All Things New – Part III

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session three, October 6

James 1:5 says that ‘if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’

This is an amazing verse, but one that is quite often misinterpreted. We read James 1:5 and convince ourselves that all we must do is ask, and God will deliver. Rarely does it actually happen this way though, and not due to a lack on God’s part, but because we’re asking the wrong question.

As human beings, we are notorious for asking the wrong question. We want to know exactly what to do; how to do it, and when. Because of this, we start to believe that this is how we must discern God’s will for our lives and follow it. However, asking God to tell us what to do, how to do it, and when is not wisdom as James 1:5 describes it.

Wisdom is an internal mechanism to make decisions. Knowledge is just facts.

So often when we kneel to pray and ask God for wisdom about any decision we may be facing, rather than asking for the humble discernment we need to make a wise decision with the information we have, we ask God to tell us what only God knows – facts, details, and outcomes of the future.

With this kind of approach, we mistreat, misuse, and abuse the Word of God by viewing it as more of a ‘how to’ manual for our lives rather than the glorious, shameless, infallible declaration of the glory and majesty of God Almighty. We miss the real purpose and process of sanctification and start believing that the decisions in life – where to live, who to marry, where to work, etc. – are the main focus.

We convince ourselves that ‘if only we could make better decisions, then we’ll be better people’ right?

I’ll admit it, I’ve spent years believing this and striving for this. If I could just train myself to make better decisions, then I would become that gentle and quiet, godly, wise woman described in Proverbs 31.

What does this actually do though? Eventually, with this kind of approach to discovering God’s will, my success, my obedience, my faithfulness, my righteousness, my everything —it is all left up to me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s good news…at all!

Because failure is in our nature, we become a nervous wreck when trying to discern God’s will because if it is in fact left up to our own decision making whether we stay within God’s will or not, we know that we’ll eventually fall to the wayside.

So rather than asking God and trying to discern what to do, where to go, and when, perhaps there’s a better question that we could be asking.

Rather than inquiring of God to show us what to do, let’s be men and women who daily seek to discover who He wants us to be, because…

God is always more concerned with the decision-maker than He is with the decision itself.   -Jen Wilkin

And when you start asking this question, I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised to find that it is quite clear what the will of God is.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable…for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

God’s will for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy’ (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:1-2, 20:26, 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Haven’t we already been made holy though? Doesn’t it say in Hebrews 10:10 that ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’?

This is true, as we have been given positional holiness in and through Jesus – we have been delivered from the penalty of sin and granted righteousness before God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

However, we are directed to pursue practical holiness in a life of faith, trust, and righteousness before God; working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that it is God who works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12).

When Jesus instructed us to ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,’ he was not talking about the daily decisions that we face throughout our lifetime.

Rather, God was saying that the answer will be given; the secret will be found; and the door will be opened to the one asking, seeking, and pursuing holiness. What good is the ‘right decision’ if I’m still the ‘wrong person?’

As believers, we have the power to choose rightly; the wisdom to credit God with those right decisions; and wonderful grace for when we get it wrong.

The will of God for our lives is to be holy, because He is holy, and we have been given the power, wisdom, and grace to do just that through Jesus Christ. Through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, we have been justified through faith and reconciled to God. We have been granted new names and a new purpose for which we are to live. And finally, we have been set on a new path; on the path of God’s will which is to be holy, because He is holy.

All Things New – Part II

This last weekend I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, Iowa. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

Session two, October 6

Day two of the ONE Conference began with another session by Jen Wilkin where she discussed the different implications of Revelation 21:5 – “And He who was seated on the throne said “Behold I am making all things new.”

A part of being made new in Christ is that we, like the saints who have gone before us, are given new names.

Having a ‘name’ implies a number of things. Names allow us to establish or demonstrate ownership, authority, affection towards others, association with another person, relationship to someone or something, personality, and most of all, purpose.

I was given a plaque when I was younger with my name printed on it in nice, flowing cursive letters. Below that was a description of the meaning my name had. The English meaning of my name is Follower of Christ; or in its original Greek, The Anointed.

Not only is this really significant for me personally, but it also gives me a deep sense of purpose; of direction and single-mindedness. I want to live up to my name.

There are many Bible heroes who experienced similar affection and deep association with their names, primarily their God-given names which elicited great purpose in their lives. For example…

Simon was given the name Peter, which means the Rock. He would later become the rock on which the church was built.

Abram was given the name Abraham, which means the father of many nations. Through him God would bring forth all the nations of Israel and ultimately, the line of Jesus Christ.

