Thursday, July 11, 2019

There is More to the Story of the Cross

Several years ago, I was struggling with sin, unresolved pain, and a defeated image of myself. I was working with a Christian therapist, who frequently challenged lies I was believing and cognitive distortions I with which I struggled that impacted how I viewed myself. While she never down played the seriousness of sin, she did encourage me to be as gracious to myself as I would be to others. She also suggested I become more curious about my failures and to try to understand why I did what I did, instead of "beating myself up" with harsh judgements and negative self talk .

One morning I woke up feeling extremely defeated, but I decided to push past it. I got out of bed, dressed, grabbed praise music, and went for a walk. While walking, I poured out my hurt, my discouragement, and the feelings of guilt that were plaguing my perfectionistic heart. One of the songs I was listening to was about the cross. As I listened, a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross came to mind. His blood was dripping from the wounds He had received when He was beaten and nailed to the cross. Then I noticed other wounds in His flesh. These wounds were the names of the sins that I had been confessing to Him etched in His flesh. For a moment I was filled with shame, but then something propelled me to look to His face. First, I noticed the crown of thorns and the blood dripping on His brow where thorns cut deep. Then I noticed His eyes were filled with kindness and His face with love. Something in me shifted as the shame melted away and I began to grasp that the radical implications of Jesus' death went beyond the satisfaction of God's justice for sin. And that place where Christ hung bruised, bleeding, rejected, cursed, and forsaken--it became a place of healing for me.

When I saw the words of my sin etched in His flesh, the reality of His death became close and personal. It no longer seemed like something that happened long ago in a far away land, it was real to me in the here and now. That wounded part of me that had believed the lie that my abuse, my failures, the messages others spoke over me proved I was the child that was less loved by God began to change. But, seeing Him in front of me with my sin etched in His body made it clear that God had sought me, putting many in my life to lead me to Him. The visual of Christ absorbing my sin reminded me that He died so I could have His goodness imputed to me by faith. That means the Father only sees me as one wrapped up in the goodness of Christ! Grasping that helped me to quit thinking of myself as a bothersome, tolerated child and to start seeing myself as a beloved child, created by Him and for Him, who had been forever fully reconciled by Jesus. I no longer pictured God as sighing and reluctantly turning towards me when I started praying. Instead, I began to see Him as a Father whose eyes are always watching over me and light up when I turn to speak to Him. I also began to see Him as a Father whose ears are tuned into my voice, recognizing it above the loud chatter of this world.    

Seeing the Savior, bruised and flesh-torn, hanging there naked on the cross helped me believe He understood what it felt like to bear the consequences of others' sin. From the time Jesus was born, His life was threatened. He was lied about. He was rejected. His motives were questioned. He was a victim of the first birther movement. His words were frequently doubted or misconstrued. He was called crazy and child of Satan. He was falsely accused and then illegally tried while the man in charge knew and chose to do nothing. His innocence was ignored, while a known thief was set free. His works that gave sight to the blind, working limbs to the lame, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, freedom to those tormented by demons, and life to the dead were called evil. He was beaten beyond recognition and then humiliated, the crowd spitting at Him and plucking hair from His beard as they mocked Him with hate-filled chants. All of that and the cross helped me see that He truly understands the wounds we experience at the hands of others. His being a sympathetic high priest became real to me. I no longer saw God as an impatient Father, telling me to suck it up, get over it, or just forgive and move on. I began to see Him as a Father, eager to listen until all the words I needed to say were said. I began to see Him as an empathetic Father, whose empathy never diminished as He was willing to sit with me until all of the pain buried deep was released. I began to see Him as a comforter, His own scars reminding me He truly understands.

The crown of thorns that represented the curse took on new meaning when I saw blood dripping from where it had pierced His brow. It helped me see that His blood not only covers my sin, it covers the curse. The thorns had their beginning in Eden where Adam and Eve freely communed with God and each other in a perfect environment. When they sinned, they were cast from Eden to live in a desert to experience thorns, pestilence, and droughts, all of which represent what was taking place in them spiritually and relationally. And the human race was cast with them to experience pain because of the thorns of selfishness, self-centeredness, and sin that enslaves us. And, our relationships became marred as we are driven by an unquenchable thirst to be known, accepted, or approved by others who are just as thirsty and broken as us. And the fear and the chaos caused by pestilence--those things that come against us to hinder the growth of marriages, the unity of our families, and hindering the  building of God-loving churches. The pestilence is things like pornography that kills marriages every day. It is the plague of divorce that robs children of relationships with parents, leaving them looking for parental blessings elsewhere. It is the redefining of good and evil and the political correctness that calls God's truth hatred. It is the everyday business and constant technology that hinders the face-to-face fellowship of believers, leaving them isolated, starving for relational intimacy, and looking a whole lot like the world.

