Posts

Grace: God’s Purposeful Presence

As Christians, we are always concerned with communicating the Good News of Jesus. The gospel is the message of grace for sinners, life eternal in Christ, and the transforming power of God that impacts every aspect of our lives.

The multidimensional nature of the Gospel is seen clearly in Clear Creek’s spiritual formation chart: our activities are rooted in our gospel identity. Or, said another way, because of who God is and what he has done, we have new identities that transform what we do in this world.

Despite this understanding, however, the gospel can sometimes be presented as the antithesis to good works.

While we may think this provides clarity to the unique and redeeming work of Christ, it can make us uneasy about emphasizing good works. We are afraid we might become legalistic or worse, undermine the grace of God, by preaching a gospel of works.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles are uneasy about emphasizing good works. Jesus says we are the light of the world called to faithfully let that light shine before others so they may see our good works (Matthew 5:14,16). Paul tells us we are to “be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18), “a model of good works” (Titus 2:7), and “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). In fact, a key function of the Bible itself is to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

So, where does the tension between grace and good works come from? Are good works optional? Are they ancillary? Or, are they essential to our faith?

A simple definition of grace is God’s unmerited favor. Because we are sinners, we rightly understand that we do not deserve God’s goodness. But, because of the reality of our sinfulness, it’s easy to think of grace as only being granted for our redemption. When God’s grace is only understood to be expressed toward humanity after the fall of the world in Genesis 3, it can cause us to think of grace in a static and transactional way.

Yet, grace for humanity does not originate in the response to the fall and our now sin-tainted life in this world. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He did not become gracious after human rebellion corrupted God’s creation.

Instead, we must learn to see God’s gracious will and purpose for humans as the first and defining expression of grace toward humanity.

The world that God created in the beginning was good! It was to be a dynamic place where good works and stewardship were at the heart of the plan. Energy, effort, discipline, growth, and change were essential parts of God’s purposes and gifts to humanity. It was a world full of potential with a story to be written and work to be done!

Yet, remember, Adam and Eve did not choose to be created, they did not earn their existence, and they didn’t deserve the delight of living in God’s good creation. So, we can see that grace was poured out on innocent, not condemned beings. This is the lens through which we must see and understand grace even in our post-fall existence.

Grace is a means not an end. God’s grace for humanity has a purpose — a God-sized purpose — where we exist to reflect his image throughout his creation. He allows us to participate in the greatest good of them all: a relationship with himself. God’s unmerited favor is, has always been and always will be his purposeful presence with us. Grace allows, enables and empowers us. Grace is not opposed to goodness, grit, or goals.

We need to understand this as believers of Christ not just so we do remember that effort is not the same as earning, and that doing is not the same as deserving, but also because it will enable us to fulfill our mission to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

We cannot fulfill our purpose apart from knowing and being known by God in Christ, but through him, we can and should do much good in his world.

Grace should energize us to engage in service projects in our community, so the presence of God is manifested for the people of the 4B area. Good works are essential to the Christian life. It’s no wonder that Paul not only says we are to be zealous for good works but that in Christ we were in fact created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Our call is to bring wholeness, peace, and justice to God’s creation. To do this, we must go beyond words. The world must see our good works in such a way that they give glory to our Father in Heaven and then are inspired to join us in our calling to reflect God’s grace to the world.


 

Be Angry and Do Not Sin

One hundred percent of us get angry. No one is exempt. And when we get angry,  bad things often happen.

So, we find it shocking that the Bible says to be angry.

Be angry and do not sin…

– Ephesians 4:26a

Anger is not always bad, and we know this because God himself gets angry. But there is a difference between being angry and becoming an angry person.

I was in a restaurant with friends some time ago, and in the middle of our lunch, a customer was  yelling across the restaurant at his server. He was raging. Clearly, he wanted everyone to hear that he was red-faced, steaming mad about the hair in his food. It was impossible not to.

Now look, that is unfortunate—it’s gross—but you and I both know it’s not worthy of blowing a gasket.

The man was also not alone. He was with a woman, probably his wife, and I wondered, how is she doing now? How is she feeling watching all of this happen?

I bet people walk on eggshells at his house all the time. This guy might have been someone’s boss, neighbor, coworker, friend, or dad! There have been scores of people in this guy’s life, and I’m sure they have stories to tell. Some of them may even have scars to hide.

So, why was this guy so angry? What made him lash out?

Well, anger demands results. It works! Anger makes you feel empowered. People cannot ignore you! Anger helps to reclaim the illusion of power at home, the office, or anywhere in life. Anger helps you feel like you’re winning, but then it really doesn’t.

Angry people eventually lose.

