Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Power of Love


I love to read the interactions that Jesus had with people in the gospels. One that intrigues me is often called the story of the Good Samaritan and is found in Luke 10. In Jesus’ day, it was not unusual for rabbis to hold theological discussions in public places. In this account, a scribe who would have studied the Jewish law, asked Jesus the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" This question was most likely a commonly debated question, but Jesus perceived the Scribe to be testing Him rather than seeking truth, so He simply turned the question back on the scribe. The scribe, knowing the law, answered his own question by quoting two commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him he is right and that if he did these things he would live.



I don't know about you, but when I read those commandments, I can't even get past the first one without feeling strong conviction. I've wrestled long and hard with what it means to love the Lord with all that I am, and I fall short. When I compare my love for the Father to the love Jesus had for Him, my mind gravitates to the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestles in prayer over His impending crucifixion where our shame and sin would be placed on Him, leaving Him to bear His Father's wrath for it. The Bible tells us that the struggle Christ experienced there, as He begged the Father to remove the cup of suffering from Him while desperately longing to do His will, caused Him so much angst that sweat tinged with blood poured from His pores. To be honest, I have never resisted sin to the point that I was shedding blood through my pores. 



The scribe, on the other hand, glossed over the first commandment, asking for clarification of the second. Did he think he loved God so much he was above reproach? Or, did this indicate that in his heart of hearts he knew he was failing to love God well and deflected to the second command that seemed a bit more tangible? As he tried to engage Jesus in philosophical general discussion about who one's neighbors are, Jesus skillfully turned the discussion to a specific, practical discussion by telling him a parable.



The parable was about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers who stripped him of his clothing, who beat him severely, and then left him dying on the side of the road. A priest walking down the same road saw him lying there and he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to see him up close and personal. Then, a Levite came by and did exactly the same thing. They may have been afraid for their own lives, they may have been on time schedules, they may have thought him too far gone to help, or they may have just been self-absorbed people who didn't want to be bothered.  Soon, a Samaritan came by and took pity on the dying man and cleansed and bandaged his wounds. He then put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn and gave the innkeeper two days’ worth of his wages to pay for the man to stay, promising to reimburse the innkeeper for anything else the man might need. Jesus ended the parable by asking the scribe, who was a neighbor to the man in need? The scribe concluded that the one who had mercy on the dying man showed himself to be a neighbor and Christ, in agreement, told him to go and do likewise. 



Our Jesus was not one to waste the words He spoke. He was intentional when He chose to make a Samaritan the hero of this parable. He knew, as a student of the law, the scribe would know that God required Jews to show mercy to both strangers and enemies (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev. 19:33-34; Micah 6:8). Yet, the Jews were known for their hatred of the Samaritans. This meant that the Samaritan in the parable was one who loved those who hated him. He was the one willing to sacrificially spend to provide for the welfare of a stranger without any hint that he expected to be repaid or even recognized for his good deeds. He was the one Jesus used to show us that one doesn't love because one is a neighbor, one becomes a neighbor because we love. 



This parable definitely gives us a good picture of the love to which Jesus is calling us. But even more important, it describes the love Jesus has shown us. Before we believed, we were just like that man. We were broken and dying with no hope of saving ourselves. I love the words Paul penned to the Colossians that describe this, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation." (Col. 1:21-22)  



God has called us to love because there is power in love! It was love that compelled Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that raised us from spiritual death to new life full of hope. It was love that reconciled us with our Creator, fulfilling our deepest longings to belong to a loving family. It was love that freed us from sin and its power over us. It was love that translated us from the dark kingdom ruled by sin and hate into a glorious kingdom ruled by love and holiness. Our love, whether demonstrated through words, actions, compassion or even restraint, also has the power to draw broken, dying people to the Savior who can transform, restore, and heal. There is power in love that is like no other power, because it can soften the hardest heart, making it tender and compassionate. It can change the stone-cold heart into a heart that beats with fierce passion. And it can take a fractured heart and suture the pieces back together in such a way that hope and joy and love flow with every beat of the heart. That is the power of love.   


