Brave Love

“Bravery is the audacity to be unhindered by failures, and to walk with freedom, strength, and hope in the face of things unknown.” Morgan Harper Nicholas.

Recently, I had the chance to take a free Christian online course by the name of Brave Love. Some of you may be familiar with the organization, but for those of you who aren’t, it’s a movement designed to empower women into the fullness of what Christ is calling us to on this earth. Choosing to live intentionally, as a move of God within our cities and communities. However, when I first heard of this organization, one of the first things that stood out to me was the name. ‘Brave’ Love. 

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Because most of us, if we’re honest, don’t immediately associate love with bravery. We associate it with meekness and mildness. We associate it with gentleness and sensitivity. But bravery? Not so much.

The truth is, most of us even as Christians, are quick to associate love with the form of love seen in movies like Sleepless In Seattle or The Vow. However, if we’re looking at love through the lens of Jesus, love is so much more. And, it is in fact, a call to be brave. 

For the Christian, brave love looks like going up to a barista at Starbucks, or a cashier, and letting them know that God loves them—allowing them to hear the truth about God for possibly, the first time in their life.

For the Christian, brave love looks like being there for someone who’s struggling, and entering into their world—cracks and all, rather than allowing fear and apathy to have the final say.

For the Christian, brave love looks like praying for a parent with an addiction and believing God’s love will win out in their life, even when the situation looks absolutely hopeless.

For the Christian, brave love looks like choosing to wait to date when seemingly every person around you has a boyfriend/girlfriend because you want to date intentionally and wait for the person who’s everything that God has for you.

John talks about this very matter in 1 John 4:16-18 (MSG), when he says,

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”

Love is not a gendered word. Men are not ‘just’ called to bravery, and women are not ‘just’ called to love—both men and women, created in the image of God are called to brave love, which is a call to reject apathy. People will forever argue, debate, and philosophize about what true life—lived in its fullest capacity looks like. But if we look to the Bible, and if we look to Jesus, we were put on this earth for two purposes—to love God and love people. Everything after that is secondary.

When people look at me, I don’t want them to just see the girl with glasses who writes stuff. I don’t want people to look at me and define by my talents, appearance, titles, or Instagram feed. When people look at me, I want them to see Jesus in me. I want them to see His Holy Spirit at work in my life. When people look at me, and when I look back on my life, I want people to be able to say about me what was said about King David in 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22. That I lived my life as a [girl] after God’s own heart.

This week, I want to challenge you to take the steps towards a brave kind of love in your own life. To dare to live wholeheartedly for the Gospel and to dare to love people like Jesus. I want to challenge you to see love as something that is, truly brave. And I want to challenge you to live out that bravery in the context of your very real, very present, day-to-day life. 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philipians 4:8 (NIV).

“So then, prepare your hearts and minds for action![a] Stay alert and fix your hope firmly on the marvelous grace that is coming to you. For when Jesus Christ is unveiled,[b] a greater measure of grace will be released to you.” 1 Peter 1:13 (TPT).

Enneagram Series: My Story As An Enneagram One

Hey fam!! I am officially starting a new blogging series on the Enneagram. I know a lot of Christians who are interested in this particular personality test and its intersection with personal growth and our faith journey, so I am doing this series to highlight the journeys of various individuals with various personality types. I pray that this series serves as a testimony to God’s goodness and the ways that the Lord has helped us overcome struggles in our lives. 

Note: Personalities tests do not define us, but they do help us to better understand ourselves and those around us. For example, if a person claims to be an introvert it gives us the understanding that they need time alone to re-energize. This does not handicap them from socializing; it merely tells us about an important facet of their personality and the way that they were created and designed. The same goes for the Enneagram. 

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Most of us can remember at least bits and pieces from our childhood days. The days when we were young, and still trying to find our place in this world. The times that molded us and shaped us. The fragments of our personality that bled into our adult-selves. In many ways, our younger selves give us a glimpse into the person we are becoming. And I know that for me personally, I can see this principle at play in my own life, looking back on my younger, childhood self. 

