Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Bathsheba's Story

The fourth woman in Christ's family line is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah and the daughter of Elam, both of whom were among David's mightiest soldiers. She was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel who was David's chief counselor. Many articles about Bathsheba paint her as a seductress, an adulteress, and a manipulator seeking power for her son, which was what I heard growing up. Other articles, that took into account the role of women in Bathsheba's culture, presented a very different point of view. As I read these, my heart ached for Bathsheba, a victim of both her culture and a king, misusing power and position to rape her. She has been widely mischaracterized by commentators putting on her the blame for the actions of a king, struggling with sin. Yet, she was a woman with incredible strength who rose above horrible circumstances to become a woman of great influence.

Bathsheba's story began in the spring when kings go to battle. King David, however, sent his troops into battle without him. One afternoon he went to his rooftop to walk around and saw a beautiful woman washing herself, according to the purification laws of their time. I had always heard she bathed on the roof top, but there is no where in the text that says that. She could have been bathing near a stream, near a well, in her own courtyard, or on her roof top and would have still been visible from the palace roof. We also don't know how much clothing she had on or didn't have on during the ceremonial bathing as people didn't have private places to bathe at that time. Because of this, they often wore some type of  garment or wrap. She was doing what she needed to do to fulfill the law.

We know from the text the king saw her and lustfully chose to watch her. He could have chosen to turn away or summon one of his wives or concubines to meet his needs, but he didn't. He chose to summon his men and asked who the lady was. His men identified her through references with both her father and her husband, indicating she was a woman of integrity. It could also have been his men's subtle attempt to remind him she was unavailable and related to two of his best soldiers. Yet, David chose to send the men to summon her. When she came, he made the decision to take her and lay with her and she conceived a baby.

Some believe she had a choice in the matter, but there is nothing in the text that indicates she knew why she was being summoned to the palace. Even if she did, as a woman and as a subject in a kingdom, she didn't have the right to tell the king "no." It is also imperative we remember that when Nathan the prophet came to confront David on his actions, he used a lamb--the symbol of innocence--to represent Bathsheba in the allegory.

When Bathsheba realized she was pregnant, she messaged the king, placing herself at the mercy of David and Uriah. She knew her husband could legally take her life if he heard she was pregnant. She also knew she couldn't appeal to the law to protect her because it was the king who has violated her. She had to sit and wait as her future was decided by the choices the king and her husband made.

David chose to call her husband from the battlefield and tried to send him home to Bathsheba, hoping the baby would be passed off as his. But, Uriah, being a loyal soldier, chose defy the king and chose not to go home to his wife while his men were still in the thick of battle. So, David chose to send him to the front lines, ordering his commander to remove all support from him so he would be killed. After Bathsheba's time of grief, David chose to bring her into the palace to be in his haram.

While Bathsheba did not lose her life, she did experience many losses. She was raped by a king, literally losing ownership of bother her body and her life. She lost her husband because the king wanted to cover up his actions. She lost her home when she was placed in David's haram. She even lost the baby they conceived during the rape after he was born. And, all of this loss was because of the king's lust and the king's abuse of power. 

Later Bathsheba conceived several other children, one of whom was Solomon who was promised the throne of David. However, the fulfillment of that promise was endangered by strife that occurred as  David's sons jostled for power. On advice of Nathan, the prophet, Bathsheba approached the elderly, ailing king and informed him that his son Adonijah was plotting to take the kingdom. She reminded him that she and Solomon would be in danger if he didn't act quickly and David crowned Solomon that very day.

The story didn't end there like I originally thought. God took the painful things Bathsheba experienced and brought good out of them by raising Solomon to kingship. This elevated Bathsheba from being one woman out of many in a king's Haram to being the only mom of the king. God also used those circumstances to place her into the family line of Christ. Maybe Bathsheba was placed there to remind us that God has a heart beating passionately for those who have been victimized by powerful people.

I had always thought Bathsheba faded into the background after the encounter with David, but she didn't She remained close to Solomon and had the privilege of crowning him with his wedding crown. She was also given a place of honor as Solomon's advisor and sat on a throne that was placed at his right hand, something unheard of at the time. It would not be surprising that some of the wisdom Solomon penned was passed down to him through Bathsheba. Maybe it was even because of her experiences that he wrote these words in Proverbs 31:8, "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." Maybe she was placed in the family line so victims understand victimization doesn't have to define one's future. For, in Christ, each of us has been given great power and a new heritage.

Maybe she was put in the line of Christ to remind us our God is not limited by the boundaries a society or a church places on women. God alone chooses whom He will use to bring about His perfect will. No man, no government, no church leader will ever be able to thwart that. Maybe Bathsheba was put in the family line so her story would remind women that while their stories may go untold, unnoticed, or be mischaracterized, God can still use them powerfully to usher in His kingdom. He did this in the past. He is doing it now. And, He will do it in the future.

In closing, we all must wrestle long and hard with the fact that King David. whom we have grown up loving as a young shepherd boy who alone was brave enough to slay a Giant, as a loyal friend to Jonathon whose dad was a king with evil intentions, as a mighty warrior who won untold battles, and the "man who chased after God's own heart" was also a man who misused power, who raped a woman, and who orchestrated a murder. Isn't that a good reminder to each one of us that we are all one glance away, one step away from walking into ugly, devastating sin? Isn't It a good reminder that we are a people who are in desperate need of grace? Oh, that we who are in Him would choose to rise above our sinful tendencies and our victimization to live powerful lives that full of integrity--lives that honor the Savior who sacrificed His own life on our behalf.

