Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Shame on You

As a young woman,  I heard so many negative things said about emotions I began to think they were God's little "whoops" as far as to how He created us. I even heard people say painful emotions like anxiety, anger, sadness, and fear were either sin or the result of sin in our lives. This caused me to feel guilty every time I experienced one of them. I believed most people preferred others be thinkers rather than feelers, especially when I heard things like "Don't feel that way," "Just be happy," or "It is sinful for you to be afraid." I was okay with that view until I went into a recovery group for an eating disorder and learned we are prone to "stinking thinking," which ironically impacts our emotions. I soon realized I was ashamed of my emotions and so afraid of feeling them that I subconsciously refused to feel them. I had developed the disorder to numb fear, anxiety, anger, and powerlessness. I spent a two years researching and writing a book about emotions so I could bemore comfortable with them and so I could understand how to use and  manage them in a way that honored God.

I came to believe emotions were given to us as messengers, telling us something about our hearts, our lives, and our relationships. Sometimes the messages are affirming and sometimes they are corrective. For example, grief tells us we care deeply about something or someone. Fear tells us we don't perceive ourselves to be safe. Hurt feelings tell us we need to either address hurtful behaviors in a relationship or adjust our expectations. Guilt tells us we have sinned and need to confess to God and make amends.

Emotions that are shared by two or more people about a common event can create emotional bonds between those involved. It has been said that if we want our families to become close, we should take them camping and pray that everything goes wrong. That camping trip and the common emotions surrounding it will forever bond our families together. It is important to understand that our emotions, like everything else in the world, became skewed during the Fall, and as a result, they are greatly misunderstood, misused, and mismanaged.

One of the most interesting emotions I studied was shame. Shame was originally designed to show us we are less than God and need Him. This carries over into our human relationships as well. Children experience shame when they see parents or older siblings able to do things better than them. For example, when I am at the store I see parents in a hurry who have children in tow. The healthy parents notice their child is having a hard time keeping up and alleviate their frustration and developmental shame by saying, "I am sorry I am rushing you. Lets slow down so you can keep up. Someday your legs will be long enough to walk as fast as me." This developmental shame reminds a child they need their parents. Unhealthy parents will turn normal developmental shame into toxic shame by saying something like, "What is wrong with you? Why can't you keep up?"

When Adam and Eve sinned, shame no longer served to remind us God is God and we are not because Satan whispered his lies into our ears. It became a ferocious, overwhelming, debilitating emotion that is driven by the fear of being exposed and the belief that because of our sin and shortcomings we are not worth redeeming. Healthy shame is associated with conviction, which leads to confession and correction. On the other hand, toxic shame is associated with condemnation, which leaves us feeling disgusted with ourselves. It tells us we are the mistakes we have made, the sins we have sinned, and the failures we have failed. It is the reason so many of us wear "look-good" masks and put on facades to deceive others into believing we are better than we are.

Healthy shame is good. It shows us we need relationships and helps us avoid the worship of self. It also reminds us we have the potential to fail and do harm to ourselves and others. As we acknowledge healthy shame and accept our humanness and need of grace, shame dissolves into God-honoring humility, which enables us to come out of hiding to develop true intimacy with ourselves, others, and God. This happens as we allow ourselves to be fully known and accept the grace we so badly need. It also allows us to recognize and accept the commonality, differences, and limitations we experience as humans.

As believers, we experience godly shame when we sin and do harm. In healthy people, the more harm we've done, the more sharply shame will be experienced. We may find ourselves thinking, "I can't believe that I did that." This discomfort reminds us even in our restored state we're not God. It reminds us that mistakes and sin are a part of our human experience. It reminds us to separate our flawed behavior from who we are in Christ. It reminds us that we are in need of the Savior's continual grace. It also serves as a deterrent to repeating the same sins over and over, (Chip Dodd, Voices of the Heart)

A healthy understanding of shame allows us to live with two opposing truths at the same time. The first truth is that we are created in the image of God and in that truth we find dignity. The second truth is that we experience shame because we are depraved and that shame is relieved when we turn to Jesus for our redemption and worth. Shame turns toxic when we permit Satan to attack our dignity by buying into the lie that we are hopelessly flawed, having no hope of redemption. (Dan Allender) We wills stay in toxic shame until we believe we still have the propensity to bear his image. Because shame is painful, many continue to deny its presence, numb it, or keep wearing look-good masks. This is because we believe the lies that we are too defective and too bad to receive God's grace.

It is normal to feel embarrassment regret, sorrow or guilt when we have done something wrong. But it crosses into toxic shame when the shame is way over the top for the offense committed. It is toxic when we can't shake the feeling that we have done something unforgivably wrong, but can't figure out what it is. It is toxic when we are feeling repulsed by ourselves and are sick and tired of being us. It is toxic when we feel deep shame for small infractions, mistakes, lapses of judgment, blunders, oversights, slips of the tongue, lack of knowledge or capability, for things for which we are not responsible, or for the weaknesses we have.

Some who have experienced trauma and abuse have, at the very core of their being, deep toxic shame. Everything they experience in the present, every thought they think, and every emotion they experience is experienced through that shame. Because shame can be attached to our trauma and because it is in itself a shameful topic, we often don't acknowledge it or do the work necessary to be set free from it. We can be sitting in church, smiling, serving, and praising God and still believe in our heart of hearts that we are second class citizens who don't matter to God.

