Behold: The Word

Years ago coffee percolated through a contraption that took time and effort. I remember my grandma pouring water in the bottom half of her aluminum coffee pot then putting in a pole-like-contraption topped with a basket, into which she measured out coffee grounds — usually from a red Folgers can. She’d put on the lid and turn up the heat. It took several minutes for the water to boil and start flooding its way up the pole. But eventually, we could see brown liquid splashing against the clear knob in the lid. When the percolating finished, Grandma would fish out that basket-on-a-pole and pour herself a hot cup of coffee. At last.

I feel like this is what I’ve been doing for the last four years, slowly percolating on the little word behold. It’s not a word I paid much attention to in my life. In fact, except for Christmas songs and a few phrases, like “lo and behold” or “a sight to behold,” there just wasn’t a lot of beholding happening around me. That is until 2017 when I read an Advent series about what it means to behold

I invite you to percolate on this word with me as we pause in the midst of busyness this Advent season to behold our Savior.

Behold: A Word With a History

The modern definition of behold is “to perceive through sight; to see; to gaze upon,” which stays pretty true to the Hebrew and Greek words used in Scripture for behold. What’s interesting, however, is that most modern Bible translations either completely drop the word, behold, or substitute it for something else — like remember (Matthew 28:20, NRSV) or here am I (Isaiah 6:8, KJV). When I search the NIV for behold, there is ONE use (Numbers 24:17), compared to the King James Version, which has 1,298. So, I’m grateful for the English Standard Version because it has modern language and the word behold  — at 1,069 uses. 

Maggie Ross in her book, Silence, describes behold as a liminal word, one whose meaning is barely perceptible and creates a threshold where paradox thrives. As such, behold can infer that in order for a reader to grasp, she must first ungrasp (p.129). I love this because so much of what Jesus calls us to as believers is to let go — of assumptions, of impure motives, of unhealthy habits, and of preconceived ideas — because He wants to do something new (Isaiah 43:18–19).

Behold signals us, as readers, to recognize when God is calling us to see something special. Behold heralds newness and importance. 

O, come let us behold…God’s Word.

Behold: A Word in God’s Word

God has called us to behold since the very beginning:

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Genesis 1:31, ESV

When we read this verse, behold nearly trips us up. The flow feels interrupted — and that’s the point! Behold calls for a pause so we can ready ourselves for what God has next. So, as we slow down at the conclusion of this creation story, we see with awakened senses that after creating humans, God stops to admire His handiwork and announces, “behold, this is very good” (emphasis and additions mine). God’s spoken word has brought into existence everything in creation, and we’re meant to know, without a doubt, it is good. 

Consistently, the idea of God’s word holds a place of utmost authority and esteem and is often announced with behold. As you read each of these verses, allow behold to grab your attention to see what God’s word is saying or doing:

  • “There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:9, ESV
  • “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Jeremiah 1:9, ESV
  • “‘Behold,’ they say to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!’” Jeremiah 17:15, ESV
  • “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’” Amos 8:11, ESV
  • “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:38, ESV
  • “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Revelation 21:5, ESV

Beholding becomes our means of percolation. It gives us pause to see how the word of the Lord encourages and restores a faithful prophet and how God conveys His word to another. It enables us to hear the desperation in the voices of God’s people who are missing His word and the conviction of God as He doles out the consequences to those same faithless people. It allows us to hear with awe and wonder the voice of our Sovereign God announcing that He is doing something new, that His words are trustworthy and true.

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

And, behold opens our eyes to the heart of an obedient servant, the mother of Jesus, who trusts God’s word above everything else. The way God employs this ancient verb sheds light on complex ideas, as well as passages that have become familiar — like the story of Mary’s annunciation. We’ve read or heard the Christmas story in Luke so many times that it’s easy to miss its depths, but when we pause — behold! — to see Mary, an unwed teenage girl, say YES to the God she loves without hesitation, we recognize the many excuses she laid down in order to trust His word.

The Drought and the Word

Behold, one of many threads woven throughout God’s Word, draws attention to the word of God and pulls God’s story together — from beginning to end. For instance, that famine of God’s word, predicted through Amos (8:11), stretched on for 400+ years. No one — not a single person — heard from God for four centuries. Then, God breaks-in — at just the right time — with His word, speaking first to Zechariah (Luke 1:8-23) then to Mary. The famine is over. Behold, God is speaking! The feast of hearing from God begins!

Lauren Daigle’s song, “Light of the World,” opens our Behold! playlist for lots of reasons, but here’s one, tucked into her lyrics. Do you find the allusion to Amos 8:11 and its source of deliverance?

The drought breaks with the tears of a mother
A baby’s cry is the sound of love
Come down, come down, Emmanuel

Oh, He is the song for the suffering
He is Messiah, the Prince of Peace has come
He has come, Emmanuel

God’s Word reveals His words, threading their way from the old covenant into the new. Through His Son, perfectly defined by John as the Word (John 1), God keeps His promise of a Savior. He holds true to His word and sends the Messiah — the Deliverer for all the world. 

The story of Jesus coming to the earth as a tiny baby is at risk of being too familiar, too recognizable to capture our reverence and awe — unless we pause to behold just how miraculous and perfect and unbelievable it all is. When we behold, we can ungrasp what we think we know, opening ourselves to all the new that God has for us.

Behold, the Word became flesh. For all the world. For you and for me. 

  • Here’s a great playlist to help you Behold Jesus more this Advent as we seek to pause and percolate in His presence more than stress over all the things we still need to do or grieve the losses of the past year(s). The Word of God came for us! In Him is all we need.
  • Using a journal helps us to sit with hard ideas and emotions and bring them before the Lord Jesus — all of which helps us be made whole in Him. Try spending a minute today making a list of what keeps you from beholding Jesus in this Advent season. What blocks your view of Him? Once identified, ask Him to help you remove that obstacle so you can see Him first and most!

Featured Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

True Belonging: Anchor

When I write a blog series, I work up a general outline before I launch into the actual writing of it. And, so far, each series has turned into a reflection of the spiritual journey God has me on at the time. So, as I’ve wondered — at first in my head, then here on the blog — about belonging, God has revealed more than a few significant truths in these last couple of months. But maybe the strongest anchor for my soul has been the wisdom of Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 

  • I belong to Jesus because I was given to Him — in love, for love
  • I am a treasured gift of the Father’s, and He’s given me the holy gifts of His Son and Word
  • I’ve been given God’s name, which means I’m covered by His protection and power
  • I don’t belong to the world — a truth I needed to be reminded of
  • To be one in Christ requires that I abide in Him, and when I abide in Him, I am better able to be one with other believers — and those are Jesus’ greatest desires for me
  • This life isn’t about me but God — all I say and do should be for His glory

I really don’t have a way to adequately describe how little I understood all these truths until I began investigating Scripture, my own heart, and the words of trusted believers who have gone before me. I stand amazed at the way a surrendered heart can break open to all that God has. And, lest you leave yourself out of all these truths, don’t. Jesus’ prayer and all these bits of wisdom are for each of us. Even you.

John 17:25-26

Which brings us to our final stanza in this great prayer of Jesus — the final words of His final prayer.

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

John 17:25-26, NLT

Like the passage before it, we sense a pulling together of all the themes that have already unfolded, emphasizing every message one last time. For instance, the world. In the busy and the brokenness, in the disheartening and the disappointing, Jesus wants us to remember — we don’t belong to the world but to Him. The world won’t make sense because the world doesn’t know the Father. So when we get caught up in the whirlwinds of the world’s creation, we can push pause and remember. 

Jesus knows God. We know Jesus. We belong to Jesus.

I love that Jesus speaks again of the Already and Not Yet — He has already revealed God to us. When we pause and pay attention, we see Him in the intricacies of the leaf that has lived its full life, its glorious green color giving way to vivid yellow then to lifeless brown. We hear Him in the words delivered by a friend who courageously speaks a word of life over us. We smell the goodness of God in the air of a fall morning full of mum’s fragrance and dew’s droplets. 

But then Jesus says, “and I will continue to do so.” The Not Yet — the promise of His presence dwelling within us through the person of the Holy Spirit who will evermore speak, convict, and pray. What a beautiful promise to cling to as we move into the holiday season and all it holds. Jesus will continue to reveal the Father to us. Let’s keep looking for Him!

Then is a transitional word that connects what came before it to these realities: We know God sent Jesus. We know Jesus is with us. So, when we live out of all this knowing, then we’ll also remember that God’s love for Jesus will be in us. This love — it’s key. When we abide in God’s love, we rest. We feel secure. We are able to share that love with others. This is the perfect picture of True Belonging.

