What Do You Want to Say?

‘…so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.’ (1 Kings 8:60)

After watching the movie Woodlawn for the second time, I began to take great interest in the whole premise and historical context of this true story about overcoming great odds with even greater faith.

Described as a ‘quiet, reluctant hero,’ Tony Nathan is the subject of this film that takes place in the recovering community of Birmingham, AL in the early 1970s.

In a capturing scene, Tony Nathan and Coach Tandy Gerelds exchange words right before a key play.

“What do you feel but you can’t say,” questioned Coach Tandy. “What do you want to say to all these people?”

Up until this point, the city of Birmingham, AL had endured a series of hate crimes, racially motivated violence, and extreme division.

Football had become a sort of unifying beacon of hope for the city and the school; a platform on which Tony Nathan found himself amidst great opposition.

“You say it when you run Tony,” Coach Tandy continued. “You say it when you run.”

As this line lingered in my thoughts, it made me realize that the strongest convictions or messages that we want to get across to others are often spoken not through words or dramatic speeches, but through actions, integrity, hard work and humility.

In a culture where he had no platform, no opportunity to speak, and even threats against him if he did, Tony Nathan took the only platform he could and he ‘ran’ with it.

In that community, in that school, in that racially turbulent society he was in, he spoke loudest when he ran.

So he ran.

What message have you been given to share?

What do you want to say?

In a world of so many cheap, empty words, misused words, and redefined words, it is no longer an option (nor was it ever an option) to rely on words alone to speak truth into lies and light into darkness.

Max Lucado once said that it is the contagiously calm person who reminds others, “God is in control.”

The contagiously calm person or the quiet, reluctant hero doesn’t have to speak to be heard. They don’t have to say or preach or convince others that God is in control or that there is a grander purpose outside of themselves for which they’re living because that truth is spoken more loudly in their life rather than in their words.

We speak the loudest when we do; when we react with Gospel truth, because when we do in the name of Jesus, we disrupt, and when we disrupt, we are faced with opposition.

Much of Jesus’ life, and even the reality of the cross is found amongst great opposition.

Christ was faced not only with the opposition of man, but the opposition of evil. He was faced with great opposition, great hindrance, and the greatest thief of all hope and life.

But He overcame.

It was in the greatest opposition that the power, the unrelenting love, and the greatness of God became known and it is in our greatest opposition that we have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate that that same power, that same unrelenting love, and that same great God lives today, moves today, and acts today.

Just as Jesus gained the attention of the crowds by his miracles, so too did he gain the attention of those who would later oppress him.

Just as Tony Nathan gained the attention of the fans by his running, so too did he gain the attention of those filled with ignorant hatred.

And when you begin to humbly live in a way that undeniably demonstrates the radical truths of God’s glory, you will be noticed by many, but you will also gain the attention of the enemy – and he will fight.

However, we know that if God is indeed for us, no one can stand against us.

Unfortunately, I think we often like the way that verse sounds but then go about standing up against opposition in our own strength; in our own name and for our own glory.

That’s not the point, and Tony Nathan was one of the few that understood that.

The point is that when we are faced with opposition; when we are faced with great resistance and conflict and we keep our faith; when we keep our character and our integrity and witness firsthand the resiliency and endurance of Christ in us, it is then that all will know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.

Reflections of Grace

I was recently asked to share my testimony.

I have generally avoided sharing my testimony because I’ve never seen it as being that powerful of a story; that moving or really that spectacular.

My heart honestly cringes now as I write this because that is such an ugly lie that many, especially those like me who have been a Christian their entire lives fall victim to, as if the beauty of our stories rest in the age or manner in which we were given the blessing of salvation.

Regardless of the age or circumstance under which Christ was made known to us, it is still the same hand of grace that reached down into our muck and mire to save our lost souls.

And that’s a story worth telling.

So I shared my testimony and came to this realization – perhaps my story hasn’t changed many lives nor will it ever inspire amazing things, but it has changed my life.

As I wrote my story, reminiscing on the good times when I knew God was moving and the horribly dark times when I thought the rain would never end; as I wrote it all out, I was moved.

I had no idea at the time how mightily God was moving in my life; from age five, kneeling at the side of my bed praying ‘that’ prayer, to age 23 learning how to reflect the love of Christ in every aspect of my life.

