Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cancel Culture in Jesus Day

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in John 9. As I reread the passage this morning, I realized this thing we call "cancel culture" has been around a long time and this story sadly bears witness to the fact that when Jesus walked the earth He, too, bore witness to it.

The story began when Jesus and His disciples passed a man who had been born blind. The disciples asked Jesus if the man's blindness was due to his own sin or to the sin of his parents. Jesus turned to His disciples and addressed their false belief--a belief quite common at the time and sadly one that sometimes still resurfaces. He explained to them that the man's blindness was not a result of his sin or his parent's sin, but that the man was born blind so the works of God might be displayed in him.

Jesus then spit on the ground and made mud with His saliva and anointed the blind man's eyes with it. Jesus told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The blind mad made his way to the pool and washed the mud from his eyes. When he lifted his face from the water and opened his eyes, he could see. I can't imagine what it was like for a man who had never had eyesight to all of a sudden see faces, a blue sky dotted with light grey clouds, green fields dotted with white sheep, trees filled with an array of brightly colored singing birds, and all sorts of wild flowers growing along the water's edge.

As he walked back to his own neighborhood, the man wasn't met with joyful celebration like we might expect. Instead, he was met with skepticism. People weren't even courteous enough to directly ask the man questions. Nope, as he walked by, they asked each other if he was the blind beggar or someone who looked a lot like him. Ironically, the questions not directed to him, but spoken within ear shot give us a pretty good glimpse of how he had been treated most of his life as a handicapped person--he was one deemed "less than them" and "unworthy" of their direct interaction. Jesus may well have been the first person to speak directly to him. The once-blind man looked them in the eyes for the first time and acknowledged who he was and how he received his sight.

The man's neighbors took him to the Pharisees because he had been healed on the Sabbath. Apparently making mud from saliva on the Sabbath to heal someone was considered sinful work instead of God's work. The Pharisees asked the man questions and he gave them an outline version of his story--short and to the point. In response the Pharisees told him Jesus was a sinner because he didn't keep the Sabbath. They then asked him what he thought of Jesus and he simply replied, "He is a prophet."

The Jews did not want to believe the miracle so they called the man's parents in and asked them three questions. "Is this your son?" "Was he born blind?" "And, how did he receive his sight?" The parents acknowledged their son and stated that he was born blind. They looked around the crowd of stern Pharisees and told them they didn't know how he had received his sight. They then absolved themselves of any responsibility to the matter by saying that they should direct their question to their son because he was an adult. They were afraid of the Jews because the Jews had made it known that anyone who believed in Jesus would be put out of the synagogue--they didn't want to experience the ugly cancel culture of their day.

So, the once-blind man was brought back and they tried to get him to claim that God alone had healed him, not Jesus, which tells us they didn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The blind man answered their questions again and they accused him of being Jesus' disciple rather than Moses', pointing out they didn't even know where Jesus came from. The man scanned the sea of angry faces and his gaze landed on his parents' fearful faces and said, "Why, this in as amazing thing! You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." And that testimony got him thrown out of the synagogue.

I love that it was their persistent questions that were so carefully formulated to cast doubt on Jesus that actually lead the man to a deeper understanding of Jesus. I love that their manipulation didn't trap him, but empowered him to speak the truth. I also love it that he didn't succumb to their gaslighting ways and trade his truth for a lie.

When Jesus heard the man He had healed was cast out of the synagogue, He found him and sat down beside him. Through a different kind of conversation, Jesus revealed to Him that He was the One who had healed him. He then told him who He was and the man responded, "Lord, I believe!" And, in that place he became a worshiper of the Son of God. Jesus then said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind." That last part was aimed at those who were spiritually blind and had cast the man out of the synagogue. 

I have always wanted to know this man's name. I think it interesting that the people never used his name when they asked him questions. It is also interesting that John, who penned this account, didn't tell us his name either. Maybe it was because we are all him in the sense that we are born spiritually blind and that it is only by faith in Jesus that we receive spiritual sight and can begin to understand the things of God, which are spiritually discerned.

As Jesus disciples, I hope we remember two things from this story. First, there is a purpose behind the infirmities and suffering we see in people around us or that we ourselves experience. That man we know born blind, that woman born barren, that child born deaf, that grandma that is limping through life, that aunt struggling with ongoing clinical depression are all people through whom God can be glorified--maybe though a miracle of healing or maybe through an even bigger miracle that creates in us a changed heart filled with such deep compassion that we lean to love as radically as Jesus loves.

