Posted in authenticity, doctrine, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, spiritual growth, transformation by truth

a pivotal moment

The floor felt like it opened up to swallow me.  Thoughts and words and ideas and foundations were challenged as I sipped a frozen coffee and listened.    

At 21 years old and a senior in college, I assumed I would be a bit more stable.  In the prior year, I had seen my foundations fracture due to my own choices.  What started as hairline fractures burst into chasms in which I could not charm my way out of.   I hurt others.  I chose my own comfort for the moment.  I began to see that my self-righteousness was a front for the sin that lay beneath.  What stung the most for this people pleaser was that others called me out on my mess.  In 2019 terms, I was having a “brand crisis.”     

Looking in the mirror, the person I thought I was faded, and I did not know who this young woman had become.  One might be thinking I had gotten into a scandal of epic size, but it was not.  A poorly handled breakup and a poorly handled rebound where I hurt others started the snowball down the hill.  I kept trying to spin my choices in the eyes of others, and I found myself further in a hole.  I had lost fellowship with God as I walked my day to day life, and it became about my own wisdom.  Spoiler alert:  I had an overinflated picture of my own wisdom and resources. 

I could recognize and feel the grossness and inconsistencies within me for the first time.  Up until then, I really thought I had it together.  I know—yuck.  I had depended upon God, but I did not have a truthful view of myself and Him. 

So, as I sat looking at God’s word in a totally different way, I was greatly sobered.  Before, I had cherry picked verses that were encouraging or convicting.  Never had I studied through a book of the Bible or listened to teaching in that way.  I did not know how.  Never had I let God’s word inform me of what God was like.  I took what people told me and the wisdom that I had and formulated my faith. 

Ephesians 1 was before me…had I ever read it before?  It was plain, and it shook me. When I allowed the Bible coupled with the Spirit to speak…I was confronted that I was not the center of my story.  Though humbling, it was so freeing.  This freedom and joy only came after a war waged within.

This was the beginning of my journey of looking at God, His word and my faith in a different way.  See, I totally would be a different person today had this change not occurred. Every year and in every pain, He leads me deeper and deeper into His truth.  Sadly, I see where I could have been apart from His grace to show me the treasure of His word and who He is.  From my background, I assume I would still be in church.  I would still be a people helper.  However, knowing myself, I think the authenticity and vulnerability would not be there.  The richness of relationships would not be there.  I think my view of God would have shifted to be more culturally acceptable. I would not have had the anchor of God’s sure character within pain.  In infertility, in death and loss and grief, in ministry…I literally would be unrecognizable if I still thought I was the center of the story.  I would have missed the beauty of who He is.

If I can encourage people of anything in this life, it is to examine His word and to ask Him for wisdom and grace in learning from it.  For, from it, He shows Himself and in turn, one sees the reality of who they are. 

See, if God is the center and the praise of His glory is the point, I have found and am finding that there is meaning and worship and hope and eternal purpose in all things—even the most crushing of blows.  I can go to His truth preserved and find my identity and meaning there—even when I don’t understand and don’t like what I read.  He does not shift or change as everything around us does.  His purposes are true and eternal and good.   So, wrestle friends. It is worth it.

Posted in doctrine, God's word, loving God with your mind, spiritual growth, transformation by truth

Sprinkled or Power-Washed?

The last few days, I have been one with the pressure washer. The space on our deck seemed to triple in that time. I had LOTS of time to think, to pray, to ponder, and to learn.

Pressure washing is oddly satisfying. You can see results in the stripping of dirt and grime. There is power there. Used effectively, it transforms.

Funny how dirt works. It builds over time, and it is subtle. We are the same way. We are affected and changed by the day in and day out grime that builds up. Often we do not even recognize the change in our hearts and lives until we tank. That whole caveat that we become who we are around…it’s true. We have become like the world in so many ways. Our hearts become hardened and our ears gunky so as to not be able to discern falsehood. Our mouths tend to be loose and prone to criticize and to complain. Our minds become cloudy with anxiety and questions and thoughts of self-preservation and self-worship.

The power washer to us? God’s character and word by His Spirit. The problem? Most of us use His word like the trickle of a hose. It might feel refreshing to our felt need of the day, but it does not transform. A little devotion here, a little worship there, check out this therapeutic book, say some prayers for your business, your kids, your attitude… We come in contact with the water, but we do not understand and feel it’s power. We want the benefits of Him without knowing Him.

