Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Throwback Wednesday: Surrender

A little over five years ago, my pastor at the GFMC preached a sermon series called "Harnessing the Power to Change." This was during a tumultuous time in my spiritual life, and God definitely used these sermons to do a transformative work in my heart. I wanted to share with you something I wrote during that time. These are my thoughts from October of 2008:

All the things in my life have led me to this point. I may not like the person I’ve been in the past, but I’m starting to like the person I’m becoming. God has been so good.

My xanga profile pic from 2008
I’ve had a xanga for well over three years, and I had a livejournal for the two years previous to that. I recently reread most of both. It’s been an incredible thing to see my musings, thoughts, writings, and actions from the past five years. Sometimes I made myself laugh, sometimes I remembered people or situations fondly, but most of the time I disgusted myself. I have been childish, immature, jealous, selfish, and stubborn. I’ve been judgmental, vulgar, angry, cynical and condescending. I’ve been inconsistent, arrogantly feeling tight with God one moment and defying Him the next. I’ve been analytical, unsure, broken, insecure, and faltering. In short, I’ve fallen short.

I’m grateful that I write. I’m grateful that I’ve kept careful record of the person I was. Of the activities in which I’ve participated. of the people with whom I’ve associated. Because knowing who I was will allow me to know who I am and who God wants me to be.

Doug’s sermon series on harnessing the power of change has been what it was meant to be, transforming. Last week's was on the power of cataclysm—what it means to surrender the self. Through the story of Jonah, Doug espoused three lessons that Jonah himself did not necessarily adhere to. Jonah was the ultimate "what-not-to-do" in terms of surrendering.

The first: let a specific desire of yours be overpowered by a specific command of God's.
He gave a few common desires as samples: to be liked, to be loved, to avoid pain, to be right, to acquire, to be noticed, for comfort, for pleasure. When I read my old journal entries, I realize that most of my activities and thoughts have centered on wanting to be loved, wanting to be right, and wanting pleasure. So now, as I receive and understand God's commands, I must be prepared to surrender those domineering desires in my life.

The second lesson: surrender not only to God's specific commands but also to His permitted outcomes.
This one's much tougher. I may be able to say, "Okay, Lord. I surrender my desire to be loved so that I may obey what you've told me." But it will be much tougher to accept that if I obey, I may not be loved by who I want to love me. I must adapt my hopes and expectations.

The third: surrender to God's passion to be gracious to anyone no matter whom, no matter when.
This one seems like it should be the easiest. It only involves loving others and extending the grace of God to others. I’m not so good at that. For someone who only desires to be loved, I certainly have a rough time loving others outside of who I deem "important" to me. But as Doug said, grace received but not expressed becomes grace forfeited.

I’ve been given a formula. I must obey, I must adapt, and I must love. And right now, right here, I choose to surrender. I surrender my desire to be loved, as hard as that is to even type, in order to follow any command God throws at me. I surrender my hopes and expectations for whatever the outcome may be. And I choose to love.

God, do what you will.


Saturday, January 26, 2013


If you're good friends with me, then you know I love my Karen Kingsbury novels. I love them so much, in fact, that I own every one of her Baxter family books (twenty-three in all) and re-read them frequently. Throughout this series, KK (as her true fans call her) sticks with several main themes. One is of redemption, one is of God's plan (as quoted in Jeremiah 29:11), and one is of God's faithfulness (as sung in the famous hymn).

Redemption seems pretty obvious for Christian fiction. The whole purpose of Jesus' death and resurrection was to redeem, yes? And I also am on board with the Jeremiah verse. One of my old youth leaders wrote that out for me years ago; it's a great truth to cling to. However, I never understood what made "Great is Thy Faithfulness" such a mainstay in these books. Of course, God is faithful. But do the characters have to sing it in every bout of sadness? They sing it when their mom dies. Ashley sings it when her newborn child dies.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been,Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

I mean, at first glance, the words seem like the song to sing from a  happy place. Lord, thank You for being so faithful! Your compassion is amazing! Your mercies are always new! This is a song of rejoicing, correct?

Tonight, my grandpa died. He was my last remaining biological grandparent. He's my daddy's dad, and he's a minister. He loved Jesus, especially in these last few decades. And tonight, as I sat in his house as my step-grandma rubbed his arm for the last time, I could only think, "God is so faithful."

This is a sad occasion. Death always is. Especially when it's yet another death for my step-grandma to endure, since she just lost her only daughter last month. But I'm amazed that this song expresses the sentiment of my heart so purely tonight. 

