The Wilderness Road

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His name is Thomas.

He is a simple, first-century Jew. Dark-skinned, bearded, probably poor like the other eleven followers of this Teacher named Jesus. And his Teacher is dead. Executed on a cross, buried in a tomb three days ago. He’s gone.

Except Thomas’s best friends, the men he’s lived with for three years, are swearing Jesus is alive, that somehow even death can’t kill Him. “We’ve SEEN Him!” they say.

And Thomas wants to believe it, more than anything he’s ever wanted in his life. But he can’t. The questions are too many and too loud, and it’s too good to be true, like a heat-mirage of a lake appearing to someone lost in the desert. So Thomas insists, no, no, he won’t—can’t–believe unless Jesus shows up, real enough for Thomas to touch His scars.

A few days pass and the disciples gather for a meal in their locked hideout. No one sees it happen, but one moment they’re alone, and the next moment Jesus is there, fixing His eyes on Thomas. Holding out two living, scarred hands, He says, “Put your finger here…reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

And Thomas, falling to his knees, believes.

However, he’s known to history as Doubting Thomas—a negative title, like Lazy Thomas or Cheating Thomas—when a better name, really, would be Human Thomas.  Few things are more universal to the Christian (and human) experience than doubt. But most of us are uncomfortable with doubting. In a sad irony, the church today is sometimes friendlier to pride, selfishness, materialism, hypocrisy and twisted doctrine than it is to doubt.

We run away from admitting serious questions: about God’s character, about the way our salvation works, about the questions the Bible doesn’t answer. Why? Are we afraid of the answers? Are we afraid that there aren’t answers? Do we just not want to admit to being “weak”?

I don’t know the answer, but there’s an interesting connection the Bible seems to make between times of doubt and being in a wilderness (literal and figurative). Which makes sense, because the wilderness is bleak and empty. It’s a place that feels like exile. Like you’re removed from the rest of humanity and green hills and blue skies are just a dream too good to be true.

And yet the wilderness can be an incredible opportunity for learning and growth. Every life spent walking towards Jesus will have to take the road through doubt and questions, again and again. So a few things to hang onto when you find yourself walking that road:

Be honest about doubting.

It’s crucial to be open about doubts, both on our own and with the family of believers, because bringing things into the light weakens the Enemy’s power. Satan is at his best when our struggles are kept secret in the dark.

Two lies that Satan likes to use against us are firstly, that we’re alone in our doubts. After all, “good” Christians are rock-solid in their faith at all times and we are the only believer in 2000 years who just can’t get it together, right? Nope. Jude 1:22 says “have mercy on those who doubt,” and it turns out, that’s all of us.  Ask your friends, your parents, your pastors.  Google “Christians who doubted” and watch the long list of impressive names like Mother Teresa, Augustine, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon pop up. The Christian road will lead you to the wilderness at some point. We’re a community of doubters whether we admit it or not, so why not admit and help each other?

The second lie is that doubt is a failure of faith. This is where it’s important to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt questions God. Unbelief rejects Him.  In a lovely paradox, honest doubt is actually an expression of faith, because if we bring our doubts fearlessly to God, we are trusting that He is enough to answer them.

Put in the time and effort to work through your doubts.

Throughout the Bible, God uses the wilderness as a place of refining for His children, something like a spiritual power wash where you shed the dirt and grime in your soul.  The goal is to come out cleaner and stronger. So doubt is a problem only if we decide to stay there.

Tim Keller writes, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

Just as honest doubt is an expression of faith, honest doubt is also an opportunity to build our faith. So put in the hard work. Soak yourself in Scripture and prayer. Study theology, science, archaeology, ethics. Find wise Christians—whether it’s your nextdoor neighbor or an early church father—and learn from them. Use all your God-given intellect to think and search for truth. Build your house of faith, strong enough that you can both withstand the storms and invite the skeptics inside.

And most importantly, understand that often the Answer we need isn’t the answer we ask for.

Along with the biblical pattern of people walking through the wilderness is a pattern of God’s response to their doubt. And His response, over and over, is that He comes to meet them.

