“Fighting Verses”

Feeling downcast, weary, or just plain unable to get through today?

Here are a few of my “fighting verses,” as I like to call them (and all emphasis is my own):

1 Cor. 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

2 Cor. 4:7- – “ But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Hebrews 12 – please, please read this chapter. It is so relevant to any situation you may be encountering right now that may be causing you to doubt, particularly verses 12-13: “Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” This whole chapter is an incredible follow up to the chapter just before it – Hebrews 11, where we learn about the amazing faith given to the fathers of our faith! I encourage you to live in and meditate on these chapters for as long as it takes for your heart to gain strength!

Also, Romans 4 is the first place I head to when I need to be reminded of what faith in action looks like. I draw incredible strength from the life of Abraham. I want to have the kind of faith that we see evident in his life. I want what was said of him to be said of me as well: “But he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

Initial Thoughts on Marriage

I know that I haven’t been married all that long and that I probably don’t have the right to starting writing about marriage until after I’ve been married for more than a month. So take everything I say with a grain of salt and if you prefer, you can wait for my 20 year anniversary in 2031 to begin believing me. All of that aside, I think it’s important to capture some initial thoughts in these first few weeks.

Marriage is, in just one word, incredible. It’s not at all about butterflies and rainbows, or even the “oneness” experience that many people described it to us as, nor is it the extremely difficult transition that the other half of couples described. So far it’s quite ordinary and normal in the sense that we already know each other so well that there have been only nominal disagreements and surprises. That’s not to say that eventually disagreements and surprises won’t come, but there’s definitely the sense that because we have been such good friends for such a long time, we already know one another’s pet peeves, likes, dislikes, and preferences.

That’s not to say that loving him is without difficulty. He tends to not hear me when he’s reading Twitter or watching Sports Center and he also annoyingly tends to leave dishes in the sink instead of putting them straight into the dishwasher. But I step on the shower mat soaking wet instead of dripping off in the shower, so I guess I probably annoy him too.

I think what we discovered during our honeymoon was that the oneness described by all of our counselors and friends isn’t something that wedding vows or living together automatically create; instead, those things merely lay the foundation and create the atmosphere in which oneness can grow. We’ve decided that oneness is likely the result of 20 years of marriage, several kids, and years of struggles, ministry, commingled finances, and lots of prayer.

All of that said, it’s great! We love it. It’s really awesome to wake up next to your best friend every morning and go to sleep with them at night. But it also takes work. I’m learning that to be successful in marriage one must be extremely intentional. Without intentionality, a couple could go through life and merely live together.

Before I was married, I never realized how easy it would be to just cohabitate  or to serve my husband merely just to get things done, without ensuring that the love and glory of Christ is the catalyst of such service.

It would be so easy to do a poor job of reflecting the relationship between Christ and the Church, merely because I lack love. I’ve realized how important it is that the love and glory of Christ be my motivation in every area of life, and especially in my marriage.

Love is such an interesting word. I’m realizing that I’ve only ever scratched the surface. It’s a word that, like the word “oneness,” is likely going to take me a lifestyle shift and an entire lifetime to figure out in its entirety. And if I’m going to live my life by Scripture, this season of life requires me to turn again to Scripture to ask “what is love?” I know in my head and in my heart that it is defined as God and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but practically, how am I going to live that out? How do I lay down my life for Josh?

I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 13’s description of love – “love is patient and kind; love does not enjoy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (vs. 4-7).” And also, like forgiving someone 70 x 7, “love never ends” (vs. 8), which means that I need a limitless reservoir of love for Josh.

But not just love for Josh or because of Josh. Not because he’s amazing or I love him, but because of God – because all I do and all we are is meant to project the love of Christ’s love for the Church to the world. All I do is worthless without love. I could be the best wife, but if I’m not operating out of an overflow of love for Christ, it is all worthless. I’ve been extended limitless grace and I can only extend it in return. Furthermore, every single thing I do, whether its organizing the pantry, making dinner, or unloading the dishwasher – if I do it with any hesitation or without love, I negate it and I do not do it as unto the Lord.

It seems silly to me that this is so revolutionary to my heart today, but it was an amazing revelation and it makes Josh even easier to love well and live with. God is so good and so faithful to sanctify me in this time and use marriage to do so.

Beautiful Things

Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” is one of my favorite songs now. It’s such an incredible expression of God’s overwhelming grace and of salvation and sanctification.