I've learned over the past thirty years that people fail. There's not one human that I can depend on one hundred percent. My parents aren't perfect. My husband and daughter can't fulfill all my needs. My friends...well, don't even get me started on the lessons I've had to learn the hard way there. But overall, people sin, people leave, people die, people let us down. My grandpa was a man who sinned. I've heard stories about the man he was thirty, forty, fifty years ago, and let's just say that Jesus performed miraculous acts of redemption on his life. God had a plan, and God was faithful through it. 

God doesn't let us down. He can't. It's not in His nature to. He is faithfulness. He is steadfastness. He is constant. He is unchanging. 

That's what I embrace with this hymn. Not the new mercies each morning, which are undeserved blessings, but the fact that God cannot let us down. He is faithful to stay. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Year of Fire

I didn't know much about the Holy Spirit growing up, other than He was part of the Trinity. He was the Spirit of God, but He wasn't someone I interacted with on a daily basis. I didn't pray to Him, I didn't seek Him. In fact, I'm fairly certain that I thought the proper pronoun for the Holy Spirit was "it," not "Him."

I believed in the miracles of the Bible. I believed that they were literal, not metaphorical. I believed that Jonah was actually swallowed by a fish, and Jesus actually fed 5000 people with five fish, and that Lazarus was raised from the dead. Those happened. Then.

Not today.

I think I believed that miracles could happen, they just didn't. We were too advanced in science and technology to need healing miracles. And we didn't need people walking on water to advance the gospel. I had never heard the term cessationist* before. But I'm positive that that's who I was.

I wasn't always. In fact, I remember a time, vividly, when I was seven years old. I was sitting in the backseat of my parents' car, parked in front of Watson's Drug Store with my dad while my mom was inside. I had just finished reading a Baby-Sitters' Club book, and I needed something new to read. (I'm sure it's hard to believe, but even as a child I couldn't sit for periods of time without a book to read.) I was remembering a BSC book back at home (number 32, if my "steel-trap" memory is intact) that I desperately wanted to read at that moment. And I prayed this prayer: "God, could you please make this book turn into Kristy and the Secret of Susan? I really want to read that. I know you can do it because you turned water into wine. I promise I won't tell anyone about it, even my dad, so that no one else bugs you with these silly requests. Unless you want me to tell people because then they might like you more. Then I'll tell people. But could you please? I'm bored." And I prayed. Hard.

Jessi's Secret Language didn't miraculously become Kristy and the Secret of Susan. I had to wait until we got home that evening to find that book and read about the little autistic piano prodigy (I seriously learned so much from the BSC). I was disappointed. I knew God was capable of this miracle, so I wasn't sure why it didn't happen. I probably thought either one of two things. 1. God didn't perform miracles at all anymore or 2. I didn't merit a miracle because of something wrong with me. Or maybe I believed a mixture of both.

I am no longer a cessationist. I believe that the Lord performs miracles, healing or otherwise, every single day through His own strength and through believers calling on the power of the Holy Spirit.

I can't remember exactly when my beliefs changed. Perhaps it was during a church service in the spring of 2008 when Ivan Filby preached on the power of the Holy Spirit and how he spoke in tongues daily in order to better interact with Him. Or maybe it was in the fall of '09 when I began teaching at CCA and heard someone pray in tongues for the first time...and it wasn't creepy. Maybe it was when I began speaking in tongues myself just a few weeks later. Or maybe it was in July of 2011 when I watched the Son Life youth group worship at the Ramp Church in Alabama, and the service was so on fire with the presence of the Holy Spirit, it felt like I was swimming in it, even through a computer screen. Maybe it was when I heard the stories that erupted from that trip of the kids being slain in the Spirit, receiving emotional healings, being broken from addictions, and seeing angels and demons.

From August 4, 2011 until July 2, 2012, I wrote down every occurrence of miracles that I witnessed in my life and in the lives of those around me, particularly in my discipleship group. In that year, we experienced people receiving the gift of tongues. We received prophetic words and prophesied over others. People received physical healing over swollen knees, bad wrists, headaches, and stomachaches. We witnessed the gospel to random women in Wal-Mart. We were slain in the Holy Spirit and ushered the power of God onto those around us. We had visions and words for others. We were set free from doubts, addictions, and fears.

That was a year of fire. We sought out the Holy Spirit and pursued Him passionately. We dug into Scripture and learned about every miraculous healing and experience. We prayed, both individually and corporately, for more of God. And He was faithful. He didn't heal everyone we laid hands on. He didn't answer every prayer we prayed. But more often than not, He did. And we saw His hand working in every single situation.

Don't fear the unknown. Dig into the Word yourself. If you're a Christian, seek the Lord. He'll be faithful to meet you and answer your questions. Jehovah Rapha, the God who Heals, wants you to ask for healing. His shekhinah glory wants to dwell with you.

