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…

When God Turns Your Period Into a Semicolon

Like most people, I would assume, I often look back on my teenage years with a cringe.

So. Many. Phases.

And weird ones to say the least.

I had that rap phase that we all go through (don’t try to deny it, we’ve all been there), the ‘way too many Silly Bandz’ phase, the tomboy phase, the ‘too much makeup’ phase, etc.

One of my favorites though was my beanie phase. I wore beanies all the time and while anyone who knows me now wouldn’t actually believe that, I did.

That phase was brought up recently by a good friend who mentioned that this was his first memory of me – wearing a beanie. This made me laugh as I rolled my eyes and tried to hide my embarrassment. Even though it’s funny, don’t we all sometimes wish those embarrassing phases (and any memory of them for that matter) would just stay tucked away in the past?

We place periods at the end of all those teenage phases and hope to God that we’ve heard the last of them but somehow they always seem to get brought back up.

On a more serious note, do you ever feel like that happens with the hurtful, pain-ridden, cringe-worthy times in your past? Perhaps that big ‘why?’ that resurfaces in your memories every now and then –

Why didn’t this happen?

Why did that happen?

Why couldn’t it have gone the way I wanted it to?

Perhaps those mistakes of the past and the slipups that we wish we could forget but somehow seem to reappear in our lives.

Maybe it’s that big ‘what if?’ in your life –

the ‘what if’ relationship that got away;

the ‘what if’ opportunity that you let slip through your fingers; or

the ‘what if’ word that you didn’t realize at the time would be the last word you would ever speak to that loved one who passed away too soon.

Why does the hurt always resurface?

We ended that sentence in our lives with a firm period in hopes that we would never have to deal with it again but have discovered that God removed the period and replaced it with a semicolon.

Now, for those of you who struggle with semicolons (even English nerds like myself do at times, so no worries), a semicolon is what leads into a ‘second thought’ of an already complete sentence.

A semicolon joins two clauses that could, on their own, stand as complete sentences in order to demonstrate the relationship between the two.

After spending several hours contemplating where I wanted this blog to go and praying that God would direct my search, I decided on the story of Moses.

His cringe-worthy past of having lived a life of ease and plenty while his people were tortured and enslaved under the very hand of the man he called father was a memory I’m sure Moses wanted to forget; to place a firm period at the end of and never hear of it again.

Why else would he flee to Midian (Exodus 2:15)? He wanted to get as far away from his life in Egypt as possible and forget any and every memory of it.

Yet we find in later chapters of Exodus that God had a different plan in mind.

He removed Moses’ period at the end of that sentence in his life and replaced it with a semicolon to demonstrate the relationship between the hurt of Moses’ past and the glorious future of a renewed and redeemed people.

Sure, each could have stood independently on their own as complete sentences. Moses could have lived the rest of his days with a hurtful past and a mediocre future and God certainly could have freed His people another way.

But praise God that He does not leave us to wallow in our own self-pity.

God continues on with our story.

He continued the good work He started in Moses when he was first set adrift in the Nile and completed it in the freeing of His people.

God used that which Moses wished to forget for His ultimate glory.

So think back with me to that ‘why?’ or that ‘what if?’ in your life. What is that one thing, or maybe multiple things, that makes you cringe and want to run as far away from as possible?

For me it’s the hurt and embarrassment of a bad relationship.

When it ended, I wanted nothing more than to get as far away from it as I could and never hear of it again. But several years later, I found that God had taken the period that I had so firmly placed at the end of that time in my life and replaced it with a semicolon.

I’ve been able to use that unique and painful experience to meet others right where they are at. Where I thought my situation was unique to only me, God showed me that when we struggle with something, we are never alone in that struggle because someone else is probably dealing with the same thing.

On top of that, when God lays it on our hearts to share those painful experiences, regardless of how much it hurts to relive those raw memories, it often means that someone needs to know that they are not alone; that someone else understands what they are going through.

I’ve seen God create a relationship between the pain I experienced three years ago and the healing of others who have or who are dealing with that same hurt right now.

I don’t know the ‘second thought’ God has in mind for your sentence. I don’t know what He plans to do after the semicolon, but I do know that God is good.

God grants us the opportunity for a second chance; a chance to turn a sentence that we may not like into something beautiful. A chance to see our pain play a part in the glory of His Name.

His semicolon is our redemption story.

God does not waste pain. He will use the ugly and redeem the past to make the future bright with hope. “Redemption doesn’t mean we won’t feel the pain, but it does mean that the pain will eventually have a purpose.”

He places semicolons where we have periods so that the hurt of our past is redeemed in the hope of our future, for what was intended for our harm, God intends for good…(Genesis 50:20).

 

 

*I must give credit where credit is due – thank you Brogan for the support and encouragement in my journey as an aspiring writer and also for sharing this great blog idea with me! This is one of my favorites by far!

New Beginnings

I pulled into the parking lot and took one last breath before stepping into this new unknown that was before me.

The day was Thursday, May 19, 2016.

One year ago today.

I had graduated college five days prior to this moment and moved into my new apartment only two days ago. I had just celebrated by 22nd birthday the day before and now found myself in the parking lot of my new office building.

This was my chance at a new beginning.

The thought of having my own apartment and living entirely on my own sounded wonderful, yet only a few months later I found myself independent like I had wanted, but lonely; working a great job, but also aimless.