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This is Christmas

When we think of Christmas, we think of an angel visiting a young girl to reveal she would bear the Son of God and the beautiful words she penned in response. We think about the virgin bride and the man betrothed to her traveling far just to pay their taxes. We think about the young virgin, heavy with child, being turned away from the inn and giving birth in the dark of night. We think about the newborn babe lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in swaddling clothes. We think about the shepherds surprised by an angel announcing the birth of the Lamb and their trek to Bethlehem to the beat of the angel Choir singing God's praises. We think about the Magi from far away who followed the Star all the way to Bethlehem so they could offer their gifts to the young King. But in truth, these are just part of the beautiful story we call Christmas. We tend to think of God stories as individual stories that stand alone, but they aren't. They are apart of a epic redemption saga much like chapters in a book--each chapter needed to fully grasp God's story.

Christmas is also about God fulfilling the promise He made in the Garden of Eden to destroy His Enemy. This is the enemy we all are so familiar with. The one who tempts and taunts each of us with his lies. This is the one seeking to destroy lives with addictions, pornography, and strongholds of sin that run deep. This is the one trying to devour us by drawing our attention away from the one who loves us purely and sacrificially. 

Christmas is also about God being a covenant-keeping God. It is about Him keeping His covenant with Noah and his offspring, promising He would never again destroy all life with flood waters because of man's sin. It is about God keeping his covenant with Abraham, promising to give him a land to call his own. It was about Him fulfilling His promise of a son through whom a great nation would rise to bless all the families of the earth. It is also about God graciously restating His promises to Abraham's offsprin and fulfilling the dream of Jacob's ladder, providing mankind with the gate of heaven.

Christmas is also about preserving the life of Joseph while he lived in Egypt to provide for Israel during a famine. It is also about freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt and taking them back to their promised land via Red Sea, and drowning the army of Pharaoh that was in hot pursuit. Christmas is about Rahab being saved as she clung to the hope promised in the scarlet cord hung from her window as the walls of Jericho came crumbling down.

Christmas is also about Ruth finding grace in her mother-in-laws family to give birth to the grandfather of David and about the covenant God made with David, promising David through him a King would come whose throne would be eternal--a King who would reign in righteousness, love, power, truth  and grace.

Christmas is also about the fulfillment of prophesies given by God who wants us to know His Son. He told us He would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem, be from the tribe of Judah, and from the family line of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. He told us Jesus would spend time in Egypt and Nazareth and that many children would die as the enemy sought to kill Him. He told us Jesus would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty Prince, and Emmanuel. He told us Jesus would be a prophet like Moses and King like David. He told us He would be tempted by Satan and not give in. He told us He would be rejected by His own people and  speak in parables and heal the brokenhearted. He told us He would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. He told us Jesus would be falsely accused, illegally tried, spat upon, struck, mocked, ridiculed, and hated without cause. He said Jesus would be crucified between criminals, having his hands, feet, and side pierced and though forsaken that He would pray for His enemies. He told us He would die as a sacrificial Lamb--a literal sin offering, taking the wrath of God for us so we could be made righteous.

Christmas is also about future prophesies concerning Jesus. He will return for His bride, the church, but not as a the Lamb. He will return as the Lion of Judah. He will come on a white horse and will be called Faithful and True, making war as He judges in righteousness and truth. His eyes will be like flames of fire and on his head will be many crowns. He will be clothed in a robed dipped in blood and He will be called The Word of God, the King of kings, and the Lord of Lords. From His mouth will come a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will make all things new and there will be no more sickness, no more death, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes. And the righteous will rule and reign with Him for ever and ever. And this is Christmas.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Daughters of the King

When I used to read the Bible as a teenager, I was often confused by the actions of men towards women in the Bible. There was Sarah whose husband said she was his sister, putting her at risk of being raped or taken as another man's wife. There was Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon, who desperately needed her father, King David, to comfort, protect, and defend her honor as she struggled with the deep shame that follows rape and incest. But he, with his loud silence, betrayed her as well. Then there were many women in Israel who had entered covenant marriages, hoping to be companions to the young men they married. But, instead they were betrayed by their faithless husbands. 

