The Significance of the Secret Place with God

The Significance of the Secret Place with God

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” -Matthew 6:5

I love the secret place! There is just something so special about getting to spend time with God in a way that no one else gets to experience. The secret place can be anything you want it to be… it can be a physical location you go to spend time with God that no one knows about, or it can be a special place you imagine yourself in with you and God. Every secret place is unique, just as you are uniquely created by the Father - so don’t be afraid to get creative with the places you and God go. These are the moments that you get to treasure and that no one can ever take away from you.

This year my favorite song of all time is actually called “The Secret Place” by Phil Wickham. There were mornings I would listen to it on repeat and I couldn’t understand why I was doing that… Then I had a meeting where a few of us were praying and I realized why; turns out, I am in a season where the secret place is the only place where God is handing me each key to unlock every door in front of me that I have been blankly staring at for so long. I could spend hours unpacking this for you, but instead I just want to go through this song stanza by stanza so that hopefully one day you can unlock your own mysteries in the secret place and enter your season of breakthrough.

“Where will you run my soul

Where will you go when wells run dry

When the wind starts to blow

How are you gonna keep this flame alive”

***

“You are my only hope

You are the rock on which I stand

And You will not let me go

I know that I'm safe inside Your hands”

Verse 1 and 2: God is your ultimate source. Every single time you feel like you are about to die of thirst in a desert season, or you are in the midst of a hurricane tearing through your life, the best possible way to keep yourself going is to turn to God. We often use imagery of a flame of fire to depict the Holy Spirit, and passion, and revival, and hunger, and whatever else you want to use to explain something that is so great and vast. In this first verse, Wickham poses the question, “when you are going through hard times how do you keep this hunger, this passion, this feeling of warmth from the closeness of Holy Spirit going strong?” You could go out and focus on the problem, you could talk about how bad it is for days… trust me, I know… I’ve been there too many times to count, because that’s the easy thing to do. Or, you could go up to the altar and receive prayer and then not think about it anymore. Because you are thinking that you did what you had to do and everyone saw how much courage it took you to get up there, so of course you don’t have to do it again or dive in on your own time, right? When you do this you will be like the hypocrites, you may receive satisfaction in the moment and that’s great, but what happens when you go home at night and nothing has changed, your circumstances are still the same and now you feel misunderstood and forgotten (please don’t take this as me saying getting prayer from the altar is bad, because it is SO GOOD! I literally go any chance I can)! Where you will run into problems with this is if it’s your only source. Relying 100%  on others to do the work is not beneficial to your soul or spirit. You should still work through things with others, but you have to pair it with constant prayer and communication between you and God, and that often comes from time in the secret place. As you turn to God, you get to experience hope in Him and not hope in healing or hope in other tangible things. Hope in Him is SO much sweeter, and as you learn to do this you will begin to feel safer and safer in the midst of His presence alone.

“In the fading light when night is breaking

I know You will always be waiting

You'll always be there

I'm running to the secret place

Where You are, where You are

I'll sing to You of all the ways

You stole my heart, stole my heart

Better is a moment that I spend with You

Than a million other days away

I'm running, I'm running, I'm running to the secret place”

***

“Hands are lifted high, hearts awake to life

We are satisfied here with You, here with You

Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored

We couldn't ask for more here with You, here with You”

Chorus and bridge:  The sweetest part of the secret place is that God is always waiting with His arms open ready to catch us as we come in. “Better is a moment that I spend with You than a million other days away.” This line is powerful y’all. One moment in the secret place has the potential to sustain you more than a million other earthly experiences. Knowing this, we get to run without hesitation toward Him and sing out from the depths of our heart because we know He is near and listening. As we enter this place with Him, we can do whatever we need; whether that looks like sitting completely still and not saying a word, or going on a drive and screaming at the top of your lungs the cries of your heart, or just dancing all around an empty room with just you and God. It's in these moments that our hearts get to come alive. It’s in these moments that we feel the most intimate with our loving Father. These moments that all our brokenness can be shed and we are no longer bound by circumstances. These moments we get to step into complete freedom and reap the eternal rewards of joy, peace, hope, etc. And these are the rewards that sustain you.

So this week, I challenge you to talk with God and figure out what your secret place looks like. Just you and Him, no one else. Then go there, consistently. I promise you that as you keep sowing into this that you will look back and see the ways that God is transforming you from the inside out, at every level, spirit, soul, and body. Keep getting prayer from others, and keep discussing things with your small group leaders and/or disciplers - community is an essential piece. But don’t fall into the trap of making that your only source, let your foundation be your secret, you and God. Let no one change it or try to take it away from you. You are doing amazing, God sees you in the dark, and He is so much closer than you think - just ask Him to show you.

Author | Tori Kramer


False Humility

False Humility

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” –Philippians 2:5-8 

False humility does not serve the kingdom. On the surface, it may look like it does as it centers on serving others and putting their needs ahead of themselves. However, it is predicated on the belief that your needs do not matter, and in that way, all it does is basically call God a liar when he says we’re worth it. All false humility does is say that you aren’t worth it, so it isn’t God’s heart. False humility says that God may love everyone around you, but he actually doesn’t love you. Satan would love for you to believe that, because it would distract you from your identity. False humility pushes aside feelings of unworthiness by deflecting compliments, affirmations, etc., because deep down, false humility is rooted in what we have to say about ourselves. If we actually took the time to listen to what God is saying, we would realize God cares so deeply about each and every part of his creation.

 We actually need to repent from our inclination towards false humility. Repentance is not a big scary word. We are all guilty, therefore repentance is the greatest gift God could give to humanity. It moves us toward him, by laying down wrong behavior. We know pride and boasting is a sin, because Paul specifically outlined that in the New Testament. In the ancient Hebrew world, there was a much different view of humanity. There were powerful acts by humans in the forms of sorcery and witchcraft. The emperor who was a human being was thought of as a god. They did not have to worry about false humility like we do, because they had a general inclination towards pride. In the Christian society today, there is an inclination toward false humility that deprecates one’s self by deflecting instead of receiving. It is not godly to deflect. Jesus didn’t deflect when someone noticed him but instead reflected the Father’s heart. We need to take a step back and receive what God has for us and what he says about us if we are ever going to walk into what real humility looks like. 

We are the pinnacle of creation. We are not God, but we are God’s prized possession. Saying that is not arrogance, but it is simply fulfilling the calling on humanity. In the Bible, it says, “All of creation is eagerly anticipating the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).” You must be significant, then. God has a purpose and calling on your life, he wants you to take up as much space as needed. Everyone and everything in creation is waiting for you to occupy the space that you were always meant to have, that was actually carved out for you. That belief is not arrogance, it is identity.

 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”- 1 Timothy 1:15

 Now, that we have that out of the way, let me talk about what humility is all about. I believe that in order to understand why false humility is such a big deal, we have to understand why real humility is important. The church answer is: humility is important because Jesus said it was important. We see throughout Scripture that when God’s people humble themselves in an area, they are exalted. The exaltation shouldn’t be our motivation, but that is the system we are working under. Humility has to start with a deep understanding of our own worth with God, and out of that, our perspective begins to align with God’s perspective on how important his people are to him. If God can find the goodness in us, how much more will we then be able to see the goodness in other people? 

Humility in its most pure form all points back to God. False humility and pride are the same problem manifested in two ways. False humility points to those around us, and pride points to us. Both are misdirecting our attention from whose opinion really matters. If we actually settled in our understanding of who God says we are, we will not need affirmation from others or ourselves. Humility is entire dependence on God. False humility seeks to fill that need with anything else, and it is incredibly dangerous in our generation.

We are not God, and thank you Jesus for that. We would make terrible gods, but by the grace of God, we are given access to a source that supplies us with everything we need. We are nothing apart from Jesus, but we are everything we are because of Jesus. Out of the assurance Jesus has given up, then we can give up our highest place of honor at the table to invite others into our space.

Author | Cristina Rosiles

The Other Half of Humility

The Other Half of Humility

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Been there, Paul.

There is a glorious moment in the Christian life when we realize this - Man, I am the worst.

It is one of the most devastating, yet essential milestones we get to experience. We see our hearts for what they are, our thoughts for what they are, our motives for what they are - and there’s no unseeing it.

It can bring us to the pit of despair. But this is only half of humility.

So, what does Paul do with this realization? What lifts him from the pit?

The next verses read, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:16-17

He does not continue to dwell on his past, but points to the mercy and glory of Christ in loving him out of it.