Here are the three reasons why:

1. Anger Injures

Anger is injurious to others, even if it is not acted out. There is a shriveling effect in the souls of people who get a regular dose of toxic anger. Ask anyone who is working with people whose parents or spouse have a problem with anger and you will find that anger creates a kind of insecurity in life. Anger leaves injuries that cuts deep into the soul.

2. Anger Alienates

The high cost of unmanaged anger is that you lose intimacy in relationships. You forfeit friendships, miss out on your spouse and kids, and cut ties of healthy relationships with co-workers. You will probably find yourself and those close to you living with a deep cavern of disconnectedness and loneliness. Anger is like acid on the skin in a relationship.

3. Anger Kills

Uncontrolled anger is deadly. It causes blood pressure to rise and heart rates to increase. But I am not talking really about physical death. Instead, it is relationships, dreams, self-respect, marriages, and families that die.

 

So, let’s assume this man from the restaurant, comes to you. He blew a gasket, but has a moment of sanity and wants help with his anger. Or maybe it’s you. You know you’ve blown it over and over again, and you want to change. How can we be transformed from being angry people to those who walk in a manner worthy of the Lord?

In Ephesians, Paul describes the process:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds… But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24)

Those who know Christ and believe in his gospel enter a process of transformation. This is the secret to anger that doesn’t consume us or harm others. Disciples of Christ can be angry, but we also must take responsibility for how we are angry. Keep in mind responsibility does not equal control. Most people who struggle with anger have a hard time letting go of control.

We want to try to change by being in control of a few clear steps, even if they are hard, but that’s not actually how God changes us. Change happens progressively as we surrender our lives to God, as we experience his grace toward us, and live in a moment-by-moment connection with God. God does not seek to judge us. Whether you are a liar, a rage-aholic, or a thief, he doesn’t seek to judge you, but to transform you.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

– Ephesians 4:31-5:2

Anger is not always bad, but we must take responsibility for how we respond to anger, and this responsibility is rooted in how God treats us. We are transformed by his grace toward us, his forgiveness toward us, and his love toward us. Through this grace, forgiveness, and love, we should become more like him: sometimes angry, but always loving.

 

Are We Really #Blessed?

A quick search of #blessed on social media will reveal thousands of posts and images. Take a closer look, however, and you might notice that #blessed is almost always connected to a material good, a fun date night, or a job promotion—a success in some form or another. But is this the biblical view of blessing? Are we #blessed by God when we experience happiness, wealth, or health?

The simple answer is yes, because every good gift is a blessing from God.

God created a good world, and it is a gift of grace to be alive, to experience creation, to eat good food, and to enjoy a happy marriage. These are glimpses of the world as it should be, and when we experience these good things, we are indeed blessed. When we celebrate delicious food, beautiful gardens, unique architecture, healthy children, medicine received, we rightly thank God for these blessings. All good gifts are from God, including health, wealth, beauty, and everything else he created.

But while this is a correct view of blessing, it is also incomplete.

What happens when we experience pain, suffering, and setback? Has God turned away?

This idea of being #blessed is really about the kingdom of me, not the kingdom of God. When this is the extent of how we expect to be blessed, we are missing out on the foundational aspect of God’s creation and our redemption in Christ—the abiding presence of God in our life. The biblical depiction of blessedness reveals that it is not ultimately about possessions, comfort, or even happiness, but rather about the transformative power and gift of God’s presence in our lives.

In fact, the entirety of the gospel story is an outworking of God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. This doesn’t mean that through Abraham, all the nations would get new cars, cute kids, or fun vacations. God was instead promising to restore what was lost in Eden: relationship with him reconciled, and the consequences of the fall defeated.

This promise was fulfilled in Jesus – God made flesh – who took our consequences of sin in his death and was raised to new life. His resurrected reign is the first fruit of God’s redemption of all things. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise of blessing to the world.

But, confusion about what it means to be blessed isn’t a new phenomenon. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus upends what people in his culture, and people still today, regard as being blessed. He says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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

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

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

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

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 6:3-10

This description doesn’t seem to include the types of things we see associated with #blessed on social media. Jesus describes being blessed as a life crucified, a life fixed on the hope of righteousness, a life of mourning and mercy and meekness—all found in him.

In fact, this is often what being blessed looks like, right now, for disciples of Jesus. Sometimes it might be a job promotion that reminds of us God’s provision and enables us to care for others. But often, it is our friend weeping beside us as we experience the depth of the brokenness in this world. It is understanding that the world is not as it should be, but that God has made things right in Jesus.

Either way, in the celebrations and in the suffering, all should lead us to the cross where all of God’s blessings are found.

