Welcome to the blog of Brenna Kate Simonds, author of Learning to Walk in Freedom.
Don’t know where to start?
Buy the book Learning to Walk in Freedom.
Check out Brenna Kate’s speaking page.
Welcome to the blog of Brenna Kate Simonds, author of Learning to Walk in Freedom.
Don’t know where to start?
Buy the book Learning to Walk in Freedom.
Check out Brenna Kate’s speaking page.
During my short stint in seminary, I once found myself arguing with the teaching assistant for a class I was taking. What were we arguing about? Satan.
Why on earth were we arguing about Satan? We were arguing about what Satan’s purpose is and whether or not he has a plan for our lives.
Twice today I found myself reminding two different friends that we have an enemy. I remember a conversation from last week as well. Our enemy doesn’t walk around dressed in red, with horns and a tail as some would depict him. He’d be so easy to spot if he did!
There seemed to be no question in the minds of the early followers of Jesus that Satan exists, as demonstrated by these passages:
“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.” Matthew 4:24
“When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him.” Matthew 8:16a
“Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” Matthew 12:22
“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’ ” Matthew 15:22
I could go on. Suffice it to say that the word “demon” is used 66 times in the 4 gospels alone. It’s clear to me that the early believers understood there was a real enemy.
Why does it seem so unclear to us?
I was out of town for the weekend, and at the church I visited Sunday, we sang this powerful song, “Lion and the Lamb.” I sang as loud as everyone else when we got to this line:
Our God is a Lion
The Lion of Judah
He’s roaring in power
And fighting our battles!
Do you guys know the song? I bet you’re singing it right now!
I absolutely love that imagery! But I’m not sure it’s 100% accurate.
Something I think many of us struggle to grasp is that Satan came to steal and kill and destroy the abundant life that Jesus came to give (John 10:10). The enemy came to steal your overflowing life – as in the specific plan and purpose for which God created you.
So why did the line from the song bother me?
Most Christians live as if Jesus defeated the devil once and for all at the cross. Therefore, there is nothing else we need to know about Satan or need to be concerned with. If this is the case, why does Paul write to believers about the possibility of being taken advantage of by Satan? Why does he also admonish the church in Ephesus to take a stand against Satan’s schemes? Why does Peter remind us that the enemy is prowling around, seeking someone to devour?
If God is fighting all our battles for us and all we need to do is sit back and watch, why is Paul telling us to put on battle armor?
As I prayed for a friend this week, I felt led to remind her that she has a real enemy, an enemy who lies in wait, looking for a weak moment. You also have the same enemy. We are not to live in fear of him, but simply with an awareness that he exists.
I can’t say I completely understand spiritual warfare, or what power or authority Satan does have today in the post-resurrection life of a believer. I’m still learning. I’ve been reading about this in Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets, and Waking the Dead by John Eldredge has an entire chapter on this idea. But I’ll just close with this one line from Eldredge’s book: “You don’t escape spiritual warfare simply because you choose not to believe it exists or because you refuse to fight it.”
Have you been surprised by Satan recently? How so?
What books are you reading these days? What is encouraging you and challenging you?
Two biographies I recently finished:
David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed by Gary Wilkerson
I’ve read High Adventure in Tibet before, years ago, but then I had trouble locating a copy of it. They have it at CBD for $2.49. I found David Wilkerson while searching through the virtual “sale rack” at CBD. Really loved both these books and their honesty about the lives of these two heroes of the faith, albeit one well-known and one unsung.
And slowly working my way through this with a friend:
Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth by Dutch Sheets
What are you reading? I’m looking for good biographies of Christians in particular.
After hearing a inspiring and convicting sermon on prayer yesterday, my Bible reading just “happened” to be John 4 today. I always think of John 4 as the story of the Samaritan woman and find myself relating to her, but God had something else to speak to me today.
After the story of Jesus’ work in Samaria, there is a short story that is headed “Jesus Heals the Official’s Son.” There are a few things that struck me about this story as it relates to prayer. It is not a long story, and I encourage you to read it here or in your Bible before you consider these thoughts of mine.
An Example of a Path to Answered Prayer
The man went to Jesus.
He traveled a distance to get there*. There was a cost and much effort to his prayer.
The man begged Jesus to come.
He first invited Jesus to be present.
He begged Jesus to heal.
He clearly stated what he hoped Jesus would do in his begging. It was a passionate prayer, a prayer of faith.
Jesus said that people need a miraculous sign to believe.
He may have been speaking directly to this man, but likely was also commenting on what had just happened in Samaria.