Earlier, in verses 13-14 Paul says, “Mercy kissed me, even though I used to be a blasphemer, a persecutor of believers, and a scorner of what turned out to be true. I was ignorant and didn’t know what I was doing. I was flooded with such incredible grace, like a river overflowing its banks, until I was full of faith and love for Jesus, the Anointed One!”

Paul persecuted, mocked, and killed Christians. It wasn’t a well-turned phrase or hearty sermon that turned his life around, it was the love of Christ that came “like a river overflowing its banks.” It was seeing that grace reached him when he was running from it. It was realizing, as Tim Keller says, “The only eyes in the universe who can see you to the bottom love you to the skies.”

That’s the other half of humility.

Yes, you are at the bottom. You are in the pit. But Christ, compelled by compassion, loves you and lifts you from it.

That is why Paul’s realization in verse 15 is so glorious. We must see the desolation of our soul to experience the ultimate weight of love and glory of Christ.

This humility - whole humility - is what makes David (an adulterer, a murderer, AND God’s beloved servant) sing with gratitude,

Praise the Lord, my soul,

and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins

and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:2-5

Don’t cut the gift of humility in half. God’s mercy comes like a geyser to lift you from the pit of your own despair - because of His love and desire for you.

Author | Claire Jordan

Wrestling & Embracing with God

Wrestling & Embracing with God

I don’t know about you, but I really like asking questions, for better or for worse. I think that we were created to be curious beings. According to Genesis we were made uniquely: we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) with a capacity to feel, think, love— with a body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). Neil Anderson wrote a book called, Victory Over Darkness, about realizing the power of your identity in Christ (it’s a good one y’all). He describes body, soul, spirit like this:

I want to hang tight on the soul aspect for the rest of this blog—the part of you that comprises your mind, emotions, and will. If you’re anything like me, your soul can feel like it’s on one of those wooden roller coaster rides sometimes (if you’ve ever ridden the Cheetah at Wild Adventures, you know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, I just looked it up and you can “virtually ride” it—what a thrill). Especially when things are going “wrong”, our emotions and thoughts can lead us away from the truth about who God is, ourselves and our identities, and the world around us. We have to know what truth is because when we choose to believe lies, either passively or intentionally, we are choosing to believe that what God says is not true. We end up using our emotions as a gauge for reality and, friends, that’s not a good place to be. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah puts it this way in verse 17:9: 

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

Don’t hear me say that it is wrong to have feelings. I’m actually saying the exact opposite: feel your feelings, because they are a tool that God gave you. Your thoughts and emotions are signals to your core beliefs about who God is and who you are. Does that mean those core beliefs are true? Sometimes they’re not. This is why Scripture is so important: it gives us an outline of absolute truth. Time and time again, He reminds us of His goodness. But oftentimes, our circumstances can lead us to believe otherwise. We live in a fallen world, and as a result, we see brokenness, injustice, and suffering. It’s human nature to watch or experience pain and question where God is. That’s why I really like the book of Habakkuk.  

Habakkuk is a minor prophet in the Old Testament. His name can literally be translated to “wrestle and embrace”. Great name, great meaning, but maybe not one for your future kids. When Habakkuk was writing, Israel was under horrible leadership (shocker) where injustice, evil, and tragedy were the norm. He asks in Habakkuk 1:2-3,

“How long, Lord, must I call for help
and you do not listen
or cry out to you about violence
and you do not save?
Why do you force me to look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Oppression and violence are right in front of me.
Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates.”

In this passage, Habakkuk sees the injustice happening around him, and questions if God even cares what’s happening. His heart was broken for the people and the violence they were facing. Habakkuk was trying to reconcile who He believed God to be, with what he was seeing in front of him. Sound familiar? What’s an instance in your life where this has been true?

Oftentimes, we would rather shut ourselves off to God when this disillusionment happens. We become bitter and resentful. Here’s the deal: our emotions cannot and should not dictate who God is—only He can do that. He deeply cares for you and understands your pain, and He promises to be with you through all of it.

“You’ve kept track of all my wandering and my weeping.
You’ve stored my many tears in your bottle—not one will be lost.
For they are all recorded in your book of remembrance.”

Psalm 56:8 (TPT) 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Isaiah 43:1-3 (ESV)

Out of the Lord’s kindness, grace, and mercy, we can ask questions to the creator of the universe. I think questions can be really great if our heart postures are in the right place. Are we asking from a place to wrestle and embrace? Or are we asking because we just want to wrestle? While asking the tough questions, it’s important for us to remember that God is our friend, but He is also Lord. When wrestling with Him, we have to find the balance of embracing Him too.

I believe that God fully understands how unfair and painful life gets. In Craig Groeschel’s book, Hope in the Dark, he puts it this way: “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that God suffered an enormous burden in sending His only Son to be born into our sin-stained world. By sacrificing Jesus—His own Son—God created a bridge that allows us to know Him, to be forgiven of our sins, and to be remade in the image of Christ. But in order to give up His Son, God had to first allow Jesus to suffer in a way that must have felt unbearable to God as a Father.” No other god is or ever will be like that. Yahweh sacrificed Himself, so we could be saved, but not only that—so He could also restore relationship with us. When we doubt His goodness, the first thing we can do is look to the cross. In that act of sacrifice, we see the deepest love and goodness there ever has been or ever will be.

In Habakkuk, he didn’t get the answer he wanted from God. However, he did not put his faith in the outcome, but in God’s character:

“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,

 yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!

Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights!”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (HCSB) 

Habakkuk calls us to be a people of faith that see beyond our circumstances, a people marked by hope. As you process your pain or the injustice around you, hold onto your faith, even if it’s just a sliver. I promise that He can work with that. My prayer for you is that you learn to wrestle and embrace with God, and that you would encounter His presence through it. My hope is that your faith would come out stronger on the other side; and that His goodness would be undeniable, not just because you’ve convinced yourself of it, but because you know it in the deepest part of your soul.

Prayer:

Father, give us a hunger to know You more. Send your Spirit to reveal truth in Scripture about who You are. Help us prioritize our relationship with You, so when we face the challenging questions, we would know how to wrestle and embrace. Come and shift in us a spirit of doubt to a spirit of faith. Make us a people marked by hope. We pray all this in Jesus’s Name. Amen.

Author | Brooke DeLoach

FREE LUNCH

FREE LUNCH

For a very brief time my freshman year, I was an economics major. One of the mantras of the economist is “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, meaning that every decision has a cost. For everything you say ‘yes’ to, you say ‘no’ to a multitude of other things. By saying ‘yes’ to a friend’s offer of buying you lunch- supposedly free- you pay the cost of not being able to eat lunch with a different friend, or not being able to finish a task, or perhaps the place you would have eaten lunch instead would have mysteriously given you $20. For economists, the costs are limitless, and the way to succeed in life is to minimize your costs. Jesus lived a lifestyle that would shake the core of everything an economist believes.

Jesus consistently called people to ignore the costs and choose him. In Matthew 19, Jesus tells a young man that to perfectly follow him, he must sell everything he owns, give the profits to the poor, and follow Jesus. Decidedly a huge cost to pay. In order to give his full ‘yes’ to Jesus, he would have had to say ‘no’ to his entire life as he knew it. And it was a good life. The Bible tells us that the young man was wealthy. He wasn’t a beggar who only had to leave behind a few spare possessions. He would have had to leave behind a life of comfort and provision to take the risk of following Jesus and trusting God to provide. Consistently we see Jesus calling people out of comfort to follow him. In Matthew 4, Jesus calls his disciples, Andrew and Peter, to follow him. Verse 20 says “they dropped their nets and left everything behind to follow Jesus.” They dropped their nets- their livelihood- on the beach, left their boat floating in the water, and followed Jesus. They left everything behind. Later Jesus encounters Jacob and John, who left behind their father to follow Jesus. In Matthew 8, we see another man eager to follow Jesus, but he says he first must care for his elderly father and make arrangement for his death. Jesus tells him “Now is the time to follow me, and let those who are dead bury their own dead.”

Now is the time to follow him. No matter the cost, following Jesus is greater. Family, a job, our lives, should all be left in the dust we create as we chase after him. More often than not, the things we are called to leave behind are far more insidious than we realize. It’s not until we’ve left them behind and followed God do we realize that those things were actually hindering us, holding us back from fulfilling the life we are called to lead.

