guest posts, I Am Kept

Kept: Guest Blogger Salley Bradley

Such were some of you… ~1 Corinthians 6:11

I enjoyed Jen and Susan’s blog post on Monday. It’s always fun to see what people first think about a book titled Kept and where it takes their thoughts. For my book, Kept means different things at different times to Miska Tomlinson, my main character who is a kept woman.

Like Miska, we are all kept women. We are all slaves to something, whether we want to acknowledge that or not. It’s easy to get philosophical and say we’re slaves to our jobs or our cultures or our families or the pressures of others, but the Bible makes it pretty cut and dried. We are either a slave to Satan or to God. We are either kept by Satan himself. Or we are kept by God.

We all start out kept by Satan, and for however long we continue in that path, we tend to mostly enjoy it. We like our sin. We like those pleasures that last for a time. But when the pain of sin comes, two things can happen. We either shrug off the pain as just another fact of life, or we start looking for answers. For truth. For someone who will keep us like we’ve never been kept before.

Something that amazes me over and over is that sometimes it’s our enslaving sin that God uses to bring us to Him. We begin to hate the bondage we’re in, the pain we’re suffering, the constant battle we fight . . . and lose. There has to be more, we think. And it’s at this point that we realize that we are slaves to an evil we cannot escape on our own.

Kept begins with a snippet from I Corinthians 6. In verse nine, Paul tells the Corinthian church, a very messed-up church at the time, that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. He lists sinners who will not inherit: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, covetous, drunkards, and others.

That’s our American culture. We are running fast and hard from God. We don’t want Him to keep us; we want our sin to keep us. We want Satan. We want eternity away from God. We see this more and more, don’t we?

But then there’s that beautiful verse that gives us hope. “Such were some of you.” The verse could stop there, but it doesn’t. “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

This is still happening in America. Men and women who’ve fought God are still being saved. They’re being washed, sanctified, and justified. Yes, their past is still there, but it doesn’t keep them anymore, does it?

In Kept, I wanted to explore that scenario. What if an unchurched woman runs into her complete opposite? What if she’s perfectly happy with her life as it is? What would it take to make her want Christ? And when she finally did, how would her past affect her present and future?

I hope you’re already kept by Christ. We know He won’t let us go. Once He saves us, we are His forever because it’s His power completely that saves us, nothing that we do. And that means that our past can’t control us anymore either. Yes, there will still be consequences of our sin that can’t be undone. We all deal with that in varying degrees. But once we’ve exchanged Satan’s chains for God’s, we find freedom and safety we never had before.

Here’s the verse I chose to end Kept with. It’s one of the first verses in the short book of Jude. “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.”

Now that’s the kind of slavery I want.

Smaller HeadshotSally Bradley writes big-city fiction that deals with real issues and real hope. A Chicagoan since age five, she now lives in the Kansas City area with her family, but they get back to Chicago often for important things—like good pizza and White Sox baseball. Sally loves to connect with her readers, and you can find her at sallybradley.com and her Facebook page, Sally Bradley, Writer.

Kept is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.kept RGB front lower resolution

I Am Kept

Out of Bondage

“Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever.” –John 4:13-14a, HCSB

I wonder what she was thinking as she walked that well-worn trail on her own. Every day that trek to the well must have been a reminder…Of dreams unfulfilled. Of a longing unmet. Of shame. It was a walk most women made together, a chore done as a social engagement. Except for the outcast, the scorned.

With every step toward that well she could hear the whispers in her restless soul. All she ever wanted was love, the lasting kind. But men…they’re not the faithful types. And because she cannot extinguish the thirst to be held, wanted, she is that woman.

A kept woman. A mistress.

A man’s voice meets her at the well, drawing her attention from her feet. “I am thirsty.”

She stares at him. He is a Jew. Jews don’t talk to Samaritans, especially Samaritan women. Unless… She gauges his inspection. His look is not the seductive kind. She would know, after all.

“Why do you speak to me?” she stammers. “I am a woman. A Samaritan woman.” And it’s so much worse than that.

He cracks a small grin, as if he knows a secret.

Oh, no. Does every man in Judea know about me as well?

His voice drifts with kindness over the well between them. “If you knew who spoke to you, you would ask me for living water.”

Does he think he’s a magician? She snorts. “How will you draw the water, sir? This well is very deep.”

“Ah,” his grin spreads full. “But you see, woman, everyone who drinks from this well will thirst again. I am talking about living water—whoever drinks of it will never thirst again. It will become a spring life within.”

No more drawing water? No more taking the lonely walk of shame throughout town? “Sir, give me this water so I will not have to come here again!”

That knowing look crept back in his eyes. “Go, call you husband, and come back.”

Her heart stalled. Husband? Did he know? “I—” She swallowed. “I’m not married.”

His gaze didn’t waver. “Indeed, not at the moment. But you have been, five times. But the man you are with now…”

Her face burns as she casts her look to the ground. How is this possible? How can this man know the ugly, intimate details of her life?

How can he know all this…and still speak to her?