One day, the full extent of blessing will be experienced by God’s people. His people will live in a new and restored world and walk continually in his presence. Being blessed will not be just a moment of happiness or an exciting gift, but the kingdom of God made manifest. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, fully; everyone who mourns will be comforted, finally; the pure in heart shall see God, truly!

But we don’t have to wait for perfection to experience blessing right now.

Through Jesus, we are restored into relationship with God, we experience the power of his presence, and we have a glimpse of the kingdom that is coming.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be or more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.”

– Revelation 21:4-5

We should celebrate the good gifts in our lives. But, when we post a picture and say #blessed, we should also remember that we are presently, ultimately, and perfectly blessed through Christ alone.


 

Care for the Immigrant

Immigration. It’s a word that will get your attention if mentioned at the dinner table, and probably, depending on your political convictions, will elicit some sort of response. Its complexity is something that might tempt us to think about this issue apart from our faith for the sake of keeping “peace” in our circles. In fact, only 12 percent of evangelicals would agree that their faith in Christ shapes their view of this particular topic, while the rest admit to not knowing how to reconcile the two.

But, this is the reality of our world:

  • Nationally, approximately 44.8 million immigrants are currently living in the U.S.
  • The state of Texas is ranked second in the U.S. in overall immigrant population and first in being the preferred settlement for refugees.
  • 70 percent of immigrants in Texas live in one of the four metro areas (Houston, Ft. Worth, Austin, and San Antonio).
  • One out of every four people in Harris county are foreign born.

Many of these families are fleeing abhorrent violence and poverty in their home countries and are leaving loved ones behind. This is why this issue cannot be an invisible topic within our church communities.

Because talking about immigration can immediately put us into defensive political stances, we sometimes overlook opportunities to boldly love our neighbors. There are wide-ranging opinions on immigration policies, but it is possible to hold to different politics and still love one another. And not only one another. As ambassadors of Jesus, it is especially important to also love those who are different and vulnerable.

We often tell our student small group leaders that our role in discipleship as we approach these topics is not to help students think politically, but to think about politics biblically. In order to find harmony we must be willing to step into some uncomfortable spaces. God’s word should give us unity, even when we disagree on much.

 

Dignity and Value of All People   

The Bible begins and consistently calls us to value all people because mankind is created in God’s image. While sin has defaced God’s image in people, it has not been destroyed. Because of this fact alone, every human being, saved or unsaved, must be valued and treated with inherent dignity. This is foundational to God’s consistent command throughout Scripture to care for the vulnerable.

As God’s redeemed people, we must always seek to bring love and service to all who bear his image: everyone.

 

Learning from Jesus  

Further, loving those who are foreign but within our reach, is not merely a current political issue, but an issue that Jesus spoke clearly about. In Luke 10, as a lawyer tries to sidestep Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the story, a Jewish man finds himself wounded on the side of the road. Who comes to his rescue is not the religious respected figures, but an unlikely hero: a Samaritan – a foreigner. He shows extreme generosity in helping the wounded man and paying for his care.

This kind of illustration cut at the heart of the ethnic tensions and preferences of the Jewish audience because of their deep suspicion of the Samaritans. While we often lack in love for those who we think “least deserve it,” Jesus is the Samaritan in our own story. He finds us broken and dying and then pays the ultimate price for our redemption. He rescues his enemies.

This is what we are called to reflect as we love those around us.

 

Learning from Our Immigrant Neighbors 

A biblical reality that we often don’t consider is how the immigrant experience parallels our Christian identity. In fact, the Bible describes followers of Jesus as sojourners, exiles, strangers, and foreigners.

While Christ has redeemed us into his kingdom, it is yet to be fully established. Until his return we live as exiles in a world that is misaligned with our ultimate place of citizenship.

You might be surprised by how much you can learn from listening to immigrants talk about their suffering in a country that is not their home and their perseverance and trust in Jesus in a place that sometimes labels them as enemies.

 

The Bible isn’t silent about God’s heart for the immigrant. His love for the vulnerable is clear, and his followers’ love should be as well. We all desire to be a part of a country that has coherent borders and an effective immigration policy. We may not agree on what that looks like, but we all should agree on loving the vulnerable.

Love for our neighbor should be a direct result of God’s love for us. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, outside the kingdom of God with no hope of acceptance, Christ died for us. We are now citizens of God’s kingdom, one of many nations, united under Christ and known by our love for one another.

God’s tangible mercies should always be on display through the church, especially when it is extended despite background, ethnicity, and nationality. Regardless of our political differences and policy opinions, we can all remain united by the grace of Jesus and our love for all people.

