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Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. by Lena Hooker

Micah 6:8. This was the theme of our retreat from this past weekend. We gathered with ten other Fellows programs across the western region of the country. And y’all, can I just say, it was such a life-giving experience. Over one hundred other recent graduates are in the same crazy stage of life as us! How encouraging! It was beautiful to worship, play, and fellowship with everyone. We were challenged to think through our opinion on the Church’s relationship with social justice, and it was convicting. I’m not giving many specifics because I’m not very good at it, but I’m just trying to convey the sweetness of the weekend. God is good, and we get to do all things for His Kingdom. #blessed. If you can’t tell, there’s a lot I still need to unpack.

ANYWAY,

The trip was timely for this moment in my Fellows journey. I’ve been wrestling—I don’t even know if it’s that aggressive—with the concept of Church, whether the institution, building, or body. Not only is it integral to what we do as Nashville Fellows, it’s central to everything we do, in life, as Christians. That may not be a very popular opinion right now, but through the program, we’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the significance of the (big C) Church over the past few months. I’ve been processing it, but something about this weekend brought the image out so clearly to me.

All eleven Fellows Programs present at the Micah 6:8 Retreat represent a local community, in which they work for the flourishing of its people. While we’re here in Nashville, it’s easy for me to forget other Fellows in Colorado Springs are serving the Kingdom just like us. Our little cohort is filled with friends becoming family who uplift, encourage, and rejoice together. This becomes so much more beautiful when I realize the bigger purpose we are serving. As Fellows, we further the integrity of The Fellows Initiative, and ultimately, the honor of our Lord. He is using our hands, minds, and spirits for good in our communities, whether it’s three hours or three states away.

Standing in our meeting room this weekend, I was reminded of how small I am. I’m just one ordinary person, but God uses me. To think, if one person from each program simply didn’t show up, the whole would suffer. This is the Body of Christ, and we so need one another. We hear the hand cannot say to the eye, “You don’t matter,” but do we understand? I’m not saying anything profound, only reminding us (but mostly myself) of what is true. Most of the time, God just asks us to show up. When we do, the world notices. We didn’t prepare anything (besides the amazing vid @anna) for this weekend. We drove up, not even knowing the schedule. But man, we got to receive the beautiful gift of community with God’s people. I’m tempted to say it was an escape from reality, but I would actually argue it was a little taste of heaven. When we show up and work, things happen. Each of us living a Micah 6:8 life in the way of the Master, one by one, can change the world. Bold claim; I stand by it.

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Thomas Aquinas or Doubting Thomas by Will Baldwin

“The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God who he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in the contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold I am wise.’ But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’ No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, then thoughts of God…. “But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…. The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and of Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. “And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.” -Charles Spurgeon

The preface to J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, 19th-century English preacher Charles Spurgeon’s quote on the study of God has humbled and comforted me many times in a variety of circumstances. It has drawn me into studying scripture and refocused my wandering mind back to God. I thought it was worth including because of the significance it’s specifically had in my life, encouraging me to think more deeply about my Savior and to embrace the humility and comfort that it brings. Even though this deep thinking is indeed beneficial, I usually flee from such thoughts and philosophical topics; preferring to escape to something less weighty, like TV or sports. . Why is this? I’d say it’s because I’m afraid of doubt. I would rather live without the burden, even though I’ve read that it’s indeed a good thing to grapple and question. It just seems avoidable if I revert to escapism and think little of philosophy. This year as a Fellow has challenged me to not shy away from actually asking hard questions and going to scripture for answers. In this blog I’ll get into how I’ve read the Scripture for hard evidence alone, and not for transformation through God’s redemptive love.