Shame, in its toxic state, keeps us from the relationships for which we were created. It causes us to hide from God. We may go to church, but we struggle secretly with sin too powerful to overcome alone. We hide the sin and pretend its not there. We keep our distance from others so they can't see it. To overcome this sin, we must realize there is healing in the confession of our sin to one another and to God. To face this shame, we need to realize it will intensify at first and then will dissipate as we experience Grace.

In addition, toxic shame causes us to hide the questions we have concerning His sovereignty over hard things like abuse, natural disasters, violent crimes, and unmet dreams. It also causes us to hide the emotions we feel rather than listening to them and resolving them with the Lord's help. Finally, toxic shame keeps us from praying, especially when we don't feel like we have the right to ask Him for something.

Toxic shame can cause a strain in the relationship we have with ourselves. Abuse caused me to hate myself so much that I continuously thought self-depreciating thoughts. I could be listening to a sermon, reading with my children, talking to a student in our youth group, singing a praise song, or on a date with my husband and simultaneously be thinking about how much I hated myself. And the more I hated myself, the more I doubted God's love and the love of others. I even skipped a wedding shower of one of my favorite gals, believing I would keep her from having fun if I went. She later asked me later why I had not attended and I told her why. She explained she had wanted me there because she knew I was the one person who would make it fun for her. I realized then that I didn't see myself as others did and it was time to change.

Toxic shame can also harm our relationships in several ways. First, when we experience toxic shame, we have a tendency to hide from people by withdrawing, by pretending to be something we aren't, or by withholding our hearts from those to which we are closest. Not letting others know the real us leaves us feeling unloved. Another way we respond to the toxic shame is by developing a poor self image. When we do this we are super hard on ourselves so no one will criticize us. This hurts relationships because others fear they will crush us if they are truthful with us and that prevents intimacy from growing. Third, we can become pharisaical and hypercritical of others. This happens when we are full of shame and believe if we point out the faults of others, eyes will be averted away from us and our faults. This creates a unsafe, ungracious atmosphere in relationships, which again keeps intimacy from forming.

It is important to know the only way out of shame is to acknowledge it. This is hard because it is an emotion that intensifies as we acknowledge it. We deal with it by identifying whether or not it is beneficial shame or toxic shame. If it is beneficial and caused by sin, the way out of it is to confess it to Jesus and to trusted friends who will commit to praying with us. The fear of being found unworthy goes away in the experience of grace.

If it is toxic shame, it is important to try to identify it source. It could be shaming words spoken over us. It could be legalistic believers hounding us with "should of''s." It could be the messages of abusers who put their shame on us. It could even be that we, ourselves, are doing things that are perpetuating the shame we've experienced. Perhaps we're failing to take our stinky thoughts captive to God's truth. Maybe we're letting others continue to abuse us. Maybe we're avoiding confronting someone who could treat us with the dignity an image bearer deserves. Maybe we need to forgive ourselves for sin already confessed or trust that the relationships that expose our shame have the potential to heal it.

If we are stuck in shame, we need to figure out if we are holding on to it for a reason. It could be that holding on to it allows us to avoid taking risks in our relationships so we don't have to face the fear of rejections. It could be that holding on to shame gives us an excuse to not try something new so we don't have to face our fear of failure. It could be that we are using shame to avoid asking for what we need in our relationships, because vulnerability scares us. It could be that it allows us to be lazy in our relationships rather, avoiding the hard work of growing them. It could be that shame is simply more familiar than humility and easier to bear than the pain of acknowledging our inadequacies. To overcome toxic shame we have to be willing to face it, feel it, and find the roots of it.

In closing, one of the most significant ways to abolish toxic shame is to grab ahold of the truth that God loves us with an eternal, sacrificial, indescribable, and irrevocable love that doesn't depend on our performance. His love flows out of the very essence of His being and is freely and lavishly given to His children. The truth is that, as believers, we are given purpose, significance, power, strength, mercy , and grace. God has removed our sin and the shame of being depraved through the cross. May we never forget that Jesus died to silence those pain-inflicting words, "Shame on you!"

Friday, January 4, 2019

When Faith Confronts What we Believe about Pain

When I was growing up, televangelism had just become popular and many TV programs promised health and wealth in exchange for obedience and pledges of money. This prompted me, as a baby Christian, to begin to barter with God, literally saying things like, "I will do this, if you will do that." The "this" varied--it might be things like tithing, never missing church, or telling friends about Jesus. Ironically the things I often promised God were things He had already instructed us to do. The "that" also varied. It might be healing I wanted for someone, a job I interviewed for, or the provisions we needed to pay for schooling. The things I asked for weren't bad things, but the way I asked for them was essentially asking God to prove His existence and love to me over and over again. As I grew in my faith, I began to do things simply because I loved Him, not to gain His benefits. 

I also remember televangelists saying if one had a problem, all they had to do was come to Jesus and He would fix it. Many even gave the impression the abundant life was life without physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. At first, I bought into that lie only to end up obsessively looking for hidden sin that caused my problems. I lost sleep as I replayed each day over in my head, examining every word spoken and every action taken that might have been sinful. Every trial that presented itself and every temptation I faced were proof I had messed up in some unknown way. I even began to think others' unkind words or hurtful actions indicated unknown darkness in me. The lies I had accepted as truth had lead to some pretty stinking thinking.

As I spent more time in the Word, I realized God never promised us a picture-perfect, painless, or sorrow-free life. The author of Hebrews told us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." These verses and many others make it clear that the Christian life is not trouble-free. Pastor Brent Van Elswyk recently shared in a sermon that the original word for race implies struggles, pain, and suffering. It is the word from which we derived our English word "agony." I love that because it is more inline with what we can see from Eden on.