In Luke 19, we see the story of Zacchaeus. More than just being a wee, little man, Zacchaeus was the supervisor over all the tax collectors in the city of Jericho. He would have been incredibly wealthy and successful; a man both revered and feared. And yet something within him longed for more. The Passion Translation says he was eager to see Jesus. He was so eager that he scaled a tree just for a glimpse of the man he’d heard about. Even with everything Zacchaeus had- money, a house, friends, an important position- he wasn’t satisfied. Something within him compelled him towards more- towards Jesus. And Jesus saw him in his longing, up in a tree, and called him down and out. But in order to truly accept the call Jesus placed on Zacchaeus’s life, he had to do things; the first was humble himself, and the second was say ‘no’ to his former life. Before he could do anything else, Zacchaeus had to make himself low before God. Both literally (physically), and spiritually. Zacchaeus was up in a tree when Jesus called him. He was somewhere he wouldn’t have normally been, and maybe even somewhere he shouldn’t have been. I don’t know how socially acceptable it was for grown men to climb trees in biblical times, but I do know that I would pretty embarrassed to have to climb out of a tree before the human embodiment of God. But up in the tree, Zacchaeus wasn’t able to do anything to change his circumstances. He couldn’t be a tax collector from a tree, and he certainly couldn’t follow God from a tree. He had to release his pride, admit that his circumstances were wrong, and lower himself in humility before God.

To follow God, we have to do the same. We have to lower ourselves in humility at his feet. So often pride leaves us up in our tree, unable to follow God into the life he has prepared for us. We believe that we know what is best for our lives, or we question whether it’s really so sinful to live a life of partying or sleeping with our significant other. We compartmentalize and rationalize our lives, and in our pride believe that we know best for our lives. But something drove us up in that tree. Something pushed us to look for more, and Jesus found us. The yearning that pushes us to seek out Jesus is the very thing we have to hold to to climb back down the tree and allow ourselves to be humble before Christ.

After he was out of the tree, Jesus wasn’t done with Zacchaeus. He went to his house to dine. It was there that Zacchaeus said ‘no’ to his life in order to say ‘yes’ to Jesus- fully and truly. “Zacchaeus joyously welcomed Jesus and was amazed over his gracious visit to his home. Zacchaeus stood in front of the Lord and said, ‘Half of all that I own I will give to the poor. And Lord, if I have cheated anyone, I promise to pay back four times as much as I stole.’ Jesus said to him, ‘This shows that today life has come to you and your household, for you are a true son of Abraham. The Son of Man has come to seek out and to give life to those who are lost.’” Luke 19:8-10 (The Passion Translation) Zacchaeus willingly stood before the Lord and gave up his life of comfort. Not because Jesus had asked for it, but because he was amazed and overjoyed at the graciousness he experienced in Jesus’s presence.

God won’t force us to give up things. He will love us and call us to leave behind a life of sin. We get to choose how to answer the call. But in order to follow God, it is clear that we must be willing to leave behind anything that is not given to us by Christ. For many, this looks like leaving behind lifestyles that don’t honor God. He calls us to leave behind weekends of bars and drinking so that we can live a life that is honoring to him. He doesn’t ask us to leave behind fun. For some, he asks us to leave behind an unhealthy relationship that doesn’t align with God’s will for relationships. He doesn’t call us to be unhappy and alone. And for others, he calls us to leave behind a life of comfort- maybe a successful job offer, or a really fun spring break or summer break- in order to step out of comfort zone and follow him into a ministry internship (shameless Wesley internship plug) or to a mission trip or summer camp. We cannot say ‘yes’ to God while also saying ‘yes’ to the things we’ve been called to leave behind. By saying ‘no’ to our old ways of living, we can give our biggest and best ‘yes’ to God- and he has assured us he is more than worth the cost.

Author | Sarah Savoie

Empowered

Empowered

The concept of being a new creation sounds great, but in reality, it can be such a painful process. Stepping into your identity is a lifelong process, and it is one of the most important journeys of your life. There is no magic prayer that I can tell you that will make this happen. Walking as a new creation is about walking hand in hand with God which is completely personal to your relationship with God. Being a new creation is all about leaving the old behind and stepping into the truth God says. However, accepting the truth is easier said than done. The truth doesn’t change based on our reaction to it. The truth is in accordance to reality, not our emotions.

The truth is we are born into a fallen world, and our entire lives are about stepping into the identity Jesus died for us to have. Jesus did not die on the cross so we would play small. It’s like when you were born, there’s this veil clouding your vision from seeing the fullness you were created to live in. So, you take up as little room as possible for fear that you may cross into something you weren’t meant for. I have a newsflash for you: Jesus didn’t die for you to be small. Jesus died, so you would be transformed. In fact, Jesus, along with all of creation, is waiting in eager anticipation for you to be who you were created to be (Romans 8:19). The world is waiting for you to be you.

 There is this concept in psychology called the illusory truth effect which is the tendency to believe information as truth after repeated exposure. This can be about good or bad things. If we are exposed to lies, then we will believe the lies are actually true. That falsified reality will make it harder to believe God when he tells us what is true. If you have believed a lie for a long time such as you’re only good because of what you can do, you’re only valuable if you’re in a relationship, you can only come to God if you aren’t messy, etc., it will feel more uncomfortable to believe the truth. Just because it is more uncomfortable to believe the truth doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it to fight to believe the truth. Jesus told his disciples that the truth would set them free, that still stands today. The truth will release you from the prison the lies so desperately wanted you to believe was real. The truth is your primary identity is that of a child and friend of God. Your identity is sealed, and there is nothing anyone can do to take it away from you. Just think about this: every single thought God has about you is a good thought. That truth can be something you stand on, even if you don’t feel it yet.

 Walking in confidence as a new creation starts with realizing that you are enough as you are. Being you is easy to talk about and hard to live out in a culture that is as image conscious as America. We are so quick to be something else and be identified by something or someone else that we don’t even consider the possibility that the best possible thing we have to offer the world is ourselves. The world actually needs you to be fully who you are, because you are the only one that can speak about the part of God you have inside of yourself. You were made to make manifest the glory of God.

Believing truth is another aspect of growing in your confidence in being a child and friend of God. I am the biggest champion for declaring Scripture over yourself. I believe one of the best ways to know what God’s voice sounds like for you personally is to read what he has said in the past. God will not contradict himself. If you know what he has said in the past, you know what he is likely to say now. Another good way to tell if something is the truth is by the simple question: does it bring life? Scripture talks about the inheritance that you get to walk into by just being a child of God. You can’t take away something that you didn’t give to yourself in the first place. God declared you righteous and worthy of his blessing, and you are in no position to talk God out of his blessing.

 “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So, we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” – Ephesians 1:4-6

This scripture is one of my favorites. I love that it shows God’s heart. It talks about how God took pleasure in creating you and that he chose you to be holy. The God of the entire cosmos chose you. He saw your mess, and he chose you anyway. Who are you to tell God differently? You should both walk in humility and with confidence when you hear that. You can’t change God’s mind about you, because you aren’t the one that convinced him you were worthy in the first place. God’s love said you were worth it. Your confidence steams from an almighty God giving you authority you could not otherwise get. God adopted you into his heavenly family, and now, you have the right to everything Jesus had. You are empowered to live by the power of the Spirit inside of you.

Author | Cristina Rosiles

Same Past, New Life

Same Past, New Life

Whether you like to admit it or not, we all have pasts. We all used to be someone who we are not currently. Just for an example, in the not-so-distant past I was a nerd who did two things: played on NeoPets (don’t know what it is? Yeah…no one does except me…) and read Harry Potter fan fiction. (While I’m still pretty nerdy, I don’t do either of those things anymore—and boy, am I glad!)

Some of our pasts were really freaking awesome—we had/have marvelous parents, a great community growing up, no raging issues that crippled us. Some of us probably knew Jesus, too! But odds are, at least part of your past wasn’t great. Maybe you were abused, misused, or bullied. Maybe your parents weren’t great—or they were trying to be great, they just didn’t succeed. Maybe it wasn’t nearly as bad as that; you just grew up not knowing God, or not knowing freedom—maybe you got mixed up with the wrong crowd and made some mistakes; or maybe you didn’t make any mistakes and you just felt empty and lonely like me.

Whatever the case, and whatever our pasts look like, they are real. Before I go any further into this blog post, let me make that clear: what has happened, has happened. It is real, and it matters. Whether it was good or bad or in-between, what you have experienced matters immensely. It matters to who you were in the past, and it matters to who you are now. Without Christ, it would likely be what defines you.

