Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I Love You. I Have Always Loved You

Saturday night my fourteen year-old-grandson asked his mom to take him and a friend to see a scary movie. She was worn out from teaching, graduate school, and driving through LA traffic for his water polo meet, so she suggested he ask me. I love spending time with him and felt honored that he was okay with that idea. So, I got to accompany two teenage boys to see A Quiet Place. I went expecting it to be a typical scary movie and it was intense; however, it was also a movie with a well-developed plot, telling the story about a family that worked very hard to survive monsters that had been attacking humans.

In the beginning of the story, the family consists of a dad, a pregnant mom, and three children. The oldest child is a teenage girl who is deaf. the middle child is a boy who is nine or ten and the youngest boy was probably two or three.  The world has been invaded by ugly monsters who are blind, but who have ears that hear everything and attack what they hear. In the opening scene, they are walking from the store in town back to their farm. They did not realize the little one had picked up a toy space ship in the store that made noise. They were walking single file with him in the rear, following his deaf sister. He lagged behind as he began to explore the space ship. All of a sudden, the little guy turned on the space ship and it made loud sounds that drew a monster. The deaf girl couldn't hear the sound and the dad, who was at the front of the line, couldn't get to the son in time to save him from the monster.

The rest of the film is about this family who is not only working hard to survive, but is a family dealing with the tragic loss of the youngest child, each in their own way. The parents had moved the family into their underground root cellar to keep them safer and they communicated through sign language. The dad had developed quite a security system of cameras so he could observe their farm for approaching monsters. Every so often one of the family members does something that accidentally that draws the monsters toward them. As viewers, we could see the enormous guilt that followed the mishaps that put their lives in jeopardy. We could also see the weight of the burden the parents bear in keeping their family safe. Both parents do a great job of reassuring the kids, but they also have to remind them over and over of the dangers they face.

One day the dad decides to take the boy to teach him how to fish with traps. The boy, still traumatized by what happened to his little brother, is terrified and doesn't want to go away from the farm. The daughter pleads with her dad to take her instead, but the dad tells her to stay with her mom and he gets down eye-to-eye with his son and promises to keep him safe. He even takes him to a waterfall where under the safety of its noise they are able to talk to each other. The dad listens humbly to his son and learns a lot about his daughter from him.

The daughter feels guilty for her brother's death and has come to believe her dad blames her for it as well and has concluded he doesn't love her. She is aware that being deaf also brings more risk to her family. The mom gets busy with laundry and the daughter places a few things in her backpack and goes to the place where her littlest brother died. The mom goes into labor and as she brings the laundry down the cellar, she steps on a nail, causing her to drop a picture frame which draws the monster to their farm. She sneaks back to their house and moves from room to room to hide from the monster and to give birth. At the house, she flips on red outside lights to warn her husband that the monster is there and that she needs help.

As the father and the son arrive at the property, the father sees the lights and sends the son to set off fireworks so their noise would draw the monster away from the house, allowing him to get to his wife. The sister sees the fireworks and comes back, finding her little brother hiding in a field. They run to the grain silo to wait for their dad to come get them. Eventually, they connect with him and are making their way back to the house when they come face to face with a monster. The dad tells the kids to go get in the truck and he grabs an ax and tries to attack the monster, but the monster flings him and the ax to the ground. The little boy screams in anguish when his dad is hit, causing the monster to go after the two kids in the truck. The dad manages to stand up and makes eye contact with his daughter and signs to her, “I love you. I have always loved you." He then lets out a blood-curdling scream sacrificing his life for theirs.

I glanced at the two teens with me who both are good kids with good hearts and both of them looked away from the screen and their bodies literally slumped into their chairs. Later they talked about how they wish they would not have killed the dad, because he was a good dad. The family is left to figure out the weaknesses of the monsters to survive.

After I came home, I processed the movie as it felt somewhat personal to me. When I was working with a therapist on my eating disorder, she asked me to draw what the eating disorder looked like to me. I couldn't draw it because it had looked one way when it first began as a poor way of coping with trauma. It evolved, and as it took root it became a self-destructive stronghold in my life.  The description I wrote for the therapist so long ago perfectly described the monsters in the movie. I decided those monsters could represent the sin from which God has always been protecting us. We don't always recognize the depravity of our sin or its destructiveness. Yes, we sometimes rebelliously choose sin over God, but there are times we get simply get careless and just slip into it and before we know it, we are being consumed and destroyed by it.

I didn't wake up one day and decide to have an eating disorder. It began as a way of trying to find control in the midst of the chaotic emotions swirling beneath the surface, but it quickly took over my life. The control, which at first felt good, became uncontrollable and changed the way I viewed myself. It weighed me down with shame so toxic that ugly self-deprecating thoughts continuously ran through my head. In the same way, I have also seen alcohol take over a person and destroy her and her relationships with her children, leaving gaping wounds that will take a long time to heal. I have seen families destroyed by pornography as it took over the life of a spouse and a dad. And I have seen drug addictions that have taken over the user to the point that all he cares about is his next hit.