Abel's race included offering a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's. But it also resulted in Cain going into a jealous rage and striking Him dead. And, his faith that caused him to do things God's way is still speaking to us this day.

Noah's race included being born at a time when every thought and intention of man was evil. It included years of reverent fear that motivated him to build a giant ark on a bone dry desert to save his household from an impending flood. It included the knowledge that his obedient faith would ultimately condemned the world and that included people he knew. And his faith that saw God as Savior is still speaking to us this day.

Sarah's race included years of infertility while living in the midst of a culture that worshipped fertility gods. It included living with a fearful husband who put her in compromising situations to save his own skin. It included trying to help God fulfill His promise and the messiness of giving her servant to her man to bear him children she could not bear. It included long waits between the giving of God's covenant and its fulfillment in the form of the little one named "Laughter." And her faith that matured beyond her doubts and allowed her to see Jehovah as God of life is still speaking to us today.

Jacob's race included his deceitfulness and the resulting shame and consequences. It included a dishonest father-in-law who substituted the bride of his choosing with her less desirable sister. It included the conflict between two wives who continuously competed for his affection. It included the long trek home with a large family in tow to meet a brother who may or may not kill him. It included a long night of wrestling with the Lord and His sovereign plans that resulted in him walking the rest of his race with a limp. It included the humbling that comes with repentance and seeking forgiveness. And his faith that is balm to all who have stepped out of God's will for a season is still speaking to us today. 

Joseph's race included being sold by his brothers, being falsely accused by a woman, and being cast into prison and forgotten there. It also included coming face to face with those who had betrayed him and having to face the painful grief he had buried deep. It included having to struggle through the practical side of forgiveness. It included having to make the decision to help the very brothers who had hurt him so much. His faith that said, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good," is still speaking to every wounded heart today.  

Moses's race included a lonely ride in a river as a tiny baby that resulted in him being raised by an Egyptian princess. It included being called to lead a nation of stiff-necked people out of Egypt. It included a steady diet of manna and a dry walk through a riverbed with waters heaped high on either side. It included forty years of wandering because others did not believe and obey God. His race included harsh, unwarranted criticism by the very people God was using him to rescue. His faith that shows us how to persevere when the race gets tough is still speaking to us today.

Daniel and his friends had races that included being taken captive and carried to a foreign land. It included having their identity changed by their captors who trained them to be leaders in their new land. Daniel's faithfulness landed him a night in a lions' den and his friends' faith landed them in a blazing-hot furnace. They didn't enter these races knowing the results we know, but they did enter them knowing in Whom they believed. Their faith that took them through their trials is still speaking to us today.

And there were others who ran similar races that resulted in their deaths. Because they faced death in faith, their deaths were not in vain. Their faith that says I am willing to die because I believe in God speaks just as loudly as those who believed and lived. In fact, their dying faith is still speaking volumes to us today, especially to those of us who know death is imminent.

Even the disciples who walked and rubbed shoulders with Jesus ran hard races. Many lost their lives. Many were disowned by families they loved. Many suffered under brutal persecution. Many were run out of the villages they came to evangelize. Paul, in his second epistle to the Corinthians tells us he endured countless beatings, hard labor, being stoned, being shipwrecked three times, and being adrift at sea for a day and a night. He tells us on his frequent journeys he was in danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, Gentiles, city dwellers, wildlife, exposure, and people posing as believers. He also endured poverty, got little sleep, and was often hungry, thirsty, and cold. He endured anxiety as he felt burdened for all the churches he had started. He suffered under an affliction that he called a thorn in his side. And his faith that kept him going is still speaking to us who are at a place that it takes great effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

As Pastor Brent put it, the diagnoses just received, men's struggles with pornography, the addictions with which we struggle, the broken marriages we want fixed, the struggles we have with "extra-grace-required" people, the besetting sin that leaves us shrouded in shame, the abuses we experienced in the past that still impact us in the present, the chronic illnesses that leave us exhausted and dealing with constant pain, the besetting sin that draws us into toxic shame, the memories of bloody wars served in, and the grief experienced over the loss of dreams, things, health, and loved ones are the races we have been called to run. As Pastor Brent's said, "Welcome to the race!"

As believers, we need to understand how we see the Christian life will determine how we run the race set before us. Satan wants us to believe hard races prove God has forgotten us, has turned his back on our suffering, or simply doesn't care about us. But the Word tells us God is a God who sees, a God who hears our cries, and a God who understands our pain. We know this because Jesus left glory to take on flesh to endure rejection, hatred, being misunderstood, being called crazy, being accused of being demon possessed, being arrested, being betrayed, being deserted by friends, being beaten beyond recognition, being mocked, being spat upon, being stripped, being crowned with thorns, and being nailed to a cross. His race included having the weight of all of our sin placed on His shoulders. It included experiencing the wrath of God we deserved for us. God never promised us an easy life, but He did promise to never leave us and forsake us.