But here’s the thing: even though our past matters, it isn’t what defines us. Our identity is not in our past, but in Christ Jesus. 

However real our past is to us, our friend, father, and corrector YHWH is even more real. Let me say that another way: God is more real, and how He defines you is more real, than anything in life can ever be. When Jesus died for us on the cross—when He sacrificed Himself—He wasn’t just dying to absolve us of sin. That part is huge, and is central to our faith—but He also died to enable us to live out of a new identity. Because while in sin our identity was in death and perpetual uncleanliness, our identity in Christ Jesus is one of life. 

Romans 6:3-7 says, “…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (NIV). To be baptized is to be grafted in—to be made a part of something which you were not part of before. In Jewish culture, baptism was how gentiles were brought into Judaism. It signified death to your old life—death to your deadness—and rebirth into the new life that comes from following Yahweh. 

So, while our old identity was in death, our new identity is in life. If we are in Christ, then we have been grafted in—by association with Him—to both His death and His resurrection. We are given new life and identities through Jesus. 

Even though we sometimes make decisions in alignment with our old identity of death, our true identity isn’t with those things unless we let them be. We may have made mistakes, we may have been hurt, we may have fallen away at some point, or anything else. But those same hurts, pains, and mistakes do not get to define who we are. God has already defined us for us—and it’s our privilege and duty to live in that identity. God calls us higher, because anything less than God is death. What God calls us to is life, because we are alive in Him—we are defined by Him—above everything else. 

So while our past may hurt, that hurt is ultimately from sin—the brokenness of this world and the sinfulness of man. And nothing can take away sin except for the blood of Jesus. When Christ died, he didn’t stay dead: he came back to life. If we have the same spirit living within us, why would we even consider staying dead? When we choose to find our identity in our past—in those wounds or in what has happened to us—, we are choosing to stay dead. When we choose to find our identity in God, we come alive.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. (If you have been following God for any length of time, you probably know this, too.) Finding our identity and worth in Him is hard. It hurts, sometimes. And it’s a lifelong process. We’ll never be fully done in refocusing our eyes on Yahweh while we are mortal. But God knows we won’t be perfect—in fact, He was perfect so we didn’t have to be. The best we can do is to listen and to obey. Part one of that obedience is actively pursuing an identity that lines up with the life God has given us—not with the identity our past has led us to believe. 

Are you living like you’re alive in Christ’s new life, or are you living like you’re still dead? There are so many parts in my own life where I’m living like I’m still dead. I encourage you to bring that question and your fears to God. My life has changed for the better by bringing my past to God, letting Him take it and redeem it, and living in the grace of new life. I know it will change yours too—if you let it.

Abba,

You are good. You are better than we can imagine. Thank you so much for giving us—for giving me—a new identity. You know how broken I am—how broken we all are. So thank you for loving us so deeply and passionately that you would step down from your throne for 30 years just to die a gruesome, humiliating death. Don’t let us keep living like that doesn’t matter, Lord. Give us the strength to believe our past is dead, and we are alive in You. Give us the courage to persevere towards that truth, even when it doesn’t feel true at all. Sing your presence over each and every one of us—so that we know You are here and whispering the Truth into our souls.

Author | Alex Hinton

Paul | New Creations

Paul | New Creations

Picture this: you’re standing on the beach waiting for the sun to rise. You’re wearing your shorts and hoodie, and you’re wrapped in a blanket because the breeze is blowing and the sky is beginning to change colors. You’re just looking out across the waves, waiting for the sun to show over the horizon. Wave after wave and breeze after breeze, you just wait with the most patience you’ve probably ever had in your life. Then finally, after what feels like an eternity at six o’clock in the morning, you see the sun. The sky goes from pink to yellow and orange and the very thing you’ve been anticipating and waiting for has finally come and it’s everything you could’ve dreamed of.

Why do I paint this picture? I mean, what could possibly be so significant about a sunrise? Well, sunrises mark the start of a new day filled with new opportunities and new adventures. They’re the breath of fresh air that kickstarts our day and reminds us new things are coming. The idea that sunrises bring newness is super profound to me. Think about it, if we didn’t have sunrises it would be dark all the time. Every moment of every day would be surrounded by darkness if the sun didn’t rise like it’s supposed to.

So why do I point all of this out? Why do I mention the sunrise bringing a new start each day and overcoming the darkness of night? Why do I use this imagery to ground you to this idea that newness is important?

Well theoretically speaking, if we can trust in the newness the sunrise brings, we can trust God when He calls us an entirely new creation, right? And if we can trust that the sun rising literally cancels out the darkness from the night before, then we can trust that the new identities we have in Christ will also wipe away our darkness from the night before so to speak, right?

"Now, if anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new creation. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new." 2 Corinthians 5:17 TPT

See, most of us cringe at this promise because we struggle with a lie that tells us we have made too many mistakes or we are too broken for this to be even remotely true. So, we hear this promise that says “you’re an entirely new creation” and we automatically think “well this can’t be true because of…” and we just fill in the blank with anything but the truth. Many of us are so riddled with shame, condemnation, or even self-hatred we can’t even fathom the thought that this promise might be true. If you’re one of those people, I need you to know there is redemption for those lies.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, it would be really easy to focus on the promise of being an entirely new creation and totally ignore the fact that we have to be enfolded into Christ for this promise to become truth. So what does it mean to be enfolded into Christ? First and foremost, being enfolded into Christ means intimacy and relationship with Him is our reality. This isn’t just a one sided striving relationship we have with the Lord; part of being enfolded in something is to be surrounded by or covered by that very thing. Jesus isn’t in this relationship with us out of obligation or pity. Like, He actually wants us to know we are the Beloved of God just because we are covered by His blood. How crazy is that? So because we are enfolded into Christ, we actually get to have full access to the reality of what it means to be a New Creation.

In Exodus 34:6, God reveals His name and His character for the first time in scripture. He’s talking with Moses and says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Isn’t it interesting how one of the first characteristics God reveals about Himself is His faithfulness. Along with things like merciful, gracious, and abounding in steadfast love, God wants us to know in the depths of who we are that He is faithful and when He says something He absolutely means it. God won’t say anything that could even possibly be untrue; it’s just not His nature or His character. He isn’t a God who deceives us or teases us with false promises because that doesn’t align with His faithfulness. So, when God makes the promise, “you are an entirely New Creation,” He absolutely means it.

He knows the depths of who you are, including all of your deep, dark, scary places, and He still promises you are a New Creation. How do I know this to be true? Because the very next phrase says, “All that is related to the old has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new.” If the old has vanished that means it no longer exists, it can no longer be seen. Those old things no longer matter because everything is fresh and new when we are a New Creations in Jesus.

So, what does all of this mean? What do we get by being a New Creation in Christ?

When we step into that place of intimacy and being enfolded into Jesus freedom, redemption, and restoration are a part of this reality. Brokenness and captivity cannot exist when we become a New Creation because these things don’t exist in the presence of Jesus. The whole point of the gospel is Jesus dying to restore what was broken and broken things can’t fix broken things. Jesus was fully perfect in every way which means He was the only one that could overcome brokenness. The best part about this is we get to have that victory also just because we are enfolded into Christ. The whole idea of “out with the old, in with the new” actually applies here. Part of the promise is everything related to the old order being done away with—these things literally don’t exist anymore. All of our sin, all of our shame, all of our brokenness don’t exist because we are a New Creation. Yet, we still want to hold onto these powerless things that make us miserable and hold us in captivity for what? Because we think we aren’t good enough or we don’t deserve the title of being a New Creation? I would even go so far to say many of us believe we are unworthy of freedom.

“Let me be clear, the Anointed One [Jesus] has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.” Galatians 5:1 TPT

Freedom is our reality as a New Creation in Christ, nothing more and nothing less, and we get to spend our whole lives living from this truth.

Have you ever been in this season with God where everything is going abnormally great and then some old sin struggles or thought patterns creep back in? Did you know you actually have power and authority over these things that are trying to tear you away from God and what He has for you? Part of being a New Creation means your “newness” outweighs the old by immeasurable amounts. Why? Because the identities we have in God far outweigh the lies we have in the enemy and we get to choose who we partner with. We have power and authority flowing through our veins just because we are a New Creation in Christ. How wild is that? We literally get to speak things into existence that otherwise wouldn’t exist just because we are enfolded in Christ!