But Jesus’ final words, “and I will be in them,” say it all. Continuously. Twenty-four-seven. Wherever we go, Jesus will be with us. For those of us searching for True Belonging, there are no better parting words to hear. He will be with us. In us. Always. Forever. If we anchor ourselves in that truth, we remain secure in our belonging.

Photo by Matthew Wheeler on Unsplash

Joy, Belong, Dwell

We began this series with a quote from Henri Nouwen, and when I went back to reread it, I saw it with new eyes: 

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death can take God away from us.”

Henri Nouwen

My word for 2020 has been joy, and somehow in my desire to discover joy’s depths and truths, I uncovered my own need for belonging. This quote beautifully wove the two together, helping me understand that to find true joy I must first grab hold of the One to whom I most truly belong. And, in this most recent reading, I saw a word I hadn’t noticed before: refuge. In the perfect, miraculous way that only God can, He went before me and wove in a third idea, that of dwelling in Him. When we say God is our refuge, we’re claiming Him as our safe place, a good place in which to abide or dwell. Dwell. The word I’d already felt could be my word for 2022. Well, now I know it is so. And how AMAZING to see the way dwell wrapped itself in where I’ve been and becomes the vehicle for where God is taking me.

One More Pomegranate

While I can’t promise it’ll be the last you’ll hear from me on the only fruit I’ve ever connected with spiritually, this is the final pondering of the pomegranate for now. 

My fascination with this fruit began with a book Sue Monk Kidd wrote with her daughter, Ann, about their literal journeys through Greece, France, and other cool places, but really the book was a moving intersection of both their searches for belonging — in the world, in their relationships, in their careers, and in their faith. 

The bond of mother and daughter strengthened as they explored historical sites, and those places, symbolized by the pomegranate, kindled in them an awareness of who they really were and who they were created to be. Their stories resonated within me, so as I finished the book, I decided to adopt the pomegranate as the symbol for my writing and ministry. Even if I didn’t fully understand why at the time.

Now that I’ve researched this particular fruit’s role in history and in my own life, the pomegranate is coming to mean to me the pursuit of purpose and place, which is what my writing does. Writing allows me to dig deeper within myself, God’s Word, and this spiritual journey I’m on — with the desire to grow deeper with God and the hope of helping others on their journeys. So, pomegranates. 

This week I picked up that copy of Sue and Ann’s book, Traveling with Pomegranates, and flipped to one of my marked pages to find this perfect portion of David Whyte’s poem:

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all other worlds
except the one to which you belong. 

Jesus died for each one of us so that we could experience such freedom. Free from the entanglement of sin and all its nearest relatives (bad habits, spiraling thoughts, addictions, negativity, comparison, pride, and you fill in the blank). Free from our own doubts and fears — because Jesus claims us as His own. Jesus freely gives us the love of the Father. And with that love, we’re better able to find where we most belong and to share that love with the world, the world that is so lost. So confused. And more hungry for this kind of love than we, or they, realize.  Friend,

You belong to Jesus. 
You belong to this grand fellowship of believers.
You. Belong.

So, anchor yourself to Him.

Now, who can you reach out to in order to be the one who perpetuates this gift of True Belonging?

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  • In your journal, list ways you feel adrift. Then dig a little deeper — to what or whom are you anchored? Finally, list one way in the coming days and weeks you can choose to anchor yourself to Jesus.
  • Our Belonging playlist has faithfully played words of truth and hope over us for a few months now. What song meant the most to you on this journey? In what ways have you begun to embrace your True Belonging to Jesus? (comment below!)
  • Thank you for journeying with me through this search for True Belonging! Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so I pray that this final post of this series launches you into this holy season of anticipation well — because you KNOW that you belong to Jesus! We’ll be here again next week as we seek to BEHOLD our Savior.

Featured photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

True Belonging: Glory

With Thanksgiving before us, it’s natural to look ahead to Christmas. If we’re intentional, these next weeks can become for us a season of gratitude for all we’ve been given, including Christ the King. John, the beloved disciple, had a way with words, describing this gift, Jesus, with poetic power:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”

John 1:1-4, NIV

There’s no brilliantly composed Christmas story in the Book of John. Instead, he takes us back to the beginning. The very, very beginning. Then leaps ahead to Jesus among us:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:14, NIV

And, when we take another leap with John, landing in Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17, we discover that we — you and me — have been given this glory, God’s glory. Here’s today’s passage:

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!”

John 17:22-24, NLT
Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

It does feel like a bit of a leap — us having been given God’s glory — but the beauty of true belonging is that we get to share in the goodness and fullness of God. Even His glory.

Glory makes its final appearance in this passage and draws our eye toward the heart of this prayer, and it seems to come in two parts, the Already and the Not Yet. 

Glory in the Already

So, what is this glory that God offers us now, in the Already? It helps to recognize that glory is multi-faceted and is used to indicate either God’s presence, brightness associated with God’s presence, or worth and praise and honor. For example:

  • God’s presence, His glory, filled the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34)
  • God’s glory shone as a brilliant light in Jesus at Transfiguration (Luke 9:29-32)
  • And, in our verse (22) today, “the glory You gave me,” is based on the Hebrew definition, referring to the good opinion, the honor and worth God gave Jesus. The Harper’s Bible Commentary takes it a step further, explaining that in John’s gospel, glorification means revelation. “Jesus glorifies God in revealing Him to humanity, in His ministry and in His death and exaltation” (pp.1070-1). 

As we think about John 17, we can see that the more we know Jesus — not just informationally, but in a personal way — the more we’re made holy in Him (v.19) and are able to attain this glory. Gary Burge explains that this kind of glory happens in our lives when we are made one in Christ (v.22), made joyful in the midst of suffering (v.13), and made holy like God (v.17-19). He goes on to say this is “not just a superior moral effort but something deriving from the holiness of Christ, in whose presence we are to live” (The Baker Illustrated Bible, p.1154). 

Jesus clearly states that He has already given us this glory, so living in the good opinion of God for the honor of God is ours to do when we live in and for Christ. I love this because I think I have only ever associated glory as something just for God, not me. I’ve mistaken God’s glory for the vainglory of the world. Both desire good opinions — but from different sources and for different purposes. 

My own pride in writing battles the temptation of vainglory when I desire to succeed in my writing for my own glory, for the honors and praises given by people. What I long for most, however, is God’s glory, so daily I place myself in God’s presence in order for my heart to desire what He desires. I pray that by recognizing the emptiness of vainglory that I’ll only ever write for God’s glory and the good of others. 

I think because I have this inner battle, I am most astounded by Jesus’ gift of glory. In the now. In the Already. He has GIVEN US HIS GLORY. Not for our praise and honor but for God’s. This is a truth we can humbly rest in and live by. 

Glory in the Not Yet

Implied in verse 24 is that someday we’ll be with Jesus where He is — and when we get to heaven, to eternity with Him, there will be another level of glory. I picture it as the purest kind of glory where we forever live in the brightness of God’s presence without fear of death and without need for sunglasses or clefts in a mountain (Exodus 33:22). Instead, the bright Shekinah Glory of God’s presence will light every moment in eternity (Revelation 22:5). 

Photo by Evi T. on Unsplash

Did you notice Jesus also says we’ll be able to see this glory? Here on earth, this kind of intangible glory is not visible, so what will we see in heaven? Some scholars think this glory is God’s presence — so, we’d see God. Others suggest it could be the bright light of His presence. I’m thinking, yes! Yes, the glory we’ll see in heaven is all of that!

Before we move from this idea of glory, let’s just sit in these truths a minute. Think of the angels who came to shepherds in heavenly glory to announce the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:8-10). Think of Jesus, who at age 33, prayed this incredible prayer over His disciples (John 17) — He who came to earth without visible glory so He could give that glory to His followers. Glory that is God’s good opinion and His presence. All of that — it’s been given to us.

In Love

Our passage also carries with it a heralding cry of love. God loves us as much as He loves Jesus (v.23). We, who are not messiahs and certainly not perfect nor divine, are loved as much as the One who is all those things. We’re meant to accept that love, friends. 

And on the chance we needed clarification about why Jesus would ask all this and His Father would say yes, verse 24 explains it’s because God loves Jesus — and has since before the world began. All of this uniting and giving and glorifying is done out of love, with love, and for love. 