It is important to understand the pain we experience is a tool in the hands of a loving God who desires to strengthen faith and mold character. We often respond by complaining about the unfairness of the race we're running or about our God or we complain to Him, What might be different if we choose to trust God and look at the race as an opportunity for God to do His perfect work in us. Our Pastor encouraged us to remember suffering came through sin, it is not the work of God! Our faith grows when we stand firm on His promises--promises like He will work all things for our good, He will never leave us or forsake us, and the hard we live is being used by Him to move us to spiritual maturity. God desires us to confront our pain with faith because it will give us the opportunity to see God's faithfulness and allow Him to weed out sin and help our unbelief. When pain is met by faith, God is able to complete His perfect work in us and prepare us for the eternal weight of glory, which will far outshines the painfulness of the races we are running. The bottom line is that you and I grow the most when our faith confronts what we tend to believe about pain.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Living in Desperate Places

One of our pastors recently preached on John 4:46-54. This is an account of an official who was so desperate to save his son's life that he walked a marathon to beg Jesus to come and heal him. Pastor Matt described the man as being in a desperate place--we all know that place. It is where life, as we know it, has been turned upside down and we found ourselves at the end of the proverbial rope, feeling powerless and unsteady. It is that place that we know only God can help us. As I listened to the sermon, I thought about a few of the desperate places I've been in that were similar to this man's.

One of the desperate places I experienced occurred the day I turned ten years old. My family was planning on celebrating my birthday, but an unexpected phone call radically changed our plans. My mom's aunt had had a serious stroke and was in intensive care in another town. Our celebration turned into several intense weeks as we traveled most evenings to the hospital she was in. Because they did not let children visit patients, my brother, sister, and I either sat in the car or in the lobby waiting while my parents and grandmother visited my aunt and uncle. The first night we went, my uncle came downstairs to visit with us kids and he cried. It was the first time I had seen him cry and his emotional pain scared me. And each time the phone rang at our house, my mom feared the worst and ran to answer it, choking back sobs before she knew who was calling.

I now know I experienced powerlessness as I watched the adults ride an emotional roller coaster that was full of ups and downs and scary turns. As a ten year old, I couldn't do anything to make my aunt get well and I couldn't do anything to take the pain away the adults were experiencing. All I could do was pray the simple prayers of a ten-year-old heart. I don't remember the prayers I prayed, but I do remember wanting her well and for things to be like they were before she got sick. I also remember desperately wanting God. I remember peace flowing through me as He met me in the fear of death, the fear of possible loss, the anxiety of seeing my caretakers hurting, and in my admitting I didn't know what to do.

The second desperate place that came to mind was when our son had an ATV accident. I met him at the hospital and we were told his collar bone was broken in several places. He had told the triage nurse he felt like he was bleeding inside and she noted it in his chart, but the ER doctor dismissed it as radiating pain from his collar bone. They sent us home and several days later he came out of his room an ashen gray. This time the ER doctor discovered his spleen had ruptured and his belly had filled with blood. When they wheeled him away, we assured him we would see him when he woke up, secretly fearing the worst. I was desperate and knew there was nothing I could do to guarantee the outcome I wanted. I was drawn to God and afraid of Him at the same time. I knew He had the power to heal him but in HIs sovereignty He also had the right not to. I was too tied up in knots too pray eloquent prayers, but felt His presence growing bigger, ever reminding me He was with us. There were complications and he remained in ICU for 12 days and the hospital floor for another 4. I left to shower and walk during the nurses' shift changes. In the shower tears flowed freely and on walks the prayers flowed directly from my heart to God's. I knew God was near.

The third desperate place that came to mind was when my daughter-in-law was put in the hospital on bed rest during her pregnancy. She and my son were on the other side of the country, making daily decisions that no parents should ever have to make to get their child here safely. As my son kept me posted, I felt the same feelings of powerlessness I had felt as a child. All I could do was listen and tell him I was available to him anytime he needed me. I daily poured out my heart to God, telling Him everything I longed for in regard to my kids and their daughter. And God met me there in the middle of passionate prayers. We were at the beach when my son called with the news that they had no more choices left, but to deliver our granddaughter early. She was three months a head of schedule and a very sick little baby. Our son's voice was so solemn as he gave us the news. My heart ached for them and I stayed up all night praying for them as a family, asking God to intervene and to let her live. Our son called back the next morning and said the x-rays that morning showed no sign of the infection that was there the night before. There was hope even though the next couple of months were critical for her. But our little granddaughter held on and was soon thriving and her parents found the strength to survive the ups and down of preemie life.

There have been several other desperate places for me. I could recount them, but for now they are not as important as the lessons I learned from them. I learned that God can always be found in desperate places, but to find Him I had to choose to lean into Him through radically honest prayers. I learned that desperate places have been the fertile soil for my faith to grow exponentially as those places brought me face to face with what I believe about myself and what I believe about my God. I learned that there is a very real Enemy and if I don't continuously pray, he preys on me, trying to convince me that desperate places are proof that God stopped loving me. I learned that deep intimacy with God happened as I leaned into Him in the hard, praising Him for who He is and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do in the future. I learned that my faith was purified in the hard as it brought me face to face with my limitations against the backdrop of His pure character and His powerful attributes, essentially reminding me He is God and I am not. I learned desperate places purify my heart as I have to decided if I really want Jesus or if I just want His benefits. I learned desperate places expose my tendency to make idols out of the things I desperately want and that idolatry is broken when I am put in a place that I have to give the desires of my heart to the Lord.

As I sat listening to the sermon, many people came to mind--people who have experienced desperate places in the past--people who stood over child sized coffins weeping, people who dealt with cancer in that came in its ugliest forms, people who suffered through horrendous abuses whose cries went unheard, people whose lives were turned upside down by someone's decision to drink and drive, people who watched their hometowns burn to the ground, people who watched homes being swept away by floods, and people who were suddenly laid off, wondering how they could feed their families. I wondered what lessons they learned about themselves and God. I wondered how they survived their desperate places on a daily basis and how their faith grew.