God has always wanted to protect us. He has always loved us, but the enemy tells us that our sin isn't that bad, that God, is depriving us, and that God doesn't really love us. In recovery circles we hear statements like, "Oh, that is not your child talking, it is the drugs." But the truth is that we all have a bent to do wrong and we use denial and lies to hide shame. As we sink into the miry clay, our character, which is a fluid thing, begins to change and even the most truthful people begin to lie--we lie to "protect" the next hit, to hide what we spend, and to hide the disorders that gives us a false sense of control, to hide the gossip we share so no one will notice the big monster on our back. We lie to try to shape what others think about us, so we don't feel the guilt or the shame over the choices we have made, over the fact that we are losing control of our ability to choose, and the fact that we know we are loving poorly as a result of the strongholds in our lives.

My thoughts that night also went to the ladies I have worked with, many of which didn't have dads and/or moms that worked as hard to provide and protect as the movie parents did. I thought about those who had at some point in their healing journey expressed the deep longing they had burning in their souls to be protected and to be fully known and loved in spite of their wounds, their flaws, their mistakes their needs, and their sin.  And the Lord whispered into my heart, "I have loved you all that way."

It is so true! Since the Fall we have all been struggling at some level with shame that causes us to doubt the love of God. And yet, the Scripture, from beginning to end, points us to Jesus and shows us His great love, which ultimately was demonstrated on the cross. I know at the times that I have pictured Christ on the cross with my sin etched in His body, I have looked up into His face and I have seen the same look on His face that was on the face of the movie dad as he signed his love to his daughter the last time. And that look said as loudly as the signs, "I love you. I have always loved you."  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Opposition is Opportunity in Disguise

The gospel stories weren't penned just for our entertainment. They were written to teach us about Jesus, His life, and His ministry. Each story reveals something about who He is, about His character, and about His heart. Each story gives us glimpses of how He related to people and our reactions to the stories reveals stuff about our own hearts and our relationship with Him. One of the stories I have been pondering lately is the story about a paralyzed man found in Mark 2.

Word of Jesus and His miracles had spread and when Jesus and his disciples came to Peter's house, a crowd soon descended there to see the miracle-working Teacher - the Teacher whose words were a soothing balm to some and a strong irritant to others. The large crowds made it difficult for the neediest people to get close enough to Jesus. One of the neediest that day was a paralyzed man who lived life on a stretcher, but he had four loyal friends who picked up his stretcher and headed to Peter's house. However, because of the crowd, they could not get near the Teacher. So, the men devised a plan and carried their friend up the stairs to the roof and began digging through tiles and dirt, making a hole large enough that they could fit their friend and his stretcher through it.

I find myself wondering what the man thought as they approached the house. Did his heart sink when he saw the crowd? Did his anger rise as he was reminded of his limitations? Did he feel hopeless and immediately resign himself to living from the perspective of the stretcher? What did he think when his friends began to climb the stairs and dig through the roof? Did he feel loved or was he embarrassed by their actions? Did he believe he was worth the hassle or would he have preferred they not to make a scene? Was his friends' faith beginning to take root in his heart? I don't know the answers to the questions, but I do know that I want to be the kind of friend this man had. I want to be the person who sees beyond the hopelessness of a situation. I want to be one who believes that the more hopeless the situation seems the bigger the opportunity to bring someone closer to Jesus. I want to be that friend who persists and persists until I have done all that it takes to help a friend land at the feet of Jesus.

I also find myself wondering what Jesus thought as the men began to dig through the roof. Did He raise His voice to be heard above their digging or did He stop and wait patiently, knowing the roof-digging crew was providing His sermon illustration that night? Did He need to calm Peter and remind Him that holes could be fixed? Did He smile as He brushed away the dirt that was settling on His shoulders? Did rise and help lower the man in or did they drop him at His feet?

The Bible makes it clear that not every illness is a result of sin. It may have been in this case that something he had done to another had resulted in his paralysis. It may have been that Jesus knew the crowd usually associated illness and handicaps with sin and was exposing their belief. Or it may have been that Jesus could see the burden of regret and the shame that was residing in the man's heart and knew that the man needed to be spiritually healed more than physically. So, He told him sins were forgiven.

Jesus then turned his attention to the religious leaders--the skeptics who thought He was a blasphemer for telling the man his sins were forgiven. I love it that Jesus both exposed and confronted their thoughts by asking, "Which is easier to do--tell a man he is forgiven or tell him to take up his bed and walk?" He then turned back to the man and said, "Get up, take your stretcher and go home."