In my confusion, I began to pray that God would show me how He views women because I wasn't sure I wanted to follow after Him, if he didn't view women any better than the men whose stories filled the pages of His Word. Then I came across Malachi 2:14-15,"But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So, guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth." I began to see that God cares about women and the treatment they receive and over time, I saw other things from His Word that revealed how He loved, rescued, healed, and redeemed women broken by both life's circumstances and the hurtful and abusive actions of others. 

One of the things I saw from God’s Word was His inclusions of women in Christ’s genealogy. Right, smack, in the middle of it there are three women closely related. One was Rahab, who was a prostitute from Jericho. She saved the lives of Israel's spies by hiding them and then helping them escape. She had heard of their God and asked to be spared. So, they told her to hang a scarlet cord in her window when the battle began and she would be spared. She, by faith in the one true living God, hung that scarlet cord in her window and was saved. An Israelite named Salmon took her as his bride and they gave birth to a baby boy named Boaz. 

There was Naomi, who had moved to a foreign land, whose sons married Gentile women. Naomi's husband died and then her sons, leaving them all to grieve. Naomi became bitter and longed to return home and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, loved her and refused to stay behind. They traveled to Naomi's home town--the town where Boaz lived and he became a kinsmen redeemer, taking Ruth as his bride and they bore Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David, who was in the lineage of Jesus. I'm sure there was great joy in the grandma shaped hearts of Rahab and Naomi the day Obed was born. 

Those women are in the family line of Jesus by God's design. It is a long line of broken, sinful, weak and needy people. I love how God put Rahab who, as a prostitute, asked to be saved and trusted God enough to hang a simple cord in her window--an act that made no sense apart from God. I love how the Gentile, Ruth, even in her pain chose to love a bitter mother-in-law all the way home, trusting the God who holds life and death in His hands for something bigger. 

I found it comforting that God called a young woman to bear His son, Jesus, when Jesus could have entered the world in an infinite number of ways. I found it comforting that He tenderly cared for the mom pregnant with Hope by giving her many validations that the Child she carried and birthed was the Promised One--through Elizabeth's baby leaping in the womb, through the Shepherds seeking to worship the Babe, through Simeon and Anna proclaiming Him in the temple, and the Magi who came from afar to worship the King He gave her big grace for her Mama's heart to hold onto as she watched her Son, her Savior die on the cross.

I also found it comforting that Christ crushed social barriers that had made women second class worshipers. He even went out of His way to meet a Samaritan woman publicly rejected by men five times, offering her Living Water. She accepted Him and got to bring the community that judged her so harshly to sit at His feet.

He taught men that the woman who could only give two mites had performed a mighty and acceptable act of worship that meant more than the all giving that wasn't sacrificial.

He healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years, fully reconciling her to Himself and restoring her to her community.

He stood up for a woman thrust at His feet by an angry mob of men who claimed they caught her in the act of adultery. In the face of His righteousness the men one by one dropped their stones and He, the only one who had a right to judge, graciously dealt with her sin.

He stayed in the home of Mary and Martha, allowing Mary to sit at his feet, learning with all His disciples. He also revealed Himself to these sisters as the God who has power over life and death by calling their brother from the grave helping them understand He was laying down His life.

He silenced the men who criticized the woman whose pure worship was displayed by her anointment of his feet with expensive oil and her own tears, allowing her to dry His feet with her hair. And, after the resurrection, He chose a woman to be the first to see His face.   

The Scriptures show us that women have been victimized for long time, but they also show us that God has a tender heart towards us and does not view us as second-class citizens. I believe the public outcry going on right now is exposing the depth of the sin of gender contempt, harassment, and abuse in this world and it is proof that the Lion of Judah is moving on our behalf. We need to remember abusers' actions do not reflect the heart of our God, they reflect only the hearts of the abusers. 