One component of my testimony that really stood out to me though was how my faith was taking shape about two years ago.

Throughout my college and early professional years, there were several moments where I sought change; perhaps a change that would finally make my life better – better opportunities, better circumstances, or a more satisfying purpose.

My life was defined by change.

I looked forward to the next change in life because that was a way of escaping my present reality; of putting a period at the end of whatever mess I was in and giving me hope for the turning of a new leaf.

I changed schools because that was a way of isolating the anxiety I had experienced to that campus and that campus alone, which I could escape from easily enough.

I changed my major area of study so many times because I wanted to be a certain person. So from trying Chemistry to Health and Wellness to Counseling to Social Work, I never quit looking for that form of identity.

I changed the way I looked because then it was that girl who wasn’t attractive, but maybe now I would be.

I moved back to my hometown for many reasons, but perhaps deep down in hopes of rediscovering the innocent girl that I was growing up here. It’s funny how even just driving by the old house I grew up in takes me back to the days of innocence and purity, allowing me just a moment to dwell in that past reality.

I would try different relationships thinking that one of them would finally make me feel worthy enough, all the while missing the ultimate purpose and grander design for relationships and marriage, which is to reflect and worship the God who is worthy rather than finding self-worth in another person.

I’ve changed jobs in search of satisfaction and purpose because then maybe I would feel like I was doing something worthwhile.

All of this boils down to one thing…

I wanted change that would change me.

I wanted change that would change who I was and how I saw myself, because to be quite honest, there was a lot that I didn’t like about who I was.

There was a lot of pain, rejection, failures, and ignorance that I didn’t want as part of my testimony.

There was a lot of fear, uncertainty, unmet hopes and expectations, unanswered prayers, and out-of-control circumstances that threatened to breach the confines of this tidy little box that I called my faith.

My testimony wasn’t what I wanted it to be and therefore it wasn’t worth telling…not yet anyways.

I wanted change that would change me before sharing my testimony because I think I believed that unless I was who I really wanted to be or who I thought I should be, then what was the point of all those rainy days? What good did they do if they didn’t wash away the muck?

What was the point of that depression? That anxiety? That heartbreak or that failure if it wasn’t all culminating in a nice, clean finished product?

And one thing I knew for sure was that I certainly was not the clean, finished product that I wanted to be, so I kept changing and I kept refraining from telling the story of how I got to where I was because it was still unfinished.

What’s ironic about that is that the harder I tried to change, the more apparent my insufficiencies and shortcomings became, thus creating more areas that I wanted to change. In all of His grace and goodness though, God opened my eyes to the one change that I did need in all of this and that was Him.

I realized that all of those rainy days in my story weren’t rooted in the circumstances and situations that I believed certain changes could erase, but instead they were deeply rooted in my heart.

When I stopped striving in vain to make behavioral or situational modifications to my life, God did a tremendous work in my heart. He took the rainy days and turned them into reflections of His grace.

And it was then that I started to blossom into the purest reflection of Christ that I could be.

When we stop trying to shape and mold our lives, our work, our relationships, even our ministries into what we think they should be or wish they would be and instead ask God to work and move in any way He pleases, our stories suddenly go from frustratingly unfinished to perfectly in process – always growing, always becoming, and always flourishing into a refined reflection of our good and gracious God.

Who I Was This Morning

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I–I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

I saw this quote from Alice in Wonderland hung on an office wall this morning at work, and of course, having seen it multiple times before (because it’s right next to the microwave), I didn’t think anything of it.

But then I read it again.

I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.

For some reason that resonated with me more today than it has on any other day; it actually meant something to me. There was truth in that statement.

Since getting out of bed this morning at 5:30am, I have been changed several times.

I’ve been changed by grace. I’ve been changed by God’s grace more faithful than the rising sun and the grace of others who are sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit to extend what I don’t deserve. I’ve been changed by the flowing of grace through my own heart and spirit as well. There is beauty and life in grace received and in grace extended.

I’ve been changed by prayer. I’ve been changed by the sheer power of prayer, even if that prayer remains unanswered. God has shown me how prayer isn’t just a way of getting what I want, but a way of becoming one with God through the interceding power of the Holy Spirit. In the little time between now and this morning, my prayers have continued to conform into prayers that seek the heart of God rather than the fulfillment of my own desires.