One of the books I’ve read as a Fellow stated that epistemologies are morally directive (In One Body Through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Church Unity). That statement and the surrounding paragraph struck a nerve in me. It reminded me that philosophy does actually matter, and I’ve just been writing off philosophy as a territory only for caught-in-the-weeds, ineffective, impractical academics who waste their time arguing about ethics while their families and communities fall apart around them. But In One Body’s statement that epistemologies are morally directive was a powerful reminder that even though I like to say “don’t care, don’t care, still don’t care” to deep thinking, maybe I should stop and engage. And, I really do love engaging with some (emphasis on the some) philosophy texts. My issue isn’t that I fall down the rabbit hole and end up with my brain in knots thanks to a motley of ethics epistemologies. My issue is that as soon as I feel like I’ve lost my footing, the uncertainty and weighty questions without answers become too much to bear. Instead of using my brain I decide it’s time for ESPN or Netflix. I’ve been struggling with this in Nashville; when I’ve entered periods of doubt I rarely turn on a sermon in the car, instead opting for sports podcasts. When it comes to doubt, I just want to google-it. When I need to tie a bowtie or convert cups to ounces, I google-it. Even better, the search engine puts an instant result at the top so I don’t even have to click on a link to get my answer. Ask Google “who was the first president” and George Washington will pop up in big letters with portrait attached. Unfortunately, questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “What about people who don’t hear the gospel before they die?” don’t produce similar instant results. Rather than exercising a long faithful obedience in the same direction, I keep wanting quick, easy, palatable answers. Moving to Nashville and going to Fellow’s classes has made me think about this desire for (1) certainty and (2) instant results in not just this area of my life, but others as well. 

My desire for certainty motivated me to pick up a copy of J. Budziszewski’s What We Can’t Not Know. The book discusses the topic of natural law, a subject which comforts me for a little while, but does indeed comfort me a good deal. Budziszewski most often cites scholar, theologian, and natural law philosopher Thomas Aquinas, whose view was that a good deal of natural law is well summarized by the Ten Commandments. The 10 Commandments alone do not have the power to free us from sin, but Jesus clearly wants us to keep them as seen in Matthew 19:17. They are special revelation from God and therefore, teach truth about the holy God; revealing that we as sinners need salvation, which comes through Jesus (John 14:6). As for man, I’m greedy, rude, prideful, self-deprecating, the list goes on and on. The more I think about myself outside of the context of an adoptive Father, the more I am faced with the endless cavern of sin with me. G.K. Chesterton writes “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.”

While my sinfulness is incalculable, my breaking of the Ten Commandments does not mean that I am separated from God forever. Not being bound to the law but freed by Jesus is Good News! If the Israelites couldn’t keep the Commandments for even five minutes it’s a good thing we all have salvation through the cross! But the failure of man to keep the decalogue doesn’t mean it’s time to dispose of it! My favorite commentary on the Ten Commandments comes from J.I. Packer, who writes that the Commandments crystallize the basic behavior pattern that brings satisfaction and contentment, and it is precisely for this way of living that God’s grace rescues and refits us. Thomas Aquinas not only views the Commandments in the same way, bringing satisfaction and contentment, but says they are evident to every mind, and that those who say otherwise are rejecting it, which is a really interesting discussion to get into another time. 

Personally, I struggle when I read the Ten Commandments: I typically notice three or four that are pretty convicting and remind me that I fall short of this God-given law, but also wonder who on earth could follow these perfectly their entire life without becoming an enormous prude. The Commandments instruct me to live as my sovereign, just, and merciful God intended; they dually teach me that I indeed am sinful and fall short (because sometimes I’m so blind that I need a reminder) and point to Jesus as the Savior atoning for my sin, whose giving of pardon and power is the only way to God. How can I better love the world based on this truth? The powerful answer is that I can better love the world by reflecting Jesus onto it. 

