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Blessed Are the Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

— Matthew 5:5

Meekness isn’t the most valuable virtue in our day and age. In fact, we often struggle to see it as a virtue at all. Even in those who are expected to be obedient to authority – children and employees – no one is likely to list meekness as one of their strengths in a job interview. Few of us pray for children who would be described as meek. Even those who might recognize a natural bent toward compliance or quietness often strive to cast off those characteristics and assert themselves more. I’ve never seen any high school label a graduate with a “Most Likely to be Meek” award.

Meekness in our culture carries a connotation of a doormat: a person characterized by fear and timidity, noticed only for being unworthy of notice. We may picture a mouselike personality who avoids conflict at any cost or never speaks up.

So, is this what Jesus is praising in the third Beatitude?

Is he hopelessly behind the times, a throwback to when children (and women) were to be seen but not heard? Or do we need to change our modern mindset and aim for doormat status, never speaking up or standing out?

Often, when we struggle to make sense of Scripture, it’s not due to a lack of clarity in the passage itself, but rather the cloudiness of the lens though which we’re examining it. In the third beatitude, we have to make sure we’re understanding Jesus’ words with his definitions rather than those of our culture.

The word translated meek in the ESV can also be translated gentle.

Honestly, gentle doesn’t feel much better. It’s certainly a very gendered word in our culture. Even when we use the word gentleman, we tend to mean something more like cultured or well-mannered. It’s okay for our daughters to be gentle, but most of us wouldn’t be excited for a football coach to describe our son that way.

But, I think we can get a little help seeing what Jesus intends in the third Beatitude from the idea of gentleness.

It’s a little easier for us to imagine an offensive lineman gently cradling his newborn, or a well-trained Clydesdale stepping gently around a corral with a young novice rider clinging to his mane. There’s a note there of strength, rather than weakness. It’s not that the gentle man is incapable of asserting his power, but that he chooses to restrain himself to safeguard or support another.

If you continue reading the book of Matthew after the Beatitudes, you see the author frequently portraying Jesus as the demonstration of each of these blessed traits, often even using the same word.

Gentleness is no exception:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

— Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He holds the power of the earthquake and thunderstorm in his hands. He is the King of Kings who will come at the end of days to judge the earth and conquer his enemies.

And yet, he tells us that his heart is gentle and lowly.

Jesus has restrained his strength for the good of another. He is patient and tender toward his children. He recognizes our struggles without disappointment. He is with us in our failures without disgust. His meekness is not weakness, but a gentle lovingkindness on our behalf.

If we begin to see meekness through Jesus’ lens, we will also begin to see opportunities to emulate him. Meekness is not a lack of assertion, but assertion used to provide for the needy. Meekness is not a fear of speaking up, but a boldness to speak on behalf of the widow and the orphan. Meekness is not an avoidance of conflict, but a choice to fight for the sake of the powerless. Meekness is humbly seeking the glory of God and the good of others.

Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth, which can feel exceptionally false in our day and age, just as the idea of praising meekness at all feels farfetched in our culture. Look around you: it’s not the meek who are “winning.” Our culture fundamentally rewards arrogance, aggressiveness, and self-assertion.

But we must remember that godly inheritance is always a future promise. It’s not a gift given in the moment, but an intentional laying-aside for a time to come. And it’s coming is sure.

Our gentle and lowly Lord will come on the clouds to inherit the earth, and those who follow him in meekness will reign eternally with him.

May we spend our strength in a sacrifice of selflessness today.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

— Philippians 4:5 (NIV)

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

If you’re like me, reading through the Beatitudes can feel like a lesson in failure, none more so than when Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8).

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

– Matthew 5:8

The greatest desire of my heart is to see God, but this same heart that so desires God, well, to say it isn’t pure is an understatement. Pure means clean, without blemish, perfect.

My heart, the innermost part of who I am, is anything but pure.

Jesus is consistently concerned, not with outward appearances, but with the condition of our hearts. A few chapters later, Jesus reminds us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In my life, the true condition of my heart is usually exposed first thing in the morning. My kids are late, there are 100 things to do, and my mouth quickly reveals my heart to my family and myself.

It’s not always pretty, and it certainly isn’t pure. And even when I am doing things right, the motivations of my heart are so often wrong. I give because I want to receive, I serve because I want recognition, or I take care of my kids and still resent their demands.

My heart is just not pure.

John reminds us of the vast difference between Jesus and the rest of mankind, “This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth,” (1 John 1:5-6). 

There is no darkness, no blemish, no sin in God at all. He’s perfect, but we are not. He’s pure. We are impure.

So how, then, can we ever “see God” like Jesus said the pure of heart would?

But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:7-9

Faith in Jesus leads to a pure heart that can see God. We see God, truly and only, in Christ.

The Sermon on the Mount was taught at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and announced the inauguration of the kingdom of God. This message, which includes the Beatitudes, wasn’t meant to tell everyone what their lives look like. Instead, Jesus was proclaiming what they can and will look like in his coming kingdom—if they follow the king.

I don’t know about you, but I make a lousy king.

My heart isn’t pure.

I am fearful when I should have faith.

I am selfish when I should sacrifice.

I lament when I should worship and laugh when I should mourn.

I just get it all wrong, most of the time.

But Jesus, our king — the true king — is the only one with a pure, unblemished heart. Jesus, who not only sees God, but is God himself, makes us pure through his atoning sacrifice and his living presence.

When we trust in him, we are declared pure in Christ, and we are also assured of seeing God one day.

Jesus’ promised kingdom, described in the Beatitudes, will one day be perfectly consummated. Jesus will return, and our hearts — unbelievable as it seems — will be cleansed forever and we will spend eternity in his presence.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

– 1 John 3:2-3

For disciples of Jesus, the Beatitudes shouldn’t be a list that leads to condemnation but, instead, a list that leads to hope in the eternal promises of God and the blessed life under the reign of Jesus.

Understanding our failings draw us to the feet of Jesus. Only there are we made new, whole, and pure. And only then can we see God.

Blessed Are the Merciful

When my daughter received a donut-shaped palette of lip gloss for her seventh birthday, she squealed with such excitement that I questioned why I’ve ever spent money on Disney World tickets. For two dollars and fifty cents, she was thrilled.

It’s understandable then why my shoulder caught her heartbroken tears a few hours later after her younger sister destroyed her beloved gift.

I prompted my youngest daughter to reconcile with her sister by looking her in the eye, admitting her fault without excuse, and asking for forgiveness. But on this particular day, extending mercy had no appeal whatsoever for my tender-hearted seven-year-old.

“I don’t want to forgive her, Mom! She should lose something that’s special to her, too!” she continued to sob.

I’ve felt that.

In fact, I’m a lot more like my daughter than I’d want you to know. When my well-being is my sole concern, I can get so focused on my own cheap sense of justice that I forfeit the gift to my own soul that extending mercy offers.

Maybe that’s what Jesus hoped we’d experience when he taught about mercy in the “Sermon on the Mount.” To show his audience — full of followers and foe alike — what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus inverted everything they thought they knew starting with a list of qualities among the “blessed.” This list that praised the poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek, would have been purposely polarizing to an audience of elites and outcasts.

In Matthew 5:11, mercy makes that list:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the merciful…”

Mercy takes place where forgiveness and kindness collide. At least that’s how it’s felt to me as I’ve been on mercy’s receiving end.

I feel the effect of mercy when my sin hurts people I love but they still meet me with forgiveness, or when my needs are met by the kind help of others. In both circumstances, the givers of mercy fit Jesus’ description of the merciful: they are “blessed.” The blessed experience joy in the company of God because they have responded to Christ.

Joy and mercy are connected cyclically in the gospel: the joy that the merciful have in their relationship with Christ fuels their generosity, and their generosity deepens the joy they find in Christ. Mercy is as great of a gift to the giver as it is the receiver.

“…For they will receive mercy.”

Left to my natural sin-skewed view, mercy can appear weak. If I equate it to withholding consequences, I’ll scoff at the perceived lack of justice. But actually, it requires great strength.

Jesus highlights the juxtaposition of mercy by setting our assumptions about it against how it actually works; it’s not weakness, it’s strength. It’s not one-sided, it’s an exchange.

On the cross, forgiveness and kindness collided in the ultimate act of mercy. Jesus willingly died on our behalf to pay the penalty of our sin. He was merciful so that we might receive mercy, and because of his surrender and sacrifice, we get to experience joy in the company of God forever!

In the meantime, we have the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ gift of mercy by extending it to one another. And, although, it can be difficult for us we don’t have to do it alone! The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to emulate Christ like we never could on our own.

Perhaps as we do, we’ll get a small taste of the upside-down kingdom Jesus taught about and find that extending mercy is as much a gift to ourselves as those to whom we give it.

Where is God calling you to offer mercy today?


 

Blessed Are You Who Are Poor

A major theme found throughout the Bible is God’s concern for the poor and his anger at the rich’s complicity in their oppression and abuse. We see this concern in the laws of Moses (see Leviticus), in the prophets (see Amos), and directly from Jesus in the Gospels.

The simple fact is that wealth can really mess people up.

Multiple studies have shown that those who see themselves as more wealthy or powerful than the average person behave in ways that show a lack of concern or even (in the worst cases) malevolence toward those who are poorer or less powerful than they are. The Bible’s concern for protecting the poor from the rich is merited!

In Luke 6:17-49 Jesus expounds on what it looks like to live in the kingdom of God. In Luke 6:20 Jesus begins this teaching by saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This statement comes at the beginning of what is traditionally called “the beatitudes,” a list of blessings Jesus proclaims over those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated because they follow Jesus.