The man said, “Sir, come before my son dies!”
The man said, “I don’t know what that means; all I know is I love my son and am asking that You would heal Him!” He restated his hope and his prayer.
“Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
The man chose to believe all that the Son of God had spoken to him and left prayer, believing.
*The man headed straight home. Later, when his servants met him on the road toward home, the man learns his son was healed yesterday at about 1 PM (or the seventh hour). This means the man had traveled at least overnight to go to Jesus. And the servants confirmed that Jesus healed the boy at the moment He said He did.
The man and his whole household believed.
Healing is not just for the benefit of the person healed. It is a testimony to those around the person that God is alive and active.
What do we learn about prayer here?
There is a cost to prayer. My pastor’s sermon on prayer yesterday was based on Mark 1:35-39. It was fantastic, and will be available on iTunes within a day or two (Church is Brockton Assembly of God). As I considered my own prayer life in light of what he shared, a thought came to me: the time and effort I am willing to devote to prayer is often directly proportionate to my belief about prayer. In other words, if I only devote a little time to prayer, I likely don’t really believe that prayer works or that it will help.
Ouch. I hate it when I convict myself!! OK, not really. But it made me face the fact that sometimes I leave prayer, more discouraged than when I started, because I’ve already talked myself out of believing that God is going to move!
I sang this song at church yesterday. I was asked to sing a song about prayer due to the theme of the day, and this song came to mind. 18 years ago last week, I surrendered my life to Jesus while listening to a song by this artist, Keith Green.
I want my whole life to be a prayer to God. I want my thoughts and actions to reflect that I believe in a God who is near and who loves us and who desires to answer our prayers.
In this morning’s reading, I was most struck by verse 50: “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.” God has already shown me in about 15 different ways that learning about prayer and having a fuller prayer life is to be my theme of 2017.
OK, God, I’m listening and obeying. Lord, may that be my response to prayer. May I always leave prayer, walking in faith, taking You at Your Word.
What has God spoken to you concerning 2017?
The church we attend has a lot of prayer meetings. At one such meeting, a man named Bernard shared that it was his 29th birthday in the Lord. He shared his story with the group, and one of the pastors asked him to share in church.
Bernard had been a heroin and cocaine addict since he was 14. After almost 20 years of addiction, he walked into a Teen Challenge center in Brooklyn and gave Jesus the opportunity to change his life.
29 years later, he has not touched drugs at all.
Bernard is a powerful speaker! His story itself is thoroughly compelling, and he is quite funny. God has truly transformed him into a man of God.
So what does this trophy of God’s grace do to serve the God who saved him?
He cleans the church.
That’s right. On Saturday mornings, every week, you will find him and his wife on their hands and knees, scrubbing the altar of the sanctuary with huge smiles on their faces.
I know this not because Bernard advertises this fact. I know because I see them. I see them when I come in to the church during the day for meetings or worship practice. I see their hard work and their positive attitudes. I know they have been through their share of great challenges, but you would never know it by the joy in their eyes.
As he shared his life with us that day, I thought, This is true humility. Someone with a testimony like Bernard’s could be doing a lot of things. True humility is serving wherever God has called you to serve, even if that means cleaning the church.
On this Monday morning, I pray that your ears and eyes would be open to what He is doing around you and that you would have the humility to serve Him, no matter where He calls you.
If you would like to hear more about Teen Challenge’s program, here is their site.
I started a new devotional for Lent today.
Yes, I’m aware Lent doesn’t start until Wednesday 🙂 I just wanted some built-in space in case I miss a day.
It’s called 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole.
Alicia subtitles it “A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast.” She shares some thoughts along with readings from the Gospel of John (my favorite).
I’ve always loved Alicia’s writing style, and this book does not disappoint. Simple. Direct. Probing. Vulnerable. She’s the real deal.
The Scripture today was John 12:1-11, a favorite story of mine, where Mary anoints Jesus with a pint of nard. She was in awe of Him, so much so that she humbled/humiliated herself in her worship of Him.
It reminds me of one of my favorite worship songs, “Pour My Love On You.”
Like oil upon Your feet
Like wine for You to drink
Like water from my heart, I pour my love on You
If praise is like perfume
I’ll lavish mine on You
Till every drop is gone
I’ll pour my love on You
A life poured out.
One question I walked away with from the first day’s reading is this: are we hyper focused on our sacrifices during Lent, or are we awed by the coming Resurrection Sunday? It’s a reminder to keep my eyes on the resurrection everyday – the promise of a new day, a fresh start.