Amanda Cook has this song titled “Mercy” and the bridge of the song says,

“So I will awake

And spend my days

Loving the One who has raised me up

From death to life

From wrong to right

You’re making all things beautiful”

And I think these lyrics fully embody what it means to be a New Creation in Christ. We don’t have to have everything figured out and we don’t have to fully understand all that has been given to us. We do, however, get to spend our days loving the One who has raised us up and has brought us from death to life and from old to new.

So my challenge and prayer for us is that we would boldly live from this reality that has been freely promised and given to us by a good and faithful Father. I pray we would walk in more intimacy and freedom than we ever thought was possible just because we know what it means to be enfolded into Jesus. I pray we would willingly let go of the things holding us back from receiving this truth and we would cling tightly to all that God is giving us in return. And most of all, I pray we would let this truth sink deep into our gut and become the foundation for who we are as the Beloved of God because when He says something He absolutely means it.

Author | Elizabeth Sprinkle

Bravery in Saying No

Bravery in Saying No

I always thought that being brave meant saying YES to everything that was presented to you. I thought it meant never backing down from a challenge (enneagram 8 here). I thought it meant pushing through fear even when it caused pain. 

But looking back at my time in college, I have learned that some of my bravest moments have been when I said no. When I said no to the things I knew weren’t good for me. When I said no to people who were toxic. When I said no to the “fun” I thought I could have, to spend time working on myself. These no’s were definitely not always fun. They brought a lot of tears, a lot of heartache and a whole lot of questions. But, I know now that they were always on time and they were always what God had for me. 

Sometimes we get worried that saying no is not what Jesus would have done or that it may not reflect His character. But let me tell ya, Jesus had no problem saying no. One of my favorite times is in John 6. You know this story. Jesus has literally just said yes to feeding FIVE THOUSAND people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. But that’s not where we stop.

 In verses 24-27, we find that when the people saw Jesus wasn’t where they thought He would be they went searching. When they find Him they begin asking Him questions but Jesus was CLEARLY not dumb. He knew they were simply looking for another food distribution. So he says “truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life; which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him”

WOAH! Jesus literally says. Bruh, no. I’m not multiplying anymore bread or anymore fish. If you are looking for something look for the fulfillment that comes from God. That is a hard no if I’ve ever seen one. 

So here’s my thought for you, maybe you do have to stand up to fear and fight through and persevere. But maybe, bravery means saying no to that job to spend a year as an unpaid Wesley intern. Maybe bravery means saying no to a boy, because you know he’s not pursuing the Lord. Maybe it means saying no to your friends because you need to spend time alone.

Maybe just maybe, bravery means saying no, just as much as it means saying yes.

Author | Morgan Attebery

Hunger

Hunger

A couple weeks ago I was in an Encounter staff meeting when Blake Wiggins asked us to dream with God for a few minutes about what our semester could look like. The word that came to mind for me was “hunger” and I wrestled with God over what that meant.

I feel like last semester hunger for more of God was something I was familiar with so this semester I dreamed that other staff and students would feel hungry for more like I was. I was dwelling on the question, “How can I make others hungry?” when I realized that I can’t. Hunger is between a person’s brain and his stomach, neither of which I can successfully influence. I decided to re-approach the problem by asking “How have others made me hungry?”. I thought of smelling authentic Korean food in my old neighborhood as I would drive by houses of people who ate together in their open garages. I remembered the immediate awareness of the emptiness in my stomach when I saw fresh food on the kitchen counter that one of my roommates had spent time preparing. Then I felt God impress on my heart the words “get cooking.”

Hunger for God in other people is not something I can produce, but I can inspire a need for more of God by feeding my own spirit and letting those around witness. They can catch a taste or sight of what God is doing to fill me up and their desire for the same will most likely be a natural response.

Practically, this looks like talking about what God is teaching you or doing in your life. You don’t have to preach sermons to your friends or constantly redirect casual conversations to your most recent encounter, but be intentional not to hinder your heart’s overflow and allow yourself to speak about what you like about God.

If you don’t feel like you’re overflowing with things to say about God, then your focus can be to cultivate hunger in yourself. Taste and see for yourself and you will want more. A basic human principle is that we like what makes us feel good so experiencing the Author and Source of all goodness is a lot easier than we often make it out to be. Read the Word and believe it, ask your discipleship group for testimonies of what God is doing in their lives, read books on famous revivals, go to church. When you see what is possible, you’ll want it, too.

Another basic human principle is that healthy people get hungry. If you don’t feel spiritually hungry, pursue health spiritually. There is no shame in this. I’m for sure not as healthy physically as I could be but the pursuit of physical health is life-giving to me, not condemning. Practically, this could look like receiving inner healing from emotional wounds like you would get a broken bone fixed. Consistently get in God’s presence like you might consistently go to the gym; it shouldn’t be routine or religious but empowering and full of reward.

As you put all this into practice, let Matthew 5:6 anchor you and motivate you. Jesus spoke blessing over the hungry and promised that they will be satisfied. This is what He has for you and nothing less.

Author | Savannah Ugan

Paul | Trained + Equipped

Paul | Trained + Equipped

Continuing through 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” I want to focus in on the last phrase “training in righteousness.” If you are on LEAD/GROW with us, then you learned a while back in your group discipleships that righteousness simply means living a life in right standing with God. Right standing with God refers to the purity of our intentions, it does not mean we have to do everything right and perfect… that would be impossible, people… However, to evaluate the intentions of our hearts we must look into our actions, our mindsets, and everything in between. Please don’t put too much pressure on yourself after hearing this, remember this isn’t a lifestyle that happens overnight, there is a reason this scripture uses the word “train.” We have to actively pursue living in righteousness every day, and over time it becomes easier and easier because we have strengthened the muscles of our hearts and minds to naturally choose to live this way. I believe that once we step into a lifestyle of righteousness, we won’t be able to help but feel empowered and equipped to perform good works for God everywhere we go.

But now that we know scripture is useful in training righteousness, how exactly does that work? And what exactly is this good work that it will produce? .

When I hear the term good work my mind automatically goes to some sort of act of service or other tangible action. But boy was my world opened up when I read an excerpt by Dr. Paul Elliot discussing the concept of good works throughout the bible. He stated “The Biblical definition of ‘good works’ is not merely ‘good deeds’. Biblical ‘good works’ encompass every aspect of our thinking and conduct before God.” Therefore, good works equates righteousness.

Quick Greek lesson for you! Logos refers to the totality of the written word, or basically the bible as a whole. The rhema word of God refers to the spoken word of God, rhema literally translates as “utterance.” Essentially this just means God incorporates scripture into His perfect timing in your life. Think about when a pastor is giving a sermon, they quote a piece of scripture and all of the sudden you are shocked at how they just read every piece of your mail from the week. That is the rhema word of God coming out in God’s perfect timing to help you apply it to your current circumstance. How kind of God to do that!

Another example for you: In Matthew 4 Jesus is in the wilderness. Nearing the end of his 40 day fast the enemy attempts to get to him in his weakness and cause Him to stumble in temptation. Each of the 3 times the devil attacked Jesus in the wilderness he tempted him with deception of the truth. But because Jesus knew the written word of god (which is the truth) through and through, each time the enemy tried to deceive him he could recall specific pieces of scripture to fight back at what the enemy was saying. We know he was using scripture to guide him because he said “it is written” before he quoted specific verses. The enemy, while persistent, eventually gave up and left Jesus to finish what he started. Had he not pulled this rhema word and knew the foundation in which he was being led, he could have fallen into the enemy’s trap. He could have doubted God, not fulfilled his duty, or even make decisions that would lead to severe consequences for all of us today. But he stood firm, he allowed scripture to move through his thoughts and equip him to stand firm against the enemies tactics and align the position of His heart with God’s will - which as we have learned is the basis for every good work we set out to do. Therefore we should constantly be in the word seeking to better understand and build up the library of scripture stored away in our brain. The more we read through it, the easier it is to draw from this rhema word to guide us into good works.

One of the first pieces you should store away in your mind is found in Galatians 5:22 where we are told the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you want a guide to how you can perform good works, these 9 fruits should be your home-base. As you walk in these fruits, you are aligning your heart with the character of God. When you make these your core, you can discern more of God's truth and knowing this truth allows us to make good decisions in every circumstance.