Love these lyrics:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Wow. A God who promises to find what is lost and make beautiful things out of dust is One who should receive all our adoration and all our lives.

Recounting Transformation

All of life is a story. It’s a swirling, tumbling, organized mess of plots, subplots, and character development. Character development always leads to transformation. I knew this going into this first year of ministry and I even asked God for the kind of change that would break me, transform my heart, and make me unrecognizable at the end.

As you can see, I thought I knew what I was in for:

“Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way (From Character Transformation).”

I know, I know. I said that such a very long time ago. If only I had known how true those words would be.

I promised you stories and moments of transformation throughout this first year of ministry. I haven’t done very well. In fact, I’ve delivered only ONE single post since I jumped into full time ministry.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted is because I’m undergoing so much transformation that I can’t begin to explain it in a single post if I try. Sometimes there are more emotions wrapped up in a single day than I ever knew existed in such combinations prior to July 1, 2010. Another of the reasons is because I’ve allowed myself to get so busy that I don’t even begin to take the time to process my days, my weeks, and my thoughts. That’s all stopping this week. There are so many stories to share and so many thoughts and dreams to process.

I’m learning that reflection and recounting transformation is part of the process of  really being changed.

“The value of a story is what you take from it and what you will use from it in your life. Anybody can write a story, but the stories people remember most are the ones that changed them somehow. (Cuyler Callahan, http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Value-of-a-Story&id=3494657)

I want to remember this year. I want to remember and cling to the lessons I’ve learned. I don’t feel like I’ve only been changed “somehow.” I feel like I’m almost completely different than before. I’m not the same girl who came to work for The Gathering last June. I’ve grown, I’ve been stretched, I’ve cried, and I’ve learned what it really means to be a part of loving and building the Church. Most importantly, I’ve learned how crucial it is to not only to understand the Gospel, but to also love it and embrace it as the means of both my salvation and my sanctification.

Before this year I think I clung to the Lord to succeed. Then I learned to cling to survive. Now I recognize that Christ isn’t a means to an end. He’s not what I need to survive. He’s not what I need to succeed. He’s ALL I need. I cannot even express in words what that realization has taught me, but check back soon for a series of posts on what it means to be Gospel-centered.

This one’s for the girls

This entry is about my girls. It’s for my girls. I call them “my girls” because I think they’re mine, but God always reminds me that really they’re His. This entry is about Stephanie, Ceci, Margot, Janelle, Talli, Janelle T., Karen, Megan, and Becca, and it’s about all the other girls that I’ve ever had the privilege and blessing to have in my small group.

Just like the girls are HIS girls, this vision I have for college ministry and for the Gathering, and for my life… it’s HIS vision. He’s the one who fulfills His own purposes and I am shocked and awed, amazed and astounded that He uses me and that I get to be a part of what He’s doing in my generation. Leading and loving in this ministry is never a burden or a sacrifice. It’s a joy. I feel incredibly blessed just to be used by God and to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the people around me.

Tonight we celebrated community. We took the time to talk about and embrace what God’s done in our lives this last semester and year. We talked about our growth and the fruit we see in each others lives. We talked about how to run from sin and stay pure when we’re away from community while home for the summer. We talked about what the Church should really look like and what Christian community means to our lives. We took time out of our busy lives and away from the demands of finals to meet for three and  a half hours. I know… crazy, right? I didn’t plan on spending that much time there, but God definitely had different plans for us tonight. If I could put our meeting into words, if I were to use just a single word, all I can say is that it was beautiful.

Tonight we did what we call “affirmations.” Basically, we went around the room and talked about (and to) each girl – told what they have meant to us and to our community, how they have grown, and the character attributes that we see in them that make them the women God has called them to be. We laugh and we cry and we have to really be careful about giving each person time to talk because I think we all could have gone on and on for hours longer about each girl, if we had the time. Our group doubled in size this semester but never lost the vulnerability and transparency that we developed at the beginning of the year and I’m so very grateful.

So this is for the girls:

Girls, what a year! We walked through all sorts of difficult trials together. We walked through breakups, talked through theological differences, sent friends abroad, weathered economic hardship, prayed and interceded for salvations, and delved straight into talking about tough topics like brokenness and healing, marriage and relationships, sex and sin. Thank you for that. I can’t even begin to tell you what you have meant to me. You have grown SO much. And I’ve enjoyed walking with you each step of the way.

