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

Callings: What if I miss it?

Callings: What if I miss it?

Decisions can be paralyzing. Especially the decisions being made now- colleges, majors, and career paths all loom before us, a million different options that all feel like they dictate the rest of our lives. For some people it looks really easy. They have a really strong calling on their life for a certain career or a certain major. They seem to know wholeheartedly what God’s calling is for their lives and they can follow it, tossing aside all the other options that don’t fit.

For the rest of us it isn’t as clear. We know that God has a calling for our lives. We just don’t know what it looks like. The fear of missing God’s calling on our lives makes every decision carry that much more weight and importance, because with every step we wonder “what if this isn’t what God has for me?” We start to see decisions not only as what they will lead to, but as what they will not lead to. We become afraid to rule out anything completely, leaving doors open just in case we figure out that that’s actually where God really wants us to be. It’s basically Calling FOMO. You can become so afraid of missing God’s calling for your life by making the wrong decision that you stop making decisions.

God’s calling on our lives is meant to be a source of stress, nor is it some spiritual scavenger hunt where we have to decipher clues in order to receive the “prize” of our calling. Rather, God’s calling is meant to bring us peace; we can trust that God has a plan for us and that it will be fulfilled. After all, the God of all the universe is more mighty and powerful than a major or a piece of paper.

The only way to miss God’s calling on your life is to not seek it. When we pursue God and actively yearn to align our heart and will with God’s, then we will fall into our calling by nature of following God. Romans 8:28 says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The Passion Translation puts it this way: “we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose.”

In both translations it becomes clear that the pressure isn’t on us. As followers of Christ, we are called according to his purpose, and he is the one who weaves together the good plans. We are the instrument of God’s goodness, a way for his love to be shown in the earth. His calling exists to bring goodness into our lives. We just have to be open to his plan and calling on our lives, and that allows him to fulfill that work and bring us into our calling.

Author | Sarah Savoie

Callings: What if I get it wrong?

Callings: What if I get it wrong?

I think the thing that most hinders our generation of Christians from chasing our dreams is the obsessive pursuit of “getting it right.” We have to be sure that what we are wanting is of God before we take a step, and we are crippled by the fear of “missing it” or hearing God incorrectly. To be clear, I often use these questions as a measuring stick for my next step, but I think sometimes they can do more harm than good, paralyzing us until we here a booming “YES. This is what you should do,” in our heads.

Because we know that God often communicates to us in a whisper or a passing thought, we cannot expect to hear a resounding affirmation or veto from Him on every decision we make. There is a calling on your life, but whether you will fulfill it does not hang in the balance every time you make a choice.

I heard this analogy a few years ago that really changed my view on discerning God’s will for my life. We often like to think of God’s will for our lives as a tightrope over a large canyon, and we believe that if we take one misstep to the left or right off of the tightrope, we fall outside of the will of God. In reality, God’s will is actually the canyon. It is vast and wide, and there are often many paths to take us to where He would have us go. We can rest in the fact that even if we make a mistake or don’t hear Him perfectly on what our next step should be, the Holy Spirit is within us and will act as an internal GPS, rerouting us to the best possible path toward walking fully in our calling. We should also remember that as long as we are not being rebellious or deliberately disobedient, we are not powerful enough to cause God’s plan for our lives to fall apart. Therefore, even if you get it wrong, His good plans for you will still come to pass. Proverbs 16:4 says that the Lord works everything together according to His purpose, so we can trust that God is able to use our mistakes to accomplish His purpose for us.

If you are ever totally unsure of your calling or even if you have one, turn toward God’s word. There are things that you are called to do in scripture, and the only way to get those wrong is not to do them. I recently heard a podcast describing this concept and it has changed the way I live my life. Every believer is called to love God and to love their neighbor. If you can do those things, then follow what makes your heart beat fast. As a created being, you have unique passions and desires inside you that have been planted there by God. If a decision is before you and you’re worried about making the wrong decision, assess the options based on those criteria. Can you love God doing it? Can you love your neighbor doing it? Does it make your heart beat fast? If it ticks all of those boxes, run toward it. Sometimes, God gives us a choice. There isn’t always one thing that is blatantly better than the other; maybe both would be very good for us. In those situations, we have the freedom to choose and to follow what makes our hearts beat fast.

