Jen Gaunce – June 2019

Hi Sweet Friends,

Have you ever read a verse in the Bible and thought, “Well, who put that there?” I recently read a verse that jolted me. I know I must have read it several times in my life, but why was I just now really seeing it? I had to stop, take notice, and consider if I was a participant in the words it spoke. Isn’t that just how a faithful Father works in us? When our life experiences and maturity are at a point of making us able to receive the words, they become very personal. It’s as if they are written just to us because it’s time in our journey to be able to hear and receive them as the instruction, reproof, and love that they are. The verse that shook me is Psalm 50:21 where God tells the Israelites that He has no need of anything, because  everything is already His. They were living in sin and then bringing sacrifices to try to appease God, as if He could be bought. He tells them, “…you thought I was just like you.” Can you hear my breaks squeal and smell the rubber from my tires? When I read those words, I felt God asking me to answer this question: “Is this true of me?”

 As I’ve considered this verse, God has used many other verses and circumstances and memories to keep that question alive in me. As God’s people, His redeemed, His beloved, how do we see Him? Do we invent a view of Him based on our earthly relationships and experiences or maybe even our own father? Is our image of Him based on what we believe we need to be true about Him? Is it based on the distorted lies that the enemy of our God and of our souls would have us to believe? If I have based my belief on anything other than what Scripture says is true about God, I will be blown around like a loose balloon on a windy day. As my circumstances change and suffering inhabits me, I will have nothing stable to hold me down. I will begin to believe things that make sense to me, comfort me, or legitimize my anger as I look at myself and my world, but may be contrary to the truth of God. We can easily believe, as Lysa Terkheurst says in her book It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way, that we know how a good God should act. We believe that we know what someone who loves us and has the power to make things happen would do. We think we know that the good thing is always fairness, no pain, no loss, no suffering, no lacking, and no wanting based on our views. We certainly know what we would do. And God says, “You thought I was just like you.”

I’ve noticed that I never scream, “Not fair!” when I am looking at those who have what I don’t want, only when looking at those who I want to trade places with. And the truth is, all I see are circumstances. I don’t know the awful hurts in relationships or self-loathing or horrible fear that may plague them. The narrative in my head is, “Aren’t they the lucky ones? Surely they don’t suffer like I do.” And maybe not, but I promise you that they are suffering, have suffered, and will suffer in varying degrees. Why am I so sure? Because we live in enemy territory. We are under constant attack. The consequences of living in a cursed world are profound. But take heart, God is more profound. John 16:33 promises tribulation in this world and also promises that God has overcome the world. Suffering is a necessary part of living here. We don’t want it, but God uses it to do something solid, strong, maturing, and selfless in us. Certainly happiness is sometimes part of the equation, but never the goal. God is growing an army, not a sorority.

Let me share with you a great illustration of the results of a lack of suffering that I learned in our ladies’ study by the author mentioned above. In Jeremiah 48, we read that the kingdom of Moab had been at rest from youth. It had not been tested by war nor gone into exile. It is compared to wine that is left alone and not exposed to the air. It stayed unchanged and is unprepared for what is coming. Moab is described as arrogant, insulant, prideful, conceited, and haughty. Lack of suffering left them weak and immature, unable to face their enemies. Moab was left alone and is totally unprepared for war and will be overtaken. Please be aware that the indulgence of all of our wants could leave us weak and vulnerable, not to mention selfish and arrogant. That doesn’t mean that our longings and heart desires are wrong, it may just mean that we’re not ready for them yet or God wants to grant them in a different way than we imagined. Can we trust Him with our journey? Can we trust Him with the timing? Can we trust Him with our heart? Is it possible that God knows what we don’t know? Is it possible that He knows what’s coming and how to best prepare us for it? Can the answer “no” or “not yet” go with “I love you?”  And is it possible to say in return, “This is about Your glory, God. How do you want me to join You in it?”

In the verses surrounding Psalm 50:21, God tells us to “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me.” In verse 23 He tells us, “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.” I pray that God would create a spirit of thanksgiving in us. May we never again make the mistake of thinking that God is just like us. Remember, sweet friends, there is a holy, loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, good, and faithful God. It’s just not us.

P.S. When I realized I still had four more hand-written pages to type, I knew we were in trouble. You’re getting a twofer on this blog. The rest will follow shortly. Calm down, there will be no extra charge. Where is the sneaky face emoji when I need it? Or the heart? Love you much.

Jen Gaunce – March 2019

Hi Sweet Friends,

When I sit down to write, I‘m never quite sure how it will go. Of course, I have thoughts from reading scripture and the writings of fellow travelers and my own experiences. But how do I lasso so many random and abstract thoughts running and bucking around the corral of my brain and give words to them in an organized and concise manner? How can I truly bless you and not just try to impress you with my insight and seek your validation on my clever use of words? I watch Kevin do it every week as he spends about 20 hours preparing for a 30 to 40 minute lesson. It feels like most of the work isn’t in deciding what to say, but what not to say. As in all things, we pray for God to move our hearts and minds and tongues to express His heart and to tell His story through us. I just watched a documentary on the life of Billy Graham. He spoke to always sticking to what the scripture said when he taught. I heard him say over and over again, “The Bible says…”  He believed God when He said in Isaiah 55:11 that His word would not return empty when spoken, but would accomplish His purposes for it. Graham  knew he wasn’t clever enough to draw crowds or convince people of their need for Jesus. He simply spoke what the Bible said and asked people if they would accept Jesus as their Savior. We will spend eternity with throngs of people that came to Jesus because God used a faithful man to tell His story. Lord, make us likewise faithful in telling Your story and Your story in us.

Our ladies at church have been in a book study together about God’s story in us and how we can process disappointments, pain, and suffering. Of course, disappointment is in all of our stories. At some point, we  all awaken to the fact that things are broken and it hurts to be here, some of us earlier than others. There is indeed a great war that we are all born into. It’s hard and it hurts. Our stories are different, but one common theme remains: the enemy of our souls is constantly lying to us about God. We’re victims, we’re mistreated, we’re abandoned, we’re betrayed, we’re sinned against, we’re hurting, we’re confused, and we feel alone. That is true. But Satan would like to take those hurts and disappointments as proof  that God doesn’t love us, doesn’t care, won’t take care of us, and won’t or can’t rescue us. He wants us to believe that God is holding out on us. That’s what he told Eve. And here we are. Ephesians 6:10-11 tells us to “Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might…able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” We have to know how he comes to us, we have to recognize him if we are to stand against him. What are his schemes in your life? How does he come to you? What has been your story doing battle with our enemy? Some of the lies in my story that I have indulged and kept as indoor pets to be cuddled have to do with fear, self-protection, envy, laziness, and selfishness. I know them as well as my own name. I can even defend them as normal human behavior. But beware, normal human behavior has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. Sadly, it’s only recently that I’ve come to the realization that “I don’t want to” is not a legitimate answer when something uncomfortable or unenjoyable is asked of me. When would we ever allow our children to give that as an answer when we had a job for them to do? We are training them to be responsible and productive adults. We want obedience to be a habit for them. We want to train them to deny themselves and do hard things. God is likewise growing us up. We wouldn’t have a Savior if no sacrifice was ever required. So, no. We must be careful to never call sin acceptable or expected human behavior. Be careful too, sweet friends, to not fall into the trap of rating sin. I was recently in a courtroom where I found myself surrounded by a world not familiar to me. Shackled inmates and stoic responses made me recoil. This was certainly the “underbelly” of society that we try to protect ourselves from. For a moment, I was the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14 saying, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men…” As I watched and prayed, God broke my heart and turned me into the tax collector who beat his chest and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” We are all the underbelly, my dear friend. There is no dark place that my mind and heart can’t go if left unguarded. We are all in desperate need of a Savior. His story in us is always a miracle. So what is God’s story in you? How has He come to you? What awful pains, disappointments, and failures have helped you see your need for a Savior, for grace, for humility, for forgiveness, and for healing? What has God used to show you that no created thing, nothing in this world, can satisfy your greatest need and longing. I love Laura Story’s words in her song “Blessings”: “What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy? What if trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights, are His mercies in disguise?” Of course everything that we try to use to fill us up must fail. God loves us too much to leave us on that empty path of self-sufficiency and grabbing at everything that flies by to try and prove our value. Our value and hope are in Him alone, beloved. Scarlet Hiltibidal says in her book  Afraid of All the Things, “I was so afraid to speak it out loud or even think it – the underlying truth that I wanted the comforts of this world more than the Comforter.” It’s a faithful Father that leads us to that awakening. How has He graced you in helping you see your need for Him and His great love and kindness and provision for you? What gift is greater than the one that leads us to the truth? What is your story?

At the nursing home we visit, a sweet, long-time friend speaks slowly because of a stroke and often has lots to say. She is smart, lovely, and has masters’ degrees, and she is trapped in a body that no longer does her bidding. I love her. I often find myself flitting in and out of rooms with a big smile and a kiss, handing out Bible verses with pretty stickers and dashing to the next room. I would love to not linger and get home with Kevin to watch the Downton Abby series for the third time and relax. I can easily shout blessings while running down the hall and feel good about myself. (I’m pretty sure Jesus never wore tennis shoes. He was never running away from people as I am often so inclined to do. Maybe I should wear sandals more often. Then I would have to do my toenails. Sigh!) One night, my dear friend had a lot to say. She was telling me a lot of her story. I felt like a caged animal and was backing toward the door when I felt the battle between love and selfishness begin to rage. I can humbly tell you that love won as I stayed and let my friend tell her story. It was an important story. She needed to tell it, and I needed to hear it. Yes, I could feel my hair growing and my muscles begin to atrophy, but this was the call. She acknowledged and praised God for her success and His provision for her neediness. She wanted and needed to proclaim the goodness of God, and I needed to join her in it. Revelation 12:11 tells us that Satan is defeated by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony of the saints. Psalm 91;14 says that God will rescue us because we love and acknowledge His name. Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” God has a story in you. Recognize it. Learn to tell it.

There is yet another reason to tell your story. Yes, it glorifies God and defeats our enemy. But we also have the next generation watching us. Seeing how we react to pain, disappointment, and loss can give them hope and an anchor when it is their turn. Watching sacrifice and selflessness and love in action shows them the heart of God. Humility, forgiveness, and grace give them a standard, an example to follow. Psalm 145 says, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” The whole chapter speaks to telling of the greatness and goodness of God. When we do, we are training those who are coming behind us to do the same. Jesus often said to follow Him, follow His example, do it like Him, say it the way He did. We need to do that for the precious children, young people, new mothers, couples, and those new in the Lord that are in our lives. We need to always be aware of what they are learning from us. We need to show how to love someone who is hurting, how to ask forgiveness, how to have people in our homes, how to take food, how to host a grieving family at a funeral, how to ask questions when relating, how to serve a church body, how to love and realize that we are all the least of these, how to speak of Jesus, and how to tell our story. We live it, we speak it, and we prepare the next generation to take our place in kingdom work and to be the body of Christ.

Jewel Harbor was my dad’s first cousin and is in my earliest church memory. I was very young and sickly and she was my Sunday school teacher. She made and brought me a little stained glassed window craft made of colored tissue paper because I missed her class. I remember her handing it to me. She was a constant presence in my church life as I was growing up. She was always working, cleaning, teaching, and serving faithfully. We moved when I was young, but whenever we went back for events, she was always there serving. Flash forward 40 or so years to my grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration back at the church of my childhood. I was amazed to see a very aged and gracious Jewel Harbor buzzing about the kitchen and wiping tables and doing dishes just as she had done her whole life. She lived into her 90’s and never stopped loving and serving. God, help me do it like that. My own parents, now almost 90, still play the piano and lead the congregation in worship on Wednesday nights at their church. God, help me do it like that. And may I live and love in such a way that I can humbly look at those behind me and say, “Do it like this. Love like this. Serve like this. Tell your story like this.”

Our precious ladies’ group is taking turns telling our stories. It’s very vulnerable and humbling. Satan would pierce our hearts with the fear that to expose ourselves would mean certain rejection. He fears our stories because they defeat him and lift up our Savior. I can tell you that the only responses to be heard are, “Me too”, “I’m so sorry”, “It only makes me love and appreciate you more”, “I’m going to fight with you and for you”, and “Praise be to God for His wonderful works.” God has His story in all of us. I would love to hear yours. (I promise to wear my sandals.) “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”

Jen Gaunce – October 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

You may find this hard to believe; but in the nursing home world, Kevin and I are considered quite attractive. Among those who are mostly blind, mostly deaf, and mostly confused, we are thought of as a real catch. It’s always an ego booster for me when we visit our precious friends at the nursing home every week. Some of the sweet men have told Kevin that they will take me if something happens to him. I can’t tell you how much better Kevin sleeps at night knowing I will be taken care of. And what a relief for me! We joke with our friends there a lot. They are treasures to us, and we love them and have learned so much from them. Many there have asked Kevin to speak at their funerals, and he has. He is often their last pastor in this life to love and teach them and pray over them. He is dear to them, and they are to him. We speak of heaven often at the nursing home. It is the next dream for many of them. Our sweet 102 year old friend, Mrs. Grace, asks Kevin to pray every week for God to take her home, and he does. She is in pain and so weary, and it just really hurts to be here. He speaks truth to her and comforts her with the reality of what is next on her journey. She knows the truth of the gospel and waits with hope and faith that will soon be sight. We speak often of the gospel that assures healing and eternity with our Savior and those that are already there. We make promises to find each other and rejoice and worship together. We talk about how good we will look and feel. We help them dream of the reality to come. I recently read a quote by Ram Dass that said, “We’re all just walking each other home.” That’s our reality. Reality is a vital perspective. We must seek it and hang on to it and fight to believe it at all cost. We must remind each other.  It is truth that sustains and gives us the reason to not just hang on, but rejoice. And it’s not our truth we must fight for, it’s our Maker’s truth, what He has shown us about Himself and our story and His story in us through His Word. Let’s fight to hang on to reality together today by reminding ourselves of what is true.

Mr. Joe is another sweet friend at the nursing home. He doesn’t remember how old he is, I assume mid 80’s, but he has jet black hair, all natural. He can’t tell you the names of his daughters, but his childhood horses were named Old Red and Big John. He doesn’t know where he is, but he can tell you with much detail about his farm growing up, the milking of cows and swimming across the river. He is gracious and funny. He laughs easily and hugs freely. I would say he is mostly content, especially when he realizes the reality of having a place to stay for the night. We go through the same scene with all of the same movements and words every Tuesday night when we lead a church service at the nursing home. It’s like being in the movie “Groundhog Day.” I go to Mr. Joe when the service is over and ask him if he would like me to walk him to his room. He always looks at me with surprise and says, “You mean I get to stay here? I was wondering what I was gonna do.” It always makes me sad to think he didn’t know he was safe and taken care of and had a place waiting for him. He always sounds relieved and asks if I know how to get there. I say, “I’ll take you. Don’t forget your horse,” and we grab his walker and start shuffling down the hall. We talk about his old times, which is all he can remember, and wave at people in their rooms as we waddle by. He’s always surprised to see his name on the door and then exclaims with joy at the sight of his room. It’s new every time. He looks around and says, “This is really nice. Thanks so much.” I think he thinks I’m the innkeeper. Sometimes he says, “Looks like somebody has been in the bed.” To which I always reply, “I think it was you, Mr. Joe.” I always tell him he can stay as long as he wants and if he ever leaves, I will come and find him. I leave him with a settled mind and heart; his reality is that he is taken care of. He just needs reminding. I would love to be like Mr. Joe when I realize the reality of whose I am and my condition and my destination. I would love to clap my hands with excitement like I have seen him do when it hits me, once again, that this is a bigger story than just my story, and all is well. I am loved, I am accepted, I am enough, and I have a home because of Jesus. We all struggle remembering reality, but don’t despair. God has been faithful to tell us in scripture of those who walked before us and struggled to believe and remember also. I want to learn from them.

The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is a great study on things not being as they appear. Joseph was envied and disliked by his jealous brothers and sold in to slavery by them. While his grieving father mourned the falsely reported death of his favorite son, Joseph was changing the world. He was chosen as a slave to be the right-hand man of a captain of Egypt. He was then falsely accused and thrown in prison. He was blessed with an interpretation of dreams and became Pharaoh’s trusted assistant. He was given rule of the kingdom and faithfully worked to save, not only all of Egypt, but his own estranged family as well. It all came crashing down on Joseph’s brothers when they came begging for wheat to keep their father’s household from perishing from the famine. When they realized Joseph was the one who had control over their very lives, they knew they were done for. Of course, Joseph would seek revenge and destroy them. But not so. What looked like a horror story of betrayal and deceit and suffering and wasted years was so much more. God was saving a whole nation. God was preserving the people from whom our Savior would come. Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” There was a bigger reality going on than what they could see. There always is.

And what of our old friend, Elijah, in I Kings 18 and 19? He had just called down fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice to prove there is only one, true God, and then we see him literally running for his life from an evil queen. After being the voice of God to a nation, he says to God in 19:4, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” In verse 10, God asks Elijah what he is doing in despair, and he states, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your alters, and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” He repeats it again in verse 14. He believes this is where it has all led. This is where being zealous for the Lord has gotten him. He is all that’s left who proclaim God’s name, and please just let him die. All hope is gone. Really? Is that what is really going on? God tells Elijah in verses 15-18 that there is work yet to be done. God has 7,000 men in Israel that have not bowed their knee to worship the false god Baal. 7,000 have remained true to God and will continue His story for that nation. Elijah believed he was the last faithful man on earth. He believed he was utterly alone and he wanted to die. He just didn’t know the reality of the situation. He didn’t see the bigger story of God at work.

We’ve all known the story of Jonah since our youth. God asks him to go warn an enemy nation of Israel to turn to God or be destroyed. Jonah wants nothing to do with it and tries to disappear. Aren’t we humans foolish? Who can hide from God? God gets Jonah’s attention by allowing suffering inside a great fish which Jonah describes in great detail. He agrees to walk in obedience and goes to Nineveh to warn of the wrath to come unless they repent. Jonah’s greatest fear is realized. The people of Nineveh believe Jonah and repent and turn from their evil and worship God Almighty. Then Jonah throws a fit. He wanted the destruction of these people, not their salvation. He knew that God is a gracious and compassionate God and abundant in loving kindness. It’s not fair. They don’t deserve forgiveness. Jonah suddenly believes life isn’t worth living because things didn’t play out like he thought they should, and he begs God to let him die. God asks Jonah in 4:4, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” He asks him in 4:9 if he has good reason to be angry again after a shade he was under withers and dies. Jonah says, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” God proceeds to show Jonah that his concern over a dying plant that he didn’t make is nothing compared to the compassion God has over thousands of people that are His very creation. You see, we falsely believe we have rights to dreams, goals, relationships, jobs, recognition, and scores of other things that simply aren’t ours to demand. The death of them can often lead us to despair. But there is such a bigger story going on. We can look at Jonah and say, “Hey, Bud. It’s not about you.” But can we hear it willingly when God asks us to lay down our will and join Him in a bigger story? Are we mad? Would we rather die? Do we have good reason to despair? How would you answer the question that God asks Jonah?

Let’s check out Elisha, the man of God, who was in a city under attack by the enemies of Israel. 2 Kings 6 tells us the enemy had encircled the city with chariots and horses, and Elisha’s attendant was beside himself. All looked lost. Elisha said to him, “Don’t fear, for those with who are with us are more than those who are with them. Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Don’t you love it? There was a reality that the servant couldn’t see until God granted it. What appeared to be certain destruction was actually God’s assembled heavenly host ready to do battle in His name. They weren’t alone. God was at work. He always is.

Finally, our last example, though there are countless more. When the two disciples walking to Emmaus after the resurrection of Jesus didn’t recognize him as he walked with them, they explained their despair to him by saying in Luke 24, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” They had staked everything on Jesus being who He said He was, and now He’s dead. The reality was so much bigger than the government overthrow that they had hoped for. He wasn’t just redeeming Israel in His death and resurrection, but all of humanity. It was so much bigger than they realized. The words “But we were hoping” always catch me. Don’t those words fall from our lips so often with an aching or broken heart? When our fantasy doesn’t match our reality, it hurts. When our will is blocked, it hurts. When God asks something hard of us, it hurts. But please know, as evidenced by our Biblical friends, that it’s not for nothing. We are part of a bigger story than just our story. There is a reality going on that is far beyond what we can imagine. All is not as it appears. I pray for all of us the words that Elisha prayed for his servant, “Open our eyes so we can see.”

Between the writing of this letter and it’s completion, sweet Mrs. Grace stepped into the presence of her Savior and the reality of her eternal home. Her dreams have come true. Her faith has become sight. She beholds the Father’s face. Save us a seat, Mrs. Grace. We’ll see you there.

 

Jen Gaunce – September 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

My family has experienced some life-changers this past week that I wanted to share with you.  We had the wedding of our beloved daughter and the funeral of Kevin’s beloved mother within three days of each other. Kevin’s mom took her final breath the night before the rehearsal dinner. She wanted to be at the wedding. We all wanted her to be at the wedding. We had extreme emotions going on at the same time: unspeakable joy and unspeakable grief. And yet, is not God in both? Do both not reveal the character of God and His heart for us? Do both not reveal what our hearts believe is true about Him? I can testify boldly to the grace and goodness of God because I’ve seen it, experienced it, and lived it. But please know that the grace and goodness and love of God are true whether I recognize it or not. It’s not my experience that legitimizes the truth about God, but rather the truth about God legitimizes my experience. I can see the truth about God in every circumstance and emotion because His character never changes. His love and work on my behalf and for my good are constant, regardless of my experience. Psalm 100:5 tells us, “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” Kevin and I are middle men. We are between the generations of our parents and our children. We find ourselves needed by both, and blessedly so. We have seen the provision of God in each generation. And not just when life was sweet and it felt good to be alive and sing praises to our Maker; but also when darkness covered our hearts, and it was hard to breathe, and we struggled to remember whose we were. He is God of both, and again, blessedly so.

Kevin’s mom had a neurological disease that slowly took the capability of her body to do her bidding. Her mind stayed clear while her body became more and more debilitated. We watched. We prayed. We begged. We grieved. We hurt for her and for the loss of her to us. God asked something very hard of her. He asked her to glorify Him in suffering and loss. He entrusted her with pain and asked her to steward it well, and that’s exactly what she did. Her precious caregivers helped her volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. She went to listen to the children read and to play board games. She showed up at her grandchildren’s ballgames. She continued to go to church and social events and meet with friends. She continued to eat out even though it meant someone was feeding her and keeping her clean in public. She had her caregivers dress her up like a clown last Thanksgiving because she knew it would make us laugh. It did. She loved. She prayed. She just kept living and giving testimony to the goodness and grace of God as her body withered. After she passed, we had ten hours of visitation at the church to allow people to honor her and love her family. In all that time, there was seldom a lull, just people lined up waiting patiently to tell the family what my dear mother-in-law meant to them. There was testimony after testimony of how she had reached out to welcome and include newcomers, of how people’s lives were drawn to the Lord because of her faithfulness and love, and of how her kindness and selflessness changed the world. Many times I heard people say they wanted to be like her. I was one of them. Kevin’s sweet mom glorified God in her death because she glorified Him in her life. Her refusal to complain, be angry, shake her fist at God and say, “How dare you,” or drown in self-pity painted a beautiful picture of the character of God. She refused to believe the lies from the enemy that he persistently shot at her. She had laid down her will, her rights, her demands that life go a certain way and simply said, “If it is God’s will.” I feel like a quote from Elizabeth Elliot beautifully describes my mother-in-law’s heart and disposition: “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.” Pat Gaunce knew that there are purposes and stories going on beyond her understanding. She had a part to play in God’s story, and she nailed it. Such suffering. Such joy. Such hope. Such glory.