I can still remember times as a kid when I’d literally go to tears when I missed a word on a spelling test, to the absolute befuddlement of my parents, who thought I did fine. I also remember times when I, for the sheer enjoyment of it, lined up my crayons in perfect rainbow order (descending from red to purple) and feeling a sense of satisfaction in my accomplishment. In my young, childhood brain, there was a right way of doing pretty much everything—including arranging crayons.

This tendency, though eventually taking a more mature form, eventually found itself re-emerging throughout my teenage years. 

I can remember putting pressure on myself with nearly every task that I took on. In my schoolwork, I strived to make straight A’s. In my writing, I wanted every sentence to sound perfect—regardless of whether anyone actually ever saw it or not. When I was on the yearbook team, I wanted my pictures to be lined up just-so. And when I had chances to sing on stage, act in a play, or give a speech, I practiced nearly to the point of insanity.

In some ways, this perfectionist-streak likely protected me from a lot of pain, heartache, and regrets. I never smoked. I never drank. I never had any regrets when it came to my interactions with the opposite sex. However, it was also easy for me to fall into other sins and issues that were less public and easier to hide, such as pride and self reliance. After all, grace was for the people who sinned ‘big’. For drug addictions and teen pregnancies. Not for the Christian ‘church girl’ who spends her free time swimming in the ocean of words.* Somewhere in my subconscious, I felt that if I could just put my all into everything I did and avoid making mistakes, I could find approval from God and others and avoid the pain that comes from falling short. But little by little, God began to show me the gaping cracks in my try-hard ways.

I began to see how even in small ways, I too often fall short of my own standards—and wear myself out in the process of trying to achieve perfection. But I also began to see that God’s love truly is big enough to cover me completely. And I began to realize just how unfailing and unchanging His love really is. 

I began to really see on a heart level (beyond head knowledge) that God doesn’t love us any more if we’re ‘good’ and He doesn’t love us any less when we fall short. I began to realize that when God looks down He sees me in all of my shortcomings and imperfections and still sees me as someone worth dying for. I began to see that as I stand before God, and as I pour out my heart to Him I don’t have to be the smart one, the good one, or the responsible one, but that instead, I can just be me. The real me, not the me that an overly critical ‘inner voice’* tells me I have to be in order to survive this thing called life.

In the words of an old song by Laura Story, “I can be scattered, frail and shattered, Lord I need You now to be, be my God, so I can just be me.”

I also, through this process learned what it means to see the lost and the broken and the prodigal as people not-so-unlike-me. To recognize that life is more than just a list of rules, and that God’s love goes deeper than the differences that exist between us. And to see the potential in people that too often, the church and society have written off. To see God’s fingerprints on each and every person that crosses my path.

Today, as a twenty-one-year-old college junior, I realize I am no longer the same perfectionistic, stressed-out girl that I was when I was younger. Sure, I still sometimes struggle with perfectionism. And yes, I do still sometimes put pressure on myself. But no longer do I see myself as the sum total of my grades, accomplishments, and high standards. Instead, I have learned to recognize myself as a child of God who does not need to be perfect to be loved by God and the people around me. And this, has made all the difference.

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (TPT). 

*Translation: The girl who’s low-key obsessed/addicted to books.

*Inner Voice definition – a term in Enneagram language used to describe that voice inside of you that constantly tells you to be better and reprimands you when you do something wrong. Enneagram Ones have an extremely loud ‘inner voice’.

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If you know your Enneagram number, and would like to contribute a post for this series, please contact me at courtneymwhitaker@gmail.com or shoot me a DM @authorcourtney1 on Instagram. I can’t wait to hear your stories!

On Being and Doing//Some Thoughts For 2020

“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”” – Psalm 46:10 (NIV).

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As I write this post, we are officially coming to the end of a decade. A decade that has seen me go from a somewhat awkward middle schooler to a somewhat less awkward college student. One that has seen me get my license, vote for the first time, and accomplish some of the goals on my very long bucket list. Most importantly, it has been a decade that has helped me grow deeper in my faith—and sink deeper into God. And that’s what I want to talk about in this end-of-the-year post.