In seeing that visual of God's grace so personally, I began to see that through Christ, the sin within, the curse, the thorns, the pestilence, and the unquenchable thirst I was experiencing no longer defined me. It was and is in my relationship with Christ that I find my true identity and the freedom to be who God created me to be. The words and the lies that were spoken over me, the actions that were perpetrated against me, the Enemy's accusing voice in the face of it all no longer have the power to defeat this child, who has been saved, is in the process of being sanctified and healed, and will be one day fully transformed by His grace. Oh, there is so much more to the story of the cross.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Sports Car Can't do What Marriage Can

"Iron sharpens iron, and one mans sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

One night my husband and I were watching TV and a restaurant commercial came on. This company has used sex for several years to sell hamburgers. My husband surprised me by saying rather assertively, "And that is why I never go there!" His statement lead to a fun discussion about commercials and how often they use sexuality to sell goods.

We concluded that companies that use sex to sell, weren't all that creative. It is the easy go to, and in all honesty it probably works. We both realized we prefer humorous commercials, especially ones that contain spunky people in them. We also acknowledged that sentimental commercials usually can also engage and get an, "Awe...." from both of us. I especially have a fondness for Hallmark commercials. It isn't because I necessarily like them. I typically think them a bit mushy, but they were the cheapest pregnancy test on the market when I was having babies. Before I would even know I was pregnant, one of those commercials would come on and I would dissolve into tears. When the tears came, my husband would turn and look at me with big eyes and we both knew it was time to go to the doctor. It happened with every pregnancy. 

We noticed we were partial to commercials that portrayed the life stage we were currently in. As newly weds, commercials that showed engagements, weddings, or honey-mooning couples appealed to us. A few years a coffee company put out a series of commercials about a couple who met over coffee and built a relationship. The series of commercials literally told the couple's love story over time. We both would stop what we were doing to watch those commercials, especially when new ones came out that told more about the story. As we started having kids, commercials with cute kids  made us smile. After all who wouldn't be drawn to dancing kids or toddlers toddling in green socks? Then as our kids were leaving home the commercial we both liked was a coffee commercial in which a sister wakes up early to her big brother coming home for Christmas. They enjoy a quiet moment before mom and dad smell coffee brewing and come running down the stairs. Then when our sons went to war, any commercial with military families in it would tug at our hearts. Now it is the grandchildren and puppy commercials that get our attention. 

I have thought a lot about the science of making commercials.  I am not against commercials. They serve a purpose. Some are even informative and some remind me I need to write something on the grocery list, and some help me decide to try a new product when I am not happy with one I use. 

On the other hand, there are many commercial that are misleading or full of lies. The people who create commercials want to make commercials that appeal to our senses, our emotions, or our desires. As a believer I was struck that the tactics they use are similar to the tactics of the Enemy listed in 1 John 2:16--the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. It didn't really surprise me in that we are ambassadors living in a world system in which the Enemy is very active. Maybe, just maybe we could categorize commercial by these tactics and become wiser consumers. 

Recently I saw a commercial that evoked a strong angry response from me and it wasn't even a commercial using sex. It was a car commercial that started out like the sentimental commercials that I like. It showed all the cars a couple bought over the years for the different life stages they were in. Towards the end of the commercial the dad handed his car keys over to his daughter and she pulled out of the driveway. The camera then switched over to the dad pulling out of the garage in a little sports car with the commentator saying, "And the car that reminds you of you when you were you."

I admit they initially sucked me in, as we had to change cars several times as our family grew. I admit I even lit up when I saw the sports car. I have wanted a red convertible every since I was fifteen. In my mind, I pictured my hair blowing, the warm sun on my face, loud praise music playing as I sped over mountain curves. But I got married and we chose to put my husband through six years of graduate school. Then had five kids. A sports care wasn't financially feasible on a graduate students salary or impractical for a large family. And the reality is I have PTSD and being in any car, much less a sports car with wind in my face isn't really fun for me. Not getting the sports car I had dreamed about isn't what made me angry at the commercial. It was the lie that is in embedded in the comment that was made as the man drove off.