We can trust a God who places broken, hurting women in the lineage of Christ. We can trust a God who uses a woman to give birth to His Son. We can trust a God who let women sit at His feet, and listen to his teaching. We can trust a God who revealed Himself as the God over life and death to a woman. We can trust a God who defended a woman caught in adultery and a woman worshiping with her tears and her oil. And, we can trust a God who reveals Himself in resurrected form to women first. We can trust a Savior that left the glories of heaven and bore God's wrath for our sin when He died in our place on the cross. We can trust a God who sealed us with His Spirit and gifted us with spiritual gifts, declaring that we are as valuable to the body as our Christian brothers. We are not second-class citizens. We are the beloved daughters of the King of kings.   

Friday, December 1, 2017

Home for Christmas

The last eleven years I have had the privilege of serving in a support group ministry and have met some amazing and courageous ladies. One year I was leading a large group and there were several young gals who had grown up in extremely dysfunctional and abusive homes. They quickly formed a great friendship, partly because of their ages and partly because they all had difficult stories. They could identify with the pain each had endured, the struggle to find freedom from their pasts, and the hard work they would have to do to find healing and become the women God had created them to be. Diana and Tanna were two of the women that both left their childhood homes early in life. Amazingly they were wise enough to set some strict, healthy boundaries with their families of origin. The boundaries were very needed, but sometimes they felt hard. As Christmas was approaching, Diana remarked to Tanna that she was really missing her family. Tanna sighed and responded wistfully, "Yeah, I miss the family I made up, too!" They looked at each other and they both laughed because of the profound words Tanna had spoken were true. They gave me permission to share this part of their story, because it isn't just true for them, it is true for most of us. 

Holidays can be difficult to navigate. They can be difficult because we have had to separate ourselves from families that were abusive and they tend to surface grief of what was longed for but never fulfilled. It can be because the anxiety that arises with holiday preparations gets coupled with dread of the conflicts that often ignite as our extended families rub shoulders with its history and the dysfunction that arises as we push each other's buttons. It can be because tongues are loosed when alcohol flows and cutting words get said that pierce hearts to the core. It can be because of grief we feel over the loss of loved ones who made holidays special--the child, the soldier, the mom, the dad, the grandparents, or the friend gone too soon. It can be because of grief due to unfulfilled dreams being exposed by being around those whose dreams were fulfilled--dreams of a baby longed for but never had, dreams of a specific job that went to someone else, dreams of a spouse that hasn't materialized or the one who walked out, or the dream house we can't afford due to economy or mounting medical bills. It can be because of illness that can't be healed and pain that makes it hard to be around people we don't want to burden. It can be because of mental illness and the unpredictability of another's actions or even our own depression that is a fog crowding out joy. It can be because of eating disorders that trigger anxiety as holidays are planned around food. It can be because of the fear of giving presents that don't please or because we fear we can't react to a gift the way others need us to. And for some it can be the pressure family puts on us do away with boundaries we put in place to protect our families and ourselves.    

So, how do we navigate the holidays? First, we begin by going into the season with our eyes wide open. There are no perfect families and their will never be a perfect Christmas. We will enjoy Christmas more when we let go of expectations and the made-up families that live in our minds, accepting our families as they are. We can commit to treating others with respect and practicing good self-care by getting plenty of rest, drinking water, eating somewhat healthy, and using our voice to request what we desire and what we need. We can refuse to take every word, action, or attitude personally because those things are about others' hearts not ours. We can take quiet moments alone to breathe, grieve, or regroup as we needed. We can give thanks for the good moments and learn from the bad, knowing that one doesn't cancel the other out. We can make sure we extend grace to others as well as ourselves. We can own our mistakes, apologizing and making amends when needed. We can keep short accounts and forgive quickly. Us overwhelmed introverts can refuse to compare ourselves to extroverts and focus on one person at a time and have meaningful conversations, maybe looking for the one who looks as lost as we feel.   