Consider getting 40 Days of Decrease or another devotional for Lent this year.
Have you ever done a plank?
They’re a type of abdominal exercise. And they are hard.
Prior to having Maggie, I planked regularly. At first, I held it for 10 seconds and had to stop. But I kept trying. I got to 20. And 30. And so on as my abdominal muscles strengthened.
For many years, I answered “yes” to temptation. I didn’t even know it was temptation, and I didn’t know I could say no. I thought my feelings dictated my life, and my desires dictated my actions. And every time I gave in, my “yes” muscle became stronger and stronger.
When I became a Christian, I was surprised how much power my “yes” muscle still had. My eating disorder was still ever-present. I even had another lesbian relationship, despite knowing it was wrong. I thought I was a new creation? I’d cry out to God, wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t figure out how to say no and walk away.
How did I move from that place to where I am today?
As I recently chatted with other believers, I realized something.
I learned to exercise my “no” muscle.
Prior to following Jesus, I exercised my “yes” muscle quite a bit when temptation came my way. “Yes! I will starve myself.” “Yes, I’ll have sex with you.” “Yes! I’ll drink too much.” “Yes, I’ll self injure.”
It took me a while to realize that the Holy Spirit wanted to empower me to develop my “no” muscle.
At first, it’s very difficult to exercise your “no” muscle when you’ve been so used to your “yes” muscle being your default. It will feel unfamiliar, even uncomfortable. But as you say “no” more and more, it will become easier, until it becomes almost your default.
I have exercised my “no” muscle in the area of sexual sin so much that now I can fairly easily exercise my “no” muscle when it comes to pornography, fantasy, or acting out sexually.
My book Learning to Walk in Freedom talks extensively about how I also needed to learn to exercise my “no” muscle in the area of my thoughts and struggles with hopelessness and despair.
I still working on using my “no” muscle in the area of food. I read Lysa TerKeurst’s devotional for folks like me called Made to Crave. This quote today really caught my attention:
It is good for God’s people to be put in a place of longing so they feel a slight desperation. Only then can we be empty enough and open enough to discover the holiness we were made for. When we are stuffed full of other things and never allow ourselves to be in a place of longing, we don’t recognize the deeper spiritual battle going on.
Satan wants to keep us distracted by chasing one temporary filling after another. God wants us to step back and let the emptying process have its way until we start desiring a holier life. The gap between our frail discipline and God’s available strength is bridged with nothing but a simply choice on our part to pursue this holiness.
A simple choice to exercise my “no” muscle on a regular basis.
In what areas do you struggle to exercise your “no” muscle? Confess this struggle James 5:16 style to a Christian friend and ask that person to pray for you. Then ask God, through His Holy Spirit, to empower you to choose better next time.
Romans 6:6 (NLT) says “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”
Exercise your “no” muscle. Watch it get stronger and strong as God empowers you to walk out the freedom He died to give.
Did anyone watch the Patriots vs. Broncos game last night?
Don’t worry; this post won’t be all about football. I try to limit my sports analogies 🙂 Especially since I don’t watch much sports!
That said, I grew up watching A TON on football. My dad played football in high school; as the kicker, his nickname was “The Toe.”
I couldn’t help but think of my dad when Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point (also called PAT: point after touchdown) in Sunday’s game.
In the moment, I didn’t think much of it. The Broncos were playing a fantastic game. But as time went on and the Patriots scored more points, I found myself wishing the score of the game would not be so close.
Because I knew how badly Gostkowski would feel.
Toward the end of the game, I did a little Googling. I found out that last night’s missed PAT ended Stephen Gostkowski’s NFL record of earning 523 consecutive extra points. The next closest record holder is 100 points behind him.
523 times in a row, Gostkowski kicked the ball and scored a PAT.
But right now, he’s not thinking about the fact that he has to be one of the best of the best to even be in the playoffs.
He’s not thinking about his 10-year streak of scoring PAT’s: 523 of them in a row.
He’s not thinking about how it takes a team to win or lose a game.
He’s thinking about one miss, one loss, one misstep.
But right now, less than a day after the Patriots lost the game, Stephen Gostkowski blames himself.
Perhaps you had a rough weekend. You made a mistake, a poor choice, or maybe a lot of poor choices. You are dragging your feet, walking into Monday, because you feel like a failure.
My advice to you is this (and to Gostkowski 🙂 ): remember the 523.
Remember all the victories, remember all the good choices, remember all the times God carried you through. Celebrate those rather than dwelling on any failures. Ask God to forgive you, ask Him to empower you to choose well next time, and move on.