For you see, as a math major I could have gone on to graduate school and made quite a bit of money and gotten that little red sports car I wanted. But I chose marriage and marriage didn't make me less me. In fact, marriage brought out the best of me and the worst of me. It brought out in me a heart full of compassion and love for a man who had a very difficult childhood and who was told he wouldn't amount to much. Yet we got through his graduate schooling together and he graduated as Dr. Daddy, partly because I believed in him. Whenever we hit rough spots in our marriage I look at his childhood pictures and remind myself that I am married to that cute little guy in coveralls and my pride melts and my love grows.

Being married exposed the ugly selfishness residing in my heart and my tendency to be self-centered. We both had to learn a lot about compromise and setting goals together. We had to learn to look at ourselves when conflict arose, because the other wasn't capable of making us angry, it was his selfishness bumping against my selfishness that did that. Nope, neither of us became less of ourselves, we became better selves because of what our relationship exposed and the lessons we learned from that exposure. I learned that a soft answer could truly turn away wrath, that love covered a multitude of sins, that grace is experienced the most in intimate relationships, and that some of the best confrontations are gentle ones. Marriage was "iron sharpening iron" God talks about in His word! And believe me, I needed that process badly!

By the time kids came along, I thought we had grown quite a bit and life would be smooth sailing. I was mistaken. I found having five kids did the same thing marriage did--it brought out the best in me and exposed the worst parts of me. I never felt more like who I was supposed to me than when I was pregnant and carried a moving being inside. I would sit for hours and watch the movements and connect with feet and fists. I have never been able to find words to describe how full of love my heart was and is when it comes to my kids (and my grandkids.) That love gave me what I needed to get up all night with crying kids, wipe snotty noses, clean stinky bottoms, wash away blood from wounds, scrub dirty bathrooms when little guys missed the pot, cook countless dinners, wash sink loads of dishes, wash and fold mountains of laundry, pray over sick children, referee squabbles, listen to endless chatter, hold kids with ear aches and asthma all night, and sit by a hospital bed for two weeks,
waiting for our son to heal. 

But it also brought out the worst in me. The time that a knick knack got broken and brought out my wrath. The times the angry voice came out of my mouth and lectured kids who couldn't even process all the words I thought I needed to say. The times I asked the kids how their day at school went, only to realize when I pulled into the drive way that I had tuned them out and not heard a word they said. The banquets I missed as I isolated myself during the battle with an eating disorder. Believe me, I could go on and on and on. Having kids didn't make me less me. It just exposed the ugly parts of me that needed to be transformed. It exposed the immature parts of me that needed to grow up. Being a mom did not make me less of me, it made me more of who God created me to be. Having a sports car earlier in life would not have helped me be more of me. Having sports car now would not make me more me! A sports car could not do for me what being married and having children did. I confess I needed the iron sharpening iron of relationships to grow and become a better me and I needed all the grace I got in that process.

The line in the commercial bothered me because our society is plagued by broken families. The kinds of statements in that commercial appeal to our pride and resemble the temptation in the garden that implies so subtly that something is missing if we don't have something. In my eyes, there is nothing more manly than a married man loving his wife with his words, actions, and sacrifice. There is nothing more manly than a man playing with his children, praying faithfully for them, disciplining them with love, and giving grace when needed. There is nothing more manly than a man who is worn out and feeling inadequate who wants to leave, but chooses to stay. And there is nothing more manly than a man who gives up the dream of a sports car to raise a family. 

Likewise, there is nothing more beautiful than a wife who respects her man. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom feeding a baby from her own body. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom rocking a sick toddler through the night. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom taking her son on a dinner date or dancing in the kitchen as if no one is watching. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom graciously cleaning up milk spilt by two brothers proving strength in an arm wrestling match. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom hugging a child who was dumped by the boy or girl who didn't deserve them any way. There is nothing more beautiful than a worn out mom who is tempted to run from the chaos of family, choosing to stay. Nothing! 

We would do well to remember that is the stuff that real men and women are made of. They push through the hard, through the fear, and through the selfishness to embrace the iron sharpening iron process. I am, I have always been, and I will always be fully me! 