I have had many different relationships with the Bible in my life. Earlier on, it was facts to memorize, words to sing, and prayers to pray. As life marched on, it became truth to wrestle with. A little further in, water for my parched and disoriented soul. Deeper in, the invitation to die to my definitions of fulfillment and to live in His definitions.

There are times that I feel the sting of that power washer digging into the build up of my comfort and pride and the very ways that I define myself. It is painful, but it is necessary to bring greater growth and health and life. I know it is out of love from the Spirit. See, I can age and weather and get build up and look like everyone else, and at times, that feels very comfortable. But, then the rot comes. The fungi gets in the cracks and creates rot, and it spreads like a cancer. When Jesus commanded us to remain and abide in Him, His words, His love, that was not a suggestion for a trickle of water. He calls us to depend, to be transformed, and to be renewed.

I see the rot happening all too often in my own life and in that of others when we are choose not to be equipped to deeply dive into the Word of God and to be transformed. Time and time again, I see the drift. I see people falling for the “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3) When we are not versed in who God really is and what He is about (which is found in the letter from Him to us in His word), we tend to choose what sounds the best and makes the most sense within the culture. We have the build up and we have lost the sensitivity for what is really true.

There are some things (well, a lot) that completely do not make sense to my natural heart and thoughts in the Bible. I want to get along, love everybody, make them feel good about themselves and have them feel good about me. Those are the basics of Jen. But, as I have come to know Him more–in the light of His character displayed in His word–I know that my desires are often contrary to good. I may think I am doing good to someone, but I am actually contributing to my rot and to their rot. See, I can paint a deck with the best of them. I can pick a really cute color and scheme and make it look good for the moment. However, the inside of those pieces of wood and the stability of the decking will show. The winds will come and the rain will come down, and it will crash.

In learning to study His word, I throw out the foundation of sand which looks appealing to the outside. I begin to be grounded and have a sure foundation on the rock. The pressure washer stings when it hits my pride, my bitterness, my arrogance, my longing to please others, my anxieties, my self-worship, my disregard for others in need… However, I am then free from those things and free to see, to hear, and to commune with the Father. My soul finds rest in following Him. I walk healthier and with more of a regard for others and their truest needs. The grime builds up everyday, and everyday I need the transforming power and words of the gospel which frees me from myself.

Posted in discipleship, discipline, doctrine, eternal things, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, infertility, spiritual growth, transformation by truth, trusting God

Feelings, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Feelings…

In the last few days I have had several conversations that remind me that our feelings can be tricky.  We have feelings for a reason.  They help us express joy and enjoy life.  They can be exhilirating.  They often can alert us to something big going on in our heart and relationships.  Feelings are not bad in themselves.  The danger comes when we elevate feelings and experience to god status.

Think about relationships…in the beginning the feeling is like flying.  Studies even find that chemicals are released in the brain that are euphoric at the beginning of relationships.  So fun.  But then, what happens when they go away?  Some panic thinking their love is not true.  Some try to recreate that same feeling and when it fails they are despondent.  Some move on to the next relationship to capture that feeling again.  Some get married and fight a new battle of feelings.  Those who push through and learn see that love deepens and matures over time.  They may not experience euphoria, but they enjoy the person and trust is built and friendship is deepened and they are fully known, scars and all.  There is a peace and reward to that kind of commitment.

A marriage, over time, has peaks and valleys, but with the goal in mind, much growth can occur.  Endurance through those highs and lows and commitment and focus bring maturity and intimacy.  This can be likened to our relationship with God.

At first, when our hearts are made new, it is so exhilirating.  We are new creatures learning a new life and so full of love.  We see God so many places.  We want others to know Him.  We hear Him.  Like a child, we grow quickly because there is so much to learn.  We long for more…and then something happens and we may lose that “feeling.”

I remember as a teenager and a newer Christian looking at adults and thinking they didn’t get it.  Mind you, some of them really did not know Jesus, but some did and did not have the same “passionate” response as me.  I made a judgement on them.  I discounted their faith.  Now, I am on the other side of that (twice the age I was then).  I understand a little more.