“You are a prophet.” And not like any religious man I’ve ever met. What makes you so kind to a woman you clearly know is unworthy? “Tell me, how do I worship God?”

“The Father wants people who will worship in spirit and in truth.”

Truth? I know the truth about me—and apparently so do you. Does God know? Probably.

She chances a glance back at him again. His face is gentle, and yet, absolute. Truth. Can He be? “The Messiah is coming. He will tell us Truth.”

He smiled like a proud parent. “Woman,” his eyes dance, as if he’s about to share that secret, “I am He.”

She knew it. But He is here, talking to her? A woman of…filth. Tears gathered in her eyes. He talked to her, and offered her living water—the kind that would satisfy her forever. The kind that she’d been longing for her whole life.

Suddenly, the invitation became clear. Everything that she’d searched for in life He held in His kind hands. Love. Belonging. Forgiveness. All that she’d thirst for, quenched by his living water. Water that would satisfy. Water that would cleanse.

He would give it to her. All she must do is ask.

Blue Columbine Cover

I Am Kept

Kept in Perfect Peace?

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 ESV

Perfect peace. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often have perfect peace.  I am far more often kept in a state of fretfulness.  And as we’ve explored being “kept” this week, my heart has been drawn to this verse.  It’s a promise with a catch. We can be kept in perfect peace only if our minds are “stayed” on God, trusting in Him.

So, following the logic here, it appears that my mind is not stayed on God, because I’m not peaceful. My mind does anything but stay anywhere.  It flits from one subject to another, from one unfulfilled desire to the next, from this problem to that one.  Worry creeps in, entangling me.

I am my own keeper. And I’m doing a lousy job of it.  I’m ready to allow God to do the keeping.

And so, I must choose to focus on Him, not on all the things I want or need. I must trust Him to meet my true needs instead of trying frantically to devise ways to meet them myself, worrying that I’m using the wrong means to get to my end.  I must learn to find contentment with Him alone, not in any other thing or person.

When I look at God instead of my problems – ah, there it is. Peace.  And He’ll keep me in it, as long as I keep my mind “stayed” on Him.  His faithfulness.  His sufficiency.  His trustworthiness. He is a bottomless pool of peace.  May I choose to swim in it today, tomorrow, next month and 10 years from now.

Peace.

I Am Kept

Called and Kept

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. – 1Peter 2:24-25, NASB

I’m not good about writing things down. Seriously, you’d think I would learn after a bazillion missteps, forgotten whatevers, and lost moments. But here I am, a full grown woman who still fails to write things down. Appointments. Order amounts. Directions.

That last part is where my thoughts went today. Because, like a sheep, I stray continually, especially without directions. Case in point: I went to my daughter’s first cross country meet a couple of weeks ago. I was so excited; she’s a good runner and she loves it, and this is the first year she’s allowed to participate in a school sport. So it’s a big deal. One would think that I’d write down the directions to the golf course where she’d be running, right? Especially since it was almost a two hour drive to get there, and she’d run that mile-long race in about six minutes. Not a lot of room for error there. But guess who didn’t write down the directions.

Guess who was late for the race.

I turned left where I should have turned right. By the time Google maps via my smart phone got me back on track I was able to make it in time to see her finish. She did so well—placed ninth in the junior high division—and I’d miss all but the last thirty seconds.

I needed a road guardian that day. Luckily, I did have that smart phone, or I would have missed it completely. But still…

Life seems like that sometimes, doesn’t it? We turn left instead of right and can’t figure out why we’re at the feedlot (If you’ve never been near one, ew. That’s all you need to know.) instead of the golf course.

Praise God, while life is that way, Salvation isn’t. Those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ have a soul Guardian, and He doesn’t fail. Jesus told his disciples “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”  (John 10:27-28, NASB)

He who holds eternity also holds his sheep in it. No matter which way we turn, he will keep us safe in His hand.

I Am Kept

I Am Kept: A Joint Post

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You, Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. …I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” –John 17: 11, 15

From Jen:

I have to confess, Kept isn’t something I came up with. My writing friend, Sally Bradley did. She named her newly released novel Kept. While I thought that was an intriguing title, I honestly didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it until I neared the end of my journey through the book of John a few weeks ago. Jesus’s prayer for the believers leapt of the page to me, and it was almost as if the word keep was in bold print before my eyes.

Kept. I am kept. By whom? From what? And for what purpose?

From Susan:

I read the first chapter of Sally’s book Kept online, and it had me intrigued from the get-go.  I can’t wait to buy the whole thing, and I’m thankful for her creativity that has inspired this week’s blog topic.

I only keep things I treasure.  I tried to give away my daughter’s princess-dress-up clothes this week.  But I just couldn’t do it.  Oh, she’s 11.  She lost interest in them years ago.   But when I opened the box, the memories of my dancing 5-year-old were hidden there in the sparkling folds.  I could taste the sweetness of that earlier time in the perfumy fragrance of the fabric.  I closed the box.  I’d keep them.  Maybe for a granddaughter, if God gives me one in a couple of decades.