What ran through the paralytic's mind when the Savior commanded him to walk? Did he look around at the crowd that wouldn't let him through the door? Did he glace at the religious leaders who disapproved of what Jesus was telling him and feel conflicted? Did he immediately respond in faith and jump up or dance a jig? Did he look down first, expecting to see atrophied legs and find them healthy and strong? Or did he have to do the impossible and try to stand up on atrophied muscled legs for the miracle to take place? I don't know, but I can relate to having to demonstrate faith and obedience in the face of people who opposed me and what God called me to do. It was terribly hard and it sure didn't feel safe. However, choosing God in the face of that opposition strengthened my faith, gave me opportunities to see Him work in new ways, and opened a new direction for me to do the ministry God had called me to.

That day, Jesus graciously chose to do a deeper work in the heart of the crippled man so not only his body was healed, but his heart as well. Jesus used the opposition He faced to publically affirm His deity as he exposed the hidden thoughts of men, established that He had the authority to forgive sin, heal a broken body, and called Himself, "The Son of Man."

I fear that we often view the hard as proof that God doesn't love us and we let the hard paralyze us. What if the hard--our past traumas, our broken hearts, the adversity we experience, the weaknesses we have, our struggle to fully trust, the sin that trips us up, the people and the demons who come against us--is what the Lord will use to reveal Himself to this broken and fallen world? Would not our faith and our joy grow exponentially if we just believe God is good and that the opposition we face is nothing more than disguised opportunities for Him to do His greatest work? 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will the Real Enemy Please Stand Up!

One of the verses that radically changed the way I viewed relationships is Ephesians 6:12, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." We are living in a very conflicted world right now and I can't help but believe it would help us to understand this truth and to view conflicts we face daily in the light of it. Over time I have experienced many things that have contributed to making this truth come alive for me.

First, becoming a wife and mother allowed me to both watch and experience the human dynamics of  our family and saw how that impacted the relationships we formed. There were times my husband accused me of saying something I didn't say and there were times I did the same thing to him. The same thing was true in our relationships with our children and their relationships with each other. I came to believe early on that spirits who were acting as interpreters for our conversations or who were influencing what we assumed about each others' intentions. I sometimes felt frustrated that we couldn't always resolve conflicts quickly. I know we all have past hurts and negative core beliefs that impact our perceptions of the present. But there were times I viewed something transpiring between two of us and saw that one would get angry and hurt and say that the other said or did something. I was standing there and didn't see what they saw and or experience the interaction in the same way. It was as if at times we were ambassadors in the UN and had ear buds in our ears and either one or more were being given a very poor interpretation of what was said or done.

Second, over the years we've been involved in several different churches, some of which were riddled with conflict. At times I was a bystander and able to observe all sides of a conflict and it seemed the conflict had a life of its own. Because I was a neutral person and a good listener there were times  people from differing sides of a conflict talked to me about their perspectives of it and I was left wondering if they had even been at the same same meeting. Even when I saw the events the same way as one of the parties involved, I could see and understand the perspective of the other. I could also see their concern and was left wondering what was influencing them to hear and see things so differently. It could have been that there was something unresolved from their pasts and it was tainting what they saw. But it could also have been spiritual forces of evil influencing what they thought they saw and heard. I think Satan could use this tactic to create divisions among us that none of us really want.

There were times I was involved in conflicts that I wasn't able to resolve. One time I was out of town for a month and came back and found out a conflict I thought had been resolved was still a hot mess. Because I had had no interaction with the person, had not thought about the person, and had not talked to anyone about the person, I believed there was something else at play. Maybe something in the person's past was triggered by me or maybe a spiritual force was influencing them to believe I said, did, or thought something I didn't.

There were also times that people I was in conflict with "went for the jugular." By that I mean they said or did something that hurt me to the core. It was usually in the form of saying words that someone from my past had said that had deeply wounded me. Every time something like this happened, it was with someone with whom I had not even told my story. How would they know that those things would either silence me or hurt me, if they weren't influenced by the Enemy who does observe us and knows us. I have seen the words of others as well as my own words get twisted into something different from the time they leave the mouth until they enter the ear.

Third, I believe the Enemy can whisper into our minds after the fact. One good example of this is of a phone conversation I had with someone. My husband walked in the door and I recounted the conversation to him. But overnight I replayed the conversation in my head until I was angry. The next morning I was talking to my husband about the call again and I said something a little different than I had told him the night before. My husband calmly asked me if the person had actually said that. When I stopped and thought about it, I realized I was no longer was taking their words at face value, I was reading between the lines and was twisting and adding to their words and in doing so was creating a conflict that wasn't there. Maybe it was just me, but maybe it was a spiritual force whispering just enough words and questions to stir the pot in order to divide and separate. 

I'm not looking for demons behind every bush, but I think that because of Jesus victory on the cross that the only power spiritual forces have is in the lies and the half truths they get us to believe. We are called to be image bearers and can reflect the Lord's image through our character, our words, our behavior, and our relationships. So, it makes sense that the Enemy and his cohorts would do all they can to distort the image of our Holy God in these areas. So they stir up strife and division between couples, between parents and their children, between friends, and between church families. They twist our words and color our perceptions of which impacts our response, reactions, and our actions. To stir up strife, all they have to do is get us to believe lies and to see and to hear things differently than they really are.