Think about adulthood.  Once you hit a certain age, your growth changes from outward to inward (at least we hope).  The early and mid twenties are about finding out who you are and asserting that relationally in the world.  I work with young women everyday who have hit the wall of adulthood and say “is this what all this is about?”  They easily get depressed.  It is hard.  They feel lost.  I remember those exact feelings.  There’s the F word–feelings.

Part of my purpose is to point them to truth and to bring them to bring their feelings underneath the truth.  As a person, if you do not learn to do this, you will continually be seeking the next thing that will create good feelings within you.  This could be a new spouse or relationship, a new job, a new city, another kid, new friends, walking away from faith, walking to a new faith, self-help, drugs, status, material things, vacations.  I could go on and on.

In our relationship with God, He wants us to know Him despite our circumstances, in and even despite of our feelings.  Many think when they lose that first feeling and passion of the early days in their walk with God that they have lost Him.  He may be teaching us not to trust or rely on feeling but Him.  He may want us to seek Him and find that He is true even in sadness.  We all have seen people who are so driven by experience that they are always chasing the next new thing in Christianity because that’s where people are really “knowing” God.  A lot of times that can be mysticism without God at all.  We can make our religious or spiritual experiences an idol.  He will not stand for that.

God is so much wiser than we make Him to be.  His word says that those who endure to the end will be saved.  This life is not a sprint but a marathon.  Ask runners if the whole marathon is a high–they will tell you there are definite highs but there are moments that they want to quit and do not think they can make it.

God, in His word, calls us to trust in Him and not our own understanding (feelings), and He will direct our path.  He calls us to mature in Him, to grow in intimacy just like a marriage.  As we mature, change comes in long and often painful periods of trust.  To become more like Him, it involves the shedding of and dying to our sin.  This does not feel good because we have come to trust it (sin) and treasure it more than Him.  If we cannot process our feelings and bring them under His truth and choose to trust His truth even when we do not feel it, we will run away to try to get a better feeling somewhere else (in marriage, we call this adultery).  We will miss some of the richest parts of knowing who He really is–not what we’ve made Him to be.

The biggest places God has refined me to know Him despite and even in my feelings are marriage and the struggle with infertility.  In His grace, He continually called me to make a decision to study and meditate on His word.  Was this easy? No.  I wanted to run…and at times I did run to get a “high” somewhere else.  However, in His grace and love, I submitted to His truth and chose to trust His sovereignty.  Oh what a deeper joy…even such that I am thankful for the time of infertility for I would never have known Him in such a way.  Faith is submission even when we are sad or angry or all over the place with our feelings.  Faith is the submission and believing in His truth when we do not feel Him.  We make this decision everyday.  I pray that you not give up or run to something that seems easier or makes you “feel” better for the moment.  Intimacy and maturity in Him do not rely on the circumstance of the moment but continually meditating on His truth and who He is and choosing to place your trust there for the long haul.  I would not trade the long marriage for the false beginning high, and I pray that I continue to remember that.

Posted in community, doctrine, God's sovereignty and goodness, God's word, infertility, suffering in joy, thankfulness, The body of Christ, trusting God

Lots of Thoughts…

      It has been a long while since I have posted a blog.  Many times I have thought of topics to write about that are swirling in my head and heart–I just have not. 

        Life is full of different seasons.  My thirties, to this point, have been about pain, struggle and immense growth in knowing Christ.  An overarching sadness has plagued circumstances (see the history of this blog).  Now, I am in a season of the joy of pregnancy–preparing to let go and preparing to embrace a huge new role and responsibility in life.  Soon, (3 months and coming faster) I will be a Momma and Greg a Daddy. 

        God has been unbelievably gracious to me in the last few years to lead me through heartache and struggle while providing friends around me who have prayed deeply on my behalf.  Even aquaintances and strangers have taken up the mantle of prayer.  He now has me in a season of having the privilege of doing that for others.