Secondly, as believers, we will face situations in which we have to speak God's truth into people's lives, running the risk of facing the wrath of our own cancel culture. It is my prayer that, as believers, we will stand firm in our faith, speak God's bold truth seasoned with grace, and continuously shine light into this dark world, May we stand firm even in the face of the very loud, clamoring, hate-filled, divisive voices all around us.

May we remember that even though our culture may cancel us, our Jesus never will. I imagine after every spiritual battle we face in this life time we have Jesus sitting beside us just as he sat by the once-blind man, His voice ever reminding us who He is and who we are in relationship with Him. Just sit quietly in midst of the cancel culture's screaming voices...can you hear His voice? It's the one filling you with love, with peace, and with hope.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Who is Sitting at Your Table Revisited

A while back I wrote a post entitled Who is Sitting at Your Table? With the number of covid cases growing in our state, the shut down of our state, economic issues, and the postponement of our ministry I have found myself struggling with a lot of negative thoughts. So, I went back and listened again to Louis Giglio's talk on Psalm 23:8 and decided to revisit the truth in his sermon on the blog. 

I loved the word picture Giglio presented. The negative thoughts I was experiencing, were the enemy whispering in my head. As I watched his sermon, I was reminded again that God has prepared for us a table in the presence of our enemies. Those enemies can be anything from a person who has verbally attacked us, spread rumors about us, or someone who acted like a friend and then stabbed us in the back. The enemy could be things like hard circumstances like this pandemic, threats against our safety, and addictions raising up their head during a time when support is difficult to find. The enemy can also be Satan or one of his cohorts, whispering ugly lies into our heads as they were mine when I postponed our support groups. The lies the enemy whispers are many--you are not good enough, you are too much, you are not smart enough, you are crazy, your not a valuable part of the body, and you not loved. The lies can also be lies about God--He isn't hearing your prayers, He doesn't care about the things happening in your life and country, and He no longer is working in your life or your ministry. 

I think our natural tendency (at least mine) is to beg God to destroy or remove our enemies and to make life easier. But Psalm 23:8 tells us that He actually prepares a table for us in the their presence. Wow, this tells us is in the midst of battles, in the midst of temptations, in the midst of the ugly things we hear in our heads our God is ever present and serving lavishly what we need to survive. Giglio says we need to remember God has given us the power and authority to choose who sits down at our table. As believers, I imagine we are sitting at a beautifully decorated table with a lavish feast the Lord Himself has prepared. As we engage with Him through His Word, He reminds us of His Holiness, His goodness, His power, His strength, His faithfulness to us, and His great love. He also reminds us that we are redeemed, we are accepted, we are reconciled to the King of kings, and we are chosen to be a royal priesthood. He also reminds us that through Jesus we have been made good enough, beautiful enough, are fully known and loved, and have been adopted as sons and daughters into His family with the full rights of sonship. He also reminds us that His Spirit empowers us, comforts us, and dwells with in us so that all we need is to live holy lives that is pleasing to God. 

When we are focused on the One forever seated at our table, I envision our enemies hovering over our table. We are safe even with them there hovering. I picture the enemy walking repeatedly by our table and whispering lies into our ears--If God really cared He would have wiped out covid, you could use a drink to deal with this stress, that man (or woman) over there could make you happier than your spouse, you really aren't good a enough teach to teach your classes on line, you are a failure as a parent--and the list of lies could go on and on. If we are really focused on the Lord, we probably don't even notice the whispered words. 

But when we get triggered, exhausted, lose focus, struggle with temptation, are dealing with traumatic events, or are ignoring the Savior seated at the table, Satan sees it as his opportunity to pull up a a chair and join us at out table. Sometimes, we  recognize the Enemy for who he is and we tell him he is not welcome. But, at other other times when we are vulnerable the Enemy speaks a lie or a half truth that resonates with what we are thinking or feeling in that moment and we get hooked and begin to ruminate on the lies. Before long we  have turned our chair away from the Lord and are fully engaging with the Enemy and buy into one ugly lie after another. Before we know it, we have forgotten the Lord who is sitting at our table and we are feasting on the lies. You are ugly. You are fat. You are a failure. You are unloved. You are unwanted. You are too broken. You are too much. You are not enough. You are nothing but damaged goods. You deserve to be battered. You are too weak. You are invisible. You don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. You deserved the abuse you experienced. Something in you caused the man to do those vile things. Everything wrong is your fault. You are responsible for everyone’s happiness. And the ugliest lie of all--Jesus didn’t really love you, what you experienced has proven that. God has forgotten you. He is not really good or all these things would not be happening.

But, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He understands our weaknesses and our thought patterns because He lived in a fallen world and rubbed shoulders with people just like us. He is the Good Shepherd who lay down His life for us. He demonstrated His lavish love when He was wounded, beaten, rejected and hung on a cross, bearing the blame for things He didn't do. Because of His love and His faithfulness, Jesus never leaves our table even when we turn our attention to the Enemy. When we are engaged with the enemy, the Lord may gently nudge us, but when we are struggling with confusion, shame, fear, pain, or anger, we may not notice His nudging. After a moment or two, an hour or two, a day or two, a week or two, a month or two, a year or two, or maybe more, we realize we have been listening to the Enemy and have given him power that is not rightfully his. The Holy Spirit within us may get our attention or send someone we know to remind us that we have the authority to decide who sits at the table with us. And, we yell, “STOP, LEAVE!” And we turn back to the Lord and reengage with Him, hanging on to His truth and begin, once again, to live out our faith. 

It sounds easy, but it isn't. When there has been trauma the lies Satan uses are deeply are often embedded deeply into our core. To overcome them, we must change our core by taking our thoughts captive to God's truth twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We want to remember that at Calvary, our Jesus stared into the face of our Enemy and defeated his hold over us and all we have to do is use our God given authority to boot the enemy from the table. 

So, we need to ask ourselves who is sitting at our table today? To whose voice are we listening? God's God’s voice isn’t a condemning voice, that is the Enemy’s. We would do well to remember that we, as believers, decide who sits at our table with us. Fear, insecurity, lack of peace, condemnation, bitterness, the ugly lies we think about ourselves, and the paranoid things we think about others usually indicate that we have let unwelcome guests sit down at our tables and we can dismiss them and focus on Him who is ever present, ever loving, offering His peace even when we are surrounded by enemies. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Real Radical Risky Relationships

There have been times in my life that I have been richly blessed with deep relationships. There have also been times that real relationships were so few and so shallow that I struggled with deep loneliness. Ironically those lonely years occurred when I was struggling with emotional pain. And even while I was begging God for deep friendships, I guilty of isolating and pushing people away. My isolation didn't look like living in a cabin in the woods, it took the form of hiding behind the busy roles I played--a wife, a home-schooling mama of five children, and being involved in busy ministry as volunteer youth worker.

After one long season of loneliness, I began to crave connection but realized I was somewhat terrified of being vulnerable enough with others to connect. I searched the Scriptures for what relationships should be like. I started with Matthew 22:37, "...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Saw and the Prophets." To me this verse indicates that the Christian life is a life that can only be lived out in the context of relationship--first in our relationship with God and then i our relationships with other people.

I looked at Jesus life and realized and realized real relationships are both radical and risky. Jesus' relationships were radical as they were governed by sacrificial love. Of course His greatest sacrifice was His life. Most of us will never have to lay our physical lives down for others, but to love well requires many daily sacrifices Jesus made in His relationships. This includes the sacrifice of time, of comfort, of energy, of plans, of emotions, and of resources. This is a radical concept in our culture, which tends to applaud isolating qualities of independence, business, and self sufficiency. We can learn a lot about radical, risky relationships by looking Jesus' relationships in the gospels.  

Christ took risk simply by calling people into relationships. Some happily came, some didn't. To offer friendships is risky for us, too. We may experience rejection. We may experience having someone  accept us, but be unwilling to give us as much as we pour into the relationship. We may experience someone accepting us, but then bailing out at the first sign of distress, conflict, or hard stuff. Hopefully some of our relationships will become mutually balanced relationships with staying power like Christ had with most of disciples. And, yet we shouldn't be surprised by these risks, for even as Christ's friends who were the most committed to Him deserted Him when the going got rough.

Real relationships are risky because they require disclosure. Christ took many risks in disclosing things about Himself and His mission to others. As He disclosed, many flocked to Him--some with good motives and some with bad. As He disclosed some got so angry with Him that they rejected Him and eventually had Him killed. In these days, we are beginning to experience similar risks and have similar outcomes when we take those risks. When we share our hearts, our pasts, our dreams, and our beliefs, some will like us while others will be hostile towards us. Yet, we're called to be like Christ and to reach out to others, pouring both love and truth into their lives.