The wedding of my daughter felt like a movie I was watching. I had a hard time discerning my emotions. Such joy and dreams come true, so why the ache? It is indeed the end of something precious and dear, but it is also the beginning of something glorious. It wasn’t luck or good timing that caused Hannah and Nick to find each other on a medical mission trip to Brazil. It was God faithfully orchestrating and directing their lives. As I watched Kevin escort Hannah through an arbor in a beautiful garden, something spiritual overwhelmed me. I caught a glimpse for a moment of us as believers being the bride of Christ. Those had always been sort of unrelatable words to me until this moment. The love and longing and sacrificial selflessness that my daughter and her beloved have for one another is such a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for us. I long to have that same love for Him, to be presented to Him unblemished, with no other loves occupying His place in my heart, no competing passions, no holding back from being one and united with Him. When a bride and groom say “yes” to each other, they have said “no” to every other love on earth. Everything and every person and every relationship is now filtered through the grid of that one relationship, and it is fiercely guarded. They will work and play and minister and love others and make decisions based on their relationship. That is the relationship I want with Jesus. Everything in my life now is for His sake, His glory, to achieve His purposes. I’m no longer living for myself, clawing and grabbing at what I feel like I must have. Jesus sacrificed all to have me. By saying “yes” to Him I have said “no” to all other loves. There is no competition for my affections. I belong to Him. It’s no longer about  me. All of life is now a picture and example of our relationship with God and His love for us. But what do I do with the hurt of my daughter no longer being a child in our home? I remember the bigger story and what we’re called to. In the wedding ceremony, Kevin shared with us the words of Jim Elliott to his parents when he was leaving for the mission field in the 1950’s. “Grieve not, then if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as a heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly – all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.” And so the next generation begins their part in God’s big story. Soon it will be their turn to “…tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” (Psalm 78:4)

God is faithful to each generation. Lord, make us likewise faithful. We’ve each been given a spot here, a time. It’s not so we can be happy and comfortable and prosperous, even though those are great things and I want them. They’re just not the greatest things. We are stewards of the gospel, keepers of the flame. While we are here, it is our turn to show the heart of God to the world. I heard Kevin present the gospel at His mother’s funeral and his daughter’s wedding. I heard him urge everyone to not miss why we’re here. “Please, don’t miss Jesus.” May that be our generation’s cry. In joy, in grief, God is over all. And His grace is sufficient. He promises.

I witnessed the best in humanity and saw the image of God this last week in the joining of hearts and lives in love and purpose for the kingdom, the victory over death bought by Jesus in the celebration of the home-going of a precious believing soul, the sacrifices of sweet friends who gave hours of their time to be by our sides in our life’s most tender moments, the sweet testimonies of people who had been loved well, the tender face of little Mrs. Carter as she recalled praying with Kevin to accept Christ when he was seven years old, the classmates now in their 80’s who had started first grade with Kevin’s dad and just wanted to come say, “You matter. You are valuable to me. You are worth the sacrifice.” So humbling. So precious. It is an earthly revelation of the heart of God for us. As Jesus said in Luke 10, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Jen Gaunce – June 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’ve had an epiphany. Or apathy. Or appendectomy. Hang on, let me check. …Yep. It’s definitely an epiphany. I’ve been watching a robin bang it’s head on my living room window for three or four weeks. Every day it’s the same routine. While his or her friends are building nests in my ferns and tearing them up to serve their own purposes, this robin has continually flown into the window and perched on the ledge. He sits there and stares in at us like he’s watching a movie at the drive-in. He often decides to give it one more try and bangs into the window trying to get in. The racket is frustrating. The mess he is leaving behind is more than frustrating. I have stared at this bird often thinking, “I wish he knew what I know.” You see, I know what would happen if this robin’s dreams came true and he finally made it in.  I am fully aware that the bird is exactly where he is supposed to be. His reality is total freedom. What he is knocking his brains out for is captivity, imprisonment. He can no longer live as he was made to once he makes it in the house. In the house, his life would be a constant battle to make it back out to where he was in the first place. He is a perfect picture of discontentment. And this is where my “Aha” moment sets in.

I so often am that bird, staring in at someone else’s life, knocking my brains out trying to get in so I can be them. Or maybe I’m not wanting to be anyone else in particular, I’m just so badly not wanting to be me. And why exactly is that? What’s so bad about being me? I think my “dreamer” personality doesn’t help me out very much. I tend to have an artistic heart that is emotional and loves beauty and tends to fantasize. My contentment is often dependent on the contentment of those around me. As badly as I want everyone else around me to be content, I struggle with it daily. I often have a movie playing in my head and am disappointed, or even devastated, when my movie doesn’t match my reality. Unmet expectations are hard to bare. This is why three-year-olds throw a fit when they don’t get their way. We train them to not be so selfish and not throw a tantrum when disappointed. We try to teach them that the world does not revolve around them and there is a bigger story going on than theirs. We help them grow up. God doesn’t let us stay three years old. He is constantly giving us opportunities to grow up in contentment.

I feel like I have matured enough to know that the feeling of happiness comes and goes with the wind, so I don’t plant my garden in its ever-changing soil. Contentedness produces deep, solid roots that find purpose and even rest in the good or the bad circumstances in which it finds itself. It may even say, “I don’t like where I am right now. I want it to change. It hurts to be here. But while I am here, may I rest in the care of my Lord, knowing that I won’t experience anything He didn’t already experience for me or because of me. May I glorify Him and may His purposes be fulfilled in me in what feels like the waiting time.” The waiting time is a hard place to be. Waiting speaks to temporariness and things changing. But when, how? Watching the fulfillment of other’s dreams, especially when they are your dreams too, is painful and lonely. Our enemy comes to us in these waiting times and tells us that we are indeed alone, different than everyone else. We are somehow forgotten or not chosen for the good things that God seems to have lavished on others. He tells us that there is no hope for happiness. Everyone else is riding the happy train and we don’t have a ticket. We are banging our heads on the window trying to get in. Our enemy lies to us a lot about happiness. He dangles it like a carrot in front of us leading us down the path of bitterness, regret, jealousy, and discontentment. It feels true, but we’ve been on this journey long enough to know that we can’t trust our feelings and they are not an indicator of the reality of God and His work in us. We must go to the source of truth, God’s Word, to find out what is really going on. We must then agree with God and refuse to side with our enemy about the character and nature of God. Let’s blow some lies out of the water and claim the reality of who God is to us and who we are to Him.

I am loved. I John 4:10 tells us that God loved us when we didn’t love Him and sent His son to be the substitute for our death so we could be with Him forever.

I am cherished. Isaiah 49:15 tells us that just as a mother could not forget her nursing baby, neither could God forget us. We are His priority. He is always caring and providing for us.

I am not alone. Isaiah 41:10 tells us to not be afraid because God is our God, and He is with us. As He told Joshua in Joshua 1:9, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God has good for me. Psalm 84:11 tells us that God withholds no good thing for those who walk with Him. Psalm 107:1 tells us that God is good. Romans 8:28 promises that He works all things together for good for those who love Him.

Is it possible that what is eating at my soul and depriving me of what I deem necessary for my fulfillment and contentment may one day be called “good” by me? Sin is not good. Sin is cruel, and all heartache is a result of it. Maybe not our own, but just the condition of a world cursed by it. We struggle to see correctly, and it hurts. We are not in our original form, but we will be again. And while we are in this waiting time, may we beg God for sight and truth and clarity. May we clamor for God’s name to be praised rather than clamor for a change in our circumstances. Sometimes we get both. Sometimes we are asked to praise God in a place we never wanted to be. I believe when that is the case, a root grows deep and a solidness of soul sets in and a knowing that can only come from a bowed knee and an unclenched hand raised in worship. There comes a deep understanding that He is God and His ways are not ours, but they are always good. Hard? Sure. Painful? Yes. Impossible? Never. It is His life in us, and it is good.

Like the bird on my front porch, I need someone who sees what I can’t to show me the way. What does God know about my life and circumstances that I don’t? What is He protecting me from? What is He saving me for? What is in my heart that He wants to show me? What is He preparing me for? What all does He want to accomplish during this waiting time? How does He want to grow me up and what will it take for that to happen? I’m not sure. But I do know that I don’t want to be banging my brains out on a window trying to get to a different life than what God has for now. Every pain requires a choice and act of obedience in me. It is a constant opportunity to sacrifice my will. A sacrifice costs something. It is the slaughter of something precious. It’s why we have a Savior. I was meant to live in freedom. I am free to do all things for the glory of God, not my own. I beg God not to let me be blinded by the selfishness that is constantly knocking at my door trying to sell me the lie that I should, even must, seek happiness and self-fulfillment because that is what matters most. Don’t buy it. We have no room and time for those lies. We don’t have time to be selfish. We can’t stay in a self-seeking mode missing God and leaving a mess to keep cleaning up. We have a very short time here to bring God glory through faith and not sight. We’re living in freedom and selflessness and for God’s glory. I’m not telling you to not hurt in your suffering. Of course you hurt. I’m just asking you to not waste it. It’s part of God’s bigger story in you. He’s asking us to live in His story. Make sure you’re not expecting it to be the other way around. Bow your knee, open your hand, and worship. That is what God is always leading us to. It is the goal in all suffering, all discontentment, all waiting. We finally realize it’s about Him, His story, His love, His glory, and His longing and pursuit to include us in it. I’m a receiver, a participant, a worshiper. It’s what I was made for. It’s the fulfillment of all my heart has longed for. I am no longer banging my head, obsessed with what I don’t have. I live in the freedom of all that is mine forever.

 

Jen Gaunce – April 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’ve been thinking about sin much as of late. Not mine, of course. I was contemplating the sin of others. You know, the ugly sins. The ones that smell bad. While considering what went wrong in other people’s lives and how to fix them, God suddenly pivoted the floodlight to shine on the hidden and coddled parts of my own heart. Why does He always do that? One answer is found in Hebrew 11:6 which says, “For he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” He gets to choose how He rewards us. It’s always with Himself. I can’t seek God without Him revealing to me the next step in my understanding of the truth of who He is and the truth about me. Any time God hears the words “they” and “them” drip from my lips, He reminds me that the proper words are “we” and “us.” I can easily find myself so angry at the sin of others. When I see what it takes to mop up the aftermath of just one person’s indulgence in selfishness, I want to grab them by the collar and lift them off the ground and scream in their face, “How could you possibly be so selfish?!!! Can’t you see what the consequences of your sin costs everyone around you? Not to mention the name of God. How could anyone be so selfish?” Why is that my response? What is the truth about sin? What is the truth about my sin?

We’ve become very close to the substance abuse rehabilitation ministries in town. I’ve learned so much from our friends there who are battling every day and seeking healing. I’ve learned much about sin that was foreign to me and also much about sin that seemed strangely familiar, like an old sock. One friend told us that rehabilitation should be at least a one-year program, and training and supervision is needed for a long time after that. He said that after a year, an addiction struggler is just then at zero, just beginning to poke his head out of the hole. So much time and training and resources are needed to establish a new way of thinking, and then it must be policed and maintained for a very long time. Forgive my arrogance, but I have lived much of my life deceived to believe that I was somehow different; that those who made good choices and were rule keepers didn’t suffer with entrenched sin. I tend to categorize people. That is simply code for saying that I judge people. My sin just isn’t as repulsive as other’s, is it? Because I’ve been hurt by judging and have done it so many times myself, I’ve become sensitive to not assuming the content and integrity of someone’s heart. Assuming is unfair and unkind and unloving. Always ask for the truth. You may not get it, but give the opportunity for it, nonetheless. As I have heard Kevin say, “There is a judge. It’s just not us.” I also realize that there is a very real enemy, it’s just not you.

I have come to see that I can’t tell you to just stop sinning. Just believe truth. Just think differently. Just make good choices. Stop being selfish. Go to church. Pray more. I have learned much about sin and patterns and wrong thinking and enemy territory from knowing people and learning myself. Salvation, which is found only in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 – “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”) redeems the soul and washes clean and makes us new with the life of Christ in us. Then why do we continue to be so screwed up, so capable of such darkness that is so contrary to who we really are? I’m no theologian or psychiatrist. In full disclosure, I had to spellcheck both of those words. I’m not heavy in the brilliance department, but a light has shone on a thought that many before me have come to, I’m sure, but that is just dawning on me. Though our spirits are redeemed, our bodies and brains remain very much exposed to the experiences and influences of this world and the enemy of our souls. Those parts of us that have been yielded to the enemy need constant guarding and maintenance and care because the natural current of this world takes us to decay and chaos and death. For the most part, all that has transpired in our life stays alive in our thoughts and mind. Where we have knowingly, or sometimes unknowingly, invited and allowed Satan to have access, we have surrendered some territory. It doesn’t mean it can’t be taken back, it just means that the thoughts and images and words are there and will now be a battleground and need guarding with careful watch, possibly as long as our body lives or, perhaps with much work and seeking, relief will come sooner. This first came to light for me in seeing the stronghold of pornography and sexual sin in people’s lives; I’m speaking of the redeemed. The indulgence has allowed the enemy to have ground in the brain that is then a constant battleground. In praying for the men in my life, I pray that they would be terrified of sexual images and see them for the poison and horror that they are. Please don’t turn ground over to the enemy to hurt you and your family. Even as a youth, you are hurting your future spouse and children. Be very afraid. Please don’t create a battleground that will be a lifelong distraction from loving and ministering well. You must know that the consequences of sin are far reaching and will hurt the ones you love the most, the ones you swore to love and protect and cherish. Please, protect them from yourself by never giving the enemy a stronghold to use as a weapon against you and those you love. If the consequences of sin are great, the consequences of grace are far greater. (Romans 5:20 – “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”) Don’t despair if you have been deceived and been in agreement with the enemy of our souls. So have all of us. It’s what the cross is for. It’s why Jesus came. This letter isn’t to condemn. It’s just my own revelation and confession of my own sin and warning to us all.

You see, I realize that there aren’t just the pitied some who have indulged and given up territory to the enemy. We all have. I have areas of my life and brain that have become habits and hobbies and have felt such a natural part of me that I never recognized the lie that they are about the truth and character of God. What part of my thinking and my life is a daily battle? In what have I indulged so readily that I must fight and scrape to apply the truth? What battle will only be won in me with constant watching and maintenance and application of truth and stewardship and accountability? When I picture me screaming in someone’s face, “How could you possibly be so selfish?” I become fully aware that that is exactly my battle: selfishness. Sounds not so bad, right? You can sort of keep that one a secret. Everybody is selfish sometimes. No biggie. “Get behind me, Satan!” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we must destroy everything that is raised up against the knowledge of God. Selfishness goes against everything that is true about God. It flies in the face of all that Jesus is and the example He gave us to follow and the words He spoke to us and His very life in us. Everything that doesn’t want to love and sacrifice like my Lord is selfishness in me. It expresses itself through me in self-protection, comparison, jealousy, bitterness, arrogance, laziness, control, fear, and countless other ways. My longing to just “do me” and seek my happiness is a lie about the character of God and the life of Christ in me. I recognize it. I repent of it. I agree with God about it. And now, I put floodlights on it so the enemy cannot sneak in when I’m not being alert and claim territory. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says that we are not ignorant of our enemy’s schemes, so don’t give him any advantage. Ephesians 4:27 says to not give the devil an opportunity. Ephesians 6:11 tells us to put on the full armor of God and stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:16 tells us to use the shield of faith to extinguish all flaming missiles of the evil one. There is a reason for the battle terminology. We are at war. Letting our guard down is certain defeat in these earthly raging battles.

Now that I see a little clearer, I must recognize the need for pushing against and guarding and making new plans to prevent our enemy from taking up residence in that part of my brain again. The old ruts and tracks of self-protection and happiness-seeking that my brain naturally tends toward must have new roads built with truth. Selfishness and self-protection are not the path of my Savior, nor should they be mine. It will be painful and sweaty and dirty, and I will need the help of others to guard me and fight with me and help me on this journey. I should never go it alone. I’m claiming enemy territory. It’s a battle. Death is surely involved. Nehemiah told his wall builders to be prepared as soldiers as they worked with one hand and held a sword in the other. In 4:14 he says, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Suit up! Ride out with me! Fight with me!

One day our bodies and brains will stop. I don’t know all of the theology about the mind and soul. I only know that all of me that Jesus bought and redeemed with His blood will be with Him forever. No more battle with sin and pain. We will see the consequences of our sins in the scars on the hands and feet of Jesus. And all will be well.

 

Jen Gaunce – June 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I have warfare, particularly spiritual warfare, much on my mind as of late. Several reasons: our family recently rewatched  The Lord of the Rings trilogy; our church ladies and friends are doing The Armor of God  study by Priscilla Shirer; and I have become keenly aware, in my own life and the lives of others, of the attacks of the enemy of our souls on us individually, our families, our relationships, our church, our community, our nation, and more. We are at war. This war has been raging long before we ever entered the story. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell the history of the evil one behind the power of evil kings. Scripture tells us of a beautiful servant angel of God who tried to create a coup against his own Creator. He and his followers were cast from heaven and given reign on earth. Revelation 20:10 tells us that complete destruction is their future, but why wait? Why not end the rebellion and destruction immediately before any more damage can be done? I don’t know. For purposes we can only guess at and try to justify in our own minds, satan (lowercase intended) has been allowed reign and rule on the earth, but only what God has allowed him. God tells us in Psalm 24:1 that everything on earth is His. Abraham Kuyper said, ”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” We know that satan has been granted access and audience with God at times, as in Job. He accuses the saints before God in Revelation 12, constantly seeming to taunt God and seek our destruction. Satan is the one who convinced Eve in the garden that she could be like God if she just did what he said, and sin has been part of our story ever since. Like a bee up your nose, he is relentlessly irritating and lying and trying to cast doubt and diminish the work of our Savior on our behalf. Why not be rid of him immediately? It’s a mystery to me. But don’t despair, Colossians 2:3-4 tells us that all answers are in Christ. All of God’s love and grace and purposes for humanity culminate at the resurrection of Christ. So while we, His rescued saints, wait to shed our earthly bodies and live eternally in His presence, we must realize that we are under constant attack. We are at war.

I know little of physical war. My father was rejected from being drafted in the Korean war because a burst eardrum as a child made him ineligible. Kevin’s dad was rejected from service for the same reason. My parents’ generation made huge sacrifices during the wars of the ‘40’s, ‘50’s, and 60’s. Everyone loved or knew someone who lost their life. Everyone sacrificed material goods and endured shortages for the sake of the cause. Women who had never been employed did hard labor in factories to replace the lost men. Many orphans and widows and grieving parents were left. Everyone was called to sacrifice. So much was at stake. But not so since my generation. Many make great sacrifices to serve our country and protect our freedom, but the majority of the general public can live seemingly unaffected. One may choose to be a soldier ( and thank God they do) but no one is required to do so. We can live and move and enjoy our way of  life with very little cost to ourselves. Seldom do we realize we are riding on the backs of those who gave it all. Someone had to push hard against the darkness for us to live in the light. Pleasure and comfort are the American pursuit, not sacrifice. As in all things, if we don’t see the cost, we won’t appreciate the value. We must see the bigger story taking place beyond our smaller one.

It makes me think of the Shire in LOTR (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. Tolkien). It was a beautiful, peaceful, fun loving place. It was home to the main character and savior in the story, Frodo. It was a protective bubble for Frodo. His friends, family, and all that was dear to him were there. He had never been anywhere else. He didn’t know of the dark story playing out beyond the Shire, where evil was on the move to rule and to reign. Frodo didn’t go looking for trouble, it came to him through the selfishness of someone else. Isn’t that how sin came into the world in the first place, because of someone’s selfishness? Often our first awareness of the cruelty of sin is because of the selfishness of someone else. Often, it’s just our own desperate search for love and validation and protection that opens our eyes to the cruelty of sin. We are born into it. It is our natural state until we realize we need a savior and the King of the world has provided for our salvation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I often look with sadness at a rundown house. The grass and bushes are high and covering the house. The house itself is rickety and falling in. What happened? Nothing. And that’s the problem. Someone just stopped fighting and pushing back the overgrowth and decay. No one purposed to make it look beat up and neglected. It’s just the natural course of the world when it is not pushed against. And our natural course is one of depravity apart from a new life in Christ. We don’t have to go looking for sin. It is upon us.

For those who have accepted the payment of the life of Christ for their sin state, they are out of the enemy’s reach, but not his influence. We no longer sin because we have to, only when we choose to. God will be much at work for the rest of our lives exposing those parts of our minds and hearts and behavior that are not like Him, that which doesn’t accurately reflect His character and heart, the real identity of who we are. It’s a long process. It hurts. We resist. But God is very, very faithful. He loves us too much to leave us in a state that is less than who He is. We have the life of Christ. We made an exchange. It’s no longer our life we’re living. All of life is about learning who we really are. And then it’s about behaving like who we really are. God is very committed to seeing it through. We often fight back at the discomfort of it. Just hang on, there’s so much more going on than discomfort.

It took me years to be able to watch the orks and kings and sacrifice and selfishness and battles and victories that make up the LOTR movies. The evil is portrayed so putridly that you can almost smell its stench in your living room. So much fighting. So much constant battling. It wears me out. I am a comfort seeker and conflict avoider. My answer to all discomfort is to hide under the table and pull a curtain around it. Just tell me when it’s over. Sacrifice and selflessness are always such emotional things for me to witness. Kindness, especially in strangers, always makes me cry. Why would a policeman or fireman risk his life for me and those I love? How is it that people who don’t even know Christ can do such heroic and selfless acts of fighting to save a life? It’s the image of God in us that motivates us to act selflessly whether we know Him or not. Kindness always means that someone is pushing against the darkness in this world and is making a sacrifice. I’ve given up trying to verbally express my gratitude to veterans when I see them out because my blubbering and crying embarrasses us both. The image of God portrayed in selflessness in others always overwhelms me. After years of seeing the images of the LOTR movies and hearing my family discuss it, I was finally drawn in. I still don’t have all of the ridiculous names and places down, but I know the story and the expressions on the faces of the beloved actors that faithfully execute the passion of the author as he tells the old, old story in a new way. There is one great story. And it’s true. But God has gifted men with imagination and brilliance to express the great, true story in different ways. It is a wonderful gift. A faithful image bearer will portray evil as putridness and destruction and death. He will also portray goodness as selflessness and sacrifice. Love and faithfulness will be the motive and the theme of the story. Just as it is in our story.