I’ve been changed by God’s Word. This morning reminded me once again how powerful it is to saturate my heart and mind in the Word of God first thing in the morning. I read verses that I didn’t know existed and understood verses that I’ve known my whole life in entirely new ways, for the Word of God truly is alive and active when we seek to understand it (Hebrews 4:12, paraphrased).

I know who I was this morning and while I know that God invites us with open arms into His goodness and grace just as we are, how good is He who does not allow us to stay that way forever?

For he promises to transform us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That truth has become so sweet to me lately; how I can actually have hope for being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ by a God who is holy and magnificent.

Psalm 25:8 reminds us how good and faithful the Lord really is, and therefore, in his perfect goodness and unfailing faithfulness, instructs sinners in his ways.

That Psalm is so humbling to my heart; to think that a holy and perfect God would actually instruct sinners in his ways, and not even by anything we have done or will do. This verse is very clear – it is only because of the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord that He changes us, teaches us, and transforms us, because we are, at our core, sinners helplessly lost to the impulses of selfish gain and pride.

Who I was this morning has been refined; made new, covered in grace and mercy that is new every morning.

That’s the beautiful thing about refinement – it will never be a completed work in us until the day we get to behold the glorious face of Jesus, but until then, we have this hope that will never disappoint or put us to shame – that it is through the Lord, the Spirit and His perfect goodness and faithfulness that we are instructed, transformed, and overwhelmed by a love made new every single day, transforming who I was this morning into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Entirely Flawed but Wholly Loved by God

I screwed up again.

I made a mistake that I knew was a mistake, but I did it anyways.

I knew I would regret it, and that’s probably the most frustrating part for me – it was a conscious decision.

As I sat at my desk that next morning, lost in my thoughts and self-loathing, I asked God to break me.

I wanted to feel the brokenness of my sin because up until that point, it had never really been that bad; just a little slip up here and there.

But I knew differently.

I had become painfully aware of my own weakness and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain this resolve for long.

I knew it was just a matter of time until it would happen again.

So I asked God to break me; to break me to the point of hating this sin because I knew that I would never turn from a sin that I didn’t hate, no matter how much discipline and devotion I put into practice.

God reminded me of a sermon by Judah Smith that morning titled Jesus Is Loving Barabbas. As I listened to it, I realized the difference between confessing a sin and confessing my sinfulness.

To own, admit, and confess our sinfulness brings us to a place of utter humility and dependence on the grace of God, while admitting a sin is simply owning up to our one, wrong action among many.

Yes, my actions were wrong, but that wasn’t even the first time that I had made that particular mistake.

It was becoming a pattern.

It was searing my conscience (1 Timothy 4:2) and becoming a part of my ‘nature.’

It legitimately scared me to tears.

My weakness became so real to me in that moment; my flaws and my shortcomings so evident that I felt crushed and defeated.

I was broken.

So I confessed.

I confessed the entirety of my flaws; of my sinfulness from birth.

I begged for forgiveness, but even more, I begged for a renewed spirit and a changed heart.

As David laments in Psalm 51, ‘wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’

What joy there is in knowing that our past sins have been washed away by the grace of God, leaving us whiter than snow. But honestly, this recent mistake didn’t scare me as much as the projection of past mistakes onto my future.

My track record was now forecasting future patterns, and that was terrifying.

And that’s when I realized it.

I realized that I am absolutely no match against the powers of hell; no match against the urges of sin.

The answers that I sought and the strength that I needed to resist could not be found within myself; within my own discipline, devotion, or boundaries, but only through God.

It is ONLY through the power and redeeming love of Christ that we have any chance against the powers of sin and darkness.

It was the love of Christ that set Barabbas free. Not the people. Not his own goodness or reputation. Not even the authority of Pontius Pilate.

It was only by the love of Christ who took the chains from this man that he knew would never return to him.

But he still loved him.

He loved him enough to die for him.

He still tells us, ‘give me your shame,’ even when we find ourselves lost to our own fleshly desires and urges again and again.

