over someone dying sooner than I thought they should, I should thank him for generously giving that person life in the first place. We had the gift of Debora for forty years, the gift of Stan for 62… and of course, the gift of our own lives. God wasn’t obligated to bring any of these people into our lives or to create any of us in the first place….yet He did. What an amazing gift!
Being close to so much death this year has also helped me to loosen my grip on dreams in my heart and things that I want to see God do. I still desire all those things…but I’m opening myself more and more to absolutely whatever God wants to do with my life. It’s His story, not mine. I also feel an urgency to stop waiting on the “right” conditions to pursue things God has put in my heart. We tend to put things off and put things off. What are we waiting for?? Realizing this is what helped push Andrew and me over the edge to commit to a mission trip in Nicaragua in 2014. I’ve wanted to go for so long, and there’s never going to be a better time than now. We are so excited about what God is going to do on the trip!
In the midst of 2013’s hard stuff, we’ve also experienced a lot of wonderful things, too. I began pursuing my seminary degree full time in January, we finally got to go to California together and hardly had to pay anything for it, God has continued to give Andrew favor on his job, and God brought me through a great first semester of Greek, not to mention some very personal desires of mine and Andrew’s hearts that have been met this past year. God is good! He has ministered to us as we’ve walked through hard circumstances this year and has showered us with His goodness along the way.
Over the last several weeks, I have felt the Holy Spirit renewing my excitement and giving me a sense of expectation for 2014. It’s been so refreshing to feel this way again. Until these last few weeks, I hadn’t felt this kind of excitement since before Debora Bunch died. I believe God is going to do some truly awesome things in 2014. This song is my prayer over the new year. It’s so anointed, and I love how God uses other people’s gifts (in this case, Kim Walker Smith’s) to give voice to things that are deep in our hearts. I encourage everyone to soak in this song and get it into your spirit for the coming year!
Dear Family and Friends,
I stand in utter amazement. Our 2013 simply could NOT have been any better.
We started the year off with the outrageous joy of welcoming our newest family member, Hershey (short for Sir Hershel Good-Boy Walden). He came to us weighing only a pound and a half but has since grown into a strong and commanding fifteen pounds. He has become the brother I never had, the dearest friend Andrew always wanted, and the confidant my parents have always prayed for, not to mention a role model to Dawn, Crissy, and Memaw.
It was on the heels of welcoming Hershey to our fold that we were overtaken by a breathtaking one-day blizzard in February. The snow started pouring as Andrew and I were on our way home from Starbucks that Saturday. We had no idea what we were in for. Within a few hours, our yard was transformed into a scene from The Chronicles of Narnia. We all gathered together to enjoy the snow- Robert, Kay, Dawn, Crissy, Andrew, and myself. We just basked in the glow of sweet, sweet family time. We built a snowman that stood so tall and powerful. It was priceless. We barely had time to blink, and then it was Presidents’ Day, a day I will always remember. I found deals at Goodwill that day that will go down in history. I actually went the night before just to browse, and while I was there found out that the entire store would be half off the next day for Presidents’ Day. I held onto my items until closing and then placed them where I could quickly get to them the next morning when the store reopened. I rushed there the next day and managed to recapture all of my items. Whew!!! What a sweet reward. Only God could have orchestrated such a magnificent story!
It was probably the Presidents’ Day victory that gave us the courage to let go of Andrew’s old Jeep and get his Tahoe in March. The Tahoe is so much nicer than the Jeep was; it’s black and holds twenty to twenty-five gallons of gas. It commands respect, which is so appropriate for Andrew. Not only did we get the Tahoe in March, but we also purchased a new bedspread! It is SO plush! What a month!
Summer travels kicked off when we whisked away to California in May. We did too many wonderful things there to fit into this letter; just know that we had the time of our lives. In June, I joined several other distinguished ladies in attending the Mercy Ministries banquet in Nashville. I got to meet Dodi Osteen and Dave Ramsey that night! What an honor. (I mean, I didn’t actually shake hands with them, but I saw them standing on stage from a distance and heard them talk, too. That’s practically meeting them.) After a trip to San Antonio and yet another golf victory for Andrew, the summer excitement gave way to fall.