The best book I've read on the Holy Spirit is from one of my personal heroes of the faith, Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California. It's called When Heaven Invades Earth. Read it, study it, and take it before the Lord. Find out for yourself if the God who parted the Red Sea still wants to send signs and wonders into your life today.

*Cessationism, in Christian theology, is the view that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, such as healing, tongues, and prophetic revelation, pertained to the apostolic era only, served a purpose that was unique to establishing the early church, and passed away before the canon of Scripture was closed (

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Savior or Psychopath?

At the request of some students, I am showing the movie The Gospel of John to my Bible class. I've never seen it before, so I was excited to watch it, too. If you haven't heard of it (like I hadn't), it's a depiction of the book of John, spoken verbatim from the Good News Bible.

As I was watching well-known Scripture come to life, something struck me. (Again, it's not a new thought, but watching the action on-screen made this much for real for me.)

If Jesus wasn't who He said He was, then He was the world's creepiest man.

There are plenty of people who have uttered the words, "I don't believe Jesus was really the Son of God, but He was a good man, a good teacher." WRONG. Have you read Scripture? Jesus was either telling the truth, or He was a lying, crazy, let's-all-drink-the-koolaid psychopath.

Actually, He would have been worse than Jim Jones, because Jesus didn't tell people to drink kool aid; He told them to drink his blood. Wait...what?

Yeah. In John 6:53, Jesus says to the Jews, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (NIV). I gotta say, it's not a huge surprise that the Jews weren't big fans of this guy. That's a pretty intense thing to say.

We have the perspective of knowing the ending before reading the back story. We know Jesus was speaking metaphorically, and we wrap that verse up all neat and tidy by discussing the crucifixion and resurrection and communion and salvation through His blood.

But the disciples and the Jews didn't have that knowledge. For all they knew, He was about to start tearing off his own flesh and passing it out as an hors d'oeuvre. That's weird. That's creepy. I might have left the synagogue and started rumors about Him, too.

And yet, the disciples didn't leave. They stuck around. In fact, just a few short verses later, Jesus asks Peter who Peter thinks Jesus is. His response? "You are the Holy One of God." Wow. Peter chose, despite the doubt and the fear and the "hard teachings," to believe that Jesus spoke the truth about who He was. It was crazy, it was unknown, it was a little dangerous. But he believed.

What do we believe? Is Jesus a crazed liar, or is He the Holy Son of God who deserves all our praise?

There's no in between.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Throwback Wednesday: Cold Water

Years ago, the Ichthus Festival in Kentucky had a publishing component called IB Press. They published two books called Nothing But a Seed and Nothing But Dirt. Basically, these books were real people's answers to questions about the basics of Jesus and what it means to be a Christian. The third book, which was never published, was called Nothing But a Cup. I was asked to be a writer in it before the company folded. This is a response I wrote in 2007 to the question, "What is the significance of Jesus asking us to hand out a cup of water in His name?" in reference to Matthew 10:42. My response:

I was sitting in church last Sunday and the speaker was talking about the chapter in the gospels where Jesus performs the greatest miracle of all (besides the Resurrection, and this is strictly my opinion)--turning water into wine.

I know that's a taboo miracle to many churches and they find reasons to "explain" it away. My regular pastor has also spoken on this first miracle, and the more I hear about it, the more I wish Jesus could be granted a day pass from Heaven to come hang with me. I know some places he might enjoy spending a little time.

But I digress. The speaker's point on Sunday was that anyone can fill these twenty-gallon barrels (or kegs, as I'm pretty sure we call them now) with water. Those servants at that wedding did nothing miraculous. They had no special powers. Jesus told them to fill some empty barrels with some water (which, granted, probably took time and manpower, seeing as how they had no running water), and so they did. Why they followed the orders of a random stranger, I've no idea. But they did.

Water doesn't just turn into wine. Trust me; they'd have a much harder time keeping the drinking age to 21 if it did. I'm no expert, seeing as how I grew up in Southern Illinois and not California or France, but I’m pretty sure that wine takes grapes and sun and time and some process called fermentation.

Not with Jesus. He's got these superpowers that enable him to skip a few steps in the monotonous processes in life. (If I had that, I would completely skip the "getting-ready" portion of every day; it bores me.) His divine power changed that water into wine. And not just any old wine--he made it into the "good stuff," according to some of those party guests.

