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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!

4 Questions I Ask Myself When I Read the Bible

One of my deepest joys in life is to read and study the Bible with my small group. Sermon questions, Christian living resources, and discipleship curriculum all have their place in the life cycle of a small group, yet, there is nothing like the experience of reading and studying through the Bible with others. The community and accountability in small group helps to keep me on track. The way God speaks to me when I read his Word is incomparable. And the joy of seeing the Scriptures shape people I love is encouraging to my soul.

The first time I led a small group all the way through the Bible, I realized that coming up with new discussion questions each week was a lot of pressure, and people in the group didn’t know what to be prepared for. So, I decided to pick a set of questions that we could use as a guide, no matter what part of the Bible we were studying.

I’ve found that these questions work whether you’re reading the Bible alone or with others, occasionally or daily. I hope you find them useful.

Where am I in the Bible?

This question is all about context and opens the door to many more questions. Is this passage in the Old Testament or the New Testament? Is it historical or poetic or correspondence? What did the author and original audience have in mind?

Context is most helpful to have before jumping into a passage. It shapes the way we understand the Scriptures and helps us apply them more faithfully. A good study Bible is the best tool for this. We recommend the ESV Study Bible.

How does this text point to Jesus?

If you’re new to the Bible, it’s okay to not know how to answer this one. Jesus is the focus of the Bible, but it isn’t explicitly clear how every passage connects to him. The more you read the Bible, and the more you learn about the story of Israel, the more you’ll see the unity of the story and the connections to Jesus.

It might seem silly, but a great resource to get you started is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. She paraphrases stories from the Bible in kid-friendly language and ties each one to the story of Jesus. You aren’t too old for a children’s Bible, I promise!

Another great tool is the book God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts.

How should I live differently in light of this text?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible can be challenging to read because of the work it takes to understand it, but it can also be challenging to read because of the way it exposes us. Getting acquainted with the story of Jesus isn’t enough.

The Bible requires a response and asking yourself this question opens your heart to the prodding of the Spirit.

My favorite resource for this is a journal. You don’t have a write a novel each day, a few bullet points will do. Looking back on your notes months or years later will encourage your soul in ways you can’t expect. Keeping a record of God’s faithfulness is worth the effort.

How will this text help me reach my Top 5?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

This question is all about mission. God has called us to join with him and to share his message of love and reconciliation. Reading the Bible with your Top 5 in mind will equip and motivate you to be intentional with them. The Bible is about Jesus, and your loved ones need to hear the truth about him.

A great resource for this is the Top Five app. It can be found wherever you download apps. This app allows you to keep notes for each person, including thoughts about Scripture passages you come across that may be meaningful for them.

 

I hope these questions are helpful for you. The Bible is worth exploring!

Out of the Silence

Let me admit this up front: I am that person that annoys you about Christmas.

My tree has already been up for weeks, our lights are on outside, and I’ve been listening to Christmas songs since the day after Halloween.

I love the Christmas season because it’s a time of celebration and beauty, generosity and joy, family and friends, crackling fires and twinkle lights. But this year feels different for us all. Advent, the traditional season of anticipation, has a new and deeper meaning as we long for better days.

For many people I love, this year has been the worst.

Many have lost their health, their homes, their normal lives, their retirement, and much more. We are all in need of a change. We are all longing for a better future.

In the struggles of 2020, I am reminded that as much as I love the fun that Christmastime brings, Advent is really a time of hope. It’s a time of waiting, of trusting, of yearning for our Messiah. It is a time to remember that God steps into the midst of a broken world to be with us – to rescue us at just the right moment.

The time period between Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, and the birth of Christ is known as intertestamental silence. The Old Testament ends with the promise of a Messiah and covenants to fulfill, and the people of God are left in anticipation. But for more than 400 years, there were no prophets; God was not speaking to his people. It would have been easy for God’s people to believe that his plan had stalled, that perhaps his purposes and promises had been thwarted.

But a closer look at this time reveals just how much God was doing to prepare the world for Jesus and the spread of his good news. 

The unfaithfulness of God’s people led to their exile. Although the temple was modestly rebuilt and their return was permitted, not everyone returned to Jerusalem. While this season brought great suffering for the Jewish people, it also resulted in circumstances that were vital to the coming gospel explosion.