In Luke’s presentation of the beatitudes, Jesus also proclaims a series of corresponding “woes,” saying, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation, woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep,” (Luke 6:24-26).

What is Jesus trying to tell us?

The real issue at hand is not about having wealth. Some of Jesus’ followers certainly had wealth, and some of them were so wealthy they were able to financially support Jesus and his ministry.

It seems the issue has more to do with desiring wealth, or worse, loving wealth (see Paul’s discussion of wealth in 1 Timothy 6). Desiring and loving wealth are bright red, flashing danger signs warning that wealth has become an idol. Jesus’ warnings to the wealthy come from a place of concern and love. He is showing us that idols enslave. Through idolatry, both God and neighbor are forgotten, and even despised. We cannot serve and love God while serving and loving an idol. We cannot not serve and love God while neglecting our neighbor.

Thankfully, Jesus offers hope to those trapped in idolatry.

Luke 18 records a conversation between Jesus and a “rich ruler.” At the end of this conversation, the rich ruler goes away sad, and Jesus makes the comment, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” Those nearby asked Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

For those who have let the idolatry of wealth creep into their hearts, or any other idol for that matter, the sacrifice, humility, and love of Jesus not only saves us from the punishment we deserve but transforms us into a people who look more like Jesus himself. Through his Spirit we are able to love and live as God calls us – as a citizen of his kingdom, no matter where we started.

One of the ways we can show our residency in the kingdom of God is through being generous. This was Jesus’ advice to the rich ruler. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor.

For Christians today, generosity is a spiritual discipline that keeps us from becoming attached to our wealth and ensures we do not neglect the poor. Generosity as spiritual discipline is part of God’s work of sanctification in our lives.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

— 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Go and be generous!


 

Those Who Mourn

Take a moment to think about the struggles of these different people.

A single mom. She is working, raising kids, keeping up with the bills and the chores, and continually racing against the school schedule. The grind never stops. It is all day every day — and it is unrelentingly hard.

A woman caring both for her aging mom and her invalid husband. She has to keep working to provide what she can. She has to do all the household chores, monitor and administer medications, manage visiting care takers, and juggle continual trips to doctor’s offices. It is all day every day — and it is unrelentingly hard.

A dad regularly stopping by to visit the gravesite of his child. He has a wound in his heart that will never heal. He thinks about all the games that weren’t played, the graduations that didn’t happen, the weddings he didn’t celebrate, and the grandchildren he will never hold. His pain aches within him all day every day — and it is unrelentingly hard.

Matthew 5 tells us Jesus sat down on the side of a hill, and when his disciples gathered around, began to teach them. Jesus began with nine statements that describe the values of the Kingdom of Heaven now known as the “Beatitudes.” Jesus started with the Beatitudes because they set the tone for everything he was going to say about how radically different life the Kingdom of Heaven is from the conventional thinking of society. In fact, the values of the Kingdom of Heaven are the reverse of worldly values.

The second Beatitude Jesus taught was:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

— Matthew 5:4

It’s worth a lot to the people described above, and to us, to understand what Jesus meant.

But, a couple things need to be pointed out right away, so we don’t go awry in our interpretation.

First, Jesus does not only say, “Blessed are those who mourn.” There is nothing inherently good about mourning. The one who mourns is enduring an overwhelming and wretched situation. Mourning is not the destination God has in mind for his beloved children.

The second thing we need to understand is what Jesus means when he says, “blessed.” A common interpretation of “blessed” is “happy,” but that isn’t to say a person who is mourning feels happy. That doesn’t make sense. The word means “happy” in the sense of “fortunate” or “to be congratulated” or even as we might say, “it’s all good.”  Jesus is teaching they are “blessed” in the sense that mourning is not all there is for them — God is going to bring comfort to them. God is not going to abandon them to the wretched situation they are enduring without bringing to bear the promise of the gospel.

You could rewrite this Beatitude to say, “God’s people who are disadvantaged and struggling will enter better times ahead.” For those who believe in God, the unavoidable mourning in this life is not all there is. So, while the world views God’s downtrodden people as losers and wimps and prudes, in the Kingdom of God they will know victory and vindication. God will comfort them, give them an eternal inheritance, and set right the wrongs that produce mourning in this life.

Theologian Bruce Waltke provides a helpful definition of “wisdom” within the Kingdom of God. To be wise is to live life knowing that true life is life that is undiminished by death.”

Understanding this biblical wisdom helps us understand why followers of Jesus stand out in our culture. The world measures success and happiness based on the now. That’s what it means to be secular — life and even God’s goodness are measured by my satisfaction with my current situation. So, in the world, mourning is an unwelcome and unexpected experience, and when an immediate resolution can’t be found people descend into bitterness and despair.

Followers of Jesus stand out against the culture because they trust God will keep his promises. They can wait, endure, and trust God even through the worst situations and seasons without despairing or disobeying God because they believe what Jesus teaches in this Beatitude.

“Blessed are those who endure mourning with faith and obedience in God, because God will comfort them.” Wise people live through the worst of this life knowing there is better to come, because Jesus has come.

None if this is to say that people who trust Jesus are unscathed by seasons of mourning. God does not expect his children to act like it doesn’t hurt. Mourning tries and tires our hearts, and tests our faith. But Jesus teaches that in the Kingdom of Heaven “blessed” – fortunate, grateful, happy – are those who mourn, because God will bring our mourning to an end.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 

— Revelation 21:3-5


 

Reading the Bible: A Feast for the Soul

How would you describe the way you read the Bible?

Do you read devotionally? Maybe you read most mornings as a spiritual practice, reading for inspiration, encouragement, and to feel closer to God.

Do you read to study? Maybe you like finding commentaries written by popular Bible teachers or scholars, puzzling through questions the text presents, and finding joy in the intellectual stimulation.

Or maybe you lead a small group and you primarily read the Bible “homiletically,” or for the purpose of teaching or proclaiming Scripture and its relevance for a person’s life.

Each of these ways of reading Scripture are helpful, and we will likely read in all these ways at different times. But, the Bible asks us to go further in how we read.

Psalm 1:2, painting a picture of the model reader says, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this they meditate day and night.” This entire chapter describes the model reader as one who meditates on the Bible for the purpose of living in obedience to God.

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this they meditate day and night.

– Psalm 1:2

The Hebrew word our English Bibles translate as “meditate” is hagah. In Psalm 1:2 the use of this word conveys the idea of a wild animal, with intense focus, gnawing, chewing, tearing at, and eating its prey. This is not an emptying of one’s mind as some meditative techniques encourage, but instead a filling of one’s mind and heart with the words of God.

Eugene Peterson’s preferred metaphor for reading Scripture comes from Revelation 10:9, where an angel tells John, the writer of Revelation, to “eat this book.” Peterson writes that the phrase “eat this book” focuses attention on reading Scripture “in such a way that the Holy Spirit uses it to form Christ in us.” The focus of reading meditatively is not on knowing more, but becoming more. Reading meditatively is about seeking to live out and participate in the story the Bible is unfolding before us, to learn how to participate in the story of God through prayer, obedience, and love.

In his book, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson offers an approach for reading Scripture meditatively. First, read the Bible. Read for devotion, study, or for teaching, but don’t stop there. Also meditate on the Bible. Choose a passage to sit with for at least a week, then ponder it, chew on it, wonder what it is saying about how God is asking you to live. Find Christ in the passage.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that while reading meditatively we should, “not look for new thoughts and interconnections in the text as you would in a sermon. Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you. Then ponder this word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.”

After reading and meditating comes prayer. Prayer should progress out of our meditation on Scripture. But this is not simply reciting the words of Scripture. This is spending time praying through and elaborating on each verse.

For example, if you were praying through the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6, beginning with the first line (“Our Father in Heaven”), you might focus on the good Fatherhood of God. A parent might pray that the parenting of their children reflects more closely the perfect parenting of God. Praying through the third line of the Lord’s Prayer (“Your Kingdom come”), one may pray for the full consummation of God’s Kingdom on earth, when all will be right with the world, where God will wipe away every tear, where death will be no more, where there will be no more mourning, or crying, or pain.

Praying through Scripture in this way focuses a person’s heart on how he or she should live. Which brings us to Peterson’s fourth step in reading Scripture meditatively: living Scripture.

After reading, meditating on, and praying through Scripture, we may put our Bible back on our desk or shelf, but it should still be held in our mind and heart. In this way, when we leave our homes to go out into the world, we bring Scripture with us and enact Scripture in the world, blessing those we meet and participating in God’s Story through our love of neighbor and our love of God.

In this way reading becomes a banquet for ourselves and others.

So, go and eat!


 

 

Knowing the Big Story: An Intro to Biblical Theology

Let’s be honest, for many, simply opening a Bible can be an incredibly intimidating thing, especially if you find yourself in certain sections of the Old Testament. I can’t tell you how many would-be students charged up the hill of God’s Word ready to “learn the Bible” only to retreat in confusion and despair after getting stuck in places like Deuteronomy or Leviticus. Frankly, that’s why you find many Christians who have read the New Testament several times but haven’t made it through the Old Testament even once.

However, it should encourage us to know that the Old Testament was the Bible used by Jesus and the apostles. Both believed it to be perfectly adequate to teach others about Christ and the Kingdom he was bringing. Luke 24 records Jesus giving two disciples a lesson on how they should see the Old Testament. Walking with them to the town of Emmaus, Jesus pulled out his pocket Old Testament and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27).

Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

– Luke 24:27

Think about this. “Moses and all the Prophets” is shorthand for the entirety of the Old Testament. Do you see the statement Jesus makes? He is saying from Genesis to Malachi, all the Old Testament ultimately points to him. Exodus points to him, Deuteronomy points to him, even Leviticus points to him! Far from being the part of the Bible you should skip, the Old Testament, in some form or fashion, progressively moves the reader down a road that leads to the Person and Work of Jesus.

The study of how every part of the Bible finds its plotline in Jesus is known as biblical theology. It’s an attempt to understand The Big Story of Scripture whereby God is progressively, organically, revealing his plan to redeem sinners through the gospel.

Biblical theology argues that to try to understand the Old Testament outside Jesus not only risks missing the point of the Bible but also that confusion and frustration will abound as you find yourself mired in passages you don’t know what to do with.

The Old Testament is just as much about Jesus as the New.

Graeme Goldsworthy, one of the foremost voices of biblical theology, addressed the essentialness of Jesus in the Old Testament when he wrote: Because the New Testament declares the Old Testament to be incomplete without Christ we must understand the Old Testament in light of its goal which is Christ. Jesus is indispensable to a true understanding of the Old Testament as well as the New (Gospel and Kingdom, 49). He later adds,For the New Testament, the interpretation of the Old Testament is not ‘literal’ but ‘Christological,’ (Gospel and Kingdom, 109).

Want to enjoy the entire bandwidth of Scripture in a way that blesses instead of confuses? Learn biblical theology and how each book of the Bible fits into The Big Story of redemption because we cannot properly interpret any part of Scripture unless, like Jesus, we relate it to his person and work.

Biblical theology…

1. Helps you avoid misapplying the Bible. For example, biblical theology will guard you from moralizing the stories of the Old Testament by seeing how those characters and stories find their place in The Big Story or are a shadow of Christ and his work. You’ll notice how the stories of the Bible serve the story of the Bible, and why trying to turn those stories into a kind of Aesop’s Fables for Christians is a great injustice.

2. Gives you the right questions to ask. You will have confidence that whether you find yourself in Leviticus or any other book of the Bible you know what answers you need to discover like, Where does this stand in God’s progressive plan of redemption? How does this section of Scripture tie to Jesus? What is God revealing to the characters about his plan?

3. Reveals themes, motifs, and concepts that can be traced and developed from Genesis to Revelation. You will learn to see all kinds of redemptive threads woven throughout the Bible that begin with the Old Adam and tie off at the New Adam. It will also convict you of the truth that the Bible is a unified book instead of wrongly pitting the two testaments against each other.

4. Let’s you read the Bible like Jesus read the Bible – a book that from cover to cover is all about him. Jesus reminds us in John 5:39 via a rebuke to the religious leaders of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” The Old Testament and New are about Jesus.

5. Reminds you of the greatness and glory that can only be found in the One of whom the Bible is ultimately about: Jesus!

 


Recommended Resources

  • Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldworthy
  • The Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts
  • The Big Story by Justin Buzzard

 

Follow Me

A few years ago, a few friends and I road tripped to Colorado to do a bike ride from Durango to Silverton. The route went through two mountain passes that topped out at almost 11,000 feet. I remember as I was nearing the top of the final climb, I was going slow enough that I kept wondering if it would be faster to just get off my bike and walk.

But, then I looked up and saw a sign just ahead; I had made it to the summit.

Immediately, everything changed.

The road started going down. I could catch my breath. I could enjoy the scenery, and I was going fast enough that I didn’t even have to pedal. Just getting over that mountain pass made all the difference.

The gospel of Luke gives us the story of how Matthew became one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

Before he met Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector. During the Roman rule, the Roman government would hire Jewish men to collect taxes from the Jewish community. This system encouraged corruption and extortion, and the profession was viewed as being made up of traitors, cheaters, and liars. They were socially, morally, and religiously outcasts of the society.

But then something happened that changed everything for Matthew.

After this he [Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi [again that’s Matthew], sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.”  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

– Luke 5:27-28

That’s it for Matthew’s story. One day he’s sitting at a tax booth, scamming people, and the next, he leaves everything and follows Jesus.

He’s all in.

And pretty much that’s all that’s said about him in the rest of the Bible, except for the mention of him being one of the twelve disciples following Jesus.

There’s something about his story — and stories like his — that for a long time in my life confused me.

I grew up going to church as a young kid, more so when I was younger but less toward high school. And throughout that whole time, I made some assumptions about church and Christianity based on what I had observed of people who said they were Christians. You see, I always thought church was just a lame hobby where you tried to be good person. It was this one-hour religious thing, where you wore clothes you normally didn’t wear, and talked like you normally didn’t talk.

So, what it seemed like was there were some people who were really into it, but most people were content to be on the fringe. Half in and half out. Like, “We’ll come on Sunday some. But we’re not coming to your weird potluck in the fellowship hall. That’s not us.”

That influenced not only how I viewed church but how I viewed God.

I thought, as long as I was morally in that middle ground with everyone else, then me and God were okay too — that God was just happy to be included as if he was just looking for some friends. Low commitment required. The goal was to try to live life, be a good guy, and sprinkle a little religion on there every once in a while.

So “all-in” stories of complete life-change like Matthew really confused me.

There was no promise attached to it like riches or blessing, and no real direction for what would happen next. All Jesus said was, “follow me.”

Why did Matthew leave everything? Why couldn’t he just keep doing what he was doing, go to church, try to be a little less shady, and sprinkle a little religion on there?

Why couldn’t he just stay in the middle ground?

It wasn’t until I went to college and attended a church there with some of my friends that I finally got it. I finally understood, because the same thing that happened to Matthew happened to me. I met Jesus. Not literally. Matthew literally met Jesus. But it felt like that. I was introduced to who Jesus really is, as he’s revealed himself in the Bible.

Suddenly, I was all-in. Everything changed for me — my values, my dreams, my purpose, the way I ordered my life, the way I viewed other people — everything changed.

But, the truth is just knowing who Jesus is, is not enough. Jesus came to Matthew and then he called him to do something. He simply said, “Follow me.” But then Matthew had a choice to make — to stay or follow.

And, so do we.

What does it look like to follow Jesus?

In his Gospel account, Matthew recorded what Jesus, himself, said is the answer to this question as he was speaking to his disciples.

It’s what changed everything for me.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

– Matthew 16:24-25

This is probably very different than what the disciples originally pictured when they signed up for all of this.

But, notice, this description is who Jesus is as a person, and what he did for us —he humbled himself, denied himself, and went to a cross.

He’s saying that’s what it looks like to follow him.

It’s just not about what we get out of it. It’s not about personal gain. And it’s not about all the great things we get to do.

So, what do you get by following Jesus if you’re not getting stuff from him?

You get Jesus.

Looking at Matthew’s story, that’s all that Jesus offers him. He just said, “Follow me. If you leave everything you know and come with me, you get me.”

So this is what I realized as a half-in, half-out supposed “Christian.” When Jesus says, “follow me,” he’s only giving you one way to do it: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him.

There’s no middle ground.

No hanging onto your shady tax collecting business. No hanging onto your sin. No hanging onto living life with just a little religion sprinkled on it.

You must leave all of that behind and follow him.

And when you do, everything changes.


 

Upstream: Believing in the Jesus of the Bible

If you’ve ever been to the Guadalupe River you probably know that the river is controlled upstream by the Canyon Dam which forms Canyon Lake.

The idea for Canyon Dam was first conceived after two major flash floods in the 1930s to control the flow of the river.

When there are heavy rains upstream in the Hill Country, the water flows downstream and can flood towns and cause all sorts of problems. So, dams like Canyon Dam are created to manipulate and regulate the source upstream so you get the river downstream that you want.

If you want a river to be nice, predictable, and controlled, and a place where you can get sunburned and dehydrated on a tube, then you go upstream and build a dam to give you that.

We do that same thing with how we live our lives in relation to God.

We want “following Jesus” to be predictable and controlled. We want things to be done a certain way.

And so, we go upstream and manipulate the source of the river. We create a version of Jesus that’s more palatable, that allows us to follow him the way we want.

If you want to be healthy and wealthy, then you create this Prosperity version of Jesus who just wants you to be financially and materially blessed.

If you want to be a casual church-goer when it’s convenient, with no real commitment, saying things like, “I’ll come on Sundays sometimes, but I’m not going to give,” or “I’ll come on Sunday, but I’m not going to be in one of your weird small groups,” then you go upstream and create a version of Jesus who’s just looking for friends to occasionally visit him.

We determine how we want to live — we define what it means to follow Jesus — and then we go upstream and create the version of Jesus who will bless that.

But when that happens, what we discover is the Jesus we claim to follow looks less like the Jesus of the Bible and a lot more like us.

What I really need, and what you really need, is to discover the real Jesus, not the one made up of things we want to be true. And when we do, we learn what it looks like to follow him on his terms.

So, let’s look at how Jesus is described in the Bible.

We could look in a lot of places in Scripture, but one of the clearest statements about who Jesus is and what he came to do is in Philippians 2:6-8.

[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

This is a theologically rich text about who Jesus is, and it says something profound about him: Jesus was no ordinary man.

He was in the form of God, meaning he was equal with God. But he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” or, saying that another way, he did not take his equality with God as something to use for his advantage.

Instead, he laid that down. He emptied himself, became a servant, and was born a man.

Jesus is God in the flesh. But, by becoming a man, he willingly took a lowly status and position. He descended from the highest glory to the lowest depths. He was submitting himself to God’s plan to redeem mankind.

The ultimate picture of his humility was his death on a cross. Jesus, as fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life and died on the cross as punishment for our sin, and then rose again three days later, conquering death.

So, here’s what we learn about Jesus: the real Jesus — the Jesus of the Bible — is a crucified Jesus.