I have learned much of warfare from watching the LOTR movies. I’ve learned of the need for proper weapons to fight the enemy. I’ve seen the need to have protective armor in order to not succumb to the enemy’s weapons used against us. Unity is a must when we are at war. If the enemy can get us alone, we are at our most vulnerable. In the movie, a small hobbit has volunteered to take a ring that was left to him and throw it into the firey pit from which the enemy made it. The enemy possessing this ring will mean total rule for him and the end of  life on earth as the characters in our story have known  it. The mission: destroy the ring before it gets into the enemy’s hands. It’s a long, dangerous journey.  Frodo, the ring bearer, can’t do it alone. Such beloved characters arise in this story. Such faithful friendships and loyalty and faithfulness and sacrifice that seem beyond human ability. And yet, we know it is possible because we’ve seen it ourselves, we pray for it, we long for it. It is the image of God in us. A group of eight unlikely characters vow to help little Frodo on his journey to destroy the ring and save the world. They’re not all sure they can trust each other in the beginning, and yet they’ve made a pledge to protect the ring and its bearer with their very lives. They call their group the fellowship of the ring. Don’t you love the word “fellowship”?  Doesn’t it conjure  images of belonging, togetherness, loyalty and protection, and being part of something bigger than just you? I love that our church has the word “fellowship” in it. May we grow into the meaning of that word as a body. May we rightly live out God’s intent for His church, the body and bride of Christ, to His glory and for the sake of the world. The fellowship in LOTR endures so much hardship, battling from outside and within, being constantly pursued by the enemy. At one point, the little hobbits are acting carelessly, not being on guard when one of their protectors rebukes them and says with such fervor, “I know what hunts you.”

Lesson one in warfare: know your enemy. Do you know what hunts you? Do you really know the severity of your situation? I always wanted to live in The Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables stories. They lived in a simple, small, protected world. I never wanted to live in a LOTR story. I never wanted to have to fight and sacrifice and be inconvenienced. I want to just do me. But, as Aragorn says to King Theoden who does not want war, “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.” Open war is upon us whether we realize it or not. The fact that we exist means we have an enemy. If you don’t know your enemy you will never know how to fight, how to defend yourself, what weapons to use. How will you know him? We introduced our enemy at the beginning of this letter. We read the great story, the word of God, to tell us about our enemy. We learn how to push back, how to have victory. Our enemy is a liar. It is his main weapon. He can do nothing but lie and is constant with his attacks. Every thought in your head that raises itself against the knowledge of God, that speaks falsely about who God is and who you are to Him is from your enemy. It feels like it is coming from you. It’s not. Recognize it as warfare and start fighting. If satan can have us believe that our thoughts are ours, then the spiral begins of, “I’m a bad person. I must not really love God. I must not have the life of Christ in me. No one would like me if they really knew me. I’m all alone. This will never change. I’m hopeless.” You know you can track with me because you hear it and battle it every day. So do I. Our only hope is to battle the lies with the truth of God’s word. John 17:17 tells us that God’s word is truth.

Ephesians 6 is the scripture reference for our ladies’ study that teaches us how to battle. I have to tell you that I’m a chicken and a sissy. At the first sign of trouble you will see my rear end hanging out from under the table as I’m furiously grabbing for the curtain to pull around me, hoping it’s got enough fabric to cover my rear end. I need to learn to fight. I must know my enemy and how I can put him to run. Can you imagine the impact in our lives and our church and our world if we did it together? Those very words cause the enemy to shake. He knows he is in trouble if we can recognize his schemes, call him out, and pummel him with the truth of God’s word and all that God has given us to fight him. Let’s do it together.

Some of the most precious and touching and heart wrenching scenes in LOTR are when the fellowship fights together. When a friend stands in front of a friend with sword drawn and says, “Not as long as there is breath in my lungs will you get to him.” When little folk encircle the ring bearer with their backs to him to protect him with their lives. When the horn is blown calling for aid and the fellowship stops everything and runs as hard as they can with swords drawn and arrows pointed to fight for the one who can’t hold off the enemy alone. When a friend stands over a fallen friend too weak to fight with a sword and says, ”I’ll protect you. I’ll fight for you,” and swings with all his might at the enemy.  When a fellow warrior takes the arrows and gives his life for a friend. When a friend carries the friend who is too weak to go on. Sacrifice! Selflessness! That is the one great story. That is the path of Christ. That is what we are called to. Loyally fighting for and with each other. We can do it because Christ did and does it for us. We have the life of Christ in us. All that He is, is already in us. He made us to do it together. We really can love and carry each other and push against the darkness together and show the world the great story of God and His great love and provision  for us, His creation. It doesn’t happen by being big and powerful and tough. It happens through humility and selflessness and sacrifice and great love.

One great difference in our story and LOTR is that we’re not waiting to see if we win. God has already won. It was never a question. He’s never not been in complete control. It’s a matter of battling well, joining Him for His purposes, loving Him and others more than we love ourselves. He calls us into sacrifice and fellowship and love. Warfare is the process by which we shed all that is not Him in us. Let’s battle well, sweet friends. I love you. I need you. And as great as the impulse in me to run and hide is, I want to fight for you and with you. We were made to glorify God together. Lord, make us faithful.

 

Jen Gaunce – May 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’m sitting down with my pen and paper (Yes, I still do it the old-fashioned way) not even knowing what I’ll write. But I’m trusting God for words since His are the only ones that matter. Either God works on our behalf or we might as well stay in bed. My editors, meaning my children, remind me to be concise. My main editor, meaning my daughter Rebecca, says that I don’t want to scare someone off with a lengthy text. My publisher, meaning Thomas Berry, has given me free reign. My audience, meaning Kevin, encourages me to go for it. So, with my trusted staff behind me, I want to launch out to wrap up the remainder of the Seamless study and have you join us in the ladies’ study of the big picture of Scripture and the great story of God always coming after us and for us.

I certainly don’t want to leave us where my last letter left off, wandering in the desert and demanding that God give us “more” than Himself. That would be a terrible end to the human story. No hope.  Us left to ourselves is the worst of all scenarios. We need to be rescued. Have I got some great news for you, just hang on. I always marvel at the tenacity of God in the pursuit of His creation. Time after time, mankind, even His chosen people, turn aside, rebel, reject God, and side with the enemy of our souls. And time after time, God rescues, pursues, and provides. All through the Old Testament we see God sending discipline to correct and redirect and awaken His people and even those who didn’t claim to be His. We see God sending judges and prophets to teach, instruct, enlighten, and direct. He allows His people to suffer the consequences of their disobedience and choices. The Old Testament ends with prophecies and murmurings of a great rescue. But who? How? So glad you asked. Turn the page with me hundreds of years later into the New Testament and feel the winds of change blowing. What is this all about? Could it finally be?

Let’s remember the circumstances of the New Testament in which Israel finds itself. Tossed to and fro as a nation for centuries because they would not obey God and His Word to them, the Jewish people are under Roman rule. They are allowed to follow their Jewish religious customs, but Rome has the power and say in their lives. They long for the Messiah that is promised by the prophets of old to come and set them free.  They don’t have the whole story written out as we do; they are living it. When would it finally happen? They begin hearing rumors of angel appearances to an old man and a young girl. There are strangers who look like kings visiting and asking questions, and there is the ordered mass murder of their infant sons. There is a crazy guy hollering in the desert and baptizing people. Why are so many people interested? Then there is a man with a following of people begging Him for healing and provision. What exactly do they think He will do for them? What exactly do they want? Do they have any idea what they really need?

I read an excellent article by Michael Gerson in the April 15, 2017, edition of The Paducah Sun called “The Hope of Pardon and Peace.” Reading it makes me think of Good Friday in a different way. We often read Scripture as a record of accounts from the past, and so they are. But that’s not all they are. What’s the bigger picture, the back of the tapestry, the one great story? The author of the article points out the terrible darkness of that day, not just the facts about it. On that day, “Nearly every human institution is revealed at its worst.” Government fails at justice, religious leaders are saving their own skin, the “followers” of Christ go from praising Him to mob-cursing Him, the closest friends betray and abandon. Then there is the terrible torture and the question that so unnerves us, “Why have You forsaken me?” I’ve long tried to make sense and reason of that question and have come up with sloppy answers. I only know that hopelessness and forsakenness are our human condition since the garden. It is the penalty of sin in to which we are all born. Sin must be paid for; it cannot be pushed under the rug. Christ came to pay it by experiencing the forsakenness and despair for us. God brought Himself to that point for us so that He might redeem and rescue us from it. I don’t believe that Jesus suffered physically more than any other man or His death was the most painful one ever suffered, though it was indescribably horrific. But it is the fact that it is our Creator Himself becoming like His creation and suffering the forsakenness of His creation in order to rescue His creation that makes it all so unthinkable. (Phil. 2:5-9)  And why did He ask “Why?” I don’t know. He knows all things. Maybe the words are as much for our sake as the sacrifice is. He knows our pain. He knows our despair. He knows our scream of “Why?”  It was the darkest of days. There wasn’t much good that Friday. Gerson says, “Every ember of human hope was cold, and there was nothing to be done about it.”

What on earth did His followers think, those who knew He would become king and overthrow Rome and Israel would once again thrive as a super power? No more suffering. No more being pushed around as the little guy. What about those who believed Him to be the true Messiah and banked everything on it? Now, He is just gone. Gone! And from the lips of all believers spill the words, “But I thought…”  Don’t we utter these very words with broken hearts and tear-stained face from time to time in our lives? We thought this would look different. We thought this would come through. We thought there would be healing. We thought there would be joy. We thought it would be different. But just as Good Friday is not the end of the story, your darkest day is also not the end of yours.

“Then something happened,” says Gerson. Those may well be the best words ever written. Amidst darkness and despair and all hope gone, something happened. Jesus did not stay dead. He defeated the enemy of our souls, He defeated death, He fulfilled the purpose for which He came, He paid the penalty of death and forsakenness for us, He bought our freedom and our acceptance by God as His child. It’s a different freedom than the Jews were looking for, and most of them missed Him, but not all. His friends that left Him on Friday built the church and spread the gospel and most died martyrs death for it. The fact that our Savior lives and salvation is given to us because of what He did, not us, we have a unique rescue story, different than all the world and far superior to what anyone else has to offer.  Please read Ephesians 2 for a beautiful summary of Christ’s work on behalf of all man, not just the Jews. He includes everyone, to which I humbly say, “Thank You.” And before you think that’s the end of the story, the New Testament is full of instruction and encouragement and hope for our future.

I can fill a postage stamp with all that I know about the second coming of Christ and Revelation and a new heaven and new earth and our eternal reign with Christ. I‘ve been taught and I’ve read, but it’s pretty fuzzy to me. When I was little, my family used to sing in church. Mom played the piano, my teenage sister would probably rather have not been there, my daddy sang bass, and my older sister, Laura, would belt it out like nobody’s business. Having nothing to offer musically with my lack of volume and speech impediment, I was the cute factor. My daddy would stand me on the end of the piano bench so I could be seen and he would whisper, “Sing, girls,” into the back of our heads between verses. We were the Duke family. One of the first songs I remember singing as a family was “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” I could sing it for you right now if you like. I knew every word by heart with little or no understanding of what it meant. Still true today. As I grew up and heard sermons on the second coming of Christ it fairly scared me to death. There was always the “what if” factor. What if I wasn’t ready? What if I wasn’t really saved? What if I was left? What if I missed Him? Maturity and Scripture assures me that my salvation is based on the work of Jesus on my behalf alone and my acceptance of His payment for me. He bought me for God. (Rev 5:9)  God forgives me for Christ’s sake. (Ephesians 4:32 KJV)  I am sealed with the Holy Spirit for eternity. (Ephesians 1:13) I am the gift that they give each other. How humbling! How loved and cherished I am! How wanted! How much am I worth? I am worth Jesus. He is my payment for living all eternity with Him in the presence of my Creator as He intended all along. Ephesians 1 tells us He planned it before creation. He gave everything to rescue His creation and make us His forever.

Great story! It’s God’s story. It’s my story. It’s your story. The last question in our Seamless study is, “How are you living your life to tell His story?” Great question.  I long to answer it faithfully every day. Let’s do it together. God made us to tell and live His story together. We reflect the character of God better together. Your giftings and personality reflect characteristics of God differently than mine; and mine yours. We reflect His character best to a needy world when we are doing it lovingly and selflessly together. I need you, sweet friend. I don’t want to do life without you.  You are God’s gift to me. Lord make us faithful.

Spoiler alert; WE WIN!!!!!!!!

 

Jen Gaunce – April 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I wanted to catch you up on what the girls have been studying in our weekly Seamless Bible study. We actually finished the seven week study and are looking forward to starting a new one in the near future. I had no idea what a blessing the structure and accountability of the study would be to me. After the study, I find myself being choppy and sloppy in my time with the Lord again. I talk with Him all day in sometimes concentrated and sometimes broken conversation. Talking is natural for me. (No “Amen’s”  please.) Listening is a different matter. The stillness of the mind and spirit that seeks God’s heart in His Word that He has so graciously given us takes effort, sacrifice, and purpose.  None of those are my favorite. And yet, I am routinely so overwhelmed and overjoyed when He reveals his love and character to me through His Word that I wonder why I would ever not seek Him with great thirst and fervor. There may be many reasons why we don’t pant after God’s heart, but the main one is that we are at war. We battle. We have an enemy who is constantly lying to us, trying to distract us and make us forget the goodness of God. We were born into a big story, a world in great conflict with its Creator. What’s my part in the story? Aren’t I just a victim of other people’s sin, disobedience, and misbehavior? Sure. So are you. I’m also a perpetuator of sin, disobedience, and misbehavior. So are you. We spoke of original sin and believing the lies of the enemy in my last letter. The Seamless study so blessed me in helping my understanding of an overall picture of the Bible and the one great story.

Let’s pick up with God choosing a man to start a nation that would show the world God’s great love and mercy and provision, a people that would reveal the very character and heart of God to the world, a race that would produce the Savior of the world. Let’s remember what condition His creation was in at the time God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation God would love and bless and shepherd forever. After God’s redirections of His creation to stop the terrible consequences of sin, we find that mankind has continued to buy into the lie of the enemy and seek life apart from God. God chose to create a race of people that He would call His. They were to live differently and distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. God would show Himself strong on their behalf and provide for them in glorious ways. There was some prep work to take place with suffering for His people so that His provision and glory would be demonstrated all the better at their rescue. Why Abraham? I have no idea. I only know that he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. We can “why” ourselves to death. If we hold our faith hostage until all of our “why’s” are satisfied, we will miss God completely. For one, it presupposes that we have the mind of God and will understand and accept His reasoning if it were only given to us. Second, it leaves us in judgement of God’s reasoning and purposes. Do not remove God from His throne and set yourself in judgement of Him. This is the great lie, the great battle plan of the enemy. God is God. End of story. He need not explain Himself to us. But, in His extreme love and mercy, compassion and kindness, He has made Himself known to us and asks to trust Him in what we can’t see and don’t understand. Not doing so was the downfall of the children of Israel. It is ours as well.

Every Saturday before Easter, “The Ten Commandments” is shown on network television. My daughters associate it with painting their nails and getting ready for church the next day. Every year we watch about the same twenty minutes of the movie. We never find out if they actually make it out of Egypt. We laugh at the ridiculous script, the overacting, and the Americans trying to pass as Egyptians. I always say that if Charlton Heston had just walked a little faster, it could have been a forty-five minute movie. Why do Bible people always walk and talk in slow motion in movies? And yet, we’re drawn to it like mosquitoes to a fat baby. Part of it is the emotional attachment, and part of it is because it is an amazing story. The most amazing part is that it’s true. God rescued Abraham’s descendants from famine only to let them become slaves in Egypt. Wasted time? God was building a nation. He wastes nothing. Psalms 105-106 is a wonderful summary of God’s heart and dealings with His people. Israel suffered over 400 years until their miraculous rescue through the leadership of a reluctant, but obedient, man. Leadership is a terrible responsibility. More than once did Moses question God’s calling on him. More than once did others try to overthrow God’s leadership through Moses. People are a messy business. And yet, God in His love orchestrated a tremendous rescue of His people and promised them His care and provision and the most wonderful land for their inheritance. Their part? Obey. Believe. Worship the only one, true God. Be His people.

The bellyaching started immediately. After such a wondrous show of God’s provision and deliverance, they questioned God’s ability to continue to deliver them. They said it would have been better to remain slaves, God should have left them alone. Really?! Is that what we want, for God to leave us alone? There is not a hell or hole so black that we would find ourselves without the power and presence of God holding back the powers of darkness and evil among us. I promise, you never want God to leave you alone. He’s not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy. Even after walking through the sea on dry land, after being fed bread from heaven, after eating so much meat that it made them sick, and after witnessing defeat after defeat of enemies that were stronger and more numerous then they, they didn’t want God to be their God. Miracle after miracle of God working on their behalf still left them saying, “We want to be like the other nations. We want a king to follow, a man to lead us, someone we can touch and see like the idols we worship.”  The words, “We want a king,” always break my heart. Caleb told me that God didn’t need me feeling sorry for Him, but don’t you? I’ve known rejection. I’ve felt the pain of having my heart and motives misjudged. I’ve known what it is to not have love returned. Israel’s rejection of their God, of their true king, hurts my heart for God. How could they?! After all the ways He rescued them and provided for them and loved and kept them, how could they tell Him He’s not enough? Dear, sweet friend, please humble yourself with me in the recognition that those very words have so often fallen from our hearts if not our lips. It is the great lie from the enemy of our souls, the great deceit. Israel decided that God wasn’t enough for them. What is your evaluation? In what ways have you shown God that His provision for you isn’t enough; He’s not enough. Well, sadly, I can think of several for  me. I have often struggled with looking at the other “nations” and wanting to be like them. Satan would have me believe that everyone else’s life is better, easier, happier, more prosperous than mine. If our enemy can keep our focus on comparing and coming up short, we will completely miss the blessing of God’s provision for us. Or what about comparing and coming out ahead? Ever heard of arrogance? Been  there. Still there sometimes. His physical provision is different for everyone. Instead of the humble gratitude for way more than enough, I look around me and declare, “Not enough!” I want to be like the other nations. Caleb has Type 1 diabetes. We can either shake our fists in God’s face for allowing Caleb to suffer the consequences of living in a cursed and fallen world, or we can humbly thank God for His provision for his physical life through insulin and his eternal provision for his salvation in Christ. Which rings true to you? Truth? I’ve struggled. Not in anger but in fear, not trusting God’s provision for Caleb. Do you want to know the biggest heartache in Israel’s desire to be like their neighbors? The other nations didn’t even worship God. They followed a king. They worshiped idols. Their statement to God wasn’t only, “You’re not enough,” but also, “We don’t need You.” How foolish! Where I feel like God has let me down, may I humbly ask to see clearly God’s provision for me.  Let’s beg God to show us what we can’t see. How was He coming after us and offering His grace and care all along? What about those who have died? How did God provide for them? Our life here is merely a dot in our existence. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if our hope in Christ is for this life alone than we should be most pitied. God provided eternity with Him through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s eternal provision for us. He is our rescue, our only hope. II Corinthians 5:8 tells us that when we are absent from this body we are present with the Lord if we are in Christ. Hallelujah!!!

What about those of you who have been so walloped, abused, mistreated, rejected? So was Jesus for your sake. God has provided healing for you in Jesus. All of us have had life beat the snot out of us at some time and been left bloody and naked. I don’t mean to diminish your suffering. Sin is so cruel. We have precious friends with stories worse than the worst movie you’ve ever seen. And yet, God in His lovingkindness has rescued and redeemed and healed. Gory to God! Let your suffering drive you to Him. We all thought life would be different than what it is. We’re all disappointed and hurting, some of us more than others. God has provided for us. I think the Israelites had a hard awakening after their deliverance. Life was still hard. There was still suffering. There was still war, still battles to fight. They had to be in complete dependence on God for their survival. Let’s be honest, don’t we knock ourselves out to make sure we’re never in that position? Don’t we want to be able to handle it? We don’t want to be desperate enough for God to be our only hope. Freedom wasn’t exactly like the Israelites thought it would be. Freedom means freedom from bondage, not freedom from dependence on God. God being their God wasn’t enough for them. They must look elsewhere. Haven’t we all thought that after a fulfillment of a longing that life would finally get good? When I get a friend, a job, an education, a spouse, a child, a healing, a church home, a house, acceptance, more money, approval,…then I can enjoy life. Life will finally be good when God finally provides. Can we see the lie? God has already provided. He is the fulfillment of your heart’s greatest desire. We were made by Him for Him, only He can fulfill us. Ephesians 1:10 tells us that all things are summed up in Christ. He is the answer to all things.

So, while I’m wagging my fingers at the children of Israel and saying, “How could you?”, may my heart be so sensitive to the areas of my life where I have told God that His provision for me is not enough and that I know better for myself than He could possibly know. We have no idea what He is sparing us and protecting us from. He can be trusted.

God, show us where we have tried to knock You off of Your throne and claim kingship for ourselves and independence from You. Thank You for Your provision for us in Jesus Christ and for the gifts that you shower on us. Thank You for Your provisions that were meant to drive us to You. Please give us eyes to see them and to see You as our one true God and only fulfiller of our greatest longing. You made us for You. Thank You for loving us that much.

 

Jen Gaunce – March 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I was invited by someone other than my husband to write on our church website. My first thought was, “How sweet.” My next thought was, “We all know where it will be a cold day before I ever write publicly.” Actually, I can’t remember which thought came first. It’s a little hazy. Why open myself up to be judged for my theology, grammar, sentence structure, and giftings and personality, or lack thereof? Coughing up a Christmas letter once a year is about as far as I’m willing to go. I’m a people pleaser. I hate rejection. It’s not just my paranoid imagination speaking of a hypothetical situation. I’ve lived it. So have you. Truth? I’m afraid of you. Bigger truth? I love you. Biggest truth? I love my Lord. I want to be zealous to glorify Him and speak to the hope that is in me. Maybe “zealous” is too ambitious. Passionate people scare me. Nope. On fourth thought, “zealous” is exactly what I want to be. How do I do this without ego? How do I not want to be graded? How do I not want to know what you think? I have no idea. I pray for great humility and an abandoned, obedient heart that seeks only the glory of my Savior. I’m scared! Here we go.

The ladies of the church and added friends are doing a study together called Seamless by Angie Smith. It’s an overview of all of Scripture to see how all of the stories fit into the one big story of God’s great love for and redemption of man. It’s an ambitious project. As I go through the study, I find myself wishing all of the ladies could be together and all of the men could know what we’re learning and be encouraged by it. I’ve been in church my whole life. Bible stories are as familiar to me as the nursery rhymes and fairy tales I learned as a kid. The difference? Scripture is true. It really happened. All that God has said, He has done and will do. Some of the girls shared that they didn’t grow up with these stories and feel a little lost and intimidated by Scripture and discussion in a group. I so appreciate their honesty. We’re all scared. How gracious of God to give us His Word and each other to make His heart known to us. I wanted to share just a few thoughts of how God has shown Himself to me in my time in Scripture these past few weeks. I would love to hear what He has shown you.

I was driving home from Clarksville one night after spending a fun day with Hannah. It was dark (not my favorite), and my speedometer went wacko and lay there like a dead man (especially not my favorite). I had no idea what speed I was going. I couldn’t see anything but the road directly in front of me and the cars I met or blew past from time to time. Wonder what they were going? Did I gauge the truth of my speed according to what they were doing? What if they were wrong? What about when no cars were around? I was guessing and unsure the whole trip home. I had to have something that could tell me the truth about my standing. That’s what God’s Word is to us. It is the truth teller in our lives. It is the only true thing to tell us exactly who and where we are, where we came from and where we’re going, and how and why it all started in the first place. Lots of theories in the world. Only one true story. God’s story. It’s the one He makes know to us through His Word, the Bible, that He so graciously provided and preserved for us so we could know His heart for His creation. We measure everything against it to know what is true. We must be truth seekers if we’re going to make it. WHAT HAS GOD SAID?