During the intertestamental period, the Romans came to power. With their rise came roads, government, and a universal culture, connecting the empire together.  There was a common language throughout all of the empire (Greek) so that the scattered people could all communicate. And synagogues were built all over Asia Minor so that the dispersed Jews could worship in their own distant communities.

Although the people of the day couldn’t see it, God was not idle. He was at work and used the pain and disappointment of exile and oppression to prepare the world for the Gospel. The Roman government’s execution method would bring about the promised sacrifice of the Son. Roman roads straddled the empire, creating safe paths for Paul to travel on his missionary journeys. The New Testament scriptures would be written in the common tongue of the known world. The scattered synagogues would form the basis for a network of churches, where Paul would preach the gospel of a messiah to those who were familiar with the Jewish customs and beliefs.

For many of us, God feels distant in this moment. We struggle to understand what God is doing and find it difficult to trust in his plan and providence.

But just as before, God is at work right now in the seeming silence. He is at work while we wait, while we suffer, and while we are confused. Though we may not hear him or see him – though he may seem far away – we can trust that he is present and active.

For hundreds of years, not just months, God’s people wondered where he was. While we look forward to the return of Jesus, or even just to better days, let us rest in this time of Advent, commemorating the moment when God entered our world in the most profound, tangible, and transformative way: sending his only Son, God himself, to enter into this broken world and save us.

God is moving in our lives, his promises are true, and he is faithful. He is at work in us through his Spirit, transforming us and speaking to us, in the midst of whatever pain we experience. He is at work in the world as the Gospel still spreads to the ends of the earth.

Advent is a time of celebration, but it is also a time to reflect on our need to trust in God – to believe that his promises are true and his love is enduring.

As we anticipate celebrating the birth of Christ and hope for better things to come, let’s take this time to remember God’s faithfulness. May we embrace the waiting, trusting that God is working all things for our good and his glory.

 

“The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.”


Introverts and Evangelism

When we talk about living on mission, there is a group of us who reflexively recoil at the thought of having to share the gospel in unfamiliar situations: introverts.

Before anyone gets defensive, I would never use introvert as a four-letter word. I love being an introvert, and God loves that I am an introvert too; it is he, after all, who creates both introverts and extroverts.

Still, being an introvert can present a unique set of challenges when doing the work of spreading Jesus’ good news.

If you find yourself at a loss, not knowing where to even begin, I want to offer you four things to remember as an introverted disciple of Christ. I hope they will encourage you to boldly share the good news of Jesus.

 

1. God Doesn’t Let Us Hide Behind Our Personality

For years, I would justify my reluctance to talk about Jesus by quickly throwing out what I like to call the introvert’s favorite quote:

“Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

– (maybe) St. Francis of Assisi (but probably not)

The idea that if my life looks enough like Jesus then I won’t ever have to tell people about Jesus is nice on the surface but breaks down under the slightest examination.

First, I can easily convince myself that my life looks a lot more like Jesus than it really does. Second, “when necessary, use words” is not the same thing as “I don’t ever have to use words!” Finally, nobody’s life looks more like Jesus than Jesus’ did, and he spent his entire ministry telling people the good news of the Kingdom of God.

 

2. Lean Into Your Strengths

Extroversion and introversion are not good and bad personality traits, they are different personality traits.

You may not be good at meeting new people, public speaking, or working a crowd, but Scripture does not actually identify any of those things as essential to evangelism.

Many introverts prefer fewer and smaller interactions, but what we lack in volume we tend to make up for in depth. Introverts are often good listeners, show high levels of empathy, and exhibit long patience.

The messy business of developing deep relationships is often the vehicle for bringing the Gospel to specific issues in the lives of those closest to us.

 

3. God Rarely Leaves Us In Our Comfort Zone 

Reading through the Bible is a lesson in God calling people to things they would never have imagined doing on their own.