He’s the Holy, Creator of all. And he looks at you and me and knows everything about us – every thought and every action. He knows we’re sinners. He knows we can’t follow all the rules no matter how hard we try. He knows we rightfully deserve to be punished for our sin. He knows that we have no hope without him.

And he loves us, still.

He’s not the Jesus we create to fit what we want our lives to look like. He’s better than anything we could dream up.


 

Roasted Corn

We all have milestone moments in life. They are the moments that shape us — a first baseball game, a wedding day, a graduation, or the birth of a child.

We have moments like that in our faith as well, when God steps in and changes us in an inexplicable, but undeniable way.

These moments with God are significant not only for how they affect our lives right then, but also how they sustain us for the future. Because there are other moments, and even seasons of life, where we doubt God, where we rebel, and maybe question God’s goodness or purposes.

I have had seasons like this in my life. In high school, my best friend was antagonistic towards the church and my faith in Christ, and his doubts caused me to doubt. My philosophy and biology courses in college brought up new questions about God’s nature and character. And, I’ve had seasons of rebellion and sin, where pride, or lust, or selfishness reigned.

So, what do we do in those moments?

One of my life passages — one I turn to in moments like these — is John 21. This last chapter in the book of John gives us a glimpse into a moment in the life of the apostle Peter.

For context, before Jesus went to the cross, he explained to his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and was going to die. Peter, being the impulsive and courageous man he was, immediately spoke up and promised Jesus that he wouldn’t let this happen, and that he would follow him and protect him at all cost. Peter had promised Jesus that he would never leave or forsake him. Jesus responded, “actually, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Sure enough, after Jesus is arrested, Peter is asked on three different occasions about his relationship with Jesus, and he denies him every single time. And then a rooster crows. Peter remembered what Jesus said, and the Scriptures say “he went out and wept bitterly.”

That is where we pick up the story in John 21.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

– John 21:2-3

Don’t miss what’s happening here. Peter is returning to an old way of living. Prior to Jesus’ invitation to be a fisher of men, Peter was a professional fisherman. “Going fishing” wasn’t evil, but it marked a return to an old lifestyle, one in opposition to the life and calling God had on his life. Likewise, when we run, we may not go do anything evil, but we can slip into a lifestyle that opposes God’s will. We might stop going to church, or drop out of small group, or forget to read the Bible, because “life is just busy right now.”

If we are honest, it is confusion, shame, or doubt, that really causes us to run.

Peter’s story doesn’t end in shame and confusion, and ours doesn’t have to either.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?”

He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

– John 21:4-8

Jesus stepped in and recreated a moment for Peter. When he first met Jesus, years earlier, Jesus performed this same miracle. Jesus told him to throw his net on the other side of the boat, and then told Peter, from then on, he would make him a fisher of men. Peter was immediately reminded of who Jesus is, what he had done for him, and what he had called him to do.

Do you have a moment like that? When did you first understand the call of Jesus on your life?

When I was a freshman in high school, I was invited to go on a mission trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico.

One night, I saw some guys my age skateboarding in the city square. I joined them, and pretty quickly our conversation turned to why I was visiting their country. I got to share my story and the gospel and then pray with seven teenagers about their relationship with Christ.

I can vividly remember the Holy Spirit whispering, “This is what you are going to do for the rest of your life: sharing the gospel and praying with people. This is what you were created to do.” I didn’t know all the details, but it was a significant moment — the start of my desire to do ministry and be a pastor.

And I can still remember the warmth of that summer air and the smell of roasted corn cooking at the vender booths. In, fact the smell of roasted corn — still, to this day — reminds me of the moment I had with Jesus in Mexico.

When I graduated from seminary, I told this story. A few weeks later my parents gave me a gift: a framed picture of roasted corn with an inscription that read, “Always Remember.”

The frame still hangs on the wall of my office, and every day when I sit at my desk, I see that picture and am reminded of a moment that shaped me. God stepped in, and not only saved me, but he gave me a mission to be a part of, a calling on my life.

Jesus went to great lengths to recreate Peter’s transformational moment, and I believe God uses those types of moments throughout our lives to draw us back to him in seasons of sin, doubt, or rebellion.

God has forgiven you and called you to play a specific role in his kingdom too. He has called all of us to go make disciples, to love and serve our city, and to help usher in the kingdom of God.

So be reminded, today, and remember the moments that God stepped into your life. Remember them so that when seasons of doubt or rebellion arise, you can trust the God who not only saves but who sends you into the world for his purpose, his mission, and his glory.


 

Podcasts

108: Living in an Age of Outrage

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Bruce Wesley, and Greg Poore discuss the questions: Why do people have such a difficult time having constructive relationships with people who think and behave differently than they do? And how should Christians live in an age of tribalism and outrage?

Resources:

Love the Other – Fight Tribalism (sermon)

104: Should Christians Confront Sin in the World?

During the series Salty: Sticking Out for the Right Reasons, we’re discussing questions related to each message on our podcast. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen, Yancey Arrington, and Aaron Lutz discuss these questions:

Do Americans in general feel more positively or negatively about Christianity? If so, why is that the case?

Is it a Christian’s role to call out sin in our cultural?

Also, new for this series, you can watch the video of our podcast converation on our YouTube channel.

Resources:

Sticking Out For the Right Reasons (sermon)

To learn more about Clear Creek Community Church, visit clearcreek.org

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100: Upcoming Preaching Changes

This fall we’re making a few changes to our services aimed at advancing our mission to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. On the 100th episode of the Clear Creek Resources podcast, Ryan Lehtinen sits down with Bruce Wesley and Yancey Arrington to discuss what went into the decision to lengthen our services, shift to concurrent preaching at all campuses, and gradually move towards more live preaching.

 

096: The Avengers & the Gospel

It’s easy to get swept up in the cinematic universe of Marvel. With its wide range of superheroes and underdogs and its consistent humor and heart, there is something for everyone: spaceships, time travel, spies, and even romance. Beyond the fun and entertainment, these stories also evoke longings we all share like heroism, redemption, and a world rescued from evil.

In this episode, Rachel Chester sits down with Church on Wednesday pastor Lance Lawson, and Mandy Turner, who teaches Clear Creek’s Women’s Systematic class, to discuss their favorite Avengers and how these stories echo the Gospel.

 

094: What Disney’s Soul Says About Purpose and Identity

“Is all this living really worth dying for?” asks 22 — a supporting character in Disney’s Soul. This is the primary question Soul seeks to answer throughout the movie, and it’s the question that many people wrestle with throughout their life. Is there a purpose to living? And if so, what is my purpose? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen is joined by Aaron Lutz and Lance Lawson to discuss what the Bible says about this topic and how Soul portrays our purpose, identity, and the role of community.

 

35: Prophets

Who were the prophets? Did they know the future? Why are they so important? Are there prophets today? We’ll answer these questions and more in this episode of Who’s in the Bible

089: Women in the Bible

How Christianity views and depicts women is often in question within cultural conversations. Why aren’t there more women in the Bible? Are women essential to God’s redemptive work? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, as a woman? On this episode, Rachel sits down with Dr. Sandra Glahn, author and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, to discuss the importance of understanding how the Bible depicts women, how God sees and values women, and what that means for women and men today.

Resources: 

Vindicating the Vixens by Sandra Glahn 

Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher

34: Jonah

The story of Jonah is well known, but it raises some big questions. Did it really happen? Can we believe the Bible? What is the point of such a crazy story? All these questions and more are tackled in this episode.

 

33: Rehoboam

King Solomon did a lot of good things as king, but he also led in ways that were against God’s commands. What happened after Solomon died? Check out this episode to learn about Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. You’ll be surprised what happened next.

32: Solomon’s Temple

Aric and Lance travel back in time for a tour of Solomon’s Temple. After listening, check out this YouTube video for a visual guide.

 

CCStories

Reading the Bible Together

“I had tried to read the Bible on my own… but once I was in the group doing it together there was a lot more accountability.

Each week different perspectives come in to play, too. There’s lots of different views and points of view in our small group, which is awesome because then you hear other people’s interpretations on things.”

The Joe Stockdale Story

For many of us, COVID hit and impacted our emotional and spiritual world. To varying degrees, we’ve all felt it over the last year. 

For Joe Stockdale, COVID limited his freedom, but led him down a path to true freedom through the Bible, a friend, and an online worship service.

To learn more about Clear Creek Community Church, visit clearcreek.org

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The Austin Webber Story

Check out the incredible story of how reading the Bible changed everything for Austin Webber. Watch the video here!

Empty: The Marilyn Hester Story

“I felt like I was entering a darkness I couldn’t get out of. I’ve been in a cave before where they turn the lights out on you and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It’s so black.

“That’s where I felt spiritually.”

 

* * *

 

Marilyn Hester’s bracelets clicked together musically as she spoke, adding expression and emphasis to her story with each hand gesture. Her bright voice, quick movements, big laugh, and sharp tongue suggested she was much younger than 76. And the joy in her smile did not convey the grief she still carried.

Marilyn became a Christian over 40 years ago. To her, God had always been her “best friend, confidant, counselor, everything.”

“He is everything to me,” she said. “I’ve always talked to him. I always had a relationship with him from the moment he revealed himself to me. He created that… He gave me an understanding of his word and the ability to remember it. And I have learning problems!”

Marilyn struggles with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. As a new believer, Marilyn asked God to help her remember Scripture, and he did. “The word came to life for me; it meant something to me,” she said. “He brought it to life as being real and truth… What’s in here,” she said, pointing to her head, “he pulls out for his purpose. He brings his word to my remembrance.”