It was around this time that God began birthing a dream in mine and Andrew’s hearts to start a catching squad at church. You just never know when God is going to knock someone out in the Spirit. For this reason, we feel called to be prepared at all times to catch people who fall. I’ve been doing extra push-ups each week, and Andrew has started a new Shawn T workout. Together, there’s no one we can’t catch! As of now, Andrew and I are Catching Squad captains in need of a team; so if you feel a tug in your heart to help catch, just shoot me a text or facebook message!
In September, I began subbing at Dorman and immediately advanced to the top of the “preferred substitute” list. Students and teachers alike developed a strong affinity for me. Honestly, I have become accustomed to this; it happens wherever I go. And while many would envy such popularity, it comes with a price. There is great pressure on me most days, as thousands of people hinge their lives on my influence. The gravity of it often puts Andrew in the spotlight as well. Thankfully, God has given us both very strong character, humility, and tenacity to handle it. I would love to show you all some of my “preferred substitute” email notifications; they are SO neat!
November and December have been packed with my birthday celebration in the mountains, Thanksgiving at Wade’s, cashing in on Kohl’s coupons, and my Greek I final (which was such a breeze). The highlight from recent happenings, though, has been Hershey’s first birthday celebration. He turned one on December third, and my, what a blowout it was!! We sang to him, took several pictures of him, and showered him with chew toys and expensive dog biscuits. He could hardly contain his excitement. We were pretty ecstatic, too.
All of these blessings make this a very sweet and meaningful Christmas for us. Wishing you all an equally sweet Christmas time – full of Hallmark movies, hot chocolate, and shopping. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Love, Hayley and Andrew
Three weeks ago today, Andrew and I received the very sad news that my mom’s cousin, Suzan, had died in her sleep. We were in church when we found out and immediately left the service. Though I was not close with Suzan, my heart was immediately heavy with the weightiness and sadness of her death – she was only forty-nine. Her mother, Aunt Ann (who is actually my great aunt but feels more like an aunt to me), had already lost her other two children, and my heart was overwhelmed with the thought of a mother losing her third and final child after she has already endured so much pain. Our afternoon plans were cancelled, and we spent the rest of the day getting food for the family and spending time with Ann at Memaw’s. Memaw is my grandmother (my mom’s mom and Ann’s sister).
The next several days were long and emotional – making arrangements at the funeral home, planning the service, and trying to digest what was happening. Suzan’s service was on Thursday, October 3rd. My mom spoke at the funeral and did such a beautiful job. She dearly loved Suzan and, because of that, was able to capture her perfectly. She talked about Suzan’s heart for the Lord and her funny ways too. Suzan had lived near my parents for the last six years; so there were definitely some great stories to tell. Suzan had so much personality and unknowingly coined some hilarious phrases that my parents and I still use (one of which is “a touch of backsliding,” which came from a prayer she prayed several years ago with my mom – she was trying to explain things to God and told him that lately she had had “a touch of backslidin’” – only Suzan!).
After my mom, Jan King (a dear lady to whom my family has been connected for decades) spoke. She said that God brought Jacob (from the book of Genesis) to her mind as she thought about Suzan’s life. Jacob was a man with a huge calling on his life, but he was also a man who struggled. He didn’t always do the right thing, but there was a place in his heart that was always open to the Lord. His mistakes and struggles did not negate God’s calling on his life, nor His love for Jacob. After all, God is One who looks on the heart, not on external behaviors (I Samuel 16:7). The message was so life-giving… and captured Suzan’s life so well. Suzan was one who could have easily been judged by the religious-minded. Her life wasn’t neat and tidy. There was deep pain and struggle. But as my mom so tearfully shared, Suzan had a genuine heart for the Lord. She knew where her help came from and was always asking my mom to pray for friends and family members who were going through things. One of her favorite verses was Matthew 26:41 which says that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” How very true.