Abraham (99 years old) and Sarah (90 years old) were elderly and childless when God promised that Sarah would give birth to Isaac, and that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars. David was the youngest and smallest of eight brothers, and a shepherd to whom God gave the faith to defeat Goliath, the Philistines’ greatest warrior and Israel’s greatest enemy. Mary was an unwed teenager when God called her to the most unique of roles of carrying, giving birth to, and being the mother of the promised Messiah. Paul was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted Christians until he met the risen Jesus and was turned into a church planter who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles.

When God calls us into situations that are completely uncomfortable, that we could never imagine ourselves in, and that require us to grow in ways we would rather not, his power and glory shine through us unmistakably.

 

4. Evangelism ≠ Preaching A Sermon 

When you read the gospels, you see Jesus bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God to people in many different ways.

Jesus performed miracles at a wedding celebration, preached the Sermon on the Mount to thousands of people, taught publicly in the synagogues, patiently explained his mission to the 12 disciples, and spoke individually to the Samaritan woman at the well.

While God never guarantees that he won’t ever call introverts to share his good news to an uncomfortably large group of people, he does regularly call us to spread the Gospel in the situations we most often find ourselves in. Situations like a quiet gathering with close friends, an intimate conversation with the neighbor struggling at home, or even the extrovert who likes to talk to you because they know you will truly listen. These are all situations you have probably found yourself in, and all great opportunities to share the Gospel.

 

As you go about your daily life, my prayer for you is that God would not only open your eyes to opportunities for sharing his good news, but that he would grant you the confidence to know that he has called you to a uniquely important way of doing so.


 

Confident in Christ, Compelled by Love

The Church today suffers from a confidence problem. Our culture may seem to be growing more hostile to Jesus and his gospel message, but that does not change God or his plan to redeem the world. Are you someone who has complete confidence that God’s message of hope in Christ is the right message? Are you convinced, like Jesus, no matter who is in front of you – no matter how strong, intelligent, sinful, hardhearted, or far gone they seem – that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16)?

This confidence is foundational for living effectively as a missionary.

 

CONFIDENT IN CHRIST

The love of God displayed in Christ is too marvelous to allow anything to get in the way of proclaiming it. Like Jesus, we must not allow any obstacle to hinder us from engaging others.

Jesus lived with complete confidence. He wasn’t arrogant, because his confidence was placed in something beyond mere human ability. As followers of Jesus, we can imitate him by placing our confidence in the same two objects that he trusted in.

First, we must have confidence in God. Jesus knew himself and the Father. He neither had to be reminded of his own power, majesty, holiness, and greatness nor of God the Father’s qualities and worth. No matter who stood before him – king, slave, rich, poor, or a troubled Samaritan woman – Jesus wasn’t intimidated. He knew that God, and his plan for the world, were both perfect and complete.

Second, we must have confidence in the gospel message. Jesus knows he is the only hope for every man, woman, and child. Jesus was never overwhelmed by anyone’s sin. On the contrary, sin was overwhelmed by him. That’s why Jesus never encountered a life that was too far gone from him to rescue. He knew who he was and what he was going to do at the cross. He knew he had come to bring new life!

Intimidation can arise when our eyes become fixed on the person we are sharing with instead of on Jesus. This is not to suggest looking past or trivializing people, but to fix our eyes upon Jesus, never losing sight of who he is and the power of the gospel he brings. To fail to do so risks becoming easily overwhelmed by shifting our focus to the problems, questions, or intellect of the people we’re trying to reach. Confidence shrinks as well as our desire to share the gospel.

Do you believe God is wonderful and glorious? Do you believe in his message of reconciliation? Are you convinced the gospel is the hope for every man, woman, and child? Be confident in God and the gospel he offers!

 

COMPELLED BY LOVE

Our confidence in the gospel of Christ should also result in love for others. It is sad that the American church is better known for what we are against rather than who and what we are for.

To be fair, we are not entirely to blame. There are spiritual forces at work which hate us and would continue to do so even if we did everything correctly. Jesus reminds us:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

– John 15:18

However, no matter how much hate we endure, as God’s people we need to hold fast to what drives our gospel mission: love. It’s an essential part of the foundation for missional living.

The gospel message cannot be divorced from love. Our engagement with lost people should find its roots in our love for God and his glory. It was the great desire of Jesus to see his Father glorified above all else (John 17:1-5). Everything Jesus did was done to show his love for the Father (John 14:31).