We don't always recognize the Enemy's activity. After I had healed from depression, I started walking everyday as I prayed and listened to praise music. During one of the walks I became instantly overwhelmed with anxiety and depressed feelings. I remember whispering to the Lord, "I feel like I have just been knocked on my butt." When I walked in my house, the phone was ringing and I picked it up. An older gentleman from church was on the line and said, "Wendy, this is Reuben. I was sitting here doing my quiet time and I know how Satan likes to knock you on your butt, but bigger is He who is in you than he who is in the world." I thanked him and we hung up. He had never called me before and never called me after that. I had never shared with him on a personal level, but this godly man, listening to the Holy Spirit called out of the blue. It wasn't like him to say the word, "butt" to a woman, but God gave him the word I had whispered to Him so I would know it was Him speaking through Ruben. That day I was wrestling with dark forces and didn't realize it and God used Ruben to remind me the victory was already won.

I eventually learned to ask questions to clarify what others meant by their words and that has helped a lot. When thoughts and suspicious are replaying in my mind or I am suddenly overwhelmed with negative feelings and want to lash out or shut down, I ask God to silence every voice in my mind except His and His peace floods my soul. In the midst of conflicts, I remind myself that the person in front of me isn't the real Enemy and ask God to help me see the event, the person, or the interaction through His eyes. Oh, in the heat of a conflict it can definitely feel like my husband or another person has become my enemy. But I need to remember the truth and instead of fighting the person I love, I need to remember to fight for the integrity and health of the relationship. I would be easier if I could just say, "Will the real enemy please stand up." But, that isn't possible. However, I can ask God to silence the Enemy's voice and pray for discernment and wisdom so that I can navigate the conflict in a way that both honors and reflects Him.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

This is Me!

The song, This is Me, has had a big impact on our ministry leaders. We serve women who have been wounded by emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse. Most of the ladies that come to our groups can identify with the messages in the song. They come in to our groups as broken, bruised women, deeply ashamed of the physical and emotional scars they bear. Many believed the only way they could survive was to either run away or to hide their broken parts because they feared no one could really love them as they are. Some of them have heard or even hear now words that are so sharp they cut into the very core of who they were created to be, blanketing them in layers of shame.

No matter what stories they have lived, most of them come into the group apologizing. They  apologize for being inadequate and not giving the "right" answer to questions asked. They apologize for being crazy when the strong emotions they have been stuffing start to surface. They apologize for not being smart enough or pretty enough. They apologize for the personality the Creator gave them because they believe they are too much, too little, or not good enough. Some apologize for the space they take up in group, the amount of words they share, or for not being able to find the perfect words that describe how they feel. Some even apologize for the tears that spill over and stream down their cheeks, believing they don't have a right to grieve the loss of innocence, friendship, and the healthy family of which they each dreamed.

If ladies stick with the group, share their stories, and do their work, we have the honor of witnessing God do mighty works in their hearts, their minds, emotions, and lives. We get to see them find their voices and tell their stories, often for the first time. We get to observe them mustering up the courage to face their broken, bruised parts as they begin to allow God into those areas so He can begin to heal their pain. We get to see them observe how they have responded to their past traumas and watch them begin to replace maladaptive, sometimes sinful ways they had of reacting an protecting their hearts with healthy, more godly ways.

Sadly, some of them still have people in their lives who continue to do harm or who demand they continue to hide their broken parts to make their family or church "look better." Some of them have people who even want them to hide their personalities behind a mask as if God made a mistake when He created them. What people have done and said and what they sometimes still do or say is absolutely wrong. Some of the abusive people change when the ladies confront and put godly boundaries in place, but many more don't. Some of the gals forgive and choose to live mostly separate lives. Others set some strong boundaries and continue to try to engage with those who have the potential to continue to hurt them. Those who continue to engage have to grow enough that they can purpose in their hearts to not let hateful words and actions feed and regrow the shame they have come out of. The have to purpose in their hearts to believe what God says about them and refuse to let others' words or actions define them or shame them. As the song says the words may be bullets striking their skin, but they have a choice on whether or not they will let the shame attached to those bullets sink in.

Many of the ladies have heard harsh words over and over until those words became "truth" to them. Many were broken and bruised by the dark actions of others and those actions themselves carried ugly messages with them, that the ladies began to believe and rehearse. Some of them suffered severe neglect and that neglect had messages that were loud and clear. All the messages they received became "truth" to them and then they too began to reinforce those hurtful things. Because of this, it is hard for them to give up the lies and the shame as the lies feel more real than the truth we see and the truth of God's word.

The ladies become warriors who have to take every single thought captive and replace it with God's truth. As God begins to heal their hearts, they find themselves in spiritual battles on a daily basis because the enemy doesn't want them to find freedom from the shame they've carried for so long. Some of the prettiest women believe they are ugly. Some of the most intelligent women believe they are dumb and inadequate. Some of the most gifted gals believe their lives are not significant and they don't have anything to offer. Some of the most likeable women believe they are unlovable. Even those who have trusted Christ to be their Savior wonder if He is powerful enough to cleanse them from the stain of their abuse.