Without real relationships our thinking and viewpoints can become skewed and distorted. This is because we have the tendency to develop blind spots. I have fortunate enough to have had precious friends point out parenting flaws and give me creative ideas for disciplining and discipling my children. I have had other friends point out disrespectful flaws in my relationship with my husband, giving me the opportunity to grow and change as a woman and wife. I have also had friends who lovingly pointed out the differences in what I said I believed and what I was showing I believed through my actions, giving me the opportunity to help my head beliefs become heart beliefs that drove more consistency in my life.

Real, radical, an risky relationships draw others to the faith. Acts 9:36-42 describes Dorcas as a woman who was always doing good and helping the poor. The poor in her days included women who were widowed and she often made them clothing. When she became sick and died, the widows gathered to grieve and they sent for Peter. When Peter arrived, the widows showed him the robes and other clothing Dorcas had made for them. Peter cleared the room and raised her from the dead and widows rejoiced to see her. The Bible says many believed after the miracle, but I can't help but also believe that some were initially drawn by the love they had observed.

Radical, risky relationships have the potential to be avenues of healing. When I think of healing relationships, I think of the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was grieving and had became depressed and somewhat and bitter. Who could blame her. She had lost her husband and both of her sons. In her bitterness she doesn't seem all that loveable to me and does what she can to push her daughter-in-laws away. She decided to move to her home town and pushes so hard against her girls that one actually leaves, but Ruth refuses to leave her. Even though Naomi is so bitter she claimed God has come against her, Ruth makes a committment not only to stay with her, but to follow Naomi's God. Naomi's pain ran deep in the loss of a spouse and both sons. Yet, Ruth, even in her own pain as a young widow was committed to helping Naomi bear the pain she felt. Ruth loved so well that others in her home town told Naomi she was better off with Ruth than her own sons. Eventually God provided a kinsman redeemer and provided a husband for Ruth and a grandson for Naomi to love.

I love that God created us for relationships. I hope that we, as believers. don't ever just settle for shallow and comfortable relationships. I hope that we will find the courage to form real, radical, and risky relationships, for it is in those types of relationships that we become the most like Jesus.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Looking for Peace in an Unpeaceful World

It seems like the "new normal" we keep hearing about in commercials is stress-filled days caused by "bad" news of the pandemic, economic struggles, the constant bickering of elected officials who refuse to work together, and violent protests and political unrest that's evolved into people calling for the erasure of our country's history--both the good and the bad. I have noticed that the cry of my heart at the end of every day is for peace. And, the question I ponder is, "How do I sow peace in a world so filled with discord?"

Because my husband spent years doing research on cotton, I have grown fond of faming analogies. So, if peace were a crop we could grow, we would do is secure a field, cultivate the ground by breaking up the soil, add needed nutrients, and form perfect rows in which to plant seeds of peace. I would liken the cultivation process to putting into our hearts and mind God's truth because He is our source of peace, whether that peace is in our relationship with Him or in our relationships with each other.

The next thing we would do is set up a perimeter around our field to guard it. I would like that to 1 Timothy 6:20, "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoid the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." We want to remember God's Word is as true today as it was in the days it was written. We would do well to saturate our minds with it so it becomes a measuring stick by which we measure everything we see and hear. We may need to limit how much news we watch or how often we scroll Facebook, because much of what is on there right now is equivalent to profane, idle babbling, and contradictions to the truth being portrayed as knowledge. If we aren't careful, we can be carried away by the false narratives being so loudly proclaimed.

At times we will need to deal with pests that destroy the peace we are sowing. Imagine if you will, a field full of freshly sown seeds and a flock of crows starts circling overhead and are ready to descend. If we look carefully we can see names of the crows written on them. The first crow that tries to land is Temptation. He wants to draw us into sin because sin can destroy the sense of peace that we have with God. If we aren't careful we can invite this crow in through all kinds of media--inappropriate shows, angry posts to which we want to respond in an ungodly manner, and enticements to visit and revisit the besetting sins we once thought we had conquered. Other crows bear the family name of Fear--Fear of the Future, Fear of Illness, Fear of Rejection, Fear of Change, Fear of the loss of our constitutional rights, and many more. Some of these crows bear the family names of Discouragement, Despair, and Depression. We can deal with these crows by placing a Scare Crow in the middle of the garden. If you haven't already guessed, the Scare Crow is Jesus. The dark forces of the world literally tremble in His presence and we need to let Him be the guard of our lives and our hearts. We want to keep our eyes focused on Him as we do the work of cultivating peace.