In Matthew 22:37, when asked what the greatest commandment of the Scripture was, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” We must seek to be driven by love for God in the mission of making disciples. Evangelism was never meant to be a spiritual drudgery we slavishly perform, but instead, a glorious calling fueled by an ever-deepening love and awe for the one who first loved us.

And if we grow in loving God, we will then be moved to love the lost as well. It’s no coincidence that Jesus followed his statement about loving God with these words, calling them the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This was the reason Jesus was called the friend of sinners. He loved others well – all kinds of others, especially those that everyone else wrote off as too broken, dirty, or evil. We must love others as Christ loved them in order to fulfill our new mission in life.

Do you have a genuine love for people? Do you love, not just for the ones who are easy to love, but, as Jesus modeled, those who are difficult?

 

May we, as missionaries, be people who are confident in Christ and compelled by love!

 

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)

 

My Truth

Words are strange. They are the building blocks of our language; signifiers that carry meaning. But that meaning can be imprecise or changing.

Think of the word love. Its meaning can change based on a variety of factors. Telling your spouse you love them carries a different weight than telling your pet you love them. Or using love to describe your favorite food or book. The meaning of a word can change based on context, audience, or tone.

Or culture.

Every culture has language specific to its time and place. Words and their meaning can change over time and culture. Such is the case with the word truth.

Christians have always held to the notion that there is such a thing as objective truth.

By and large, our culture does not have a strong understanding of the term truth. As we leave Postmodernism, wherein truth was stripped of all meaning and made completely relative, our culture has realized that truth must exist in some form. This agreed upon form of truth is now found in people’s stories. Experience has become the lens through which modern minds process and respond to thoughts and ideas.

When people say “my truth” they often mean “my story.”

We all have lenses through which we see the world. These lenses affect how we view the world, God, truth, others, and ourselves. As we work to understand God’s Word, we have to be aware of the lenses we use. If our lens is purely our own experience, we will read Scripture as if we have the right to interpret God’s message in a way that agrees with what we want to be true based on our experience. Sharing our experiences with others is a great way to connect, but experience makes a poor lens.

As disciples of Christ, we must have our lens shaped by the truth of Scripture. God’s word has much to say about what and who truth is. In John 17, Scripture provides us with Jesus’ prayer to the Father in which he prays for his disciples. Through this prayer, Jesus revealed what truth is: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

Jesus flat out said that God’s word is truth.

Later, the apostle Peter says the Word of God is eternal truth which lives forever (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” and said that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).

This biblical view of truth is an antidote to our cultural understanding of truth. Through Scripture we know that absolute truth exists, the Word of God is true and unchanging, and faith in Jesus is the only true way to know God. The truth contained in Scripture is true for all times, all peoples, and all places.

Yet, the idea that truth and experience are equitable still peaks its head into our Bible studies. While earnest believers might not purposefully confuse their personal experience with truth, the reality is that sometimes believers interpret Scripture in light of their experience.

Think of the language that you might hear in group, “Here’s what this passage means to me…” In reality though, when we approach Scripture as a church or a small group, God has one intended message. We must do the work to understand the context and language, but God’s meaning is not unknowable. When we share our response to the Bible with others, instead of saying what a passage means to me, it is more accurate to describe how a passage applies to me.

For example, say your small group is reading through the Gospel of Luke, and you’ve come to the parable of the prodigal son.

You might hear people in the group share the truth of the passage through their own lens. One person might say this parable means to them that God is waiting for us to return to him. Another might say this passage means to them that kids have to make mistakes on their own and return to God. Still others may say that they see this passage as a warning against the temptations of the world.

But, to really understand the parable in Luke 15, we must understand that God has truth that he is communicating to us. This means that we have to do the work to understand what the passage means to God and not to us. If we do the work of understanding the context of Luke 15, we can see that Jesus is talking to religious leaders (Pharisees) who were upset that Jesus was speaking to, and eating with, sinners. The parable of the prodigal son then, was originally intended to illustrate God’s goodness to sinners and to challenge the Pharisees to see and replicate that goodness.