We see another name change in Genesis 32 when God appears before Jacob, the son of Isaac. The name Jacob means he grasps the heel. This makes sense, since a few chapters earlier we read about how Jacob came out of his mother’s womb grasping the heel of his twin brother.

When we look at the entirety of Jacob’s life leading up to this point though, we can see that he was, in fact, a ‘grasper.’ He deceived, he lied, and he manipulated his way through life; having very little faith in the sovereignty of God and constantly trying to make things happen on his own and for his own good.

We eventually find Jacob broken and waiting; wrestling with himself and God as he struggles with his guilt and shame (Genesis 32:24). Jacob recalls all of his mistakes, all of his sinful ways, and every single time that he had ever messed up. He barters with God; wrestling with conviction and trying to negotiate his way through the consequences.

There comes a moment in this passage however when God reaches out and touches Jacob, crippling him and causing him to cease his fighting and struggling. It took but one touch from God for Jacob to stop wrestling and listen to the voice of God.

When asked what his name was, he responds with ‘Jacob’ as if to confess who he really was…a grasper; one who deceives and lies and manipulates.

As Jacob confesses his sins though, God changes him. He takes that which was broken and sinful and refines him into an overcomer. God took Jacob in all of his sin and deceit and changes his name to Israel, which means he struggles with God and that God contends with him; an overcomer.

In this simple act of authority, God establishes ownership, affection, association, and relationship with Jacob. But more significantly, God gives him a new name; a new identity and a new purpose.

Like Jacob, we have been made new. We have been given new names as children of God. This is who we are. We will forever and always be found holy and righteous before God because He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).

Now, you may be thinking as I was in that moment- “this is all fine and dandy, but I know myself and I know I’m going to slip back into old habits and patterns before too long, despite this ‘new name’ that I’ve been given.”

Perhaps that’s why the next portion of this passage was so powerful for me, because Jacob did exactly that…he backslid. In an attempt to manipulate the situation and exercise some degree of control over God, Jacob asks God to tell him what His name was (Genesis 32:29, NIV).  Remember, names allow us to establish or demonstrate ownership, authority, affection, association, relationship, personality, and purpose.

Jacob returned to his old habit of manipulating a situation and reaching for power and control over another. How often do we do exactly that? We know we are redeemed; renewed and made new and what do we do? We return to our old ways.

We become afraid.

We entertain anxious thoughts.

We gossip.

We judge others.

We blindly follow our perfectionistic tendencies.

But God remains faithful and even though Jacob backslid, He extends a gentle rebuke. “Why do you ask me my name?” He asks. And in that moment God blesses Jacob and leaves (Genesis 32:30, NIV).

God gently reminds us that we are no longer who we once were. We have been given a new name, a new purpose, and a new identity. This doesn’t mean that we will never sin again or that we will never fall into old patterns and habits, but that when we do, God will remain the One who contends with us, prevails, and makes all things new.

All Things New – Part III – Now that we have been made new in Christ and been given new names, we are set on a new path and given a new purpose and focus. How do we find that though? How do we go about discovering what God’s will is for our lives? Perhaps it’s not as hard as we often make it out to be…

The Eye of the Storm

One of my passions is natural disasters.

While my studies mostly focused on the humanitarian efforts of post-disaster response, I always found the natural disasters themselves to be very fascinating.

I love learning about the awe-inspiring power that they display; how regardless of our innovations and technology, wind and water will forever have the upper hand.

Because of this passion, I would jump at the chance to ride in one of those airplanes that fly straight into the eye of a hurricane.

Call me crazy, but I think that would be awesome!

The eye of a hurricane is at the very center of the storm and believe it or not, is the calmest part of the storm. “Skies are often clear above the eye and winds are relatively light. The eye is calm because the now strong surface winds that converge towards the center never actually reach it” (Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois).

That’s where I want to be!

In the eye of the storm.

We go through a lot of storms in our lives though, don’t we?

Sometimes we find ourselves fighting through the fiercest winds and waves, unsure of how we’ll ever find our way out when our present circumstances restrict our ability to see or feel.

One storm in particular that always stands out in my mind was in between my sophomore and junior year of college.

I had survived freshman and sophomore year…barely, and was now anticipating the approaching fall semester of my junior year and was absolutely dreading it.

I couldn’t even tell you why, but all I knew was that I just couldn’t go back there.

There was so much to do; the pressures of performance, acceptance, and achievement weighed heavily on my mind and then of course the looming terrors of failure and loneliness nipped at my heels.