Your individual calling is bigger than a vocation. Pursuing your calling doesn’t mean being locked into one job for the rest of your life. The thing you are individually able to give away to the world, that is your calling. For me, the thing God has shown me most clearly in my life is that He is a comforter in all situations. Therefore, a calling on my life is to comfort all those who need it, to be the most comforting person anyone has been around all day. I am called to this because I have freely received, so I must freely give. What is it that you have freely received? What do you know most about God? If you give that to the world, you are operating in your calling.

One thing we do have to accept is that sometimes we will mess it up. You will think you heard God so clearly on something, and it won’t pan out like you thought it would. Your humanness will get in the way at times, and you will make mistakes. If you take one thing away, know this: You have hope in the fact that no mistake, no “getting it wrong,” no mishearing God can change God’s plan for you or the things you are called to do. If your heart is postured in obedience and humility to Him, you will always get it right.

Author | Kalli Drake

The Calling of Gideon

The Calling of Gideon

In the book of Judges, Joshua, Israel’s leader, has just died. The Israelites continue to ask the Lord who they should conquer next as they enter their Promised Land tribe by tribe. However, as time passes, Israel stops following God’s commands and starts living among the other people, making covenants with them and worshipping their gods. So to help the Israelites, who are being overpowered by their enemies, God begins to  send judges to help them. The judges get Israel back on track following the Lord’s commands. In Joshua 6, the Lord calls Israel’s newest judge, Gideon, to save the Israelites from captivity by the Midianites. And Gideon’s response to God, in short, is “Who—me?” 

Gideon begins to list off all the reasons he’s unqualified to rescue the Israelites—his tribe is the weakest of Israel, and to top that off, he’s the weakest in his tribe. But the Lord’s response is simple: “I will be with you.” Gideon still wants to verify that the angel speaking to him is from the Lord, so he goes to prepare a sacrifice, and the Lord patiently waits for him to return and shows that He really is who He says He is. When Gideon understands that he has seen the angel face-to-face, he realizes his own lack of holiness and faith, and is worried he is going to die. Instead, the angel reassures him, and from that point forward, the altar was called Yahweh-Shalom, meaning “the Lord is peace.”

So let’s break this story down. First there is Gideon, his current circumstance being a captive of the Midianites. He wonders how the Lord could be with them since so much bad has happened to them. There hadn’t been any miracles recently. God wasn’t swooping down to save them. So how could He be with them? And the Lord’s response to Gideon is one that he is often saying to us: “Go. I am sending you.”

Often, we are the answers to our prayers. Gideon wanted his circumstance to change, and God called him to be the one to change his circumstance. He said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you.” And when Gideon questioned how that could be possible by listing all the reasons he is unqualified for the job, the Lord simply tells him that He will be with him. 

The crazy thing is, God isn’t concerned with our laundry list of reasons that we aren’t qualified to do the things He is calling us to do. Instead, He reminds us of this truth: that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is living in us (Romans 8:11). It isn’t actually about us at all, but about the work that the Lord wants to accomplish. He is with us. The strength we have is enough, but only because we don’t actually have enough strength to do it on our own. When we are forced to rely on God to fulfill the callings on our lives, we truly see his power made perfect, because we come face to face with our weakness and choose to say yes anyways (1 Corinthians 12:9). And that is when miracles happen. Those moments that only can be explained by God. We should want as many of those moments as we can get. 

God isn’t concerned with Gideon proving his capability, being worthy of his calling, having a blameless past, or even a perfect faith. Gideon questions his identity, God’s decision-making process, and even if it’s actually God speaking. Gideon is far from the poster boy for God’s ideal judge. But that’s what is so great about Gideon— he’s real. He voices his questions and fears to God, and God answers him. The Lord is patient and gracious with Gideon, and his authenticity with God earns him a spot in the “Great Examples of Faith” in Hebrews 12, next to Abraham, Moses, and other “more likely” heroes. 