(For more information: A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba, by Marg Mowczko and "The Junia Project: What You Need to Know About Bathsheba, by Dalaina May.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ruth's Story

The third woman in the lineage of Christ I am studying is Ruth. Her story began with Naomi and Elimelech, who were living in Bethlehem during a time that Israel was under God's discipline. Apart of God's discipline was a severe drought, so they decided to move their family to Moab, initiating a season of grief for Naomi. She grieved the loss of a familiar home, a familiar culture, and extended family. They moved because the rains had ceased, thirsty plants wilted, cows starved, and there family was experiencing hunger they could not fill and thirst they could not quench. They went to a green fertile place in Moab, which was steeped in pagan worship. While there, Naomi's husband died and her two sons married Moabite women, killing her hopes of ever returning home. 

Within ten years in Moab Naomi had buried her husband as well as both of her sons. Her grief became unbearable and she found herself once again longing for home. In her pain, she had come to believe the hand of God had come against her personally. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their families and to their gods so they could remarry. At first, both women protested. But when she reminded them she was too old to bear sons who could become their husbands, Orpah rose to return to her family. But, Ruth stood her ground, refusing to leave Naomi, declaring allegiance to her and to her God. Maybe Ruth believed that by holding on to Naomi she could hold on to the memories of her husband or maybe she had grown to love her and didn't want her to travel the dangerous roads alone. Whatever her reason, Ruth knew she might not be accepted in Judah and that she could possibly live the rest of her life as a widow in the midst of a culture she knew would never accept her. 


The two women arrived in Judah just as the barley and wheat fields was ready to be harvested. When the women in the community recognized Naomi they greeted her fondly, but Naomi asked to be called Mara, which means literally means "bitterly dealt with." I love her honesty and know there have been times I could relate to her feelings and wish I had been that honest with those around me instead of trying to cover up the pain I was feeling.

Ruth soon went to the barley fields to glean what the reapers left. She ended up gleaning in Boaz's fields. When Boaz saw her, he asked about her. Upon hearing she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, he instructed her not to leave his fields and to stay with the women who were working for him. He provided her with water and with food and instructed the workers to pull grain from their bundles and leave it for her to find so she would have ample grain for Naomi and herself. He treated the young foreign widow with the upmost respect and protected her as she gleaned. This was important because a woman in her position was vulnerale to being mistreated or assaulted. 


When Ruth told Naomi about the grace and the kindness Boaz showed her, Naomi realized that her God had not forgotten her. She explained to Ruth Israel's provision for widows through a kinsman redeemer. At Naomi's instruction, Ruth bathed and anointed herself with perfume and went to the threshing floor and uncovered the feet of Boaz and laid there. He awakened and she asked him to be her kinsman redeemer. Even in the darkness of the night with a woman lying at his feet, Boaz integrity was impeccable. He listened to her and treated her with godly respect. He knew there was a closer rleative with the right of redemption, and he wanted to be able to legally take Ruth as his wife. As soon as it was light enough for her to go home safely, he sent her on her way, protecting both her reputation and her purity. He asked for the right to marry her from the relative nearer than he and it was granted. I love Boaz and his heart. He was the son of Rahab (the harlot) and Salmon (the founder of Bethlehem) and they raised him in such a way that he was a compassionate, loving, man of integrity who did everything he could to be loving and to show Ruth honor and favor. 


I love this story because it is an honest account of woman who had suffered a great loss and for a season experienced deep grief. It is also an account of a woman who in spite of the grief she was experiencing was able to rise up and choose to love her bitter mother-in-law well. And it was that love that led Ruth to follow Naomi to Judah and enabled her to leave her own culture and her pagan gods and embrace a new and different culture and the great and mighty Jehovah-Jirah.

Maybe God placed Ruth in the family line of Christ to show us the importance of being tenacious followers of God. Ruth was so tenacious she didn't let Naomi's desire to isolate deter her from walking her to Judah. She didn't let Naomi's bitterness deter her from choosing to love and care for her. She didn't let Naomi's tainted view of God deter her from fully trusting Jehovah to be her God. She was so tenacious that she didn't let Naomi's sadness or her status as a foreign woman deter her from trying to provide for her. 

Maybe God put Ruth in the family line of Jesus to show us God cares for those who are suffering in the aftermath of loss. It doesn't matter whether the losses are people, possessions, the sense of security, one's health, or one's dreams--the pain of loss is very real and our God fully understands it because of the cross. We would do well to remember though our losses cause pain, they are not proof that God doesn't love us. Nor are they proof that He doesn't care about the pain we are experiencing. Just as Ruth's losses were what propelled her from a place of poverty to a place of wealth, our losses have the potential to open up new things in our lives. Ruth's loss also propelled her to be in the place she needed to be to become the great grandmother of King David and to be a part of the family line of Jesus.  

Maybe God put Ruth in Christ lineage to show us how leaning into Jesus in faith during loss can provide us the opportunity to see God work the things that are happening in our lives out for our good and His glory in ways that we can't even imagine. God saw her faith and her heart and He honored it in the sweetest and most inclusive way. What might be the hidden treasures in the darkness we are experiencing right now?  

Maybe God put her in the lineage of Christ to show us that "God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." (Acts 10-34-35) This means He is an inclusive God. He doesn't discriminate on our gender, on what we believed before we came to know Him, on what family we grew up in, on the sin with which we struggle, on the race we were born into, or what country we come from. Jesus' invitation is for whoever will believe on the name of Jesus. He placed Ruth in Jesus' family line to remind us that in His family there are no outsiders and there are no second class citizens.
 
Maybe He put her in the lineage of Christ to show us that we don't need to compromise our integrity to have our needs met. We can trust a God who was willing to die for us to meet our needs on a daily basis. We don't have to manipulate or lie to get what we need. He will provide.