I thought of people who are currently living long in desperate places--people living with debilitating pain of chronic illnesses no one can see, people watching as their loved ones’ minds slip away, others watching loved ones with sharp minds whose bodies begin to cease functioning, those living with infertility and unfulfilled longings, displaced people who are beginning the long process of rebuilding, and those who suffer in the aftermath of mass shootings with PTSD and flashbacks they cannot control.

I also thought of those who will find themselves in desperate places this next year. Maybe they will be parents who will get that call from their soldier's commander because he won't be coming home because they sacrificed their life on the battle field. Maybe it will be the woman whose doctor calls to say her test is positive and the prognosis is serious. Maybe it will be the parents of a college student receiving news that their student has been missing for several days. Maybe it will be the business man whose auditor will tell him that someone swindled so much money from his company that bankruptcy is imminent. Maybe it will be the couple whose marriage begins to crumble under the weight of betrayal, untreated mental illness, or self destructive addictions.

I wonder, will they lean into Jesus or will they run from the very One who wants to minister to their heart? Will they see His infinite goodness or will they believe the lies the enemy speaks as he tries to destroy their faith and harden their tender hearts? I am praying for them because I know that as much as I care, we have a Savior that cares infinitely more who is longing to reveal Himself more fully to them. I know He is seeking to instill in them a hope big enough to allow them to fully live in the desperate places.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Statisfying our Unquenchable Thirst

When my brother, sister, and I were young, we often traveled with my parents, grandmother, and great aunt. On one trip we found ourselves very thirsty, but it wasn't time to make the scheduled stop. My little sister was the one who announced that she was thirsty. My great aunt dug through her purse and handed each of us kids chewing gum, hoping that would alleviate our thirst until we stopped. But, it started raining and all those drops of water constantly reminded us of the water we craved, but could not have. My sister reminded my parents that she was still thirsty, only to have my mom tell her to chew her gum to which she responded, "Well, now my gum is thirsty, too!" 

That story often comes to mind when I read John 4. In this chapter, Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Samaria when they stopped by a well to rest. Jews usually avoided this region, because they believed contact with the Samaritans would defile them. The disciples left the Lord sitting by Jacob's well to go get food. As Jesus was sitting there, a Samaritan woman approached the well. At that time, it was customary for people to get water early in the morning or late in the evening when the temperatures was cool, but she came at noon, carrying her water pot on drooping shoulders. Even from a distance, Jesus also noticed her eyes were cast-down, there was no spring in her step, and no expressions on her face. He knew she came to the well when no one else was there. He knew she came at this time to avoid disapproving looks, clicking tongues, snickers, and biting comments she experienced in her community. 

As she approached the well, she was surprised by Christ's presence. As she began to draw water from the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. Surprised that he spoke to her, she asked Him why He, being a Jew, was speaking to her a Samaritan and a woman at that. Glancing at the well, He told her that if she knew who He was, she would have asked Him for a drink of living water. She was puzzled by his comment. To her living water meant fresh pure water that was fit for drinking. He spoke to her again, asking her to her to bring her husband to see Him. She squirmed under His gaze and said she did not have a husband. He smiled ever so slightly at her discomfort, knowing her statement was half true. He caught her eye and held her gaze, telling her He knew she had had five husbands and the man she was now living with was not a husband. 

We are not told why she had had five husbands. She could have been widowed five times and the sixth man was hesitant to marry her. Or she could have been divorced five times and in her day, women could not get divorces. That meant that five men had drug her to the center of town and declared her an unfit wife. Regardless, He understood that with each death or each divorce her longing to be loved grew unbearable. If she had been divorced, the feelings of rejection and feelings of failure in fulfilling the role she was born to fulfill would also have grown. We aren’t told why she was not married to the sixth man. It could have been that she was trying save herself the public humiliation of another divorce or maybe he was using her for his pleasure and she allowed it because she needed someone to provide for her physical needs. It would have been lonely for her to live with someone who didn't love her. 

Christ knew that an unquenchable thirst had grown deep inside of her--a thirst to be fully known and deeply loved. She had a desperate need for someone to see the ugly parts of her heart and not walk away. She needed someone to care enough to instill in her the hope that she could become the woman God designed her to be. As she listened, she recognized Him, not just as a Jew, but also as a prophet and asked Him where people should go to worship. Even though, she was dodging the personal issues Christ exposed, He answered her question. It was then that she became aware that she was talking to the Messiah. He knew she had been rejected repeatedly and had a boat load of sin, both of which instilled in her deep shame. Yet, He stayed. Yet, He loved her! And He was different from the men she knew. His love was pure. It didn't con to take from her or to use her. He came to give love to her, forever changing her from a vessel of dishonor to a vessel of honor.

Jesus, just like the lady at the well, was acquainted with both grief and rejection. He was cast out of the synagogues when He began to teach. He was the object of gossip. While his neighbor's questioned His heritage, His brothers questioned His sanity and the religious leaders accused Him of being possessed by a demon. His own disciples would desert Him, His countrymen would chose the release of a murder over His, and His heavenly Father would pour His wrath on Him for sin He didn't commit. After she understood who He was, she went to her community and told everyone He knew her and was the Messiah. 