It’s okay to have questions—it’s even okay to have doubts— about our capability to fulfill the callings God has placed on each of our lives. Because the truth is, if it’s something God is calling us to, it’s going to be bigger than anything we could ever dream of doing. We aren’t capable on our own. But it’s also true that with the Holy Spirit—God being with us—we have authority and power that we could never dream of. 

God, who created the universe and could manage it much better than we ever could, decided we were worth it to give it all to us. God, who had a perfect, blameless son, decided we were worth it for Him to die so that we could be with Him forever. Because for God, intimacy is the ultimate goal. To be near to His creation is better to Him than controlling His creation. To partner with His creation to bring Heaven to Earth is better than waiting, far away, for His creation to figure it all out on their own. To come close, even when we aren’t worthy or qualified, is His greatest gift to us. 

Author | Erin Gilleland

The Calling of Abraham

The Calling of Abraham

Expectations destroy or enhance the reality that you live in. I have recently been getting into the Old Testament, and it is one of my favorite things!!!! The Old Testament explains and shows the heart of God for his people which was personified in Jesus. Abraham may be one of the most important Biblical characters to ever exist. He is important enough that three major world religions trace their lineage back to him! That fact does not mean he was perfect, actually quite the opposite. God promised something to Abraham that seemed ridiculous to any rational human being at the time, his wife Sarah even laughed at the promise to begin with. 

It was an extravagant promise that changed the course of history. If God’s calling on your life seems too big to be real, remember that God called Abraham to a father of nations when he was 90 years old. God does not call you based on what you perceive to be your limitations. Our limitations actually prove that God is real. When what God promises comes to pass, the only explanation can be God.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” –Genesis 15:17-21

God was saying Abraham would be a father in this old age and made a covenant with him. God’s covenant to Abraham carried far more weight than we give it credit. A covenant in those days wasn’t like a pinky promise or something like that. There were consequences if the covenant was not fulfilled, and God took on all of them. In a way, God said, “I’m going to come through, and even if you don’t come through on your side, I will take on the consequences. I am faithful and will always be faithful to this covenant.” Nothing depended on Abraham, everything depended on God to come through. You do not have to worry about making a mistake, because God already knows you will. You have responsibility in your calling, but it is God’s job to come through on making it happen. 

God’s name means something in the Old Testament, and even though Abraham did not get to hear God’s name, his promise showed that God’s name is true. The name “YHWH” means “I am that I am.” I never knew what that actually meant until recently, and I did not understand the gravity of names. A name carries a destiny and defines the person that is being described. God’s name means that he is what you experience him to be and always will be that thing. Therefore, if God shows that he is trustworthy, he will always be trustworthy. If God shows himself to be loving, he will always be loving. It is not in his nature to act differently than he has displayed himself to be in the past. 

There is a reason that God changed Abraham’s name from Abram to Abraham. Abram means “exalted father” while Abraham means “father of many.” God changed his destiny, and he remained true to his covenant promise. However, Abraham had to be constantly reminded of God’s promise to him and what that meant for him during times of hardship. Hardship is going to happen to you on the way to getting to your calling, we do have an enemy out there who’s sole job is to get us to believe our identity is not true. Satan cannot attack your standing with God, so he will do anything to make you believe your identity actually is not true. You are a son or a daughter, stand firm in that truth when circumstances yell differently. You do not have to be afraid of what is happening, you are safe in the Father’s arms. You cannot disqualify yourself from a calling you didn’t even give to yourself. 

Let me say this loud and clear: it’s okay to be mad and yell at God sometimes. It would not be a relationship if you pretended everything was okay when you were falling apart. It would be fake, God is not interested in having a relationship with an image of you. God wants the real you and wants to process through all the emotions that you have about your calling.

Even more than that, God’s calling on your life will not be something you could accomplish for yourself. God’s calling on Abraham was a miracle. There is no rational way that it could have worked out without divine intervention. If you can accomplish the calling on your life by yourself, it probably is not God’s calling. 