Ruth being in the lineage of Christ reminds us Jesus understands our grief. He understands the pain parents feel standing over the grave of a child lost too soon. He understands the pain a widow feels as she watches her spouse slip into eternity. He understands the grief that comes when a marriage ends and the grief an infertile couple feels every month. He understands the grief of watching houses burn to the ground or floods washing away crops and animals. He understands the loss experienced when a family member is injured and forever changed. 


I can't help but think that there is significant meaning in this story of a Israelite man marrying a Moabite woman being set in Bethlehem, which means "The House of Bread." I can't help think that it taking place just as the barley and wheat are harvested is no coincidence. This would be taking place during the feast of weeks and in Leviticus 23 we see that God had instructed Israel to bring two wave loaves made of flour and baked with leaven to be the first fruits to the Lord. Could the two loaves of bread possibly represent the faithful disciples in both the old and new dispensations? Could they represent the two separate, but now fused races of people who comprise the church--the Jews and the Gentiles? How neat for Ruth to not only be a forerunner of the Savior, but a reminder to every gentile that they, too, have been fully fused into the family line of Jesus. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Rahab's Story

When I was young, I thought the stories in the Bible were about good people. But, I soon discovered God's epic story was full of unexpected characters, one of whom was Rahab, the Harlot. She was a Canaanite, living in Jericho whose residence was imbedded in the city wall right next to the city gate. This made it easy for traveling men to find her and for city dwellers to notice who was frequenting her business. While she was able to hear all sorts of news from travelers who used her services, she was probably scorned by women in her community and probably maltreatment at the hands of the men frequenting her.         

Her story takes place after Moses died and when Joshua sent two spies to Jericho to spy out the Promised Land. When the spies arrived in Jericho, they went to Rahab's house and she was forthright about the state of her city. She told them she knew the Lord God had given Israel the land in which she lived and shared that her city upon hearing how the Lord had given them victory over the Egyptians and the two kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan had become fearful. She also revealed what was in her own heart, "For the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath." She had responded to what she had heard, by believing in Jehovah. 

Someone saw the spies enter Rahab's place and reported it to the king of Jericho. He sent a band of men to her home to get them, but Rahab had taken the spies to the roof and hidden them under drying flax. She told the king's men the spies were not there and sent them on a wild goose chase. Once the band of men were gone, she went up to her roof and boldly asked the spies to deal with her with the same loving kindness she had shown them. She requested that they save her parents, her siblings and their families, and her when they came to take the city. They instructed her to remain silent about their visit, to bring everyone into her home for safety, and to hang a scarlet thread from her window. They promised that as long as she did as these things, they would be faithful to deal kindly with her and her family.  

On the day of battle the doors of the city were shut tight. Instead of coming in with weapons blazing, the Israelites came in quietly and set up camp. Then every morning for six days the men of Israel rose up and marched silently around the city walls. On the seventh day, they arose and marched around the city seven times and then blew trumpets and shouted a warrior's cry. The city walls crumbled--all except for the part of the wall containing Rahab's home. During those seven days, Rahab waited patiently, standing firm in her faith. She waited when she heard the walls of her city crumbling all around her in what had to sound and feel like a holocaust. And, she waited until the Israelites came for her and her family. 

Rahab was taken in by the Israelites. By faith and the mercy shown her, she was given a new start, which resulted in her becoming a wife to Salmon who was the founder of the city of Bethlehem and a mother to Boaz whose story is in the book of Ruth. We know Rahab was a changed woman as her husband was well respected by Israel and her son was a man of impeccable character who showed great kindness as we will see next week. Because of God's redemptions she was the grandmother to a king and was grafted into the lineage of the King of kings. 


Maybe God put Rahab in the Jesus' family line to remind us we don't have to let our past define us. In Christ, we are not victims to what we were, we have the power to make different choices now. In Christ, we can have the boldness of Rahab and become the women God created us to be. We can be mothers and grandmothers who break the bondage of generational sin to raise up godly men and women who do great things for the Kingdom of God. In Christ, we don't have to let our culture and what others say about us limit us. We can boldly ask the impossible of our God who has unlimited power to do above and beyond anything we can think or ask. In Christ, a godless heritage no longer defines us, because God places us in His family, giving us His heritage to call our own.  

Maybe God put Rahab in the family line to remind us of His faithfulness. Each of us has been given knowledge of God. It is written on our hearts at conception. It is written in nature where His splendor is on display for all to see. And, His story is being lived out in the life of every believer like an open book available to be read by unbelievers. When just one person in one community responds to what they know in their heart of hearts, to what they have seen around them, and to the testimonies they have heard, He will mercifully rescue them and set them free from the bondage of their sin. Just as God faithfully led the spies to Rahab, He will faithfully send someone to help those He has called His own.  

Maybe God put Rahab in Christ's family line to remind us our sin does not define us. No matter how bad our sin was, Jesus' love was big enough to reach out to us. His blood spilt on the cross was pure enough to cover even the sin we deem the worst. This means that when we are saved, those ugly labels like dirty, unworthy, addicted, murderer, thief, slutty, adulterer, gluttonous, defective, forgotten, invisible, weak, broken and outcast no longer matter to God. All that matters are the labels that describe who we are in Him--chosen, called, forgiven, accepted, redeemed, reconciled, restored, clean, strong, healed, worthy, gifted, and beloved children of God. 

Maybe God put Rahab in the family line to remind us we have Hesed. This is a legal agreement to cover someone with protection. It is like being under an umbrella in a storm. The umbrella can't stop the rain, but it can protect us from it. It is what Israel experienced in Egypt during the Passover when they painted blood over their doors and were protected from the angel of death. It is what Rahab and her family experienced when she hung a scarlet cord from her window and were kept safe from the walls falling and the battle raging around them. Just as Rahab was safe under Hesed, we are safe under Hesed, fully protected by the blood of Jesus from the wrath of God for sin. 