My own experiences with the person of Jesus has come with a recent exhortation to root myself in His love — to stop rooting myself in false beliefs, distractions, and things like fear. As I’ve explored this idea of God’s love, I have been learning that everything He does always comes from a heart of love. When we live rooted in His love, that love will become our source, our motivation, and our truest place of belonging. And in the process, we’ll realize that we do, indeed, have His glory.

I’d love to end with one more quote — this one from Matthew Henry in his commentary on this John 17 chapter as relates to the glory we’ll see in heaven. “We shall not only be in the same happy place where Christ is, but the happiness of the place will consist in his presence; this is the fulness of its joy.” 

Love. Glory. Joy. It’s starting to sound a lot like Christmas!

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  • Today start a list of things and people you are grateful for in your journal. I pray rich blessings on your Thanksgiving — wherever you are, whoever you’re missing, and whatever is on your table. We have a Savior who gives us His love and glory — that is much to be thankful for, indeed.
  • Our Belonging playlist includes a song by Selah called “I Belong to Jesus” that beautifully captures the Not Yet part of glory:

I belong to Jesus
Oh, hasten now the day
That I behold Your glory
And look upon Your face

Robed in holy splendor
Like thunder we will stand
The voice of every saint declaring
Worthy is the Lamb

Featured photo by Sebastien Gabriel on Unsplash

True Belonging: Friends

Our first move as a young family came in 1999, and when we were able to buy our first home computer, it meant I had a way to stay connected with all the people I’d left behind in Houston. I’d get excited to see my inbox full of waiting messages until I realized that all the FWDs were not “letters” from my friends and family but a quick forwarding of something they’d read and shared. I learned to quickly skim titles for repeating stories and hit delete.

But, there was one email that floated about in those days that has stuck with me through the years. Ironically, I quickly dismissed the ideas in “Friends for a Season, Reason, and a Lifetime”  as not applicable to me because I naively thought all my friends were for a lifetime.

Then we moved again a year later, and the further I got from my hometown and high school, the more distance I had from college and first job friends, the more I began to realize the truth of that article. 

Some friends are for a season — for the thirteen months we lived across the street from each other, for the two years we studied for seminary together, for the years we cheered or sang or worked together — the friendship was good and right and treasured. But then the season’s over…

Some friends are for a reason — for the friend who helped me navigate the stress and volume of work of being a high school English teacher, for the friend who made living in a sorority house fun, for the friend who challenged me to think about my faith more deeply in that lonely year — the friendship was a gift from God and appreciated. But then the reason moved on and so did we…

Some friends are for a lifetime — these are few and far between because, simply, it takes two. When miles and busyness separate us, to remain close we must both remain faithful. And that is rare and hard, and when we find that person, it’s oh-so worth it. 

I’ve thought about this article a few times this past year in the wake of our most recent move, wondering which friends would fall into which category, yet trying hard not to put much thought or worry into it. Because I’ve learned the truths of that email. 

In the search for true belonging, I acknowledge that friendships are necessary and desired — even if they aren’t all friends for a lifetime. Instead of lamenting the losses of friendships past, I am learning to savor the memories and look forward to new ones.

Photo by Laura Louise Grimsley on Unsplash

How Jesus Did Friends

One particular friend and I investigated friendships a few years ago to create an entire women’s retreat around what we learned from Jesus. Seeing how Jesus handled and leaned into friendships became another benchmark in my understanding of how to look at, handle, and hold friendships.

First, Jesus had friends in the masses. For instance, He had the seventy-two that He sent out (Luke 10:1-23). These were people He gave the message He’d been sent to deliver and the power He’d been given to cast out evil spirits and heal broken bodies. He trained them, loved them, and trusted them enough to give them a most special assignment. Yet we don’t know their names. Any conversations had with the seventy-two are generalized and collective. These friendships have purpose and are valued, but these are not the friends we pull aside to share our deepest, darkest secrets. There’s just not that kind of intimacy with large groups. 

Second, Jesus had his beloved Twelve — THE TWELVE. We can even start to name them but get lost somewhere in the Bartholomews and Thadeuses. These Twelve Apostles were hand-picked, chosen, and called by Jesus Himself. He knew them well and shared much with them. He spent quality time with them and made sure they were as ready as possible with His message and mission before He left. And despite all the time Jesus spent with His Twelve, He didn’t share much with the group about Himself — His inner life. He loved them dearly, but He wasn’t vulnerable with the Twelve. Likewise, we’ll have close friends that we love hanging out with and even share some things with. But we won’t reveal all.

Third, Jesus had The Three. You can name them. Peter. James. John. You know them best of all the Twelve, and it’s through their stories that we get to know Jesus the most intimately — because He was most intimate with them. He invited them to the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–3), to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49–56), and to pray with Him the night of His betrayal (Matthew 26:36–38). If friendships were kept in concentric circles, these three would be Jesus’ inner circle. These three men saw Jesus at His best and lowest. They were the most poured into and prepared for the work to come. And they each played an instrumental role in the building of the Church. We, too, can have an inner circle — one, two, or three with whom we spend the most time, energy, and heart. They hear all and love us anyway.

Jesus demonstrated true belonging. Yes, to Him! But also with the people around us. The lesson I most needed to learn in my 30s was that I couldn’t be a “best” friend to every person I liked. It’s just not humanly possible. And I was wearing myself out trying. 

How I’m Doing Friends

Over the years, I’ve been learning to welcome and treasure friendships as they come and go. Yes, grieving at the end of special ones — to death, to moves, to change — but also celebrating the time and treasured memories we shared. 

I’ve also learned that not everyone needs to know my every thought and feeling. I need to take Jesus’ lead and be discerning with whom I divulge my deeper places — and it needs to be mutually agreed upon.

Perhaps most recently, I’ve appreciated the friends who reciprocate, the ones who reach out to me as often as I do to them. And when friends don’t consistently contact, I refuse to take it personally or get offended because I’ve learned most women don’t do that on purpose (although it’s good to be aware of those who do). And, with my friendship “circle” perspective, I acknowledge not all are in the inner circle, which grants me much needed discernment.

These friendship lessons have become valuable to me in this season of searching for new friends and gracefully allowing those “friends for a reason” and “friends for a season” to gently move into another space of heart and mind. Always loving them. Always treasuring them. But being okay with looking forward instead of backwards. And, as a Two on the Enneagram — one who deeply values relationships — this is soul work. It requires a connection with the Spirit, a healthy dose of humility within myself, and a trust in the Father I love so much.

Looking Way Ahead

And then there’s the comfort of thinking about heaven — where everyone who ever lived and loved Jesus will gather. A place of safety. A place without pain or deception or selfishness. A place of true love. A place of true belonging. For this Two, eternity looks like relationship heaven! Haha.

It is with utmost pleasure that I share with you that one of the symbolic meanings of the pomegranate is eternal life! (I sincerely hope you’re smiling and not eye-rolling). 🙂 So, not only will I be feasting with all my friends at the heavenly banquet table, but I’ll be reaching for the pomegranates that eternally flourish in every season (Revelation 22:2). 

Art captures so much beauty and truth, and it often employs visual symbolism to communicate deeper meanings — like eternal life. Here are exhibits A and B for your viewing pleasure:

Exhibit A:
In 1483, Italian artist, Sandro Botticelli, painted “Madonna of the Magnificat.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, spoke great words of praise, entitled “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55), during her stay at her cousin Elizabeth’s home early in her pregnancy with Lord Jesus. Botticelli’s painting portrays Mary holding a pomegranate in her left hand, pointing us to the eternal life gifted to us through Jesus, the One whom Mary brought into the world and watched leave it. Just as she held the pomegranate, Mary also held onto the hope of seeing her child and Lord again in eternity.

Sandro Botticelli’s “Madonna of the Magnificat”

Exhibit B:
In 1475 AD, Domenico Ghirlandaio painted this fresco titled, “Announcement of Death to St. Fina.” Notice the pomegranates on the table above the dying girl’s head. Serafina, as the girl was known, died at just 15 after suffering a paralyzing illness and losing both parents. She knew true suffering, and the pomegranates in this painting point to the truth that she would soon know new life.

Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Announcement of Death to St. Fina”

Friendships can be the beautiful places of earthly belonging our hearts desire, but let’s keep Jesus as our truest desire because Jesus at the center of a friendship is the best way to truly belong.

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  • In your journal, take some time to process with Jesus where you are in your friendships. Identify one next step you can take to find or make one friendship truer, deeper, more centered on Christ.
  • I added a new song to our Belonging playlist because — well, you’ll hear. It’s perfect for our series. It’s “Just As I Am” by Taylor Tripodi. Taylor is new to me — a young worship leader from Ohio — but this song absolutely captures so much of our journey together. Listen. You’ll thank me later. 😉
  • Only two weeks left in our series, then we’re going to behold Advent!! Think about a friend you can invite along for the four weeks of Advent. Then invite them!