Take note car company: You might have sucked me in had you not ended the commercial on that note!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Author's Heart

For several years, I've wanted to write a story about a girl I named Gracie. It is a story about a young woman who has experienced trauma and enters counseling because a current traumatic event has stirred up a life time of pain that she had buried deep. I wanted to write this story to help people understand what it is like for a child to experience abuse and then to grow up carrying the baggage of that with them into adulthood. I also hope to help others see glimpses of what the healing journey looks like and maybe to answer those questions irritating questions that many survivors get asked--questions like" "Why didn't you just tell them to stop?" "Why didn't you run away?" "If that really happened, why didn't you tell someone?"

I hope to show how trauma can impact the way one views themselves, views others, and how it changes one's perceptions of God. I am just a few chapters into the book and am finding it both challenging and fun. Though I started writing this book to teach others something, I realized yesterday God is using it to teach me about Himself. As I was writing a chapter that described Gracie's childhood and the neglect she experienced my heart began to ache a little. As I described the impact of mental illness, her parent's divorce, and the subsequent poverty on her and her family my heart ached even more. Then as I went on to described the physical, mental, and sexual abuse she experienced, I found my heart growing strangely tender towards Gracie, this young woman I was creating as I wrote. It was not long before my eyes filled with tears. I finished the chapter, but couldn't shake the feelings I had experienced.

As I was processing the emotions I experienced in writing yesterday, several interesting thoughts passed through my mind. I had been crying for a character I had created. I had been crying for the painful things she experienced in the story I was writing for her, knowing full well I had the power and the authority as the author to rewrite her story in a different way. Yet, I am choosing not to do that for what I believe to be good reasons. As I thought about that, I began to wonder if this could be the way our Abba feels as we live the stories He has authored for us--stories that are often riddled with trauma and pain. Maybe His heart is just as tender towards us as we go through the hard stuff He has written for us. Maybe He even cries for us, while being fully conscious of the fact that He could with a word or a movement of His hand stay the trauma and prevent the hurt, but chooses to not do so.

Maybe it is because He knows that it is a grain of sand irritating an oyster that results in a beautiful pearl. Maybe it is because He know that a catastrophic natural event can form the purest and most beautiful of diamonds. Maybe it is because he knows that it is the time spent in a kiln that renders a piece of pottery both beautiful and fit for Holy use. Maybe it is because He knows the heat is what burns away the impurities in silver allowing a silversmith's reflection to shine through. Likewise, maybe it is because the painful things we experience are what we need to get us to the place we can abandon self to fully trust Jesus, who can transform us broken vessels into glorious ones fit for His Holy purposes. Maybe it is because He knows that it takes us being fully broken to be willing to allow Him to take the little pieces of our hearts and stitch them back together in such a way that they are beautifully tender, yet strong enough to love even the most unlovable. Maybe He even restrains a desire of His own to rewrite stories because He knows the most valuable and most beautiful treasures are those treasures that we find in the darkest places. Maybe He restrains His desire to prevent pain because He knows that the sweetest intimacy with Him occurs when the questions that began as statements of protest dissolve into questions asked from hearts seeking nothing more than to know His heart. Just as I know I have good intentions and a tender heart towards my creation, I think we can trust that this is a reflection of the Abba's heart towards us as He writes our redemption stories, stories that in the end reveal the Author's heart..
 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Never to be Forsaken

I started reading Louis Giglio's new book, Not Forsaken. I started it a week ago, but haven't gotten past the first chapter. Like much of Giglio's writing, it is rich in truth and touches on things that stir the heart and draws me to the Father. 

As I read the first chapter, I knew I would need to take it slow to ruminating on one chapter at a time. I soon realized the word forsake was a good place for me to start. As I looked it up and read the definition and its synonyms, different pictures popped into my head. Forsake means to abandon, bringing to mind a women reeling from the news that her spouse has found someone else. 

It means to desert someone without the intention of coming back, bringing to mind a husband who finds a note left by the wife who didn't even have the decency to tell him in person. 

It means to leave a person high and dry, bringing to mind a child whose dad or mom has deserted them in their most formative years, leaving them ill equipped to navigate the life they live, the pain they will experience, the tumultuous relationships they will have, and the struggle between right and wrong they will face on a daily basis. 

It means to fail to protect someone who is depending on you, bringing to mind children left in the care of unsafe people, especially when children have said either verbally or nonverbally that they don't feel safe. 

It means to leave someone when leaving them places them in a weakened state, bringing to mind a child whose needs will never be fully met as a result of a parent's selfish decision. 