Moses wanders the Sinai desert for decades until one day a flaming bush appears in his path. Jacob spends all night wrestling with an “angel” until the sun rises and he realizes Who he’s been tussling with. Job demands an answer for his suffering and “out of a whirlwind” God addresses him directly (for four chapters!). Elijah, running for his life with his country falling apart, is told by God to wait on a mountaintop for Him—and He comes in a whisper.

There must’ve been so many things they wanted to ask. And I can only imagine the questions buzzing in Thomas’s brain. “How did You rise from the dead? What does this mean? What about that giant stone that was blocking the tomb? Did You just walk THROUGH the wall, Lord!?”

And Jesus holds out His scarred hands and provides no answers, only Himself.

Often, that is the answer.

When a little kid wonders if they’re safe, if there’s a monster outside, and their parents cuddle them tight, that doesn’t answer the question. The kid still doesn’t know whether the monster’s outside or not. But the presence of Mom or Dad is enough to make their child feel safe.

After all, ultimately our doubts aren’t really uncertainties about how or why God does things but who He is. At the root of those questions is a burning need to know that He is real, He is loving, He is just, He is all-powerful. Because we live in an ugly world, and we’re scared that either He’s too good to be true, or He isn’t actually good at all.

So Moses says “How do I do this?” and the burning bush answers “I am.”  Job screams “why?” at the sky. And the sky opens and a voice says “Who are you, and who am I?” Elijah stands with his grief and fear on the mountain, and hears that still small voice.

One of my all-time favorite books is C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, about a woman named Orual who fights a lifelong battle against the God of her world and His perceived injustices against her.  At the end of her life, Orual writes: “I ended my first book with the words ‘no answer.’ I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”

Thomas says it more simply, “My Lord and my God!”

We can trust absolutely that our doubts and questions will never truly go unanswered. Because if we search, we’ll find Him, the Answer beyond words.

So be Elijah and climb the mountain wanting to hear what He sounds like. Be Jacob and wrestle with God till the daylight comes.  Be Moses, stuttering questions in the desert. Be Thomas, asking to see his Lord. Walk your wilderness road of doubt bravely and with an open heart, knowing that one day a bush will catch fire, a whisper will come through the wind, and He will be there.

 

 

 

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Prepare To Die

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Do you know what it feels like to have no way to describe how happy you are as you face challenges? Have you ever been so in love with something that suddenly the work, lack of sleep, and bending over backwards to make things possible are all things that you no longer even give thought to because you are THAT passionate about it? As you trade sleep for pure exhaustion and set the alarm earlier then ever in the morning it draws a surprising smile upon waking. Nothing but peace remains when you think about being thrown a curve ball in your endeavor. Anything could happen. Finances could fall apart, the people working / adventuring with you could run with you all the way, or they could leave you to do the work alone demanding you work harder then you have ever worked. Your timelines could be completely destroyed by unexpected events. But when you think about these things it riles determination! You can feel it in your chest! No fear. Why? Because this is God given. Some may say its a “calling”. But what you know is it owns your heart and plants an indescribable restfulness in the pit of your stomach. Patience becomes abundant. Your peace becomes unbreakable. Again you may be asking why? Because for this thing you are ready to give your lifetime and for this thing you are passionately prepared to die. . .
How deep does your passion flow in your veins? How far are you willing to go for it? When I work for the cause of orphans there is nothing that can discourage me from it. And I mean NOTHING. It’s not normal. By most human standards I should have given up by now. When my sister trains horses there is nothing that can do justice to describe all that this encircles and encompasses for her. No amount of difficulty can make her abandon this instinctual and spiritual post. It’s a God passion. As we hold nothing back it produces a purpose that is truly everything we need. Even more then life itself. . . for it is more life to live with everything you’ve got through a thousand storms then to live with timidity and keep safe from the lightening. I pray we all prepare with a smile to dance in the rain in the midst of the lightening strikes. Is not the creator of each strike the love of our lives? That is the root of my passion’s confidence.
In life we face things everyday. Things that break our hearts, make us angry, make us laugh ever so hard. Things that make us want to never forget and sometimes even things that make us go back and double check our own thoughts . There is no way to stop being human. As we run after our passions we have to allow ourselves feel and know that passion will bring many things to the plate. Knowing who you are and what you were born for will not make you superman or invincible but I think what happens is something much better. It is the realization that you are going to fall and have to drag yourself back up, you are going to have seasons of invigorating success and you are also going to have seasons of scraping the bottom of the barrel barely making it and THAT isn’t scary anymore. There is a bravery born within the acceptance of great sacrifice. But its not just acceptance, it goes farther than that, you have to actually EXPECT and WELCOME difficulties.
When you only except something it becomes easy get very complacent about that thing or you might find yourself thinking “I don’t have any other option so I’m just excepting this thing because of that…”. How much are we hurting our own passion when we do that? What we should really be doing is looking at everything that is going to be produced by that difficulty. How are you going to be made better by it? Difficulty that comes your way is not only going to prepare you for greater and more challenging things in your future but it is also asking you a very important question. Is it all worth it? If you are in your God given passion then the answer is absolutely yes! The Bible says weeping may endure in the night but joy comes in the morning. When you are living your God passion then just the knowledge of that joy that’s on its way can bring you rest, patience, and peace within the moment of pain. It sounds crazy but you can truly be in the very middle of chaos or weeping and still feel a flicker of joy deep down within that will not be put out because you know something very important: difficulties are your friend making you better and they are followed by joy.