Well, that’s kinda how this whole mess got started. Those very words were whispered to Eve in the perfect garden in the world that God made. God uses the words “Us” and “Our” when speaking of  creation. There was already a relationship going on before man was made. There is the trinity, the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that make up the relationship of one God. I can’t explain or understand it. When I try I can only get so far before fear of an aneurism sets in. I simply believe it because I believe all of the Bible is true. I’ve often wondered why God would want to mess up a perfect union by creating man that He knew would betray Him. Don’t know, but being a parent gives me a little insight. Why do we as a married couple long for children? We know they are hard. We know it could go badly. They will have a choice to love us or not and may choose not. And yet, our hearts long for relationship, to bring children into the relationship of the marriage, to have a family that has our values and heart and love. We can make it sound selfish, but we all know that doing children well is the most selfless thing you will ever do. We want to share and grow the love and have sweet fellowship. It helps me understand our Father’s heart a little better. He wants relationship with us.

Man’s rebellion isn’t God’s first rodeo. He’s seen rebellion in His creation before in the form of a lovely angel that went rogue and wanted to set himself up as God, take God’s place. He was cursed and thrown out of heaven with his followers. It’s Satan (purposefully lowercased) who comes to Eve in the garden and asks the question, “What has God said?” He starts casting doubt of God’s goodness and provision for Adam and Eve. He points out that God has placed a limit on them and that isn’t fair. Then he speaks a bold-faced lie and says, “You surely won’t die.” At first Eve speaks truth to the deceiver, telling him what God said. But she speaks no truth against the second lie, and here we are. God doesn’t force us to love and obey Him. That’s not truly love. He always gives us the opportunity for obedience. Why the limits? Because He’s God and He knows what we don’t know. He knows what’s possible. We don’t. Why do we have baby gates and electric socket plugs? We know the possibilities of babies left to themselves. We love them enough to limit them. God loves us more.

I’ve gone from, “How could Eve be so stupid?” to, “I probably would have done the same thing,” to, “I do the same thing every day of my life.” I believe the lies of my enemy so often. Not the ones about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, though those may be yours. They’re not believable to me, so he speaks to me in half-truths and bold-faced lies about the character of my God and His provision for me and who I am. He tells me I should be afraid. I should control every situation to guarantee I and those I love will be okay. I should work harder so God will like me more. He tells me life is about hurting badly and being disappointed and just doing the best I can. He doesn’t speak to me of meth and alcohol, but he knows the lies that are believable to me and is constantly whispering them in my ear. There is no virtue in which lies we believe and which we don’t. They all have their root in the pit of Hell and speak against the truth of who God is and who we are to Him.

I shared with the ladies about my experience on the way to our study last week. I was going to run through the drive-through at McDonalds to get my signature diet Dr. Pepper. The line was too long and I hated everyone in it because they were going to make me late. No flaws in that thinking. I went in to make it go quicker and I believe God had something to show me there. There was a beautiful little red-haired boy looking at the happy meal toy display while his grandfather was getting his happy meal. I was watching this story unfold and just couldn’t help getting the bigger picture. The boy was hollering at his grandfather and pointing to the particular toy he wanted. The grandfather makes it over with the tray of food and the now unhappy meal, and Little Red has a meltdown because he didn’t get the toy he wanted. Much crying and stomping and throwing of fit ensued. It didn’t go the way he decided it should. Never mind that the grandfather had been gracious and intended to treat his grandson and lavish him with good things. And above all, I’m sure the grandfather looked forward to spending a sweet time with Little Red, having a relationship with him. I left the restaurant with my head shaking. That ungrateful child! Why couldn’t he just enjoy all that his grandfather intended for him? I think we all know who I am in this story. I’m the girl behind the counter sampling the apple pie and frappe and telling everyone to have a nice day. Obviously, I’m the little red-headed boy. Don’t we say at times without even realizing it, “I’ll trust you as long as it doesn’t hurt, as long as it goes like I think it should, as long as it doesn’t cost me anything”?

I noticed as I read through Scripture the last few weeks that I was getting more questions than answers about God. I was getting uncomfortable with some of my feelings. The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin are harsh but understandable. He doesn’t explain why He couldn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice. Then we get into destroying the whole earth with water save Noah’s family and the creatures on the ark. God then does a number on the people building a tower at Babel and confuses their languages so they can’t continue in their arrogance and sin and have to break up and go their separate ways. I began to hear echoes of Eden whispered in my ear. Why does God do what He does? Why does He sometimes seem cruel and unrelational and distant? Can He be trusted? Does He really love us? Me? I found myself giving audience to the very lies that Eve fell for.

When I recognized the voice of my enemy, I was humbled and began to see the constant grace of God in the limits and course redirections He has made since that fateful day in the garden. In His curse He also foretells of the seed of Eve that will defeat satan. He tells Cain to be humble and make a course correction. He saves humanity through Noah’s family because Noah walked with God. God destroyed life on earth to halt the terrible indulgence of sin by man. He stopped the kingdom building at Babel because He knew the possibilities of man living apart from God. At each point that satan would tell us God is cruel, God is graciously redirecting man back to Himself.  He doesn’t force our allegiance, but He calls and invites us to join a relationship that already exists. The limits and redirections have been lovingly put in place to protect us, not deprive us. God will always lovingly redirect our attempts to live independently from Him. He made us for something more.

Why doesn’t God just make everything plain? In English? With a Kentucky accent? Why is Scripture sometimes hard to understand? Why did Jesus answer “yes/no” questions with a story that left some, and me, saying, “Huh?”  I like rules. I like black and white. I like to know what is expected of me so I know when I hit it. I’m also lazy. I would rather take a pill than exercise and diet. I would rather watch a documentary on a subject than read a book about it. I would rather do a check list than actually spend time seeking to know God and His heart and His purposes in a relationship. It’s easier. It’s faster. Guess what. I don’t need God for it. Aahhhhh. And there’s the rub. I hear echoes of Eden again. This whole story, all of Scripture is about God wanting a relationship with us and providing a way for it.

I hope to learn much more from this study and our time in God’s Word. I want us to go to God’s heart together. I love you, and I’m praying for you as you recognize the whispers of the enemy and put him to run with the truth of God’s Word.

2 Corinthians 10:5 – “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

 

Jen Gaunce – September 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

My family has experienced some life-changers this past week that I wanted to share with you.  We had the wedding of our beloved daughter and the funeral of Kevin’s beloved mother within three days of each other. Kevin’s mom took her final breath the night before the rehearsal dinner. She wanted to be at the wedding. We all wanted her to be at the wedding. We had extreme emotions going on at the same time: unspeakable joy and unspeakable grief. And yet, is not God in both? Do both not reveal the character of God and His heart for us? Do both not reveal what our hearts believe is true about Him? I can testify boldly to the grace and goodness of God because I’ve seen it, experienced it, and lived it. But please know that the grace and goodness and love of God are true whether I recognize it or not. It’s not my experience that legitimizes the truth about God, but rather the truth about God legitimizes my experience. I can see the truth about God in every circumstance and emotion because His character never changes. His love and work on my behalf and for my good are constant, regardless of my experience. Psalm 100:5 tells us, “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” Kevin and I are middle men. We are between the generations of our parents and our children. We find ourselves needed by both, and blessedly so. We have seen the provision of God in each generation. And not just when life was sweet and it felt good to be alive and sing praises to our Maker; but also when darkness covered our hearts, and it was hard to breathe, and we struggled to remember whose we were. He is God of both, and again, blessedly so.

Kevin’s mom had a neurological disease that slowly took the capability of her body to do her bidding. Her mind stayed clear while her body became more and more debilitated. We watched. We prayed. We begged. We grieved. We hurt for her and for the loss of her to us. God asked something very hard of her. He asked her to glorify Him in suffering and loss. He entrusted her with pain and asked her to steward it well, and that’s exactly what she did. Her precious caregivers helped her volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. She went to listen to the children read and to play board games. She showed up at her grandchildren’s ballgames. She continued to go to church and social events and meet with friends. She continued to eat out even though it meant someone was feeding her and keeping her clean in public. She had her caregivers dress her up like a clown last Thanksgiving because she knew it would make us laugh. It did. She loved. She prayed. She just kept living and giving testimony to the goodness and grace of God as her body withered. After she passed, we had ten hours of visitation at the church to allow people to honor her and love her family. In all that time, there was seldom a lull, just people lined up waiting patiently to tell the family what my dear mother-in-law meant to them. There was testimony after testimony of how she had reached out to welcome and include newcomers, of how people’s lives were drawn to the Lord because of her faithfulness and love, and of how her kindness and selflessness changed the world. Many times I heard people say they wanted to be like her. I was one of them. Kevin’s sweet mom glorified God in her death because she glorified Him in her life. Her refusal to complain, be angry, shake her fist at God and say, “How dare you,” or drown in self-pity painted a beautiful picture of the character of God. She refused to believe the lies from the enemy that he persistently shot at her. She had laid down her will, her rights, her demands that life go a certain way and simply said, “If it is God’s will.” I feel like a quote from Elizabeth Elliot beautifully describes my mother-in-law’s heart and disposition: “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.” Pat Gaunce knew that there are purposes and stories going on beyond her understanding. She had a part to play in God’s story, and she nailed it. Such suffering. Such joy. Such hope. Such glory.

The wedding of my daughter felt like a movie I was watching. I had a hard time discerning my emotions. Such joy and dreams come true, so why the ache? It is indeed the end of something precious and dear, but it is also the beginning of something glorious. It wasn’t luck or good timing that caused Hannah and Nick to find each other on a medical mission trip to Brazil. It was God faithfully orchestrating and directing their lives. As I watched Kevin escort Hannah through an arbor in a beautiful garden, something spiritual overwhelmed me. I caught a glimpse for a moment of us as believers being the bride of Christ. Those had always been sort of unrelatable words to me until this moment. The love and longing and sacrificial selflessness that my daughter and her beloved have for one another is such a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for us. I long to have that same love for Him, to be presented to Him unblemished, with no other loves occupying His place in my heart, no competing passions, no holding back from being one and united with Him. When a bride and groom say “yes” to each other, they have said “no” to every other love on earth. Everything and every person and every relationship is now filtered through the grid of that one relationship, and it is fiercely guarded. They will work and play and minister and love others and make decisions based on their relationship. That is the relationship I want with Jesus. Everything in my life now is for His sake, His glory, to achieve His purposes. I’m no longer living for myself, clawing and grabbing at what I feel like I must have. Jesus sacrificed all to have me. By saying “yes” to Him I have said “no” to all other loves. There is no competition for my affections. I belong to Him. It’s no longer about  me. All of life is now a picture and example of our relationship with God and His love for us. But what do I do with the hurt of my daughter no longer being a child in our home? I remember the bigger story and what we’re called to. In the wedding ceremony, Kevin shared with us the words of Jim Elliott to his parents when he was leaving for the mission field in the 1950’s. “Grieve not, then if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as a heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly – all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.” And so the next generation begins their part in God’s big story. Soon it will be their turn to “…tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” (Psalm 78:4)

God is faithful to each generation. Lord, make us likewise faithful. We’ve each been given a spot here, a time. It’s not so we can be happy and comfortable and prosperous, even though those are great things and I want them. They’re just not the greatest things. We are stewards of the gospel, keepers of the flame. While we are here, it is our turn to show the heart of God to the world. I heard Kevin present the gospel at His mother’s funeral and his daughter’s wedding. I heard him urge everyone to not miss why we’re here. “Please, don’t miss Jesus.” May that be our generation’s cry. In joy, in grief, God is over all. And His grace is sufficient. He promises.

I witnessed the best in humanity and saw the image of God this last week in the joining of hearts and lives in love and purpose for the kingdom, the victory over death bought by Jesus in the celebration of the home-going of a precious believing soul, the sacrifices of sweet friends who gave hours of their time to be by our sides in our life’s most tender moments, the sweet testimonies of people who had been loved well, the tender face of little Mrs. Carter as she recalled praying with Kevin to accept Christ when he was seven years old, the classmates now in their 80’s who had started first grade with Kevin’s dad and just wanted to come say, “You matter. You are valuable to me. You are worth the sacrifice.” So humbling. So precious. It is an earthly revelation of the heart of God for us. As Jesus said in Luke 10, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Jen Gaunce – June 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’ve had an epiphany. Or apathy. Or appendectomy. Hang on, let me check. …Yep. It’s definitely an epiphany. I’ve been watching a robin bang it’s head on my living room window for three or four weeks. Every day it’s the same routine. While his or her friends are building nests in my ferns and tearing them up to serve their own purposes, this robin has continually flown into the window and perched on the ledge. He sits there and stares in at us like he’s watching a movie at the drive-in. He often decides to give it one more try and bangs into the window trying to get in. The racket is frustrating. The mess he is leaving behind is more than frustrating. I have stared at this bird often thinking, “I wish he knew what I know.” You see, I know what would happen if this robin’s dreams came true and he finally made it in.  I am fully aware that the bird is exactly where he is supposed to be. His reality is total freedom. What he is knocking his brains out for is captivity, imprisonment. He can no longer live as he was made to once he makes it in the house. In the house, his life would be a constant battle to make it back out to where he was in the first place. He is a perfect picture of discontentment. And this is where my “Aha” moment sets in.

I so often am that bird, staring in at someone else’s life, knocking my brains out trying to get in so I can be them. Or maybe I’m not wanting to be anyone else in particular, I’m just so badly not wanting to be me. And why exactly is that? What’s so bad about being me? I think my “dreamer” personality doesn’t help me out very much. I tend to have an artistic heart that is emotional and loves beauty and tends to fantasize. My contentment is often dependent on the contentment of those around me. As badly as I want everyone else around me to be content, I struggle with it daily. I often have a movie playing in my head and am disappointed, or even devastated, when my movie doesn’t match my reality. Unmet expectations are hard to bare. This is why three-year-olds throw a fit when they don’t get their way. We train them to not be so selfish and not throw a tantrum when disappointed. We try to teach them that the world does not revolve around them and there is a bigger story going on than theirs. We help them grow up. God doesn’t let us stay three years old. He is constantly giving us opportunities to grow up in contentment.

I feel like I have matured enough to know that the feeling of happiness comes and goes with the wind, so I don’t plant my garden in its ever-changing soil. Contentedness produces deep, solid roots that find purpose and even rest in the good or the bad circumstances in which it finds itself. It may even say, “I don’t like where I am right now. I want it to change. It hurts to be here. But while I am here, may I rest in the care of my Lord, knowing that I won’t experience anything He didn’t already experience for me or because of me. May I glorify Him and may His purposes be fulfilled in me in what feels like the waiting time.” The waiting time is a hard place to be. Waiting speaks to temporariness and things changing. But when, how? Watching the fulfillment of other’s dreams, especially when they are your dreams too, is painful and lonely. Our enemy comes to us in these waiting times and tells us that we are indeed alone, different than everyone else. We are somehow forgotten or not chosen for the good things that God seems to have lavished on others. He tells us that there is no hope for happiness. Everyone else is riding the happy train and we don’t have a ticket. We are banging our heads on the window trying to get in. Our enemy lies to us a lot about happiness. He dangles it like a carrot in front of us leading us down the path of bitterness, regret, jealousy, and discontentment. It feels true, but we’ve been on this journey long enough to know that we can’t trust our feelings and they are not an indicator of the reality of God and His work in us. We must go to the source of truth, God’s Word, to find out what is really going on. We must then agree with God and refuse to side with our enemy about the character and nature of God. Let’s blow some lies out of the water and claim the reality of who God is to us and who we are to Him.

I am loved. I John 4:10 tells us that God loved us when we didn’t love Him and sent His son to be the substitute for our death so we could be with Him forever.

I am cherished. Isaiah 49:15 tells us that just as a mother could not forget her nursing baby, neither could God forget us. We are His priority. He is always caring and providing for us.

I am not alone. Isaiah 41:10 tells us to not be afraid because God is our God, and He is with us. As He told Joshua in Joshua 1:9, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God has good for me. Psalm 84:11 tells us that God withholds no good thing for those who walk with Him. Psalm 107:1 tells us that God is good. Romans 8:28 promises that He works all things together for good for those who love Him.

Is it possible that what is eating at my soul and depriving me of what I deem necessary for my fulfillment and contentment may one day be called “good” by me? Sin is not good. Sin is cruel, and all heartache is a result of it. Maybe not our own, but just the condition of a world cursed by it. We struggle to see correctly, and it hurts. We are not in our original form, but we will be again. And while we are in this waiting time, may we beg God for sight and truth and clarity. May we clamor for God’s name to be praised rather than clamor for a change in our circumstances. Sometimes we get both. Sometimes we are asked to praise God in a place we never wanted to be. I believe when that is the case, a root grows deep and a solidness of soul sets in and a knowing that can only come from a bowed knee and an unclenched hand raised in worship. There comes a deep understanding that He is God and His ways are not ours, but they are always good. Hard? Sure. Painful? Yes. Impossible? Never. It is His life in us, and it is good.

Like the bird on my front porch, I need someone who sees what I can’t to show me the way. What does God know about my life and circumstances that I don’t? What is He protecting me from? What is He saving me for? What is in my heart that He wants to show me? What is He preparing me for? What all does He want to accomplish during this waiting time? How does He want to grow me up and what will it take for that to happen? I’m not sure. But I do know that I don’t want to be banging my brains out on a window trying to get to a different life than what God has for now. Every pain requires a choice and act of obedience in me. It is a constant opportunity to sacrifice my will. A sacrifice costs something. It is the slaughter of something precious. It’s why we have a Savior. I was meant to live in freedom. I am free to do all things for the glory of God, not my own. I beg God not to let me be blinded by the selfishness that is constantly knocking at my door trying to sell me the lie that I should, even must, seek happiness and self-fulfillment because that is what matters most. Don’t buy it. We have no room and time for those lies. We don’t have time to be selfish. We can’t stay in a self-seeking mode missing God and leaving a mess to keep cleaning up. We have a very short time here to bring God glory through faith and not sight. We’re living in freedom and selflessness and for God’s glory. I’m not telling you to not hurt in your suffering. Of course you hurt. I’m just asking you to not waste it. It’s part of God’s bigger story in you. He’s asking us to live in His story. Make sure you’re not expecting it to be the other way around. Bow your knee, open your hand, and worship. That is what God is always leading us to. It is the goal in all suffering, all discontentment, all waiting. We finally realize it’s about Him, His story, His love, His glory, and His longing and pursuit to include us in it. I’m a receiver, a participant, a worshiper. It’s what I was made for. It’s the fulfillment of all my heart has longed for. I am no longer banging my head, obsessed with what I don’t have. I live in the freedom of all that is mine forever.

 

Jen Gaunce – April 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’ve been thinking about sin much as of late. Not mine, of course. I was contemplating the sin of others. You know, the ugly sins. The ones that smell bad. While considering what went wrong in other people’s lives and how to fix them, God suddenly pivoted the floodlight to shine on the hidden and coddled parts of my own heart. Why does He always do that? One answer is found in Hebrew 11:6 which says, “For he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” He gets to choose how He rewards us. It’s always with Himself. I can’t seek God without Him revealing to me the next step in my understanding of the truth of who He is and the truth about me. Any time God hears the words “they” and “them” drip from my lips, He reminds me that the proper words are “we” and “us.” I can easily find myself so angry at the sin of others. When I see what it takes to mop up the aftermath of just one person’s indulgence in selfishness, I want to grab them by the collar and lift them off the ground and scream in their face, “How could you possibly be so selfish?!!! Can’t you see what the consequences of your sin costs everyone around you? Not to mention the name of God. How could anyone be so selfish?” Why is that my response? What is the truth about sin? What is the truth about my sin?

We’ve become very close to the substance abuse rehabilitation ministries in town. I’ve learned so much from our friends there who are battling every day and seeking healing. I’ve learned much about sin that was foreign to me and also much about sin that seemed strangely familiar, like an old sock. One friend told us that rehabilitation should be at least a one-year program, and training and supervision is needed for a long time after that. He said that after a year, an addiction struggler is just then at zero, just beginning to poke his head out of the hole. So much time and training and resources are needed to establish a new way of thinking, and then it must be policed and maintained for a very long time. Forgive my arrogance, but I have lived much of my life deceived to believe that I was somehow different; that those who made good choices and were rule keepers didn’t suffer with entrenched sin. I tend to categorize people. That is simply code for saying that I judge people. My sin just isn’t as repulsive as other’s, is it? Because I’ve been hurt by judging and have done it so many times myself, I’ve become sensitive to not assuming the content and integrity of someone’s heart. Assuming is unfair and unkind and unloving. Always ask for the truth. You may not get it, but give the opportunity for it, nonetheless. As I have heard Kevin say, “There is a judge. It’s just not us.” I also realize that there is a very real enemy, it’s just not you.

I have come to see that I can’t tell you to just stop sinning. Just believe truth. Just think differently. Just make good choices. Stop being selfish. Go to church. Pray more. I have learned much about sin and patterns and wrong thinking and enemy territory from knowing people and learning myself. Salvation, which is found only in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 – “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”) redeems the soul and washes clean and makes us new with the life of Christ in us. Then why do we continue to be so screwed up, so capable of such darkness that is so contrary to who we really are? I’m no theologian or psychiatrist. In full disclosure, I had to spellcheck both of those words. I’m not heavy in the brilliance department, but a light has shone on a thought that many before me have come to, I’m sure, but that is just dawning on me. Though our spirits are redeemed, our bodies and brains remain very much exposed to the experiences and influences of this world and the enemy of our souls. Those parts of us that have been yielded to the enemy need constant guarding and maintenance and care because the natural current of this world takes us to decay and chaos and death. For the most part, all that has transpired in our life stays alive in our thoughts and mind. Where we have knowingly, or sometimes unknowingly, invited and allowed Satan to have access, we have surrendered some territory. It doesn’t mean it can’t be taken back, it just means that the thoughts and images and words are there and will now be a battleground and need guarding with careful watch, possibly as long as our body lives or, perhaps with much work and seeking, relief will come sooner. This first came to light for me in seeing the stronghold of pornography and sexual sin in people’s lives; I’m speaking of the redeemed. The indulgence has allowed the enemy to have ground in the brain that is then a constant battleground. In praying for the men in my life, I pray that they would be terrified of sexual images and see them for the poison and horror that they are. Please don’t turn ground over to the enemy to hurt you and your family. Even as a youth, you are hurting your future spouse and children. Be very afraid. Please don’t create a battleground that will be a lifelong distraction from loving and ministering well. You must know that the consequences of sin are far reaching and will hurt the ones you love the most, the ones you swore to love and protect and cherish. Please, protect them from yourself by never giving the enemy a stronghold to use as a weapon against you and those you love. If the consequences of sin are great, the consequences of grace are far greater. (Romans 5:20 – “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”) Don’t despair if you have been deceived and been in agreement with the enemy of our souls. So have all of us. It’s what the cross is for. It’s why Jesus came. This letter isn’t to condemn. It’s just my own revelation and confession of my own sin and warning to us all.