Christ, and what He  does in our lives, makes us beautiful and makes our time together extraordinary. It’s not every day that you put seven girls in a tiny room and watch as they affirm one another in Christ. It’s almost as though tonight we could watch the growth take place in front of our eyes as we strengthened and sharpened one another. The last meeting of the group is always a little bittersweet for me because I’m sad that you’re heading home or abroad for the summer, but oh so sweet, because I get to hear you talk about all of the revelation that’s come to your hearts, all that you’ve learned, all of the places where you have grown spiritually and emotionally, and how your need for community and mentorship was met by our group. And in that moment, I get to watch all of my dreams come true. For my life and for yours.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for truly loving one another and abstaining from all drama. And thank you for all of the many ways you have loved and supported me this year. Finish finals well, and remember this – community is at the heart of the Church and it’s vital to our relationships with Christ. Take this community we’ve built and recreate it where you are this summer. Embrace and search the Word. Make knowing Christ your pursuit and make Him your heart’s first affection. And run from sin – flee from whatever is evil and remember that compromise is made an inch at a time until you’re a mile from the truth.

This community isn’t dissolving. It’s merely moving. It remains and is here for you always. Like I said tonight, I pray you will all still be friends as you walk through the next seasons of life – graduation and entering the workforce, relationships and marriage, and mortgages and children… lean on and continue to learn from each other. Hold each other accountable. This community is an investment from which you will reap massive dividends.

I love you,

Whitney

Life is not about being protected, it’s about living for His fame

I love studying Scripture because it changes me moment by moment as it echoes through my heart. Sanctification, while hard, is worth it. I’m increasingly learning that life is not about being protected, it’s about living for Christ’s fame.

I’m currently studying the book of Daniel with my Frontline small group and it’s amazing. I was excited to have the opportunity to study Daniel, and as part of a Beth Moore study, nonetheless (after just a week of participating, I HIGHLY recommend her studies)! I’ve read through Daniel several times while reading through the Bible but I’m also learning that there’s a huge difference between just reading the Bible and actually tearing it apart verse by verse, looking up the meanings of the individual words in the original language, understanding the culture to which it was written, and finally, applying it to my own life.

On Sunday we studied Daniel chapter 3. The Old Testament is incredible and it’s relevance to  my life never ceases to amaze me. The book of Daniel emphasizes that a.) even the bad things that happen to us are filled with purpose, b.) following God requires that we do not follow the crowd, c.) our lives are not our own, d.) God does great things with us when we resolve in our hearts to live a life that is pleasing to Him, and e.) if it’s God’s will to rescue, He WILL rescue, regardless of what we need to be rescued from.

The story in Daniel 3 really spoke to my heart this week. Why? Because there is so much promise in these verses. I’ve been going through a rough time spiritually and emotionally and this story really helped me to fix my eyes on Christ and motivated me to set my heart and resolve to not be moved by my circumstances and to live a life pleasing to God.

I encourage you to read all of Daniel 3, but to catch you up, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold idol. As a result of their stand and their allegiance to God, they were thrown into a fiery furnace… and here’s what happened next:

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (some translations say “like the Son of God”)

26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.” (emphasis my own)

I love specifically verse 27 – the fire “had not had any power” and only their bonds were burned – they were bound when they went into the fire and then were walking around in the fire – it consumed what bound them. And when they were delivered from the fire, they didn’t even SMELL like smoke. So amazing. What an incredible God we serve.

I’ve loved Isaiah 43:1-2 for a long time now:
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.'”

He doesn’t say “if” you walk through fire, He says “when.” I’m learning more and more that life isn’t about God protecting us – our life should be all about living for His fame. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we need to resolve to throw our whole lives into the call of God and into following His Word.

So do we pray for protection? Sure, but first and foremost we pray that He’ll use us for His glory! The end result of these men being thrown into the fire was that the name of God was proclaimed throughout the entire Babylonian empire! What an incredible thing.The name of God was raised higher than any other god served in the land and I’m sure that the story of the deliverance of these men spread far and wide. How amazing would it be if God were to use a situation in your life or in my life to make His name great? It’s His desire each and every single day.

I’m praying that I’ll see the purpose in this season. It’s felt hot. It’s been smokey and confusing most days. But I know that God is with me and I know that He’s leading me through the fire (even though it’s nothing like what these men walked through). I’m so thankful for the encouragement found in Scripture and so very thankful for the process of sanctification.