Once we have a common understanding of a passage, we can discuss how it applies to us. Some in our small groups might identify with the younger brother running from the Lord, and realize they need to repent. Others might see themselves to be more like the Pharisees and need to repent of their unloving attitudes. And still others might just need to be reminded of how good God is.

When we become Christ followers, the lens through which we see the world radically changes.

However, we still live in this world and we often put on its cultural lens without realizing it. Scripture makes it clear that there is such thing as Truth. A definite, objective, eternal truth. As Christ-followers, let’s honor Jesus as the Truth and seek after him with all that we have.


 

5 Ways to Live in the Present in a Future-Oriented World

The past hundred years have seen advancements in science, technology, medicine, warfare, and industry that would have boggled the mind of those in the past. And the pace of change is not slowing down. We are conditioned to a rapid rate of discovery, to Moore’s Law, to a craving for faster internet speeds, and the rush to a better future.

A pandemic confined us to our homes, but we are still asking, “When will schedules return to normal? When will school, work, and church resume?” And while waiting, our internet connections have sped up and the future of videoconferencing is now behind us.

In such a future-focused world, how do we find time to live in the present? And, really, why would we? Wouldn’t that just leave us behind, unprepared for what’s next?

Scripture acknowledges the benefits of planning for the future (Proverbs 21:5), but Jesus directs our future-oriented selves heavenward and encourages us not to worry so much about tomorrow (Matthew 6:19-34). God says plenty about living in the present and letting the future take care of itself (Proverbs 16:3, 9; 19:21; Matthew 6:33).

Here are five practical ways to live fully in the present moment:

 

1. Pause

Be still and know that I am God!

– Psalm 46:10

You don’t have to stop. Just pause. Watch the sunset. Take a moment to study the smile of your loved one. Enjoy the pitter patter of the rain. See if you can spot joy in a crowd, or evidence of God at work in your daily routines.

In Exodus 33:14, God tells his people, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Really? Standing in the midst of over half a million people, animals, tents, crying children, blowing sand, rocky terrain, and nothing but desert between where they were and their “future”? Yet God declares that acknowledging his presence will give his people rest in the midst of an uncertain future.

Today, lack of a vaccine or loss of income or separation from others may be causing anxiety and a rush to see the future “return to normalcy” realized. Know that you can live in the present and be at peace. “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,” (Psalm 62:5).

2. Appreciate

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:5-7

Gratitude is a great gift. You can’t be thankful for what hasn’t happened yet — that is called hope. Instead, we say “thanks” for what is and for what has been. We show appreciation to others and to God when their past and present actions are a blessing to us. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34:8).

Do you eat slowly, savoring every bite? Or are you like your children asking, “What are we eating for dinner?” while still eating lunch? Taste and see are present-tense verbs. They are something we are commanded to do in the here and now. Experience God’s goodness and grace for “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing,” (Psalm 34:10).

 

3. Worship

God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

– John 4:24

How are you really feeling? Be honest. Get in touch with your present emotions and sing them out to God. Write them in your journal. Pray. All of these worshipful expressions connect us to the God who is present with us — Emmanuel.

God is aware of your situation. As the Israelites traveled through the desert, God promised them he would give them rest, but they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they refused to trust in God. Living in the present doesn’t necessitate denying hard circumstances, but it does require us to pause (1 Peter 5:7), appreciate (Colossians 3:16), and worship in truth (Psalm 55:6). Only when we are honest with God can we truly learn to trust him in the present.

 

4. Serve

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.

– Galatians 6:2

You can’t control the future. You may try, setting aside money for an inheritance for example, but there is only so much you can do.

One way to reconnect with the here and now is to serve someone who needs you today. Meet a need that is evident and within your circle of influence. There are numerous examples from Scripture reminding us of the value of serving others. For instance, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” (Hebrews 13:16). Or, 1 John 3:18 which says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

While you are serving someone, it is difficult if not impossible to be preoccupied with your own future. There is a satisfaction that resonates in the present moment of giving away some of the abundance we have in Christ.

 

5. Connect

In humility, value others above yourselves.

– Philippians 2:3

Who have you neglected to connect with because of your “to do” list? What is still “yet to be done” on your calendar?

Lists are great at organizing our future time and helping us set priorities, but sometimes relationships suffer as a result of a task-oriented day.