Featured photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

True Belonging: Abide

Like every good Methodist teen in the 80s, I attended MYF every Wednesday night. After a hamburger dinner in Fellowship Hall, we’d traipse upstairs to our set apart room full of couches and quippy posters with snow-capped mountains and settle in with acoustic worship. One particular song that I recall with great fondness, probably because of its connection to winter retreat campfires, is “Pass It On.”

It only takes a spark
To get a fire going.
And soon all those around 
Can warm up in its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it.
You spread His love to everyone,
You want to pass it on.

Every once in a while this song’s lyrics pop in my head unannounced — like this week as I read our passage from John 17.

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

John 17:20-21, NLT

A few weeks ago, we learned from verse eight that Jesus had passed on the message God had given Him to these disciples. And in today’s verses,, we hear Jesus pray that this message would continue into future generations. We know His prayer was answered because, over 2000 years later, you and I know the good news — in every generation, there have been believers who have been faithful to this call of sharing God’s message. A perpetuating passing on.

Photo by Gleb Lukomets on Unsplash

Future Generations

We need not move too quickly past verse twenty because this one line in all of Jesus’ prayer– that God’s message is not just for His disciples but for ALL believers ever — changes the audience and expands the purpose. Like a grandfather clause, this verse now includes us in everything Jesus has prayed. In other words, When He reveals that it’s possible for future generations to become believers through the disciples’ message, I recognize these disciples have been delivering God’s message. A message like this one:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16, NIV

Despite my faithful attendance to church, somehow I missed this special address: John 3:16. One Sunday afternoon, my dad had the Oilers game on, and I saw a lady in the crowd waving a poster that simply said, John 3:16. I recognized it as a verse reference, but I couldn’t recall what the verse was, though I sensed I probably should. Not wanting to ask aloud — shame is a powerful killer of curiosity — I finally went to my room and looked it up in my Bible. 

I immediately recognized the verse and, maybe for the first time, grasped how it captures so much of the gospel message. That day, a faithful Jesus follower at a football game passed on God’s message. Her willingness to pass on such an important message in front of so many people impacted and impressed me. 

All Be One

Up to this point, unless you read ahead, it hasn’t been clear that this prayer was for anyone else but the disciples in Jesus’ presence. But once we read verse twenty, the pronouns that follow expand to include all believers in Jesus. The “they” Jesus prays for in verse twenty-one suddenly includes me. And you.

In a cultural climate that feeds off divisiveness — in the world and in the Church — His prayer takes my breath. “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one.” We had our first hint of this unity theme in verse eleven, “that they will be united just as we are,” but Jesus’ re-emphasis here makes me pause. He is praying for ALL believers to be ONE in the same way He and God and the Holy Spirit are ONE. 

I’ve heard this referred to as Trinity Unity. God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each unique but together they are one entity. Yes, this is simplified Trinity Theology, and, no, I’m not going any further — because the point here is they are one. Not a facade of acting like they are similar, not a broken display of what unity could be, not a “do as we say, not as we do” type of leadership, but a complete, whole, undivided, unified oneness.

And that’s what Jesus prayed for us, His Church.

Photo by Noorulabdeen Ahmad on Unsplash

Talk about a picture of perfect, true belonging. Can you allow yourself to imagine what this would look like? I’ll try:

  • Local churches full of people who genuinely love one another, who can love beyond sin, political alignment, social standing, gender, race, Scripture interpretation, theology, doctrine………
  • The worldwide Church loving one another in all the same ways, including beyond denominational divides.
  • All believers everywhere loving everyone in the world with the love of Christ in all the same ways, including beyond differing spiritual outlooks, opinions, and practices.

And, I’m absolutely sure that I am unable to think or imagine what true unity among believers looks like (ref: Ephesians 3:20). But it sure is fun to try. And hope.

In Us

Verse twenty-one continues the unity theme with the use of the little word, in. God is in Jesus. Jesus is in God. And, Jesus’ prayer is that we, believers, would be in them. In the Trinity that is so perfectly one. Not in the world. Not in ourselves. But in them.

This is not the first time Jesus has taught this concept of being in Him. Just a bit earlier in this Final Discourse, Jesus used the grapevine as a metaphor to demonstrate this kind of “being in us.”

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:4-5, NIV

There is so much we could take from these two verses, but for today’s purposes notice the word Jesus used to describe this “being in Him.” Abide.

The picture He used to paint this idea of abiding is that of the branch in the grapevine. Whether we have green thumbs or not, we can imagine a branch, any branch of any tree or vine. It doesn’t live without being attached to the vine or trunk. All its nutrients and water — its very life — derive from that vine, that trunk. So the branch must remain attached to, or in, the vine. 

We are the same. Jesus calls Himself the vine and names us the branches. We have to remain attached to Him — not some of the time, not just when we think about it, not just on Sunday mornings, but always. Because if we don’t, we wither. We die.

The Why

Jesus certainly wants us to abide in Him and to be united together as a body of believers because it’s for our good. But He drops the big why at the end of verse twenty-one — “so that the world will believe you sent me.” 

Friends, if we fail to abide in Jesus, drawing in the Living Water and Bread of Life only He can provide, we are not sustainable. Individually or corporately. If we fail to be united by the person of Jesus, we will not pass on the gospel message — we’ll be too focused on our internal struggles and divisions. We’ll allow differences in the world to define and deter our message-sending call. 

Jesus prayed this prayer in love and with great hope and expectancy of our truly belonging to Him. If we’ll abide in Him, His love will flow through us and out to all the others around us — believers and non-believers. Then, we’ll be faithful message deliverers, and we just never know who we’ll impact. It only takes a spark.

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  • In your journal this week, make two lists.
    • One — all the things that divide you from other people (in your family, neighborhood, city, nation, church, office, etc)
    • Two — all the ways Jesus unifies.
    • Then, write a prayer to Jesus asking for His Spirit’s help to keep you IN Him, sitting for at least five minutes in silence, just abiding (being) with Him. If your mind wanders, just call His name and refocus on Him. Abide.
  • Our Belonging playlist ends with a song by Orphan No More Co called “Grateful Responses.” The chorus captures the heart of what Jesus’ prayer for unity, for abiding is calling us to. Listening to a song like this one as a prayer often helps me settle my thoughts before going into some silent, abiding time with Jesus. I invite you to try it. Here’s the chorus:

I wanna walk like You
Give thanks like You
Lay down my life for someone else like You
Let my heart abide in the heart of Christ
Lead me in Your love, Lord lead me into love

Feature photo by Kris Gerhard on Unsplash.

True Belonging: Self

Last week we used reverse thinking, determining that we don’t belong to the world, to help us understand where we do belong — with Jesus. This week we’ll implement a similar strategy as we seek to find ways to live in the world, but not of it, as those who belong to Jesus.

We’ll start by looking at the things we do in our attempts to belong in the world. I’ll start a list, and you tell me what else can be added:

  • ____ like everyone else
    • Dress
    • Eat
    • Drink
    • Speak
    • Drive
    • Read
    • Watch
  • Hide our true selves
  • Avoid vulnerability (which might be the same as above)
  • Perform
  • Pretend
  • Over-commit
  • Make excuses (for ourselves and those to whom we want to belong)
  • Allow others to control us
  • Overlook others’ bad habits or narcissistic tendencies

When we’re living “of the world,” we put a lot of effort into achieving a sense of belonging. And most of it is false, not of our true selves. I’ve been learning over the last several years that as kids we subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) learned to hide our true selves. Maybe because we had to protect ourselves from very real harm. Or maybe because someone told us we weren’t good enough. Or maybe we just wanted to fit-in so much that we adapted to what and who were around us.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

While hiding our true selves might have aided us in childhood, the false self doesn’t help us in adulthood. But because we’re accustomed to the person we’ve become, we don’t do the inner work of breaking through the walls to rediscover and release our true selves, that self God always intended us to be.

Ever wonder why midlife crises seem to be so real and not just urban legend? It’s been explained to me that it’s because all those defenses we put up in our younger years quit working, so we’ll either add another layer of defense to mask our insecurities and brokenness (hello, red sports car), or we’ll finally do the deeper work of peeling back the layers to get to our true selves.