There is life after a loss. God is still able.
Remember the 523.
Slavery, and in particular sex trafficking, is an issue that grips my heart. I gained a growing understanding through meeting missionaries like the Garrisons who work with kids rescued out of trafficking.
But it wasn’t until I attended a screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls that I really got a glimpse into the depth of the darkness that is human trafficking.
In September of 2011, I attended a screening of the documentary in Harvard Square. I walked away, truly changed. I couldn’t shake the horror of what is happening to those enslaved around the world.
Fast forward to 2012, when I ran 26.2 miles to raise funds for kids rescued from sex trafficking.
I vowed since then not only to raise awareness, but to put my money where my mouth is. As I wrote Learning to Walk in Freedom, God laid it on my heart to give a portion of the proceeds to those trapped in literal slavery.
Thus, I included these words in my book:
I will mention in closing that God has called me to be part of an army He is raising up. It is an army of people who are willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Alongside my passion for spiritual freedom is my passion for physical freedom—freedom for those who are in literal captivity. Thus, a tithe on the profits from this book will always go to the abolition of slavery.
I want to share this video in closing. In this clip, Benjamin Nolot (creator of the Nefarious film) and his wife Lauren tell the story of receiving a special package from Cambodia, and how it became a life-changing moment for them.
WARNING: This is a graphic depiction of the evidence of a little girl’s abuse.
I plan to keep this post updated with the causes I have given to. So far, I have donated to Project Rescue’s Night Care Shelter program. From the website:
Evening Care Centers are adjacent to the red-light district and are open during peak brothel business hours. These centers provide a way to get vulnerable children out of their mothers’ rooms while they service customers.
Just let the horror of that reality sink in.
This is why I ran a marathon. This is why I give. This is why I talk about human trafficking. Not only for the women, but as the back of my shirt I wore for the marathon said: For The Kids.
Today, Friday, is one of the very rare mornings where somehow I was awake before my beautiful 1 year-old baby girl. I snuck out of bed, searched for the baby monitor, and settled into my comfy chair to read some psalms.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
There is something about this familiar passage that is so life-giving. The song with these lyrics sings in my ears as I read – a song I learned in those early days of walking with Jesus.
And wouldn’t you know it. I spent the 10 days leading up to the teaching, feeling more anxious than I have in a long, long time.
Times like these – I start to question myself. Why do I do this? I think. Who am I to say that Jesus changes lives? I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been.
There is something so familiar about these thoughts. Comfortable, almost. They are words I have heard in my thoughts for years. A voice of hopelessness.
In those low moments, I am unable to recognize those words for what they are, or whose they are: whispers of Satan.
This morning, I got down on my knees after reading a few psalms and repeated back to God:
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
I spent thousands of days elsewhere. I dwelt in the tents of the wicked. As I pondered these words, my soul exhaled again as God spoke to me:
You are not the same Brenna that you once were. Do not give in to the lies. I have changed you and will keep changed you.
I am not the same.
If the anxiety returns today, so be it. Rather than wonder how long it will last, I will walk out the truths from Philippians 4 that I shared on this week:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I had the privilege of sharing the story of God’s work in my life at our now home church yesterday. “New” is relative – we’ve been attending this church since January 🙂 I still get a little nervous when sharing, despite having done it for so long. I get even more nervous sharing at my home church! But God is gracious and able and only good, and He sustained me. Lots of folks shared their own struggles or their experiences having children who are gay-identified.
Some folks who couldn’t be there expressed interest in reading it. So here it is 🙂
I was born in May of 1975. With an alcoholic mother and a father who worked long hours, I spent much of my childhood alone with few close friends. I began experimenting sexually with girls at a young age. As a high school freshman, I began a physical relationship with my female best friend. Trying to make sense of what I was experiencing, I looked up “homosexuality” in a health book. The book said that if you had attractions for someone of the same gender, then you were gay. I remember thinking, “There it is, in black and white. I am a homosexual.”
This was not good news. I was living in a small NH town. This was 1990. That’s 7 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out and 12 years before Rosie O-Donnell. By age 16, I had a full-blown eating disorder and was also using self-injury as a coping mechanism.
Over the next 10 years, I had a series of lesbian relationships, including a long-term year relationship with a married woman. She and I had a mock wedding ceremony and from then on, she introduced me as her “wife.” I lived with this couple for close to two and a half years. When my wife suggested I have sex with her husband, I did what she asked. I had never been with a man before. This began a cycle of abuse from her husband. I never said no. I was a guest in their home and if I said something, I would have to leave. Proverbs 27:7 states, “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” The moments of love and acceptance I experienced with this woman somehow made the pain of the abuse tolerable. I didn’t know if I could live without her love.