Second, we can remember we have a Savior who cares and wants us to take our grief, our fear, our hurt, and our dreams to Him. If anyone understands dysfunctional families He does. Just look at the people who were in His family line. Abraham who was commended for his faith lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob weaved a mighty mess with his wives and concubines and the favoritism he showed one son over eleven others. Naomi--she became so bitter after the loss of her husband that she changed her name to Mara. David, the man after God's own heart messed up his family by abusing Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He ended up with a son who raped his daughter and chose to do nothing about it. Every family in his family line had its sin, its secrets, and its dysfunction. So, I believe He gets ours. This was proved by the way He treated those around Him. He was full of compassion for the woman caught in adultery, who was thrust at his feet without her partner. He was full of compassion for the woman at the well who had been dragged to the center of town five times and declared an unfit wife. He was full of compassion for the ill, the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. He fed both those who were physically hungry and those who were spiritually hungry. He allowed Mary and Martha to vent their grief and stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept with them before He called him out. Jesus cares. Jesus understands.

Third, we can go into the holidays fully confident we have been given a new Heritage through Christ. The pain of our past, the dysfunction of our families, the failure of our Christmases to be perfect don't define us. Jesus, His love and His sacrifice, do. We are called beloved, chosen, blessed, forgiven, children, and friends. As I reflect on Christmases past, I think one of my most pleasant Christmases was when my children were teenagers. They got up early as they always had and then after they opened gifts they all fell asleep as they waited for Christmas dinner to be cooked. After I got the turkey on, I looked around at my sleeping teens and picked up my Bible and read the Christmas story again, feeling overwhelmed by His love and felt a heart connection with Him that gave me such peace. I felt a sense of belonging and realized that because of Jesus I was truly home for Christmas. That sweet moment prepared me for the losses of my parents and my kids leaving the nest who can't always make it home. It also fulfilled one of my deepest longings--to feel at home somewhere--the somewhere just happened to be a Someone and that Someone is Jesus. 





Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Are You Giving Life to Faith or Fear?

When I was a child, my family lived in the beautiful town of Williams, Arizona. I have reconnected with several people from there through Facebook. One of those friends is a man named Bill Sutton who was born and raised in Williams. He attended college At Northern Arizona University and became a schoolteacher and local newspaper writer. He then became a judge for 20 years and was awarded the McKeachem Award for being the nation's outstanding non-attorney judge. He is the founder and president of Yes, I Can, Inc. as well as the founder and president of his own company, Wise Choice Alternatives. I have enjoyed reading his Facebook posts, especially his posts called Thought for the Weekend. This weekend's post was called "Peace on Earth." He graciously gave me permission to share it here. I hope you enjoy it and benefit from it as much as I did!

Thought for the Weekend: Peace on Earth
Bill Sutton
       With Jeff being home this week, I'm reminded of a Christmas story of when he was a toddler, and unable to sleep because of a terrible fear. He screamed in the night, and I arose from my bed to see what was the matter. He said that he was seeing a giant bug on the wall of his room. He was pointing to an area directly above the little lighted Christmas tree. I told him that there were no giant bugs, and to go back to sleep. He soon screamed again, and again I had to tell him and show him that there were no giant bugs. The third time he screamed, I was getting mad, and went into his room to tell him to knock it off. Then what to my sleepy eyes should appear? A foot long shadow of a bug; Jeff had much to fear! What was going on was that a tiny box elder bug was climbing on the Christmas tree, and every time it climbed on a light, the shadow of the bug projected on the wall! He was right, in his own little eyes. I felt like the Grinch for getting mad at him.
       Jeff's story is a lesson for all of us. Fear gives big shadows to small things. What you focus on, you give power and life to. Once Jeff saw it was a common box elder bug, we had a prayer time, and soon he was nestled all snug in his bed. He went from fear to faith in minutes.
       What you focus on, you give power and life to. Do you give life to your faith, or life to your fear? Fear won't take away tomorrow's troubles, but it will take away today's peace.
       On the night of Jesus' birth, there were shepherds in the fields, probably looking in wonder at the beautiful star shining through the night. Then an angel appeared and they were terrified. Then the angel said, "Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." The angel replaced their fear with great joy and faith, because of the truth. Just like Jeff.
       Everyone has fears, so how do we go from fear to peace? First, when those fears start taking over, ask God for help. Let him show you what is truth and what are lies about your circumstances and about your tomorrows. And maybe most importantly, quit giving life to your fears by talking about them so much. That gives your fears a much bigger shadow that will follow you wherever you go. You may have some big fears and big problems, but always remember you have a bigger God. Ask God to help you trade your fears for faith, and bring peace to your life, starting this Christmas.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." ----- Luke 2:14