      I have NEVER experienced a season where so many around me are so heavy in pain and struggle–NEVER.  He has traded my personal struggles with struggling with the body.  My heart breaks for many around me who seem to be in the sadness and wrestling phase I had been in for so long.  No, it is not about infertility for most of them, but it is the same concept.  We, at one or many times in our lives, will find ourselves in situations and circumstances where we have NO CONTROL.  We are hurt by others and ourselves.  We see people moving toward utter destruction, and nothing we say can pull them back or change their hearts.  Like infertility, we cannot make new life happen.  We find ourselves at a crossroad of trusting ourselves and what we can make work of this life (good luck with that one!) or choosing to know and trust God in the midst. 

       I thank God that He is using everything I have struggled and learned in the midst of the last years to pour out to others (2 Corinthians 1).  This is not that I can give people answers–cause I cannot.  This is so that I might journey and struggle with others pointing them to the ONLY hope–Christ.  Pointing others to Him that they might taste and see that He is good no matter what the circumstantial outcome. 

         He has given me opportunity to pray and hurt with others just as friends prayed for and hurt with me.  There is nothing more comforting when you are in deep heartache than to know someone is faithfully praying for you.  Many times when we hurt, we are exhausted and do not even know how to pray (let alone feel like we have the energy to pray).  God is so gracious to give us opportunities to serve in the gracious ways we have been served.

       We do not know when times of heartache and struggle will come into our lives–we just know they will.  Though we war in every way against struggle, especially in our culture, without it, we wallow in shallow existence.  We choose the lesser things every time.  We choose to trust ourselves.  We choose to try to control our lives.  We choose worshipping the idols around us over the ONE true, beautiful, gracious, loving, just God.  When we are broken, we finally can see Him  and our need for Him clearly.  Though my heart is breaking and my knees are bruised from prayer for those around me, I do not want to take the pain away.  I know that pain and struggle are purposeful to bring us to deeper life in Him (Hebrews 12).  My prayer is that that life in Him be embraced fully–that they learn and grow in waiting on Him for their strength to be renewed. 

         I also think about this little boy growing in me.  So many times in the last month, I have already felt tugs in my heart to surrender him fully.  I do not know what his personality will be like or what struggles he will have or what decisions he will make.  I only know that he will struggle and I will not be able to protect him and heal him and shield him.  But, I know the One who has his best interest at heart every time.  My prayer is that I let the little one face struggle and adversity and know the ONE who is the only hope.  I pray that I can let go and let him wrestle with hard questions and circumstances and know God in ways that a “safe,” “disinfected life” does not bring.  It is not easy to say and pray now as I cannot imagine how hard it will be to follow through with. 

           I have to remember what has brought me true life and teach that to my child.   Greg and I want to be truthful and point to where true life comes from.    It’s a joke for me to think “I’ll deal with that when it comes.”   May I prepare to speak the same truth to Jack that I do to my friends who are hurting and girls that I disciple.  It all comes down to–do I really trust Him?  May I remember that He is trustworthy now and He will be then.  He calls me not to fear and to remember that ” He is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not grow faint or weary; His understanding is unsearchable.”   Isaiah 40:28

      Greg often says that the time to begin to  talk about the Sovereignty of God in all things is not at the casket…it is now.  I have been in a study of Isaiah in Precepts, and you cannot deny the complete Sovereignty of God studying that book or the Bible in general.  What comfort there is in His character!  I am wrestling with this truth over and over again as I pray for friends.  I am resting in Him over and over again as I pray for friends and think about the future when troubles come my way.  I do not have this life figured out, but I know the only place to go for Shelter and Refuge.  My prayer is that I teach that to Jack and model that for Jack.  John Benjamin is his name–meaning “God is gracious” and “son of my right hand (favor).” He is a gift that we did not earn or deserve and favor that we certainly did not deserve.  May we be faithful to preach the word to Him in and out of season–to love Him and disciple Him and let Him go.  I know I am going to royally screw up at times–may I continue to rely on God’s grace.  When I do screw up, may I go to God and model trusting Jesus to Jack. 

       In all things, even in the pain of my friends, God is teaching me about His beautiful character and His redemptive hand and HOPE.  I am blessed beyond measure, and I know this is not the end.  It is certainly not the end of my learning of our Gracious Father in all circumstances–soon to be parenthood.  I know it is not the end for my friends and family who are in pain.  We have no control over His timing, but we are called to know Him in the midst.  I cannot wait to rejoice in things He does that we have no clue about that will come from the midst of this pain now in their/our lives.  Thanks be to God for who He is.