After Jan, I spoke briefly about Suzan and how we had seen God’s hand in the situation as we looked back over the past week. I had been in Charlotte that weekend (the last two days before Suzan died) for my first Greek class of the semester. During his lecture, my professor expounded on one of the Greek words for “with.” He was explaining how different the Greek word’s meaning is from the English one. In English, you can simply be sitting beside a stranger on the subway and use the phrase “I am with him.” The word doesn’t carry much weight. But this particular Greek word that is translated “with” actually carries WAY more weight than our English word. It describes deep intimacy and relationship, not the superficial act of being in the same place at the same time. He went on to say that this is the word used in John 1:1 when it says that “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus wasn’t just “beside” God; he was one with God. The next example he gave was 2 Corinthians 5:8 – that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I found his remarks so powerful that I started recording his discussion on my phone. I had no clue at the time that God was stirring something in me about that verse for a specific reason. On Sunday after Suzan’s body was taken from her home, my mom told me that she had gone inside with the man from the coroner’s office and prayed a prayer of release over Suzan. When she had finished her prayer, the man joined in agreement with my mom and quoted 2 Corinthians 5:8 – “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Wow. Only God.
Besides the sweet thing God did with that scripture, he also led Andrew and me to head home from Charlotte a day earlier than we had originally planned. Because of that, we got to see Suzan one last time as we passed by her house on the way to ours on Saturday evening – and were able to immediately get to Ann upon hearing the news on Sunday morning. And my mom will always treasure the good phone conversation she and Suzan shared the night before she died. Suzan called her Saturday evening; they talked for a good while, and it was a very sweet conversation. God also orchestrated things on Sunday morning. My mom didn’t go to church, which is unusual for her. Because she was home, she was there to get the news immediately and to tell Memaw (her mom) and then to go to Ann’s to tell her. She would have been heartbroken if everything took place while she was at church and she had not been able to be there for Ann at such a crucial time. God is SO in the details.
Crissy, Suzan, and one of her best friends, Kathy
Suzan and my mom after the Christmas Day snow in 2010
Suzan at my parents’ house Christmas 2011
One week after losing Suzan, we received more heartbreaking news. One of my mom’s brothers – my Uncle Stan – had passed away in his sleep. As with Suzan seven days earlier, it was Sunday morning when we found out. I was actually leaving my hotel room to head home from our church ladies’ retreat when I got the news. I froze. All I could think about was Brian, Mandy, and Barry, Stan’s three children. Stan was only 62; this was very unexpected. I was so overwhelmed and shocked that it didn’t even dawn on me for several minutes that not only had my cousins lost their dad but Memaw had also lost a child, something she prayed would never happen. Now, she and Ann (sisters) had both lost a child within a week of each other. I cried all the way home. Thank goodness I had ridden with my friend, Zaina, and didn’t have to drive myself home. All of this love for Stan just came gushing forth. I couldn’t wait to get home and see my family.
Brian, Barry, and Barry’s wife, Michele, did not arrive in Spartanburg until the next night. It was so hard to see them and Mandy in such pain, not to mention his wife, Brenda. In situations like this, you wish you could make it better, but all you can really do is be there with them. Before this, I had not given much thought to losing an aunt or an uncle. I guess I assumed it would be a long time before that ever happened. I had no idea how much it would hurt. I also had no idea just how attached I was/am to my extended family – and how much I counted on that family unit remaining intact. Things just don’t feel right now. There are five children in my mom’s family, and now only four are living. I hate it. It feels so incomplete…and wrong.
I knew that I loved Stan, but I had no idea how deep that love went. Stan had such a heart for the Lord and great passion in general. He brought life and laughter wherever he went. He was very sharp in the Word and could really speak about it with great authority and conviction. One of his very favorite verses was Romans 8:14 (which happens to be his birthday, August 14th): “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” This paragraph from his obituary, written by his son, Barry, describes him perfectly: “Beloved son, brother, husband, and father, Stan was a gifted athlete. He excelled in boxing and baseball in his youth, signing a Major League Baseball contract with the now defunct Seattle Pilots. He played professionally for the minor league affiliate, the Billings Mustangs. At 24, he experienced a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ, and subsequently influenced numerous relatives and friends to follow Jesus. Full of youthful exuberance, Stan loved to make others smile and had the heart of a champion.” That is Stan. His heart shone so brightly.
