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.
Twenty years ago this week, I finally noticed that Jesus had been walking with me for twenty-three and a half years. Twenty years ago this week, I began to try to walk with Him.
As I look back over my life, I can see time after time Jesus tried to get my attention. I learned about Him at the church I grew up in – not a Bible-preaching, Gospel-centered church, but still, we talked about Jesus. We sang songs about Him and I memorized the 2rd Psalm. I saw faith in my aunt and uncle who were born-again, going to church with them occasionally. I had a good friend in junior high and high school who was a “hardcore Christian,” as I labeled her. I could see that her faith in God was very, very different than mine.
I heard snippets of truth in the cult-like church that tried to suck me in after high school, as I did from my 2 LDS friends. I felt His love from a Baptist minister and his wife every Saturday night when they ate at the restaurant where I worked in my early 20’s. And I began to really feel His presence when Christian friends prayed for my health at age 23 when the eating disorder ravaged my mind and body, causing me to lose 35 pounds over the course of a summer.
Jesus became real to me through the music and life of the singer/songwriter, Keith Green, and on January 4th, 1999, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.
It’s easy for me to look at my life and see the deficits. I see my continual besetting sins. I see the idols in my life. I look at others and all they have been able to accomplish. Keith Green only followed Jesus for about 7 years before his death, and look at the impact God enabled him to make. Oswald Chambers was my age when he died, and yet his book My Utmost for His Highest is one of the most well-read devotionals of all time.
I could list many other “successful” Christians, as well as so many other personal flaws. But that’s not what God sees when He looks at me. He looks at me and thinks, I’m so glad you’re Mine.
It’s not about what I’ve done or accomplished. It’s not how many times I’ve read through the Bible, or how many books I’ve written (or even how many books I have in me, waiting to be written). It’s not how often my songs are sung or heard.
God looks at me and loves me. He is honored in my daily decision to once again surrender my life to Him, to ask Him to be the center of my life, my every day, my trials and victories.
He is glorified in my imperfect obedience. His power is perfected in my weakness. He is honored in my decision to choose to surrender to Him, day by day, for two decades.
There are a lot of ways we identify ourselves throughout life.
We identify ourselves by our families: for instance, I am a Simonds.
We identify ourselves by age or grade: I am 42, and I am not in school 🙂 But my children are in 2nd and 4th grade (and preschool!).
We identify ourselves in college by major: I was a music major (but then, at the conservatory I attended, so was everyone else!).
We identify ourselves by our jobs (isn’t this one of the first questions we ask when we meet new people?): I am the director of a non-profit ministry.
As I walked around my neighborhood praying this morning, the following Scripture came to mind, and I reflected on the power and weight of these words:
“When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13b-14
There were a lot of different marks to identify people throughout time, some positive and some negative. We’ve all likely heard of the Scarlet letter. While fictional, history did include other “badges of shame,” as they were called. Jews were forced to wear a yellow star of David during the Nazi era. People of various ranks in the armed forces can be identified by the various insignias on their uniforms.
In times of the early church, a wax seal was commonly used as a mark of ownership or identification (IVP NT Commentary).
Having believed in Jesus Christ, we have been marked – the Holy Spirit has sealed us as a promise guaranteeing that we are His – now and for all time.
The New Living Translations puts it this way.
“And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.”
The God of the universe has identified you as His own! He has called you by name, and said “You are Mine.” He didn’t just leave you here on earth to figure things out on your own, but He gave you the Holy Spirit – not only as a guide and a comfort and a counselor, but also as a seal saying, “I’m coming back for you.”
Friends, I pray you are encouraged today by this truth. Whatever struggle you are facing, you belong to God! This is not the end of the story. You’ve been identified as God’s, now and for all time.
In the spring of 2000, I was about to graduate from college at New England Conservatory. After becoming a Christian just a year earlier, I became involved with a Christian group on our campus. I was seriously considering applying to do an internship with the larger national organization.
Until I looked at the application.
As part of the application, the applicant was asked to identify his or her sexual orientation. I remember there being at least 2 choices, if not more:
I remember sitting there, just staring at the application. If I applied, which one would I choose? I was only 2 months out of what would be my last lesbian relationship. I certainly didn’t feel heterosexual. I knew I didn’t want to be homosexual, but that’s how most of the world would describe me.
I put down the paper and walked away.*
I entered into my 1st lesbian relationship at age 15 in 1990. For reference, that’s 7 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out. The small NH town in which I explored my sexuality was not a friendly or safe one. I was horribly bullied, routinely threatened and called derogatory names.
I fought hard to become comfortable with my sexuality, which I believed was as fixed and innate as my heterosexual peers.
Today, 18 1/2 years into my walk with Jesus, my perspective has changed a bit. The only thing that I know for sure is innate in me is my propensity to sin and to wander from God’s best for me. One of the only fixed things about me is that longing in my heart to know God and be known by Him, as well as the need to connect deeply with other humans.
People ask me how I identify myself, in terms of my sexuality. I do not identify as gay (or as straight, for that matter). I still experience same-sex attraction. I sometimes experience opposite-sex attraction.
I mostly just identify as Brenna 🙂
The reason I believe the “gay Christian” label, while permissible, is not beneficial (2 Corinthians 10:23) is because words matter. The labels we use and the words we choose to describe ourselves can be a container for power – in one direction or another.
More than ever before in my life and my ministry work, I have recently seen how careless words or even well-thought-out labels can become strongholds. “Speculations” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) that make sense to our line of reasoning can actually end up enslaving us to faulty logic. While I can understand the reasons some believers have in using the gay Christian label, I don’t believe it to be wise or necessary.
Here’s what Hope for Wholeness has to say about the “Gay Christian” label (and I agree):
At Hope for Wholeness, we each identify as Christian, an adopted child of God. No other term can describe or compare to one’s identity in Christ Jesus other than what is stated in the Word of God. Christ is my all in all, the one and only. No other description can identify me.
We live in a society that loves labels. Why? Because we all want somewhere to belong. As believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, we belong to the body of Christ. We are adopted children of the Most High God. The Creator of the Universe called us by name and said, “You are Mine.” This is where our identity must rest.
What are your thoughts on the gay Christian label?
*I am not at all faulting the campus ministry for asking the question about sexuality. It’s an important question. I’m using this example to refer to my state of mind and my own struggles with identity.
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.