We live in a culture that is consumed with doing. That is all about doing more, achieving more, and making more. That is consumed by doing all the things. And if I’m bluntly honest, I’m just as guilty as the next person—I enjoy setting goals and achieving them. There’s something satisfying about working hard to achieve your dreams. And there’s nothing wrong with this when it is done in a healthy way. However, as Christians, we are called to something far greater. Something countercultural that our soul truly longs for. 

You see, in this world, the emphasis is on doing. But in the Bible, God tells us that our focus should be on being.

Just take a look at John 15:1-8 (MSG) to see what I’m talking about.

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

As Christians before we do anything for God, we must first remain in God. We cannot be effective ministers of the Gospel and chase after the dreams God has placed in our heart without first chasing after God. The more I reflect on the meaning of ministry and how to be an effective witness for Christ, the more I come back to this simple truth. We must be deeply, and passionately rooted in God before we can reach the nations for God.

We must remain in His love, growing deeper in it with each passing year. (John 15:9).

We must remember who He says we are—that He has called us sons and daughters of the King. (2 Corinthians 6:18).

We must know God’s heart and understand on a personal level His love for humanity (John 3:16). 

This is not to say that doing will never happen, but being must always come first. Because as Christians, the good works that we do should flow organically from a heart that is fully connected to Jesus. When we recognize God’s heart for His people, we cannot help but respond. I saw a video recently by Lindy Cofer through a Brave Love study online where she was talking about how as Christians, our hands are to be connected to the heart of Jesus.* There is something powerful about this very vivid visual. Because as Christians, we can do nothing without Christ. And unless we are fully connected to His love for us, and for this world, our words will simply be empty noise—void of any true influence. 

Just take a look at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV) for further proof of this.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Even spiritual gifts, generosity, and giving our very life for the sake of the Gospel are nothing if we are not motivated by a love that comes directly from remaining in Christ’s love. Because in the end, when it’s all said and done, all God really wants from us—all He truly desires from us, is our whole heart. To know us intimately. To have a relationship with us. To love us with an everlasting, otherworldly kind of love.

This New Year, let our top resolution be not one of ‘doing’ but of ‘being’. Let us continue to sink deeper into Jesus. Let us have hearts fully open and surrounded to God. And let us let that love change us, so that we can change the world.

And if you don’t know this love, there’s no better time to get to know it than the present. 

Dear Lord, we thank you for this year. We thank you for the challenges, which have grown us, and we thank you for the blessings, which you have given us. We pray that you would work in and through our hearts and use us as vessels for your love, your grace, and your mercy. We pray that we would remember that ‘it is finished’ and that there is nothing we can do to make you love us more or less. Help us to rest in that grace, that love, and that freedom. And let us be voices declaring that freedom to all those who still have yet to hear it and accept it. We pray all of those things in your mighty, powerful, incredible name, amen!

*In case you’re interested, I’m posting the link to this course here. It’s 100% free and it’s really good! 

 

 

Jesus Changes Everything

“Choir of angels sing glory to the newborn King a baby changes everything..my whole life has turned around I was lost but now I’m found a baby changes everything.” – A Baby Changes Everything, Faith Hill.

Time after time, almost every Christmas, I try to imagine what the first Christmas was like for the cast of characters living during the time of Jesus’ birth. How they felt. What they went through. What they were thinking. A couple of years ago, I even did a short blogging series on Mary’s Point of View and Joseph’s Point of View speculating what it would be like to walk in their shoes. And it seems that with each passing year—though it’s an account that I’ve read thousands of times before, I’m able to pull something different from the story of how it all began. The story of our Savior.

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A Savior who enters into the normal paradigms of our life—and changes everything about it. 

Mary was just an ordinary girl—probably not much older than fifteen.Joseph was an carpenter from a humble background. Shepherds, who were among society’s poorest and plainest were some of the first to see our Savior. But Jesus invaded each one of their lives—and when Jesus stepped into the picture, their lives were forever changed. 