The desire to belong is rooted deeply within all of us, but the false self twists it into distorted versions that aren’t true belonging and will do just about anything to achieve it. Just look at the list above! 😉 

The movie Mean Girls keeps coming to mind. I think of Lindsay Lohan’s character who enters the scene living out of her truest self possible — full of love and hope and security that came from living a life that was not “of the world.” But when she steps into public high school, the desire to belong takes over, and all kinds of walls get built, hiding who she really is. As the movie progresses, she lies, manipulates, cheats, and turns her back on true friends in order to fit in with the popular girls. At one point, it hits her that living out of her false self has cost her everything she’d really wanted, and she begins doing the hard, painful work of getting back to her true self.

The movie analogy oversimplifies the process we’re describing here, but it gives us some tangible scenarios to connect to these loftier, spiritual (and psychological) truths.

If we want to find true belonging, we’re going to have to find our true selves.

In my experience, it takes much longer than the last fifteen minutes of a movie, or even the reading of one blog post, to remove all the walls and layers, all the blinders and habits that hide the true self. But it’s worth the effort.

A really great first step is to understand how differently the true and false selves function. I found a great article that contrasts them. I’ll list a few here to cheer us onward toward true-self seeking:

The true self is who you are with God.
The false self is who you are trying to become with people.

The true self is timeless.
The false self is always altering.

The true self is in a state of rest.
The false self is restlessly needing to prove and protect itself.

The true self is content.
The false self is insatiable.

The true self doesn’t need to perform.
The false self needs to be impressive.

The true self is influenced by God’s heart.
The false self is influenced by social pressures.

The next step is spending quality with God in order to get really self-aware. I’ve found the Enneagram to be one of the most helpful tools in aiding my effort to learn more about my true self, as have conversations with licensed professionals and wise clergy. Add to all that time in Scripture, journaling, and getting into God’s presence so I can hear from him, and I’m much further down the path of uncovering my true self than I was ten years ago.

Most recently I’ve begun having spiritual responses to Scriptures that speak to the idea of dying to self. Jesus spoke of a seed that dies as it falls from the wheat, lifeless until it works down into the soil where it sprouts and new life is begun, more seeds are grown (John 12:24). Paul takes this same idea of dying to the old self and coming to life with Christ to our new self (2 Corinthians 5:17 is one).

I’ve been searching for the just right passage among all the options in the New Testament to share here, and I couldn’t believe it when I read Galatians 2:19-21 in The Message. So, here it is:

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Step one — stop trying to live life by the world’s rules
Step two — Christ’s life shows us how to be God’s woman 😉
Step three — identify yourself completely with Christ
Step four — die with Christ to self, to ego, to needing others’ good opinions
Step five — trust that Christ lives in you
Step six — live by faith in Christ because HE LOVES YOU and gave His life for you

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

Friends, we try so hard, striving to belong, to fit in, to impress — and it’s all just so empty. But guess what gives life, what fills this internal drive to belong? Jesus. 100%, all the time, Jesus.

Don’t hear what is not being said — you are not a bad person. God loves you just as you are. He created you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet in His magnificent, perfect love for you, God desires for you to live your best life, as your best and truest self. 

Yes, it requires sitting in our emotions so we can become spiritually aware. Yes, it means we have to be willing to lay down the masks and peel back the layers, risking vulnerability. Yes, to live life as our true selves means putting all our trust in God, the One who knows us best — the One who has forgiven us and sent His Son to die for us SO THAT WE CAN LIVE. 

And belong.

We don’t have to keep striving and living the twisted version of belonging in the world that the false self tries so hard to attain because we’ve been made free of all of that. By dying to self and laying down the old self. By stepping into the new life Jesus is calling us toward. 

My prayer is that as you leave this space today that you’ll either begin, restart, or continue to find your true self. She’s beautiful. She’s gifted. She’s full of life and hope. She’s not afraid. And she’s discovering her truest place of belonging.

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  • Another story comes to mind — a Greek myth about the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, and her daughter Persephone. In essence, Persephone got abducted by Hades, god of the underworld, because he wanted her as his wife. Demeter fought to get her daughter back and, depending on which version of the story your read, once Zeus stepped in to get her back, Persephone had to choose which world she wanted to belong to. When she ate pomegranate seeds, her fate was decided. She belonged to the underworld. Still her mother wouldn’t be deterred, so a compromise was struck, and Persephone spent two-thirds of the year on earth, one-third in the underworld.
    • Did you see what I did there? I slipped-in the pomegranate! Persephone was caught in this battle of belonging, and it was the pomegranate that helped give her definition. 
    • I’m fascinated to see how the WORLD has leaned into the deeper symbolism of the pomegranate, but in the end, we have to step back and remember who we are in Christ, how we’re shaped by His WORD.  
    • There’s a famous 1921 illustration by Virginia Frances Sterrett capturing the moment that Persephone, at first, refused a pomegranate offered to her in the palace of Hades. It turns out that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Pomegranate Seeds,” also captures the struggle between Proserpina (aka: Persephone) and Pluto (aka: Hades) as Proserpina is tempted by a pomegranate that happens to be the last piece of fruit in all the world — in case you wanted further reading.

Virginia Frances Sterrett | Persephone | Art Deco Illustration
  • If you’re interested in learning more about yourself via the Enneagram, I recommend starting with the book The Road Back to You.*
  • I hope you’ll use your Journal regularly as you embark on this self-awareness journey. What comes out of our heads and onto the paper is often divine inspiration and revelation!
  • And, of course, our Belonging playlist has incredible music to encourage and equip you along the way.
  • Keep saying it, I belong to Jesus.

*this is an affiliate link, which means I’ll receive a bit of compensation

The featured photo is by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash.

True Belonging: World

In the first semester of my freshman year of college, a new, agnostic friend asked why I believed in Jesus. Her question held genuine curiosity, but my response lacked so greatly that I regretted my inability to speak my why, muchless sway her to follow Him. 

That day, my attempt to explain my faith came out as one, feeble word — because. And that frustrated me. Not only was I unable to articulate my reasons for following Jesus, but I was forced to question if I followed Jesus. I’d grown up in a healthy church, so I certainly knew of Him. I even knew stories in the Bible. And for a lot of my growing up years, Jesus and I had spoken daily. But in that season, I’d wandered far from Him and felt the tension of having one foot in faith and the other in the world.

God’s Word for Me

At my lowest point a year later, I grappled with a darkness I’d never known before, and, gratefully, I reached for the right resource, the dusty Bible on my shelf. When I opened it, having no clue where to look nor what I needed, I said a simple prayer — help. And the craziest thing happened. From within the book, a tiny piece of paper fluttered to the floor with the address for Isaiah 41:10. I quickly looked it up, and its words brought tears, not because I felt conviction or regret, but because God’s Word spoke a truth into my heart that I desperately needed. He was with me. He would help me. 

From that moment on my search for truth began in earnest. It was slow going for a few years, ebbing and flowing among the distractions and passions of a 20 year old, but not long after I married, at the ripe old age of 22, I found a church. And my life has never been the same.

I started reading God’s Word with two sets of believers in that church — a Sunday School class who were in the same stage of life and faith as my husband and me, and a group of women who were leap years beyond me in their faith journey. But they came alongside me, training me up in the ways of the Word and the world, which I discovered needed distinction, as well as, definition.

John 17:13-19

This week’s text juxtaposes ‘word’ and ‘world’ to emphasize the bold claim that while Jesus’ followers would be hated by the world, God’s word would make them holy and anchor them in truth. As you read, note how many times ‘world’ is used:

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

John 17:13-19, NLT

Eight times in the NLT ‘world’ makes an appearance in seven short verses — a clue that Jesus is making a significant point we’re meant to grasp:

  1. Jesus is with the disciples in the world.
  2. The world hates the disciples because…
  3. They do not belong to the world…
  4. Just as Jesus does not belong to the world.
  5. Jesus is not asking God to take the disciples out of the world but for God to keep them safe.
  6. The disciples don’t belong to the world any more than Jesus does.
  7. God sent Jesus into the world.
  8. Jesus is sending the disciples (and future believers, see verse 20) into the world.

Not Belonging

At first glance, these prayers of Jesus seem repetitive and obvious. I can picture restless, yet-to-be-clued-in disciples opening an eye to squint at Jesus, wondering why they couldn’t just get on with conquering the Romans, ‘cuz, duh, the world was rotten. The world they lived in held hardships and injustice that they were ready to make right. After all, the Messiah was in their midst.

But, instead, Jesus poured out over them deep, spiritual truths intended to help them make sense of their holy discontent, their feelings of things not being right. Because they weren’t. 

They didn’t belong to the world.