Over the years, Marilyn realized she was gifted in remembering and using God’s words in conversations, in speaking to groups of women, in teaching, and in her fervent prayers throughout each day for her loved ones. When her husband, Ed, endured open-heart surgery and almost died, she prayed until he was well again.

And when her daughter, Kim, was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of the tongue at age 42, she planned on doing the same thing.

Around six months into her diagnosis, Kim left an abusive relationship to move in with her parents again. It was a changing of the guard at the Hester home. Their middle daughter, Carrie, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and mental retardation, had lived with Marilyn and Ed most of her life, but was on her way out of her home for surgery and rehab. Kim returned, needing her parents’ help and care once again.

But the cancer spread rapidly, weakening Kim’s body and mind with every treatment and setback.

“Kim’s suffering was before my face every minute of every day,” recalled Marilyn. “That was more than I could bear —  to see her in that kind of pain. Deep, deep, deep down, I knew she wasn’t going to make it. But I kept praying and putting [God’s] word before him.”

Just over a year into her diagnosis, Kim Hester entered the hospital for the last time. She was given just days to live, and the family was told to make final plans.

“I thought we had more time,” said Marilyn.

[Marilyn (right) with her daughter, Kim.]

“When it was time, she was just gone like a vapor,” Marilyn said with a snap of her fingers. “She took a breath and didn’t exhale. There was no struggle. There was no pain. There was no anxiety.”

Marilyn was able to take some comfort in knowing that Kim was a Christian. She believed Kim died and was immediately in the presence of Jesus. The peace of that certainty was real. But the pain of her loss was overwhelming.

“I could be in the store and would see a pair of shorts — and she loved shorts — and it would bring back memories of when she was a kid and all that, and I would have to go to the car and cry,” said Marilyn.

“The pain was horrible. It was a physical pain, and I wept deeper than I’ve ever wept in my life… It would just erupt like a volcano, and then it was over. That was at the very beginning.”

Then, still in those early days of the grieving process, Marilyn and Ed were thrown a curveball when they were made fully aware of the living conditions of their other daughter. Carrie lived in a group home which meant that Ed and Marilyn had little legal say over what happened to her there. They were beholden to the caregiver who ran the group home, but they discovered she was not taking proper care of Carrie nor was she regarding Carrie’s grief over the loss of her sister. Marilyn’s hands were tied because she and Ed had no way to properly care for her on their own, and this affected her deeply.

“I really felt like I had no more kids,” Marilyn said. “My son worked all the time and lived across town and pulled himself away from us… And I’d lost Kim. And now I’d lost Carrie. So, I began to feel like I had three children and now I had none. It took away my identity. It made me feel like I wasn’t a mother.”

“I began to realize I had put my identity and worth into how my children turned out, or how much influence I had in their lives, and then they’re gone,” she said. “So where’s my identity? Who am I? It was just another thing that was pushing me down into this quicksand of darkness, deep darkness. Because I felt like I was worth nothing.”

At some point, Marilyn’s daily time set aside to read the Bible and pray began to take a discreet turn. “I would read his word and think Okay, well you had the power to heal her but you didn’t do it. I began to center on what I wanted for Kim more than what [God] wanted for her.”

Slowly, Marilyn’s thoughts toward her beloved Lord began to change and lies took root in her mind.

“You see the pain of the memory, and then behind it is this little thinking… And you fight it for a while. It’s like [Satan] tickles your ears with a lie and truth and together they become truth to you. And you just listen. And you don’t even know you’re doing it, but you begin to believe that God was not there for you.”

Often, the lies came in the form of seemingly benign questions, like Did God really love Kim?

She began to question God and then believe things like, “God doesn’t love you God left Kim. God left you. God doesn’t care. You can’t trust his word.”

“It was like little bitty tiny bites into my heart and mind,” recalled Marilyn. “And I began to listen and think you’re right, you’re right, you’re right.”

[Kim (left) with Marylin (right).]

Finally, after a long day of trying unsuccessfully to find a new home for Carrie, Marilyn had had enough. She sent her husband into the house and stayed in the car to let God know exactly what she thought.

“I was so incredibly involved in the grief that I was not pouring it out to [God],” she said. “It was like a volcano erupting. I couldn’t control the crying. I couldn’t control the words coming out of my mouth… I was more honest with him than I think I’d ever been.”

In the midst of this crying out, Marilyn sensed a brokenness between herself and God that she had never before experienced.  “I was like a broken vessel,” she said. “And in that, he just sat there and listened. He never made me feel like he was angry with me, like he would leave me. I knew he was there. But he was so quiet. And I needed him to talk to me!”

“Very slowly I pulled away [from God] until there was nothing,” said Marilyn. “There was no comfort. There was nothing… I quit talking to him. We didn’t have anything to say to each other any more.”

 

 

* * *

 

Give ear to my prayer, O God,

and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!

Attend to me and answer me…

 

Some time later, Marilyn awoke one morning and decided to open her Bible, something she had not done in a while. She thought, “I’m going to open his word. It’s not going to mean anything anymore but I’m just going to read it.” Scripture was no longer bringing her “any comfort,” so she had set it aside. But on that morning, something prodded her to open God’s word.

As Marilyn opened to Psalm 55, she read words penned as a lament of David. The words were familiar, not only to her mind but also to her heart. She understood the anguish David experienced. She continued reading.

 

…I am restless in my complaint and I moan,

because of the noise of the enemy,

because of the oppression of the wicked…

My heart is in anguish within me; 

the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 

 

It reminded her of something from her childhood.

“I would have these nightmares all the time that someone was trying to kill me,” recalled Marilyn. “I remember thinking that I was going to die in the dream.”

 

Fear and trembling come upon me,

and horror overwhelms me.

 

“Before this person trying to kill me could touch me, I would just be lifted up above the whole thing, and I would fly,” Marilyn said. “And the ability to fly as a child just blew me away, and there was a peace. I could see the guy running after me, but he couldn’t get to me. I would soar like a bird above all of the danger and was perfectly safe in this one place. I felt at home.”

 

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest…”

 

When she read those lines, something shifted within her. “No longer was it David… it was me,” she said. “It was like God took me back to the dream and said ‘I delivered you then. I deliver you now.’”

All at once, the memory of her childhood dream and the circumstances of her present moment collided as she read those verses, and the darkness within her broke.

“That was God when I was a little girl!” she recalled. “Oh my God, that was God! He really does care!”

“He knew me as a child,” she said. “He delivered me from my nightmares with his own peace. The word that he showed me… was the same thing that happened in that nightmare, and he delivered me. He knew me then, and he knows me now.”

 

* * *

 

Marilyn marks that moment as the time where the deep darkness left and never returned.

“I felt like I was trying to lift myself out of [the depression], and God did it,” she said. “He did for me what I could not do for myself.”

[Marylin (right) holding Kim.]

As she looks back on the darkest days, and how God pulled her up out of the pit, she thinks the experience was “about needing [God] more than it was about needing him to do something for me.”

“I missed him more than I missed my own daughter,” she said. “I missed that relationship we had before. It was a walking, talking, living relationship.”

Marilyn knows now that walking away from God was the worst thing she could have done in her grief.

She has learned a few things.

“Go to the Lord with the suffering, and be honest with him. Don’t hold anything back… If you’re just grieving and stepping away from God and not letting him heal [you], then it’s more painful because you don’t have the power to heal you.”

Marilyn still grieves, but it’s different now.

“We’re closer,” she says. “I think what God wants to do with walking through the grief process is to fill that emptiness with himself. And it takes time. Still the pain of it is there… but it’s different than it was before. It truly feels like grief; it doesn’t feel like blackness.”


 

Behind the Science: The Tia Fink Story

A person does not need to look too far before they are faced with the puzzling mystery of how everything on this earth and in our solar system and out in the universe works together in such ordered fashion.  The beauty of science and creation is clearly seen all around us— if we are looking.

Tia Fink is a scientist and professor of environmental science at Lee College.  She attended many churches growing up that had either very human-centered views of religion or very corporate views of religion.  The focus was either on what humans should or should not be doing to please God or how a person would be blessed to the degree that they were willing to empty their pocketbooks on a Sunday morning.  Both these unbiblical and damaging approaches left Tia with a distaste for God, church, and any kind of religion. She decided to become an atheist.

“I was just happy letting everyone believe what they wanted to believe,” Tia said.

In 2004, when Tia was 20 years old, a work friend invited her to visit Clear Creek Community Church.  While the fill-in-the-blank sermon notes were pleasantly non-threatening, and the people seemed friendly, Tia stopped going after only a few weeks.

“I liked the fill-in-the-blank worksheets a lot,” Tia admitted, “but at that time, I just didn’t want to attend and didn’t think any of it was important.”

Sometimes people would talk to Tia about church and God, and her responses varied between ‘I don’t get it,’ ‘No, that’s not for me,’ and ‘Never again am I trying that.’

“There were other times when people really wanted to know what I thought, and I would say, ‘Well, everyone believes in some sort of “higher power,” no matter what name they called it.’ For the most part though, sometimes I would recognize that maybe there was a higher power, but that he doesn’t care at all because this world is so messed up and evil.  But because of all the evil in the world, I believed that God didn’t exist at all, neither did Satan, neither heaven nor hell.”

Years later, this approach to life was no longer working for her.  She and her husband found themselves in a huge financial bind that led to depression and eventual separation from one another.

“Within four months, I lost my husband and all my earthly possessions,” Tia recalled. “I thought we were still going to work things out, so I let him have anything he wanted from the house.”  But then it turned out she had nothing left.