My life spiraled out of control in many areas, not only in the area of my sexual identity, but also my eating disorder. Christians seemed to start coming out of nowhere to share about Jesus’ love. They never took it upon themselves to say that I should not be a lesbian. Like everyone else, I was a sinner in need of Jesus in my life. That was my primary need. My sexual behavior was only one of many indicators of my broken, sinful state.
One of these friends gave me a CD by a passionate Christian artist. His voice sang of a friend who was always there, a friend who would give everything for him. That friend is Jesus. And this was good news. In the midst of that song, I cried out to God saying, “I want what he has!” God, in His great mercy, honored my prayer on that day in January of 1999.
I asked hard questions, of myself and of God. Was it really even possible to break free of the chains that still held my life in so many ways, and give myself fully to my relationship with Jesus Christ? I knew homosexual behavior was a sin. I knew Jesus was more real than anything I had ever experienced. I was faced with a choice: continue to embrace the familiar, which was the gay identity I had lived for so long, or take a major risk and trust that Jesus would be and could be enough. I did what I knew I shouldn’t do: I entered into another lesbian relationship. After 3 months, the girl I was dating said, “Listen – you can’t be a Christian and be gay. The Bible says you must either be hot or cold – one or the other, but not lukewarm.” While quoting Scripture, she ended our relationship.
Soon after, I said, “Fine, God! I don’t want this. Please – take these desires away from me.” And in some ways, He did. While my desires for women lessened, the events and circumstances of my life that led me in the direction of lesbianism, an eating disorder and self-injury had not changed. I knew I needed more help and healing than just my prayer of surrender. Romans 12:2 says, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” I went to a Christian counselor who helped me transform the way I lived and the way I thought.
Still, besides my closest friends, I didn’t want anyone to know about my past. I mean, I had seen how Christians treated gay people on Oprah! They basically tarred and feathered them! I remember being at a campus ministry conference soon after I laid my sexuality at the cross. There was a couple there – the husband had come out of a gay past. I talked to his wife, giving me my first glimmer of hope that maybe there was another way. Maybe I didn’t have to be gay.
Fast forward through a lot of pain and hopelessness and wrestling with God, and God continually pursuing me and teaching me He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It was the summer of 2002. I had just gotten engaged to my now husband Roy. I kept in touch with that couple I had met at that conference. I wrote to them, wondering if there was a way I could give back. They connected me with a ministry in Boston, Alive in Christ. Alive in Christ reaches out to Christians impacted by SSA, and they needed a women’s leader.
I thought, God, this can’t be Your will! I just wanted to lick envelopes! Did God really want me to build a ministry around this part of myself I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak openly about? I prayed and once again, like I still try and do every day, surrendered myself and my agenda at the cross. 8 months later, I became the women’s leader, and 1 year and a half after that, in August of 2004, I became the director of Alive in Christ.
Since then – well, I no longer have any issues talking about my same-sex attraction. It was a slow progression over the past 12 years, but in those years, I’ve been in the Boston Globe, on TV news, in 2 award-winning documentaries, on the TV show Pure Passion, and now speak at conferences around the US.
By the grace of God, I am married and have 2 amazing sons and a sweet baby girl. Still, I want to be really clear about something. I minister in this way despite the fact that I still experience same-sex attraction. It’s to a much lesser degree. Whereas once my same-sex attraction was like a swarm of killer bees, now it’s more like the occasional fruit fly. Experiencing temptation is not sin – but acting on it would be. Jesus was tempted – but did not sin. If we expect ourselves to never experience temptation, then we expect to be more free than Jesus.
I can serve and give, even out of my weakness, because God is God, I am not, and He never asked me to be! 2 Corinthians 12:9 says His power is actually made perfect in our weakness, in those places where I still struggle and have to admit that truly, apart from Him, I can do nothing. Gal. 5 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Freedom is not defined by how I feel; it’s defined by what He did. Freedom is not even defined by the mistakes I still make or how good my behavior is or how free I’m feeling on a particular day; it’s defined by the new identity God has given to me, and the freedom I’m learning to walk in. I am freed to serve, even out of my weakness, simply because of what Jesus did on the cross.
Sharing my life with new folks reminds me of how very blessed I am – a husband I never thought I’d have, kids I never imagined I could be blessed with.