Sophomore year had started me off in the nurse’s office only weeks into the school year. I had managed to make myself physically sick due to stress, anxiety, and depression.

It was then that I knew something was wrong, but through the remainder of that school year I couldn’t manage to find my way out of this particular storm.

I tried to hold onto things of the past; staying huddled in the memories of better times.

When that didn’t work, I tried to hurry things along and force life stages to happen sooner than they should in hopes of changing my presently painful circumstances.

Let me just tell you now, this does not work.

In fact, it only made matters worse.

When we are in the storms of life, we often try to do one of two things. We either try to move backwards and relive happier times or we hurry forwards, attempting to outrun the storm.

Yet, just like a hurricane, behind us and in front of us the torrents rage and the winds howl, but stillness can also be found.

When we move with the storm and position ourselves in the very center of God’s love and grace, we find blue skies and calmed winds.

We find ourselves in the eye of the storm.

Even though all around us the storm still rages; trees snap, houses tumble, relationships are broken, and opportunities are lost; even with all the destruction and heartache rushing around us, if we remain firmly planted in the center of God’s love and grace, we will experience internal respite and peace.

Many of the fears we experience in the stormy seasons of life boil down to one thing:

Proving our worth.

I overwhelmed myself with activities my freshman and sophomore year because I wanted to prove that I was capable.

I sought relationships because I wanted to prove that I was desirable.

I pursued God because I wanted to prove that I was a good Christian.

I feared failure because that proved that I wasn’t enough.

I feared loneliness because that proved I was lacking.

We are constantly trying to prove ourselves.

However, when we strategically place ourselves in the center of God’s will; in the very eye of the storm, we don’t have to prove ourselves, for it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.  – Acts 17:28

If this is true and if we full-heartedly believe this, we will begin to realize that we have nothing to prove because it is not for ourselves that we live, but rather for Christ (Philippians 1:21).

If our lives are for Christ, then we are not tasked with the responsibility of proving ourselves but rather  with proving Christ and His worth, which He has already done.

He proved Himself. He proved to the world His power, sovereignty, and authority over all things while on that cross.

When we position ourselves in the center of the storm, acknowledging that God and His purpose are in all things; when we stay in step with Him and remember that it is by Him, through Him, and for Him that we press forward, we will soon understand that we have nothing to prove because the One we live for has already done just that.

He proved Himself on that cross so that we wouldn’t have to prove our worth, for our worth lies at the very foot of that cross.

We have nothing to prove, therefore we have nothing to fear while in the eye of the storm.

 

What Is Your Name?

I was given a gift when I was younger.

This gift was a framed document with my name spelled out in beautiful cursive letters at the very top. Immediately below that was an explanation of what my name meant.

The English meaning of my name is Follower of Christ, or in its original Greek, The Anointed.

I’ve always loved my name for this very reason.

The intent, or the purpose of my name has made it precious to me; a name I can strive to live up to.

We find many moments in Scripture where God changes a name. Consider Abram (Genesis 17:5), Sarai (Genesis 17:15-16), and Jacob (Genesis 32:28). Even consider Peter (Matthew 16:18), to whom Christ assigned several names.

Genesis 17:5 – No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

A father of many nations…

Abram means the high father. Yet in light of God’s plan for his nation Israel, He changed Abram’s name from the high father to a father of many nations in order to align with his God given purpose.

Genesis 17:15-16 – God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of people will come from her.”

The mother of nations…

Sarai means my lady or my princess. Yet we find once again that in light of God’s will, He changed Sarai’s name from my princess to the mother of nations to match her God given purpose.

Generations later we can look back and see how these name changes aligned perfectly with the plan God had already set in motion.

Abraham really was the father of many nations and his wife Sarah really was the mother of nations; bearing kings of many peoples.

So my name might have a meaning that I hold dear, but when it really comes down to it, Kristin is just the name my parents gave me.

I have a different name.

I have a God given name of which will align with my God given purpose.

You have a different name than what you go by here on earth.

You have a God ordained name to match your God ordained purpose.

Now it is up to us to live, breath, and respond in a way that will allow God to shape our hearts in order that they might align with His holy and perfect will.

Perhaps you don’t feel worthy though.

Perhaps the idea of actually having a God ordained name is a scary thought.

It was for me for quite some time.

To think that God would or could actually use me in any context to further His Kingdom was rather intimidating – but only because I was looking within myself.

An awareness of our shortcomings is healthy to some extent. A heightened awareness of where we fall short has the potential to reveal the magnificence of Christ’s sufficiency.