Over the past couple of months, the convicting reality that I identify as a Christian, yet think so much more of myself than of Christ, has peeped in and out of my thoughts, convicting me but not making me do much about it. Is this year for storing treasures on Earth or for storing treasures in heaven? Why not store up treasures on Earth and think about storing up treasures in heaven once I get enough down here to be comfortable? The Bible rejects that last question. Following 2 Corinthians 2:17, the Good News of the Gospel is transformative, and once I have a new identity as an adopted child of God. But 2 Corinthians 2 doesn’t end there. Paul states that “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The truths found in scripture, the ones my heart always hungers for, aren’t just little logic-nuggets that assure me that my thinking is correct. These truths are much more of an active-ingredient than that. They implore the Christian to, remembering his adopted status, live for the Kingdom of God here in the kingdom of man.

And so, as I look for certainty in theological literature and scripture, which Thomas am I? Am I like St. Thomas Aquinas, who began with faith in Christ and the Divine resurrection for sins, and then “afterward being led on to master the evidence for ourselves”? Aquinas, despite being a legendary academic and natural law philosopher, was not bound to natural law and things absolutely certain for his faith, stating that “Human salvation demands the divine disclosure of truths surpassing reason.” For the remainder of my time in the Fellows Program, I pray that I will remember this, and therefore not look for certainty in scripture and exegesis in order to justify my faith. Instead, I want to read the scripture like the Bereans in Acts 17, humbly receiving the message of His transformational Love with great eagerness, and thus examining the scriptures for truth.

But more often I am like St. Thomas the doubting disciple, looking for hard evidence to be my Salvation, just as his belief came from literally thrusting his fingers into Jesus’ wounds. It is not a bad thing to doubt, but many times I believe my faith would be stronger if I had just one more concrete reality to know for sure. What then is even faith’s purpose if I would know all these things? Nothing but continual faith in Jesus can stop me from plunging my fingers into the wounds of dusty theology books, looking for a paragraph that would give me physical evidence of a grace beyond human reason.


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Running Versus Resting by Sabrina Florey

Hi, and welcome back to the Fellows’ blog! I can not believe it is already October, and the time to share some of what I’ve learned and am continuing to learn in my walk with Christ has come. Truthfully, I didn’t want to write this blog. Assessing how I’m feeling and vulnerably processing those emotions are still not favorite activities of mine. But I am learning the beauty of these processes. 

A habit that has been ingrained in me is running. I love the physical act of running, the feeling endorphins provide, the accomplishment it yields, the challenge it brings, and the joy I feel while spending time outside. I am also prone to mental running - the struggle to stay present as my mind is already sprinting to the next moment or big adventure. For years, and even now, this has been a major coping mechanism of mine; to never have to sit in any suffering, insecurities, failures, or disappointments. Before any of those feelings have a moment to set in I’m already onto the next success, friendship, or moment of laughter. Through growth in my relationship with God, I have seen the reality of where this mental running leads. This mental running leaves me empty, distorts my view of suffering, lessens my ability to grow, pulls me out of deeper relationship, and most of all, leaves me with very little space to rest in Christ. 

This habit of mental running is not an easy one to part with. Mental running feels comfortable for me, and can also feel significantly more productive than sitting. I often think a running to-do list is the best way to avoid wasting a moment. As I end each day longing for the next accomplishment burst, I see how my idolized to-do lists will never bring ultimate peace or control. I never want to stop for the fear that I might miss a moment. My current juxtaposition is that this fear actually leads to purposeless running and missing many more moments with the Creator of all good things. One of our Fellows discussions that brought me to this place was from our study of “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He mentions that a lack of solitude (resting with the Father) actually inhibits a community. Whereas the life-giving rest with Him, leads to vibrant community. 

One of our teachers this year mentioned that he had a habit of “placing a Romans 8:28 bandaid over all of his problems”. (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”). This was convicting. As true as the verse is about our Lord’s sovereignty, it was a needed wake-up call to the fact that I was using this verse for healing rather than actually walking with our healer. I am thankful for a God that is with us in our suffering and calls us to rest in Him. 