Once the disciples had been given God’s word, which one commentator describes as “the revelation of God as a whole” (Cambridge Bible), they no longer belonged to the world as unbelievers would. Another theologian explains that to receive the word of God is to be hated by the world (Bengel’s Gnomon). 

As a person who has been searching for the meaning and a place of belonging, this antithetical statement of not belonging screams of deeper ideas I don’t fully understand. Yet, the longer I sit with it, the more I sense my mind wrestling with it.

And I begin to see for myself that the word received by a believer brings about an immediate reaction by the world — resistance, antagonism, hatred. God gifts us with Himself, His Son, His Spirit, and His Word, but the world opposes all of it. Hence, the world opposes us. 

We don’t belong to the world.

Into the World

It’s important, I think, for us to push and pull with these ideas until something like comprehension begins to take shape. Because while we don’t belong to the world, we do live in it. And, Jesus sends us out into it.

This prayer, however, proves that Jesus doesn’t send us into the world that hates us without power and protection. His request that God keep the disciples (and us) safe, specifically from evil, reveals His heart for our good. This is no heartless god who throws its followers to wolves, hoping that one might survive long enough to do its bidding. No, this is the God of the Universe, the One of All Power, who surrounds us with His angels (Luke 4:10, Psalm 34:7) and holds us in His victorious hands (Isaiah 41:10). 

Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

And, as often happens with Jesus, the very thing that begets the hatred of the world is what equips and empowers us — God’s word, both the ““the revelation of God as a whole” and His Word. Verse 17 reveals in greater detail what the word of God does within its believers. It makes us holy.

In a remarkable usage of words, John helps us see that the word makes us separate from the world just as the word makes the world hate us, but the word also sets us apart from the world because it makes us holy.

And that’s how we’re sent into the world. Holy. Set apart. Protected. Armed with God’s truth.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes all this possible. Not by our doing. Not by our striving. But by His dying and defeat of death. These disciples (and we) are sent into the world to love people as Jesus would love them (Matthew 22:37-40) and to make disciples who will follow Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20 ). And as we step into the world, it serves us well to know the world will resist God’s word and us. It hated Jesus. It’ll hate us. And that’s why we’ll find ourselves in seasons and places where the opposition will make us acutely aware that we don’t belong to the world.

Unpack This Hot Mess, Shelley

Word. World. Hatred. Holiness. It’s all so jumbled and intermingled that our minds start to numb and our eyes cross. But wait! Sweet sister, this journey of finding belonging is aided by this passage because it helps us understand where we don’t belong — the world.

The world is fallen. Disease and death, hurricanes and heart attacks, earthquakes and other elements of nature wreak havoc on a daily basis.

The world has evil. God’s Word makes it clear that we have an enemy who is always on the prowl, like a lion, ready to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Evil is real. And too often it wins the battles here on earth.

The world is full of broken people. In His infinite wisdom and compassion, God has given us free will. We can choose to follow and love Him, or we can choose to go our own way, giving in to our carnal, sinful selves. And lots of people do, making life here on earth violent and tragic.

The world — full of broken people and an enemy who lies like no other — also presents messages that absolutely conflict and stand opposed to every truth of God’s word. We’re offered choices at every turn to believe what the world has to say or what God’s word says. This was the tension I lived in for years as I struggled to make sense of all the messages. I’m so grateful that God continues to use His word to open my eyes to His ways and truths because living in the world but not being of it is oh-so hard.*

But we can take this prayer of Jesus in John 17 with us into the world and remember its truths. God goes with us. He protects us. He sets us apart with His holiness. And His Son died so that all this can happen. No matter what the world’s hatred looks or feels like, we can remember two truths — we don’t belong to the world. But we do belong to Jesus.

*”Being in the world but not of it” is a Christian idea that derives implicitly from this passage!

  • Journal your thoughts about what it means to be in the world but not of it. How does unpacking this section of Jesus’ prayer for the disciples help you gain a deeper, more personal understanding?
  • “This Is Where I Belong,” a song by Housefires on our Belonging playlist, is a spontaneous worship song with few words, which makes it the perfect one to have playing on repeat when you feel the tension of living with one foot in your faith and the other in the world or when you feel the isolating hatred of the world backing you into a corner. This is truth. This is what we anchor ourselves in:

This is where I belong, held by the arms of love
Oh this is where I belong, held by the arms of love
Love don’t let me go, don’t let go

Featured photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

True Belonging: Gospel

Tim Keller says, “The Gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”  

Gospel. As Christians, we hear this word and often make the quick assumption that we know what it is and move on, which is a dangerous practice because what some have been discovering is that most Christians only know the first half of the gospel, as illustrated by John 3:16 —

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

We’ve been taught throughout our lives that putting our faith in Jesus is the whole enchilada. You’re saved. You’re good. Of course, coming to believe in Jesus is HUGE. But salvation is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning.

The Full Gospel

There’s actually a second half of the Gospel, as defined, ironically, by 1 John 3:16 —

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

First half — Jesus died for us. Second half — so we can lay down our lives for others.
First half — Jesus loved us. Second half — so we can love the world.
First half — Jesus saved us. Second half — so we can grow in His likeness for the good of others.
First half — salvation. Second half — sanctification.

In the Seedbed Daily Text post I read last spring that sparked this series, JD Walt spoke of these two halves: “The gospel comes in two massive movements: believing and becoming. We believe in Jesus. We become like Jesus” (Daily Text, April 16, 2021).

What we’ve been exploring throughout this series is what JD calls the bridge — the way of moving from believing to becoming, which he calls the way of the cross. And, the way of the cross is the way of belonging to Jesus.

This path, like a bridge stretching across the wide expanse of a canyon, helps us move from first-half-of-the-gospel-living into the full gospel.

Photo by Susanna Marsiglia on Unsplash

The Bridge

On this blog, I write from the assumption that you are a believing, devoted follower of Jesus who seeks to become more like Him. Whether you’ve been able to put words to it before or not, you’re ready to live into this second half of the gospel. Which is why you’re here. Our cultivation of the Word and Spirit here each week is meant to aid us on this journey of sanctification. 

But today. Today, let’s zoom in on “The Way of Belonging to Jesus” by looking at what we’ve learned about belonging, and we’ll see that we’ve already been building the bridge:

  • We have always belonged to our Father, and He gave us to Jesus. So now we belong to Jesus. 
  • We are adopted into God’s family — our spiritual place of belonging.
  • We are heirs to all God has to offer, which means we’ve been gifted much love, grace, wisdom, patience, goodness, kindness, etc. Belonging means receiving and sharing.
  • We are one among many in the family of God.
  • We’ve been given God’s name, a name that holds unfathomable power and unites us to God.

Put all that together, and we get the truth of how our identity defines our belonging. When we truly belong to Jesus, our identities become shaped more and more by Him, less and less by the world. Belonging to Jesus means we don’t belong to the world anymore.

It also means we no longer belong to ourselves.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about belonging to a good, loving Father. We belong to the Son who gave us His very life while we were yet sinners so that we could have life with God. We’re not slaves to a cruel master. We’re not made to function as mindless robots. We’re called into a holy relationship with our Creator, the One who deemed it good and right to leave His heavenly home to walk among us. To die for us.

This is who we belong to. Not the world. Not ourselves. 

When Paul says it like this, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), he’s trying to help believers understand the truth we’re grappling with. It’s upside-down by worldly standards. We want to be in control. We strive for independence. We yearn for fame and glory. But with Jesus, all those vain, selfish desires dissipate in His love — the love we are meant to be rooted in.

Everything I’m writing here is what I’m discovering in my own spiritual journey. In this season where I’ve felt a bit immobile and ineffective, I’ve leaned further into my relationship with God. It started with wanting to know how to enter His presence and has turned into this search for joy and belonging. All of the learning and searching, studying and praying has converged into this awakening that I have not been living into the full gospel. Instead, I’ve been stuck somewhere on that bridge, aware there is more to faith than saying yes to Jesus yet not entirely understanding that to become more like Christ requires a sincere surrender of my ways and plans. It’s a genuine letting go of the world and self so I can grasp more of Jesus. 

So count it good news, friend — the further along the bridge we get from believing to becoming, the more our earthly longings will fade because our desires start to look ahead toward becoming more like Jesus. As a result, the things we crave transform into what He wants — in a most beautiful and perfect way.

Only Him

Because we were created to walk with God, it is only a relationship with Him that fills the void of wanting to belong. Yes, we are saved. And for that, heaven rejoices! But we’re also invited into a relationship that meets every desire for belonging we’ve ever had. So, as we cross over that bridge of belonging to Jesus, we enter into a more complete gospel. We step into the fuller, abundant life Jesus wants for us. Then we take all the love and truth and grace we’ve been given and share it with everyone God puts in our path. 