It means to turn your back on someone, bringing to mind a child calling after a parent, "I need you," as the parent walks away for the last time or the child who is clamoring for approval and a father or mother refuses to give it. 

It means to cast someone aside, bringing to mind ladies in our groups who were used and abused and cast aside like today's trash. 

It means to give up on a relationship, bringing to mind  the marriage in which one spouse wants to work on it and the other doesn't or a parent seeking to repair a relationship with an adult child who is unwilling to forgive. 

It means to disown someone, bringing to mind a parent so angry with a child that she writes them off, refusing to visit, return calls, or open letters. The list goes on, including other words like jilt, renounce, relinquish, disclaim, disavow, desert, or discard. I will let you use your imagination for. 

As I have processed the first chapter, I realize how much of my life I struggled with the fear of being forsaken. It began in early childhood when my parents were struggling and threatened divorce. As children do, I personalized their desire to leave and made it my responsibility to try to hold them together. I did this by trying to be good so neither would get angry enough to leave, by bossing siblings around so they wouldn't rock the proverbial boat, by assuming more than my share of household chores so mom didn't get overwhelmed and leave, by staying home on Friday nights when friends were hanging so the parents didn't have too much to worry about, and by keeping some pretty dark secrets that needed telling because I feared those secrets would push them over the edge. I also did this by confronting the parent who eventually left, forever complicating the relationship we had. 

I carried that fear into friendships. It played out in my being a compliant friend--one who seldom voiced her preferences, desires, dreams, opinions, or needs. It played out when a the thought of  using my voice to express some very real concerns over what I was seeing terrified and silenced me and eventually sent me running from a friend who desperately needed me to stay. 

I carried that fear into my marriage where it kept me silent again. I was afraid to express my needs, desires, opinions, or concerns for fear my spouse would leave me with five kids to raise alone. I was afraid to confront sinful patterns that were chiseling away at the foundation of our marriage for fear he would head out the door. I know now that my fear of being forsaken was irrational because my husband is a man who has desperately always wanted to break the pattern of divorce that reigned over our extended families. He is a gentle man, a kind man, and one whose anger tends to be more passive than aggressive. Yet, my heart was terrified. There were times I needed to use my voice so he could understand the ways he was hurting me. There were times I needed to use my voice to get help with the kids, but didn't. There were times I needed to use my voice to confront his sin and invite him to be the man God was calling him to be. Oh, we eventually had those conversations, but I grieved that my fear kept us from fixing things that needed fixing long before they caused us so much pain. 

When I read the book She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martydom of Cassie Bernall, I was enamored by a scene the author described. Her daughter, Cassie, had gone through a rebellious stage and had gotten into all sorts of dark stuff, including witch craft, that had left her emotionally scarred. The parents moved their family and fought long and hard for their daughter and her salvation. One day she was having a day in which she was filled with anger and all sorts of painful emotions and rebellious feelings. Instead of fighting her and disciplining her, Cassie's dad grabbed her and held her tight. At first she struggled and beat on his chest as she was wailing. He just kept hugging her tight until all the anger dissipated and she leaned into him and resting in his arms she wept all the tears she needed to weep. 

When I went into counseling to face underlying pain and anger of the dark secrets I had kept, this vision of Cassie and her dad often came to mind and I longed to scream and wail and still find myself being held, knowing full well someone, anyone would stay and hold me for as long as it took to get rid of the pain. Then God began to whisper Hebrews 13:5 into my mind, "I will never leave you or forsake you." The vision of Cassie's dad holding her was soon replaced with one of me climbing a mountain and crying out at the top of my lungs all the hurt, the rage, and the questions I had held on to for so long. I remember being met with the Abba's loving presence and Him holding me and whispering in my ear, "It is okay. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I am here for good." I realized those dark secrets had lead me to believe and doubt my Abba's love and as I began to rest in the fact that He had promised to never leave or forsake me, I found my voice. I found my courage. I found my God-given passion. And, as a result of His healing, I have become more of who God created me to be, not trying to be who I thought others expected me to be and with that freedom came great peace. 

Even though my relationship with my earthly father were complicated and so deeply flawed on all sides, I am grateful my story doesn't end there. Nor does it end with the abuse I experienced but was never able, as a child, to talk to my parents about. As Giglio put it in his book, "No one who knows Him as Father will be forsaken. No one will be left behind. No one will be orphaned. No one will go unwanted. No one's story will end with abuse and betrayal. No one will have to live without a father's love. No one, ever."  Because of what Jesus did on the cross for me, I will never have to cry out the words He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"




Friday, June 7, 2019

Who is Sitting at your Table?