May we be a church that offers the world a glimpse of the fruit that Jesus bears as God unites all peoples to himself.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

– Luke 10:25-28


 

 

Immanuel: God With Us

The name Immanuel,¹ which means “God with us,” is found only three times in Scripture. More than a hymn sung at Christmas, its meaning is wrapped in the tension between fear and peace, between the tangible and eternal. After the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8), there was fear and shame. Until then, God’s presence had brought peace and safety. Through Isaiah, God prophesied a time when his presence would restore peace to his people.

An Inner Peace

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

– Isaiah 7:14

The first time we read the word “Immanuel” in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah is speaking to the leader of Judah, King Ahaz. Israel, a combination of ten tribes, had allied with Syria to attack Judah, a nation of only two tribes. The enemies were real. They were nearby. They were invading Judah.

Isaiah and his son met Ahaz outside the palace to deliver the message that God would deliver Judah despite the odds. Isaiah promised a sign so that Ahaz would believe and would not follow through with his plan to forge an unholy allegiance. After the king refused, Isaiah responded with, “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Even if Ahaz was struggling to trust God in a difficult and stressful moment, Isaiah reassured him that God planned to arrive in a very real and powerful way. “God with us” was originally promised to a king and people who were afraid and facing possible destruction. It was an assurance of God’s presence in a time of great fear. It was God’s promise of internal peace despite external circumstances.

A Commitment

And it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
strap on your armor and be shattered.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.

– Isaiah 8:8-10

Ahaz refused to trust God’s sustenance and ran into the arms of an alliance with Assyria. The Assyrians would betray and pillage Judah. The second time Isaiah used the name Immanuel, it referred to the land of Judah. After disobeying God, and despite being flooded, overrun, and uncultivated due to the war, the land was named, “God is with us.” There was no peace, only God’s presence, his identity, and his commitment to the people of promise. Ultimately, but not in the near term, the enemies would be vanquished.

Isaiah was warned not to fear the same things the people feared. Judah, at the time, feared exile. They feared defeat, destruction, and death – not insignificant things! But God calls us to regard him above anything temporary. When distressed, those who wait and hope in the Lord will be an example to others (Isaiah 8:17-18).

A Fulfillment

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

– Matthew 1:23

Fast forward several centuries. The final time we see the name Immanuel is when one of the disciples of Jesus explains the Savior’s birth. An angel of the Lord told Joseph not to fear taking Mary as his wife. Mary’s pregnancy was a fulfillment of the sign Isaiah promised to Ahaz. Quite literally, God was arriving on the scene. Joseph was challenged to commit to his bride in spite of any hesitancy or fear. He was not to fear shame. He was not to fear disapproval. Joseph was called to regard God above the reproach of his family and community. Joseph believed, obeyed, and witnessed the sign that Ahaz was denied.

 

Isaiah introduced the name Immanuel to the Jews. Matthew pointed to Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s peace and steadfast commitment. Our land, and our lives, may be in turmoil, yet God promises to be with us even now.

Let us hold fast to this truth and God’s peace when the fears of our times assail us.


¹ Written as “Emmanuel” in the King James Version of the Bible


 

Unity Amidst Diversity: Every Nation, Tribe, and Tongue

From beginning to end, and all throughout the Bible, God paints a beautiful picture of unity amidst diversity.

Think about it.

In the beginning, God is creating, and in his creation of mankind he creates diversity. “Male and female, he created them.” But don’t miss the unity amidst this diversity, “God created man (all of humanity) in his own image, in the image of God he created him,” (Genesis 1:27).

Though different, God created all of mankind to reflect his image. We see this played out in the rest of Genesis as the author gives us a cultural roadmap of the nations surrounding Israel and God’s ultimate hope to bless all the families and nations of the earth.

In Revelation, God gives John a picture of the new heavens and the new earth, and he says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” (Revelation 7:9a). There’s coming a day when we will stand shoulder to shoulder with different races and ethnicities, worshiping God in our native languages, but united by our allegiance to the one true King.

So, if God’s ultimate intent is for unity amidst diversity – if in the end, he will break down the walls that divide us culturally and we will worship in unison – why don’t most churches reflect that vision here and now?

In the 1960’s Rev. Martin Luther King Jr famously lamented that 11 a.m. on Sundays was the most segregated hour in America. Studies within the last decade show that 93 percent of all congregations in the United States are not multiracial in their composition.¹ A multiracial congregation could be defined as one that reflects, embraces, and enjoys the diversity of the community they are in.

So, how could our church better reflect the Kingdom of God here and now? What would it look like for us to more fully embrace, enjoy, love, and serve the diverse people of the 4B Area (from the beach to the beltway, from the bay to Brazoria County)? And how do we get there?