It also has the potential to make us self-focused and self-absorbed.

Consider Peter.

He was blinded to the eternal glory and divine purpose for which Christ was sent to earth due to his self-obsession.

We find Jesus prophesying his death in Matthew 16:21-28 and like most of us would, Peter immediately denies what was soon to come.

Jesus rebukes him, renouncing him by saying, “get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (vs. 23).

Peter was self-absorbed; focused only on what he could see and not on who Jesus was.

Later on in the book of Matthew we read how Peter denied Christ three times (Matthew 26:69-75); focusing only on himself and his own well-being.

Believe it or not, we do these exact same things every day.

Sure, they may not be in the same manner or context as Peter, but we do them nonetheless; having in mind only the things of men rather than the things of God.

We discourage a friend who feels led by God to do something that seems radical in the eyes of man.

We indulge in behaviors and humor that mock the name of Christ.

We deny being changed by the Holy Spirit in the way that we speak and act.

We contradict the driving love of Christ in our apathy.

We, along with Peter, are sinful and unworthy of any calling as great as the one God has given us.

That’s the beautiful thing about grace though, isn’t it? It’s not about the one who receives, but rather about the One who gives.

God’s grace; God’s purpose for your life hinges not on what you do, but rather on what He has done.

Peter messed up big time, yet God still gave him a new name; a name that would have eternal impact.

Matthew 16:18 – And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…

Peter was the rock on which Christ built His church.

That’s quite the divine purpose.

God used the man who denied him (Matthew 26:69-75), doubted him (Matthew 14:29), was a hindrance to him (Matthew 16:23), and the man of little faith (Matthew 14:29) and made him the foundation on which He built His Kingdom; His very nation.

So don’t you think for a second that God doesn’t have a new name for you.

What you’ve done is not your name.

What He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do through you is your God given name; your God ordained purpose, for it is only in relation to Jesus Christ that our name has any purpose here on earth and in Heaven above.

A Bigger Narrative

Have you ever picked up a book and started reading in the middle of any random chapter?

After falling behind in high school English class, I was forced to pick up in the middle of a book so that I could understand just enough for the upcoming quiz.

In hindsight, I can now see why I didn’t end up doing very well on that quiz.

I tried to understand a very large narrative within the span of just a few chapters.

In my attempt to do well on this quiz, I tried to grasp the essence of a story that the author intended to be understood over the course of several chapters read in order from beginning to end.

One chapter does not capture the essence of an entire narrative.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

In the same way, one chapter of our lives does not capture the essence of God’s bigger narrative, not only for our lives, but in all of creation.

God’s narrative goes so far above and beyond anything that we can comprehend, yet we so often try to squeeze it into just a few short chapters of our lives; attempting to understand everything through a very narrow perspective.

Just like an author, God has a storyline intended to be read entirely – in order from beginning to end. However, in our efforts to control our own existence, we tend to select a chapter of our lives and build it up to be our entire narrative.

This can be both good chapters and bad chapters.

Some people chalk up the essence of their being to what good they have done. The value of life is often summed up by professional success, relationships, reputation, social position, accumulation of things and experiences, etc.

In the eyes of the world, a lot of these things are good! We often look to those Instagram-worthy lifestyles and determine that their lives as a whole – their entire narrative – is one of success and achievement.

On the other hand, we also find that some lives succumb to the negative chapters.

Tragedy brings a progressive life to a screeching halt.

A mistake snuffs out any ambition for success.

A run of bad luck eliminates all hope.

This happens all the time as we take a small chapter of our lives and because it is all we can see or grasp with our finite minds, we believe that it is the essence of our story – failure, mistakes, and disappointment.

I’ve dealt with this many times as I often fault to the latter.

The whole concept of relationships and friendship is one saturated with disappointment and heartache for me. Many previous chapters of my life have had a lot of disappointment in this area and if I’m not careful, my heart will start to believe that this is the essence of my story – disappointment.

This is a dangerous cycle to get into, yet one that we are so easily susceptible to.

Yet, we have this hope.

We have this hope that there is a bigger narrative out there.

Not only is there more to the story, but the Author is inherently good.

I think all too often we lose the essence of that word – good.

Think about it – God is good. He is always good. He was good, He is good, and He will forever be good.

How comforting is it to know that the God who has already written our narrative is a good God? Our fear of losing control causes us to forget that He is good though, and therefore our trust in Him is crippled.