Maybe God put Rahab in the family line of Jesus to remind us faith is to be exercised by actions not just talk. Rahab was rescued because she exercised faith by hiding, protecting, and leading the spies out. She exercised faith by hanging a scarlet cord in her window, inviting her family in, and remaining in place as she waited on God's timing. Her story reminds us there will be times when life gets rocky and we experience fear. That is when we have the opportunity to exercise faith, not only through words, but through deeds and courageous restraint. We don't have to understand all that is going on, we just have to stand firm in faith, acting out of who God says we are instead of how we feel in the moment. 


Rahab responded to what she heard about Jehovah with faith--faith that resulted in her and her family being saved, in her having a new life in which she became a wife to Salmon the founder of the city of David, and a mother to Boaz the grandfather of David and a forefather of Jesus. May we be a people so touched by Rahab's story that we never forget our God is not a God who rewrites stories, but a God who takes the most sinful, ugly, painful stories and weave them into a glorious redemption story. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tamar's Story

We don't often think about the women who were in Jesus' family line. So, I decided to write about them during this season of Lent. Some of their stories aren't easy to understand because the culture and laws of their day were so different than ours. However, their stories can still help us understand the depth of the Lord's compassion towards women and the graces He extended to those who are broken and bruised by life's events and circumstances. This week we are looking at Tamar whose story is found in Genesis 38.

Her story begins with Judah who had taken a Canaanite woman's daughter as his wife. She bore him three sons--Er, Onan, and Shelah. As was customary, Judah arranged for Tamar to be the wife of Er. But, Er was wicked and the Lord put him to death. It was also customary for the patriarch to send a second son to raise up children for his dead brother. Onan, knowing the children Tamar would conceive by their union would not be his legal children, spilled his seed on the ground, leaving her barren and her husbands lineage unfulfilled. So, the Lord put him to death as well. Judah was afraid that giving Tamar his third son could result in his death as well. So, he sent her to live in her father's house as a widow, telling her he would send for her when Shelah grew up.

Tamar lived as a widow, hoping Shelah would come for her. However, as time passed and Shelah had grown, Tamar realized her father-in-law had no intention of fulfilling his word. Her grief over becoming a young widow was compounded by the hopelessness caused Judah's actions. She knew the withholding of his last son from her meant her longing for companionship, love, and children would never be fulfilled. She felt forgotten, overlooked, rejected, and betrayed by a man who held her future in his hands.

More time passed and Judah's wife died. Tamar heard that after his period of grieving that Judah was going to Timnah to shear sheep. Having grown tired of life as a widow, she took matters into her own hands. She removed her widow's garb and put on the garments of a cult prostitute, which included a veil. She waited at the entrance of a city on the road to Timnah. Judah approached her and did not recognize her because of the veil. He propositioned her with a goat for her "services" and agreed to leave her his signet, cord, and staff to hold onto as a good faith promise for the goat. She conceived a child by him and returned to her father's house to her widow garments.

Judah sent the goat to Tamar through a friend, but she was nowhere to be found. He was unable to pay her the goat and unable to obtain his things from her. He dropped the matter as he didn't want anyone to think he was foolish for what he had done. But, three months later Judah received news that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. Assuming she had been immoral, Judah ordered his men to bring her to him so she could be burned for her sin.

Tamar came prepared to plead her case. She handed his things to him and told him the man to whom the things belonged was the man who had fathered her babies. Judah recognized his things and announced she was more righteous than him because he had failed to give Shelah to her. I find myself a little irritated that he acknowledged his failure to keep the custom of giving his third son to her, but didn't outright own the moral failure of hiring a prostitute.

When I was younger, I judged her quite harshly, thinking I would never do what she did, no matter the circumstances. But, if we were really honest and took a good look at our own lives I don't think any of us could stand. What did we do when we experienced the pain of unmet needs and unfulfilled longings? What did we do when we felt forgotten, overlooked, rejected, and betrayed? Maybe we didn't try to meet our needs with an act of prostitution or use the same type of deception Tamar did. But, I bet many of us have employed manipulation at some point to get what we wanted. Many of us have tried to fill longings with things that were never meant to satisfy. And, many of us have just simply numbed our longings and our desires and began to live life depressed and/or bitter. But isn't dealing with life these ways that are apart from our Creator, our Savior, our Provider forms of spiritual adultery? Isn't that just as wrong as what she did?

I wish I could ask the Lord a thousand questions about Tamar's story. But, I know that what He wants us to learn from Tamar's story could be lost in too many details. Maybe God placed Tamar in Jesus lineage to show us He is the Redeemer of those who have felt like outsiders looking in. Maybe God put Tamar in Christ's family line so we would know He is the healer of those who feel forgotten and rejected. Maybe God placed her there to show us He is the lover of the unloved, the rescuer of the betrayed, the acknowledger of those who were set aside, and the host to those who felt uninvited. Maybe He put her there to remind us that Jesus is even Savior to those who take matters into their own hands, using deception and sin to try to find what only He could give. Maybe, God put Tamar in Christ's family line so we would know there is more to the story we are living than we see right now.

Just as God placed Tamar into Jesus' story and into His family, by faith we have been placed into His story and into His family. Tamar reminds us of that that. You and I--we are loved, we are called by His name, we have been placed into His family, and our futile lives and be given significance. Jesus's family is a family full of broken, forgotten, loved-starved people just like Tamar, just like you, and just like me. It is a family full of people who are lavishly loved and in desperate need of God's grace.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

This Thing Called Compassion

I started reading Lysa Terkeurst's book, It's Not Supposed to Be This Way. I had heard bits of her story and I bought the book so I could hear more of her story first hand. I also wanted to see what she has learned from her experiences. I am six chapters in and already know God wants me to learn more about this thing called compassion. So, I've spent a few days contemplating what it means to have compassion.