Sixteen years ago I was in a lot of emotional pain as I was participating in an abuse group similar to the Passionate Heart Groups at our church. Shortly after the group ended in the fall, I was in an accident and suffered a severely broken ankle that left me housebound for a year. During that year I had a dream in which every woman I passed on the street had no mouth and dead, haunted eyes. I woke up crying and I pleaded with God to give women their voices. Soon after Jesus gave me the desire to write Growing a Passionate Heart and instilled in me a vision for the ministry of which I am apart. And, it is not a surprise that it is a ministry that God uses to not only help women find their voices but help and healing as well. 

Women often come into our groups looking for quick fixes for traumatic wounds, emotional pain, eating disorders, and relational problems. But, instead we ask them to do a lot of hard work and walk them through processes in which they uncover, examine, and clean emotional wounds so that they can heal. They often discover their pain began early in life when they experienced abuse, rejection, harsh criticism, emotional or physical abandonment, or grew up in the chaos of having parents struggling with addictions or mental illness. And, sadly many come to realize rape, incest, and molestation aren't just words to forgive, but deeply wounding actions that impacted every part of their lives. 

Over time, our ladies begin to understand the truth that Jesus understands what they have been through. He understands because He lived in a fallen world and was abused and wounded by people who should have loved Him. He understands because He endured beatings that left Him unrecognizable and experienced rejection by those He came to save. He understands because He went through pain similar to theirs, having been stripped and hung naked and exposed on the cross where He bore the blame for things He didn't do. He understands because He was abandoned and left to bear the painful consequences of others’ sin. He understands because He was perceived as crazy and demon possessed. He even felt forsaken by God as He cried out, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” Over time our ladies come to understand Christ hanging on the cross is the proof they need that God cares and deals with the evil that exists in this world! For in a very public arena, Jesus bore sin and shame in His body. He was innocent, yet wounded and chastised for sin, dying a very violent death. 

The end of group is always hard for leaders because they will no longer be there on a weekly basis to remind ladies of the truths they learned in group. As I was writing this years graduation talk I watched a sermon on line given by Louis Giglio at Liberty University. The sermon was on Psalm 23:8, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” I realized our leaders worry that some of their ladies will faulter because they will forget that since the fall humans, who were created for paradise living, are living inbetween Eden and Heaven, sharing space with a very real Enemy and his cohorts. The Word tells us clearly that Satan was defeated on the cross, but we know the Serpent is still writhing and seeking whom He can destroy with his lies. Because he is evil, he goes after those made vulnerable by loss, by trauma, by abuse, by catastrophes, and by moral failures and speaks ugly lies into their vulnerable minds--lies meant to destroy both the person and their relationship with God. 

I loved the picture Giglio presented in his talk. God has prepared us a table not away from the enemy, but in the presence of him. But, we sometimes fail to remember we have the power and authority to choose who sits at our table. As a believer, imagine you are sitting at your beautifully decorated table with the Lord and engaging with Him as you read His Word, pray, meditate on His Truth, trust Him, and obey Him. As you engage with Jesus, He reminds you of His Holiness, His goodness, His power, His faithfulness, and His great love. He reminds you that He has redeemed you, that He has reconciled you to Himself, that He has chosen you, and that He has fully accepted you based on your faith in Him. He also reminds you that you are beautiful, loved, treasured, a part of a royal priesthood, an ambassador whose real home is heaven, and His adopted daughter with the full rights of sonship. He reminds you that the Holy Spirit empowers, comforts, and calls to mind all that you need for living the live to which He has called you. He reminds you the Spirit has also given you spiritual gifts that enable you to build up the body of Christ. When you are fully engaging with Christ, the Enemy maybe hovering over your table, but you don’t even notice him. 