Ask yourself, are you allowing yourself to be deceived by comfort of this world, or are you aligning your actions/thoughts/beliefs with what God’s heart is? The more you know the bible the easier it is to decipher. But the more you put it on the back burner, the more you won’t know what you stand on and the shakier your foundation will become. Shaky foundations make it way easier to fall down and give in to temptations of the flesh and/or submit to false authorities. So as you open your bible next time, I challenge you to remember that it is God-breathed. Let it teach you - let it rebuke you when necessary - let it train you in righteousness. As you do this you can begin to build the base for every good work you do for God’s glory day after day.

Author | Tori Kramer

Paul | Wise + Courageous

Paul | Wise + Courageous

When I think of Paul, who he was and his influence on the world, two of the first things I think of are courage and wisdom. Courage for the leader he was among the first generations of Christians, and still is through his writings today. Wisdom for the way he knew God, and the way he conveys that knowledge is his writing.

In my opinion, one of the most influential and major things Paul ever wrote is 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

Immediately this verse always catches my attention by saying “all Scripture,” because that means that whatever is to follow applies to the entire bible. Regardless of how that sentence ends, it’s referring to every word of every verse of every chapter of every book in the bible, and that’s no small thing.

So the first thing Paul says about all Scripture is that it “is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and...” Meaning, that though there are several authors in the bible, every single line in Scripture was divinely inspired and influenced by God.

But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes on to say that all Scripture, “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” and this is really where I want to land with this post. I love the second half of this verse, because it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset of reading Scripture because we feel like we have to in order to “be good Christians.” But according to 2 Timothy 3:16, if all Scripture is God-breathed, including this verse itself, then this is God’s way of telling us exactly why reading Scripture is good for us and how we can use it, as opposed to just checking another thing of the list everyday.

I want to break this part of the verse down even further. The first way that Paul says all Scripture is useful is for teaching. As someone who loves to learn, particularly about God, I really love thinking of Scripture in this way. Scripture teaches us who God is, how to live our lives, how to love others well, and so many other things. Without Scripture to go off of, we’d have a really hard time learning about God and life in general.

“Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” (1 John 1:5)

“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.” (Psalm 116:5)

Both of these verses alone teach us more about God and who He is. He is light, He is gracious, He is righteous, and He is compassionate. All characteristics of Him that are repeated throughout Scripture, and that we learn from said Scripture.

Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

This verse teaches us how we should live, from a place of humility instead of rivalry. It also teaches us how we should love others, considering them more important than ourselves.

Scripture, and let’s not forget this is all Scripture we’re talking about here, can be useful for teaching. Without it, it would be hard to know God’s character and how to live lives that honor Him. So, it’s important to read the word so as to learn more about Him and ourselves.

The second Paul says Scripture is useful for is rebuking. When I first read this verse and started looking into the word rebuking, it had a pretty scary connotation of scolding, but looking further I found it to mean conviction of our sins. I think conviction is actually a really beautiful and kind way for God to protect us from doing harmful things, by reminding us what is right and wrong.

The third way Paul says Scripture is useful is correction, and I think this is the second part of rebuking. Rebuking and correcting isn’t an either/or, it’s a both/and. According to Paul, God uses all Scripture to convict us, but also correct us so that we can better ourselves and our lives.

Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”

These verses are an example of how God uses Scripture to rebuke and correct us. The first sentence, verse 31, is an example of God’s conviction, reminding us that bitterness, anger, wrath, etc… are all wrong. He reminds us of these things, so that we won’t end up with hard and angry hearts.

But God doesn’t stop at the convicting. In verse 32, Paul goes on to say we should be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. This verse is God’s way of correcting. First He rebukes by telling us what is wrong, but then He corrects by telling us what is right instead, and all of it is a beautiful demonstration of His love for us.

The final thing Paul lists as how all Scripture is useful is for training in righteousness. In the amplified version this part of 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage].” To sum that up, Scripture is useful because ultimately it shows us and teaches us how to live lives that bring honor and glory to God, and shouldn’t that be what we live for anyway?

God could have given us anything. He could have given us a book with knowledge to heal all diseases. He could have given us a book about how to earn lots of money. He could’ve given us anything. He gave us the bible, breathed from His own lips, to teaches how to live in accordance to Him and the plans He has for our lives. And He doesn’t stop there, in 2 Timothy 3:16 He also tells us how to use said bible. How kind and loving is our God to give us such a gift?

My prayer for us is that we would grow to appreciate Scripture, every single word of it, for the gift that it is. That we wouldn’t just read it to mark something off our checklists, but that we would read it to learn, grow, and see the errors in our ways. That we would read it to draw nearer to Him and learn more about His character and the way He loves. Would God instill in us a hunger to dive deeper in His word and learn all that He has for us there.

He has so much more waiting for you there, more than you can ever dream of, and He wants you to go after it.

Author | Stephanie Stewart

Paul | Bold + Unshakable

Paul | Bold + Unshakable

When I really think about the gospel spilling out into the world, I think of the dusty feet walking miles of roads and the only thing the early Christians surely carried was a powerful message. And I wonder, what is it like to be bound so tightly to Jesus where nothing else matters but persevering for His name, nothing else matters but knowing Him? 

Paul is a man I think of when I think of the gospel being let loose like that onto the earth.

Full of grit and valor. Bold and Unshakable.

I imagine him to be every bit of these words. A man so adamant, so fiercely held captive by one mission. One moment, every breath he breathed was a war to end the threat of Christianity and the next breath nothing could shake the gospel out of him. 

Acts 9:1-3 says “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” and he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

The very road Saul meant to take to tear at the glory of heaven, Jesus redeemed to bring glory closer than Saul dared dream. Things always change when we encounter Jesus. The road we are walking always has a different look, a broader perspective, a more purposeful mission when we come face to face with the presence of God.

A little further in Acts 9, Ananias, a disciple of Jesus in Damascus, was commanded to find Saul and lay his hands on him so Saul would regain his sight. Ananias, though faithful, was incredibly nervous considering Saul’s reputation. But you know what Jesus said?

“Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15)

What catches my breath every time I read this story is that God would have plans to use a cut throat, ruthless enemy of His Kingdom to change the trajectory of those who could come in into it! God used this man to bring more and more people to redemption, to His love.

I think it’s important to remember Paul’s story. It’s important to remember the kind of God we serve. Paul was the kind of man that bound himself completely to the mission he believed most in. And God’s the kind of Father to save His child from complete darkness and bring him into the light. God had a bigger plan for Paul than just encountering him on that road- Paul’s testimony would draw even the hardest of hearts to Christ.

Acts chapter 26, Paul is defending himself before the king as he has been kept in custody. Paul’s defense is his testimony of encountering God, and he recounts what God told him on the road to Damascus:

“Get up and stand to your feet, for I have appeared to you to reveal your destiny and to commission you as my assistant. You will be a witness to what you have seen and to the things I will reveal whenever I appear to you. I will rescue you from the persecution of your own people and from the hostility of the other nations that I will send you to. And you will open their eyes to their true condition, so that they may turn from darkness to the Light and from the power of Satan to the power of God. By placing their faith in me they will receive the total forgiveness of sins and be made holy, taking hold of the inheritance that I give to my children!” Acts 26:16-18 TPT

The entire new testament is full of letters inked with words that represent this testimony. A testimony full of grit, valor, boldness, and unshakable faith. Paul laid everything on the line for the sake of knowing Christ and preaching His name. He didn’t quit, he was a man who took God’s word and ran with it with his whole heart.

Praise God we get to share in these letters he wrote to the early church! They are written for us to glean from and learn from and be filled with. Jesus told Paul, “And you will open their eyes…” that’s what scripture will do for us when we read it- our eyes are opened to who God is and we begin to make that turn from darkness to light.

As we dive into this series on Paul, my prayer for us is that our eyes would be opened even more, that our testimonies would become footprints in the sand propelled forward by a confident and passionate message. Would God fill us with a testimony of faith and boldness and may His word enlighten our hearts to the fullness of the gospel.

“Then you will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences—the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Christ in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is his love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement that transcends our understanding—this extravagant love pours into you until you are filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!” -Ephesians 3:18 TPT

 Author | Emily Goldin

The Gift of His Heart

The Gift of His Heart

In this moment, I firmly believe that Jesus is handing His heart to the church. He trusts us more than ever, because He sees a generation that is only wanting Him— a generation that will risk everything to see Him redeem everything that was destroyed. We truly are a people after His own heart, and it is a beautiful thing.