Want to live in the present? Spend a few minutes more than you had planned on the phone with a distant relative. Text back and forth with an old friend. Meet someone for coffee or lunch. A true “future-oriented” person never regrets time spent with friends and loved ones because those opportunities are so precious and fleeting.

 

Like riding on a bullet train, we are fast approaching the future. Know that for a moment, the scene inside that train can seem still, even serene. You can pause, be thankful, worship truthfully, serve someone riding with you, and connect with a fellow traveler before returning your gaze to the blur outside the window.


 

What Expert? The Call to Seek (and Not Subvert) Wisdom

Imagine at your annual health checkup that some test numbers look concerning. Upon further examination, the doctor gives you the news that you are in early stages of a specific type of cancer, and while serious, she doesn’t appear overly concerned.

But before the physician can utter another word you look squarely into her eyes and confidently say, “Okay doc, here’s what we’re going to do about my treatment.” You then proceed to inform her about the vitamins you’re going to take, the exercises you’re going to do at the gym, and the food you’re going to eat.

Your doctor’s expression turns from mild concern to outright shock.

Most oncologists would be flabbergasted to hear patients informing them about what they believed were better protocols for their illnesses. And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could share real stories of patients who actually rejected their medically professional protocols because those patients “knew better.”

This scenario illustrates what author and professor Dr. Tom Nichols refers to as “the death of expertise.” He argues that Americans have moved the idea of democracy from being a condition of political equality (e.g., every person gets one vote) to a state of actual equality “in which every opinion is a good as any other on almost any subject under the sun.” This means believing that your personal attitude about anything is equal to, and as authoritative as, anyone else’s, even if that anyone happens to be an expert who has devoted his or her life to studying that subject upon which you are opining about.

So, who cares what world-class oncologists have to say about the best way to treat this specific cancer. Some patients read an article on Facebook or some alt-whatever news site that claimed eating 50 pounds of blueberries a week would kill the disease (of course, it also had stories to prove it).

From political attacks on TV to Twitter-wars about theology to Facebook fights on medical issues, Nichols surveys our national discourse and observes (and forgive me, this is long, but it’s so good):

We no longer have those principled and informed arguments. The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of “uninformed,” passed “misinformed” on the way down, and is now plummeting to “aggressively wrong.” People don’t just believe dumb things; they actively resist further learning rather than let go of those beliefs…

At the root of all this is an inability among laypeople to understand that experts being wrong on occasion about certain issues is not the same thing as experts being wrong consistently on everything. The fact of the matter is that experts are more often right than wrong, especially on essential matters of fact. And yet the public constantly searches for the loopholes in expert knowledge that will allow them to disregard all expert advice they don’t like…

Worse, what I find so striking today is not that people dismiss expertise, but that they do so with such frequency, on so many issues, and with such anger. Again, it may be that attacks on expertise are more obvious due to the ubiquity of the Internet, the undisciplined nature of conversation on social media, or the demands of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. But there is a self-righteousness and fury to this new rejection of expertise that suggest, at least to me, that this isn’t just mistrust or questioning or the pursuit of alternatives: it is narcissism, coupled to a disdain for expertise as some sort of exercise in self-actualization.¹

Consequently, in light of all that Nichols examines, he offers a stark challenge and sobering conclusion: “The relationship between experts and citizens is not ‘democratic.’ All people are not, and can never be, equally talented or intelligent. Democratic societies, however, are always tempted to this resentful insistence on equality, which becomes oppressive ignorance if given its head.”²

This is the danger of the death of expertise, of believing that everyone’s opinion is just as weighty, authoritative, and correct as anyone else’s. The only prize we win is oppressive ignorance, a refusal to see what’s true or best that leads us to our own dismay if not demise. Oppressive ignorance is a patient telling one’s oncologist how to do his or her job best or a thousand other examples of people telling experts they don’t know what they’re talking about. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s less a recipe for elitism but more for disaster that leaves us not with coalition of decisionmakers but a confederacy of dunces.

This kind of thinking (and living) should be a far cry from those who call themselves followers of Jesus. Scripture guards us from oppressive ignorance by continually calling believers to surround themselves with the wise (i.e., experts) so they might…wait for it…deposit their wisdom into us so that we might be wise and live wisely!