As the ladies grow, they begin to recognize and replace the shaming messages running through their heads and begin to believe the truth. And just as they begin to experience joy they face something hard and the old messages start replaying like broken records. In group when we listen carefully and watch their body language and facial expressions, we can often see the moment they hear a lie in their head. Some times it is just a flicker, sometimes they speak it out, refute it and move on. However, sometimes we see them play with the lie and begin to hold on to it as if it is more true than Gods' truth and we remind them they have the power to drown out those ugly messages with the God's truth.

Some may hold on to the old messages because they feel familiar like an old pair of comfortable house shoes. As they are gaining freedom, the freedom can feel too risky and too scary. About a year and a half ago one of our sons got a dog from a shelter. Her mother was pregnant with a litter when they were confiscated in a drug bust. They had to keep the mother dog and her puppies until the courts settled everything. So when he picked up Sweet Dee, she had lived in the kennel for fourteen months. The drive home scared her. The house scared her and she sat at his feet instead of exploring it. The big back yard turned her into a trembling hot mess. It took awhile for her to believe that she was loved and safe enough to explore her new world and her new life. It is no different for the women who grew up in unsafe homes and come into our groups. Sometimes they return to the shame because it feels safer than confronting or setting boundaries.

Helping women learn what their true identity is has become my favorite parts of the healing process we take the ladies through. That is because I remember well the words that fed my own toxic shame. Those words were invisible, ugly, fat, stupid, inadequate, dirty, unheard, week, and unlovable. Oh and that toxic shame. It felt like a hot iron searing my heart and my soul. But, praise God, I am not marching to the sound of those ugly words any more. I am now marching to the truth that because of Jesus and what he did for me I can declare that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. That I am chosen and clean. That I am redeemed, reconciled, and restored. That I am gifted and my life has significance. That I am strong and brave. And I no longer apologize for being me. As the song says, "I am  not afraid to be seen. This is who I am meant to be, this is me!"


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

It Will Never be Enough

When I first entered recovery for an eating disorder I was in an anorexic phase, exercising extreme control over every bite of food that passed my lips. I had set a goal for a certain weight and had dropped way below that weight. Yet, every time I weighed, I thought, "Just one more pound." I began to hear this voice in my head when I looked at the scale that said, "It will never be enough!"

There were also times I lost control of my control and binged. I would go in the kitchen and search for the perfect food to satisfy my cravings. Each time it happened I'd eat and eat until I felt stuffed, but I kept eating hoping that something would satisfy the deep heart-hunger. And that voice would whisper ever so quietly, "It will never be enough."

After I joined a recovery group I began to see a common theme running through each person's story. The drinkers thought their next drink would be the drink that satisfied their thirsty hearts. The drug users thought their next hit would be the hit that would finally numb the pain they didn't want to feel. The shoppers thought their next purchase would be the purchase that would let them feel like they were good enough. The workaholics thought the next project would be the project that would calm their fear of failure. The people pleasers thought if they did enough good, the next relationship they had would be the one that filled their empty hearts. The controllers thought that if they could just gain enough control, they could feel safe. Even those who took charge of their health and worked out in the gym ended up thinking another hour there and another muscle built would be enough to calm their fear of getting fat or not being strong enough to stay safe. No matter what our "drug of choice" was, every one of us eventually came to the same conclusion, "It will never be enough!" I began to believe that the voice we heard was the Holy Spirit's. He was trying to wake us up to the fact that in spite of our faith, we were living in bondage to self-destructive sins.

My therapist suggested I look at the temptation to use an eating disorder behavior as an opportunity to turn to God. As a believer, that resonated with me. But when I first tried to turn to God in the face of a temptation, I was overwhelmed by the strength of the temptation. It was then that The Enemy began to mimic the Spirit's voice, speaking lies that hindered my recovery--lies like He won't be enough. He doesn't hear you. He doesn't see you. He doesn't love you enough to help you. You are so weak, He won't give you His strength. He won't really satisfy the longings in your soul. You are so needy, He won't help you this time. You are too much to be loved. You are not good enough to be loved. His love will never be enough."

There were times I walked in victory and experienced joy and there were times I was too hungry, too angry or too anxious, too lonely, and/or too tired to withstand the cravings and gave up early in the spiritual battle I was fighting. After one such failure, I walked into my therapist's office and shrunk down on her couch in shame. At some point I said that I hated the Enemy and she said, "Tell him!" She pulled a chair over and placed it in front of me and said, "Here he is! Talk to him." I don't remember what I said, but I do remember how quietly and timidly I said it. She had me move over and sit in the enemy’s chair and I spoke his familiar words with the same contempt and strength I had heard in my head so often. She had me move back and forth between the chairs. I battled the lies the enemy spoke with the truth. There was something about saying God's truth out loud that empowered me and I began to speak with confidence and authority and the enemy's voice began to grow quiet as I proclaimed God's truth. Then the enemy said, "You're such a failure God, can't love you." I became angry and cried out, "You are wrong! God loves me! There is nothing I can do to lose His love and there is nothing I can do to get Him to love me more. Christ's death proves that!" And there was this dead silence in the room and I knew I didn't need to move back to the chair to speak for the Enemy. We had gotten to the false core belief that I was unloved that was hindering me from turning to God when I needed Him the most. That core belief began to change that day.