The meeting between Jesus and the woman was not a chance meeting, it was a divine appoint scheduled by God. He went through Samaria to meet her needs by offering her salvation. He did this because He understood the pain of being rejected and having needs clamoring to be met. It is comforting to know Christ sought her out to expose and heal her pain. Just as He understood her pain, He understands ours. While He hates our sin, He understands unmet needs can become so painful we look for quick fixes--fixes that were never meant to satisfy the excruciating thirst we experience. He understands we try to satisfy our thirst with things--things like friends spouses, babies, education, jobs, notoriety, wealth, popularity, alcohol, and a host of other things. These things are not evil things, but they can become wells we have hewn to satisfy thirst. But the problem with these wells is that they are dry and not meant to fill the thirst written on our heart for our Creator. And these wells, they can become idols we worship if we think these things will fill lonely hearts, erase shame and guilt we feel, and give us joy enough to heal the constant aching of hearts broken by sin. 

There is not a human alive, that isn't experiencing soul thirst and trying to fill the thirst with something other than the Lord. You and I don't need another spouse, a child, a different job, more friends, more money, or substances to abuse; we need a deep connection with the Creator who can satisfy this soul thirst. We can share our longing to be known and loved with Him, knowing He will meet us there. We can let Him see the darkest parts of us and know He won't leave. We can confess the shame-causing sin, knowing He forgives and continues His transformative work in us. 

He is the One who can satisfy the thirst we, ourselves, cannot quench. The Samaritan woman could trust the God who traveled through Samaria to meet her and we can trust the God who left the glories of heaven to rub shoulders with us as sinful and broken as we are. We can trust the Savior who wrestled with God’s will until He sweat blood, still finding courage and the will to set His face toward the cross. We can trust the Lamb who bore God's wrath for our sin to give us His goodness in its place. We can trust a God who not only saves, but seals us with His own Spirit. We can trust a God who gives spiritual gifts, declaring us a valuable part of the body. We can trust a King who promised to come again to use this period of waiting to expose our brokenness and our tendency to fill thirst with things that cannot satisfy. During this season we would be wise to remember it is a Holy celebration of a Savior who is in the business of satisfying our unquenchable thirst.  

Monday, December 3, 2018

This is War!

We sang This is War, by Dustin Kensrue in church this week. I had never heard the song before and as we started singing the first stanza, I wondered why we were singing it during the Christmas season. The beginning, beautiful as it is, sounded like anything but a Christmas song. 

          This is war like you ain't seen.
          This winter's long, it's cold and mean.
With hangdog hearts we stood condemned.
But the tide turns at Bethlehem.

Oh, the last line of that stanza grabbed my heart and turned it toward Christmas. It introduced what was meant by the words, "This is war." The next stanzas explain it's classification as a Christmas song: 
This is war and born tonight,
The Word as flesh, The Lord of Light,
The Son of God, the low-born King;
Who demons fear, of whom angels sing. 

This is war on sin and death;
The dark will take its final breath.
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans: 
The mystery of God as man. 

As we sang, I began to think about God's story. The war on sin and death was declared long before the baby Jesus was born. It was declared in Eden when God came to Adam and Eve after they sinned. I've always heard the consequences God gave the couple and the Serpent referred to as curses. But what a different tone the story takes when we read it as a declaration of war against sin and death. 

It was a war that began long ago in the heavenly realm when Satan rebelled against God. It was a war man was unwittingly drawn into as the couple listened to the Serpent's voice. It was a war that was won in the mystery of God as man. It is a war that is still being played out in our lives every single day as the enemy continues to try to thwart God's plan. The Christmas story is important because without the little Babe, we would not have had a Kinsman Redeemer who laid down His life to bear God's wrath for our sin. I think there is a whole lot more to the war than this song states. 
 
It is not only a war on sin, it is a war on our inborn tendencies to do wrong, to become enslaved to sin, to go our own way, and to put our will and our fleshly desires above our Creator's. The war is won for each of us as we humble ourselves, recognizing our depravity against the backdrop of God's holiness. It is won as we come to the end of ourselves and come to Jesus and His finished work by faith. It is won because we have the ability in Christ to refuse to submit to the yoke of slavery again. 

It is a war on death. When we come to Christ by faith, our dead spirits are raised to life and we are given the capacity to see and understand great spiritual truths and given the chance to relate to our God freely. And when He comes back, those who are His will not see death and those who have died in the faith will be raised to life again. Death no longer has a sting for the believer. 

It is a war on the Evil One and his dark forces. Colossians 2:15 tells us, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them." One of the youth pastors I served under used to say, The only power the enemy has is a lie." We can choose not to believe the lie. 

It is a war on our unhealed wounds. I serve wounded women who often come to us feeling angry and abandoned by God. I witness them come to trust Him when they meditate on Isaiah 53. Jesus was despised and rejected as many of them have been. The God-man experienced sorrow and grief just like they have. He was one from whom men hid their faces, which speaks to those who cried for help and had people turn their faces away, pretending not to hear. Just as some have carried the grief and sorrows of their families, they are touched when they realize Jesus has carried theirs. Just as people have viewed them as stricken and smitten by God because of the abuses they endured, they realize Jesus understands as people of Jesus day viewed him the same way. He was pierced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, misjudged, and chastised as He paid for sin He didn't commit. By coming to understand the depth of the wounding of the Savior who loves them, they realize suffering can serve noble purposes and they come to trust Him with the deep wounds only He can heal. They realize He is their in their suffering and they hold on to the truth that suffering is only for a season.  

It is a war on the powerlessness we feel as a result of our weaknesses. We are strengthened with  power through His Spirit that resides in our inner being (Eph. 2:15 and Col. 1:11). Because of this, the mom who sits beside her suffering child's hospital bed can live with gratitude and hope. Because of this, the person living with chronic pain can bless the lives of those who come to minister to her. Because of this, the woman who just buried her husband can rise up out of her bed of grief and love her little ones well. Because of this, those who have suffered multiple trauma's at the hands of abusers and shooters can still rise up and say, "I will not live in fear." 