Literally, the word compassion means to suffer together. Some common synonyms for it are sympathy, fellow feeling, empathy, understanding, concerned, sensitivity, tender-heartedness, gentleness, merciful, considerate, kindness, and charity. Antonyms for it are indifference and heartlessness. One source explained compassion as the marriage between empathy and altruism. Empathy is the ability to take on the perspective of another and experience the emotions they are experiencing. Altruism is the action of helping others. It can have many motives behind it. We might give to a cause to get a tax break. We might perform acts of service to make up for wrong we have done. We might become altruistic to give back the good we have been given. Compassion occurs when we feel empathy and it is what motivates us to carry out altruistic acts to provide help.  


In our western culture we may be tempted to dismiss compassion as something that is too touchy-feely, too codependent, or irrational. But when we feel compassion, we actually secrete oxytocin, which is known as the bonding hormone that lights up the areas of the brain that are linked to empathy, care giving, and feelings of pleasure. It fascinates me that our relational God instructs us to have compassion in Colossians 3:12, "Put on then as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." When we avoid the experience of compassion, we shut down the hormonal process that helps us  form bonds with others.

As we search for the word compassion in Scripture we come across many verses that show us God is a compassionate God. Here are just a few of them:
  • For the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants when He sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free (Deut. 32:36)
  • But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and He turned toward them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has He cast them from His presence until now. (2 Kings 13:23)
  • Yet He, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all His wrath. (Psalm 78:38)
  • Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13).
  • And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs. (Daniel 1:9)
  • He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)
  • When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
  • When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14) 
  • Then Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, "I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they fain on the way." (Matthew 15:32)
God had compassion on the sick, the afflicted, the harassed, the hungry, the imprisoned, the floundering, and those bound by sin. It was out of His compassion that God provided Israel a leader to rescue them from bondage in Egypt. It was out of compassion He disciplined the Israelites when they strayed, so they would turn their hearts back to Him. It was out of compassion God provided Joseph and Daniel favor with those over them. It was out of compassion God provided a Savior to pay for sin. It was out of compassion Jesus was compelled to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of people. His compassion wasn't discriminatory. He showed compassion to the lost, the saved, the young the old, the mentally ill, those under yokes of legalism, those who were marginalized by their culture, to the disabled, and to those possessed by demons. 

God calls us to be compassionate people and sometimes we aren't. I thought of several possible reasons for this. First, we may lack compassion because we don't fully grasp the depth of our own depravity, the ugliness of our sin, or bigness of God's compassion and grace towards us. When we live in denial of the sinful tendencies residing within us, we can lack compassion for unbelievers who are in bondage to sin and need of a Savior. When we live in denial of our own besetting sins and the grace we daily need, we may lack compassion for others struggling to overcome their besetting sin. When we don't acknowledge our own potential to sin, we may lack compassion for those who took a step in the wrong direction and ended up sliding down a slippery slope, falling further than they ever meant to fall.

Without compassion, we tend to be critical self-appointed judges, wanting everyone to "white knuckle it" in regard to sin. I am afraid that reduces us to the white washed tombs talked about in Scripture. It also keeps us stuck in shame so that we don't experience the true freedom that comes with walking honestly with God and each other. Acknowledging sin, both the visible and the invisible, to God and each other allows us to become more compassionate towards ourselves and others. When we understand depravity and the calling of God on our lives to live honestly, we can develop compassionate communities filled with people who confess their faults to one another and experience the joy that comes in walking someone out of the shame into the loving arms of our Jesus. 

Another reason we might not be as compassionate as God has called us to be is that we have forgotten we were created to live in Eden. Since The Fall, we have been living in a world where hurts of all kinds and all intensities exists. And, this will continue to be the case until Jesus comes. When we fail to remember we aren't in Eden, we tend to deny pain, coverup our shameful parts, and swallow the hard questions with which we struggle. We also will tend to want everyone else to pretend everything is okay along with us. So, when someone speaks of losses whether through death, miscarriages, infertility, broken relationships, divorce, or natural disasters, we won't sit and weep with them. Instead, we will hand them platitudes wrapped in Bible verses. This may silence them, but it doesn't resolve their pain. It can also leave them feeling more alone and disconnected because we shut down the bonding process that happens when compassion is squelched.

When someone speaks of harassment experienced or abuse endured, we will be prone to just point them to verses on forgiveness, failing to realize that forgiveness alone will not resolve the pain of victimization. When the first thing out of our mouth is about forgiveness, we fail to show godly the compassion and righteous indignation that flows from the heart of our God, leaving them wondering if God really cares. 

Two other reasons that we may not be compassionate is that we fail to listen to others' stories and we forget that God has made each of us differently. When we don't hear stories and understand the differences in genetic makeup, we can easily misjudge someone. Some have been through one big traumatic event after another, while others have only experienced a few minor traumas. A lack of compassion and a lack of interest in story could cause us to harshly judge someone for the response they are having to a event, not realizing the event is just one trauma in a list of traumatic events in their lives. In addition, some of us have a temperament that is naturally resilient, while others have one that isn't. Some were taught skills in childhood that have helped them develop resilience; others were left to their own devices, finding themselves overwhelmed and anxious. When we don't know the story or the backdrop of a trauma and lack valuable information that would stir our compassion, we can come across as harsh and impatient with suffering.