Recovery brought God's truth to life for me and the others who attended the recovery group. We began to understand we were fearfully and wonderfully made and the needs we each had were written on our hearts by the Creator Himself. Those needs were originally designed to draw us to Him, and were not proof of our defectiveness. We began to understand that because we were living in a fallen world and had experienced trauma before we understood God and His power, we had begun to try to meet our needs and to protect our hearts in ways that were not godly. We began to understand that temptation didn't mean we were bad and instantly go to feelings of shame. Instead, we began to see them as opportunities to walk with Christ in such a way that His strength was manifested in our weaknesses. We began to accept and understand that we would be dealing with our temptations on a daily basis for the rest of our lives. In the beginning, many of us grieved that, but we soon realized that by walking with Christ and accepting His mercy and strength on a daily basis we got to know Him in ways we never thought we could. We learned that when we called on Him in our struggles, He doesn't roll His eyes and say, "Oh, here you go again." He simply meets us where we are and all we have to do is hold on to the truth until His strength and love sees us through our struggle. The Spirit's whisper, "It will never be enough" has melted into a firm belief that even when I fail to walk in victory, my God is enough! 


Monday, February 26, 2018

A Heart-Mending God

I belong to a ministry that helps form supportive relationships as God is in the process of mending hurting hearts. We get to be image bearers to those hurting in ways that many people never get to be. I love it that the Scriptures are full of biographies of people whose hearts ached with deep longings, who were wounded by the lack of morals in their communities and the evils perpetrated by godless nations, and who didn’t think they were qualified to serve in the capacity to which God called them. Today I will share about some of my favorite women from Scripture whose lives were changed and whose hearts were mended by God.  

There was Sarah who lived with the shame of being a barren woman in the midst of a culture that  worshipped fertility gods. Month after month she lived with the pain of deep longing, only to have her hopes dashed again and again as her "time of the month" made its appearance. Surly she felt defective and believed she was less than the women who bore children. Surly she felt unheard by the gods of stone to which she offered sacrifices and prayers. Surly she found her arms aching and the longing of her heart growing unbearable every time she took food to a family celebrating their newborn.  

And just when her menses ceased and she thought she was finally free to grieve what would never be and move on, her husband told her God had called them out of their pagan culture and made a covenant with him that included a child. That had to seem like a cruel joke to a barren elderly woman, especially when God waited another 13 years to fulfill His promise. But, that thirteen years were not wasted years. They exposed Sarah's doubt, her tendency to do things in her own power, and her character flaws. Then God visited them again, He restated His promise and she laughed in disbelief. What woman wouldn't laugh at the idea of becoming pregnant in her nineties? But, God raised Sarah's body from its state of reproductive deadness and Sarah found herself birthing a man child she named Isaac, which means laughter. Isaac served as a reminder of how God, in His grace, turned her laughter of unbelief into laughter of pure joy.   

Then there was the prostitute Rahab, who lived in the city of Jericho, longing to know the God of the Jews. When the Jewish spies entered Jericho, she hid them and then helped them escape. As they left, she begged them to save her. They told her to hang a scarlet chord in her window and she would be saved through the battle. By faith, Rahab hung that blood-red Chord in her window and she was protected from tumbling walls and soldiers fighting. She was taken back to Israel’s camp. We now know that any woman with the title of Harlot attached to her name has some serious wounds that need mending and God provided her with a husband who loved her in spite of her past and they birthed a baby boy named Boaz who grew to be a godly, caring man.  

Around the same time Naomi was a Jew living in a foreign land with her husband and her two sons. in that place her sons took married foreign women and soon after her husband died. Then both sons died, leaving three grieving widows. Naomi’s grief was compounded by the death of her sons and it turned bitter. She longed to go home, and because Ruth loved she saw past the bitterness and she chose to walk Naomi home. There Ruth found mercy as she gleaned in the fields of Boaz and at her mother-in-law’s suggestion, she went to the threshing floor and laid at Boaz's feet. He treated her with both loving kindness and respect and became a kinsman redeemer to Ruth, taking her, a foreigner, as his wife and they birthed a son named Obed who became the father of Jesse who became the father of David who was in the lineage of Christ. And God continued mending the heart of a young widow and the grandma-shaped hearts of both Rahab and Naomi.    