At that rock-bottom point, Tia had another co-worker  who noticed that she was really struggling. He told her, “If you’re looking for answers, the Bible is where you could find them.” Although she was very skeptical, she had nowhere else to turn and she did need help. So in either a moment of courage or desperation (or maybe both), she asked him where she should start.  Tia finally started her journey of truly discovering whether or not God was really real, and if he was, how he could possibly care about her life.

Tia began reading both the Old Testament and the New Testament at the same time.  And being a scientist, any time she came across verses that didn’t make sense or that she disagreed with (or even ones that she didn’t like), she put on her research hat and started digging.

“I’m not one that if I read something, if it totally doesn’t make sense, I’m just going to move on and leave it alone,” Tia said.  “I would research, ‘Why? Why would God do that?’ There were some very interesting parts that, from my standpoint, just seemed horrible and cruel. But when I researched the background for them and why they happened, it started to make sense why God would choose to want things done that way or allow certain things to happen.”

Her year-long process of excavating the truths underneath the scriptures led to a true discovery of what the Bible really said about God.  This also led her to read supplemental books at the same time she was reading through the Bible. She was looking for answers to explain some of the most challenging topics she encountered both in the Bible and in her personal life: Why does God allow horrible things to happen?  Where is God during my suffering? What does it mean that God is sovereign?

When Tia was reading through the Bible, she was looking for answers for her situation, but she wasn’t seeing those. Originally, she didn’t know you could look in the Bible about marriage, or divorce, or finances.

“I think the way I approached [reading the Bible] helped me have a bigger picture of it all, versus just looking at my current situation.”

Eventually, Tia came to faith after reading about the nature of God, Jesus, and her own need for a savior.  She realized God wanted his people to worship him and him alone when she read about the pagan concrete idol Dagon in 1 Samuel that broke to pieces and bowed face down before the Ark of God and His presence.  She realized Jesus was the only pathway to a right relationship with God when she read his words in John 14 that he was “the way, the truth, and the life.” She realized that because of God’s great love for the world, expressed in John 3, Jesus’ life was given up as a sacrifice for the sins of man.  And when she read Romans 3, she realized that no one was good on their own and she needed this savior, Jesus, too.

The scriptures even revealed the kind of person she wanted to become because of her newfound faith in Jesus.  She wanted to be like the deep-rooted trees planted along the riverbank that Jeremiah spoke about because these were the trees that never stopped producing fruit and could withstand heat and drought without worry.  And she wanted to be like the wise person who builds their house on solid rock from the parable that Jesus told in Matthew because the person who builds their house on bedrock could withstand any amount of rain and wind and floodwaters.

It was clear to Tia that Jesus, who was both the living water and the rock of her salvation, was the answer to her circumstances.  It wasn’t that the heat or drought or the rain, wind, or floods in her life would necessarily cease, but that her faith in Jesus would ground her to no end.  It was only after these revelations that Tia decided to check out church again.

“This process of fact-checking the Bible also led me to fact-check some local churches, too, and I think that was unbelievably helpful,” Tia said.  “I first started by watching some online sermons… and I found myself saying, ‘That’s not true!’ or ‘That’s not what the Bible teaches! Why are they teaching this to people?’”

Then she remembered Clear Creek Community Church and the fill-in-the-blank sermon notes.  She started watching many archived sermons and decided to attend in person again. Tia even fact-checked Clear Creek messages.  But after finding them to be biblically accurate, she knew she had found a church she could trust.

Tia has now been attending CCCC for over two years.  She joined her current small group in February 2018. She serves on Sundays with the high school student ministry.  And she is still a scientist.

“I feel like I understand everything in science better,” Tia said. “We know a lot of things [about our world], which is great. God gives us the knowledge to know these things. The what, the when, the where, and the why are pretty much mostly answered up to this point.  But most of the time, scientists are so reluctant to put in the who.”

However, it seems that even the intelligent design of our solar system challenges this reluctance.  The simple fact that our planet has an orbit keeps us from crashing directly into the sun.  Our specific orbit keeps us from crashing into other planets.  And Jupiter is so delicately positioned to act as a sort of shield for the earth, deflecting harmful gases and asteroids that might otherwise be bound for Earth [Opfer, 2015].

“You can read all these scientific things and you can see how the world works and the physics and the chemistry and the environmental science and the biology, but there’s always these holes, like these gaps of what we don’t know.”

The who, Tia explains, is the one who so carefully created both the parameters of the universe and the very atoms that make up a unit of matter.

“Subatomic particles and the strength of gravity appear to be finely tuned just right to support stars, atoms, molecules, and life,” Tia said.  “Scientists believe if the Big Bang conditions had been slightly different, then the universe would not exist (Johnson, 2003).

“Or just take neutrons and protons as an example. Neutrons are just slightly heavier than protons.  If it were the other way around, atoms couldn’t exist because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang.  No protons, then no atomic nucleuses, no atoms, no chemistry, no life,” Tia claims.  “Saying that God doesn’t exist in that is pretty much setting yourself up for more failure than understanding.”

At the same time that her understanding of the created world amplified, so did her compassion for her friends and her scientist colleagues who still do not believe.  For Tia, choosing to believe in God within a community of atheists can be challenging, at times. Sometimes when presented with opposing discussions with friends or colleagues, she has to say, “I understand where you’re coming from, but that’s not what I’m gonna believe anymore. I’m going to be over here believing this, but if you ever have questions, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

“All you can do is try to share the gospel with them sometimes, and share with them in a gentle way so that they’re not going to be hostile towards it.  But it’s not our work to do. It’s God’s work to save them.”

On top of these challenges, Tia’s personal circumstances—the ones that drove her to seek answers in the Bible in the first place—have not changed much at all.  And yet, somehow, everything has changed. While Tia began her spiritual journey hoping for a restored marriage, along the way she found a new perception that God didn’t just exist, but he knew her by name, he was writing her story, and she could trust him.

“As you read through the Bible, there is all sorts of devastation; we’re not the first people to have war and famine and adultery and everything else,” Tia said.  “Lots of people in the Bible had to learn how to be content. I’m sure they didn’t want to be in prison.  I’m sure lots of God’s people didn’t want to have all the bad things happen to them that happened to them.  I’m sure they didn’t like those situations at all, but He allowed it to happen—and it was still for their good, somehow.”

In the quest to be content in her circumstances, Tia admits that putting these truths into her mind and soul daily is the main thing that keeps her moving forward.

“If you look at the big picture, God’s sovereign over all of it, even from the grass growing to the condition of the soil to every drop of rain.  So if He sees and controls all that, what makes you think that he doesn’t see and know and control your circumstances? Because He does.”

 


 

References:

 

Opfer, C. (2015). What If Earth Changed Its Orbit. Retrieved from

https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/what-if/what-if-earth-changed-its-orbit.htm

 

Johnson, G. (2003) Can Science Prove the Existence of God? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/11/science/can-science-prove-the-existence-of-god.html

The Well

The sand crunched on the path beneath the woman’s sandals as she walked. She kept her head tilted down to shield her eyes from the sun burning brightly overhead as she went. She needed water for her family, and that was where her journey was taking her.

She shifted the position of her empty water jar, and held it against her stomach with both arms, crinkling the fabric of her tunic. The road was empty. She had timed this trip well. There would likely be no one at the well where she was headed; no one to look at her with judgmental glances, or whisper to each other as she passed by.

This is the life she had earned and she knew it, but that didn’t mean she wanted the reminders from everyone else if she could avoid them.

 

* * *

Chanda McKinney was eight years old when her family moved from Colorado to the Houston area. John McKinney, her dad, had worked for the Coors Brewing Company in Colorado, and had taken a job in distributing with the Miller Brewing Company in Texas to take advantage of a better economy.

John had been a Christian for just a few short years and was doing his best to lead and provide for his wife, Sherry, and three daughters. Chanda’s family went to church every Sunday in the morning and the evening. They were there on Wednesday’s as well, and Chanda and her sister’s attended summer church camp every year. But at home, Chanda’s parents were constantly at odds, and frequently lashed out at each other in front of their kids.

“He was teaching the kids and heavily involved in the church,” Chanda says about her father. “The children loved my dad – we loved my dad. Yet, I heard my mom just constantly talking very poorly about my dad – a disdain that was extremely disheartening to hear her say about him.”

As an added benefit of living in Houston, Chanda’s family lived close to her mom’s family. And as a result, Chanda spent many of her childhood Saturdays shopping with her mom, aunt, and grandmother.

Sitting in the backseat of the car as they would drive, Chanda heard her mom vent about the difficulties of marriage and parenting. It colored the way Chanda saw relationships and, because she rarely heard things from his side of the story, the way she viewed her father.

As the months went on Chanda overheard more and more from her mother about how her father was dropping the ball as a family man, spending all of his time either at work or church.

On one of those Saturdays, Chanda’s aunt and mom were discussing the importance of talking to kids about inappropriate touching after hearing the idea stressed by Dr. Phil. Chanda doesn’t remember much from that conversation, except when her mom made a passing remark about the possibility of Chanda’s father committing such an act. It didn’t come to light for Chanda until many years down the road, that a grandfather whom she never knew, had been abusive towards her dad’s sisters. Chanda’s mom was merely commenting on a dark fragment of family history. But for an elementary school-aged Chanda, the damage was done. Chanda was haunted by the comment.

“In that moment, it changed my entire relationship with my father because I lived in fear that he would abuse me,” Chanda said. “I felt powerless, and fearful, and just frozen with paranoia that my dad would do something like that to me. And so from that point, I just learned from watching my parents. My mom had gained a lot of weight. She would probably be what doctors would consider to be obese… I never heard my dad say this about her, but I heard her say things like, ‘He doesn’t even touch me or talk to me because of my weight.’ What I learned was that if I could get fat then I could protect myself.”