I kept them for two reasons: Firstly, I enjoy them right now.  I like just owning them.  They give me pleasure.  And secondly, I have a future use in mind for them.

Which brings me to Jen’s questions, stemming from these beautiful verses in John.  Who keeps us?  God himself.  And why?  Because He treasures us.  He enjoys us.  We bring the God of the Universe pleasure.  And, He has a future in mind for us.  God has plans for us.  He must keep up safe to accomplish them.

“Safe” doesn’t mean we are stashed in a box under a bed.  Safe may not even mean physical safety.  Instead, he keeps us spiritually safe for all of eternity, nestled in the palm of His hand, ready for all His future plans – plans on this earth, and plans beyond.

I am renewed

Waiting For Renewal

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength…”  -Isaiah 40:28-31, NASB

Are you tired? Out of strength? Down on the ground with nothing left to give?

I know that one. Just a couple of weeks ago I asked my husband for a break. Not just for like an hour to go have a cup of coffee. I wanted a real break—like a weekend escape.  I wanted to book a solitary cabin by a lake in the hills and not talk to anyone. Not cook for anyone. Not deal with anything.

I’d done run out of fuel.

Sweet man that he is, my hubby said yes. I could book myself a quiet weekend alone. So, I began making plans. You know how those go, right? Well, just in case you don’t, here’s the short of it: I’m not going anywhere. Something else came up, and my hopes for a retreat got put in a box and sealed with packing tape.

Thing is, while that’s a bit of a bummer, I’m realizing that little escape probably wouldn’t have accomplished what I’d hoped anyway. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a bear when I come back from a trip because, while the days away are pleasant, jumping back into real life is overwhelming. And, getting down to the real issue I was wrestling, I’d have to admit that I was spiritually weary.

I was thinking about this as I drove my kids to school this morning. It was raining. The cool, soft drops splattered my car, and I had a moment to reflect on them while my son ran off to get in his line. The earth had grown dusty since the last rain, and the drizzle this morning washed it away. But the ground, though thirsty and yearning for renewal, hadn’t made it rain. It can’t. It had simply waited.

That struck a chord with me. The dust of my spiritual weariness had yearned for renewal, for cleansing, and while I can cry out to God to pour his refreshing spirit upon my soul, I can’t really tell Him when or how much. I can’t make Him do it according to my whim. I can only wait.

Spiritual renewal, I think, is something every one of us longs for at some point or another, and that’s a good thing. But we search for it like it’s something we can do or find for ourselves. It isn’t. We won’t find renewal in a secluded cabin, or from a spa day, or even in a cup of coffee. All good things, no doubt, and certainly nothing wrong with them. But, truly, if it is renewal we seek, waiting is the prescription.

Yet those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength.

Lord, I wait upon you, for you alone will renew my spirit.

 

I am renewed

Renewed, After the Blackest Sin

God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore the joy of Your Salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit.  Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.  Psalm 51:10-13

David saw lovely, young Bathsheba bathing, and he wanted her.  Being a king made this easy.  He just sent for her, and she had to come – even though she was married.  To a soldier.  Who was out fighting a war for David.

Well, you know the story.  She got pregnant.  So David called her husband, Uriah, from the battle field on the pretense of getting the latest war news from him.  Then David sent Uriah home, where David was sure he’d sleep with his wife. But he didn’t.  Uriah was too worried about his buddies still at the front.  So, David sent him back, carrying a letter to his commander that read:  “Put Uriah at the front of the fiercest fighting, then withdraw from him so that he is struck down and dies.”

David – the man after God’s own heart – conceived and carried out all this evil.  David, who composed  most of the beautiful Psalms, which I use to worship God even today, thousands of years after he penned them.  This wasn’t something David did before he found faith in God.  This wasn’t the “before” part of his testimony.  This was solidly in the middle of his life, long after God had chosen him to be king because of his passion for Him.

But God loved David far too much to allow him to continue down this dark path.  He sent a prophet to confront him, to open David’s eyes to his own evil.  The king’s heart was pierced when he realized what he’d done, when he really took the time to see it from God’s perspective, when all the justifications were stripped away.

Mourning, he sat down and penned Psalm 51. Renew me, God.  Give me back a steadfast spirit, one that resists temptation and sticks on your path.  Create a clean heart out of my filthy one, Father. Save me from myself, from my selfishness, from my lust, from my sin.  Save me, because only you can.

God did renew David.  He did wash away the blackness of that sin from his heart. Consider these words, also from David’s pen: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:11-12

Then what?  What did David promise he’d do when God renewed him? “Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to you.”  God gave David a task: Don’t waste it.  This was horrible, but don’t waste the experience.  Use it to teach others, so that they’ll avoid the same mistakes, so that they’ll come back to Me when they’ve messed up … well, royally … themselves.

You and I are David’s students.  We are the rebellious ones that David had on his mind.  We are the sinners who need to return to God.  David is reaching out to you across the millenniums through the words he wrote down.  For you.  So you’d know God wants you back, no matter what you’ve done.

So you’d know you can be renewed.