The hunger, the thirst, the eagerness to serve Him is one of a kind— a special heartbeat in the midst of many other rhythms. I think He smiles at us so often, thinking “Oh, how I love my children. They want to do so much with me! Let it be done!”

While we cry out to see change in this world, it’s important to remember He also just wants us. He gives us His heart because it’s His most prized possession. He wants us to receive it fully, to let it interlock with our own, and to bring flesh to the decay in our own. Practically, I don’t even know what this looks like outside of spending time with Him. There is something so exhilarating about Him coming over your spirit and cleansing the deepest parts of you that you didn’t even know existed. In this place, He unlocks everything.

Recently, Jesus asked me, “Emily, if you could have anything in this world, what would it be?”

I knew this was a sweet tug from Him to reconnect with the deepest desire in my heart. Before this conversation, I had been really worn down, weary of ministry, and even felt a wave of oppression trying to crush every passion I have for Him. It was intense, it was dark, and it was a familiar spirit that tormented my mind for so much of my past in slavery. The enemy tried to make me think I was returning to ownership and that was my portion. Ha!

He tried to make me forget that the Lord parted the seas for me to have freedom! He tired to make me forget that the Lord set me apart even before the world was formed. He tried to make me give up on any thought of having a beautiful and lively future.

I knew exactly what I wanted.

“I just want you, Jesus.”

That’s when He gave me His heart. The tears were cascading like waterfalls. I was completely vulnerable, trembling in His love, trembling in His kindness, trembling because I had not recognized this continual sweet pull towards Him over and over again. I kneeled there and wept. And it was good.

He began to show me where He has been this season, and where He was in all of the dull and dark moments that I thought were sent against me. He was weeping right next to me. I saw it so clear. He was not angry. He was not distant. He was not disappointed. He was weeping.

Most may not know or ever truly understand, but expressing genuine emotion is naturally difficult for me. I feel everything, but I don’t allow myself to let it touch my heart. Those walls were built as a defense mechanism built up from years and years of self preservation. I wanted so desperately to feel the genuine emotion of the Lord, and He did it when He gave me His heart. It didn’t happen after a certain amount of prayer, after a special worship service, or even after tasting Him in scripture. It was a simple yes in my heart to only want Him more than anything else in the world and to just receive His heart.

We are given opportunities to receive His heart everyday. We are given opportunities to choose God’s love every moment. We are given the ability to love our life and to love ourselves.

It is always a choice. It is always an option.

If you are having a hard time choosing, remember He sees right through you. He sees every impure thought, every deceitful motivation, and every desire that doesn’t reflect His heart. He sees it all, but He chose to look upon you in love, understanding, and compassion instead. His eyes are not harsh, His heart is not hard. His eyes are soft, wet with tears, and His heart is full of flesh.

When you were digging in the dirt, when you were confused, when you were fearful, Jesus wept with you.

Now, He is giving you His heart. Just receive it.

Author | Emily Helton

Braving the Unknown

Braving the Unknown

I always thought I knew what it was to be brave in the Kingdom.

As a little girl, I envisioned forsaking life as I knew it for the mission field. Or adopting children from faraway lands. Or sharing my testimony on a stage with smoke and lights.

I still may do these things and more, but bravery has taken on a different form.  

My grandest moments of bravery have not included planes, papers or platforms.

They have been in the stillness, in the quiet, God asking me to lay down my plans.

While dreaming of bravery, I had also been constructing a future world. A world in which I had a husband, a great job and a modest, but adorable home by 25. Then children would come into the picture and maybe I would take a few years off work, or uproot my family to go abroad. I was willing. I was willing to be brave for God - but on my turf.

It only took a few years of college to see this world start to crumble. None of these things happened, rather none of these things even began to happen. I chose an open-ended major with unknown job prospects. I went on a few dates but found that scene to be crushingly overrated. I faced my very real emotional incompetence to handle the responsibility of starting a family.

So “lay down my plans” doesn’t really cover it. God asked me to demolish a world with him.

Have you seen Inception? If not, you should watch it ASAP as possible, but here are the basics.*

In this scene, Cobb and Ariadne take a tour through his old dream world - limbo. Cobb and his wife spent years constructing it. For a while, it was their heaven. They brought in familiar elements from their past and built their ideal future. It was everything they wanted - but it didn’t last. It didn’t last because it wasn’t real. And eventually, they had to forsake their beloved limbo for reality.

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That’s what it felt like God was saying to me. “This is a great plan and all, but it’s not real. It’s not what I have for you. And the longer you hold on to it, the longer you’re stuck in limbo.”

Limbo looks like aching for a life that’s not yours. It looks like holding on to old blueprints while God has some brick and mortar dreams ready to construct with you. That’s where the bravery comes in - going back to the drawing board with God. Somedays it feels like I live in a game of Mario Kart or Crash Bandicoot. When I’m cruising through these worlds, the trees and track appear before me as I go. Other days it straight up feels like I stepped off a cliff. I’m falling and frightened and confused. It took me a while to realize that this feeling does not mean I have taken a misstep. It’s a clue that I am trusting, learning and giving up control.

And in Inception, a fall is what wakes you up to reality.

In an earlier scene, Cobb teaches Ariadne to build dream worlds. He has certain guidelines but ultimately encourages her imagination to let loose. This is how my relationship with God began to look. Him, right my side, guiding and encouraging. And me, loving and learning and learning to love the world we were - are - constructing together.

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I still have an amorphous idea of my future job. I don’t have plans to pursue a relationship right now. In this new world, I have space to travel, to focus on my emotional and mental health, and to develop a deeper relationship with God. It’s scary, but so exciting.

There are still days I review the old blueprints. I have grieved them time and time again. Like Cobb, it was as though I had grown old in that world already. But ultimately, it wasn’t real and it wasn’t good. And God and I are working on something real and good right now.

____________

There are a lot of verses about the Christian future, but this has always been one of my favorites:

“There is surely a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off.” Proverbs 23:18

There is a heart rhinestone next to that verse in my old pink and orange NIV bible. When I first put it there as a 15-year-old, it symbolized a future husband. At 19, it was an exciting, world-traveling job. Now, I don’t have a clue what it is except a sweet promise from a near and dear God. A promise that the trees and track will keep appearing, that stepping off the edge with Him means awakening to a new level of reality.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for making me brave. Thank you for your guidance. Thank you for the imagination you have given me. You are the ultimate creator and I trust that we are building something altogether new and needed in your Kingdom.

*Inception: A gaggle of guys and one gal are able to construct dream worlds - dreams within dreams - and find out people’s secrets from these dreams. Seriously, watch it for $3.99 here.

Author | Claire Jordan

Bravery in the Midst of Unknown Callings

Bravery in the Midst of Unknown Callings

“Before I knew you, I thought brave was not being afraid. You've taught me that bravery is being terrified and doing it anyway” – Laurell K. Hamilton

What constitutes bravery to you? Is it showing fearlessness? Heroism? Dauntlessness?

What I’ve learned is that bravery doesn’t mean going into a battle, an argument, a calling, etc. without fear. It’s not about having full confidence in yourself. Bravery’s not even reliant on having supernatural/special abilities that lend you aid as you approach the obstacle in front of you. Bravery is showing mental and moral strength to face danger, fear or difficulty. As Hamilton says, it’s about “being terrified and doing it anyway.” Bravery is having that hard conversation with your roommate even if you’re afraid of the repercussions. It’s going to college, leaving your parents behind for maybe the first time in your life to live on your own. It’s trusting God with your future when you have no idea what it will look like. Bravery isn’t fearlessness, bravery is facing your fears head on with full confidence that God is walking beside you with every step you take.

When I was in high school, I had my entire future mapped out, full of confidence that I was doing what God had called me to do and living to my fullest potential. But I came to college, suffered from severe anxiety, dealt with an eating disorder, had friends that were discouraging and judgmental when I didn’t follow their status quo, and hated the major I was so confident in studying. My “calling” was crumbling in my hands and I spiraled. Why? Because I had faith in myself, not God. I had planned my future out by myself, thinking that by doing good, I was doing what God had called me to do. I was fearless and self-assured until things started to fall apart.