It is a growing process; teaching someone who longs to run the value of sitting, walking, and resting, but I have seen the love of my Father more through these practices. I see His heart and His desire for me to be with Him. I see my great need for Him and the reminder that I do not have to keep it all together. Rest is a command, and it’s for our good. He designed us with a need for rest. I believe there is a parallel between our need for sleep and our need for rest in Him. I am humbled by the truth that He continues to turn the world even when I am physically and mentally resting. 

I am learning how to rest in the work that Christ accomplished at the cross, not in my own doing. I’m learning that while I see the end destination as the goal, Christ sees the walk with Him as infinitely more desirable. I’m learning how His healing is much more significant to those who see their deep wounds. Lastly, I’m learning how His rest is more desirable to those who are aware of their deep need for rest. 

I am so thankful for what the Lord has taught me already through this sweet fourteen person community (including our incredible Theresa :) ). They challenge me more than they realize, simply through their intentional lives. I am thankful for the authenticity shared in this community and the ways we are learning to live life together both through the hard and the wonderful. I am continuing to pray that I would seek the face of God more than the hand of God, and ultimately find rest in all that He has done once and for all. 

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Embrace Your Brokenness by Ben Ertel

Early in my spiritual walk I found myself having a particularly hard time with being open about my struggles.  I have consistently convinced myself of the lie that you have to give the impression of having your life together in order to belong in Christian community. In the past I let that lie turn into competing for the prize of coming across as the most holy, only to realize that both the prize, as well as the competition itself, were non-existent.  The notion of being confident in my standing before God through grace and not works was something I intellectually grasped but something I have not been comfortable with.  

I was terrified of doing something to lose God’s love.

In the letter to the Hebrews, an authority on the “Grace + Nothing” theory, the ambiguous author says, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Hebrews 10: 10-11).  This scripture summarizes the fact that the work is done by Jesus on the cross and we don’t need to strive for any sort of standing with him.  The issue I’ve faced is that I can feel a pressure to act as if my paraphrase of this scripture reads, “despite Jesus’s once for all sacrifice, I still need to prove to others that I believe I have to perform religious duties and pretend I don’t have sins that need taking away.”  I found myself competing for holiness, as opposed to letting the Holy Spirit sanctify me.    

While my one-man competition to be holiest led me to form my own odd and unnecessary personal piety from time-to-time, I’ve seen the largest danger in my lack of confession.  I’ve let two lies prevail that led me to confessing less than I ought: the first being my need to look faultless, and the second being that I didn’t need to confess since God knows what I do.  I have so often wrestled with the notion that “God’s commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) when it came to confession.  I thought I would be burdened when people realized that I didn’t have it all together when confessing corporately, and I thought I would be burdened by wasting my breath since God knows what I’ve done and I know God loves me still.  John says that if we claim to not sin then we are only really kidding ourselves (1 John 1: 8). This truth makes me realize that I am indeed only kidding myself when I look at my previous logic. I am kidding myself communally by thinking that anyone actually believes I am perfect, and I am spiritually depriving myself of an intimate conversation with the God who created the whole universe.  

I am learning to lean into the fact that openness about being broken is not a burden, but a worthwhile disruption of the self.

While I am working to be more transparent and open about my brokenness, I have found that the disruption of confession gives so much life and freedom that I genuinely did not anticipate.  In regard to my personal relationship to the Lord I have found that when being open in confession I have been able to walk in a way that actually appreciates His grace because it is easier to understand why it’s so great.  Communally, confession promotes openness for all in the community and can prevent the isolation of people struggling when they know they aren’t alone in their brokenness. Coming from someone who has felt isolated in struggle, I am sure I have perpetuated making others feel this way as well.  

Looking at my relationship to God through being openly broken, I take so much comfort in knowing that He is not ashamed to call me His, and that my story doesn’t end broken as He is making me holy (Hebrews 2:11).  Jesus famously said “it is finished” on the cross, and the posture of walking in that truth may require some added affirmation for some as it does me.  It is finished, it really is.  