These three women are in the family line of Jesus by God's design. It was not an accident. That family line is a long line full of broken, sinful, and needy people. I love how God put the prostitute, Rahab, in the line because she trusted Him enough to hang a cord in her window--an act that makes no sense apart from God. I love how the Gentile, Ruth, even in her own pain chose to love a bitter mother-in-law all the way home, trusting the God who holds life and death in His hands for something bigger.

Then there was the woman who met Jesus at a well. She came midday to avoid biting words, judgmental stares, and clicking tongues that came with the scandalous life she was living. He knew she had been publicly declared an unfit wife five times. He knew she was brokenhearted and craved to be loved with a love strong enough to stay. Jesus led her through a spiritual discussion that prepared her heart to receive Him. He gave purpose to her suffering by helping her see that it was Him she really craved. He gave her life purpose by using her--a scandalous woman--to bring salvation to the very community that despised her. Her passion and her willingness to share Him with those judging hearts tells us just how completely God was mending her heart.

Then there was the woman caught in adultery that was thrust at Jesus feet by an angry mob, claiming they caught her in the act of adultery. Just as the man had used her, these men were using her to trap Jesus. But Jesus called them out, telling them that the man who was without sin could cast the first stone at her. Their unrighteousness was glaring in the face of His holiness. Thud after thud could be heard as stones fell to the ground. She was left alone, sitting fearfully at the Savior’s feet as He quietly drew in the sand. After the last man left, he looked up and told her to go and sin no more. She knew that she had looked into the face of Grace and that the only One who had a right to condemn her had chosen to begin mending her shame-riddled heart instead.

I bet women's hearts were mended when Jesus taught men that a woman who could only give two mites performed a more acceptable act of worship, than those who gave out of the abundance of their wealth. I know He mended the heart of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years, who by law had to live isolated from her family and community. Her heart began mending when Jesus called her out for touching the hem of His garment in an unclean state. This gentle confrontation forced her to publicly own the  physical healing she had received, so that she could be fully restored socially and spiritually. Then there was woman who was bold enough to enter a banquet and pour costly ointment on the Savior's feet under the glaring, judgmental stares of those attending. Christ began mending her heart the moment He silenced her critics.      

Oh, The Lion of Judah! He has a tender heart towards hurting women and He moves on our behalf. I don't know about you, but I can trust a God who removed a woman from a pagan culture that deepened her shame to resurrect her dying body so she could give life to a child. I can trust a God who placed broken, hurting women in the lineage of Christ to tell the world they matter. I can trust a God who went out of his way to fill the heart of one very thirsty woman. I can trust a God who healed a woman of the issue that was slowly draining the life out of her. I can trust a God who defended a woman caught in adultery and a woman boldly worshiping with her own tears and oil.  

I can trust a God who left the glories of heaven and rubbed shoulders with sinful, broken people who were just like me. I can trust a Savior who wrestled with God’s will so long and hard He sweat blood and still set His face toward the cross. I can trust a Lamb who bore God's wrath for my sin and gave me His goodness in its place. I can trust a God who not only saved me, but also sealed me with His Spirit and gifted me with spiritual gifts, declaring me to be a valuable part of the body of Christ. I can trust my Abba who calls me His beloved daughters. I can trust a King and who has promised to come again. And I can trust Him to use this wait, however long it be, to expose my brokenness, my tendency to fill my thirst with things that cannot satisfy, and expose and replace lies I believe keep me from fully trusting Him and from living out my true identity. I can trust a God who is mending my heart into a beautiful masterpiece that beats in such a way His love flows freely through it. My God--He is a heart-mending God.   

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Second Class Citizens

When I was a young child, women were limited to certain jobs. When they began to go into jobs that had been dominated by men, they weren't paid as much as men in the same jobs and they didn't climb the corporate ladder as quickly. In college I majored in math and some of the classes I needed were offered through the engineering department. When I took those classes I was often the only female and found the guys didn't appreciate me being there. It was during that time I became acutely aware that people are often partial to others because of race, gender, or socio-economic standing. I think that is one of the reasons I came to love the gospel so much, it is not partial to any people groups. 

In church yesterday we studied Galatians 3:26- Galatians 4:7. I realized even though the Bible was written long ago, it addresses the issues of partiality I recognized in college. The passage says that when we come to Christ by faith, we are found in Him. That means God no longer sees us as people in bondage to sin,  He sees us as Christ! He goes on to say explicitly there is neither Jew nor Greek, which handles the issue of race. This statement was significant because Jews, who were to be a witness to the nations around them, had developed lots of contempt for different people groups like the Samaritans who were of a mixed race. God gave Israel instruction on how to treat strangers who came and lived among them and they didn't always follow his directions. It doesn't matter what ethnicity people are, what culture they grow up in, what borders they are born within, when they come to Christ by faith, they are joint heirs with Him. God does not choose to save us based on the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the culture we grew up portraying. God  doesn't bless one race over another. He blesses simply because He loves. 