It begins with God.

God must give us a heart for the nations.

The mission at Clear Creek Community Church is to lead unchurched people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. We have a vision of reaching every man, woman, and child in our geography with the gospel of Jesus, inviting them into biblical community, and seeing lives transformed.

That mission and vision is born from the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

– Matthew 28:19

Our disciple-making mandate includes a heart for the nations; for every man, woman, and child. Not just the men, women, and children who look like us, think like us, and live like us.

God, in his grace, has brought the nations to us. You don’t have to travel overseas to reach the nations because Houston is the most diverse city in America. And our pocket of Houston is becoming increasingly more diverse. But, if we are going to reach every man, woman, and child in the 4B Area, it doesn’t begin with a focus on diversity itself. It can’t just be a response to what is happening culturally. It must begin with God and his heart for the nations.

It takes intentional effort.

Reaching your neighbor with the gospel begins with God’s heart for your neighbor. You might live next door, but God created them. He loves them. As you grow to know God’s heart, he calls you to an active role in sharing the gospel with that neighbor.

If we, as a church family, are going to better reflect, embrace and enjoy the diversity of our community, it begins with God’s heart for every man, woman, and child. But it doesn’t end there. God calls us to play an active role in reaching every man, woman and child. That often begins with those you already have genuine relationships with. Where it takes intentional effort is in reaching people who don’t look like you, think like you, or live like you. We naturally relate to and reach people who are like us; people of the same race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and education.

But, if we really want to reach a more diverse population – if we want to reach every man, woman and child in the 4B Area – that means we need to expand our circles to have intentional, genuine friendships with a more diverse population.

Being a multicultural church may mean that we lay down some of our traditions, preferences, and comforts that are more cultural than biblical. If we want to better reflect, embrace and enjoy the diversity of the 4B Area, it will take intentional effort on all of our parts.

I pray we will continue to do whatever it takes to reach every man, woman and child with the gospel, and I pray God’s Kingdom comes and his will is done in the 4B Area as it is in Heaven.


¹ Woo, Rodney, The Color of Church: A Biblical and Practical Paradigm for Multiracial Churches (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 13.


Incremental Holiness

Last year was the year of house projects for my husband, me, and, according to the endless lines at The Home Depot, most of our community. I’ve always enjoyed furniture renovation and the idea of giving a neglected piece new life with a little TLC, but 2020 was ripe for challenge. So, I decided to tackle a different angle on this hobby which required learning new skills — sanding and staining.

I did some preliminary research, purchased tools, and got to work. But at a late stage of the process, I realized tiny marks were being left behind as I sanded the wood. Puzzled, I conducted more research and realized I had been sanding the piece incorrectly.

When I learned all the new steps I would have to take, and the fact that I would have to basically start over, I felt like a failure. I had made two critical mistakes. First, I had rushed the process. I didn’t understand how important slow progression was toward getting a polished final product. Second, I had overlooked minor mistakes thinking they would come out alright in the end, underestimating the need to address the problems in real time.

Isn’t that a great picture of the maturation of a Christian?

For the entirety of my life as a Christ-follower, I have felt the constant one-step-forward-two-steps-back frustration of my spiritual growth. Scripture calls this process sanctification, and it’s not exactly a fun process. It’s necessary and good, but it’s difficult, tiresome, and sometimes painful work.

I tend toward perfectionism, so it has never set well with me to struggle with the same problems over and over again. Yet, one struggle in particular that had consistently reared its ugly head for two decades had just made a re-emergence. The long-strained relationship with my dad was on the rocks again, and I felt myself closing off and stewing over past hurts.

When would it ever just be over?

Why was I not done with this yet? Why had I not thrown off this weight that had so consistently dragged me down over the years? I was tired of revisiting, refining, and scuffing out the old marks. I wanted to put my check mark in the box and move on.

But we who are in Christ — we who have been saved into a relationship with Jesus Christ — have to remember that through the Holy Spirit, Christ is constantly working to conform us into his image. He doesn’t leave us to our own instincts, nor does he have us blow through the hard parts to give us all gold stars. When we are faced again with a familiar sin or struggle, he means us to learn something new and deeper.

The Apostle Paul tells his readers in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that those with an “unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” He did not write that we were transformed in an instant into the image of Christ. Rather, we undergo transformation gradually as we become more and more like him.

There is a refining that takes place in our inner beings when we submit that one nagging struggle (or struggles) to Christ over and over again.

Just as a woodworker goes back to a piece of furniture, gradually moving up in degrees of sanding and taking care to polish out scuffs, the Holy Spirit continually brings me back to the same struggle to refine my thinking, my attitude, my heart, and my personal holiness. I could groan over the struggle and agonize over my wretched state (which I did), but I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was not back at square one because God had been working on me the whole time.