It took Michelangelo somewhere around two years to complete the statue of David, continually chipping away at unneeded marble until a true masterpiece was created.  Over those two years the piece of marble had to have looked broken, cracked, and incomplete but Michelangelo knew exactly what he was making and that it would be an amazing sight in the end.  If we look at our spiritual lives as if we are being sculpted by God (Ephesians 2:10) it can be easy to fall into the trap that since we still look broken, cracked, and incomplete then we aren’t being sculpted at all.  We try to convince each other we are a completed work, but the fact that we are being refined is obvious.  God knows exactly what he is making in us and the beautiful thing is that he already sees us as such. There are times that we may get impatient or frustrated that God didn’t make us perfect at the moment of salvation in a quick strike to marble. We can be comforted in knowing that we are not alone in the waiting and that we are loved and held by the Lord during it.  

I sometimes wish that someone would pull me aside every single day and remind me flatly to wait patiently for the Lord, removing my need to try to seem perfect.  So, if you are like me in this I have a parting word for you and I both:

You cannot make yourself righteous. You also don’t have to.  You are broken, you are loved, you are being made new.


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Learning to Listen by Catherine Hair

The other week I was talking to a friend, who, in an attempt to lovingly confront me, ended up hurting my feelings. That was not her intention, but I took her words and ran with them. I couldn’t fall asleep that night because I kept replaying our conversation over in my mind; reading into what she had said. I kept telling myself that she was right, that I was incapable of change, and that I’m always going to be seen in a certain light. Like everyone, I have a broken past, and the words this person spoke brought up emotions and memories tied to them. None of it was with ill intentions, but my mind twisted the conversation. And it had me thinking, “how could one comment trick me into believing that I am going to be stuck like this forever?” This person never said that I’m incapable of change, and she never said that I’m forever broken, but due to my own insecurities that is what I heard. And I spiraled. I cried in my car to a friend, explaining to her that I’m never going to change, that I’m messed up and broken, and that’s all I’m going to be. And as I was sitting there crying, I realized the shame in all of this. Shame from my past, shame from someone speaking into it, and shame from believing that it’s true. And once I realized that everything I’ve been telling myself was from a place of shame, I then realized that the Lord never speaks to us from a place of shame.

Shame can be a pretty intangible word, but I like the way Brené Brown defines it. She says shame is “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”

And when I compare the way shame speaks to me and how it makes me feel to the way the Lord speaks to me and how He makes me feel, I realize the lies within shame.

Shame tells me I’m incapable of change.

The Lord tells me, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Shame tells me I’m unworthy of love.

The Lord tells me, “anything in all creation will not be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Shame tells me I’m weak.

The Lord tells me, “in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Shame tells me I will never amount to anything.

The Lord tells me, “we are [His] handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which [He] prepared in advance for us to do.”

Each of the shame sentences felt way more familiar than any of the truth that comes after it. And it isn’t because I don’t want to believe the things that the Lord says about me, it’s because I don’t know how to decipher who’s saying what. In order to know God’s voice I have to be familiar with Him and recently, I haven’t been. And out of all the shame that I’ve been experiencing, the fact that I can’t decipher which thoughts are lies and which are from God is by far the most shameful. I allowed myself to spiral because I couldn’t recognize that the things I was telling myself were lies.

The only way I’m ever going to stop believing the lies, is to know the One who is truth. And I can’t know God without spending time with Him. As badly as I want to believe what the Lord is saying about me, I have to be able to know what his voice sounds like.

So now, instead of letting myself slip into a fun little cycle of self deprecation, I’m choosing to hear God’s voice above the others. I’m choosing to think His thoughts above my own. I can spend all day telling myself I’m a mess-up or a mistake, but that’s never going to change things. When I can hear God saying “Cat, you messed up, but you are not a mess-up. You made mistakes, but you are not a mistake” that’s when I’m capable of change. Anything that isn’t coming from a place of love is not from God. God does not condemn, shame condemns. And the Lord says that I am free from all shame and condemnation.

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