It is all about the process with God. At the end of your life, the calling on your life is God. God’s ultimate goal is to be in an intimate relationship with you. It is all that matters to him, that is the entire reason why Jesus came to die on the cross. God did not care what it would cost him, he only cared what it would get him: you. You are the most important thing to God, and he will take care of your heart. He is the safest place to dream, because he cares so deeply about you.

Author | Cristina Rosiles

Ask, Seek, Knock - The Answers are Closer than You Know

Ask, Seek, Knock - The Answers are Closer than You Know

" So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will you give him a snake instead? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11: 9-13

This piece of scripture comes from the gospel, Luke, when Jesus is teaching on prayer. He teaches them the Lord's Prayer and then begins to tell a parable of a man continuing to ask for bread from a friend. The friend in the end gives the man the bread, but "not because of friendship, yet because of (his) shameless audacity (or perseverance of his good name) he will surely get up and give you as much as you need" Luke 11:8

Often times we get so caught up in the motions and the ideologies we already know and we forget we have a role to play in how we receive things. Yes, God is good and will give us things freely, but there are also times when He wants us to actually ask before He gives. We are called to co-labor with Him and we are called to be in relationship with Him - so at times this means that we must put in the work to see what God is doing in a certain situation, what He is teaching us in a certain season, and how He is working to answer the cries of our hearts. And I don't mean striving - God does not want us to stress out, psychoanalyze, or beg Him to do good things for us. I just mean that He wants us to demonstrate our trust and faith in Him and to ask, seek, and knock with persistence in the times of waiting.

Waiting can be stressful, and honestly plain annoying at times. Trust me, I have had to do a lot of it this past year when it came to physical healing and understanding of what was happening with my health. But through the process of waiting and asking time and time again I began to learn the value of constantly humbling myself to lay my circumstance at the feet of Jesus and ask "one more time" for the thing I so desperately wanted. The crazy thing is, I haven't gotten that full healing quite yet, but I have made miles of progress - I have answers now, I have direction, I have new found energy, and most importantly I have hope that God is not finished in my healing process.

I don't know what your "one more time" situation is, I don't know how long you have been waiting for, and I don't know when or how God is going to answer your prayer, but I do know that God is sovereign and God is good. He is who He says He is, and Jesus tells us explicitly "ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and a door will be opened." So DO NOT GIVE UP! Keep asking, keep searching, and keep knocking. God will show up for you because He cannot turn back on His word: 2 Timothy 2:13 says "for He cannot deny Himself." He will give you as much as you need so long as you persist in His good name.

If you are not convinced quite yet, here is how I know this to be true.

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

  1. You then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts: We are human and our flesh is of this world, therefore we automatically gravitate towards self-edification. Yet even in our selfishness, we would never purposefully give to someone we care about something that would harm them when they ask for things. When we give gifts, we attempt to get our loved ones the things that would really make their day or things that they have been desperately wanting or needing at that point in time.

  2. Heavenly Father: While not everyone has an ideal image of an earthly father, God is the perfect depiction of a GOOD Father and surpasses any idea we may have formed of what a father should be, both good and bad. And because He is that good, He will provide that much more for us. So, it is imperative we align our hearts to see Him as this GOOD, LOVING, FATHER as we are praying and asking for things. When we begin to align our hearts with this truth, our perspective on any situation changes. We stop seeing pain and start seeing hope and promise. We stop fearing vulnerability and start trusting the safe places in our lives. We understand that He wants to give us things simply because He loves us. We start realizing who we were always created to be and can begin to claim our identity in God - and when we begin fighting battles with the things that God has declared on our lives we will always be victorious. Remember, we are living FROM victory, not pleading to get to victory, so tap into the ways that God has prepared you to be victorious.