As the tears ran down my face, I asked God – ‘What if I do it again, Father? What if I mess up again? I’ve already done this once before, so what’s to say that anything will be different this time?’

‘I’ll still be here,’ He says.

He’ll still be there, because His love is whole.

It is realized in its entirety through the Gospel.

It is wholly and entirely perfect and everlasting.

It is poured out into our hearts not through our own doing; not because of our own discipline, devotion, or good behavior, but only through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Please realize this – whatever sin you’re finding yourself in right now, whatever chains and shackles you’re wearing, you cannot shake yourself free.

You will never be able to free yourself from the urges and temptations of sin.

It doesn’t require more resolve on your part. More discipline, greater devotion, or better boundaries are nothing compared to the powers of sin and evil.

It is ONLY through the Holy Spirit that our hearts are changed; that our desires are convicted and our thoughts are turned to the holy and precious love of Christ; a love that ‘compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again’ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Yes, I am entirely flawed.

But I am wholly loved by God as well, and that is what saves me.

Everything

The weight on my chest was crushing and I could feel the sobs pushing their way to the surface.

I never knew silence could be this loud; that solitude could be this tormenting.

It felt like I had ‘broken legs but still chasing perfection;’ like even though I was alone, my shaky voice wasn’t the only one I could hear.

I knew the patterns my life had taken lately were pulling and pushing and dragging me farther from God than I had ever been.

The gaping void was agonizing.

There was a period of time several months after I had moved out on my own and first debuted as an ‘adult’ where I truly felt detached from God; as if I was standing on the cusp of this massive emptiness longing with all my heart to return to Him but not knowing how.

Fast-forward a year and a half and not much has changed. I’m still living in the same town and working the same job, but that void has since been bridged.

It didn’t just happen though.

I wish it would have. I wish I could have just woken up that next morning free from the fear of silence and solitude, having been instantaneously placed back in the centerfold of God’s embrace, but then what would I have gained? How would I have grown?

The skit done to the song Everything by Lifehouse is a beautiful representation of the process of sanctification.

When I first saw this video almost 5 years ago, I remember being moved to the point of tears at the extent of God’s love for His children and His relentless pursuit of us.

I clung to those truths and watched that video over and over again, but eventually my thoughts were whisked away to other things; other Christian literature, music, podcasts, and learning.

I stumbled across this video last night though and was once again reminded of the beauty of God’s pursuit of us and His unconditional love.

Something else struck me though.

The way the directors of this skit chose to emulate the process of sanctification was absolutely stunning.

I love the rawness of this video; how it doesn’t really seem like they are holding back. I can’t help but feel bad for that poor girl. She had to have been feeling pretty beat up after performing that skit.

But that’s reality, isn’t it? Don’t we often feel beat up and defeated as we try to fight our sins and worldly passions and idols?

Sanctification is the process of being ‘made holy;’ the process of being moved from the darkness into the light.

As this girl fought past her addictions, her sin, and her mistakes and sorrows, she was slowly and what looked to be painfully stripped of her darkness, revealing the spirit within her that had been washed white as snow by the blood of Christ.

It didn’t just happen though.

She fought.

She fell.

She was hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.

She was persecuted, but not abandoned.

She was struck down, but not destroyed.

She got back up.

And eventually, she was able to stand, washed white as snow; removed from the darkness and embraced by the Light.

Sanctification is a lot like the process of purifying a precious medal.

It is placed in the fire in order to draw to the surface all the impurities, which are then removed. This process is done over and over again, until the blacksmith can look down at the precious medal and see his own reflection, free of filth.

We are sanctified when we are placed in the fire; when we face those struggles and internal battles between the desires of the flesh and the longing of the spirit.

It was in the deafening silence and the tormenting solitude that God drew to the surface the impurities of false security and hope, fear, unbelief, pride, and my wrong thinking about God’s goodness.

And it was in the muffled cries into my pillow and wordless prayers that he removed those impurities.

I still don’t think I am at the point of fully reflecting God and His character.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point this side of heaven.

But I can look back on that period of my life with peace knowing that it got me one step closer.

Fighting through my fears, removing those insecure platforms of false hopes, addressing my unbelief in God’s goodness, and coming face-to-face with my ugly pride did more for me than any ‘good day’ ever has; moved me more than any sermon ever will.