Next imagine seedlings popping through the soil. They need to be nurtured with nutrients and water on a consistent basis to be healthy. They need to have the weeds growing near them pulled. The nutrients represent the Word of God, the water the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live lives connected to the Lord, and the weeds represent all that hinders our peace. Young plants are vulnerable to little worms, beetles, and aphids that want to feed on the plants. These pests can do great damage, even destroying crops all together. These pests are the lies--big and small--that the enemy whispers in our ears. These lies left unchecked and unrefuted can cause us to lose focus of the crop we're growing. These lies are designed to keep us bound in shame. They are designed to cause us to doubt our relationship with God. They are designed to cause us to doubt the goodness, the love, the power, or the presence of our God. We deal with these little pests by plucking them off of our plants when we take our thoughts captive to God's Truth, and maintain our focus on the One who is the complete embodiment of truth.

As we tend to our growing peace, we want to remember to take one day at a time. Any farmer can tell you that there are so many things that can go wrong over the course of the life of his crops that one could drive himself crazy with the "what if''s." Matthew 6:34 is a great reminder of this. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things." If a farmer focuses only on today's chores, todays pests, today's weather, and todays problems he'll experience less stress, less turmoil, and less strife in his life and enjoy more peace.

Sowing peace is hard work and we want to dress appropriately to have endurance. This means we must take off old clothes of pride, corruption, deceitfulness, lust, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice, lying, and evil speaking--all of which rob us of peace in our lives and in our relationships. And, through the Holy Spirit we put on the adequate clothing of truth, righteousness, humility, and love. This will enable us to cultivate peace through sacrificial giving, the speaking of truth in a loving ways, kindness, and tenderhearted compassion. And, when discord seeps back into our field and we can fertilize it with repentance and truth spoken lovingly and then shower it with grace and forgiveness.

As I am ending this post, I dawns on me that it really isn't about looking for peace in a world that cannot give it. It is about staying connected to the God of peace who sanctifies me completely so that my spirit, soul, and body are preserved blameless at the coming of Jesus. Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." As I wait for His glorious return, the cry of my heart has evolved into, "Let me be a conduit of Your peace, Lord, to a world that sorely needs you."




Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Breaking Down Walls of Hostility

Hatred first reared its ugly head after the fall, resulting in the murder of Cain. It drove Joseph's brothers to plot his death and then settle for selling him into slavery. It caused the Egyptians to slaughter babies born to Jews. It drove Haman to plot the destruction of Israelites being held captive in Persia. It showed its ugliness in Israel's treatment of Gentiles, the Gentiles’ treatment of Jews, and the treatment of both groups toward the people who were the products of mixed marriages between the two. It was displayed when women were mistreated in marriages and discarded by arrogant husbands who used them and tossed them out like evening garbage. It was displayed in the way the Old Testament society viewed women as second-class citizens. It has shown itself when fathers who desired sons mourned the births of precious daughters. It shows its ugly head in the legal systems that fail to serve justice on behalf of victims. 

Hatred is still growing as we see everyday on the news. Hatred in the form of prejudice has roots running deep in human hearts. Prejudice may be birthed when fear becomes so intolerable that the power of hatred feels safer than the fear it covers. Prejudice may be born in insecure hearts where anxiety is calmed by refocusing it on something external to be angry with. It may be birthed by longing deeply for acceptance, notoriety, supremacy, prestige, and significance when one mistakenly believes hatred can ensure one can get or keep the things longed for. It can be born in pride-filled hearts as people seek to elevates themselves over others. It can be born in hearts deeply wounded by victimization, providing a destructive hot protection that kills the chance of forming loving relationships. It can be born in a heart given over to evil when the conscience has become seared by one hateful choice after another. 

Hatred often takes root when distorted thinking rules hearts. When we exaggerate or minimize the importance of events, experiences, and mistakes, we breed hate. When we employ catastrophic thinking and see only the worst possible outcomes, we may not see valuable life lessons that need to be learned, we may not sow seeds of love that God is asking us to sow, or we may not take the opportunities to be a part of needed changes. Fear caused by catastrophic thinking can breed self-protective, but destructive biases. Making broad sweeping generalizations can spawn  hate-filled viewpoints. For example those abused by a man could begin to hate all men. Those ridiculed by a teacher can begin to hate all teachers. Those were assaulted by someone of another race can begin to despise all people from that race. 