  3. Give the Holy Spirit TO THOSE WHO ASK: How many times have you heard the Holy Spirit is your comforter, your helper, your confidant? If you have been hanging around the church for a little while then I imagine it's safe to bet you have heard this a time or two. These things are SO great! But, we often forget how much more He is to us. One of the most important things we sometimes overlook, is that Holy Spirit is God. Because of this and knowing who God is as Father, we know the Holy Spirit wants to give us things for our benefit. What is even cooler is that with the Holy Spirit inside of us, we now have access to multitudes of new things that He has to give us. We have power and authority in Jesus’ name through the Holy Spirit, and with that we can change things. But again, we have a part in this - He wants us to be in it with Him. We ask and He gives us the Holy Spirit to shift things and to help us understand things. When we ask Him, not only, is He so excited to spend time talking with us, but He is also extremely honored because of the faith we have demonstrated by implying we know He can and will do it for us. Just because we don't see God answering in the way that we expect DOES NOT mean that He isn't answering, so keep asking He may be preparing to release your answers through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives inside of you!  

Author | Tori Kramer

Identity

Identity

I have this instinctual response to alter my personality, interests, and lifestyle when I meet someone I like.  Maybe you can relate.  I wish it were limited to only romantic interests because that would be a smaller problem to approach, but it also applies to family members, friends, coworkers, and leaders in my life.  The transformation is loaded with good intentions to connect with someone I enjoy and is usually undetectable until it’s a little too late to revert to my most genuine self.  I don’t mean to be fake or act like someone I’m not.  At the root of my chameleon-like tendencies, I want to be worth something to someone.

             The most compelling reason I am interning at Wesley is to learn to be who God says I am all the time no matter who is around or what environment I am in.  I have been rewiring my mind to function from the belief that I am wanted when I am fully myself and that is infinitely better than striving to be desirable at the expense of who I was created by God to be. I’m learning what it means to allow God to define my worth.  He has spoken and still speaks about the priceless value He has placed in me. When I’m not careful, I take for granted the cost He paid and the intentionality in His forming me.  I start to see Him like I see my parents— someone who would say I’m beautiful when I’m ugly and amazing when I’m really not because they have to.  While seeing God as Father is life-changing, the familiarity of knowing Him this way without the reverence of knowing Him as King can limit our ability to love the identities and callings He has given us.  When the King speaks, reality aligns with His will. He is Father and the God of the living and the dead who calls things into being that were not (Romans 4:17). He is both Father of glory (Ephesians 1:17) and King of glory (Psalm 24:1).

            My misconception of God is at the core of the problem I’m working to resolve which means I am once again being invited to know more of the heart of God. There is so much grace in our shortcomings.  In His love, mercy, and gentleness, God says I am enough.  As the Lion of Judah and Lamb that was slain, He assures me that I am not too little or too much.  When I live from the belief that I am already worthy and wanted by the One who is truth, I no longer have to adapt my identity to complement that of those around me.  I can connect with people without the pressure of pleasing them.  Confidence in God’s declaration of my value is my safety bubble that protects me from feeling like a disappointment or someone not worth loving.

             When I live to earn the affection of people, I am handicapping myself.  My thoughts are consumed with trying to figure out what they want from me and how I can give it to them instead of having thoughts about what God has given me and how I can give it away to them.  My interests fluctuate causing confusion and a lack of trust for those who know me the closest instead of having interests that reflect God-given passion for life.  My wavering lifestyles take away the opportunity for people to know me and remove the opportunity to be consistently vulnerable with people I love.  I limit my God-given gifts because I become preoccupied with being who they want instead of who God created me to be.  The greatest irony of all is that the version of me people really want and need the most is the version of me that God has authored and is perfecting (Hebrews 12:2).  I don’t have to live in agreement with the lie that people would want me more if I were different, less, or more. 

            Discovering our identities and what God says about us is a life-long, thrilling journey.  As we know God more, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).  We never stop developing into better versions of ourselves as we develop intimacy with God.  Christ gave us the opportunity to be transformed, defying sociocultural norms, behaviors, and beliefs by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Affirming the identity God gave you starts in the mind— in the pursuit of the knowledge of God.  I could tell you every place in the Word I know where God talks about who He is to us and who we are to Him but I would rather just tell you there’s good stuff in Bible so go look for it. Tell me what you find and I’ll tell you what I’ve found. 