Did that mean I was brave? Yes, and no. I was brave because I didn’t give up. I was terrified of not knowing, of the what ifs that ran through my head – what if I can’t get a job? What if I have to move back in with my parents forever? What if I’ve been doing life all wrong this whole time? But I didn’t let those what ifs control me. I fought, I kept asking God for guidance, and I kept pushing forward until I found victory from my eating disorder and anxiety, until I found supportive and accepting community, until I found a degree that I actually enjoyed pursuing. At the same time, I doubted that God would call me to something more. I was afraid of what my future would look like, and that alone keeps me from calling the way I lived “bravery.”

If you flip through my college journals, you’ll find page after page of me asking God why he was stonewalling me, why I couldn’t get an answer from him. To this day four years later, I still couldn’t tell you with certainty what it is I’m called to do, but as Bob said a couple weeks ago – that doesn’t mean that I’m not callable. That just means that I’m in a place of “not yet.” Over time, I’ve learned to find peace with God’s answer of “not yet.” He hasn’t revealed my calling to me yet, but He tells me that it’s coming soon and that I should have patience. It’s in that place where I have found true bravery – not in giving my all towards a future I have planned out perfectly but trusting that God will reveal in His own timing what I’m to do in the next chapter of my life. That peace, in a world that says I need to know, is how bravery manifests itself in my life right now.

Despite the constant questioning of what will I do next, I can say “I don’t know” with an assurance that one day I will. I’m still afraid of the constant repeating of the phrase “I don’t know” – I hate not knowing. I wanted God to tell me four years ago what I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life, not chase after him begging to know what the next step is.

The other day someone told me that as they were praying for me, they saw a lighthouse. That the light was guiding me forward, but I could only see what was right in front of me as I followed the beam – and that’s how I’ve been living lately. Stepping forward, one step at a time, following this light that’s leading me to an unknown destination. In Psalm 16, David says “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” A joyful heart in a life of unknowns is the bravest you can be. Rejoice – God will not abandon you. He will come to you, He will call you, and He will set your path before you when the time is right.

Author | Emma Whitmer

Callings: What if I'm stuck?

Callings: What if I'm stuck?

  “Storms make trees take deeper root.” –Dolly Parton

How do we deal with the storms in our lives? Do you duck your head and run? Do you dance in the rain? Do you just stand there and let the rain soak you? How do you deal with these difficult seasons? Whatever way you answer those questions will define how that season of your life goes. Now, I know that I definitely do not have all the answers to life and fall short way more than I would like to admit, but since different seasons are a part of life, I would like to share my thoughts on the tough seasons.

A phrase that keeps coming up in my life when I walk through difficult seasons is “look up”. The phrase “look up” correlates to the idea that your circumstances shrink you down to the size of the storm you’re facing and it becomes all you can see. When you walk through a storm, it is so easy to get bogged down in all your circumstances. It’s easy to be negative; to be discouraged and think this is how things have always been for you. It’s easy to think that your life has always been difficult, and that you’ve never had it easy. That somehow there was always unhappiness on the sidelines of your joy just waiting to come in and take its "rightful" place again. And the way we try to deal with this feeling is trying to be someone other than ourselves, or we try to decide and reason ourselves out of these seasons. The perspectives of your life can seem tinged with negative more often than not.

“If I could only have her optimism…”

“I can just try harder to have his passion and spirit for things…”

“If I can just get myself to care then it will all be so much easier…”

“Come on self, get your butt in gear…”

Am I the only one that thinks these things? I doubt it. When I read those sentences again what I see is striving and weariness and comparison. How many of us are so weary of the battle we’ve been facing? I know I am. Can I share something with you guys? You will not be able to decide yourself into changing your inward condition. I know, I’ve tried countless times. Your striving wears you out and tears you down. It makes you feel alone and divided. It is discouraging and one-sided and often yields no permanent results. Shaming yourself into change is not the way. At the same time, self-discipline will not do it for you either. There is only one Being capable of your internal change.

He is Jesus. He sets people free from their bondage, especially the self-made prisons and traps. He wants to come and save you so desperately.

“Really? I don’t see Him rushing in to save ME.”

“If that's true, I must not be doing this 'following the Lord thing' right…”

“I guess I need to take things into my own hands in order to get them fixed."

Oh yeah. Even in those moments where our “self” enters back in. Our pride comes in thinking that we have the power to change us. Pride is not only a thing that enters in when we are only fed up with life, but it also comes in when we are weary of the battle. Especially when we have difficulty believing that God is who He says He is. I’ll give you a quick reminder of His promise to you.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He reads from Isaiah 61:1-2. This is why He came to Earth. He came for you, dear one.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the openings of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…”

So, to conclude all the thoughts poured out here, I would say to each of you “look up”. See Jesus calling you forth; see Him holding out His hand for you. Take it. Rest. Know that He will do the changing in you. Remind yourself of this truth often. I know I cannot make the change happen in myself, but I shall leave my self-changing to Him. Do not be afraid today; be confident of the One who leads you.

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

Author | Aubrey Gold

Callings: What if I'm not confident?

Callings: What if I'm not confident?

When we are young, we create amazing ideas about what we want to do or be. We imagine ourselves as astronauts or popstars, lawyers or magicians. As children we have the freedom to imagine an idyllic world. I was listening to a podcast called “This is Love” and someone described it like this: “We get to take our brain out and let it play. We don’t give it any problems to solve and in doing this it reveals what our brain (or heart) really wants.”

God wants us to dream with him. He gives us desires (Psalm 37:4), but then we get older and insecurities start to creep in. We begin doubting our abilities and settling for things that are safe or easy. Ephesians 2:10 says “God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it.” That sounds great, but we are usually not satisfied with that in our lives. We want to know what our destiny is and steps A-Z on getting there. That would be reassuring. That would be easy, but that would require no trust and no dependence.

What does God want most? He wants a relationship with us. He wants us to come to him for help. To lean on him for support, and to be our guide (Psalm 37:23). Psalm 119:105 says that God’s word is a lamp unto our feet. He doesn’t show us all the steps. We have to walk with a lamp to the ground to see where we are going because he wants to be with us every step of the way. Often our insecurity comes from a false understanding of who God is or who He has made us to be. Our confidence in ourselves is directly related to our confidence in God.

Look at Gideon for example. In Judges 6 God tells Gideon to “Go in the strength you have and save Israel.” Gideon’s response was basically how? I am weak and lowly. Then he asks God to prove to him that He is really talking to him. He wants to make sure he is not imagining it all. God does prove it to him, but Gideon still doesn’t believe. So God continues to prove himself until Gideon has no choice but to believe God is real and that He really wants him to save Israel. God is willing to do the same for us. He is willing to work with us through our process of trust. It's not going to be easy, but it will be worth it.

Once Gideon believed God, he was able to surrender his fear and his hesitation and walk into his calling. You can do the same. As we begin to trust Him more we begin to rely on Him, and it is in this place of humility and dependence that we become confident. When we believe God, we believe his word and what it says about us. We can be confident in ourselves because God has called us to be his Children (John 1:12). He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). He has promised to equip us, guide us, and protect us, and He has ordained us to bring good works to this broken world (Philippians 4:19, Psalm 32:8, Psalm 121:7, Ephesians 2:10).

It is okay to need to God. It is okay if you feel like you can’t do what you are called to do. God is faithful. Period. When it is hard to believe that you are equipped to walk into your calling just stop and remember you are not alone. Remember who God is. Remember what He says about you. Remind yourself that without God you can do nothing (John 15:5). Go into his presence and let His Holy Spirit empower you and transform you (2 Corinthians 3:18). God created you for a purpose. He has placed dreams and desires in your heart that He created you to pursue. So what if your not confident in your abilities? You can trust that God knew what He was doing when He gave you the desires of your heart. You can trust that He will guide you and bring you to the place He has promised you (Psalm 37:34).

More truths to come back to: Hebrews 13:20-21 “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Philip 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

1 Corinthians 12:7 “Each believer is given continuous revelation by the Holy Spirit to benefit not just himself but all.”

Romans 12:6-8 “God’s marvelous grace imparts to each one of us varying gifts and ministries that are uniquely ours. So if God has given you the grace-gift of prophecy, you must activate your gift by using the proportion of faith you have to prophesy. If your grace-gift is serving, then thrive in serving others well. If you have the grace-gift of teaching, then be actively teaching and training others. If you have the grace-gift of encouragement, then use it often to encourage others. If you have the grace-gift of giving to meet the needs of others, then may you prosper in your generosity without any fanfare. If you have the gift of leadership, be passionate about your leadership. And if you have the gift of showing compassion, then flourish in your cheerful display of compassion.”

Author | Ashlyn Williams