The process of sanctification is working. While I haven’t gotten to the place of wholeness I so desire, I’ve undergone some major heart transformation and growth. I’m not starting over anymore. I’m returning to the problem with new skills and tools acquired over years, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The dresser now stands in my room as an unexpected reminder of two things.

The beauty of the dark, stained wood reminds me of the work that the Spirit has already done in my heart to transform me. And those blemishes that I couldn’t quite erase will always tell the story of the here-but-not-yet reality that I, too, am imperfect and will not be whole until I meet Christ face-to-face.

In the meantime, the Holy Spirit has more transforming work to complete in me, and I can joyfully join him in the process.


 

No, Jesus Didn’t Teach About Money the Most

“Did you know Jesus preached about money more than anything else? That’s right! He taught about money in 11 of his 39 parables. Finances are Jesus’ most talked about topic.”

Ever heard something like this before?

Did it surprise you?

It did me.

But as I kept hearing it over the years, I finally thought to myself, “Man, I’ve read the gospel accounts many times over, and I’ve never come away saying, ‘Wow, Jesus spoke on finances more than any other topic!’” In fact, I’d argue that the vast majority of Christians who have read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would say the same thing.

Unfortunately, many likely think the claim is true because they hear pastors and financial ministries cite it when teaching on money and just assume they are correct.

But don’t despair, if you were as surprised by this claim as I was, know your alarm is warranted because the Jesus-taught-more-about-finances-than-anything-else angle is an urban legend. Christ didn’t teach on finances more than any other topic. Once you actually look at his teachings, frankly, it’s not even close.

It’s an urban legend because it mishandles the data by only seeking to discover where Jesus talks about money but not, and this is critical, how money is talked about. There is a big difference between teaching on the topic of finances and using financial terms to illustrate a completely different topic. A cursory reading of Jesus’ teachings will confirm he did the latter much more than the former.¹ And that oft-quoted stat that 11 of Jesus’ 39 parables were about finances? It doesn’t hold water because in many of those parables Jesus used money to illustrate a different topic than money.

For example, in Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells a story about the payment of vineyard workers. But, Christ isn’t teaching about good business practices. Instead, he’s illustrating how those who enter into God’s kingdom do so by sheer grace. That’s the point.² No one finishes that parable and concludes that Jesus is teaching on the topic of horticulture simply because he referred to a vineyard or that he’s addressing how Christian business owners do payroll simply because he talked about wages. Those details and references serve the main point of the parable: the grace of the kingdom of God. Jesus even tells us the point at the end: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” Yup, it’s clearly not about finances. Jesus merely uses money (and a vineyard, workers, etc.) to teach a different topic than money.

Here’s a challenge: take the other ten parables which reference money (e.g., Two Debtors of Luke 7, Hidden Treasure of Matthew 13, Lost Coin of Luke 15)³ and see how many of them have Jesus using money in a similar way to the parable of the vineyard workers. Don’t be surprised if you find that the number of teachings where Jesus uses finances to actually teach about finances begins to shrink.

However, don’t think this gets us off the hook from having our financial life submitted to the lordship of Christ.

On the contrary, how we handle money is important for people of faith, especially so for North American Christians who struggle with cultural idols like materialism and individualism. Simply put, money is a gospel issue! Jesus definitely taught on money as well as the rest of the New Testament. Yet, it’s simply inaccurate (and inappropriate) to say Jesus spoke more about finances than anything else. It’s just not true. If anything, he spoke more about the kingdom of God than other topics. It’s pretty clear. Just read the gospel accounts. You can’t miss it.

A good practice for Christians would be to stop spreading this urban legend. We don’t need it in order to teach about how followers of Jesus should handle their finances. We have more than enough pertinent passages in the Scripture to appropriately and accurately teach us about honoring Christ with our money.


¹ In a Relevant magazine article, Jeffery Poor (ironic last name) writes, “Eleven of Jesus’ parables do mention money. Eighteen of Jesus’ parables also mention food, but that doesn’t make it the point of the stories.”

² Generally speaking, parables only have one idea behind them. Find that one idea and you’ve gotten the point of the parable.

³ Unfortunately, whoever first gave this statistic didn’t tell us exactly which of those parables made up the eleven.


 

Struggling Well: Fighting Defeatism with Truth

When was the most trying time in your life? Are you going through it now?