It is a war on broken relationships as He is our peace and has made us one by breaking down dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14). Because of this, couples can thrive as they allow God to repair their broken marriages. Friendships can endure the thoughtless actions and hurtful words of people still learning to love well. Women can forgive and move past horrendous betrayals of fathers who groomed them to abuse and then cast the shame of their actions on them. And, people of all races can come together, casting aside their preconceived prejudices to love one another well as they lift  voices in one accord to worship the King.   

It is a war on alienation from God. For as we are rooted and grounded in love, we are adopted into His family and are given the strength to comprehend the richness of Christ's love and to be filled with the fullness of God. If our roots go deep, there is nothing that can come against us that will cause us to doubt the Lord's love. (Gal. 4:5, Eph. 1:5, Eph. 2:18-19).

It is a war on anxiousness for the Lord is ever near. We now have direct access to Him through prayer and can cast all of our cares on Him, knowing He cares for us and that He is the source of the peace that surpasses understanding. That is how President Bush could tell his family he did not fear death. That is why first responders and soldiers can run into the face of danger as the rest of us flee. That is why in this unstable world that is marred by sin, catastrophic natural disasters, and horrible crime, we can still lay down and sleep a peaceful sleep. 

It is a war on shame--that toxic emotion, telling us we are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough and too much to be truly loved. It is that emotion that comes from unresolved guilt and the lies the enemy whispers in the aftermath of a failure or a trauma. Because of the work of Jesus, the Lord clothes us with garments of salvation: and He covers us our unrighteousness with robes of righteousness. Instead of shame we receive His blessing. Instead of dishonor He gives us everlasting joy. 

The war declared in Eden had promises of redemption and victory strewn throughout the Old Testament. The war commenced when Mary carried and birthed the baby who was God incarnate. The war was ultimately won in Gethsemane when Jesus set His will to lay down His life on the cross that the Father had set before Him. 

Oh, we struggle and often live as if the battle has not been won as we are waiting for Jesus to return and bind the Enemy. As we wait the enemy and his cohorts relentlessly whisper insidious lies about God, our loved ones, and us in our ears. We must remember the only power they have is in their lies and we can take their power away by destroying arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God and by taking every thought captive to God's truth as we set our wills to obey Christ. 

You and I can walk in the Lord's victory when we remember God is ever present and knows just what it takes for us to be transformed into the people He created us to be. We walk in His victory as we remember we are never alone, never helpless, never hopeless, and never invisible. For, we are His beloved children, bought with His blood, set free by faith in Him, sealed by the Spirit, and given truth and power to navigate this life until He returns. The war. The war has been won.   
  



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Blame Game

The blame game has its roots firmly planted in Eden. After Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit forbidden by the Creator, they covered their nakedness and hid themselves from the presence of the Lord. The Creator found them and asked them if they had eaten from the fruit. Adam responded by blaming Eve first and then God, reminding God that He had given him the woman. Eve blamed the Serpent who had deceived her. I used to think their blaming was simply an attempt to avoid owning their sin and that is partly true. But, I also think blaming was an attempt to discharge the uncomfortable feelings they were experiencing for the first time as a result of their sin.

Prior to this day there had only been one way in which the couple could sin and that was by choosing to eat the fruit God had forbidden. As long as they did not eat it, they fully enjoyed each other and lived naked and unashamed. They also enjoyed interacting with the Lord regularly. Immediately after eating the fruit, they were overwhelmed with shame as revealed by their desire to cover themselves. They were no longer comfortable in their own skins and no longer free to be open with each other. Along with the shame they experienced, they became fearful as revealed by their choice to hide from the One who had created them.

Shame, guilt and fear--those uncomfortable emotions we all want to avoid. Guilt leaves us with a sinking feeling in our hearts, reminding us of our disobedience, rebellion, and desire to do our own will rather than God's. Shame causes faces to glow hot, heads to drop, eyes to avert, and bodies to slump in an attempt to hide. It comes as we begin to believe we are the choices we've made and wonder if we are not enough and too much at the same time. Guilt and shame so often give way to fear, which can leave us shaken to the core as we believe we will be rejected if we are truly known. Fear can also be born out of a belief that we have lost perceived control--control of what other think about us, control over the relationships we've broken, control over others, and control over our circumstances. Out of the need to dispel these vulnerable emotions, blamers often take on anger, which feels more powerful. And that anger comes out in angry words being vented like a hot volcano spewing lava and that anger births blame.

I have had many interactions with people who have adopted blame as an integral part of their defense mechanisms. They are no longer blaming just to avoid facing their sin, but they are also blaming as a way of coping with all sorts of painful emotions. I have known people who are struggling with depression that hasn't been diagnosed who, in their pain, look for someone or something to pin the anger on.

Some people get stuck in patterns of blaming themselves for everything. This placates their fear of rejection as they believe if someone looks too closely at them or their lives they will walk away. They believe by "beating themselves up" noone else will. This shields them from the discomfort of healthy confrontations, from the fear of rejection, and from the fear of someone else's anger if they were to confront ungodly, unhealthy behaviors hurting them. Sadly, this turns anger inward, resulting in depression and loneliness, which in the long run feels worse. It also keeps people from having mutual relationships in which iron sharpens iron, something we need for both personal growth and the growth of true intimacy.