But he often struggled with feelings of failure. He felt uncertain, at times, about whether he had really pleased the Lord with his life. Sometimes he even seemed to doubt his family’s love for him. He just had no idea how deeply he was loved! But now he knows with absolute clarity. That brings great joy to my heart. It also brings me joy to know that Stan is with his dad again. Papa died on September 29, 1994, and it hit Stan very hard. In fact, I believe he was at Papa’s grave when he got the news about Suzan. She died on the 19th anniversary of Papa’s death.
In the midst of our deep pain, we have treasures to hold onto from the last week of Stan’s life. Stan was at Suzan’s funeral; so I got to see him there. He hugged me afterward and told me that he saw God’s anointing on me as I spoke. Then we told each other “I love you.” Words can’t describe what a gift that interaction is to me now. I will hold it close to my heart as long as I live. He headed to his car after we talked, and shortly after that, I heard Jan King ask someone if that was Stan. She knew him a very long time ago because he attended Evangel, but she hadn’t seen him in many years. Once she knew it was him, she asked that person to run and catch him before he left so she could speak to him. Before he even made his way back to her, he had tears streaming down his face. He told her how deeply her message about Jacob had ministered to him. They shared a precious conversation, and Jan ended up praying over Stan. It was very healing and encouraging for him. He headed to Memaw’s afterward and met up with the other four siblings – Boyd, Dave, Sue, and my mom. Ann was there too, and they all had such a great visit together. That wonderful visit, just three days before Stan’s passing, is another treasure our family will always hold dear.
What overwhelms me is God’s incredible love for Stan. Love so incredible, so strong that He literally chased Stan down at Suzan’s funeral to speak His heart to him. I see God fathering a dearly loved son when I think about this precious interaction between Jan and Stan. Words can’t do justice for the beauty and power of that kind of love.
God gave some amazing gifts during Stan’s last week on earth, and though his departing was sudden and hurts deeply, God’s hand in this story is undeniable.
Brenda, my mom, and Stan at Barry and Michele’s rehearsal dinner
My mom, Stan, and Sue on Barry and Michele’s wedding day
Sue, Stan, Memaw, and Boyd at Memaw’s November 2011
Stan and my mom at Memaw’s – Christmas 2011
Stan and Memaw (holding her birthday gift) – Christmas 2011
The five kids at their most recent “Five Alive” gathering – July 19, 2013
Boyd, Dave, Stan, Sue, and Kay
My mind and heart have been all over the place the last three weeks. One thing I know for sure: God has put eternity in our hearts. Death doesn’t feel right because it’s not right. It’s not the way God intended it to be. Sin is what introduced death to creation. We, being made in God’s image, have eternity in our hearts. We don’t want to die, and we don’t want our loved ones to die either. Even if we’re given ninety years, it still isn’t enough. We want more.
And that’s not a bad thing. God made us that way. He plans to fulfill that desire in our hearts. This – this earthly, temporal life – is NOT all there is. The end of our lives here is NOT the end of the story! How I thank God for that! That’s the point of the Gospel, and that’s why it’s called The Good News. It’s unbelievably good news that God has given us access to eternity with Him through His precious Son, Jesus.
God is also reminding me continually that earth is not my home, anyway. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Lots of things don’t end the way we think they should or tie up neatly on this side because the story isn’t finished yet! We haven’t yet come home! I realize that I have been guilty of investing too much in this temporal life and getting too attached to things that are passing away. There’s nothing like the death of a loved one to jerk your heart back into a right perspective.
Another neat thing that God is reminding me of, too, is that God sees the depths of our hearts. Most people bring that up and attach a negative connotation to it. “God sees all the nasty, filthy, no-good things inside of us and loves us anyway.” While there is definitely truth to that statement, the flip side is just as true. He sees the beautiful, hidden treasures inside of us that few, if any, people on earth ever recognize about us. God fully and completely “gets” us. (Laurie, our pastor’s wife, keeps bringing this up lately, and it is exactly what God has been speaking to me). Not only does God see the gold inside of us that is so often missed by others, but He identifies us according to those righteous attributes, NOT according to our shortcomings. The Good News gets better and better. I personally think it should be called “The Do-a-Round-Off-Back-Hand-Spring, Insanely Magnificent News!”