To the degree that fears have a place in our lives, we neither believe that God is good nor know deep in our hearts that He loves us.  –William P. Young

When the fears take over, we latch onto the only things that we can see and feel, and often that’s the life chapter we are currently in.

For some it’s a good chapter and pride builds up in the heart.

For others it’s a bad chapter and future chapters suddenly turn bleak and hopeless.

However, in the midst of fear and uncertainty, if we could remember that there is a bigger narrative – a greater purpose – rather than holding onto the only things our limited minds can grasp, we will instead hold onto the unchanging promises of our good Author.

We will remember that in all things, He is good.

And with that hope, we will trek through the chapters knowing them for what they truly are – single chapters in a very large scheme.

Whatever chapter you are in right now – good or bad – remember that it is only a chapter. There is a lot of book left my friend.

There is a bigger narrative and the God of all goodness holds the pen.

This We Know

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

How often do we say this and actually believe it, or act on it for that matter?

We like to think that our hearts are content in all circumstances, but when push comes to shove, we find ourselves striving harder and harder towards fantasies of satisfaction.

Why is this?

Why is being content so hard?

Why does even the mention of that word cause a collective sigh of frustration?

I remember in late High School or early college working my regular night shift at Perkins Bakery. I was in the back baking up some pies while listening to the radio like usual when the song Overwhelmed by Big Daddy Weave came on.

I had heard this tune before so I didn’t really pay much attention to it until the lyrics began to pull me out of my distracted thoughts.

 

I hear the sound of Your Voice

All at once it’s a gentle and thundering noise, oh God

All that You are is so overwhelming

 

I delight myself in You

Captivated by Your beauty

I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

 

God I run into Your arms

Unashamed because of mercy

I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

 

It hit me. It was more than just head knowledge this time, it was a true, deep-rooted belief in my heart – I. Am. Content.

I was content right then and there, in the Perkins Bakery covered with flour. I was content and fulfilled with all that Jesus was in my life.

I was content with simply knowing Him and seeing a future with only Him in it.

Contentment is hard though. One minute it’s there and you’re happy with life – where you’re at, who you’re with, and where you’re headed.

Then out of nowhere something changes and suddenly what you were aiming for and patiently (or anxiously) waiting for is gone; replaced by something different and often times not what you were hoping for.

Contentment is pretty hard to maintain, but perhaps that’s because it is dependent upon things that are ever-changing.

In order to be content in all circumstances we need to find our contentment in the One who is consistent in all circumstances.

A couple of weeks after this ‘ah-ha’ moment, a friend of mine started dating this guy she had been talking to for a while. It was cute and all, but gosh – I wanted that too!

And wouldn’t you know it, my contentment somehow shifted from the all-sufficient God to an ‘ideal love story’ I was certain was just around the corner.

*insert exasperated sigh*

I told God that I was content in Him, but not in Him alone. Sure, I could be content with God for now, but eventually the thing that I really wanted would come and only then would I be fully, completely satisfied.

Jesus was enough…but only for now.

It wasn’t until about a week ago though that I realized my misinterpretation of what it means to be content.

Often when we ask God to make us content, we think in terms of what we want. We have this mirage of happiness – marriage, children, white-picket-fence lifestyle, a career, or wealth – whatever it may be, we have it dangling in front of us as we run around in circles trying to attain this idea of happiness.

We say, “God, please make me content in waiting for this or for that. Make me content and patient to wait on You.”

But what are we really saying?

Our contentment is based on that idea – that ‘ideal, perfect life’ that we have pictured for our future, and yet we wonder why our sense of contentment falters in the face of change…

We are asking God to make us content on our terms, and according to Paul, that’s just not how it works my friend.

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

Contentment is not found in waiting for what we hope will be.

Contentment comes when we find fulfillment in what we know to be true today; right here, right now. Today.

So we ask ourselves, “What am I absolutely certain of in this moment? What are the truths that I can hold onto right now?” Consider the following…

**This is an excerpt from my prayer journal on June 14, 2017 –

Help me to be content in the only things I know for sure:

  1. You are good;
  2. You are faithful;
  3. My purpose is to glorify Your Name;
  4. Today I am alive;
  5. Tomorrow I do not know.

This we know to be true.

Each of these statements are unchanging, never-ending, and ever-present in each moment of our lives.

These truths are consistent in all circumstances. You will never find yourself in a situation where any one of these is not true.

Therefore, if your faith and contentment is found and nurtured on these consistent truths, then believe it or not, you will have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

This we know, and it is in this that we find true contentment.