For me, it was during my second year as a kindergarten teacher. Many presume this is an easy job, but try teaching 24 five and six-year-olds by yourself sometime! This was also the year I decided to take on an accelerated master’s degree program in education. The first two weeks were pretty great. But, my college was located across town, and I usually reported to teach around 7:00 AM.

By October, I was physically sick with dread most mornings. My voice was gone, as was my patience, and I usually drove home feeling like a zombie. I knew that uncomfortable parent phone calls, never-ending lesson plans, and tough college coursework were waiting for me at home. Even though I woke up every day resolved to be a light to these children, I often went to bed feeling like the light had been drained out of me.

In times like these, it’s easy to feel defeated, hopeless, or generally pessimistic.

What about you? When you are feeling overwhelmed, when you feel like you have come to the end of your own strength, what do you do?

One passage that I clung to during this time was Ephesians 6:11-18, where the apostle Paul exhorts the church to put on the whole armor of God, so that they might be able to withstand the evil of their day and stand firm.

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Every aspect of God’s armor is vital as we walk through difficult times in life, but two aspects were especially essential to my survival during that school year: the belt of truth and the sword of the spirit.

 

The Belt of Truth
One of the best parts of being a Christian is that truth can always lead to hope and encouragement. For Christians, the truth is that God is the sovereign, omnipotent, creator of the universe, and also our loving Father and friend. The truth is that Jesus has already overcome the world so that we don’t have to. The truth is that God has a perfect plan, and one day those of us who have put our trust in Jesus will live with him in paradise where there will be no more diseases, tears, sin, death, or even classroom management woes!

In the midst of our struggles, it’s easy to lose sight of these incredible truths. It’s easy to allow lies to creep in that steal our peace and joy. Taking the time to reflect on these truths helps us see our problems with more of an eternal perspective. Our present difficulties represent a mere speck on the timeline of eternity.

 

The Sword of the Spirit, Which is the Word of God
The best way to invite truth into our lives is by going to the source: the Word of God. You may have noticed that thesword of the spirit is the only weapon listed. The more Scripture we know and store in our hearts, the more we will be able to fight against the lies of hopelessness and fear that try to overcome us.

During this season, I had to check my inputs. What was I listening to? What was I reading? Who did I surround myself with? I realized that I needed help. I clung to God’s word. Also, my mom graciously agreed to pray with me every morning on my way to work. She was a lifeline as she poured God’s words of truth into my life.

 

So, what are your inputs?

The news? Gossip? Your own negative thoughts?

The last part of Luke 6:45 says, “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

What words rise to the tip of your tongue?

Do you know enough truth from God’s Word to fight the lies that surround you?

What truths do you need to reflect on during this season in your life?

 

As we go through this season, let’s remember to use the armor God has given us, protecting ourselves with the truth of the gospel and fighting defeatism with the word of God.


 

Recommended Bible Resources for 2021

“If you read the Bible, it will change your life.”

For years, I’ve been saying that to anyone who will listen for two reasons.

First, most Christians don’t read their Bibles often, or at all.

Second, the Bible is the living, breathing, active word of God, and you’ve probably got one sitting on a shelf. God will speak into your very life, at any moment of any day, and all it takes is reading your Bible with an open heart.

Unfortunately, it is possible to approach the Bible with hopeful anticipation, yet set it down in disappointment, wondering if you have to pursue a seminary degree to hear God’s voice.

But there is good news! If you will commit to being persistent and patient, you can know the Bible intimately, and hear God’s voice regularly. Here is a list of resources that will help you become a student of Scripture.

The Bible Project

Tim Mackie and Jon Collins created this non-profit with excellent study, podcast, and classroom resources. But it’s their videos that are most accessible. Start with the video called “What is the Bible?” and explore the How to Read the Bible series. Also, they made videos for every book of the Bible that are one of the easiest Bible study tools to start with.

ESV Study Bible

I’m convinced that the ESV Study Bible is the single greatest resource a Christian can own. With more than 20,000 study notes, 50 articles, and a thorough introduction for each book, this study Bible makes depth and scholarship accessible to everyone. They also have a student version for teens.

Classes at Clear Creek

Clear Creek Community Church offers classes like Women of the Word, Big Picture of the Bible, and How to Study the Bible. These classes (and others) are offered multiple times per year. You can find descriptions and registration information at www.clearcreek.org/classes.

readthroughthebible.org

Looking for a reading plan to take you all the way through the Bible and send daily reminders? We’ve got you covered at www.readthroughthebible.org.

Who’s in the Bible: A Podcast for Kids

Aric Harding and I created a podcast for adults disguised as a podcast for kids. Our goal with each episode is to explore how the stories in the Bible work together to tell the bigger story of Jesus. You can find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google, Clear Creek Resources, or you can say, “Alexa, play the podcast Who’s in the Bible?”