You see, I realize that there aren’t just the pitied some who have indulged and given up territory to the enemy. We all have. I have areas of my life and brain that have become habits and hobbies and have felt such a natural part of me that I never recognized the lie that they are about the truth and character of God. What part of my thinking and my life is a daily battle? In what have I indulged so readily that I must fight and scrape to apply the truth? What battle will only be won in me with constant watching and maintenance and application of truth and stewardship and accountability? When I picture me screaming in someone’s face, “How could you possibly be so selfish?” I become fully aware that that is exactly my battle: selfishness. Sounds not so bad, right? You can sort of keep that one a secret. Everybody is selfish sometimes. No biggie. “Get behind me, Satan!” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we must destroy everything that is raised up against the knowledge of God. Selfishness goes against everything that is true about God. It flies in the face of all that Jesus is and the example He gave us to follow and the words He spoke to us and His very life in us. Everything that doesn’t want to love and sacrifice like my Lord is selfishness in me. It expresses itself through me in self-protection, comparison, jealousy, bitterness, arrogance, laziness, control, fear, and countless other ways. My longing to just “do me” and seek my happiness is a lie about the character of God and the life of Christ in me. I recognize it. I repent of it. I agree with God about it. And now, I put floodlights on it so the enemy cannot sneak in when I’m not being alert and claim territory. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says that we are not ignorant of our enemy’s schemes, so don’t give him any advantage. Ephesians 4:27 says to not give the devil an opportunity. Ephesians 6:11 tells us to put on the full armor of God and stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:16 tells us to use the shield of faith to extinguish all flaming missiles of the evil one. There is a reason for the battle terminology. We are at war. Letting our guard down is certain defeat in these earthly raging battles.

Now that I see a little clearer, I must recognize the need for pushing against and guarding and making new plans to prevent our enemy from taking up residence in that part of my brain again. The old ruts and tracks of self-protection and happiness-seeking that my brain naturally tends toward must have new roads built with truth. Selfishness and self-protection are not the path of my Savior, nor should they be mine. It will be painful and sweaty and dirty, and I will need the help of others to guard me and fight with me and help me on this journey. I should never go it alone. I’m claiming enemy territory. It’s a battle. Death is surely involved. Nehemiah told his wall builders to be prepared as soldiers as they worked with one hand and held a sword in the other. In 4:14 he says, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Suit up! Ride out with me! Fight with me!

One day our bodies and brains will stop. I don’t know all of the theology about the mind and soul. I only know that all of me that Jesus bought and redeemed with His blood will be with Him forever. No more battle with sin and pain. We will see the consequences of our sins in the scars on the hands and feet of Jesus. And all will be well.

 

Jen Gaunce – June 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I have warfare, particularly spiritual warfare, much on my mind as of late. Several reasons: our family recently rewatched  The Lord of the Rings trilogy; our church ladies and friends are doing The Armor of God  study by Priscilla Shirer; and I have become keenly aware, in my own life and the lives of others, of the attacks of the enemy of our souls on us individually, our families, our relationships, our church, our community, our nation, and more. We are at war. This war has been raging long before we ever entered the story. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell the history of the evil one behind the power of evil kings. Scripture tells us of a beautiful servant angel of God who tried to create a coup against his own Creator. He and his followers were cast from heaven and given reign on earth. Revelation 20:10 tells us that complete destruction is their future, but why wait? Why not end the rebellion and destruction immediately before any more damage can be done? I don’t know. For purposes we can only guess at and try to justify in our own minds, satan (lowercase intended) has been allowed reign and rule on the earth, but only what God has allowed him. God tells us in Psalm 24:1 that everything on earth is His. Abraham Kuyper said, ”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” We know that satan has been granted access and audience with God at times, as in Job. He accuses the saints before God in Revelation 12, constantly seeming to taunt God and seek our destruction. Satan is the one who convinced Eve in the garden that she could be like God if she just did what he said, and sin has been part of our story ever since. Like a bee up your nose, he is relentlessly irritating and lying and trying to cast doubt and diminish the work of our Savior on our behalf. Why not be rid of him immediately? It’s a mystery to me. But don’t despair, Colossians 2:3-4 tells us that all answers are in Christ. All of God’s love and grace and purposes for humanity culminate at the resurrection of Christ. So while we, His rescued saints, wait to shed our earthly bodies and live eternally in His presence, we must realize that we are under constant attack. We are at war.

I know little of physical war. My father was rejected from being drafted in the Korean war because a burst eardrum as a child made him ineligible. Kevin’s dad was rejected from service for the same reason. My parents’ generation made huge sacrifices during the wars of the ‘40’s, ‘50’s, and 60’s. Everyone loved or knew someone who lost their life. Everyone sacrificed material goods and endured shortages for the sake of the cause. Women who had never been employed did hard labor in factories to replace the lost men. Many orphans and widows and grieving parents were left. Everyone was called to sacrifice. So much was at stake. But not so since my generation. Many make great sacrifices to serve our country and protect our freedom, but the majority of the general public can live seemingly unaffected. One may choose to be a soldier ( and thank God they do) but no one is required to do so. We can live and move and enjoy our way of  life with very little cost to ourselves. Seldom do we realize we are riding on the backs of those who gave it all. Someone had to push hard against the darkness for us to live in the light. Pleasure and comfort are the American pursuit, not sacrifice. As in all things, if we don’t see the cost, we won’t appreciate the value. We must see the bigger story taking place beyond our smaller one.

It makes me think of the Shire in LOTR (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. Tolkien). It was a beautiful, peaceful, fun loving place. It was home to the main character and savior in the story, Frodo. It was a protective bubble for Frodo. His friends, family, and all that was dear to him were there. He had never been anywhere else. He didn’t know of the dark story playing out beyond the Shire, where evil was on the move to rule and to reign. Frodo didn’t go looking for trouble, it came to him through the selfishness of someone else. Isn’t that how sin came into the world in the first place, because of someone’s selfishness? Often our first awareness of the cruelty of sin is because of the selfishness of someone else. Often, it’s just our own desperate search for love and validation and protection that opens our eyes to the cruelty of sin. We are born into it. It is our natural state until we realize we need a savior and the King of the world has provided for our salvation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I often look with sadness at a rundown house. The grass and bushes are high and covering the house. The house itself is rickety and falling in. What happened? Nothing. And that’s the problem. Someone just stopped fighting and pushing back the overgrowth and decay. No one purposed to make it look beat up and neglected. It’s just the natural course of the world when it is not pushed against. And our natural course is one of depravity apart from a new life in Christ. We don’t have to go looking for sin. It is upon us.

For those who have accepted the payment of the life of Christ for their sin state, they are out of the enemy’s reach, but not his influence. We no longer sin because we have to, only when we choose to. God will be much at work for the rest of our lives exposing those parts of our minds and hearts and behavior that are not like Him, that which doesn’t accurately reflect His character and heart, the real identity of who we are. It’s a long process. It hurts. We resist. But God is very, very faithful. He loves us too much to leave us in a state that is less than who He is. We have the life of Christ. We made an exchange. It’s no longer our life we’re living. All of life is about learning who we really are. And then it’s about behaving like who we really are. God is very committed to seeing it through. We often fight back at the discomfort of it. Just hang on, there’s so much more going on than discomfort.

It took me years to be able to watch the orks and kings and sacrifice and selfishness and battles and victories that make up the LOTR movies. The evil is portrayed so putridly that you can almost smell its stench in your living room. So much fighting. So much constant battling. It wears me out. I am a comfort seeker and conflict avoider. My answer to all discomfort is to hide under the table and pull a curtain around it. Just tell me when it’s over. Sacrifice and selflessness are always such emotional things for me to witness. Kindness, especially in strangers, always makes me cry. Why would a policeman or fireman risk his life for me and those I love? How is it that people who don’t even know Christ can do such heroic and selfless acts of fighting to save a life? It’s the image of God in us that motivates us to act selflessly whether we know Him or not. Kindness always means that someone is pushing against the darkness in this world and is making a sacrifice. I’ve given up trying to verbally express my gratitude to veterans when I see them out because my blubbering and crying embarrasses us both. The image of God portrayed in selflessness in others always overwhelms me. After years of seeing the images of the LOTR movies and hearing my family discuss it, I was finally drawn in. I still don’t have all of the ridiculous names and places down, but I know the story and the expressions on the faces of the beloved actors that faithfully execute the passion of the author as he tells the old, old story in a new way. There is one great story. And it’s true. But God has gifted men with imagination and brilliance to express the great, true story in different ways. It is a wonderful gift. A faithful image bearer will portray evil as putridness and destruction and death. He will also portray goodness as selflessness and sacrifice. Love and faithfulness will be the motive and the theme of the story. Just as it is in our story.

I have learned much of warfare from watching the LOTR movies. I’ve learned of the need for proper weapons to fight the enemy. I’ve seen the need to have protective armor in order to not succumb to the enemy’s weapons used against us. Unity is a must when we are at war. If the enemy can get us alone, we are at our most vulnerable. In the movie, a small hobbit has volunteered to take a ring that was left to him and throw it into the firey pit from which the enemy made it. The enemy possessing this ring will mean total rule for him and the end of  life on earth as the characters in our story have known  it. The mission: destroy the ring before it gets into the enemy’s hands. It’s a long, dangerous journey.  Frodo, the ring bearer, can’t do it alone. Such beloved characters arise in this story. Such faithful friendships and loyalty and faithfulness and sacrifice that seem beyond human ability. And yet, we know it is possible because we’ve seen it ourselves, we pray for it, we long for it. It is the image of God in us. A group of eight unlikely characters vow to help little Frodo on his journey to destroy the ring and save the world. They’re not all sure they can trust each other in the beginning, and yet they’ve made a pledge to protect the ring and its bearer with their very lives. They call their group the fellowship of the ring. Don’t you love the word “fellowship”?  Doesn’t it conjure  images of belonging, togetherness, loyalty and protection, and being part of something bigger than just you? I love that our church has the word “fellowship” in it. May we grow into the meaning of that word as a body. May we rightly live out God’s intent for His church, the body and bride of Christ, to His glory and for the sake of the world. The fellowship in LOTR endures so much hardship, battling from outside and within, being constantly pursued by the enemy. At one point, the little hobbits are acting carelessly, not being on guard when one of their protectors rebukes them and says with such fervor, “I know what hunts you.”

Lesson one in warfare: know your enemy. Do you know what hunts you? Do you really know the severity of your situation? I always wanted to live in The Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables stories. They lived in a simple, small, protected world. I never wanted to live in a LOTR story. I never wanted to have to fight and sacrifice and be inconvenienced. I want to just do me. But, as Aragorn says to King Theoden who does not want war, “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.” Open war is upon us whether we realize it or not. The fact that we exist means we have an enemy. If you don’t know your enemy you will never know how to fight, how to defend yourself, what weapons to use. How will you know him? We introduced our enemy at the beginning of this letter. We read the great story, the word of God, to tell us about our enemy. We learn how to push back, how to have victory. Our enemy is a liar. It is his main weapon. He can do nothing but lie and is constant with his attacks. Every thought in your head that raises itself against the knowledge of God, that speaks falsely about who God is and who you are to Him is from your enemy. It feels like it is coming from you. It’s not. Recognize it as warfare and start fighting. If satan can have us believe that our thoughts are ours, then the spiral begins of, “I’m a bad person. I must not really love God. I must not have the life of Christ in me. No one would like me if they really knew me. I’m all alone. This will never change. I’m hopeless.” You know you can track with me because you hear it and battle it every day. So do I. Our only hope is to battle the lies with the truth of God’s word. John 17:17 tells us that God’s word is truth.

Ephesians 6 is the scripture reference for our ladies’ study that teaches us how to battle. I have to tell you that I’m a chicken and a sissy. At the first sign of trouble you will see my rear end hanging out from under the table as I’m furiously grabbing for the curtain to pull around me, hoping it’s got enough fabric to cover my rear end. I need to learn to fight. I must know my enemy and how I can put him to run. Can you imagine the impact in our lives and our church and our world if we did it together? Those very words cause the enemy to shake. He knows he is in trouble if we can recognize his schemes, call him out, and pummel him with the truth of God’s word and all that God has given us to fight him. Let’s do it together.

Some of the most precious and touching and heart wrenching scenes in LOTR are when the fellowship fights together. When a friend stands in front of a friend with sword drawn and says, “Not as long as there is breath in my lungs will you get to him.” When little folk encircle the ring bearer with their backs to him to protect him with their lives. When the horn is blown calling for aid and the fellowship stops everything and runs as hard as they can with swords drawn and arrows pointed to fight for the one who can’t hold off the enemy alone. When a friend stands over a fallen friend too weak to fight with a sword and says, ”I’ll protect you. I’ll fight for you,” and swings with all his might at the enemy.  When a fellow warrior takes the arrows and gives his life for a friend. When a friend carries the friend who is too weak to go on. Sacrifice! Selflessness! That is the one great story. That is the path of Christ. That is what we are called to. Loyally fighting for and with each other. We can do it because Christ did and does it for us. We have the life of Christ in us. All that He is, is already in us. He made us to do it together. We really can love and carry each other and push against the darkness together and show the world the great story of God and His great love and provision  for us, His creation. It doesn’t happen by being big and powerful and tough. It happens through humility and selflessness and sacrifice and great love.

One great difference in our story and LOTR is that we’re not waiting to see if we win. God has already won. It was never a question. He’s never not been in complete control. It’s a matter of battling well, joining Him for His purposes, loving Him and others more than we love ourselves. He calls us into sacrifice and fellowship and love. Warfare is the process by which we shed all that is not Him in us. Let’s battle well, sweet friends. I love you. I need you. And as great as the impulse in me to run and hide is, I want to fight for you and with you. We were made to glorify God together. Lord, make us faithful.

 

Jen Gaunce – May 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’m sitting down with my pen and paper (Yes, I still do it the old-fashioned way) not even knowing what I’ll write. But I’m trusting God for words since His are the only ones that matter. Either God works on our behalf or we might as well stay in bed. My editors, meaning my children, remind me to be concise. My main editor, meaning my daughter Rebecca, says that I don’t want to scare someone off with a lengthy text. My publisher, meaning Thomas Berry, has given me free reign. My audience, meaning Kevin, encourages me to go for it. So, with my trusted staff behind me, I want to launch out to wrap up the remainder of the Seamless study and have you join us in the ladies’ study of the big picture of Scripture and the great story of God always coming after us and for us.

I certainly don’t want to leave us where my last letter left off, wandering in the desert and demanding that God give us “more” than Himself. That would be a terrible end to the human story. No hope.  Us left to ourselves is the worst of all scenarios. We need to be rescued. Have I got some great news for you, just hang on. I always marvel at the tenacity of God in the pursuit of His creation. Time after time, mankind, even His chosen people, turn aside, rebel, reject God, and side with the enemy of our souls. And time after time, God rescues, pursues, and provides. All through the Old Testament we see God sending discipline to correct and redirect and awaken His people and even those who didn’t claim to be His. We see God sending judges and prophets to teach, instruct, enlighten, and direct. He allows His people to suffer the consequences of their disobedience and choices. The Old Testament ends with prophecies and murmurings of a great rescue. But who? How? So glad you asked. Turn the page with me hundreds of years later into the New Testament and feel the winds of change blowing. What is this all about? Could it finally be?

Let’s remember the circumstances of the New Testament in which Israel finds itself. Tossed to and fro as a nation for centuries because they would not obey God and His Word to them, the Jewish people are under Roman rule. They are allowed to follow their Jewish religious customs, but Rome has the power and say in their lives. They long for the Messiah that is promised by the prophets of old to come and set them free.  They don’t have the whole story written out as we do; they are living it. When would it finally happen? They begin hearing rumors of angel appearances to an old man and a young girl. There are strangers who look like kings visiting and asking questions, and there is the ordered mass murder of their infant sons. There is a crazy guy hollering in the desert and baptizing people. Why are so many people interested? Then there is a man with a following of people begging Him for healing and provision. What exactly do they think He will do for them? What exactly do they want? Do they have any idea what they really need?

I read an excellent article by Michael Gerson in the April 15, 2017, edition of The Paducah Sun called “The Hope of Pardon and Peace.” Reading it makes me think of Good Friday in a different way. We often read Scripture as a record of accounts from the past, and so they are. But that’s not all they are. What’s the bigger picture, the back of the tapestry, the one great story? The author of the article points out the terrible darkness of that day, not just the facts about it. On that day, “Nearly every human institution is revealed at its worst.” Government fails at justice, religious leaders are saving their own skin, the “followers” of Christ go from praising Him to mob-cursing Him, the closest friends betray and abandon. Then there is the terrible torture and the question that so unnerves us, “Why have You forsaken me?” I’ve long tried to make sense and reason of that question and have come up with sloppy answers. I only know that hopelessness and forsakenness are our human condition since the garden. It is the penalty of sin in to which we are all born. Sin must be paid for; it cannot be pushed under the rug. Christ came to pay it by experiencing the forsakenness and despair for us. God brought Himself to that point for us so that He might redeem and rescue us from it. I don’t believe that Jesus suffered physically more than any other man or His death was the most painful one ever suffered, though it was indescribably horrific. But it is the fact that it is our Creator Himself becoming like His creation and suffering the forsakenness of His creation in order to rescue His creation that makes it all so unthinkable. (Phil. 2:5-9)  And why did He ask “Why?” I don’t know. He knows all things. Maybe the words are as much for our sake as the sacrifice is. He knows our pain. He knows our despair. He knows our scream of “Why?”  It was the darkest of days. There wasn’t much good that Friday. Gerson says, “Every ember of human hope was cold, and there was nothing to be done about it.”

What on earth did His followers think, those who knew He would become king and overthrow Rome and Israel would once again thrive as a super power? No more suffering. No more being pushed around as the little guy. What about those who believed Him to be the true Messiah and banked everything on it? Now, He is just gone. Gone! And from the lips of all believers spill the words, “But I thought…”  Don’t we utter these very words with broken hearts and tear-stained face from time to time in our lives? We thought this would look different. We thought this would come through. We thought there would be healing. We thought there would be joy. We thought it would be different. But just as Good Friday is not the end of the story, your darkest day is also not the end of yours.

“Then something happened,” says Gerson. Those may well be the best words ever written. Amidst darkness and despair and all hope gone, something happened. Jesus did not stay dead. He defeated the enemy of our souls, He defeated death, He fulfilled the purpose for which He came, He paid the penalty of death and forsakenness for us, He bought our freedom and our acceptance by God as His child. It’s a different freedom than the Jews were looking for, and most of them missed Him, but not all. His friends that left Him on Friday built the church and spread the gospel and most died martyrs death for it. The fact that our Savior lives and salvation is given to us because of what He did, not us, we have a unique rescue story, different than all the world and far superior to what anyone else has to offer.  Please read Ephesians 2 for a beautiful summary of Christ’s work on behalf of all man, not just the Jews. He includes everyone, to which I humbly say, “Thank You.” And before you think that’s the end of the story, the New Testament is full of instruction and encouragement and hope for our future.

I can fill a postage stamp with all that I know about the second coming of Christ and Revelation and a new heaven and new earth and our eternal reign with Christ. I‘ve been taught and I’ve read, but it’s pretty fuzzy to me. When I was little, my family used to sing in church. Mom played the piano, my teenage sister would probably rather have not been there, my daddy sang bass, and my older sister, Laura, would belt it out like nobody’s business. Having nothing to offer musically with my lack of volume and speech impediment, I was the cute factor. My daddy would stand me on the end of the piano bench so I could be seen and he would whisper, “Sing, girls,” into the back of our heads between verses. We were the Duke family. One of the first songs I remember singing as a family was “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” I could sing it for you right now if you like. I knew every word by heart with little or no understanding of what it meant. Still true today. As I grew up and heard sermons on the second coming of Christ it fairly scared me to death. There was always the “what if” factor. What if I wasn’t ready? What if I wasn’t really saved? What if I was left? What if I missed Him? Maturity and Scripture assures me that my salvation is based on the work of Jesus on my behalf alone and my acceptance of His payment for me. He bought me for God. (Rev 5:9)  God forgives me for Christ’s sake. (Ephesians 4:32 KJV)  I am sealed with the Holy Spirit for eternity. (Ephesians 1:13) I am the gift that they give each other. How humbling! How loved and cherished I am! How wanted! How much am I worth? I am worth Jesus. He is my payment for living all eternity with Him in the presence of my Creator as He intended all along. Ephesians 1 tells us He planned it before creation. He gave everything to rescue His creation and make us His forever.

Great story! It’s God’s story. It’s my story. It’s your story. The last question in our Seamless study is, “How are you living your life to tell His story?” Great question.  I long to answer it faithfully every day. Let’s do it together. God made us to tell and live His story together. We reflect the character of God better together. Your giftings and personality reflect characteristics of God differently than mine; and mine yours. We reflect His character best to a needy world when we are doing it lovingly and selflessly together. I need you, sweet friend. I don’t want to do life without you.  You are God’s gift to me. Lord make us faithful.

Spoiler alert; WE WIN!!!!!!!!

 

Jen Gaunce – April 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I wanted to catch you up on what the girls have been studying in our weekly Seamless Bible study. We actually finished the seven week study and are looking forward to starting a new one in the near future. I had no idea what a blessing the structure and accountability of the study would be to me. After the study, I find myself being choppy and sloppy in my time with the Lord again. I talk with Him all day in sometimes concentrated and sometimes broken conversation. Talking is natural for me. (No “Amen’s”  please.) Listening is a different matter. The stillness of the mind and spirit that seeks God’s heart in His Word that He has so graciously given us takes effort, sacrifice, and purpose.  None of those are my favorite. And yet, I am routinely so overwhelmed and overjoyed when He reveals his love and character to me through His Word that I wonder why I would ever not seek Him with great thirst and fervor. There may be many reasons why we don’t pant after God’s heart, but the main one is that we are at war. We battle. We have an enemy who is constantly lying to us, trying to distract us and make us forget the goodness of God. We were born into a big story, a world in great conflict with its Creator. What’s my part in the story? Aren’t I just a victim of other people’s sin, disobedience, and misbehavior? Sure. So are you. I’m also a perpetuator of sin, disobedience, and misbehavior. So are you. We spoke of original sin and believing the lies of the enemy in my last letter. The Seamless study so blessed me in helping my understanding of an overall picture of the Bible and the one great story.

Let’s pick up with God choosing a man to start a nation that would show the world God’s great love and mercy and provision, a people that would reveal the very character and heart of God to the world, a race that would produce the Savior of the world. Let’s remember what condition His creation was in at the time God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation God would love and bless and shepherd forever. After God’s redirections of His creation to stop the terrible consequences of sin, we find that mankind has continued to buy into the lie of the enemy and seek life apart from God. God chose to create a race of people that He would call His. They were to live differently and distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. God would show Himself strong on their behalf and provide for them in glorious ways. There was some prep work to take place with suffering for His people so that His provision and glory would be demonstrated all the better at their rescue. Why Abraham? I have no idea. I only know that he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. We can “why” ourselves to death. If we hold our faith hostage until all of our “why’s” are satisfied, we will miss God completely. For one, it presupposes that we have the mind of God and will understand and accept His reasoning if it were only given to us. Second, it leaves us in judgement of God’s reasoning and purposes. Do not remove God from His throne and set yourself in judgement of Him. This is the great lie, the great battle plan of the enemy. God is God. End of story. He need not explain Himself to us. But, in His extreme love and mercy, compassion and kindness, He has made Himself known to us and asks to trust Him in what we can’t see and don’t understand. Not doing so was the downfall of the children of Israel. It is ours as well.