The crazy thing? The same could be said of the world today. When Jesus steps into the picture, nothing is ever the same. Former drug addicts become powerful preachers. The greedy transform to the generous. Career criminals change their ways. Families are healed. Marriages are restored. Lives are lived with purpose. Because when you encounter Jesus, it is impossible to remain the same. 

I saw this happen in my own family growing up. When my family came to Christ during my preteen years, it forever changed the way that we interacted with each other. How we lived. What was important. And though I came to Christ when I was still too young to have done anything too crazy, following Jesus has shaped and continues to shape my perspective on this world—allowing me to have joy in the midst of hardships and a peace that can only be found in Him. 

Galatians 4:1-7 says this;

*”What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces[a] of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[b] Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” 

Because of Jesus, we can know a love that is unlike anything this world could ever give us. We can know a hope greater than anything we have ever known before. And we can have full access to God the Father because through Jesus we have been made sons and daughters of the King. All because Jesus left the perfection of Heaven to come down to this earth as a baby to die on a cross and save us from our sins. The story of our Savior is the greatest story ever told. And living our lives completely sold out to our Savior is the greatest decision we could ever make!

This Christmas, I want to challenge you to remember the One found in the first five letters of the word. To remember that Jesus still invades the lives of every person who has said yes to Jesus today. And that no one—no matter how hardened they may seem, is beyond hope. This Christmas, I want to challenge you to remember that Jesus changes everything.For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV).

*Verse taken from The Passion Translation (TPT).

Hope: In A Broken World

Hey guys, sorry it’s been a little while since I’ve posted! Between summer classes, work, and church activities, my calendar has pretty much been booked to the max. However, I’m back now with a topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately, and that I feel strongly that the Lord has put on my heart to share. I hope it speaks to someone today!😃

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Hope. It’s only four letters, but it carries with it so much meaning. So much beauty. It is a word that inspires images of joy. Images of a more peaceful world. Images of more love, and less famine. Images of a nation filled with people who genuinely care for each other; regardless of ethnicity or the color of their skin. It brings to mind a better future—filled with less of the problems that we see in the world today. There is a reason the word has been used in charity organizations and political campaigns alike. Deep down, we all long for a world filled with hope. Deep down, we all know that hope is what this world truly needs.

However, for many of us, hope is something that seems allusive or out of reach in the world today. When we turn on the news, we see images of crime, famine, and hate. We see a world that frankly, looks anything but hopeful. For some of us, we need to look no further than our local high school or college to see living, breathing, people who seem all but hopeless. People who are fighting their own personal battles. Maybe financially. Maybe relationally. Maybe physically. Sometimes, a combination of all three.

I have always been affected by the stories that I hear around me. If a friend tells me about something they are struggling with, I want to do everything in my power to encourage them. If I hear about a worthy cause, or a group of people who are struggling (people living in poverty, with an illness, etc. etc. etc.) I want to do everything in my power to help them. I think it’s safe to say that this is the case for a lot of us. As humans, we are naturally affected by the stories we hear in the world around us. As humans, we are affected by those whose situations look hopeless. However, as Christians, we also posses the one thing that can truly bring them hope.

I remember when I first started college, feeling so affected by the condition of the world around me. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who seemed lost and broken. When I felt small and way too outnumbered to truly make a difference. Part of me was tempted to shrink back. To escape into some TV drama or another. To just survive—rather than do the very thing that God called me to do, which was to be bold. At one point, pushing past fear and trembling, God called me to give a speech about my faith in a class where a student was openly Wiccan. Needless, to say, this wasn’t easy, and I was sort of terrified but it proved to be an incredible experience in God’s faithfulness—and as the class went on, I saw him slowly develop a genuine interest in Christianity—even nodding with interest as I read Bible verses in various other speeches that I presented. This still remains one of my most memorable experiences in my college journey thus far.

And, this was just one part of the lesson that God has been continuing to teach me throughout my journey of faith, and my journey through college. That as Christians, we have the hope that this world is desperately longing for.

It is far too easy to be silent. To let fear dictate us and stop us from doing the one thing that we have been placed on this earth to do. To believe that this world is too broken, too far gone, too far beyond hope. To forget the words of John 1:5, which says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (NIV). 