In addition, some have grown up in homes where they were taught to trust God in the hard and they try to learn from it. But, some have grown up being told the hard in their lives was due to the unacknowledged sin and they are buried under shame for things over which they had no control. Some grew up in homes where they learned the hard stuff proved God didn't exist or that He didn't care about them. If we don't take the time to look at how a person's story fits into God's story, we can put unrealistic expectations on others to act, react, and trust God in ways of which they are not yet capable.

I remember sitting in a counselor's office despising myself for the eating-disordered person I had become. My therapist suggested I read A Boy Called It. After reading it, we discussed how had we not known his story, we would have had a very different perspective of the boy we both admired and how in light of the story he lived, his actions made perfect sense. My counselor assured me that my actions made perfect sense within the context of my story. It was then that I was able to look at myself with compassion and became curious about why I did what I did. I was then able to begin to unashamedly take my struggle to the Lord, giving me a deeper faith and a more exciting walk with Him.  

Giving compassion is a learning process. Looking back, I know there were times I had extended so much compassion towards others I didn't have any left for myself and I was exhausted. There were times, I was too self absorbed to notice the hurt and needs of others and showed little compassion anyone. There were also times I thought I was being compassionate, but realized later my compassion was misguided and instead of helping someone, I stunted their growth. I have also learned compassion can look different depending on the situation. There are times God leads me to act and times God leads me to let someone sit in the misery of their choices until they were willing to do the hard work of change. Sometimes that waiting is hard, but when God leads me to let someone sit in discomfort, I find my heart continues to grows more tender towards them and my prayers more passionate.

That is why God reminded us in Colossians that as His chosen ones, we are to put on kindness, humility, meekness, and patience along with our compassion. If we fail to put all of these on, what we may think is compassion could be an attempt to stroke our own egos or an attempt to alleviate the discomfort we feel in the presence of another's messy life. For compassion to be Biblical, it must be bathed in prayer for only God has the wisdom to help us understand when someone needs to bear their own burden to grow and when someone needs help because their burdens are to big to bear alone. I love this thing called compassion. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Satan's Most Effective Weapons

Whether we want to admit it or not, sexual abuse is occurring in every denomination. It is not just found in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic church, or New Tribes Missions. The stories I hear in our support groups have indicated this. Many of the abusers that are talked about in group were pastors, youth pastors, elders, Sunday School teachers, youth workers, worship leaders, and family relatives who were churchgoing people. All of these people were nice and appeared to be God-fearing people. But, in reality they were people grooming and preying on children, teens, and sometimes adult women.

It is time for us to realize sexual abuse is not just a world problem. Every week their are men and women sitting in our pews who were abused in the past and have never told their stories. They may not even know the abuse that happened long ago is still impacting how they view their world. They may not realize it is impacting how they react and respond to life's events and to people currently in their lives. They may not understand that it also impacts their ability to fully trust God and His plans for their lives.

While it is true that some survivors have sought out the church because they were abused by non-churched people, many have been abused by those in a church setting. Some of those that were abused by people in the church left and others stayed, but have a hard time trusting people within the church. We must understand that when abuse happens within the church or in a "Christian" home, the wounding is great, because we all desire and maybe even expect the church to be one of the safest, most loving places in the world.

We should not be surprised that abuse takes place in churches because Satan is on the prowl, seeking whom he can destroy. Because he is evil, he targets children, believing that if he can destroy their hearts and their ability to trust God, he can silence the testimony of whole generations. One of the strongest and most effective weapons Satan has in his arsenal is sexual abuse. Not only does it destroy children's passion, it silences their voices, causes them not to trust their own intuition, causes them to forget that they were made in the image of God, and convinces them they are too dirty, too defiled, and too defective to be loved and empowered to serve in the church.

Another weapon in Satan's arsenal has been the church and her response to abuse. Many people in the church don't want to believe survivors' hard-to-hear stories. I have had people tell me those kinds of things don't really happen or if those things have happened to someone they would have told someone before now. Yet, we learned from the gymnasts who suffered for years at the hand of Larry Nassar that they repeatedly told and no one did anything. We have learned that children repeatedly reported the abuse they endured to the Catholic Church, to Southern Baptist Churches, and to the New Tribes Mission Board. They were silenced. Those religious bodies never reported the abuse to legal authorities. It was covered up and abusers were simply relocated and left to abuse others.

We can be sure more victims will come forward in the future. Some of them will have remained silent because they were threatened and just now realize it is safe enough to tell. Some have remained silent because they were told the abuse endured was their fault and the resulting shame experienced forced them to keep it a secret. They are just now hearing the truth that abuse is never the victim's fault. Some went through abuse so horrendous at such a young age that their mind has refused to remember it until they were old enough to have words to describe it and until they were in a safe enough environment to face its impact on their lives. And, many did not tell, because they did not believe anyone would believe their story.

Our first response as believers to hearing about abuse is very telling. How often have we gotten defensive, claiming the victims must be lying? How often have we cast doubt on their stories, saying they must have misunderstood their perpetrators' actions? How often have we blamed the victim, implying they were somehow complicit? How often have we implied they did something or wore something that caused their perpetrator to act out? How often have we told victims, just to forgive and move on, denying the horrific impact it has had on them physically, spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically and then act like they are somehow defective for not just getting over it? How often have we gotten upset at the media for exposing the horrendous sin, sin that we, ourselves, should have exposed and dealt with instead of being more concerned about "damage control?"

We need to realize the cover ups, the inaction, and the mishandling of abuse is just as damaging to survivors as the original violations were. When we cover up victimization, we can be sure the Lion of Judah will rise up. He will see that the sin is exposed and He will see that those responsible for covering it up are exposed as well.