I love the picture of the bug casting a big shadow in Bill's article and the fear it caused for his young son. In the support groups we run at our church, we often deal with fears. Some of our fears are very real and based on truth. leaving us to have make some hard decisions to stay safe and some of our fears are based on lies that cast big shadows like the one Bill's son saw. Those lies can cause fears that leave us paralyzed and unable to move forward. When we share our fears with the wrong people who can't discern the lies that create the enormous fear we experience, the fear only continues to grow. But if we choose to talk about our fears with wise people who help us discern the difference between the lies we believe and the truth, the shadows grow smaller and we can walk more securely in our faith. The truth is ruminating on lies casts big shadows resulting in paralyzing fears, while ruminating on God's truth puts things into perspective which keeps our fear from overwhelming our faith. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Life Isn't Fair!

God has gifted me with wise friends. When my kids were young, I struggled with wanting to make sure I treated my children fairly in every possible situation. One of our wise friends who had kids about the same age as ours, saw my struggle and pointed out that it was a fruitless struggle. He told me that when his kids complained that something wasn't fair, he would simply respond, "You are right, life isn't fair." He went on to explain that he viewed parenting as preparing our kids for real life. I was reminded of that conversation as I have worked through the Bible study, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. This week I am studying Psalm 73, which is Asaph's psalm in which he is trying to reconcile what he knew about God with what he believed he was seeing in the world. 

The first time I remember struggling with thoughts about life not being fair was in the eighth grade. I came into art class and as I was sitting down a fellow student pulled my chair out from under me. I wasn't hurt, but because I was wearing a dress I was pretty embarrassed. The teacher became angry and marched the student to the principal's office. The guy and I were friends and I took it as a joke, not something he had done maliciously. But when he got to the principal's office everything changed. He told the principal he had done it because I had called him a racially derogatory name. The next thing I knew, I was called to the office and lectured about what I had done. I was crushed, because if anyone used racially derogatory name in my presence, I confronted them. Additionally, the principal never once seemed to consider that the student might be lying to get out of trouble. I remember crying out to God as I sat through that lecture feeling confused and unheard, telling him how unfair it was that I was being accused of something I wouldn't do, especially when I had tried to take a stand with people who did what I was being accused of. 

The next time I struggled with the "not fair" thoughts at a deep level was when someone close to me was struggling with infertility. It was at the time that abortion was becoming legal. I remember her telling me all that she had gone through trying to conceive. Within a day or two, I heard about an acquaintance who chose to have an abortion and watched a news story about a baby found in a dumpster. Those thoughts crossed my mind again on a short-term mission trip when a man came up to us and frantically begged us to come pray with his wife. When we got over to her she was slumped over in a drug-induced haze. As we knelt down beside her it became obvious that she was very pregnant. Life was unfair that she was going to be giving birth to a baby who would in all probability be born addicted, and my loved one who would have cared for a baby couldn't conceive. Those thoughts occurred again when I stood at the grave of my friend's six-month old baby, knowing her breasts were still full and her empty arms were aching. 

The next time I struggled with those thoughts was when I was sitting in church one evening and met a couple new to our church. She made it clear that she didn't want to live in Mississippi. My heart ached so much because my husband tried so hard to get a position in that town after He finished his doctorate, but nothing became available and we were having to leave a place we loved and in which we felt at home. I remember going home that night and crying long and hard after the kids went to sleep, resenting the lady and anyone else God brought into that college town.  