Can we redefine what is good? Can we look at pain and hardship and sacrifice as something to smile at each other about?, Celebrate?, and Welcome? Because for what drives us, we are prepared to fight for it with no reserve and die for it. Let me re-assure you I haven’t lost my mind! . . .You see when I look at most people around me, especially in the church I watch them come to each other with difficulties and prayer requests and the first reaction is almost always that the person being told about the issue shows sympathy for the person facing the issue. I am actually surprised that this has become the norm and that this is what we expect and want from each other.

As followers of Christ the person we have to look up to for an example was a crisis magnet!(Jesus) and those around him(disciples) did not feel bad for him, but rather they were all prepared and waiting to address such things with brave hearts, fearlessness and teachable spirits. This is what they were made for!, it was their driving passion. They were willing to die for it. I personally imagine them to always have been on the edge of there seats awaiting the beckoning call of challenges being brought to Jesus as well as each other. Rather then wanting to give and receive sympathy upon these things arising I can see them instead smiling because they knew this was the very reason they were placed on this earth. This is the first picture of the beauty of being ready for anything that I ever found myself recognizing. If our passion is of God we must prepare to die for it. When you are prepared to die for something it suddenly becomes nearly impossible for anything to discourage you. Arise smiling in the face of an uphill fight! You can be a fire that cannot be put out. Like the Greek fire that grows larger with every attempt of water dousing it. Like a growing plant that reaps nutrition every time dirt is thrown on it. With confident passion go everywhere knowing all your steps are always going to be God’s territory no matter what happens.

Great and mighty things come from the knowledge that death has lost its sting.
Great things come when you passionately prepare to die for your purpose.

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Give Him Your Weariness by Laurel Herrick

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Guest Post- by Laurel Herrick

My house is situated on a country dirt road where there’s little traffic and peaceful farm settings. Every evening I pull on my sneakers, rake my hair into a pony tail and run towards the sunset. I start out fresh! My body is rested and my mind is clear. But then the road carries on in seemingly endless twists and turns; my body perspires and I start to wish I was home. When I get to the end of the road, I must have the grit to turn around and go back. So it is with our spiritual journey: we as Christians are called to run hard and fast for Jesus, but it is also important for us to actively seek rest in our Savior. If we don’t, there is little that we can accomplish for God.

Weariness is a weapon of Satan. In Deuteronomy 25:18 it states: “when you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God”. Don’t let Satan catch up to you! Don’t let him distract you with worry and exhaustion! Instead, turn to the everlasting promise of God: “come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Everyone is vulnerable to the weight of tiredness. The key is to achieve rejuvenation in the presence of our Deliverer.

What causes weariness? Frenetic busyness, anxiety, grief and affliction are all contributors. How does it affect our walk with Christ? It decreases our ability to be a light in the world and takes away the joy that God wishes us to have. Examine the story of Elijah in 1 Kings Chapter 19. In extreme exhaustion Elijah pleaded with the Lord to let him die. However, God showed His steadfastness by providing food and rest to His servant.