The process of sanctification is becoming more and more like Christ; of removing the darkness that we clothe ourselves in to reveal a reflection of the Light within us.

This is not an easy, painless process, but it is worth the fight.

It is worth everything.

Divine Appointment

Frustration sunk in as I realized my mistake.

I looked in my rearview mirror at the exit sign that grew smaller and smaller as Siri chimed in, telling me (as if I hadn’t already figured it out) that I’d missed my exit.

Darn it.

We had made such good time too and now we had to go way out of our way to get back to our destination.

I was so frustrated.

We finally got back to our exit though and made the final turn toward Sokol Auditorium where NF was scheduled to perform in an hour and a half.

I had bought these tickets way back in October so this concert was 5 months in the making and I couldn’t have been more excited.

Just as my frustration at missing the exit started to lift, it settled once more as I noticed a line that spanned for three blocks.

Gosh darn it!

I hurried to find a parking spot, thinking the sooner we parked the sooner we could claim our spot in line.

There was security stationed at the end of the line to check bags. As they were inspecting my bag, a silver car pulled up to the corner where we were standing, waiting to turn onto the main street in front of the auditorium.

I didn’t pay much attention to the vehicle at first until the feeling of being watched was just too much to take. I turned my gaze to the car and noticed the guy in the back looking right at me.

He had a smile on his face and jokingly encouraged the security guard to check my bag real good. I laughed and gave him a thumbs up, chalking this little encounter up to a guy just wanting to flirt a little.

As the vehicle began to pull away, he maintained eye contact with me and as I got one last look at this stranger it hit me…

That was Nathan Feuerstein! That was NF!!

I couldn’t believe it!

With the astonished looks and growing excitement of the fans around me confirming what I thought, I realized that I had just seen NF in person and that he had even singled me out!

As I write this almost a week later, I can’t help but smile.

It’s a small, rather insignificant encounter, but one that I will probably never forget; telling my kids one day as I show them ‘Let You Down’ that I actually saw that guy in person.

Even more so, as I recall all the incidents and circumstances leading up to that moment, something a good friend once told me comes to mind…

When you do something for God but find yourself getting frustrated when it doesn’t go like you think it should, are you really doing it for God?

While going to this concert was for the purpose of entertainment, the concept still remains.

My frustration at leaving later than I had originally planned to missing the exit to having to wait in a line that was three blocks long seemed justified in the moment.

But what I later discovered was that God had been using those irritating little ‘roadblocks’ as a way to bless me with a little humor; with a memory to look back on and smile at.

I think this is something that we encounter every day. Ask anyone who knows me well, I am a very time-conscious, scheduled, stick-to-the-plan type person. When there’s a plan, I don’t like to deviate from it.

It’s been, and continues to be, a learning process for me to realize that sometimes that’s just not the way our God works.

Yes, I think there’s a lot to be said about consistency and following through with plans and schedules, but what I’m learning is that when those plans and schedules don’t work out, frustration is my immediate response.

That says a lot about where my heart is at.

That tells me that I am more concerned about my plan and my schedule than I am with what God wants me to do or where He wants me to be.

There’s a lot of selfishness there.

Sometimes it’s that long traffic light that you find yourself stuck at on a Monday morning at five ’till eight that’s meant to give you a few extra moments to watch the sunrise.

Perhaps that run-in with an old High School friend at Walmart was intended to give them the encouragement they needed to make it through their day.

Maybe those plans that fell through just freed up your evening for some time that you desperately need to spend in God’s Word.

It might just be that the exit you missed would place you at the exact street corner at the perfect time to run into one of your favorite musicians.

You just never know. But something we do know is that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

This isn’t an ‘I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine’ verse. God isn’t saying love me for the sake of getting what you want. What this verse is saying though is that God works in the detailed schedules and the lazy days off; in the meticulous planning and the daily interruptions.

God is working not just for your own good, but for the glory of His name and the purpose of His Kingdom – and sometimes that requires changed plans and messed up schedules.

When we approach our days, our schedule books, and our plans with this kind of thinking, frustration may not be the first emotion we feel when something goes awry. Rather, we might find ourselves smiling up towards heaven, wondering what kind of divine appointment God has in the works for us this time.