Photo by Spencer Goggin on Unsplash

Please hear this. While salvation may happen in an instant, sanctification is a lifelong practice. Becoming like Jesus takes time and intentionality, patience and perseverance. 

Also know that where we are on the path with Jesus determines our depth of assurance that we belong to Him. That’s why we say everyday, “I belong to Jesus!” We need to hear it so we can believe it. Over time, as we mature, we won’t have to say it as often because we’ll be living the truth of it.

In the here and now, continue the practices you’ve begun — prayer, study of God’s Word, stillness and solitude. Because the more you do so, the more your heart and mind will embrace the truth of your belongingness, the more you will leave behind the ways of the world, and the more you’ll become like Jesus, embracing the love of the Father and lighting up the world with it.

So, don’t stop, sister! You’re on a journey. This path has movement — from believing to belonging to becoming. You are discovering how to live out the full gospel, so take hold of what you’ve been given — that identity in Christ — and keep moving forward, seeking to leave behind the ways of the world and your own tendencies to take the reins. Instead, bask in the true belonging that comes with knowing Jesus and grow into His likeness more everyday. 

  • Take some time today to journal your thoughts about today’s content. Here are some questions to get you going: Do you believe that your relationship with Jesus can meet every desire for belonging you’ve ever had? What causes you to doubt this? What cravings for belonging are you feeling like can’t be met by Jesus? Where are you on that spectrum of believing, belonging, and becoming? What is one practice you do this week to help you move forward?
  • The Belonging playlist is one way to keep the truth that you belong to Jesus pouring out over you throughout your days. Push play and let the truth soak in. And, keep saying out loud, “I belong to Jesus!”

Featured photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

True Belonging: Name

My sweet Grandpa Camp, who lived to his mid-nineties, never knew his family of origin, and it amazed me that it never seemed to bother him. But as I’ve been pondering Jesus’ prayer in John 17, it strikes me that Grandpa must have been content in knowing that he belonged to the Camp family. Adopted. Loved. And given their name. 

Unlike my grandpa, I always knew my birth family. Always had their name. Always knew I belonged. But when Larry gave me his name, I felt as if we were stepping into our future together, united. For me, having the same name became a symbol of our belongingness, in a most shared way. 

I do realize not everyone’s stories end with a loving adoption or marriage, but the idea here transcends preferences and experiences. There’s something in a name (looking at you, Shakespeare). There really is.

John E. Camp, my grandpa 🙂

What’s In a Name?

Names can indicate family. I think before there were billions of people on our planet, life was simpler and people identified by patriarch —  take my last name as an example, Johnson. In some remote village one day long ago, a boy was known as Fred, John’s son. Even in the Bible we have Saul, son of Kish, or James and John, sons of Zebedee. 

Names can imply a person’s nature or character, such as Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. His name meant “supplanter” or “deceiver,” which was appropo since he had been known for taking things that weren’t his, like his brother’s birthright. But when he wrestled with God while on his journey home, Jacob changed. He transformed inwardly, spiritually. As a symbol of that change, God gave Jacob a new name — Israel. Often defined as “fighter of God,” Israel can actually be better understood as “he retains God” (see this site). The name change indicated the transformation within Jacob, as well as his relationship with God.

Names can hold power. A century or so ago, an American with the name Vanderbilt or Rockefeller would’ve been a person of wealth and esteem. Doors would have opened just because of the name. But, as we’ll see, it’s God’s name that holds all the power. 

Jesus Our Intercessor

As we read today’s portion of John 17, we’ll notice the given and belonging language carries over, but we’ll also see the power of a name. 

9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

John 17:9-12, NLT

I’ve used the NLT translation because I love the belonging language, but it turns out that in the Greek, the belonging part is only implied. Read verses 9 and 10 again in the NRSV to hear a truer rendering of the Greek:

9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

John 17:9-10, NRSV

They are yours.
All mine are yours.
And yours are mine.

Do you hear the implied belonging? It never gets old. 🙂 It also never gets old that Jesus intercedes on their behalf — and ours. Always and forever. Maybe you’re like me and are leveled at the idea of Jesus standing before God on His throne, in all His glory, speaking up for me, “Shelley really needs…” 

My heart is also tender as I reread how Jesus’ request in this particular prayer is not for everyone in the world but only for those who are His. Believers are special to Jesus because we’ve been given to Him. We’ve chosen to follow Him. We belong to Him. Yes, Jesus loves the whole world, but He gives extra care to those who are His.

God’s Name

It’s in verses 11 and 12 that name enters this holy outpouring. Jesus sets the stage — He’s departing soon, returning to His Father, which means He’ll be leaving His little flock unattended. Jesus embodies this beautiful picture of a shepherd who has guided and protected those He’s been given with great devotion and strength.

Photo by Jaka Škrlep on Unsplash

But, with His leaving, He calls on His Father for divine defense for His flock:

Protect them by the power of your name.

Protected by God’s name. Not an army of angels. Not some supernatural shield. But God’s name.

I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.

Then we come to understand that for the length of His time on earth, Jesus had great power of protection, and the source had always been God’s name. 

The Greek word used for “name,” onomati, means exactly what we’d assume — a proper name. Like, God. Aka: Elohim, El Elyon, El Shaddai, El Roi. But onomati comes with a lot of connotations, a weightiness of meaning that our simple word, name, fails to capture: 

“the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e. for one’s rank,  authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc.”

gospel-john.com  

For everything which the name covers. For God’s name that would encompass everything — all His goodness, all His love, all His holiness, all His glory, all His might, and all His power. One website I read put it this way — the idea of God’s name transcends anything our human minds can comprehend (chabad.org). We might have a slight grasp on how a name can carry power, but with God’s name, there’s no true understanding. However, we can take away that there is A LOT of power in that one holy name.

And we are covered by it. Protected with it. We can trust this as truth because Jesus prayed it.  

If that isn’t enough, Jesus slips in this little nugget — so that they will be united just as we are. The literal “so they may be one” translation evokes within me, once again, the idea of marriage (see Genesis 2:24). This knitting together elicits beauty and wholeness. Just as Jesus is given God’s name and they are one, we have been given God’s name, so we are one. There’s no fancy definition for the Greek word, hen, meaning one. It’s simply one

Being given God’s name makes us one with Him and comes with great power. I’ll ask you to soak in that for a while because this whole “being made one” idea comes up again later in this prayer.

Bulletproof

In the meantime, have you wondered what believers need to be guarded from? Perhaps the answer lies in the phrase, the world. When we live in the world, we become prey to the one who seeks to steal, kill and destroy us (John 10:10). Jesus made sure Peter was aware of this truth when He shared this shocker:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32, NLT

Peter, like so many of us, thought he got it. He believed he understood why Jesus was here. He certainly grasped that Jesus was Messiah. We could say he walked with Jesus feeling pretty bulletproof — he had been given power to cast out demons and heal, after all. 

But, really, Peter only kinda got it — as demonstrated by his response to the above revelation, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” Of course, he wasn’t. That very night he denied knowing Jesus three times.

Friends, we are not bulletproof in this world. We are flesh and blood — we get sick, we fail, we die. But we do have what Peter had — God’s name. We are His daughters. We are His family and because of that, He guards us. 

I envision God speaking loudly from heaven, “She is mine! She has MY NAME!” And all the earth hears. Satan and his henchmen recoil because just in the hearing of God’s name, they know they are toast. They can’t win. They can’t have us.

So, here’s a heavy question: What if we lived as if that were true? 

What if we lived fully into the power that comes from living in the covering of God’s holy name? I think if I actually lived in the power of God’s name, I’d worry less. Instead, I would trust that God has it all in hand. In His holy hands. 

Peter learned to live like that. Once Jesus walked the earth in His resurrected body with Peter a few times, forgiving and commissioning him, Peter finally got it. He lived in humble confidence of Jesus, to whom he belonged, for the rest of his days. He lived a life of abandoned faith, surrendered to the call Jesus gave him — no matter the cost. And we’re here today because of Peter and so many others like him who have gone before us and lived into the power that comes from the name of Jesus.

You belong to Jesus in the most loving, holy way. You were given to Him by the God who created you. You’ve even been given His name, a name that holds unfathomable power and unites you to your Father. So, God’s Daughter, how will you let this truth change you?