Though we as God’s children may grow weary, we can be assured that God never will. But it is our choice whether we accept God’s offer of peace and rest. In Isaiah 40: 28-30 it says: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

How does one receive that sweet offer of rest? There are certain steps to finding repose in the arms of God: first, open yourself to Him – close your eyes and be still. Find a quiet spot to reflect. Repeat the words of Psalm 23. Meditate on your relationship with Jesus. Second, confess your weariness to Him. God wants you to yield everything to Him – even your tiredness! Third, ask the Lord to replace your soul’s weariness with the strength of joy and perseverance.

Will the inward battling go away if we accept God’s beckoning call? Will the burden of spiritual exhaustion be lifted from our shoulders? Yes! God remains faithful to his promise and gives us the quiet strengthening peace that we ask for. He protects us; He surrounds us with His favor as with a shield. Do as Paul said and “run towards the goal” (Phillipians 3:14) – that is God’s calling for Christians! But also strive to find rest.

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:30-31

 

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Laurel is a 19 year old small town girl with big dreams. Someday, Laurel hopes to operate an Italian Airbnb with her husband Charlie while writing freelance and practicing travel photography. For now, she is English major and tea-addict in the state of Missouri. Things like running barefoot through the mud, using too many exclamation points and shopping at thrift stores are some of her favorite things. Laurel strives to seek beauty in everything and glorify the Lord through her work.

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Breaking Up… Healthily

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The way we break up is unhealthy.

Here’s a picture of the common breakup. 2 people date, the boy sits with the girl and tells her a vague reason why it won’t work between them. They both walk away. The boy tells his buddies that she is crazy, so he had no choice but to end it. The girl goes and airs his dirty laundry.

We insult each other. And this makes us feel better. Why?! Well… After WE break up with people, we insult to justify our own decision. We don’t want to think we made a mistake in ending it, so convince ourselves.

On the other end, after BEING rejected, our former partners go from “wonderful” to “terrible losers” in a matter of minutes. We can’t stand to think that a “wonderful” (not-crazy) person would end things with us. So we villainize them in order to help our own ‘healing.’

But that’s not healing.

In 7th grade, my little boyfriend moved schools and didn’t tell me. For us, this meant breaking up. I felt rejected, embarrassed, and hurt, but I couldn’t face that. Instead I went around to everyone I could find and informed them that he was a jerk. I felt better. He had the power before, but I had this new power to change his reputation.

When we break up, it IS easier to insult. Insulting makes us feel like we are claiming the power back. My boyfriend calls this the ‘spirit of rejection’ and you can see it everywhere. When we are fired, we call the bosses jerks. When we are ditched, we say “they’re annoying anyways.” We are hurt and healing, but instead of FACING those real emotions, we cover them up with insults of the people who hurt us. This may help us in the short-term, but it doesn’t heal us in the long-term.

With this 7th grade breakup, the moment someone quipped back “No, he is actually a good guy,” my whole base of self-assurance was threatened. My only comfort was that he was terrible. But if he WASNT terrible, I had no confidence. Maybe I was the worse-off one. Maybe he was great, and was justified in breaking up with me. Maybe this says something about my worth after all. My foundation of healing was so negative. I didn’t feel better, I felt hateful AND unhealed.

Why do we need to insult others in order to feel ‘okay’ in a breakup? I think it’s because we view breakups as an indicator of “I’m desirable and you’re not.” But that makes no sense when every person will not fit with the next. I think instead, we need to realize a few things in order to break up healthily.

First, we do not need to be ‘tough’ and act as if nothing hurts us. We are engrained to desire unbreakable love from romances, since romance was made to be an earthly picture of God’s unconditional love . It is natural to be hurt when our engrained desires are unsatisfied, and it is mature to admit, ‘Yes, that hurt.’

Second, we should not be desirable to everyone. Although watering ourselves down and becoming more ‘normal’ may get us more dates, being ourselves will attract the relationship we crave. We want to be truly known and loved. Some will not want to date you when you are being yourself. But its worth it, because the ones who want to date you, will be wanting the REAL you, and this is the relationship you can thrive in.