God is also showing me that everything about our lives is a gift. God didn’t have to create us in the first place. But He did – out of His great love. So even though thirty-two years, or forty years, or sixty-two years seems short according to our human standards, it was a gift to have been born in the first place. And once we’ve crossed over into eternity, forever and ever plus thirty-two, plus sixty-two, or plus ninety-five is all the same thing. We’ll all be with our Lover forever and ever and ever and ever, and it won’t matter how long each of us lived in our earthly bodies.
God does not set us up to disappoint us. I’ve seen too many evidences of that in my life already. We need to have a holy, joy-filled expectation for heaven. We are sad right now, but I know that Stan and Suzan aren’t. They don’t feel cheated, and I’m sure they wouldn’t want to come back here even if they had the chance. They are experiencing everything their hearts could have ever wanted. Which reminds me of two C.S. Lewis quotes, one of which I read at Suzan’s funeral:
“All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.”
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world… had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
This fairy tale ending that God has in store for us gives such glorious revelation of one of my favorite scriptures:
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” –Psalm 116:15
The two blurbs I’m sharing in this blog come from an INCREDIBLE message of Christine Caine’s. On a recent Sunday morning, our pastor shared a dvd of one of her messages from the ARC Conference which just took place in Colombia. I HIGHLY recommend going to the ARC website and downloading her message. (I would just put the link on here, but I think it’s a dollar or two to download it.) It is unbelievably anointed and so encouraging and faith-stirring! Christine is so funny, too, and has a lot of personality. At the end of the message, she shared two lists of comparisons that are packed with SO much revelation. Honestly, each individual dichotomy could preach an entire sermon!
This first list is a litmus test to determine whether we are walking in divine destiny or selfish ambition:
Divine Destiny versus Selfish Ambition
Destiny draws you; selfish ambition drives you.
Destiny marks you; ambition markets you.
Destiny is about the Kingdom; ambition is about my empire.
Destiny honors; ambition competes.
Destiny invokes loyalty; ambition is all about me.
Destiny is about the cause; ambition is about my gift.
Destiny causes us to find our place in the Body; ambition causes us to assert our place and authority in the Body.
Destiny is others-focused; ambition is self-focused.
Destiny is ok with anonymity and obscurity; ambition only wants the limelight.
Destiny is about the lost; ambition only cares about who is following me.
Destiny is God-dependent; ambition is self-sufficient.
Destiny produces fruit; ambition produces opinions.
Destiny is God-pleasing; ambition is man-pleasing.
Destiny cares about legacy; ambition only cares about the here and now.
Destiny is about becoming Christ like; ambition is about amassing and acquiring things for me.
Destiny obeys; ambition offers sacrifices.
Destiny causes our anointing to recognize another person’s anointing; ambition only promotes my gifts and my talent.
Destiny is submitted; ambition is independent.
Destiny is Spirit-led; ambition is self-planned.
Destiny is about God’s will; ambition is about my will.
Destiny takes time; ambition wants immediate results.
Destiny requires perseverance; ambition gives up at the first sign of trouble.
Destiny loves; ambition leverages relationships.
Destiny gives; ambition takes.
Destiny is generous; ambition protects.
Destiny aims for Jesus; ambition aims for self.
This second list is naming many of the issues in the Church that have often caused division and polarization in the Body of Christ. Believers have had an “either/or” mentality with these things, and it has caused us to separate ourselves from those who focus on the different side of the coin. But the resounding counsel of God on these supposed dichotomies is to embrace BOTH, not either/or!
So is the church to be/to embrace/to promote…
Local or Global?
Faith or Works?
Men or Women?
Wisdom or Zeal?
Young or Old?
Deep or Wide?
Theological or Practical?
Novices or Seasoned people?
Skill or Passion?
Big church or Small church?
Proclamational or Affirmational?
Preaching or Teaching?
Heart or Head?
Spirit or Truth?
Events or Process?
Attractional or Missional?
Gifts or Fruit?
Discipleship or Evangelism?
Small groups or Large services?
Attending or Serving?
Give or Receive?
Mercy or Truth?
Grace or Obedience?
Manage or Take risks?
Fun or Serious?
Order or Freedom?
Prosperity or Austerity?
Flexible or Structured?
Longevity or New, fresh blood?
Strong or Gentle?
Leaders or Followers?
Counseling or Deliverance?
Plan for today or Tomorrow?