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  • Take some significant this week to simmer in these questions, then Journal your responses:
    • How would you live differently if you truly lived in the power of God’s name?
    • How does it change the way you think and feel and act knowing that you’ve been given God’s name?
  • “I belong to Jesus.” Keep saying it. Make it a breath prayer — breathe in, “I belong.” Breath out, “to Jesus.”
  • Soak in the songs on our Belonging playlist. It’s just another way to get it into our heads and hearts that we are true daughters of the Lord Most High. And that we can live like in that power!

Featured photo by Tiffany Chan on Unsplash

True Belonging: Identity

Holy discontent — an impression that something spiritual isn’t quite right or enough. A holy notion that an experience should be better or more. As I’ve learned and prayed about holy discontent, its truth has nestled itself into my soul then bloomed into the realization that’s how I’ve been feeling.

I think back to Easter Sunday 2021, one I’d anticipated since Easter-in-person had been shut down by COVID. To be with other believers, celebrating our Savior’s resurrection, elated me! My anticipation of cheering Jesus’ defeat of death rose within me as we stepped into the sanctuary. The music launched into lyrics of hallelujah, but the people barely sang. They seemed half asleep, not nearly as ecstatic as I’d imagined. The celebration fell flat. My disappointment threatened to steal my joy.

Similarly, my husband and I have felt discouraged as we visit churches in our new town. Sermons feel like fluff. Energy levels are more like snooze on a Monday morning than soul-giving life on a Sunday. I think I’ve even wondered, is this it? Do we have to settle for less? And I realize these feelings are that of holy discontent.

Then we went to the New Room Conference ten days ago. Where we felt the move of the Spirit. Where we experienced what we’ve been longing for — believers who are awakening to the full gospel, to all that Jesus is and has to offer. Where people worship Jesus like it’s a Saturday at their favorite football stadium instead of a boring lecture they can’t wait to get out of on a Friday. THIS is what our souls have been seeking. 

My hope is reenergized. My desire for finding a new church is renewed. New Room reminded me there are other believers out there who are awakening — and I am ready to find them in Texas! Well, that’s a pretty big search demographic, but you know what I mean.

Our Identity

My holy discontent defined, I can now look at my experience at New Room and see the longing of my heart reflected among believers who are becoming more and more surrendered to God’s work and way. I also sense that space in me that desires true belonging opening further. At New Room, I felt a spiritual kinship with 2000 people, almost all of whom I have never met, because together we claimed our identity in Jesus. As we corporately allowed the work of the Spirit to disentangle our messiness, holiness burst forth and we knew — we know! — that we belong to Jesus. Having our identity thus established, our souls basked in the glory we found in the presence of King Jesus. Bowed low, we could look up. Hands opened, our hearts widened. Minds freed, we could breathe in all truth. 

Remembering our givenness — from God to Jesus — mingled with this renewal, a response has been brewing inside me. I think it boils down to this simple yet profound truth: my belonging to Jesus means I also belong to a family of believers who yearn for the same things I do — to belong, to have purpose, to be loved, to love. And as I worshiped with every fiber of my being the last night of New Room, the Spirit spoke. I understood the discontent I’d been carrying, but I also saw with a convicting clarity that I have a responsibility and a role because I’m part of something bigger than myself.

And that’s when I saw the man two rows in front of us — a man whose body language at once bespoke brokenness and resistance. In my spirit, I knew he was being called by Jesus to go forward, to the stage where all were invited to step through an open door to receive whatever new word Jesus had for us. The longer I prayed and worshiped, the stronger the feeling grew, like an electric current flowing from my heart to my fingers. I prayed he’d give in and go. But when I realized he was losing the battle in his mind, the Spirit pounded my heart — my response was to invite him. A stranger. Yet a brother. So, finally, I obeyed. In my love of Jesus, for the body of Christ, and for this man I’d never met, I wove my way to him and looked him in the eye, explaining that I thought he should go — that Jesus was waiting for him. Puzzled, and perhaps amused, he asked, you’re telling me you think I need to go up there? I nodded. And with a weepy grin, I said I’d been feeling it for twenty minutes. I left him then only to continue to pray for him. The wrestling match finally ended, and he made his way to the front. I cheered aloud when I caught sight of him on the stage, stepping through the door of this holy, surrendered moment.

After that incredible service, this man made his way to my husband and me. Our new friend, Bruce, shared his story and we prayed. His words blessed us as we felt the thickness of the Spirit hovering with us. I pray I’ll never forget the relationship between knowing my givenness — my belonging to Christ — and the responses asked of me. As a daughter of the Most High King, I receive His blessings and favor and love. I also receive responsibility — to act when called to do so. No matter how I feel or what I think. Because I belong, I am held by hands of strength and grace, and within those hands I can step forward full of faith into whatever God asks. Even encouraging a stranger to be brave.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I also had to be brave in order to encourage Bruce’s bravery. But because we’d both responded, our night ended with feeling the full force of our belonging. We sensed God’s presence and purpose. We knew we were seen by our Father in heaven. We have been able to step back into the world embraced and encouraged to continue moving forward in faith — because we know who we are and whose we are.

Crosses and Pomegranates

This sense of being part of something bigger than myself made me think of symbols that we humans create to show the world to whom we belong. In college I wore Greek letters of a specific sorority to indicate where I belonged. On any given weekend, hordes wear colors and shirts of their favorite teams to show the world where their loyalty lies, high-fiving total strangers after a touchdown because their jerseys match.

Christians wear crosses on clothing and jewelry as a symbol of our belonging — to show the world that our faith is in Jesus. I remember being in Israel, a place where people from all over the world mingle and mesh together. And even when we couldn’t speak to one another because of our differing languages, we could nod and smile with one another because our crosses spoke all that was needed. We belonged to Jesus. Which also meant, we belonged to one another.

Believe it or not, pomegranates have historically held a similar, though less recently obvious, place of such identification. The Temple that Solomon built, the very place where God’s presence resided, was decorated with images of the pomegranate (1 Kings 7:20), and along the hems of robes worn by priests in the Temple, elaborately created pomegranates hung (Exodus 28:33–35). Tradition holds that these pomegranates represented all the people of Israel, the seeds of God. The skin around those seeds, like God, held them all together — each seed belonging to the whole.  

If you cut open a pomegranate, you’d see 600-1000 arils (pockets of juice covering the seeds) packed into non symmetrical “ovaries,” all of which are wrapped in a tough outer skin. Alone each seed is nothing. But inside a ripened pomegranate, all the seeds together anchor the fruit inside. Likewise, we believers are nothing without the covering of the Spirit. On our own, without Jesus, we’re just dead seeds. Yet, once we are planted in Christ, our one seed becomes many. 

On the chance you might think I’m stretching this idea a little too far, I offer you Exhibit A, an 1847 painting by Sandro Botticelli called “Madonna of the Pomegranate:”

If we zoom in to look more closely at the pomegranate in Mary’s and Jesus’ hands, we see the details of seeds:

Depending on whose description you read, this pomegranate either symbolizes Jesus’ passion — the death He faces — or Jesus’ rebirth through resurrection. Either way, the pomegranate and its seeds remind us of Jesus’ greater purpose: to die for all, then to come back to life in order to offer life to all who will believe. Like a seed, which dies only to give more life.

Friends, we belong to Jesus. Just as a seed is part of the whole pomegranate, we too are part of the whole Church of believers of Jesus Christ. And as those who belong, we can receive the blessings of Jesus and respond in faith, trusting the hands that hold us will also lead us well. My prayer is that as we awaken to the truths of who we are in Jesus, we’ll also recognize those feelings of holy discontent — then find ways to either spread the awakening or seek it out. My guess is that feeding holy discontent requires a bit of both, so may our deep, spiritual longing for more and better awaken in us a desire to respond to all Jesus calls us toward. And we can do this in full faith because we are one among many in Christ Jesus!



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  • This week Journal about this idea of holy discontent. When have you felt discouraged, spiritually? What response could Jesus be asking of you?
  • I hope you’ve been making it a practice to say and pray the words, I belong to Jesus. I do pray that as you speak these words, their truth will lodge in your heart and become your reality. May you fully claim your identity in Christ.
  • Then as you worship, in person or with others, seek a deeper understanding of what it means to belong to the Body of Christ. Some of the songs on the Belonging playlist offer words to our searching (ie: “Belong to You” by Here Be Lions). We are daughters of God! We unite with all the saints! We belong to Jesus! Even if we worship in solitary spaces, let our revelation be that we are never alone because we sing with one another in the Spirit — because He calls us sons and daughters.

Featured photo by Refik Mollabeqiri on Unsplash