Paul went on to say that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. The Jewish law provided a way for people who were poor and unable to provide for themselves by allowing them to indenture themselves with richer people so they didn't starve and could climb out of poverty. That contract was to last a specific amount of time and then it was to end and the people were set free of their obligations. But many masters abused their power and didn't release their servants, causing God tp bring judgment on Israel. What was to be a temporary situation designed to help the poor, became a way for the rich to abuse and take advantage of the poor. I love it that Paul is telling the people in God's economy there no difference between the rich and the poor. The poor are not second class citizens. They, like the rich, are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. They have the same rights, the same privileges, and the same spiritual gifts as richer people do.     

When we come to Christ, He no longer sees us as males or females, which deals with the issue of prejudice based on gender. I know some people believe the Bible is antiquated, but look at what it is saying and think about the time in which it was written. In those days, women did not have legal rights or economic stature. If they were unmarried, they lived with parents. If they were in an abusive marriage or their spouse was unfaithful, they could not get a divorce as that was a "right" only men had. If they were widowed, they were at the mercy of their husband's family members, who may or may not choose to provide or the husband's near kinsmen who may or may not choose to marry them to preserve the dead spouse's  inheritance. In addition, women were restricted to certain areas of the Jewish temple and never worshipped with the men. In the nations around Israel, women were even used and abused in the name of worship to appease false gods, as were children. Father's took young virgin daughters to the temples to be temple prostitutes and offered their babies as sacrifices to appease angry gods. There was an ugly imbalance of power between genders at the time and here Paul tells them that in God's eyes there is no male or female. That doesn't mean we all lose who we were created to be. God creates us. He assigns our gender. He places us in families in the countries of His choosing. I embrace that I was created as a woman and know as a believer I still am one. These verses make it clear that though I was born and raised a girl outside of the Bible belt, I am not a second class member of God's family. I and every other female are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. That means we have the same rights and responsibilities as our Christian brothers. 

I started going to church as a young kid. When I was in fifth or sixth grace I received a letter from the small  church I attended. It told me how much offering I had given and that it cost the church so much money to operate per person and I wasn't giving my share. I was filled with shame and felt like I was a second class person when I went to church because as a 10 year old I didn't make much money. After I got married, we moved to several different locations and became involved in several different churches. I found each church had their own ways of doing things. At one point I was trying to accomplish a task and was told by a woman I hadn't grown up in their church and just didn't understand how things were done. Those words caused those old feelings of inadequacy to resurface. I took her words to heart and tried to ask questions, only to find out later I had offended people, because they assumed my questions were either hidden statements of dissatisfaction for decisions they made or the way they did things.

Every time we moved or switched churches, I found myself feeling defective and inadequate because I didn't know how each new church operated. There were always unwritten rules, traditions, and ways of doing things that defined the culture of that particular church. At times I found it less painful and easier to just plaster a smile on my face and do what I could do to make myself somewhat invisible. That way my words, my questions, and my actions could not offend, wound, or look wrong.

So when I read, "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ." I felt free of those unwritten standards to which I was supposed to live up. When I read, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither, slave nor free, there is no male or female," I realize I was wrong to give other people the power to make me feel like a second class Christian, because there really is no such thing! It doesn't matter how much money our families have when we're growing up or how much we make or don't make now. It doesn't matter in if we grew up in a church family learning how to do church or not. It doesn't matter if we are male or female. We are all joint heirs with Christ and are given spiritual gifts, abilities, and passions to serve and all of us are needed to make the body of Christ function as Christ designed it to function.

Paul also made it clear that even our sin cannot make us second class Christians. He put the title, "The Worst Sinner," on himself. I believe God had him do that so you and I couldn't use it to live defeated because we falsely believe the sin we commit or the sin perpetrated against us makes us second class believers. Instead, we all get to rest and to bask equally in God's grace!

Can you imagine how Paul's messaged rocked the early church? Indentured servants were equal to their masters at church and a master might even have to even sit under a servant who was gifted as a teacher. The poor were just as important in the church as the wealthy were. In God's economy two coins given sacrificially might even be viewed as a more sacrificial, worship-filled act than a someone who gave a thousand coins out of their surplus. And the women who once had limited access to religion were now sitting in the pews with men all because Jesus, Himself, broke the barriers down and allowed women to sit at His feet to both learn and worship. Both men and women could view God as their Abba. I even love it that Jesus called us (women) sons. He is not excluding us or declaring us less than the men as some would have us believe. He is saying, "In my eyes, you are joint heirs with my Son!"   

About thirty years ago, we visited the Church of the Open Door on Easter weekend. Standing at the door talking to the pastor, I saw people of different races entering the church and greeting each other warmly by name. I saw people dressed in blue genes and tee shirts chatting with the people dressed in fancy clothing. I also noticed men and women were respectfully exchanging greetings with each other with heads held high, showing they saw each other as equals and I thought to myself, "This is what heaven will be like!" A good understanding of the gospel helps us realize that in God's family there are no second class citizens. 


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!