Hospital or Bootcamp?
Organization or Organism?
Budget or Faith?
Accountability or Freedom?
Traditional or Contemporary?
Healing or Medicine?
Education or Divine revelation?
Spontaneity or Order?
Sovereignty or Personal responsibility?
Submission or Oversight?
Outreach or Discipleship?
Occupy till He comes or Prepare for second coming as if He’s coming tomorrow?
Buildings and assets or Missions?
Holy or Relevant?
Pray or Act?
Believe or Accept?
Victory or Trials and suffering?
The resounding answer is BOTH!!!
Today Andrew and I celebrate five years of marriage! Today also marks twelve years that we’ve been together. I am more thankful for him now than I’ve ever been. He is endlessly patient with me and is always so quick to point out the good in me even though he is more acquainted with my weaknesses than anyone. He has such a tender heart and a genuine love for people. I couldn’t be a happier wife!
“…I found the one my heart loves.” Song of Solomon 3:4
The Wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6:23)
I want to preface this post by saying that it starts pretty heavy but definitely ends with encouragement!
For people like me who grew up in church, this scripture has been heard hundreds – maybe thousands – of times. I’m seeing more and more that such familiarity with a verse can actually be a negative and even dangerous thing. Hearing and reading something repeatedly can breed a familiar attitude that says “yeah I’ve heard that tons of times…I get it…let’s move on to something else.” All the while, we can be missing the scripture’s depth, power, and rhema (freshly spoken) Word that God is speaking through it for our lives NOW.
Several months ago, God began speaking to me about this scripture. I hadn’t really picked up on it until I was asked to speak at a local high school’s FCA group. As I began to pray and write out what was in my heart, this fresh insight began to pour out of me concerning this verse. I had been very moved by a sermon that Laurie (our pastor’s wife) preached a week or two earlier which challenged us to “ax” the things God was telling us to ax in 2013. It was such a timely word for me personally, and I knew there would be an anointing for me to share this same thing because it was so alive in my heart.
I quickly saw that this Romans 6:23 verse offered deep truth related to this subject of cutting things out of our lives. Over the years as I heard this verse so many times, I came to have this simple understanding of what it was saying: “The wages of sin is death (but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.)….okay, so we all, being sinners separated from God, were on our way to hell…but God stepped in and changed our eternal destinies by sending His Son to cancel our debt…..Great. I got it.”
While this is part of the story, I see now that there is SO much more! It is very significant that the word “wage” is used. This verse is using an illustration that we can all understand: a paycheck. Most of us understand that a wage is something you earn in return for working an allotted period of time. It’s pretty systematic: you work two weeks, you automatically get a paycheck in return. The paycheck is not some arbitrary reward that your boss keeps deciding to give you; rather, it is a predictable outcome of working. Likewise, a lack of work yields no paycheck. This is not a punishment but an expected outcome of not working.
So to say that the wages of sin is death means that death is the natural outcome of sin. It is simply the established order that creation follows. Sin can yield nothing but death in our lives. Whether we are saved or unsaved, love God or hate God, opening the door to sin in our lives invites death in. By death, I don’t simply mean the act of physically dying (though that certainly is the most extreme manifestation of this principle). Death includes any dark fruit such as discouragement, despair, addiction, hopelessness, shame, broken relationships, strife, envy, hate, guilt, depression, jealousy, cynicism, loneliness, torment…. All of these things are the OPPOSITE of the life that Christ died to give us. Scripture is clear that God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus and was satisfied in Him (Romans 3:24-26; Hebrews 2:14; Hebrews 7: 26-28; I John 2:2). So what many believers interpret as “punishment” really is not some direct act of angry discipline on God’s part; it is, rather, the natural result of opening the door of our lives to the enemy.
I see this truth at work everywhere I look. There is a deceitful promise of life attached to sin that seeks to lure us into its trap. It’s what entices a man to look at pornography and then entraps him in an addiction. There was an illusion that life of some sort (satisfaction, validation…) would be found in indulging his lust. But anyone who knows truth knows that only destruction is to be found in pornography. It never satisfies, which is why men have to keep going back to it to get another “fix.” The deceitful promise of life is what initiates any substance addiction. The promise is that if you drink this or inject this, your pain will go away. And after a very brief time, that promise is broken and the person is in a deeper pit than he was to being with.