The life I had once kept at a very brisk pace suddenly came to a halt.

After years of striving towards something; striving toward High School graduation, toward college, toward college graduation, and ultimately toward the life I was now living…after years of this, I was finally here and it was an absolute, utter wasteland.

This was it.

That’s when I picked up what is now my favorite book by Logan Wolfram titled Curious Faith. Within the pages of this book there is an analogy that has stuck with me ever since I opened it up for the first time.

In seasons where life seems stripped down and barren, we can do more than just survive. We can receive abundance.

One gift of the wilderness is the clarity we gain when all else is stripped away. When life feels bare, it’s easier to see what is truly important. Priorities align, distractions fade away, and we find ourselves in an environment where we can dig deeper into our faith (Curious Faith by: Logan Wolfram).

My life, my goals, my sole desire for achievements and acceptance had been stripped away. Where I was once ambitious and a go-getter, I now found myself sitting alone on the couch every night watching Netflix for lack of anything better to do.

However, as I look back on it now a year later, I can see that it was in those empty spaces and isolated moments that I truly found Jesus.

I grew up in a Christian home and always considered myself ‘well-versed’ in the art of Christianity, though it wasn’t until this particular wasteland that I realized that that was all He was to me – something to achieve and perfect.

That is not what our God is.

Several months after starting on this journey, I stood alone in church one Sunday morning as the words of Bethel’s song You Make Me Brave washed over me, wave after wave, and I finally understood.

Christ had been serving a purpose in my life. He just wasn’t thee purpose.

I realized that while I was using God to achieve this ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ ideology, I forgot the real purpose for which I should be pursuing Him.

Him.

Instead of praying that my hopes and dreams for this new beginning would align with His, I was imploring God to grant what I wanted; to align with my expectations for the way I thought my life should go. Logan Wolfram explains perfectly that often it is these expectations that become preconceived resentments (Curious Faith by: Logan Wolfram).

I resented God. I harbored bitterness towards Him because I had yet to receive what I thought was a ‘good’ dream; what I had been in ‘holy pursuit’ of for so long.

It wasn’t until my time in the wilderness; my time in isolation and solitude that I recognized my shortcoming. I had been pursuing all of these spinoffs and results of a Christ-centered, Christ-motivated lifestyle and forgot to actually pursue the heart of it all.

I forgot to pursue Christ; to know Christ not for what He could grant me, but to know Him for Him. I was living a presently preoccupied lifestyle rather than an eternally focused one. I was seeking that which would make me look and feel like a good Christian in the here and now rather than seeking Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, the only One who could actually change my heart and give me joy when all else falls apart.

Wildernesses are tough though.

This isn’t going to be a blog that sugarcoats the realities of what wildernesses truly feel like. They are hard, they make us want to give up, but most of all, they plant in our hearts a destructive lie.

Wildernesses have the potential to make us believe that our future is hopeless.

It is a sinking feeling when you realize each night that the next day would only be the same as the day you had just finished. There were plenty of nights like this for me over the last year, and nothing built up feelings of hopelessness in my heart quicker than the belief that the next day wasn’t going to be a new beginning, but only a broken record repeating yesterday and the day before.

But…

Praise God that He never leaves us there in our hopelessness.

As someone who can speak from the other side of a wilderness, I promise you that there is hope.

Life is full of new beginnings my friend, you just have to look for them.

It could be in the sunrise, a thunderstorm, meeting a new friend, or reaching out to someone who is hurting. It could even be in the simple prayer when prayer seems impossible.

Simply saying the name ‘Jesus’ amidst the most terrifying storms of our life is the best ‘new beginning’ you could ever embark on!

I’ve seen over the course of a year (one of the hardest years of my life thus far, yet also one of the most joyful) how a wilderness can change someone.

How the solitude can create abundance in one’s heart.

How the isolation can be filled with an all-knowing presence that satisfies to the fullest.

He is doing a new thing! He is making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19).

My friend, He is making all things new; He is renewing you!

There is only one hope when all else feels hopeless and that is Jesus and it is found in a relentless pursuit to know Him and to know His heart for you. That is our hope; that is our lifeline when faced with the wind and the waves of this world.

When Peter stepped out of his boat in Matthew 14:29, he deliberately disregarded the hopelessness and fear that was roaring all around him. He set his eyes on the only One he knew could save him and he walked on the water.

The whole concept of walking on water is one based on 2 Peter 1:4 – …He has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

When we look to God not in hopes of receiving what we want from Him for our lives here on earth (success, acceptance, relationships, etc.) but rather in expectation of meeting with the Great I Am, we are able to walk over the strivings and vain pursuits of this world and step out onto the waters and walk toward Jesus as Peter did.

We have that very ability within us through Him!

When there is nothing to see in our future, it makes seeing Him a whole lot easier. When there is no hope in this world, it makes holding onto the hope we have in Him that much more fulfilling.

When He is all we have, we lack in nothing.

When the wilderness has you feeling hopeless, remember that our God is a God of new beginnings and that pursuing Him to know Him is worth it all.

He is doing a new thing in you my friend, and He promises that what good works He has begun in you, He will see to completion. Sometimes that might entail time spent in the wilderness, but we have this hope – that Christ goes before us and promises to never leave us nor forsake us.