On the other hand, some practice blaming others. These people often come across as angry and critical as they project their anger outwardly. Sometimes it's global anger in which they are angry at the whole world. Sometimes it is anger projected at God whom they believe hasn't acted on their behalf. Sometimes it is at a people groups, the government, or religious organizations. Sometimes the anger is aimed at a specific person because they hold that person responsible for their happiness or because the person triggers their insecurities or reminds them of something painful they've experienced. Blaming others tends to give someone a feeling of power because they believe if they can find out who is to blame they can fix it. The anger blamers experience can alleviate the discomfort of feeling vulnerable emotions, but can destroy relationships as they lash out at others.

It is important for us, as believers, to understand blaming may make us feel more powerful and in control in the face of pain or the aftermath of sin, but that is a false sense of control. Blaming is the opposite of the accountability to which God has called us. It stops us from leaning into the mistakes we have made and learning from them. Brene Brown says that we gravitate to blame because it is much faster than accountability and I think she is right.

However, for us Christians, accountability is an integral part of the sanctification process. It is a vulnerable process that requires courage, humility, and a lot of time. It includes things like the ownership of one's actions and emotions and that feels risky. It includes the confession of one's sin and hurtful behaviors that have harmed relationships and that feels risky. It includes developing the empathy to hear another's point of view, while giving up the tendency to defend, deflect, or blame and that feels risky. It includes the boldness to share how another's actions have impacted us and to ask for change and that feels risky. It includes forgiving and asking for forgiveness and that feels risky. It includes a committment to do the hard work required for personal grown and change and that feels risky, too. The most important truth to remember is that God took a risk on us when He sent His Son to die in our place for our sin. No one wins when they play the blame game, but we win when we put on humility and lean into God in our failure and our pain, allowing Him to work in our hearts and our lives.      

  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Made for Glory

There are several passages in the Bible that grabbed a hold of my heart and changed the beliefs that ran deep into my soul. This usually happens when I am reading passages with which I am familiar. It seems like the Lord slows me down and causes me to take notice of truths that my heart desperately needs to notice. One such passages was Psalm 139. I had read it over and over. Then one day I was reading it again and felt excitement stirring and goosebumps rising. I began to see things in the passage that radically changed how I viewed myself, my life, and my relationship with my God.

The first things that grabbed a hold of my heart was that I was created by God and intimately known by Him. For years I'd struggled with negative thoughts that caused me to believe I was bad, defective, not good enough, too much, a mistake, a disappointment, and unlovable. Psalm 139:13-15, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret intricately woven in the depths of the earth." If you had asked me who had created me prior to reading these verses that day, I would have said God. But to be honest, I was living as if I believed I was God's mistake. The one in which He said, "Whoops, didn't mean to make her!" These verses refuted lies I had believed for years and told me God, in His infinite wisdom, was in my mother's womb, carefully forming each cell, masterfully stitching them together stitch by stitch.

This means He knew me before I was born! He knew how tall I would be, how many fingers and toes I would have, what color my eyes would be, and that my hair would be mostly straight. He knew what shape my body would take as it grew from a single cell to a grown woman. He even  designed my body to heal itself when it got sick, gave me skin that would regenerate after a knee was scraped, and bones that would calcify and heal after they were broken.

God also designed my brain, knowing that I would be good at math, that I would love music, and that I would grow up wanting to write. He knew what strengths and what weaknesses I would have. He knew what would make me smile, what would make me chuckle out loud, and what would evoke a belly laugh so hard that tears would spill. He knew what would make me frown, what would make me sad, and what would move me to compassion so strong it couldn't be contained. He even knew what would cause such pain that the tears would get stuck deep inside. He knew what would leave me feeling miffed and what would leave me so enraged I would want to scream at the top of my lungs to get someone to understand the depths of frustration I can feel. He knew what would leave me feeling anxious and that snakes could terrify me and leave me screaming ten minutes strait.

Another truth from Psalm 139 that grabbed a hold of my heart is found in verse 16, "...in your book were written, ever one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." This verse tells me God, Himself, penned the story I am living and that my story is to be lived out loud. That includes the highs that leave me feeling exhilarated and the lows that leave me spent and broken. That includes the painful parts when I was sinned against and the journey it took to fully comprehend that Jesus understands that kind of pain as a traumatized Savior and is in the process of fully redeeming it. That also includes sitting in the burning shame of my own sin and the journey it took to see my sin etched in His skin as He faced God's wrath for me, showing me tiny glimpses of the glorious grace that is to be forever mine.

The next truth that grabbed a hold of my heart from this Psalm is that I have never been alone. I was in His thoughts as He was penning my story and then He was with me in my mother's womb from conception on. He was there when I was born, calling me out of the womb by name. This passage says, He knows when I sit down. He knows when I stand up. He can discern the thoughts I have before I, myself,  am fully aware of them. He knows the path I am on and He is acquainted with how I will deal with all that is on that path. He knows every word I have spoken and every word still on the tongue. He goes before me, follows behind me, and keeps His hand on me, holding me steady. There is no where I can go that His beautiful Spirit will not be there. When I climbed mountains, I found Him there. When I felt like I was in the depths of despair, He was there. Were I to travel the oceans there would not be a port in which His presences and glory could not be found. Even my darkest days do not surprise Him, for in His hands the darkness is made light.

Our God created us with His infinite wisdom, preserves us with His mighty power, and loves us with a love that is both sacrificial and incomprehensible. There is no one like Him! We can search the earth and we will never find works that are as beautiful and perfect as His works and you and I are a part of those works! We were made for His glory and can rejoice that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.



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!