Every Saturday before Easter, “The Ten Commandments” is shown on network television. My daughters associate it with painting their nails and getting ready for church the next day. Every year we watch about the same twenty minutes of the movie. We never find out if they actually make it out of Egypt. We laugh at the ridiculous script, the overacting, and the Americans trying to pass as Egyptians. I always say that if Charlton Heston had just walked a little faster, it could have been a forty-five minute movie. Why do Bible people always walk and talk in slow motion in movies? And yet, we’re drawn to it like mosquitoes to a fat baby. Part of it is the emotional attachment, and part of it is because it is an amazing story. The most amazing part is that it’s true. God rescued Abraham’s descendants from famine only to let them become slaves in Egypt. Wasted time? God was building a nation. He wastes nothing. Psalms 105-106 is a wonderful summary of God’s heart and dealings with His people. Israel suffered over 400 years until their miraculous rescue through the leadership of a reluctant, but obedient, man. Leadership is a terrible responsibility. More than once did Moses question God’s calling on him. More than once did others try to overthrow God’s leadership through Moses. People are a messy business. And yet, God in His love orchestrated a tremendous rescue of His people and promised them His care and provision and the most wonderful land for their inheritance. Their part? Obey. Believe. Worship the only one, true God. Be His people.

The bellyaching started immediately. After such a wondrous show of God’s provision and deliverance, they questioned God’s ability to continue to deliver them. They said it would have been better to remain slaves, God should have left them alone. Really?! Is that what we want, for God to leave us alone? There is not a hell or hole so black that we would find ourselves without the power and presence of God holding back the powers of darkness and evil among us. I promise, you never want God to leave you alone. He’s not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy. Even after walking through the sea on dry land, after being fed bread from heaven, after eating so much meat that it made them sick, and after witnessing defeat after defeat of enemies that were stronger and more numerous then they, they didn’t want God to be their God. Miracle after miracle of God working on their behalf still left them saying, “We want to be like the other nations. We want a king to follow, a man to lead us, someone we can touch and see like the idols we worship.”  The words, “We want a king,” always break my heart. Caleb told me that God didn’t need me feeling sorry for Him, but don’t you? I’ve known rejection. I’ve felt the pain of having my heart and motives misjudged. I’ve known what it is to not have love returned. Israel’s rejection of their God, of their true king, hurts my heart for God. How could they?! After all the ways He rescued them and provided for them and loved and kept them, how could they tell Him He’s not enough? Dear, sweet friend, please humble yourself with me in the recognition that those very words have so often fallen from our hearts if not our lips. It is the great lie from the enemy of our souls, the great deceit. Israel decided that God wasn’t enough for them. What is your evaluation? In what ways have you shown God that His provision for you isn’t enough; He’s not enough. Well, sadly, I can think of several for  me. I have often struggled with looking at the other “nations” and wanting to be like them. Satan would have me believe that everyone else’s life is better, easier, happier, more prosperous than mine. If our enemy can keep our focus on comparing and coming up short, we will completely miss the blessing of God’s provision for us. Or what about comparing and coming out ahead? Ever heard of arrogance? Been  there. Still there sometimes. His physical provision is different for everyone. Instead of the humble gratitude for way more than enough, I look around me and declare, “Not enough!” I want to be like the other nations. Caleb has Type 1 diabetes. We can either shake our fists in God’s face for allowing Caleb to suffer the consequences of living in a cursed and fallen world, or we can humbly thank God for His provision for his physical life through insulin and his eternal provision for his salvation in Christ. Which rings true to you? Truth? I’ve struggled. Not in anger but in fear, not trusting God’s provision for Caleb. Do you want to know the biggest heartache in Israel’s desire to be like their neighbors? The other nations didn’t even worship God. They followed a king. They worshiped idols. Their statement to God wasn’t only, “You’re not enough,” but also, “We don’t need You.” How foolish! Where I feel like God has let me down, may I humbly ask to see clearly God’s provision for me.  Let’s beg God to show us what we can’t see. How was He coming after us and offering His grace and care all along? What about those who have died? How did God provide for them? Our life here is merely a dot in our existence. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if our hope in Christ is for this life alone than we should be most pitied. God provided eternity with Him through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s eternal provision for us. He is our rescue, our only hope. II Corinthians 5:8 tells us that when we are absent from this body we are present with the Lord if we are in Christ. Hallelujah!!!

What about those of you who have been so walloped, abused, mistreated, rejected? So was Jesus for your sake. God has provided healing for you in Jesus. All of us have had life beat the snot out of us at some time and been left bloody and naked. I don’t mean to diminish your suffering. Sin is so cruel. We have precious friends with stories worse than the worst movie you’ve ever seen. And yet, God in His lovingkindness has rescued and redeemed and healed. Gory to God! Let your suffering drive you to Him. We all thought life would be different than what it is. We’re all disappointed and hurting, some of us more than others. God has provided for us. I think the Israelites had a hard awakening after their deliverance. Life was still hard. There was still suffering. There was still war, still battles to fight. They had to be in complete dependence on God for their survival. Let’s be honest, don’t we knock ourselves out to make sure we’re never in that position? Don’t we want to be able to handle it? We don’t want to be desperate enough for God to be our only hope. Freedom wasn’t exactly like the Israelites thought it would be. Freedom means freedom from bondage, not freedom from dependence on God. God being their God wasn’t enough for them. They must look elsewhere. Haven’t we all thought that after a fulfillment of a longing that life would finally get good? When I get a friend, a job, an education, a spouse, a child, a healing, a church home, a house, acceptance, more money, approval,…then I can enjoy life. Life will finally be good when God finally provides. Can we see the lie? God has already provided. He is the fulfillment of your heart’s greatest desire. We were made by Him for Him, only He can fulfill us. Ephesians 1:10 tells us that all things are summed up in Christ. He is the answer to all things.

So, while I’m wagging my fingers at the children of Israel and saying, “How could you?”, may my heart be so sensitive to the areas of my life where I have told God that His provision for me is not enough and that I know better for myself than He could possibly know. We have no idea what He is sparing us and protecting us from. He can be trusted.

God, show us where we have tried to knock You off of Your throne and claim kingship for ourselves and independence from You. Thank You for Your provision for us in Jesus Christ and for the gifts that you shower on us. Thank You for Your provisions that were meant to drive us to You. Please give us eyes to see them and to see You as our one true God and only fulfiller of our greatest longing. You made us for You. Thank You for loving us that much.

 

Jen Gaunce – March 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I was invited by someone other than my husband to write on our church website. My first thought was, “How sweet.” My next thought was, “We all know where it will be a cold day before I ever write publicly.” Actually, I can’t remember which thought came first. It’s a little hazy. Why open myself up to be judged for my theology, grammar, sentence structure, and giftings and personality, or lack thereof? Coughing up a Christmas letter once a year is about as far as I’m willing to go. I’m a people pleaser. I hate rejection. It’s not just my paranoid imagination speaking of a hypothetical situation. I’ve lived it. So have you. Truth? I’m afraid of you. Bigger truth? I love you. Biggest truth? I love my Lord. I want to be zealous to glorify Him and speak to the hope that is in me. Maybe “zealous” is too ambitious. Passionate people scare me. Nope. On fourth thought, “zealous” is exactly what I want to be. How do I do this without ego? How do I not want to be graded? How do I not want to know what you think? I have no idea. I pray for great humility and an abandoned, obedient heart that seeks only the glory of my Savior. I’m scared! Here we go.

The ladies of the church and added friends are doing a study together called Seamless by Angie Smith. It’s an overview of all of Scripture to see how all of the stories fit into the one big story of God’s great love for and redemption of man. It’s an ambitious project. As I go through the study, I find myself wishing all of the ladies could be together and all of the men could know what we’re learning and be encouraged by it. I’ve been in church my whole life. Bible stories are as familiar to me as the nursery rhymes and fairy tales I learned as a kid. The difference? Scripture is true. It really happened. All that God has said, He has done and will do. Some of the girls shared that they didn’t grow up with these stories and feel a little lost and intimidated by Scripture and discussion in a group. I so appreciate their honesty. We’re all scared. How gracious of God to give us His Word and each other to make His heart known to us. I wanted to share just a few thoughts of how God has shown Himself to me in my time in Scripture these past few weeks. I would love to hear what He has shown you.

I was driving home from Clarksville one night after spending a fun day with Hannah. It was dark (not my favorite), and my speedometer went wacko and lay there like a dead man (especially not my favorite). I had no idea what speed I was going. I couldn’t see anything but the road directly in front of me and the cars I met or blew past from time to time. Wonder what they were going? Did I gauge the truth of my speed according to what they were doing? What if they were wrong? What about when no cars were around? I was guessing and unsure the whole trip home. I had to have something that could tell me the truth about my standing. That’s what God’s Word is to us. It is the truth teller in our lives. It is the only true thing to tell us exactly who and where we are, where we came from and where we’re going, and how and why it all started in the first place. Lots of theories in the world. Only one true story. God’s story. It’s the one He makes know to us through His Word, the Bible, that He so graciously provided and preserved for us so we could know His heart for His creation. We measure everything against it to know what is true. We must be truth seekers if we’re going to make it. WHAT HAS GOD SAID?

Well, that’s kinda how this whole mess got started. Those very words were whispered to Eve in the perfect garden in the world that God made. God uses the words “Us” and “Our” when speaking of  creation. There was already a relationship going on before man was made. There is the trinity, the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that make up the relationship of one God. I can’t explain or understand it. When I try I can only get so far before fear of an aneurism sets in. I simply believe it because I believe all of the Bible is true. I’ve often wondered why God would want to mess up a perfect union by creating man that He knew would betray Him. Don’t know, but being a parent gives me a little insight. Why do we as a married couple long for children? We know they are hard. We know it could go badly. They will have a choice to love us or not and may choose not. And yet, our hearts long for relationship, to bring children into the relationship of the marriage, to have a family that has our values and heart and love. We can make it sound selfish, but we all know that doing children well is the most selfless thing you will ever do. We want to share and grow the love and have sweet fellowship. It helps me understand our Father’s heart a little better. He wants relationship with us.

Man’s rebellion isn’t God’s first rodeo. He’s seen rebellion in His creation before in the form of a lovely angel that went rogue and wanted to set himself up as God, take God’s place. He was cursed and thrown out of heaven with his followers. It’s Satan (purposefully lowercased) who comes to Eve in the garden and asks the question, “What has God said?” He starts casting doubt of God’s goodness and provision for Adam and Eve. He points out that God has placed a limit on them and that isn’t fair. Then he speaks a bold-faced lie and says, “You surely won’t die.” At first Eve speaks truth to the deceiver, telling him what God said. But she speaks no truth against the second lie, and here we are. God doesn’t force us to love and obey Him. That’s not truly love. He always gives us the opportunity for obedience. Why the limits? Because He’s God and He knows what we don’t know. He knows what’s possible. We don’t. Why do we have baby gates and electric socket plugs? We know the possibilities of babies left to themselves. We love them enough to limit them. God loves us more.

I’ve gone from, “How could Eve be so stupid?” to, “I probably would have done the same thing,” to, “I do the same thing every day of my life.” I believe the lies of my enemy so often. Not the ones about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, though those may be yours. They’re not believable to me, so he speaks to me in half-truths and bold-faced lies about the character of my God and His provision for me and who I am. He tells me I should be afraid. I should control every situation to guarantee I and those I love will be okay. I should work harder so God will like me more. He tells me life is about hurting badly and being disappointed and just doing the best I can. He doesn’t speak to me of meth and alcohol, but he knows the lies that are believable to me and is constantly whispering them in my ear. There is no virtue in which lies we believe and which we don’t. They all have their root in the pit of Hell and speak against the truth of who God is and who we are to Him.

I shared with the ladies about my experience on the way to our study last week. I was going to run through the drive-through at McDonalds to get my signature diet Dr. Pepper. The line was too long and I hated everyone in it because they were going to make me late. No flaws in that thinking. I went in to make it go quicker and I believe God had something to show me there. There was a beautiful little red-haired boy looking at the happy meal toy display while his grandfather was getting his happy meal. I was watching this story unfold and just couldn’t help getting the bigger picture. The boy was hollering at his grandfather and pointing to the particular toy he wanted. The grandfather makes it over with the tray of food and the now unhappy meal, and Little Red has a meltdown because he didn’t get the toy he wanted. Much crying and stomping and throwing of fit ensued. It didn’t go the way he decided it should. Never mind that the grandfather had been gracious and intended to treat his grandson and lavish him with good things. And above all, I’m sure the grandfather looked forward to spending a sweet time with Little Red, having a relationship with him. I left the restaurant with my head shaking. That ungrateful child! Why couldn’t he just enjoy all that his grandfather intended for him? I think we all know who I am in this story. I’m the girl behind the counter sampling the apple pie and frappe and telling everyone to have a nice day. Obviously, I’m the little red-headed boy. Don’t we say at times without even realizing it, “I’ll trust you as long as it doesn’t hurt, as long as it goes like I think it should, as long as it doesn’t cost me anything”?

I noticed as I read through Scripture the last few weeks that I was getting more questions than answers about God. I was getting uncomfortable with some of my feelings. The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin are harsh but understandable. He doesn’t explain why He couldn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice. Then we get into destroying the whole earth with water save Noah’s family and the creatures on the ark. God then does a number on the people building a tower at Babel and confuses their languages so they can’t continue in their arrogance and sin and have to break up and go their separate ways. I began to hear echoes of Eden whispered in my ear. Why does God do what He does? Why does He sometimes seem cruel and unrelational and distant? Can He be trusted? Does He really love us? Me? I found myself giving audience to the very lies that Eve fell for.

When I recognized the voice of my enemy, I was humbled and began to see the constant grace of God in the limits and course redirections He has made since that fateful day in the garden. In His curse He also foretells of the seed of Eve that will defeat satan. He tells Cain to be humble and make a course correction. He saves humanity through Noah’s family because Noah walked with God. God destroyed life on earth to halt the terrible indulgence of sin by man. He stopped the kingdom building at Babel because He knew the possibilities of man living apart from God. At each point that satan would tell us God is cruel, God is graciously redirecting man back to Himself.  He doesn’t force our allegiance, but He calls and invites us to join a relationship that already exists. The limits and redirections have been lovingly put in place to protect us, not deprive us. God will always lovingly redirect our attempts to live independently from Him. He made us for something more.

Why doesn’t God just make everything plain? In English? With a Kentucky accent? Why is Scripture sometimes hard to understand? Why did Jesus answer “yes/no” questions with a story that left some, and me, saying, “Huh?”  I like rules. I like black and white. I like to know what is expected of me so I know when I hit it. I’m also lazy. I would rather take a pill than exercise and diet. I would rather watch a documentary on a subject than read a book about it. I would rather do a check list than actually spend time seeking to know God and His heart and His purposes in a relationship. It’s easier. It’s faster. Guess what. I don’t need God for it. Aahhhhh. And there’s the rub. I hear echoes of Eden again. This whole story, all of Scripture is about God wanting a relationship with us and providing a way for it.

I hope to learn much more from this study and our time in God’s Word. I want us to go to God’s heart together. I love you, and I’m praying for you as you recognize the whispers of the enemy and put him to run with the truth of God’s Word.

2 Corinthians 10:5 – “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

 

Jen Gaunce – September 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

My family has experienced some life-changers this past week that I wanted to share with you.  We had the wedding of our beloved daughter and the funeral of Kevin’s beloved mother within three days of each other. Kevin’s mom took her final breath the night before the rehearsal dinner. She wanted to be at the wedding. We all wanted her to be at the wedding. We had extreme emotions going on at the same time: unspeakable joy and unspeakable grief. And yet, is not God in both? Do both not reveal the character of God and His heart for us? Do both not reveal what our hearts believe is true about Him? I can testify boldly to the grace and goodness of God because I’ve seen it, experienced it, and lived it. But please know that the grace and goodness and love of God are true whether I recognize it or not. It’s not my experience that legitimizes the truth about God, but rather the truth about God legitimizes my experience. I can see the truth about God in every circumstance and emotion because His character never changes. His love and work on my behalf and for my good are constant, regardless of my experience. Psalm 100:5 tells us, “For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” Kevin and I are middle men. We are between the generations of our parents and our children. We find ourselves needed by both, and blessedly so. We have seen the provision of God in each generation. And not just when life was sweet and it felt good to be alive and sing praises to our Maker; but also when darkness covered our hearts, and it was hard to breathe, and we struggled to remember whose we were. He is God of both, and again, blessedly so.

Kevin’s mom had a neurological disease that slowly took the capability of her body to do her bidding. Her mind stayed clear while her body became more and more debilitated. We watched. We prayed. We begged. We grieved. We hurt for her and for the loss of her to us. God asked something very hard of her. He asked her to glorify Him in suffering and loss. He entrusted her with pain and asked her to steward it well, and that’s exactly what she did. Her precious caregivers helped her volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club. She went to listen to the children read and to play board games. She showed up at her grandchildren’s ballgames. She continued to go to church and social events and meet with friends. She continued to eat out even though it meant someone was feeding her and keeping her clean in public. She had her caregivers dress her up like a clown last Thanksgiving because she knew it would make us laugh. It did. She loved. She prayed. She just kept living and giving testimony to the goodness and grace of God as her body withered. After she passed, we had ten hours of visitation at the church to allow people to honor her and love her family. In all that time, there was seldom a lull, just people lined up waiting patiently to tell the family what my dear mother-in-law meant to them. There was testimony after testimony of how she had reached out to welcome and include newcomers, of how people’s lives were drawn to the Lord because of her faithfulness and love, and of how her kindness and selflessness changed the world. Many times I heard people say they wanted to be like her. I was one of them. Kevin’s sweet mom glorified God in her death because she glorified Him in her life. Her refusal to complain, be angry, shake her fist at God and say, “How dare you,” or drown in self-pity painted a beautiful picture of the character of God. She refused to believe the lies from the enemy that he persistently shot at her. She had laid down her will, her rights, her demands that life go a certain way and simply said, “If it is God’s will.” I feel like a quote from Elizabeth Elliot beautifully describes my mother-in-law’s heart and disposition: “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.” Pat Gaunce knew that there are purposes and stories going on beyond her understanding. She had a part to play in God’s story, and she nailed it. Such suffering. Such joy. Such hope. Such glory.

The wedding of my daughter felt like a movie I was watching. I had a hard time discerning my emotions. Such joy and dreams come true, so why the ache? It is indeed the end of something precious and dear, but it is also the beginning of something glorious. It wasn’t luck or good timing that caused Hannah and Nick to find each other on a medical mission trip to Brazil. It was God faithfully orchestrating and directing their lives. As I watched Kevin escort Hannah through an arbor in a beautiful garden, something spiritual overwhelmed me. I caught a glimpse for a moment of us as believers being the bride of Christ. Those had always been sort of unrelatable words to me until this moment. The love and longing and sacrificial selflessness that my daughter and her beloved have for one another is such a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for us. I long to have that same love for Him, to be presented to Him unblemished, with no other loves occupying His place in my heart, no competing passions, no holding back from being one and united with Him. When a bride and groom say “yes” to each other, they have said “no” to every other love on earth. Everything and every person and every relationship is now filtered through the grid of that one relationship, and it is fiercely guarded. They will work and play and minister and love others and make decisions based on their relationship. That is the relationship I want with Jesus. Everything in my life now is for His sake, His glory, to achieve His purposes. I’m no longer living for myself, clawing and grabbing at what I feel like I must have. Jesus sacrificed all to have me. By saying “yes” to Him I have said “no” to all other loves. There is no competition for my affections. I belong to Him. It’s no longer about  me. All of life is now a picture and example of our relationship with God and His love for us. But what do I do with the hurt of my daughter no longer being a child in our home? I remember the bigger story and what we’re called to. In the wedding ceremony, Kevin shared with us the words of Jim Elliott to his parents when he was leaving for the mission field in the 1950’s. “Grieve not, then if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as a heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly – all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.” And so the next generation begins their part in God’s big story. Soon it will be their turn to “…tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” (Psalm 78:4)

God is faithful to each generation. Lord, make us likewise faithful. We’ve each been given a spot here, a time. It’s not so we can be happy and comfortable and prosperous, even though those are great things and I want them. They’re just not the greatest things. We are stewards of the gospel, keepers of the flame. While we are here, it is our turn to show the heart of God to the world. I heard Kevin present the gospel at His mother’s funeral and his daughter’s wedding. I heard him urge everyone to not miss why we’re here. “Please, don’t miss Jesus.” May that be our generation’s cry. In joy, in grief, God is over all. And His grace is sufficient. He promises.

I witnessed the best in humanity and saw the image of God this last week in the joining of hearts and lives in love and purpose for the kingdom, the victory over death bought by Jesus in the celebration of the home-going of a precious believing soul, the sacrifices of sweet friends who gave hours of their time to be by our sides in our life’s most tender moments, the sweet testimonies of people who had been loved well, the tender face of little Mrs. Carter as she recalled praying with Kevin to accept Christ when he was seven years old, the classmates now in their 80’s who had started first grade with Kevin’s dad and just wanted to come say, “You matter. You are valuable to me. You are worth the sacrifice.” So humbling. So precious. It is an earthly revelation of the heart of God for us. As Jesus said in Luke 10, “Go and do likewise.”

 

Jen Gaunce – June 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’ve had an epiphany. Or apathy. Or appendectomy. Hang on, let me check. …Yep. It’s definitely an epiphany. I’ve been watching a robin bang it’s head on my living room window for three or four weeks. Every day it’s the same routine. While his or her friends are building nests in my ferns and tearing them up to serve their own purposes, this robin has continually flown into the window and perched on the ledge. He sits there and stares in at us like he’s watching a movie at the drive-in. He often decides to give it one more try and bangs into the window trying to get in. The racket is frustrating. The mess he is leaving behind is more than frustrating. I have stared at this bird often thinking, “I wish he knew what I know.” You see, I know what would happen if this robin’s dreams came true and he finally made it in.  I am fully aware that the bird is exactly where he is supposed to be. His reality is total freedom. What he is knocking his brains out for is captivity, imprisonment. He can no longer live as he was made to once he makes it in the house. In the house, his life would be a constant battle to make it back out to where he was in the first place. He is a perfect picture of discontentment. And this is where my “Aha” moment sets in.

I so often am that bird, staring in at someone else’s life, knocking my brains out trying to get in so I can be them. Or maybe I’m not wanting to be anyone else in particular, I’m just so badly not wanting to be me. And why exactly is that? What’s so bad about being me? I think my “dreamer” personality doesn’t help me out very much. I tend to have an artistic heart that is emotional and loves beauty and tends to fantasize. My contentment is often dependent on the contentment of those around me. As badly as I want everyone else around me to be content, I struggle with it daily. I often have a movie playing in my head and am disappointed, or even devastated, when my movie doesn’t match my reality. Unmet expectations are hard to bare. This is why three-year-olds throw a fit when they don’t get their way. We train them to not be so selfish and not throw a tantrum when disappointed. We try to teach them that the world does not revolve around them and there is a bigger story going on than theirs. We help them grow up. God doesn’t let us stay three years old. He is constantly giving us opportunities to grow up in contentment.

I feel like I have matured enough to know that the feeling of happiness comes and goes with the wind, so I don’t plant my garden in its ever-changing soil. Contentedness produces deep, solid roots that find purpose and even rest in the good or the bad circumstances in which it finds itself. It may even say, “I don’t like where I am right now. I want it to change. It hurts to be here. But while I am here, may I rest in the care of my Lord, knowing that I won’t experience anything He didn’t already experience for me or because of me. May I glorify Him and may His purposes be fulfilled in me in what feels like the waiting time.” The waiting time is a hard place to be. Waiting speaks to temporariness and things changing. But when, how? Watching the fulfillment of other’s dreams, especially when they are your dreams too, is painful and lonely. Our enemy comes to us in these waiting times and tells us that we are indeed alone, different than everyone else. We are somehow forgotten or not chosen for the good things that God seems to have lavished on others. He tells us that there is no hope for happiness. Everyone else is riding the happy train and we don’t have a ticket. We are banging our heads on the window trying to get in. Our enemy lies to us a lot about happiness. He dangles it like a carrot in front of us leading us down the path of bitterness, regret, jealousy, and discontentment. It feels true, but we’ve been on this journey long enough to know that we can’t trust our feelings and they are not an indicator of the reality of God and His work in us. We must go to the source of truth, God’s Word, to find out what is really going on. We must then agree with God and refuse to side with our enemy about the character and nature of God. Let’s blow some lies out of the water and claim the reality of who God is to us and who we are to Him.