            Supplemental to knowing God as a way of discovering your identity, write out what you know about you.  I keep a list on my phone of things about myself that are unique to me.  Only a couple of friends have seen it, and it’s not really for show. It’s just a reminder that I am different and that’s fun.  Write out your passions, dreams, goals, and fears. What makes you angry and what makes you get out of bed in the morning? The more you can flesh out those questions, the more you should notice patterns and staples of who God uniquely created you to be.  Ask the people closest to you to share what they see in you and see what matches up between the different responses.  You can even take assessments like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or Enneagram to add to your self-awareness.  Then lay all the verses, all the facts about yourself, all the truth you can find before God and ask Him what He says.  I assure you it will be life-altering and kind every time, not just because He is your parent but because He is King and so much more.  His word is truth and His truth will set you free.  I hope this helps you find freedom from fighting to be wanted and striving for affection like it did for me.  Even more so, I hope you are able to identify the misconceptions you have about God that are producing fruit in you that is less than the best for you. You deserve the best and God wants to give it to you.  Ask Him what freedom He has for you this year as you know Him more.

Author | Savannah Ugan

Resolutions: Where Are You Hiding?

Resolutions: Where Are You Hiding?

I don’t typically love resolutions. I think a lot of my feelings towards them stem from knowing reality: will they stand against life? Most times, they don’t for me. I may get through a few months, but nothing quite lasts the longevity of the year. So, the past three years, I’ve prayed for a word or phrase to express what I want to walk into that year. As the New Year approached, I began to ask God what He wanted for me this next season, and as clear as day, I heard Him say, “It’s time to come out of hiding.”

I’m not gonna lie. No matter if it’s a resolution or a word from God, there’s a tinge of fear as I declare them over myself. I start to worry because I know how long a year can be and all the chaos that can be thrown in. And I know me. I know just how weak I can be and all the times I’ve tried and failed.

But you know what I tend to forget to weave into the equation between reality and the desires of God’s heart for me? I may somewhat know the tendencies of life. I may know the tendencies of me. But, do I know the tendencies of God? Do I actually breathe in the knowledge of God as I let out my proclamation of newness?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Adam and Eve lately. There’s a part of their story that is so interesting to me.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, Where are you?

He said, I heard the sound of You [walking] in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.

And He said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Genesis 3:8-12 AMP

Adam and Eve knew God. They knew His tendencies. They knew His character. Yet, when they messed up, suddenly their perspective of His goodness shifted and the identity that covered them was tainted by their mistake. You see, God knew what they did, and yet He still walked in the garden to see them. I find it interesting that He asked, “Where are you?” Just at the sound of God, Adam feared what’s to come because he suddenly was all too aware of his mess and felt he wasn’t covered. So he hid. Where are you hiding because of what you think you are?

Sweet friends, where we position ourselves matters. Are we positioning ourselves to receive the goodness of God this year or are we hiding from Him out of fear and shame? It matters that we know who God is because if we know the kind of God He is, then we know that no matter the tinge of fear that new seasons and new years may bring, we’re covered in the blessings of God.

There’s a song by Bethel that just came out called Goodness of God. Jenn Johnson sings it, and she proclaims something so powerful in this song. She sings: “Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me”. Do you believe that? I think if we really inhaled the truth of who God is and let out a deep sigh of knowing He’s with us every single step of this year, every moment we’ve walked, and every forward movement we make, then we wouldn’t feel inclined to hide. No matter the mistakes we make. No matter the chaos that life brings. No matter the expectations unmet. If we were to make every declaration of improvement linked to the knowledge of God, we would know we’re moving forward with every ounce of hope and promise woven in our steps. So even when forward brings messiness, we won’t hide in fear, we won’t hide in shame, we won’t run away in distrust of our identity, we will keep walking with God because the truth of who He is covers every inch of us.

As we listen to Him for what this next season holds, as we declare His heart over us this year, as we begin to step into newness, I beg you to ask yourself, “Where am I hiding?”

We weren’t made to be children who hide. We are destined to be captivated by His goodness.

“So why would I fear the future? For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life.”

Psalm 23:6

Author | Emily Goldin