Over the next few years, Chanda lived in a state of imbalance. She intentionally binged on sugar and sweets at every opportunity, but heard her mom complain about being overweight at the same time. Chanda tried to keep up with the pace, but couldn’t fully comprehend the issues that she saw her mom facing.

Seeing his oldest daughter becoming more distraught, but not knowing the extent of what was happening to her, Chanda’s dad chalked it all up to the hormones of a preadolescent daughter.

“My dad became passive in the hopes that my mom would do better with me,” Chanda said. “I took that as rejection… I felt abandoned by him even though we were in the same home.”

 

* * *

 

Beads of sweat formed and rolled down the woman’s temples as she walked. Her face was positioned to look at the ground beneath her feet to keep her eyes from straining in the sunlight. She knew the well wasn’t too far away and so she lifted her head just enough to see the distance she still had to travel.

She stopped.

A man was sitting on the lip of the well, watching her from only a short distance away.

She continued slowly and approached the well, trying not to make eye contact. She hadn’t seen him before, and knew he must passing through. She wondered why he would be alone, and what he might want.

“Give me a drink,” he said, startling her and interrupting her thoughts.

She starred at him for a moment, meeting his gaze for the first time. There was a strange gleam in his eyes, as if he knew her.

But how would he? It was obvious to her now that he was a Jew. And her being a Samaritan, had met only a very few number of Jewish men before. This was not one of them, and out of habit she became uncomfortable that he was speaking to her.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she questioned brashly, intending to warn him off of any ill intent.

He smiled softly, leaned forward and looked down towards his hands.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” As he finished this phrase he looked up again and his eyes pierced her own.

They starred at each other in silence for a moment, as a soft breeze blew a few strands of hair across her face.

“Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us this well and drank from it himself. As did his sons and his livestock.”

The man continued to look her in the eye as he spoke.

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman was stunned. She’d never heard anyone speak this way. Unconsciously, she leaned in and took a small step forward.

All of her life, she had searched for something to make her feel fulfilled. To feel like she was worth something. To feel hope for her future.

What this man offered was more than water, but she knew not the words to say what it was.

“Sir, give me this living water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

 

* * *

 

Chanda was starting to crave attention.

She had started to take an interest in the boys at school and sought out their attention. There was rarely a time that she was not involved in some sort of a dating relationship after starting intermediate school.

As she started to taste the small amount of freedom that came with junior high, Chanda began to feel like her parents were trying to squelch her social life. She quickly began finding ways to be around them as little as possible. Nearly every weekend she went to a friends’ house – most of whom did not have church-going parents – and Chanda discovered more freedom to do whatever she wanted.

“We didn’t have a curfew,” Chanda says. “We would sneak out. There was alcohol and drugs. We’d sneak boys in; we’d sneak out to see guys. I mean, that was the lifestyle and I wasn’t even in high school yet.”

Chanda’s secret life was starting to spiral out of control.

As they began to realize that there was something going on with their daughter, Chanda’s parents sought out professional help and set up regular meetings with a counselor.

But as her counselor and parents begged Chanda to talk, to open up, the more she didn’t want to speak. She liked the attention. She liked the control. And so she said just enough to keep them at bay.

“They talked to me about sex – how important it is to save yourself for marriage. That was all very important. But when they were talking to me about this, what I heard was, ‘Your only value is your virginity.’ And so I figured if I gave that away, then someone would love me. And so I just kept giving it away, giving it away, giving it away. And nobody stayed. The rejection, the abandonment, the hurt, the pain, and all the soul-ties, and hurt and havoc, and now a reputation and isolation, and drugs and alcohol – I was just dying to escape what was going on inside, but I couldn’t even begin to talk about it. So that just led to more.”

Internally, she was starting to feel hollow, like a deep sense of emptiness that she couldn’t fill, no matter how hard she tried.

During her freshman year of high school, when Chanda was just 14 years old, her already overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt took a tragic turn. She spent the night at a friends’ house and was molested by her friend’s stepfather. Chanda’s friend found out about the incident and went to a counselor where she explained the incident involving Chanda, and then confessed that her stepfather had been molesting her for several years.

The friend moved away to live with her biological father.

The stepfather went to jail.

Chanda fell into a state of despair.

She continued to search for worth and meaning in her relationships with guys at school. But the search continued in vain.

When she was 16 years old, tragedy struck again.

“Another time was when I was with another best friend at her house, her mom was gone. There was alcohol there, and I was completely inebriated. Just drunk. Didn’t even realize I couldn’t stand up. I didn’t know until I stood up. I kind of fought my way to the bathroom because I believed that if you needed to sober up you’re supposed to shower. That’s what they do in the movies. And so I made my way to the bathroom, and started kind of undressing to get into the shower, and kind of passed out, and came to with just one guy after another having sex with me.”

By law, it was rape.

The next morning, the friend’s mother approached Chanda, explaining that people at the party had seen what had happened. She was holding Chanda responsible for what had happened, and told her that she wouldn’t tell anyone if Chanda would agree to get on birth control.

“I just didn’t want my parents to know,” Chanda says. “And I didn’t want to lose another friend. I just believed her mom.”

Chanda was filled with an even deeper sense of shame and guilt than before. And she continued to bury these feelings deep down where no one could see how much heartache and emptiness she was dealing with. She held out her reasoning that if she just found the right person to be with, she would feel valued and loved and her problems would disappear. And if she couldn’t find that then she would numb the pain with enough drugs and alcohol that she simply wouldn’t care anymore.

Chanda’s parents had reconciled their marriage by the time she finished high school. A few years prior they realized their need for help and started seeing a marriage counselor. As a couple and individuals, they were starting to turn their lives around. They had a healthy marriage. They attended church regularly. But they were minimally aware of what was happening in Chanda’s life.

Chanda started attending San Jacinto College to study cosmetology after high school. It was something she was interested in, and showed potential, but her social life was continuing just as it had in high school.

At the age of 18, Chanda got pregnant.

“I met another guy, and we dated,” Chanda says. “I though we were like together. Anyway, I got pregnant. Couldn’t get ahold of him. He ignored my calls. I just thought for sure, that he was going to come around. I mean, I’m pregnant. But I never heard from him.”

Three months into her pregnancy, Chanda knew she was in over her head, but didn’t know where to turn for help.

“I had no other choice, I thought, and had an abortion,” Chanda says. “It was the worst experience of my life… The shame was just, I mean, overwhelming.”

Desperate to shed the pain and guilt, Chanda went right back to doing what she always did.

Over the next few years, Chanda would find herself in several more unhealthy relationships. She was violently abused. She fell deeper into the usage dependence of drugs, alcohol, and sex. She was left empty, time and time again. But she couldn’t break the cycle.

One night, she was arrested and taken to jail after the police caught her and a couple of friends using cocaine outside of a club.

Chanda wound up with five years of deferred adjudication (a type of probation), which meant she would have to meet routinely with a probation officer and pass a regular drug test.

Chanda was still going to clubs regularly, but had figured out a way to pass her urine analysis when she had to meet with the probation officer without slowing down her lifestyle. She was settling into somewhat of a routine to try to make it through the next few years.

“I moved in with my boyfriend, who lived with his mother – a strong believer,” Chanda says. “She would pray for me, and my heart would just break. We would go to church with her every now and then, and I’d just cry. I knew I wanted to come back to Christ.”

Chanda considered herself a Christian from the time that she had prayed to receive Christ and was baptized as an 11-year-old. She was still going to church somewhat regularly into her late teens and early twenties, but she continually felt like church and the rest of her life didn’t fit together.

“I would be there, like, ‘Oh, please let it be a long prayer, so I can close my eyes, because I’ve been up all night and I’m hungover.”

It was a couple of years into probation that Chanda got pregnant for the second time.

Chanda’s boyfriend took her to the clinic where she would undergo the procedure to have her second abortion.

“There was no way I could live with that shame. It was the worst thing I think I’ve ever done. Out of all the victimization things, this was my choice. I couldn’t live with it. I was so depressed. More drugs. More alcohol.”

 

* * *

 

The man looked at her deeply.

The sun was hot overhead, and he wiped the sweat from his temples before he leaned forward as if he was about to tell her something of utmost importance. The woman was eager with anticipation and felt her pulse quicken as she shifted the water jar in her arms.

“Go, call your husband, and come here,” the man said.

She felt her heart stagger.

“I have no husband,” she said breathlessly.

His expression remained calm and sincere. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

The woman took a small step back and she looked down to the ground between her and the man sitting on the edge of the well as she felt her eyes begin to fill with tears.

How did he know? Was he from here? Was this all some kind of a cruel trick?

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” She said, quickly wiping her eyes dry, and trying to change the focus as they spoke. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father,” he said with a sort of gentle sternness in his words. It felt as though he knew exactly what she was trying to do, but went along with it anyway. “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is here now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

She had never heard anything like this before. She wondered what was this man might be trying to do to her? Was he attempting to confuse her, only to talk more about her promiscuity?

She knew how to end the exchange. He couldn’t argue with prophecy, could he?

“I know that Messiah is coming; he who is called ‘Christ.’ When he comes, he will tell us all things.” She was starting to back away, readying herself to turn and leave.

He stood now, rising to his full height. Firmly he said, “I who speak to you am he.”

She stopped.

 

* * *

 

Chanda was on vacation with her parents when she got the call from her probation officer.

The results of her final probationary drug test had come back, and they weren’t good. He was calling to inform her of the legal ramifications – 30 days in a rehab facility and 60 days in a halfway house.