I am loved. I John 4:10 tells us that God loved us when we didn’t love Him and sent His son to be the substitute for our death so we could be with Him forever.

I am cherished. Isaiah 49:15 tells us that just as a mother could not forget her nursing baby, neither could God forget us. We are His priority. He is always caring and providing for us.

I am not alone. Isaiah 41:10 tells us to not be afraid because God is our God, and He is with us. As He told Joshua in Joshua 1:9, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God has good for me. Psalm 84:11 tells us that God withholds no good thing for those who walk with Him. Psalm 107:1 tells us that God is good. Romans 8:28 promises that He works all things together for good for those who love Him.

Is it possible that what is eating at my soul and depriving me of what I deem necessary for my fulfillment and contentment may one day be called “good” by me? Sin is not good. Sin is cruel, and all heartache is a result of it. Maybe not our own, but just the condition of a world cursed by it. We struggle to see correctly, and it hurts. We are not in our original form, but we will be again. And while we are in this waiting time, may we beg God for sight and truth and clarity. May we clamor for God’s name to be praised rather than clamor for a change in our circumstances. Sometimes we get both. Sometimes we are asked to praise God in a place we never wanted to be. I believe when that is the case, a root grows deep and a solidness of soul sets in and a knowing that can only come from a bowed knee and an unclenched hand raised in worship. There comes a deep understanding that He is God and His ways are not ours, but they are always good. Hard? Sure. Painful? Yes. Impossible? Never. It is His life in us, and it is good.

Like the bird on my front porch, I need someone who sees what I can’t to show me the way. What does God know about my life and circumstances that I don’t? What is He protecting me from? What is He saving me for? What is in my heart that He wants to show me? What is He preparing me for? What all does He want to accomplish during this waiting time? How does He want to grow me up and what will it take for that to happen? I’m not sure. But I do know that I don’t want to be banging my brains out on a window trying to get to a different life than what God has for now. Every pain requires a choice and act of obedience in me. It is a constant opportunity to sacrifice my will. A sacrifice costs something. It is the slaughter of something precious. It’s why we have a Savior. I was meant to live in freedom. I am free to do all things for the glory of God, not my own. I beg God not to let me be blinded by the selfishness that is constantly knocking at my door trying to sell me the lie that I should, even must, seek happiness and self-fulfillment because that is what matters most. Don’t buy it. We have no room and time for those lies. We don’t have time to be selfish. We can’t stay in a self-seeking mode missing God and leaving a mess to keep cleaning up. We have a very short time here to bring God glory through faith and not sight. We’re living in freedom and selflessness and for God’s glory. I’m not telling you to not hurt in your suffering. Of course you hurt. I’m just asking you to not waste it. It’s part of God’s bigger story in you. He’s asking us to live in His story. Make sure you’re not expecting it to be the other way around. Bow your knee, open your hand, and worship. That is what God is always leading us to. It is the goal in all suffering, all discontentment, all waiting. We finally realize it’s about Him, His story, His love, His glory, and His longing and pursuit to include us in it. I’m a receiver, a participant, a worshiper. It’s what I was made for. It’s the fulfillment of all my heart has longed for. I am no longer banging my head, obsessed with what I don’t have. I live in the freedom of all that is mine forever.

 

Jen Gaunce – April 2018

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’ve been thinking about sin much as of late. Not mine, of course. I was contemplating the sin of others. You know, the ugly sins. The ones that smell bad. While considering what went wrong in other people’s lives and how to fix them, God suddenly pivoted the floodlight to shine on the hidden and coddled parts of my own heart. Why does He always do that? One answer is found in Hebrew 11:6 which says, “For he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” He gets to choose how He rewards us. It’s always with Himself. I can’t seek God without Him revealing to me the next step in my understanding of the truth of who He is and the truth about me. Any time God hears the words “they” and “them” drip from my lips, He reminds me that the proper words are “we” and “us.” I can easily find myself so angry at the sin of others. When I see what it takes to mop up the aftermath of just one person’s indulgence in selfishness, I want to grab them by the collar and lift them off the ground and scream in their face, “How could you possibly be so selfish?!!! Can’t you see what the consequences of your sin costs everyone around you? Not to mention the name of God. How could anyone be so selfish?” Why is that my response? What is the truth about sin? What is the truth about my sin?

We’ve become very close to the substance abuse rehabilitation ministries in town. I’ve learned so much from our friends there who are battling every day and seeking healing. I’ve learned much about sin that was foreign to me and also much about sin that seemed strangely familiar, like an old sock. One friend told us that rehabilitation should be at least a one-year program, and training and supervision is needed for a long time after that. He said that after a year, an addiction struggler is just then at zero, just beginning to poke his head out of the hole. So much time and training and resources are needed to establish a new way of thinking, and then it must be policed and maintained for a very long time. Forgive my arrogance, but I have lived much of my life deceived to believe that I was somehow different; that those who made good choices and were rule keepers didn’t suffer with entrenched sin. I tend to categorize people. That is simply code for saying that I judge people. My sin just isn’t as repulsive as other’s, is it? Because I’ve been hurt by judging and have done it so many times myself, I’ve become sensitive to not assuming the content and integrity of someone’s heart. Assuming is unfair and unkind and unloving. Always ask for the truth. You may not get it, but give the opportunity for it, nonetheless. As I have heard Kevin say, “There is a judge. It’s just not us.” I also realize that there is a very real enemy, it’s just not you.

I have come to see that I can’t tell you to just stop sinning. Just believe truth. Just think differently. Just make good choices. Stop being selfish. Go to church. Pray more. I have learned much about sin and patterns and wrong thinking and enemy territory from knowing people and learning myself. Salvation, which is found only in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 – “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”) redeems the soul and washes clean and makes us new with the life of Christ in us. Then why do we continue to be so screwed up, so capable of such darkness that is so contrary to who we really are? I’m no theologian or psychiatrist. In full disclosure, I had to spellcheck both of those words. I’m not heavy in the brilliance department, but a light has shone on a thought that many before me have come to, I’m sure, but that is just dawning on me. Though our spirits are redeemed, our bodies and brains remain very much exposed to the experiences and influences of this world and the enemy of our souls. Those parts of us that have been yielded to the enemy need constant guarding and maintenance and care because the natural current of this world takes us to decay and chaos and death. For the most part, all that has transpired in our life stays alive in our thoughts and mind. Where we have knowingly, or sometimes unknowingly, invited and allowed Satan to have access, we have surrendered some territory. It doesn’t mean it can’t be taken back, it just means that the thoughts and images and words are there and will now be a battleground and need guarding with careful watch, possibly as long as our body lives or, perhaps with much work and seeking, relief will come sooner. This first came to light for me in seeing the stronghold of pornography and sexual sin in people’s lives; I’m speaking of the redeemed. The indulgence has allowed the enemy to have ground in the brain that is then a constant battleground. In praying for the men in my life, I pray that they would be terrified of sexual images and see them for the poison and horror that they are. Please don’t turn ground over to the enemy to hurt you and your family. Even as a youth, you are hurting your future spouse and children. Be very afraid. Please don’t create a battleground that will be a lifelong distraction from loving and ministering well. You must know that the consequences of sin are far reaching and will hurt the ones you love the most, the ones you swore to love and protect and cherish. Please, protect them from yourself by never giving the enemy a stronghold to use as a weapon against you and those you love. If the consequences of sin are great, the consequences of grace are far greater. (Romans 5:20 – “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”) Don’t despair if you have been deceived and been in agreement with the enemy of our souls. So have all of us. It’s what the cross is for. It’s why Jesus came. This letter isn’t to condemn. It’s just my own revelation and confession of my own sin and warning to us all.

You see, I realize that there aren’t just the pitied some who have indulged and given up territory to the enemy. We all have. I have areas of my life and brain that have become habits and hobbies and have felt such a natural part of me that I never recognized the lie that they are about the truth and character of God. What part of my thinking and my life is a daily battle? In what have I indulged so readily that I must fight and scrape to apply the truth? What battle will only be won in me with constant watching and maintenance and application of truth and stewardship and accountability? When I picture me screaming in someone’s face, “How could you possibly be so selfish?” I become fully aware that that is exactly my battle: selfishness. Sounds not so bad, right? You can sort of keep that one a secret. Everybody is selfish sometimes. No biggie. “Get behind me, Satan!” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we must destroy everything that is raised up against the knowledge of God. Selfishness goes against everything that is true about God. It flies in the face of all that Jesus is and the example He gave us to follow and the words He spoke to us and His very life in us. Everything that doesn’t want to love and sacrifice like my Lord is selfishness in me. It expresses itself through me in self-protection, comparison, jealousy, bitterness, arrogance, laziness, control, fear, and countless other ways. My longing to just “do me” and seek my happiness is a lie about the character of God and the life of Christ in me. I recognize it. I repent of it. I agree with God about it. And now, I put floodlights on it so the enemy cannot sneak in when I’m not being alert and claim territory. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says that we are not ignorant of our enemy’s schemes, so don’t give him any advantage. Ephesians 4:27 says to not give the devil an opportunity. Ephesians 6:11 tells us to put on the full armor of God and stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:16 tells us to use the shield of faith to extinguish all flaming missiles of the evil one. There is a reason for the battle terminology. We are at war. Letting our guard down is certain defeat in these earthly raging battles.

Now that I see a little clearer, I must recognize the need for pushing against and guarding and making new plans to prevent our enemy from taking up residence in that part of my brain again. The old ruts and tracks of self-protection and happiness-seeking that my brain naturally tends toward must have new roads built with truth. Selfishness and self-protection are not the path of my Savior, nor should they be mine. It will be painful and sweaty and dirty, and I will need the help of others to guard me and fight with me and help me on this journey. I should never go it alone. I’m claiming enemy territory. It’s a battle. Death is surely involved. Nehemiah told his wall builders to be prepared as soldiers as they worked with one hand and held a sword in the other. In 4:14 he says, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Suit up! Ride out with me! Fight with me!

One day our bodies and brains will stop. I don’t know all of the theology about the mind and soul. I only know that all of me that Jesus bought and redeemed with His blood will be with Him forever. No more battle with sin and pain. We will see the consequences of our sins in the scars on the hands and feet of Jesus. And all will be well.

 

Jen Gaunce – June 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I have warfare, particularly spiritual warfare, much on my mind as of late. Several reasons: our family recently rewatched  The Lord of the Rings trilogy; our church ladies and friends are doing The Armor of God  study by Priscilla Shirer; and I have become keenly aware, in my own life and the lives of others, of the attacks of the enemy of our souls on us individually, our families, our relationships, our church, our community, our nation, and more. We are at war. This war has been raging long before we ever entered the story. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell the history of the evil one behind the power of evil kings. Scripture tells us of a beautiful servant angel of God who tried to create a coup against his own Creator. He and his followers were cast from heaven and given reign on earth. Revelation 20:10 tells us that complete destruction is their future, but why wait? Why not end the rebellion and destruction immediately before any more damage can be done? I don’t know. For purposes we can only guess at and try to justify in our own minds, satan (lowercase intended) has been allowed reign and rule on the earth, but only what God has allowed him. God tells us in Psalm 24:1 that everything on earth is His. Abraham Kuyper said, ”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” We know that satan has been granted access and audience with God at times, as in Job. He accuses the saints before God in Revelation 12, constantly seeming to taunt God and seek our destruction. Satan is the one who convinced Eve in the garden that she could be like God if she just did what he said, and sin has been part of our story ever since. Like a bee up your nose, he is relentlessly irritating and lying and trying to cast doubt and diminish the work of our Savior on our behalf. Why not be rid of him immediately? It’s a mystery to me. But don’t despair, Colossians 2:3-4 tells us that all answers are in Christ. All of God’s love and grace and purposes for humanity culminate at the resurrection of Christ. So while we, His rescued saints, wait to shed our earthly bodies and live eternally in His presence, we must realize that we are under constant attack. We are at war.

I know little of physical war. My father was rejected from being drafted in the Korean war because a burst eardrum as a child made him ineligible. Kevin’s dad was rejected from service for the same reason. My parents’ generation made huge sacrifices during the wars of the ‘40’s, ‘50’s, and 60’s. Everyone loved or knew someone who lost their life. Everyone sacrificed material goods and endured shortages for the sake of the cause. Women who had never been employed did hard labor in factories to replace the lost men. Many orphans and widows and grieving parents were left. Everyone was called to sacrifice. So much was at stake. But not so since my generation. Many make great sacrifices to serve our country and protect our freedom, but the majority of the general public can live seemingly unaffected. One may choose to be a soldier ( and thank God they do) but no one is required to do so. We can live and move and enjoy our way of  life with very little cost to ourselves. Seldom do we realize we are riding on the backs of those who gave it all. Someone had to push hard against the darkness for us to live in the light. Pleasure and comfort are the American pursuit, not sacrifice. As in all things, if we don’t see the cost, we won’t appreciate the value. We must see the bigger story taking place beyond our smaller one.

It makes me think of the Shire in LOTR (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. Tolkien). It was a beautiful, peaceful, fun loving place. It was home to the main character and savior in the story, Frodo. It was a protective bubble for Frodo. His friends, family, and all that was dear to him were there. He had never been anywhere else. He didn’t know of the dark story playing out beyond the Shire, where evil was on the move to rule and to reign. Frodo didn’t go looking for trouble, it came to him through the selfishness of someone else. Isn’t that how sin came into the world in the first place, because of someone’s selfishness? Often our first awareness of the cruelty of sin is because of the selfishness of someone else. Often, it’s just our own desperate search for love and validation and protection that opens our eyes to the cruelty of sin. We are born into it. It is our natural state until we realize we need a savior and the King of the world has provided for our salvation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I often look with sadness at a rundown house. The grass and bushes are high and covering the house. The house itself is rickety and falling in. What happened? Nothing. And that’s the problem. Someone just stopped fighting and pushing back the overgrowth and decay. No one purposed to make it look beat up and neglected. It’s just the natural course of the world when it is not pushed against. And our natural course is one of depravity apart from a new life in Christ. We don’t have to go looking for sin. It is upon us.

For those who have accepted the payment of the life of Christ for their sin state, they are out of the enemy’s reach, but not his influence. We no longer sin because we have to, only when we choose to. God will be much at work for the rest of our lives exposing those parts of our minds and hearts and behavior that are not like Him, that which doesn’t accurately reflect His character and heart, the real identity of who we are. It’s a long process. It hurts. We resist. But God is very, very faithful. He loves us too much to leave us in a state that is less than who He is. We have the life of Christ. We made an exchange. It’s no longer our life we’re living. All of life is about learning who we really are. And then it’s about behaving like who we really are. God is very committed to seeing it through. We often fight back at the discomfort of it. Just hang on, there’s so much more going on than discomfort.

It took me years to be able to watch the orks and kings and sacrifice and selfishness and battles and victories that make up the LOTR movies. The evil is portrayed so putridly that you can almost smell its stench in your living room. So much fighting. So much constant battling. It wears me out. I am a comfort seeker and conflict avoider. My answer to all discomfort is to hide under the table and pull a curtain around it. Just tell me when it’s over. Sacrifice and selflessness are always such emotional things for me to witness. Kindness, especially in strangers, always makes me cry. Why would a policeman or fireman risk his life for me and those I love? How is it that people who don’t even know Christ can do such heroic and selfless acts of fighting to save a life? It’s the image of God in us that motivates us to act selflessly whether we know Him or not. Kindness always means that someone is pushing against the darkness in this world and is making a sacrifice. I’ve given up trying to verbally express my gratitude to veterans when I see them out because my blubbering and crying embarrasses us both. The image of God portrayed in selflessness in others always overwhelms me. After years of seeing the images of the LOTR movies and hearing my family discuss it, I was finally drawn in. I still don’t have all of the ridiculous names and places down, but I know the story and the expressions on the faces of the beloved actors that faithfully execute the passion of the author as he tells the old, old story in a new way. There is one great story. And it’s true. But God has gifted men with imagination and brilliance to express the great, true story in different ways. It is a wonderful gift. A faithful image bearer will portray evil as putridness and destruction and death. He will also portray goodness as selflessness and sacrifice. Love and faithfulness will be the motive and the theme of the story. Just as it is in our story.

I have learned much of warfare from watching the LOTR movies. I’ve learned of the need for proper weapons to fight the enemy. I’ve seen the need to have protective armor in order to not succumb to the enemy’s weapons used against us. Unity is a must when we are at war. If the enemy can get us alone, we are at our most vulnerable. In the movie, a small hobbit has volunteered to take a ring that was left to him and throw it into the firey pit from which the enemy made it. The enemy possessing this ring will mean total rule for him and the end of  life on earth as the characters in our story have known  it. The mission: destroy the ring before it gets into the enemy’s hands. It’s a long, dangerous journey.  Frodo, the ring bearer, can’t do it alone. Such beloved characters arise in this story. Such faithful friendships and loyalty and faithfulness and sacrifice that seem beyond human ability. And yet, we know it is possible because we’ve seen it ourselves, we pray for it, we long for it. It is the image of God in us. A group of eight unlikely characters vow to help little Frodo on his journey to destroy the ring and save the world. They’re not all sure they can trust each other in the beginning, and yet they’ve made a pledge to protect the ring and its bearer with their very lives. They call their group the fellowship of the ring. Don’t you love the word “fellowship”?  Doesn’t it conjure  images of belonging, togetherness, loyalty and protection, and being part of something bigger than just you? I love that our church has the word “fellowship” in it. May we grow into the meaning of that word as a body. May we rightly live out God’s intent for His church, the body and bride of Christ, to His glory and for the sake of the world. The fellowship in LOTR endures so much hardship, battling from outside and within, being constantly pursued by the enemy. At one point, the little hobbits are acting carelessly, not being on guard when one of their protectors rebukes them and says with such fervor, “I know what hunts you.”

Lesson one in warfare: know your enemy. Do you know what hunts you? Do you really know the severity of your situation? I always wanted to live in The Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables stories. They lived in a simple, small, protected world. I never wanted to live in a LOTR story. I never wanted to have to fight and sacrifice and be inconvenienced. I want to just do me. But, as Aragorn says to King Theoden who does not want war, “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.” Open war is upon us whether we realize it or not. The fact that we exist means we have an enemy. If you don’t know your enemy you will never know how to fight, how to defend yourself, what weapons to use. How will you know him? We introduced our enemy at the beginning of this letter. We read the great story, the word of God, to tell us about our enemy. We learn how to push back, how to have victory. Our enemy is a liar. It is his main weapon. He can do nothing but lie and is constant with his attacks. Every thought in your head that raises itself against the knowledge of God, that speaks falsely about who God is and who you are to Him is from your enemy. It feels like it is coming from you. It’s not. Recognize it as warfare and start fighting. If satan can have us believe that our thoughts are ours, then the spiral begins of, “I’m a bad person. I must not really love God. I must not have the life of Christ in me. No one would like me if they really knew me. I’m all alone. This will never change. I’m hopeless.” You know you can track with me because you hear it and battle it every day. So do I. Our only hope is to battle the lies with the truth of God’s word. John 17:17 tells us that God’s word is truth.

Ephesians 6 is the scripture reference for our ladies’ study that teaches us how to battle. I have to tell you that I’m a chicken and a sissy. At the first sign of trouble you will see my rear end hanging out from under the table as I’m furiously grabbing for the curtain to pull around me, hoping it’s got enough fabric to cover my rear end. I need to learn to fight. I must know my enemy and how I can put him to run. Can you imagine the impact in our lives and our church and our world if we did it together? Those very words cause the enemy to shake. He knows he is in trouble if we can recognize his schemes, call him out, and pummel him with the truth of God’s word and all that God has given us to fight him. Let’s do it together.

Some of the most precious and touching and heart wrenching scenes in LOTR are when the fellowship fights together. When a friend stands in front of a friend with sword drawn and says, “Not as long as there is breath in my lungs will you get to him.” When little folk encircle the ring bearer with their backs to him to protect him with their lives. When the horn is blown calling for aid and the fellowship stops everything and runs as hard as they can with swords drawn and arrows pointed to fight for the one who can’t hold off the enemy alone. When a friend stands over a fallen friend too weak to fight with a sword and says, ”I’ll protect you. I’ll fight for you,” and swings with all his might at the enemy.  When a fellow warrior takes the arrows and gives his life for a friend. When a friend carries the friend who is too weak to go on. Sacrifice! Selflessness! That is the one great story. That is the path of Christ. That is what we are called to. Loyally fighting for and with each other. We can do it because Christ did and does it for us. We have the life of Christ in us. All that He is, is already in us. He made us to do it together. We really can love and carry each other and push against the darkness together and show the world the great story of God and His great love and provision  for us, His creation. It doesn’t happen by being big and powerful and tough. It happens through humility and selflessness and sacrifice and great love.

One great difference in our story and LOTR is that we’re not waiting to see if we win. God has already won. It was never a question. He’s never not been in complete control. It’s a matter of battling well, joining Him for His purposes, loving Him and others more than we love ourselves. He calls us into sacrifice and fellowship and love. Warfare is the process by which we shed all that is not Him in us. Let’s battle well, sweet friends. I love you. I need you. And as great as the impulse in me to run and hide is, I want to fight for you and with you. We were made to glorify God together. Lord, make us faithful.

 

Jen Gaunce – May 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I’m sitting down with my pen and paper (Yes, I still do it the old-fashioned way) not even knowing what I’ll write. But I’m trusting God for words since His are the only ones that matter. Either God works on our behalf or we might as well stay in bed. My editors, meaning my children, remind me to be concise. My main editor, meaning my daughter Rebecca, says that I don’t want to scare someone off with a lengthy text. My publisher, meaning Thomas Berry, has given me free reign. My audience, meaning Kevin, encourages me to go for it. So, with my trusted staff behind me, I want to launch out to wrap up the remainder of the Seamless study and have you join us in the ladies’ study of the big picture of Scripture and the great story of God always coming after us and for us.

I certainly don’t want to leave us where my last letter left off, wandering in the desert and demanding that God give us “more” than Himself. That would be a terrible end to the human story. No hope.  Us left to ourselves is the worst of all scenarios. We need to be rescued. Have I got some great news for you, just hang on. I always marvel at the tenacity of God in the pursuit of His creation. Time after time, mankind, even His chosen people, turn aside, rebel, reject God, and side with the enemy of our souls. And time after time, God rescues, pursues, and provides. All through the Old Testament we see God sending discipline to correct and redirect and awaken His people and even those who didn’t claim to be His. We see God sending judges and prophets to teach, instruct, enlighten, and direct. He allows His people to suffer the consequences of their disobedience and choices. The Old Testament ends with prophecies and murmurings of a great rescue. But who? How? So glad you asked. Turn the page with me hundreds of years later into the New Testament and feel the winds of change blowing. What is this all about? Could it finally be?