I don’t know about you, but I want to bring hope to the broken and light to the darkness in this world.

I want to live in such a way that it points back to the One who has put breath in my lungs and given me life.

I want to exude joy, hope, and love even in places that seem to lack all three of these.

I want to be everything that Christ has called me to be, and never miss an opportunity to share His love with the people He has placed around me. 

If you are going back to school soon, I want to encourage you to look like hope in the place where God has led you! To never be afraid to step out in boldness, and share Christ with those around you. If you work somewhere, I want to encourage you to love your co-workers and boss and live in such a way that it points back to Jesus—and “work as if you’re working unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Wherever we go and whatever we do, let us never be afraid to reflect the hope that we have.

Let us never let fear hold us back from sharing this hope.

Let us never let fear hold us back from sharing this love!

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

– Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)

All This Time – My Testimony

Hey guys,

So lately, I’ve been praying and I’ve been feeling extremely led to do a video blog about my testimony. How I became a Christian. My walk with God. My journey through college. And God’s faithfulness in the midst of it all.

Thus, posted a video below about my testimony.

Hopefully it encourages somebody!

 

Poetry (Part Two)

Hey guys,

As a writer I am firm believer that words, thoughts, and ideas can be expressed in a variety of ways, ranging from blog posts, to stories, to poetry, and since I got such an incredible response on my last poetry post, I have decided to do another one!

I wrote about a couple of different themes that God has been speaking to me about and that I thought might be relevant to some of you all. Hopefully they inspire you today!

One In Ninety-Nine 

You say that you reach down from Heaven 

For the prodigal in the swine

You tell us that You’re the good shepherd

Who chases the one in the ninety-nine 

But what about the one left standing

Here at the end of the line? 

 

Surrounded by rags and by riches

Trying to reach far above

Trying to offer something

Unaware they are already loved? 

 

The one who is weary and battered 

Spinning her wheels so hard

The one who is worn out and exhausted

Needing rest in the Father’s arms

 

He whispers to her “My Child

You have always been cherished and loved

I thought of you on the cross

When I came down from Heaven above 

 

You have never needed to earn it 

Chasing after perfection so hard

Even though you don’t deserve it 

You have always been all that I want” 

 

Yes, I am the one in the many 

The lost sheep who wandered alone

The one running out from the pasture

Trying to do it alone 

 

Yes, we are all that lost sheep 

Until we are finally home

 

Worship 

Holy hands lifted high 

Hearts of God’s people touch the sky

In the house of God we may find

A glimpse of Heaven in our eyes 

 

But even alone in our rooms

When we are the only ones 

We are never separated from His presence

We are never separated from His Son 

 

He is with us in the car ride

When we turn up the radio loud

When we run through our days 

At high speed pace

Yes, God’s presence still abounds 

 

When it’s late at work and you want to go home

He is still with you 

And Heaven knows

When you’re talking to your friend on the phone 

Letting her know that she’s not alone 

 

When you’re weary in all of the madness

Of school and life’s daily tasks 

You can still rest in God’s presence

You still find rest in Him at last 

 

Yes, God is with us in all these times 

In the seasons of day and night 

He is our constant, our Holy Light

When all is wrong 

And when all is right 

 

So we can find peace and joy 

In knowing this truth truth abounds 

In the quiet and every day places

God’s presence is still clearly found

 

Reflection 

We are the lights

A billion stars 

Soaring, shining from where we are

We are the moon that reflects the sun

To shine His glory to everyone

 

We are the smallest leaves upon a tree 

Yet, still He sees and loves you and me

We are the acorns on a warm summer day 

Yet, still He says we are wonderfully made

 

We are the wind in the midst of our fears

We have the chance to change the atmosphere 

We are the trees on a cool summer night

Swaying and dancing in His sight 

 

We are the snowflakes that fall swiftly by day 

Unique and different in every way

Yet God is our Father who created us all

And into His presence we can freely fall

 

Each one of us was made to be

Someone who reflects His majesty

 

@ Courtney Whitaker, 2019