Third, when we are true to ourselves, rejection is not something to be feared. Rejection is, instead, a useful filtering process. A break up does not indicate a flaw or a lack of inherent desirability. We are not flawed because we don’t fit with every person. Sure, we all have things we don’t love about ourselves… But I believe our spouses won’t be deterred. For example, one of my ex’s qualities was difficult for me, but I sincerely believe his future wife will either be a game changer or she will appreciate the quality in him.

Finally, fourth, if we are broken up with, we can know that this person wasn’t right for us. Why? Because the person who is right for you will realize your unique greatness and will (imperfectly at times) pursue the relationship. If we try to be ourselves, we have nothing to regret. I’ve heard if a person wants you, he will not let anything get in his way…and I believe it.

(Sidenote: if there is abuse, this is different. If you are abused (emotionally or physically), please don’t stay in the relationship. If you are abusing your partner and he/she breaks up with you, there IS something you can improve on.)

With those things realized, we can break up without insulting others. People can be wonderful and not best for us all at the same time. Breaking up is a needed process for the majority of us who don’t marry our first sweetheart. Your worth is not affected when a relationship doesn’t work. Allow yourself to have a better relationship. Not because your ex was terrible, but because there is someone better for you. Wish the former flames well and recognize their greatness, yet know there is something better. Dont stoop lower because it hurts. I know breakups sting, but keep being yourself. There’s more for you, I promise.

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Living Without Busyness

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I kind of feel cliché writing about things like this. Things we have heard over and over from countless bloggers, multiple times from the pulpit (or is it just called a stage now?). But I just think sometimes we need to be reminded that its ok not to be busy.

Now more than ever, I see people in this world desperate to be known and valued. I wouldn’t call it a fault, and I wouldn’t say that this need is a void, because its perfect normal. Of course we all want to be valued. Because we are valuable. We all have gifts and talents that we have been given to honor God. We should use them; we were created to use them. In as many ways as possible towards the increase of His glory. I am not sure that all we have heard about taking on ‘too much’ is true. We don’t need an excuse to do less. We just have to choose things of quality to invest into. And once we choose, we’ve made a commitment to excellence in every task.

The end of tenth chapter in the first letter to the Corinthians has a lot to say about this. It is not so much what we spend our time on, but the quality of the time we spend. Leading a study group isn’t helpful to anyone if the leader is thinking about ten thousand other things they have going on while they’re trying to lead. Helping a neighbor move in might seem like a waste of time, but the neighbor is certainly relieved and touched that someone would take the time to help. So it works both ways. The time we spend giving does not ever benefit us personally. That’s why it is called giving.

Even when we look at our personal time, we get to choose what we spend our time on. Hashing out opinions on Facebook comments, or reading a book? Watching a movie with family versus mindlessly surfing the web? What is easiest is most times not the best.

If all time is spent on ourselves, for ourselves, or by ourselves, what will our world look like?

By becoming increasingly more busy and have more opportunity to be heard than ever before, we are becoming a lonelier people than ever before in the meantime. I’m going to say what you’ve heard in all those viral videos about putting down your phones and connecting with people…

Put down your phones and connect with people.

There was a time when you could go on vacation and nobody knew where you were and that was ok. You didn’t have to update your status to let the world know—or reassure yourself—that you were having a good time. Back then, I think, things were more valuable. Time was more valuable. It wasn’t considered an unlimited resource, and doing your best everyday wasn’t considered too difficult.

As people of God, we are called to be a light to the world, also translated as leaders. We’re also called to excellence since this is also part of God’s nature, and we are created in his image. It sounds pretty lofty to think of ourselves as excellent leaders when in fact none of us could be considered so, at least not by our own view.

But God sees differently. And the only way to put value back into things is to embrace this. You can’t improve the world around you without a vision, and if aligned with God’s vision, it is by default an excellent one. You can’t change things without leading, and that involves making the most of your time here.

Lead with excellence. Experience life with excellence. Stop being busy saying yes to everything, and say yes to things that will grow you out of your comfort zone and impact the world positively.

It all sounds cliché, but if we don’t remind ourselves that our time is valuable, we’ll lose sight of it. Invest your time valuably, and see the reward in the growth in depth of God’s kingdom on Earth. Do as many things as you like, and try to do them all excellently. If you aren’t the best at first, luckily we have a good Teacher.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

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