Let’s remember the circumstances of the New Testament in which Israel finds itself. Tossed to and fro as a nation for centuries because they would not obey God and His Word to them, the Jewish people are under Roman rule. They are allowed to follow their Jewish religious customs, but Rome has the power and say in their lives. They long for the Messiah that is promised by the prophets of old to come and set them free.  They don’t have the whole story written out as we do; they are living it. When would it finally happen? They begin hearing rumors of angel appearances to an old man and a young girl. There are strangers who look like kings visiting and asking questions, and there is the ordered mass murder of their infant sons. There is a crazy guy hollering in the desert and baptizing people. Why are so many people interested? Then there is a man with a following of people begging Him for healing and provision. What exactly do they think He will do for them? What exactly do they want? Do they have any idea what they really need?

I read an excellent article by Michael Gerson in the April 15, 2017, edition of The Paducah Sun called “The Hope of Pardon and Peace.” Reading it makes me think of Good Friday in a different way. We often read Scripture as a record of accounts from the past, and so they are. But that’s not all they are. What’s the bigger picture, the back of the tapestry, the one great story? The author of the article points out the terrible darkness of that day, not just the facts about it. On that day, “Nearly every human institution is revealed at its worst.” Government fails at justice, religious leaders are saving their own skin, the “followers” of Christ go from praising Him to mob-cursing Him, the closest friends betray and abandon. Then there is the terrible torture and the question that so unnerves us, “Why have You forsaken me?” I’ve long tried to make sense and reason of that question and have come up with sloppy answers. I only know that hopelessness and forsakenness are our human condition since the garden. It is the penalty of sin in to which we are all born. Sin must be paid for; it cannot be pushed under the rug. Christ came to pay it by experiencing the forsakenness and despair for us. God brought Himself to that point for us so that He might redeem and rescue us from it. I don’t believe that Jesus suffered physically more than any other man or His death was the most painful one ever suffered, though it was indescribably horrific. But it is the fact that it is our Creator Himself becoming like His creation and suffering the forsakenness of His creation in order to rescue His creation that makes it all so unthinkable. (Phil. 2:5-9)  And why did He ask “Why?” I don’t know. He knows all things. Maybe the words are as much for our sake as the sacrifice is. He knows our pain. He knows our despair. He knows our scream of “Why?”  It was the darkest of days. There wasn’t much good that Friday. Gerson says, “Every ember of human hope was cold, and there was nothing to be done about it.”

What on earth did His followers think, those who knew He would become king and overthrow Rome and Israel would once again thrive as a super power? No more suffering. No more being pushed around as the little guy. What about those who believed Him to be the true Messiah and banked everything on it? Now, He is just gone. Gone! And from the lips of all believers spill the words, “But I thought…”  Don’t we utter these very words with broken hearts and tear-stained face from time to time in our lives? We thought this would look different. We thought this would come through. We thought there would be healing. We thought there would be joy. We thought it would be different. But just as Good Friday is not the end of the story, your darkest day is also not the end of yours.

“Then something happened,” says Gerson. Those may well be the best words ever written. Amidst darkness and despair and all hope gone, something happened. Jesus did not stay dead. He defeated the enemy of our souls, He defeated death, He fulfilled the purpose for which He came, He paid the penalty of death and forsakenness for us, He bought our freedom and our acceptance by God as His child. It’s a different freedom than the Jews were looking for, and most of them missed Him, but not all. His friends that left Him on Friday built the church and spread the gospel and most died martyrs death for it. The fact that our Savior lives and salvation is given to us because of what He did, not us, we have a unique rescue story, different than all the world and far superior to what anyone else has to offer.  Please read Ephesians 2 for a beautiful summary of Christ’s work on behalf of all man, not just the Jews. He includes everyone, to which I humbly say, “Thank You.” And before you think that’s the end of the story, the New Testament is full of instruction and encouragement and hope for our future.

I can fill a postage stamp with all that I know about the second coming of Christ and Revelation and a new heaven and new earth and our eternal reign with Christ. I‘ve been taught and I’ve read, but it’s pretty fuzzy to me. When I was little, my family used to sing in church. Mom played the piano, my teenage sister would probably rather have not been there, my daddy sang bass, and my older sister, Laura, would belt it out like nobody’s business. Having nothing to offer musically with my lack of volume and speech impediment, I was the cute factor. My daddy would stand me on the end of the piano bench so I could be seen and he would whisper, “Sing, girls,” into the back of our heads between verses. We were the Duke family. One of the first songs I remember singing as a family was “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” I could sing it for you right now if you like. I knew every word by heart with little or no understanding of what it meant. Still true today. As I grew up and heard sermons on the second coming of Christ it fairly scared me to death. There was always the “what if” factor. What if I wasn’t ready? What if I wasn’t really saved? What if I was left? What if I missed Him? Maturity and Scripture assures me that my salvation is based on the work of Jesus on my behalf alone and my acceptance of His payment for me. He bought me for God. (Rev 5:9)  God forgives me for Christ’s sake. (Ephesians 4:32 KJV)  I am sealed with the Holy Spirit for eternity. (Ephesians 1:13) I am the gift that they give each other. How humbling! How loved and cherished I am! How wanted! How much am I worth? I am worth Jesus. He is my payment for living all eternity with Him in the presence of my Creator as He intended all along. Ephesians 1 tells us He planned it before creation. He gave everything to rescue His creation and make us His forever.

Great story! It’s God’s story. It’s my story. It’s your story. The last question in our Seamless study is, “How are you living your life to tell His story?” Great question.  I long to answer it faithfully every day. Let’s do it together. God made us to tell and live His story together. We reflect the character of God better together. Your giftings and personality reflect characteristics of God differently than mine; and mine yours. We reflect His character best to a needy world when we are doing it lovingly and selflessly together. I need you, sweet friend. I don’t want to do life without you.  You are God’s gift to me. Lord make us faithful.

Spoiler alert; WE WIN!!!!!!!!

 

Jen Gaunce – April 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I wanted to catch you up on what the girls have been studying in our weekly Seamless Bible study. We actually finished the seven week study and are looking forward to starting a new one in the near future. I had no idea what a blessing the structure and accountability of the study would be to me. After the study, I find myself being choppy and sloppy in my time with the Lord again. I talk with Him all day in sometimes concentrated and sometimes broken conversation. Talking is natural for me. (No “Amen’s”  please.) Listening is a different matter. The stillness of the mind and spirit that seeks God’s heart in His Word that He has so graciously given us takes effort, sacrifice, and purpose.  None of those are my favorite. And yet, I am routinely so overwhelmed and overjoyed when He reveals his love and character to me through His Word that I wonder why I would ever not seek Him with great thirst and fervor. There may be many reasons why we don’t pant after God’s heart, but the main one is that we are at war. We battle. We have an enemy who is constantly lying to us, trying to distract us and make us forget the goodness of God. We were born into a big story, a world in great conflict with its Creator. What’s my part in the story? Aren’t I just a victim of other people’s sin, disobedience, and misbehavior? Sure. So are you. I’m also a perpetuator of sin, disobedience, and misbehavior. So are you. We spoke of original sin and believing the lies of the enemy in my last letter. The Seamless study so blessed me in helping my understanding of an overall picture of the Bible and the one great story.

Let’s pick up with God choosing a man to start a nation that would show the world God’s great love and mercy and provision, a people that would reveal the very character and heart of God to the world, a race that would produce the Savior of the world. Let’s remember what condition His creation was in at the time God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a nation God would love and bless and shepherd forever. After God’s redirections of His creation to stop the terrible consequences of sin, we find that mankind has continued to buy into the lie of the enemy and seek life apart from God. God chose to create a race of people that He would call His. They were to live differently and distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. God would show Himself strong on their behalf and provide for them in glorious ways. There was some prep work to take place with suffering for His people so that His provision and glory would be demonstrated all the better at their rescue. Why Abraham? I have no idea. I only know that he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. We can “why” ourselves to death. If we hold our faith hostage until all of our “why’s” are satisfied, we will miss God completely. For one, it presupposes that we have the mind of God and will understand and accept His reasoning if it were only given to us. Second, it leaves us in judgement of God’s reasoning and purposes. Do not remove God from His throne and set yourself in judgement of Him. This is the great lie, the great battle plan of the enemy. God is God. End of story. He need not explain Himself to us. But, in His extreme love and mercy, compassion and kindness, He has made Himself known to us and asks to trust Him in what we can’t see and don’t understand. Not doing so was the downfall of the children of Israel. It is ours as well.

Every Saturday before Easter, “The Ten Commandments” is shown on network television. My daughters associate it with painting their nails and getting ready for church the next day. Every year we watch about the same twenty minutes of the movie. We never find out if they actually make it out of Egypt. We laugh at the ridiculous script, the overacting, and the Americans trying to pass as Egyptians. I always say that if Charlton Heston had just walked a little faster, it could have been a forty-five minute movie. Why do Bible people always walk and talk in slow motion in movies? And yet, we’re drawn to it like mosquitoes to a fat baby. Part of it is the emotional attachment, and part of it is because it is an amazing story. The most amazing part is that it’s true. God rescued Abraham’s descendants from famine only to let them become slaves in Egypt. Wasted time? God was building a nation. He wastes nothing. Psalms 105-106 is a wonderful summary of God’s heart and dealings with His people. Israel suffered over 400 years until their miraculous rescue through the leadership of a reluctant, but obedient, man. Leadership is a terrible responsibility. More than once did Moses question God’s calling on him. More than once did others try to overthrow God’s leadership through Moses. People are a messy business. And yet, God in His love orchestrated a tremendous rescue of His people and promised them His care and provision and the most wonderful land for their inheritance. Their part? Obey. Believe. Worship the only one, true God. Be His people.

The bellyaching started immediately. After such a wondrous show of God’s provision and deliverance, they questioned God’s ability to continue to deliver them. They said it would have been better to remain slaves, God should have left them alone. Really?! Is that what we want, for God to leave us alone? There is not a hell or hole so black that we would find ourselves without the power and presence of God holding back the powers of darkness and evil among us. I promise, you never want God to leave you alone. He’s not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy. Even after walking through the sea on dry land, after being fed bread from heaven, after eating so much meat that it made them sick, and after witnessing defeat after defeat of enemies that were stronger and more numerous then they, they didn’t want God to be their God. Miracle after miracle of God working on their behalf still left them saying, “We want to be like the other nations. We want a king to follow, a man to lead us, someone we can touch and see like the idols we worship.”  The words, “We want a king,” always break my heart. Caleb told me that God didn’t need me feeling sorry for Him, but don’t you? I’ve known rejection. I’ve felt the pain of having my heart and motives misjudged. I’ve known what it is to not have love returned. Israel’s rejection of their God, of their true king, hurts my heart for God. How could they?! After all the ways He rescued them and provided for them and loved and kept them, how could they tell Him He’s not enough? Dear, sweet friend, please humble yourself with me in the recognition that those very words have so often fallen from our hearts if not our lips. It is the great lie from the enemy of our souls, the great deceit. Israel decided that God wasn’t enough for them. What is your evaluation? In what ways have you shown God that His provision for you isn’t enough; He’s not enough. Well, sadly, I can think of several for  me. I have often struggled with looking at the other “nations” and wanting to be like them. Satan would have me believe that everyone else’s life is better, easier, happier, more prosperous than mine. If our enemy can keep our focus on comparing and coming up short, we will completely miss the blessing of God’s provision for us. Or what about comparing and coming out ahead? Ever heard of arrogance? Been  there. Still there sometimes. His physical provision is different for everyone. Instead of the humble gratitude for way more than enough, I look around me and declare, “Not enough!” I want to be like the other nations. Caleb has Type 1 diabetes. We can either shake our fists in God’s face for allowing Caleb to suffer the consequences of living in a cursed and fallen world, or we can humbly thank God for His provision for his physical life through insulin and his eternal provision for his salvation in Christ. Which rings true to you? Truth? I’ve struggled. Not in anger but in fear, not trusting God’s provision for Caleb. Do you want to know the biggest heartache in Israel’s desire to be like their neighbors? The other nations didn’t even worship God. They followed a king. They worshiped idols. Their statement to God wasn’t only, “You’re not enough,” but also, “We don’t need You.” How foolish! Where I feel like God has let me down, may I humbly ask to see clearly God’s provision for me.  Let’s beg God to show us what we can’t see. How was He coming after us and offering His grace and care all along? What about those who have died? How did God provide for them? Our life here is merely a dot in our existence. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if our hope in Christ is for this life alone than we should be most pitied. God provided eternity with Him through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s eternal provision for us. He is our rescue, our only hope. II Corinthians 5:8 tells us that when we are absent from this body we are present with the Lord if we are in Christ. Hallelujah!!!

What about those of you who have been so walloped, abused, mistreated, rejected? So was Jesus for your sake. God has provided healing for you in Jesus. All of us have had life beat the snot out of us at some time and been left bloody and naked. I don’t mean to diminish your suffering. Sin is so cruel. We have precious friends with stories worse than the worst movie you’ve ever seen. And yet, God in His lovingkindness has rescued and redeemed and healed. Gory to God! Let your suffering drive you to Him. We all thought life would be different than what it is. We’re all disappointed and hurting, some of us more than others. God has provided for us. I think the Israelites had a hard awakening after their deliverance. Life was still hard. There was still suffering. There was still war, still battles to fight. They had to be in complete dependence on God for their survival. Let’s be honest, don’t we knock ourselves out to make sure we’re never in that position? Don’t we want to be able to handle it? We don’t want to be desperate enough for God to be our only hope. Freedom wasn’t exactly like the Israelites thought it would be. Freedom means freedom from bondage, not freedom from dependence on God. God being their God wasn’t enough for them. They must look elsewhere. Haven’t we all thought that after a fulfillment of a longing that life would finally get good? When I get a friend, a job, an education, a spouse, a child, a healing, a church home, a house, acceptance, more money, approval,…then I can enjoy life. Life will finally be good when God finally provides. Can we see the lie? God has already provided. He is the fulfillment of your heart’s greatest desire. We were made by Him for Him, only He can fulfill us. Ephesians 1:10 tells us that all things are summed up in Christ. He is the answer to all things.

So, while I’m wagging my fingers at the children of Israel and saying, “How could you?”, may my heart be so sensitive to the areas of my life where I have told God that His provision for me is not enough and that I know better for myself than He could possibly know. We have no idea what He is sparing us and protecting us from. He can be trusted.

God, show us where we have tried to knock You off of Your throne and claim kingship for ourselves and independence from You. Thank You for Your provision for us in Jesus Christ and for the gifts that you shower on us. Thank You for Your provisions that were meant to drive us to You. Please give us eyes to see them and to see You as our one true God and only fulfiller of our greatest longing. You made us for You. Thank You for loving us that much.

 

Jen Gaunce – March 2017

Hi Sweet Friends,

I was invited by someone other than my husband to write on our church website. My first thought was, “How sweet.” My next thought was, “We all know where it will be a cold day before I ever write publicly.” Actually, I can’t remember which thought came first. It’s a little hazy. Why open myself up to be judged for my theology, grammar, sentence structure, and giftings and personality, or lack thereof? Coughing up a Christmas letter once a year is about as far as I’m willing to go. I’m a people pleaser. I hate rejection. It’s not just my paranoid imagination speaking of a hypothetical situation. I’ve lived it. So have you. Truth? I’m afraid of you. Bigger truth? I love you. Biggest truth? I love my Lord. I want to be zealous to glorify Him and speak to the hope that is in me. Maybe “zealous” is too ambitious. Passionate people scare me. Nope. On fourth thought, “zealous” is exactly what I want to be. How do I do this without ego? How do I not want to be graded? How do I not want to know what you think? I have no idea. I pray for great humility and an abandoned, obedient heart that seeks only the glory of my Savior. I’m scared! Here we go.

The ladies of the church and added friends are doing a study together called Seamless by Angie Smith. It’s an overview of all of Scripture to see how all of the stories fit into the one big story of God’s great love for and redemption of man. It’s an ambitious project. As I go through the study, I find myself wishing all of the ladies could be together and all of the men could know what we’re learning and be encouraged by it. I’ve been in church my whole life. Bible stories are as familiar to me as the nursery rhymes and fairy tales I learned as a kid. The difference? Scripture is true. It really happened. All that God has said, He has done and will do. Some of the girls shared that they didn’t grow up with these stories and feel a little lost and intimidated by Scripture and discussion in a group. I so appreciate their honesty. We’re all scared. How gracious of God to give us His Word and each other to make His heart known to us. I wanted to share just a few thoughts of how God has shown Himself to me in my time in Scripture these past few weeks. I would love to hear what He has shown you.

I was driving home from Clarksville one night after spending a fun day with Hannah. It was dark (not my favorite), and my speedometer went wacko and lay there like a dead man (especially not my favorite). I had no idea what speed I was going. I couldn’t see anything but the road directly in front of me and the cars I met or blew past from time to time. Wonder what they were going? Did I gauge the truth of my speed according to what they were doing? What if they were wrong? What about when no cars were around? I was guessing and unsure the whole trip home. I had to have something that could tell me the truth about my standing. That’s what God’s Word is to us. It is the truth teller in our lives. It is the only true thing to tell us exactly who and where we are, where we came from and where we’re going, and how and why it all started in the first place. Lots of theories in the world. Only one true story. God’s story. It’s the one He makes know to us through His Word, the Bible, that He so graciously provided and preserved for us so we could know His heart for His creation. We measure everything against it to know what is true. We must be truth seekers if we’re going to make it. WHAT HAS GOD SAID?

Well, that’s kinda how this whole mess got started. Those very words were whispered to Eve in the perfect garden in the world that God made. God uses the words “Us” and “Our” when speaking of  creation. There was already a relationship going on before man was made. There is the trinity, the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that make up the relationship of one God. I can’t explain or understand it. When I try I can only get so far before fear of an aneurism sets in. I simply believe it because I believe all of the Bible is true. I’ve often wondered why God would want to mess up a perfect union by creating man that He knew would betray Him. Don’t know, but being a parent gives me a little insight. Why do we as a married couple long for children? We know they are hard. We know it could go badly. They will have a choice to love us or not and may choose not. And yet, our hearts long for relationship, to bring children into the relationship of the marriage, to have a family that has our values and heart and love. We can make it sound selfish, but we all know that doing children well is the most selfless thing you will ever do. We want to share and grow the love and have sweet fellowship. It helps me understand our Father’s heart a little better. He wants relationship with us.

Man’s rebellion isn’t God’s first rodeo. He’s seen rebellion in His creation before in the form of a lovely angel that went rogue and wanted to set himself up as God, take God’s place. He was cursed and thrown out of heaven with his followers. It’s Satan (purposefully lowercased) who comes to Eve in the garden and asks the question, “What has God said?” He starts casting doubt of God’s goodness and provision for Adam and Eve. He points out that God has placed a limit on them and that isn’t fair. Then he speaks a bold-faced lie and says, “You surely won’t die.” At first Eve speaks truth to the deceiver, telling him what God said. But she speaks no truth against the second lie, and here we are. God doesn’t force us to love and obey Him. That’s not truly love. He always gives us the opportunity for obedience. Why the limits? Because He’s God and He knows what we don’t know. He knows what’s possible. We don’t. Why do we have baby gates and electric socket plugs? We know the possibilities of babies left to themselves. We love them enough to limit them. God loves us more.

I’ve gone from, “How could Eve be so stupid?” to, “I probably would have done the same thing,” to, “I do the same thing every day of my life.” I believe the lies of my enemy so often. Not the ones about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, though those may be yours. They’re not believable to me, so he speaks to me in half-truths and bold-faced lies about the character of my God and His provision for me and who I am. He tells me I should be afraid. I should control every situation to guarantee I and those I love will be okay. I should work harder so God will like me more. He tells me life is about hurting badly and being disappointed and just doing the best I can. He doesn’t speak to me of meth and alcohol, but he knows the lies that are believable to me and is constantly whispering them in my ear. There is no virtue in which lies we believe and which we don’t. They all have their root in the pit of Hell and speak against the truth of who God is and who we are to Him.

I shared with the ladies about my experience on the way to our study last week. I was going to run through the drive-through at McDonalds to get my signature diet Dr. Pepper. The line was too long and I hated everyone in it because they were going to make me late. No flaws in that thinking. I went in to make it go quicker and I believe God had something to show me there. There was a beautiful little red-haired boy looking at the happy meal toy display while his grandfather was getting his happy meal. I was watching this story unfold and just couldn’t help getting the bigger picture. The boy was hollering at his grandfather and pointing to the particular toy he wanted. The grandfather makes it over with the tray of food and the now unhappy meal, and Little Red has a meltdown because he didn’t get the toy he wanted. Much crying and stomping and throwing of fit ensued. It didn’t go the way he decided it should. Never mind that the grandfather had been gracious and intended to treat his grandson and lavish him with good things. And above all, I’m sure the grandfather looked forward to spending a sweet time with Little Red, having a relationship with him. I left the restaurant with my head shaking. That ungrateful child! Why couldn’t he just enjoy all that his grandfather intended for him? I think we all know who I am in this story. I’m the girl behind the counter sampling the apple pie and frappe and telling everyone to have a nice day. Obviously, I’m the little red-headed boy. Don’t we say at times without even realizing it, “I’ll trust you as long as it doesn’t hurt, as long as it goes like I think it should, as long as it doesn’t cost me anything”?

I noticed as I read through Scripture the last few weeks that I was getting more questions than answers about God. I was getting uncomfortable with some of my feelings. The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin are harsh but understandable. He doesn’t explain why He couldn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice. Then we get into destroying the whole earth with water save Noah’s family and the creatures on the ark. God then does a number on the people building a tower at Babel and confuses their languages so they can’t continue in their arrogance and sin and have to break up and go their separate ways. I began to hear echoes of Eden whispered in my ear. Why does God do what He does? Why does He sometimes seem cruel and unrelational and distant? Can He be trusted? Does He really love us? Me? I found myself giving audience to the very lies that Eve fell for.

When I recognized the voice of my enemy, I was humbled and began to see the constant grace of God in the limits and course redirections He has made since that fateful day in the garden. In His curse He also foretells of the seed of Eve that will defeat satan. He tells Cain to be humble and make a course correction. He saves humanity through Noah’s family because Noah walked with God. God destroyed life on earth to halt the terrible indulgence of sin by man. He stopped the kingdom building at Babel because He knew the possibilities of man living apart from God. At each point that satan would tell us God is cruel, God is graciously redirecting man back to Himself.  He doesn’t force our allegiance, but He calls and invites us to join a relationship that already exists. The limits and redirections have been lovingly put in place to protect us, not deprive us. God will always lovingly redirect our attempts to live independently from Him. He made us for something more.

Why doesn’t God just make everything plain? In English? With a Kentucky accent? Why is Scripture sometimes hard to understand? Why did Jesus answer “yes/no” questions with a story that left some, and me, saying, “Huh?”  I like rules. I like black and white. I like to know what is expected of me so I know when I hit it. I’m also lazy. I would rather take a pill than exercise and diet. I would rather watch a documentary on a subject than read a book about it. I would rather do a check list than actually spend time seeking to know God and His heart and His purposes in a relationship. It’s easier. It’s faster. Guess what. I don’t need God for it. Aahhhhh. And there’s the rub. I hear echoes of Eden again. This whole story, all of Scripture is about God wanting a relationship with us and providing a way for it.

I hope to learn much more from this study and our time in God’s Word. I want us to go to God’s heart together. I love you, and I’m praying for you as you recognize the whispers of the enemy and put him to run with the truth of God’s Word.

2 Corinthians 10:5 – “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.