Chanda was devastated.

It was around this time, Chanda had started to feel a desire to try to get right with God. She felt like a legal punishment such as this was a slap in the face.

Maybe I’m here to fix somebody else,” Chanda says she thought before going to the rehab center. “Why God, do you have me here? I was just about to get off… Why am I here? I thought it was a punishment. And I remember having a conversation, actually with my mom, and she said – and this was her turning point too – she said, ‘Maybe you’re there for you.’”

Chanda started praying that night.

As she entered into rehab and began to realize that she had no boyfriend with her to distract her, no drugs or drinks to take her focus off of her problems, and no job to take up her time, Chanda came to a realization.

“I had a choice,” Chanda says. “It was the line in the sand.”

So Chanda picked up her Bible and started to read.

She read Isaiah 40:29-31 that says: “He gives power to the faint, and to him and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

She read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

And she read Romans 8 where it says: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

She read of God’s love and that Jesus died for her sins, and she felt her heart begin to change.

“So many things changed for me,” Chanda says of those 90 days. “For one, my perspective of others. Here’s me; self-righteous, judgmental, looking down on others, never relating. And yet I’m sitting now in a room full of people where I am them. I am the one that needs a savior – a rescuer… I really came to the end of my ‘self’ in there.”

After the 90 days were over, Chanda saw life in a new way. She started regularly going to church, recommitted her life to Christ, got baptized a second time and stayed sober. She was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and even started trying to eat better and exercise to take care of her body in a way that she never had before. Her relationship with her parents was healing as they talked through her past, and she began to feel the weight, from the approval and attention she so desperately craved as a child, began to wane.

“So four years after that, I’m 27, 28 and I felt very strongly that I had done everything to do inside my company,” Chanda said. “What was the next step? I prayed about it and felt very strongly God was like, ‘go to New York.’”

So Chanda packed up her life and moved to New York City, searching for a fresh start; a way to begin again in life.

Chanda did well for herself in the world of cosmetology, building a regular clientele that helped her gain a good reputation in the area. Eventually she even got to take on more high-profile clients like New York Yankees players and a few other local celebrities.

But for all the success she had found in her profession, Chanda still found herself struggling in the social sphere. She waded into the world of online dating, and quickly felt the desire to be valued creep back into her mind. She gave herself away again, and even began to dabble with smoking marijuana in an effort to keep one guy around. It didn’t work. But the door had been re-opened.

Chanda was continuing to attend church every Sunday, but felt her double-life starting to return, lurking beneath the surface. She tried to get control before things got out of hand like before.

She met another guy online and they began dating. He had a history with drugs and hadn’t yet given his life to Christ, even though he expressed a desire to do so. Chanda wanted nothing more than to help him. Immediately she began to focus her efforts on “saving” him. She thought of it as a project with mutual benefits. He would be saved and she would prevent a backslide in her own life. So Chanda started taking him to church with her on the weekends. She saw promise in him, but began to fear that he wouldn’t stick around and see it all through. She compromised.

Less than a month after her 30th birthday, Chanda found out that she was pregnant again. She was wrecked by the discovery.

But she saw it as a wake-up call. She stopped smoking and drinking, and started praying, asking God for direction and help.

Chanda’s parents were receptive and gracious with the news. They knew their daughter was struggling and, though they hadn’t walked alongside her for everything before, they wanted to help her now.

After fasting and praying about his daughter’s hurt and pain Chanda’s dad knew what needed to happen. The man who had been at a loss as to what to do with a hormonal teenage daughter was willfully stepping back into her mess.

“He was just like ‘Come back. I’m fasting and I’m praying for you. I’m here for you. Little girl, come back.’ I’m like 30, and I’m still his little girl. No conditions, no questions. Just, ‘Come back.’”

When they spoke again they all agreed – Chanda was going to move back in with her parents.

Chanda packed her things, and headed back to Texas.

“I went from buying $400 shoes in New York, to pregnant, not married and having to start over.”

Despite the humbling nature of it all, Chanda says moving back to Houston was the best decision she could have made at the time.

Her parents helped her through the remainder of her pregnancy and reconciled their relationship with their eldest daughter.

Chanda, John (Father), Marissa (Sister).

Chanda gave birth to her son, Caleb, in 2004.

Several years later, Chanda and Caleb moved to League City even though she had sworn that she would never move back to the burbs. She began looking for churches in the area that would allow Caleb to go to school with the same kids that he saw on Sundays. She settled on Clear Creek Community Church and shortly after she started attending, got involved in a small group.

“By the grace of God, my small group leader was single and shared very graciously, authentically and transparently about her same-sex attraction,” Chanda said. “And I was like, ‘thank God, there’s normal people here.’”

“I remember one of the first conversations I had with her on the phone,” Krissy Jones, Chanda’s first small group leader at CCCC, said. “We talked for like an hour and a half. Neither one of us really like small talk and so we just cut to the chase. And I remember thinking, this girl is really cool and I’m really glad that she’s in my group… She had this kind of hard exterior like, ‘I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you,’ you know, ‘I’m sarcastic, and I’m going to use humor to sort of deflect people from getting to know me.’ But I think it was just because she hadn’t been around people that she could trust in a long time. She said that she was praying for a safe friend.”

Krissy proved to be the safe friend that Chanda needed.

Together they started to speak openly about their own sin and struggles, and held each other accountable – something Chanda had never really experienced.

“Believe me, I tried to push her away,” Chanda says about Krissy. “It was the first time that I had friends that I could go to church with and have a good beer with at Boondoggles. It was so nice. I didn’t’ have to pretend.”

Chanda and Krissy.

* * *

The woman used the edge of her tunic to wipe away the tears that were welling up in her eyes.

She knew that this man spoke the truth. He was the Messiah.

His smile broke her train of thought. She hadn’t even realized that she had turned back around and was staring at him. He looked almost as if he was used to doing this kind of thing to people – as if this wasn’t the first time he’d shocked someone in this manner.

He turned his head, as if he’d heard a noise, and she turned to see what drew his attention. On the path leading to the well was a group of men, maybe a dozen or so, that looked a little disheveled from days of traveling. One of them lifted a hand to waive to the man at the well. They were with him.

As the group of men drew nearer, the woman set her water jar on the ground near the well and softly smiled at the Messiah again before turning and hurrying down the path back towards the small town she had come from.

She quickly strode past the approaching group of men, and she saw now that they were carrying food they had apparently gone to get. They all stopped and starred at her as she passed. They looked very confused.

Her pace quickened as she continued down the path. She felt as though she couldn’t move fast enough. She had to tell someone what had happened to her. She had to tell them about man at the well. I have to tell them. They have to meet him too, she thought.

She felt the joy surge in her veins and broke into a run.

Everyone must know.

 

* * *

 

A few years after Chanda started attending Clear Creek Community Church, she was identified as someone with potential to lead a small group and, under Krissy and several other women’s tutelage, eventually began leading a small group of her own.

Since that time, Chanda has grown even more in her relationship with Christ, realizing that many more people have had experiences that echo her own and that she can help.

“I serve at Anchor Point. I get to help a ton of fatherless children there. And it’s a crisis pregnancy center, so I get to give back to what was so graciously given to me… Where I could have been and where I am now is just so awesome.”

Chanda serves in Creek Kids (Clear Creek Community Church’s K-5 ministry) teaching Kindergarteners-3rd graders about the Bible and the love of Jesus Christ. She also serves the community by mentoring kids through Generation One. She has now been the mentor to a young girl from the Third Ward of Houston for the past nine years.

Currently, Chanda is working to start her own mentoring program that will partner with CCISD to pair mentors with high-risk children in the community.

Chanda continues to work as a hair stylist in the Houston area, and is still finding a lot of success in that career. She has a good relationship with her parents and sees them regularly.

As for dating, Chanda says she’s still open to the idea but that it no longer feels like the burden that it used to.

“I’m completely convinced that my picker is broken,” Chanda says chuckling. “And so I now know that if I’m supposed to date God knows where I live. I do what I’m supposed to do – what He’s called me to do.”

Krissy and Chanda are still great friends and meet for lunch nearly every week.

“She’s my ride-or-die,” Krissy says of Chanda. “From a personal standpoint, with my testimony and stuff, I was so scared to open up, specifically with women, about it… But she was not threatened by it at all. She was not judgmental. I mean she was just like a true, loyal, solid friend. When Creek talks about 2am friends, I know like, ‘Yup, that’s her.’ That’s her.”

Most importantly, Chanda is striving to be the best mother she can be. As a single mom, she’s raising Caleb to know the love of Christ.

Chanda and Caleb.

 

“Religion was what I grew up with,” Chanda says. “It was a very all-or-nothing mentality. Understanding that I didn’t have to clean myself up, like, running back to him when I did mess up was okay. That’s what he wanted. And I didn’t really get that until I had my own child. And that was huge, and very impactful. I’ve learned tremendously through parenting my own son, and just the grace involved in that.”

Chanda will be the first to tell you that she still has her fair share of struggles. Her life isn’t perfect and she is still working through the issues that have haunted her throughout her journey. But her heart and outlook on life are completely changed.

“You know, there’s no more shame that keeps me just locked in a pattern of sinful habits,” Chanda says. “I’m no longer looking inward. My hope is anchored in who He is. Without Him I’m like filthy rags. I was always fully aware that I was a wretch. But you know what? Jesus knew everything that you were going to do, or not do, and he died for you anyway. He died for you knowing all of that… When God views me, he sees Christ.”

John (Father), Sherry (Mother), Chanda, Caleb.

 

* * *

 

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” – John 4:39-42 (ESV)