In fact, the Bible dedicates an entire book to encouraging believers to be community of wisdom instead of a confederacy of dunces. Here is just a sampling:

  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)
  • “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)
  • “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)
  • “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20)
  • “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:15)
  • “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. Wisdom is too high for a fool; in the gate he does not open his mouth.” (Proverbs 24:3-7)

Seeking wisdom doesn’t give a blank check to believe everything the wise say. It doesn’t mean they are infallible. You and I both know that. We listen to the wise not because they are perfect but because they are experts in one issue or another. They possess a knowledge and experience base that we don’t, and as such, are valuable resources for making better decisions when we cross paths with those issues in the future. This is why Scripture is so high on seeking wisdom. It honors both the Creator and the creation he made. It’s the smart and biblical thing to do.

Let’s return to our opening illustration and reveal that the reason the doctor initially wasn’t distraught by the patient’s cancer discovery is because she trusts this kind of cancer is highly curable. How can she know that? It’s because she (an expert) also knows that medical researchers and scientists (also experts), over the past several decades, have developed medicines and treatments that will give patients a 98 percent chance of full remission. That’s the wisdom she possesses. All you need to do at this point is leverage her wisdom by listening, learning, and applying that wisdom. While that might not make you wise in all things, it definitely makes you smart in this scenario.

Will there be times that the wisdom we are given contradicts the wisdom of God? Sure. In those cases, we hold fast to godly wisdom and Christ, in whom are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3),³ as its ultimate expression. As 2 Corinthians 5:13 says, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” However, generally speaking, as followers of Jesus we should be known as humble folk who pursue the wisdom around us.

We don’t revile the wise.

We seek them out.

If in certain scenarios we happen to be the experts in the room, then humility should mark us all the more. Either way, we should live lives that honor experts and leverage the wisdom they give (and that we seek!) so that we might make better, and yes, even more God-honoring decisions than we would without it.

This isn’t just smart, it’s spiritual.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.

– Proverbs 4:7


¹ Nichols, The Death of Expertise, x-xi.

² Ibid, 238.

³ I encourage you to read my friend Jeff Medder’s blog about Jesus as our wisdom in his brief post Wisdom Is A “Who” More Than A “What”

This also provides an impetus for followers of Jesus pursuing learning and education.


 

Videos

Is the Bible Still Relevant?

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Should We Pray the Lord’s Prayer?

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Did the Miracles of Jesus Really Happen?

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Why Are There Four Gospels?

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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.

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Podcasts

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.

 

25: Samuel

On this episode of Who’s in the Bible? we meet a boy named Samuel, a man named Eli, and we learn God’s name.

If you haven’t listened to episode 23 (Judges), you may want to go back and hear that part of the story before you listen to this one.

24: Ruth

The Old Testament book of Ruth tells a beautiful love story. Join Aric, Lance, and a special guest to learn more and see how Ruth’s story is connected to the story of Jesus.

063: What is Hell Like?

In the Unstoppable message series we’ve been learning about the mission of God in the book of Acts. But when you talk about the mission of saving people through the work of the gospel, questions often arise about hell. What is hell like? How can a loving God send someone there? What about the people who don’t get a chance to hear and respond to the gospel? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen asks Yancey Arrington these questions and more.

Resources:

“Hell Is Not Separation from God”

“Hell as Endless Punishment”

“Universalism: Will Everyone Finally Be Saved?”

23: Judges

In this episode, Aric convinces Lance to take another trip in the Back in Time Bus to visit some of the Judges of ancient Israel, and at least one of them immediately regrets that decision.

 

22: Joshua

Next up in the story of Israel, a new leader, a secretive spy mission, and a big choice about the future. Check out this episode of Who’s in the Bible!

21: Aaron

God gave Moses instructions to build a beautiful tent and to have the Levites to serve as priests. Find out what special role Moses’ brother Aaron had in this episode.

20: The Israelites

God had a special relationship with the Israelites in the Old Testament because they were his chosen people. On this episode, Aric and Lance continue reading the Israelite’s story in Exodus and talk about who God’s special people are today.

 

CCStories

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)