When Jesus calls us, as his modern-day servants, to give out a cup of cold water to people, we're doing just that. It's nothing miraculous, at least, not on our part. But by obeying and serving that cup in His name, He is able to change that water into "the good stuff"-- the life-changing, thirst-quenching, living water of His father.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Renewing My Mind

The phrase "practice what you preach" has hit me so many times since I started teaching at CCA.

Yesterday after school, a student came to me and told me about a defining moment in his life that occurred last weekend. Apparently, God met him so powerfully in the most random of circumstances. When he spoke with his youth pastor afterwards, it was confirmed that the Lord had broken off a powerful chain that had held him captive for years. The student was very excited to tell me this story.

Though that's a great story, my first words were words of caution. "You have to keep walking this out," I told him. God can break chains in a single moment, but if we don't do our part of walking it out, those chains can bind us again. An alcoholic can be broken from an addiction, but if they keep frequenting bars or sipping champagne, that addiction can come back, often stronger than before.

To me, walking it out means renewing your mind. I was reading a Lysa TerKeust book the other day (love her!), and she had written about the human brain. Scientists have discovered that when we have a thought, a line is carved into some part of the brain. If we don't think that thought again, the line basically disappears. But if we have the same thought over and over, the line chisels deeper and deeper until it stores into our memory. And when it carves deep enough, it becomes a natural thought for us. Our brain automatically finds it. 

I probably explained most of that incredibly incorrectly. You can google it yourself. 
But anyway, the only way to erase those deeply embedded thoughts is to think new thoughts and establish new patterns in our brain. 

We do this by reading God's word. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Not only does this confirm the need to renew, it gives us the hope that it is possible!

As I explained all this to my student, I was hit deeply that this is another one of those truths that I know, but I don't KNOW. I don't live this way. I dwell on old thoughts. I dwell on unhealthy thoughts. I'm not taking "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). 

Question: Why not? 
Answer: Because it's easier to stay the same.

Old thoughts are easier because they're already engraved! New thoughts mean starting over. It's a long, tedious process. It takes time to replace years and years of wrong thinking. 

But it is possible. And when we take the time, when I take the time, then I will be able to "test and approve what God's will is" (Romans 12:2b). 

New year. New thoughts. Bring. It. On.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Place We Fix Our Eyes

After having a blog for eleven years, it's about time I use it.
Writing is in me; it's who I am. And unfortunately, life has gotten in the way, and now my writing consists of 140 characters or less.

This blog is called Centered, and you may notice the web address is johnonethree. It seems only fitting that my first post describes this focus that I chose.

Chapter 1, verse 3 of the Gospel of John states, "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (NIV). This follows a powerful statement about Jesus being the Word of God who was with God and was God at the beginning of creation.

I was teaching this chapter to my bible class today, and it made me recall a "God-tervention" moment that I had about four years ago.

I had just started teaching at CCA. My relationship with God was the steadiest it had been in years, but I wouldn't call it passionate. I knew God had called me to teach in a Christian school, but I felt very unqualified and inadequate, both as a teacher and as a minister. And, after having grown up in the public school system, watching my mother teach in a public school, and having just taught in a public school myself, I wasn't completely sold out to the idea of Christian education. But I was being obedient.

One day, during one of our chapel times, I was standing in the middle of a throng of students and singing a praise song. I can't remember what the song was, but it would be cool if it had been "Center" by Charlie Hall. I highly doubt that though. But there was something in the words, or maybe just in the presence of God, where I had a revelation that Jesus was THE CENTER. He wasn't a blessing byproduct of obedience; He wasn't there just when I felt like it. It was suddenly ALL about Him for me.

Jesus, the Word of God, was with God during creation. All things were made through Him. All things were made for Him.

That's one of those basic tenets of Christianity that we know, but we usually don't really KNOW. But that day, it was so clear to me. I KNEW. Nothing else mattered. It didn't matter how much money I made (luckily). It didn't matter if I was going to the grocery store after work. It didn't matter if I missed the last episode of the Amazing Race. Those are all second to the fact that it's all about Jesus!

I drove home that day, looking at all the people in all the cars on I-70, and I felt sorry for them, because they were probably so consumed with commutes and work and family and bills and stress and worry. And they didn't need to be. Because all of those things are human-created structures to survive this world that we are only a part of because God created it and us. Did I mention that nothing matters apart from Him?

There were months after that where I didn't want to talk about anything else trivial. I only wanted to see God in every moment.

I don't still live constantly in that place of awe. I get caught up in my own worries and relationships and work and finances and family. But when I remember that day, like I did today in my bible class, I stop for a moment and praise God for breath. For life. For salvation. For grace. For a voice to share this amazing news with everyone.

Nothing else matters.
It's all about Jesus.

Can you imagine if we lived like we actually believed what we knew?