When we are indignant, we tend to respond very poorly to abuse. We do this because we believe we are somehow protecting Jesus and His church's reputation. But, the truth is when the church covers up abuse, it ceases to be Jesus' church. The truth is a church's reputation is more damaged by the coverup of abuse and the lack of protection for the vulnerable than it is by an abuser abusing someone..

And, our Jesus--He doesn't  need us to protect His reputation, He needs us to be obedient to speaking up for the abused. He needs us to assertively confront abusive behavior of any kind. He needs us to compassionately care for victims. The Jesus of the gospels was not a passive make everyone feel good kind of guy. He publicly confronted sin in the religious system. He strongly confronted religious leaders who were taking advantage of the flocks entrusted to them. He confronted those who were not protecting the vulnerable in their care. Jesus never worried about the horrible things people said about Him, He simply lived out His integrity for all to see. If He didn't see a need to defend Himself, why do we think He needs us to?

The church needs to realize predators do not wear scarlet "P's" on their chests. They look just like you or me. They appear to be kind and loving. They appear to have high morals. They are often married and have families. They are often very gifted people and they also prey on the vulnerable. We cannot assume a person is the sum total of what we know of them. Each of us is capable of horrific acts.

Survivors in our groups have been told not to say something evil about such that "godly" man. They have been told that by talking about the abuse they could cause the man to be fired or split up his family. Some have been told that the church's reputation would be ruined by their telling. Some have been told it is wrong to ruin the lives of such gifted men. All of these statements were used to manipulate victims into silence. They shifted what should have been adult responsibilities on to the shoulders of children--shoulders that were way too small to bear the weight of what was being put on them.

Come on, Church! Wake up! Abusers can be kind to gain access to their victims. They may act loving to win over their prey. They may act moral so people will not suspect they are capable of the evil they are hiding. They may be married and may have families, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of abusing children, teens, or vulnerable women. We need to realize the safest church is a church who reports abuse. Don't we believe our God is big enough, gracious enough, and faithful enough to replace a "gifted" abuser with another gifted servant who doesn't abuse?

There is another way the church can be used as one of Satan's weapons that is as insidious as overt abuse is. We have let the world's view of "boys will be boys" and "men will be men" creep into our churches. Men don't hold each other accountable for Godly behaviors, sexual integrity, and Godly actions towards women. Over the years, I and other women have seen men and teenage boys standing in groups, nudging each other as they look over the women and teenage girls coming and going. I recently had someone tell me she was sitting in a coffee shop when she noticed a well known pastor sitting at a table with his computer and Bible open in front of him. At first she thought it was cool, but then noticed every time a female walked in he looked her up and down. She said it was creepy to watch him looking over women with a Bible open in front of him. The truth is that is creepy! Some may laugh at this, but when men who are called by God to be leaders of churches and homes do not hold themselves to Biblical standards of relating to women, they normalize predatorial behaviors, making them seem normal. This is dangerous because those things that should alert us that something is not right become normal and we end up putting ourselves or our children in vulnerable situations where great harm is done.

I pray our churches become safe havens. I pray that we would believe victim's stories. I pray that every church would put in place a committees to handle complaints so that little girls who have been raped by grown men do not have to sit in a room full of men to tell their stories. I pray that we would call legal authorities to report abuse so abusers cannot continue to prey on people. If we just followed God's instructions in how to relate to one another, we could no longer be used by Satan as his most effective weapons for destroying the hearts of people God has placed in our body.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Do You Want to get Well?

February is eating disorder awareness month, so I decided to share a bit of my journey with you. Looking back, I can't remember a time in which food wasn't an issue for me. In my preschool years I developed a mild preoccupation with food and asked at the end of each meal what would be served at the next. By second grade, I had already begun to believe I was fat, ugly, and defective. I believed I needed to lose weight, even though my childhood pictures tell a different story. By junior high, I was trying one fad diet after another and soon developed a legalistic perspective about food, causing me to categorize all foods as either good foods or bad foods. Every new diet had it's own restrictions and when I put them all together, the list of acceptable foods became quite small.

The summer after eight grade, my family was in the process of moving and I stayed behind with my mom to finish my summer job as she finished her graduate classes. I didn't like the feelings of anxiety and grief that I was experiencing over the impending move and found relief by focusing on my weight and whatever diet I was currently on. After all, I didn't want to be rejected in a new school for being too "fat." During that summer I started fasting for weeks at a time and I exercised obsessively late into the night. It was easy to get away with the behaviors because I worked in the evenings and my mom assumed I ate at the restaurant I worked in and didn't know I was exercising after she was asleep. After the move, I spent a year overeating and then as I adjusted I began another cycle of rigid dieting.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in my maturing body and, as an introvert, I often felt inadequate navigating relationships. So, I hid behind by disorder. During that time I remember not wanting to grow up, while at the same time I took on many of the adult responsibilities so I was too busy to just hang out. At the end of tenth grade, we were involved in an accident in which a woman died and the trauma of that event threw me into a full-blown eating disorder. The rest of my high school years were plagued by stressful situations--three adults in our family having major surgeries in the same year, dysfunctional unhealthy relationships, having a boyfriend who nearly died after accidently shooting himself, and having a friend's mother die from suicide. I was spinning with emotions I couldn't process and to calm the internal chaos I took even more control over my diet and exercise program. When I was successful at keeping the food rules, I felt powerful and believed I was a good Christian for having such great self control. However, even one bite of something not on the good list would throw me into shame and self-contempt so deep that it was paralyzing at time. I often found myself confessing to God what I had labeled as my sin.