I've been praying the last couple of weeks about what to write in light of what has been happening since George Floyd was killed. There aren't words to describe the grief and the shock of watching the video and the powerful pictures of protestors who laid down on the ground with hands behind their backs for the amount of time George laid there only to have the unity built by the outrage hijacked by extremists instigating riots, murder, looting, and all sorts of lawlessness. We have all had experiences that bias our way of thinking and yet we know Jesus came to abolish hostility. Ephesians 2:14-21 says, For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of the commandments express in ordinances that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in who the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord.

Jesus, a Jew born in the Middle East, broke through all sorts of prejudicial barriers when He came to this earth. He turned over the tables of money changers who were taking advantage of the poor who wanted to offer sacrifices in the temple. He broke through the biases towards marginalized people as He rubbed shoulders with the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, the demon possessed, and with a woman who was unclean because of constant bleeding. He broke through the biases in the religious culture by allowing all sorts of people to sit under his teaching--boisterous fishermen vying for positions, to the educated doctor, to the tax collectors. to Lydia the business woman, to the homemakers, to children who never had direct access to God before, and even to the prostitutes that longed for real love. He even gave the gospel to a mixed-raced Samaritan woman and then entrusted her to share it with her town. He was a bridge builder, not a division maker. He bridged the hostility between Jews and the Gentiles (all other races and people groups). 

We would do well to remember prejudice of any kind is driven by the Enemy who wants to convince people that Jesus is something He isn’t and to divide the people to whom He is reaching out. If we don't examine our hearts and acknowledge and change our biases, we are prone to be used by the Enemy to distort the image of God and His love and to stir up the very hostility that Jesus came to destroy. This is serious as God is not a biased God. He makes it clear in his Word that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and neither male or female and we would do well to pattern our attitudes and our actions on this truth.   
One of the things I believe we all have in common is the desire for perfect justice. We hear it in the cries of the protestors. We hear it in the cries of those who lost loved ones to senseless violence. We hear it in the cries of those victimized by sexual predators. We hear it in the cries of those who have been forever impacted by drunk drivers. We hear it in the cries of those who sit through court and see victimizers get off due to technicalities. We hear it in the cries of spouses going through ugly divorces whose judges discounted truth to grant custody to unhealthy, unstable, or dangerous parents. 

But, I believe our desire for perfect justice is often skewed by our own biases. Years ago I asked a pastor why he thought God was so specific in the law. He explained the law was partly put in place to restrain our imperfect, fleshly sense of justice. He pointed out if a person lost their eye in a fight, he wants to destroy someone's whole face. If a person lost a family member, they want to take the killer as well as his family out. Cities of Refuge were set up to protect those who were responsible for accidental killings because of reality. At first I wasn't sure I agreed with the pastor about man's tendency. But, soon after that conversation I was victimized and found myself struggling with strong, graphic thoughts of revenge that scared me. I realized my own sense of justice was warped by both my pain and my fear. I came to realize the way for me to regain internal peace was to speak truth when I could and then to lay my desire for my warped justice at the feet of the Perfect Judge and trust Him to work His will in it. It was a process, but it was freeing and only possible because I knew Jesus death was God's perfect justice carried out on my behalf.      

Right now I just want to cling to the One who came to destroy hostility and who desires His church to be comprised of all nations and of all races--a church bursting at its seems with people reconciled to God, unified in Jesus Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit worshiping together and proclaiming the gospel. We would be wise to examine ourselves for residual biases and Pharisaical judgments that we might possess as individuals and as churches. These things not only destroy peace and divide the body, they keep others from knowing our God. I want to be sure in my passion, that I don't take on the very hatred that God detests. His nature is love and I want my heart and life to reflect Him and His humility. I am thankful His Son was not given to hateful biases, but in an act of supreme humility lay down His life, breaking the barriers of hostility between us and God and leveled the field between all people. 



Monday, June 1, 2020

It Is Personal

Every so often I have thoughts that persistently run through my mind. Sometimes the thoughts are "ANT's," which are "automatic negative thoughts." I take these thoughts captive to the truth of God's word. At other times the persistent thoughts is God prompting me to remember something important. Lately the thought running through my mind is, "It's personal." I am not talking about the cultural climate right now, in which people take every thing personally and get offended and defensive. I am talking about God who knows each of us in a personal way. For someone who once believed God was distant and angry, I find it comforting to be reminded the relationship I have with God is personal.