God’s Big Picture

Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture, will help you see how all of the Bible fits together to tell the story of Jesus. A helpful illustration about how special forces soldiers are trained has stuck with me for years. This book is great for individuals and as a small group resource.

Small Group at Clear Creek

Speaking of small group, nothing compares to reading and discussing the Bible with other people. I’ve been leading small groups through the Bible for years and I can’t tell you how many times someone new to the Bible has insight that shapes me. Read the Bible with other people; you will thank God for the experience.

Clear Creek Resources

You’re already here! Check out other resources about the Bible – like the article I wrote called 4 Questions I Ask Myself When I Read the Bible. There are other articles, podcasts, and videos that we hope inspire you to spend time reading your Bible and help you to hear God’s voice.

 

If you read the Bible, it will change your life!

Podcasts

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.

 

086: Being Part of a Church Planting Movement

Included in the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples of all nations is the call to start new local churches where people can be baptized and taught to walk in obedience to the gospel of Jesus. This call issued two millennia ago is still going today. God is at work using churches to plant churches. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Bruce Wesley about being a part of a movement to plant churches across the Houston area and to the ends of the earth.

Resources: 

“Why Plant Churches?” by Tim Keller

Houston Church Planting Network

Acts 29

 

085: Engaging Culture Without Losing the Gospel

It can be difficult to know how to respond to the constant questions and conflicts that arise in culture. How does a Christian engage in the world with kindness and conviction? What issues are worth fighting for and where does the church go next? Rachel sits down with Dr. Russell Moore: theologian, author, and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, to discuss these questions and more.

 

Resources: 

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore

The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear without Losing Your Soul by Russell Moore

31: Solomon

In this episode, we meet a wise guy named Solomon and Aric plays a ridiculous game show called, “Is it a Proverb or a Fortune Cookie?”

30: King David & Uriah

The story of David continues. Giant slayer, warrior, fugitive, king of Israel, and now… guilty of murder? In this episode we see how even a man after God’s own heart can fail tragically, but also that God remains faithful. 

29: King David

The story of David continues. Giant slayer, warrior, fugitive, and now king of Israel. This episode explores God’s promise to make one of David’s descendants the ultimate, forever king.

071: Is This the End Times?

2020 was a year filled with political division, natural disasters, health crises, and unprecedented challenges to the church. The Bible seems to describe a period of turmoil that directly precedes the return of Christ. Are we living in that time? What does the Bible really describe? How do we respond as Christians? On this episode, Rachel Chester talks with Yancey Arrington about how to understand Revelation and what it means for us today.

Resources: 

The Bible and The Future by Anthony Hoekema

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright

No, The Vaccination Isn’t The Mark of the Beast by Yancey Arrington

069: This Changes Everything – The Austin Webber Story

What if you had everything you ever wanted – your dream job, lots of money, a large house, and an expensive car – but you still felt empty? As Austin Webber found himself in that very place, he was challenged to read the Bible for himself. What started as a way to use his skills as a lawyer to disprove a faith he discarded long ago, ended with a confrontation with a truth he could no longer deny. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Austin about how Jesus changes everything.

Resources: 

readthroughthebible.org

26: Saul

Israel finally gets a king! Will King Saul lead the people to follow God or will he lead his own way? Find out in this episode of Who’s in the Bible.

 

Videos

6 Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible

Is the Bible reliable? How can we trust a book written thousands of years ago enough to change the way we live?

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

Follow us on social media:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org​
Instagram –
https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekc​
Twitter –
https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

Did the Resurrection Really Happen?

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

Have you ever wondered if the claims of Christianity are possibly true? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

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

Follow us on social media:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org​
Instagram –
https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekc​
Twitter –
https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

Is Faith Opposed to Science?

To learn more about our church, visit www.clearcreek.org. Follow us on social media:

Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org

Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch

Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

What is the Gospel?

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

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

The Importance of Prayer in Bible Study

To learn more about our church, visit www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Is the Bible Still Relevant?

Follow us on social media:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter –
https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

Should We Pray the Lord’s Prayer?

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Did the Miracles of Jesus Really Happen?

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Why Are There Four Gospels?

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

Wednesdays at Home: 6/24/20

This is our mid-week opportunity to stay connected online with our pastors to receive mid-week scriptural encouragement, prayer, and updates on how we are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

To find out more information about our church, go to www.clearcreek.org.

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch
Twitter – www.twitter.com/_cccc

CCStories

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

Follow us on social media:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/clearcreek.org
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/clearcreekcommunitychurch/
Twitter – https://www.twitter.com/_cccc/

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)