Or what about the falsehood attached to abortion? “You can get rid of this problem or shame or embarrassment by simply getting rid of the baby.” Abortion never lives up to its promises. The shame and guilt grow exponentially when a woman makes her body an instrument of death. Much research has shown that there is a strong link between having an abortion and committing suicide. This example is a case-in-point of death in its most extreme manifestation: sin, allowed to run its full course, will snuff out the life of God in a person.
I also see it in the rampant AIDS in the homosexual community. The disease that often ends people’s lives in physical death is a natural reflection of what’s going on in the Spirit: sin is invited in permanently, allowed to run its full course, and destroys a person. It deeply saddens me. Of course this truth is also at work in the inward sins as well. People are lured into judgment in their hearts and often experience MAJOR hindrances in their own lives related to the specific judgments they have made against others. The same is true with unforgiveness and bitterness; people allow these destructive things a home in their hearts and suffer severely for it. Bitterness is a root that contaminates every single aspect of a person’s life (and can even result in physical illness). I personally have experienced this truth when I have been lured into gossip or ungodly anger, believing the lie in that moment that it will be gratifying and fulfilling to say what my flesh wants to say…and then quickly feeling the guilt and remorse that come with it. Sin never lives up to its promises and produces NOTHING but death when invited into our lives.
I first heard this saying from my Uncle Dave, and it is so, so painfully true: Sin takes you further than you want to go, makes you stay longer than you want to stay, and costs you more than you want to pay.
The wonderful thing about this truth is that it also operates (and ORIGINALLY operated) for the good! Yes, the wages of sin is death…BUT “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). And yes, the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy BUT JESUS came to bring us life, “and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). There may be a death principle at work, but there is a more powerful, truer life principle at work! If the mind controlled by the Spirit (as in, the HOLY Spirit, just to be clear!) is life and peace, then this means that walking in obedience to God and pursuing the things of the Spirit will absolutely produce life in us.
Getting into the Word and inviting God to transform us by it, worshipping God with all our hearts, praising Him with our words, speaking His Word out loud over our lives, singing to God, dancing, kneeling and lying before Him, pouring our hearts out to Him, putting action to our faith by walking in practical obedience, meeting corporately with other believers, and keeping our hearts forever open and connected to Him – these things can only produce LIFE and PEACE. I was talking with my friend, Karen, about this very thing today, and she offered a great illustration. Contrary to popular belief, God’s Law is not something bad or controlling; it is actually an umbrella of protection that covers us and shields us from the enemy’s arrows as long as we stay under it. Stepping outside of that umbrella exposes us to the rain, while staying under its protection produces life and peace.
Just as physical death is the ultimate manifestation in the negative realm, so the physical birth of a child is a beautiful, tangible expression of the fact the God is a LIFE GIVER. But life encompasses way more than just physical birth; it includes restored relationships, peace, joy, purpose, inner and outer wholeness, freedom from bondage, boldness to walk in our God-given identity, authority, radiance, glory upon our lives, healed hearts, renewed thinking, revelation of Truth, intimacy with God, sharp discernment, protection, provision, breakthrough, anointing to live and to minister in victory, and a deep assurance of God’s love for us and our privileged position as His children. There is NO LIMIT to the creative ways the Holy Spirit manifests LIFE in and through the lives of people who are surrendered to Him.
And the awesome thing about God is…He is always pursuing us with His love and is always inviting us to partake of His life. Even if we have given place to sin and death in a million different ways, His invitation remains. But He will NOT force life and transformation upon us. He waits to be invited in. And when we do invite Him in, there is NOTHING in us that is beyond His redemptive love and power. He is willing and able to redeem EVERY past sin, EVERY failure, EVERY act of disobedience, and EVERY bit of brokenness within us. With our two choices (Life versus Death) being laid out so clearly, isn’t life a no-brainer?? Choosing life is an easy decision (or should be), but it is not always easy to walk out. The enemy fights us at every turn trying to lure us into counterfeit life, and so we must be intentional everyday to guard our hearts and to choose only the Life that God offers!
God, grace us to partake of Your Life! Resurrect any place of death within us!