As I have meditated on this thought, I have realized it has always been personal. It began in the Garden with Adam and Eve. God fashioned  Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his lungs. He knew Adam well enough to know it wasn't good for him to be alone and took one of his ribs and fashioned him a wife. And, when Adam and Eve chose to sin and hide from God, He sought them, calling, "Where are you?" In the face of their disobedience He promised them a Savior and the clothes he fashioned from animal skins foretold of their future Savior's death. This tells us that in the face of sin our God is a God who is in the business of seeking us out.

Then there was Moses who tended his father-in-law's flock. When he was near Mount Horeb the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush. Moses became curious as he realized the bush wasn't being consumed. God seeing Moses' curiosity called out to him from the burning bush, "Moses, Moses." He told Moses He had seen His people's oppression and heard their cries and called him to lead His people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Moses resisted, but God persisted, telling him to tell His people that He, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has sent Moses to lead them home. God went before them continually guiding and instructing Moses on how to lead a nation that had been traumatized by years of slavery, mistreatment, and infanticide. He is a personal God who continually takes a personal interest in the suffering of His people.    

Then there was Samuel who ministered to the Lord before a priest named Eli. Eli's sons behavior in the temple was vile and unrestrained and uncorrected by Eli. One night Eli was lying down in his room and Samuel in his when Samuel heard, "Samuel, Samuel!" God had been silent for so long Samuel assumed the voice to be Eli's and ran to see what he needed. Eli said it wasn't him. This happened two more times and on the third time Eli told him if it happened again, to say to the Lord, "Speak Lord, for Your servant hears." And on that fourth time, when Samuel was about to go to sleep he heard his name, "Samuel, Samuel!" Samuel did as Eli instructed him and God spoke prophesy over him and over Eli's household. I love that in the midst of such a sinful environment God called a young man by name not one time but four times, choosing Him to be His prophet. His calling of Samuel tells us that even in the midst of sin in the household of God, our God is still a personal God.

Skipping over a bunch of other stories we find land in the new testament on the story of Zacchaeus--a man with whom most of us are familiar. He was a short Jewish man who lived in Jericho and collected taxes for the Roman government, most likely charging people extra taxes to pad his own pockets. Because of his stature and his job he was not popular among his fellow Jews. Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus and was curious about him when he heard that he was coming. As Jesus arrived Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of him. When Jesus was passing beneath Zacchaeus, He paused, looked up, and then called him by name, "Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus!" Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus' home and ate and fellowshipped with him. Our Jesus not only knew Zacchaeus' name, He knew where he was perched and made himself at home with him. The despised Zacchaeus found the love he craved in Jesus. And, Zacchaeus was changed because it was personal.    
           
Lastly, let's look at a man named Saul who was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. As he was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians, a light shone around him and he fell prostrate to the ground, hearing God's voice, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" They conversed and the nonbelieving Saul became the believing Paul who authored much of the New Testament. I love this passage. As a young believer, I took criticism of my faith so personally, but after I became familiar with this story, I realized when someone is criticizing or mocking my faith, it isn't me they are criticizing, it is Jesus and His calling upon their lifes. In the face of the mocking, I can smile, let go of defensiveness and pray the person would realize faith isn't a philosophy to be reckoned with, but an invitation to a deeply personal relationship with God who radically loves them.

I want to remember when I feel unsettled that the same God who called, Adam and Eve, Moses, Samuel, Zacchaeus, and Paul by name is the same God who has called me. It is comforting to know that in the face of failure, He calls my name. It is comforting to know that the God who called Moses and gave his life significance has called me as well. It is comforting to know that at the times I don't recognize His voice, He calls to me again and again. It is comforting that He knows my proximity and all that concerns me, and calls out my name to spend time with me. It is comforting to know when I think I am doing His will and am heading in the wrong, He will call me by name and redirect my path. I want to remember this relationship I have with God--it is personal. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Life Interrupted

I wonder if others are getting as weary of being "stuck at home," waiting for "life" to begin again. When the government first told us to shelter in place, it was to be for two weeks and I thought, "Piece of cake, we can do this." But now it seems like there is no end in sight for my state.  After listening to one of our pastor's sermons this week, I realized that I need to reframe my thinking so I don't become completely discouraged and overly frustrated.

When the shelter-in-place order was given, I had to shut down our support group ministry and have often thought about how much I hate having the important work we do with our ladies interrupted at such a crucial time in the group process. But this pandemic and this sheltering in place orders was not a surprise to our God. I know there are valuable lessons for each of us to learn about our God, about ourselves, and about life in general, if we are willing to learn. I have been thinking about different people in the Bible who went through things that may have been perceived as interruptions to what God was going to bring about in their lives and will share about two of them.