I still occasionally struggle with thoughts of "it isn't unfair" when I see sweet friends who live godly lives, longing to be married and know others who are on their second or third marriage complaining about their current spouses. I struggle with those thoughts when I know a man who has been full of integrity in the work place is laid off while a lying backstabber keeps their job. I struggle with those thoughts when I think of friends who would never drive under the influence who were either killed by drunk drives or suffered traumatic brain injuries that forever altered their life. I struggle with those thoughts when seeing the pictures of natural disasters when one house or street of houses is demolished and another one stands. I struggle with those thoughts when a young person is killed by violence, who had plans to be a NICU nurse, a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, an artist, a chemist, or an engineer, knowing sex traffickers, drug dealers, and people full of hate live and impact this world in such negative ways. I struggled with those thoughts when good kids were taken by cancer and brain cysts and others weren't.   

Sometimes good people respond in hurtful ways as we share our pain with them. Jean E. Jones, one of the authors of the Psalms study I am doing shared that after one of her miscarriages, a young man approached her and encouraged her to remember that God probably knew she would be a terrible mom. She confronted the young man and pointed out the errors in his thinking, but many people don't confront. They just suffer, feeling shamed to the core. I have known people struggling with autoimmune diseases who were told if they would deal with unconfessed sin, God would heal them. I was even told that if I dealt with resentment over an accident I was in, I would lose my limp and be able to walk normally again. Resentment, by-the-way, that I didn't experience. Looking at Job and the discussions he had with his friends, I am pretty sure generations of people have had these kinds of experiences, feelings, and thoughts. There is a part of us that wants life to be fair and there is a part of us that really wants God's grace to be a "right" that comes with trying to be good. 

I think it is important for us to deal with the "not fair" thoughts by taking them to the Lord. I learned several years ago it is okay to ask God questions. I also learned sometimes my questions are just statements of protest in disguise when something doesn't seem fair. It is at that point that I can choose to go down the path of pride believing I know what is best for me and everyone I know, which leads to envy, discontentment, anger, and sin. Or, I can choose the path of humility, acknowledging that I am not God, and the view from my human perspective is limited and sometimes tainted by lies I believe or my desire to have more control over painful events my loved ones or I experience. It is important to realize the very events we consider unfair may be the events God uses to expose parts of our hearts that aren't surrendered fully to Him. They may expose ungodly desires for control that is not ours to have. They may expose trauma or losses we never acknowledged or grieved that He desires to heal. They may expose desires that over time we have made into idols we think must be fulfilled to be happy or to prove that God really is good. They may expose lies we believe about God and how His goodness and grace are to be manifested. If we aren't careful, we can become bitter, and bitterness can skew our view of God causing us to withdraw from Him, slander Him, or even rage against Him as many people in our culture are now doing. 

I know, I want to process the "not fair's" I face as Asaph did in Psalm 73 so that in the face of the hard, I know without a doubt that God is good. I want to rest assured that He holds me with His right hand and will guide me with His counsel every step of the way until, in His perfect timing, He receives me to glory. While longing for glory, I want to be content and live in such a way Asaph's words are my words, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever...But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge that I may tell of all your works."  



Monday, November 6, 2017

Praying for the Persecuted Church

Sunday was a day Christian churches set aside to pray for the persecuted church. It used to seem like persecution was what happened on the other side of the world. We are all aware of the killings of our Christian brothers and sisters in Asian and Muslim countries. We are aware of the dangers that missionaries face going into tribal areas and eastern bloc countries. Most of us know believers in our own country who were rejected by family members when they became Christians or who were punished or made fun of when they refused to take part in ungodly behaviors. As I was sitting in my 9:00 o'clock service in California, a small Baptist Church in Texas was under attack by an active shooter who killed 26 people and injured over twenty more. This was the third church shooting and to be honest, my heart just hurts. It hurts for the lives lost. It hurts for the families grieving the loss of loved ones so abruptly. It hurts for those who have been forever changed by the trauma they experienced in what should have been a sacred meeting. While we don't yet know the shooter's motives, we can view the hate speech posted beneath the posts of the news clips. Our country has definitely entered a new era and I believe every believer will experience persecution just like those in other countries. 