When I first entered counseling I thought all the painful emotions I experienced were only about the food I ate, but as I began to eat healthier, I realized those feelings of shame and self-contempt were also tied to other things not so easy to control. They were tied to the desire to be perfect, which I thought necessary to earn God's love and approval. They were tied to sin that I had confessed, but had had a hard time believing God had forgiven. And, they were tied to the sexual abuse for which I was wrongfully been blaming myself.

At one point in my recovery my counselor gently asked me, "Do you want to get well or am I the only one who wants that for you?" The question felt familiar as I processed it with her. Later that evening, I realized it was familiar because it essentially the same question Jesus had asked the man laying by the Bethesda Pool in Jerusalem. The paralyzed man had been laying there for thirty eight years, waiting to be healed. I knew Jesus healed that man on the Sabbath to draw attention to the ugly legalism of the religious leaders and soon realized the legalism Jesus was confronting was not all that different than the strict legalistic rules about food that I had created for myself. I think anyone who has struggled with any type of besetting sin, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or thought patterns that spiral them into despair can relate to the paralytic's struggle and to mine as well.

We try in our own power to stop doing something and then fail. That failure leads us to eventually give up, believing we are powerless to do anything about it. As believers we may even hide our sin and addictions for a season, but when we do that we live under a shroud of shame that God never meant us to live under. Sometimes, we even excuse our sin, saying boys will be boys, girls will be girls, or everybody does it. At other times we redefine sin as I did with my food rules and end up beating ourselves up for something God never said was wrong.

We don't need a list of rules to follow to defeat whatever it is that cripples us. We need Jesus. I know that sounds like a platitude, but hang with me for a few moments and let me explain what I mean. I needed Jesus with skin on in the form of other believers. I needed someone to hear my story and sit with me as I experienced the pain from my past that I buried deep for fear that if I felt it I would crumble into pieces that no one could put back together. These people were people who were willing to weep with me and rejoice with me. I needed them to enter the dark places of my mind to help me see that I had wrongfully defined eating food as sin and help me see that God intended it for both nourishment and pleasure. I needed them to help me realize that the traumatic events I had experienced weren't proof of God's displeasure with me. I needed them to help me recognize the lies I believed so that I could learn to replace them with God's truth. I needed people who could help me learn how to starve the monster called "Shame" by teaching me that I could worship God as I ate the food He provided with a thankful heart and that I had the power, as an adult, to give the shame of my abuse back to my abusers.

I needed Jesus in the form of His truth. That truth sometimes came in the form of the written Word that I digester during quiet times--truth that helped me to learn to walk with God through the recovery process. Sometimes His truth came in the form of sermons I heard in church, on the radio, or watched on the internet. Sometimes it came in the form of form of encouragement notes others graciously wrote to me. Sometimes it came in the form of music that other struggling saints had penned--music of people like Michael Card, Dennis Jernigan, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant, and many others. Sometimes it came in the form of processing verses through conversations I had with friends, allowing me to slow down and contemplate how Gods' truth impacts me daily.  

I needed Jesus in the form of accountability partners who were willing to take calls from me when I was struggling with eating-disorder behaviors. These were nonjudgmental people, who understood the process of overcoming strongholds is a battle that begins in the mind. One night I called one partner because I had struggled with the desire to binge and over-exercise all day and I was exhausted. I called her and listed the things I was tempted to do and told her I was choosing not to do them. I asked her, "If I don't do those things, what can I do?" She laughed, which made me laugh and the laughing broke the miserable feeling of angst with which I had been experiencing all day. She reminded me of a couple of healthy behaviors I could do to process my emotions and then we just visited a few minuets about our lives often dissolving in laughter. I realized later that the healthiest thing I did that day was to choose to connect with someone who loved Jesus and was willing to simply be there. She didn't shame me. She didn't have to hear all of my garbage. She didn't throw verses or platitudes at me. She didn't even try to fix me or scold me for being weak. She just simply reminded me she cared.

There were also times that accountability partners were unavailable and I simply needed to sit at the feet of Jesus, confessing to Him the struggle I was experiencing so that I would come to know that He would meet me there. During these times, I chose to be like Jacob wrestling with God by crying out to Him in radical transparency. As I cried out to Him, I also reminded myself of His truth and chose to meditate on verses that reminded me of His love and His power, and His faithfulness. I committed to staying in a constant state of prayer, holding on to Him for all that I was worth until He provided the relief I needed. It was in those times I came to understand that intimacy with God doesn't come out of denying myself of food, out of being a perfect Christian, or out of having a perfect recovery. It came out of minute by minute decisions to fully trust and obey God in the face of powerful urges that are a part of eating disorders. Intimacy with God became a reality in my struggles, not something I hoped might attain in the future. How cool is that? It came from hanging on to Him as hard as I had to, for as long as it took. God faithfully rode those waves of temptation and empowered me to stand firm when everything in me wanted to cave. It was freeing to come to grips with the truth that God never expected perfection, He simply desired me to trust Him enough to invite Him into the struggle.

I know from God's word that I am not alone in the struggle for there is no temptation that is not common to man. That means every reader reading this is struggling with temptation of some sort. Some may have even made a list of their own rules they think will help them overcome sin, only to be filled with shame again and again because they fail. Let me ask you the question Jesus asked the man and that my counselor friend asked me, "Do you want to get well?" I wonder what might happen if you give up the rules you have devised and let Jesus join you in your struggle. I wonder how your life might be different if in the middle of the struggle you reached out to a safe person who can help you get out of your own head and help you remember that your Jesus is near. I wonder what might happen if the next time temptation hits, you were to hold on to the Savior for dear life and let His love, His grace, and His strength wash over you. I believe that you, too, will find that Jesus will provide all you need to have the victory you desire. Starve the shame monster that tries to tells you different for the cross, itself, points to the faithfulness of our God in the face of our sin. Do you want to get well?

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!