First, we have Joseph. He was highly favored by his father, who gave him a beautiful coat of many colors, designed to signify his favor towards him. Young Joseph then had two dreams, both of which indicated his brothers would bow down to him. He made the mistake of telling his brothers about his dreams and they were jealous and despised him and sold him into slavery. Joseph, the man who believed he would rule over his brothers landed in Egypt, living the life of a slave.

Pharaoh noticed that everything Joseph did was blessed by God and he gave him an important position in his home. Pharaoh's wife started making advances towards Joseph and he refused her advances. She then accused him of rape and he was thrown into person. Joseph's life as a slave--seems to have been interrupted once again.

There Joseph sat, until the chief butler had a dream Joseph was able to interpret. Joseph asked the butler to remember him when he got out of prison, but the butler didn't. It wasn't until Pharaoh had a dream that needed to be interpreted that the butler remembered Joseph. When Joseph interpreted the dream, it became clear there would be a great famine and they had seven years to fill storehouses. Pharaoh was thankful and put Joseph in charge over the land, knowing he would have the wisdom needed to store things for the future.

It was because of Joseph and his work in Egypt that his brothers came to Egypt, seeking food during the drought. There they ended up being under Joseph's leadership and had to rest in his mercy. It was because of the interruption in Joseph's life that the nation of Israel was preserved through the famine. I also believe Joseph learned all sorts of things about God and His grace as he navigated and prepared for the hard, grieved the betrayal of his brothers, and worked through the important issues of forgiveness.

Second, we have King David, who was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be king after Saul. This was awkward as Saul was still alive, but David served Saul with integrity waiting for God to fully elevate him to his kingship. After a great military victory, the Israelites praised David so much Saul was consumed by jealousy. Even though David was a faithful servant, who performed music that soothed Saul's tortured soul, Saul turned on him and tried to murder him. David, the anointed king, ended up hiding in a cave. His brothers and father, who were now at risk joined him there. They were soon followed by everyone who was in distress, who was struggling with debt, and who was discontented and David became captain over all 400 men. I bet David had assumed when he became king, he would be in Jerusalem living the good life, not in a cave training a much of malcontents to be soldiers. Yet, in that cave he remained faithful to what God gave him, showed great restraint when he refused to kill Saul as he trusted God bring about his kingship.

I can relate to these men and the interruptions they faced in what they had thought their lives would be like. I thought this year would be different than it is. I hoped we would work with our ladies in our ministry and give them a celebratory sendoff at the end. I thought we would continue attending church every week. I had realized I needed to socialize more and had committed to have more sweet fellowship over coffee or lunches with friends and here I sit. I thought my husband and I would get travel and may be go camping with grandkids. I thought I would get another book done. Right now, maybe that last one has potential if I can keep my focus during this crazy time.

Sometimes, I wish I could talk to Joseph and David, whose lives seem to have been interrupted like mine. I can't, but I can read their thoughts during their struggles in the Word. Joseph who wept so loudly that the whole palace heard him was able to extend grace to his brothers, saying, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." God used that interruption to grow him enough to forgive the impossible and to save Israel. And the Psalms...they are so full of David's thoughts, questions, and painful emotions being countered beautifully by his knowledge of His God and His trust in His sovereignty, power, love, and goodness. With out reading the Psalms we might not know how personable and safe God is to run to. Their words are more powerful when I remember they were not omniscient, they were everyday people like me. I know that Greg Laurie announced that 50,000 people have accepted Christ during this pandemic. On line church during this hard has opened the flood gates, removed blinders, and turned people's hearts to God. In light of these stories I can reframe my thinking from being stuck at home waiting for life to begin again to being in the middle of something great God is doing in and through his Church.

I don't know what all God is doing through this pandemic and sheltering order, but I do know that He is good and that He is the embodiment of perfect love. I am also confident that nothing can stop the work He is doing in and through each of us. So, I daily choose to trust Him as my husband and I seek His wisdom in how to live out these days of life seemingly interrupted. I am thankful that I am a follower of Jesus and that I have prayed more faithfully for those who are sick, those who are struggling with addictions, and for those who are grieving unexpected changes and big losses. I have also taken time to notice and celebrate births, marriages, graduations, and other milestones from afar. I have taken advantage of this time to enjoy sermons from all sorts of speakers and have gained some good perspective of God through this. And I am confident that our God--He is perfectly good even when life is interrupted.

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!