How we respond to persecution is important. We would do well to remember Jesus’ words in John 18:15-20, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you; 'A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.'"  We are often surprised when people express hatred toward us, especially when they can hide behind online posts. The question we must ask ourselves is how do we respond? There are several things we must consider. 

First, we must remember that there is a very real enemy who is doing everything he can to destroy God's people because they have the potential to reflect Jesus to the world. The more believers become like Jesus the more he will attack them. Jesus warned us, and if we believe him we won't be surprised. We can be prepared and ready to stand firm in our faith in the face of persecution. We can also choose to make sure we respond the way Jesus would want us to and that is not with hatred.   

Second, we want to remember some people get angry with us because of the moral values we have and the moral voice we have in this country. This is because the world doesn't want to call certain acts sin. When they are around us, and have conversations with us or discuss politics with us, they may have to face painful truths about decisions they have made and it sometimes is easier to be angry at moral truths and those holding to them than to face up to one's choices that took another's life as in abortion, or come to terms with how they have deeply wounded others through choices they have made through pornography, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual conquests, easy divorce, verbal abuse, etc. Their hatred and anger is often covering deep shame. We want to remember shame is a very painful emotion we all go to great lengths to avoid. That is the root of gossip, critical spirits, judgments, and even self-condemnation. Maybe the more transparently we share our stories and our own struggles with deep shame, and how choosing to deal honestly with it by bringing those shameful things to the Lord, His light sets us free from it. Our church has begun to tell stories and I believe through those honest and transparent stories, people are going to find that they, too, can face the shameful things of their pasts and find forgiveness and freedom from shame that for many drives their hatred of all that stands for God. 

Third, we want to remember that some people are also angry at believers because they are deeply angry at God. Some of them experienced deep pain at the hands of people who claimed to be believers. Some of them were also deeply wounded when others in the church didn't protect or help them. Some were judged harshly by church members when they chose to remove themselves from violent marriages, marriages that were tainted by pornography, or to protect children from sexual predators. They not only feel deserted and misunderstood by the church, they feel abandoned by God. We want to build relationships that allow us to find out the backstory of those who don't trust God and His people and be the ones who will take a hit and hear an accusation in order to gain the opportunity to show them God as He really is.   

Finally, we can pray for the persecuted church as we come to grips that that includes us. The following is my prayer: 

Heavenly Father, I pray the Holy Spirit would strengthen ever believer who is being persecuted, whether it be with words, with rejection, with imprisonment, with physical violence, or with death. Lord, please let every believer facing persecution or the loss of loved ones due to persecution know how much you love them. Help them to be settled to the core that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate them from Your love. (Ro. 8-38-39) I pray that all believers, persecuted or not, would love fiercely and share fearlessly about Jesus. 

Lord, I pray for those who are persecuting believers through their actions, words, and attitudes. I pray that they would be impacted by the love we have for one another. I pray that they would come to the place that they would become believers like Paul who had been responsible for ravaging the early church. 

Please help every persecuted believer to be resilient and enduring, even if it is unto death. Please, fill the emotional needs of those being rejected and for those being harassed for their faith. Please provide for physical needs of those being fired, disowned, or displaced because of their faith. I pray that each one would glorify God through their witness. Lord, I pray that believers would have access to your Word and that they would find your words a comfort.

Lord, I pray for those being martyred because of their faith. I pray that you would fill each one of them with Your Spirit as you did your servant Stephen, that they, too, would gaze into heaven and see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And each would say, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" 


Lord, we know you have already defeated the enemy at the cross. We know that the time of the Gentiles is going to come to an end. As persecution becomes more rampant, help us stand firm in the faith with our eyes forever fixed on Jesus. I believe even now You are in the process of setting the table for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and you are coming for your Bride, the church. May we live in hope and in victory, knowing that the Lion of Judah is on the move. 





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!