But, when you get triggered, succumb to temptation, are realing from a painful traumatic event, or simply ignore Jesus, Satan sees it as his opportunity to pull up a chair and plop down at your table. Sometimes, you recognize the Enemy for who he is and tell him he is not welcome at your table. But, there are other times the Enemy speaks a lie or a half truth that resonates so much with what you are already thinking or feeling that you get hooked and begin to pay attention to him. Before long your have turned your chair away from the Lord and towards the Enemy. You begin to fully engaged with the Enemy, buying into one ugly lie after another. Before you know it, you've forgotten the Lord who is sitting at your table and you are chewing on Satan's lies. You know those lies. You are ugly. You are fat. You are a failure. You are unloved. You are unwanted. You are too broken. You are too much. You are not enough. You are nothing but damaged goods. You deserve to be battered. You are weak. You are invisible. You don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. You deserved the abuse you experienced. Something in you caused the man to do those vile things. Everything wrong is your fault. You are responsible for everyone’s happiness. And the ugliest lie of all--Jesus didn’t really love you, what you experienced has proven that.

All the while Jesus is still sitting at your table, you have just turned your attention to the Enemy. The Lord gently nudges you, but you ignore Him because you are so filled with confusion, shame, pain, and anger. After a moment or two, an hour or two, a day or two, a week or two, a month or two, or a year or two or maybe more, you realize you have been listening to the Enemy and have given him power over you. Then the Spirit within you or maybe someone you know reminds you that you can have the authority to take back your power. And, you yell, “STOP, LEAVE!” You turn back to the Lord who never left and reengage with Him, hanging on to His truth and begin, once again, to live out your faith. It sounds easy, but it isn't. When there is trauma those lies Satan uses are deeply embedded into our core. To overcome them, we must change our core by constantly taking our thoughts captive to God's truth and that is a 24-7 job. 

So, who is sitting at your table? To whose voice are you listening? I can tell you God’s voice isn’t a condemning one, that is the Enemy’s. We would do well to remember, as believers, we get to decide who sits at our table. Fear, insecurity, lack of peace, condemnation, bitterness, the ugly things we think about ourselves, and the paranoid things we think about others--these are all things that indicate we have let the enemy sit down at our tables. We, as believers, have One who is dwelling in us who is more powerful than the Enemy and He gives us the power and authority to tell the Enemy to leave and allows us to redirect our focus back on the ever present, ever loving Jesus so we can enjoy Him and experience His peace, His love, and His healing power.    

  

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Battles Won in Unlikely Ways

When I was a young adult, we landed in a church whose biggest strength was it's Bible teaching. We not only heard expository sermons, we had many opportunities to participate in Bible Studies through the week. One of the Bible study leaders said he loved to read the Bible because it is book full of love stories, epic battles, and stories in which flawed main characters were redeemed, transformed, and thrust into the middle of God's epic story. Under his teaching I became more interested in the battle stories, especially ones fought and won in unlikely ways. These battles contain valuable lessons for us because it is written on the heart of every believer to be a hero or a heroine fighting battles, whether they be physical, emotional, or spiritual in nature. If you don't believe me, threaten a parent and you will see either a "papa gorilla" or a "mama gorilla" rise up to protect their young ones. Let's look at four different battles fought and won in the most unlikely ways.

First, we have the battle between Israel and Goliath. The Philistines gathered for battle at Socoh, which belonged to Judah and Saul and his men had essentially "drawn a line in the sand" for them. A Philistine named Goliath was a giant of a man who was dressed in heavy armor and carried a huge spear. He taunted the men of Israel twice a day, yelling for them to send someone brave enough to fight him so the winner of the fight with him could settle the battle between Israel and the Philistines. Saul and his men stayed put because they were all afraid. When David brought his brothers food, he  heard Goliath mocking Israel and asked, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" David's brothers thought him presumptuous, but it didn't deter him from volunteering to fight Goliath. David armed with only five smooth stones and a slingshot approached Goliath. Goliath came closer with his shield-bearer in front of him and when he saw how young David was, Goliath cursed him, evoking the names of his false gods. Undaunted, David shouted back, "You come to me with a sword, spear, and javelin; I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. He will deliver you into my hand. I will strike you down and cut off your head and feed your body to the birds so all will know the Lord saves." When Goliath rose to meet David for battle, David slung one stone, striking the Philistine in the forehead. When Goliath fell, David took Goliath's sword and cut off his head. Israel won because David knew who how powerful His God was and trusted Him for the victory.

Second, we have the battle of Joshua at Jericho. God told Joshua he would give the city, its king, and its men of valor to him. As God instructed, Joshua told his men to take up the Ark of the Covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark. He had armed men pass before the Ark and a rear guard follow it. He had the priests continually blow their horns as they marched around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day he had them march around the city seven times and on the seventh time when the priests blew their trumpets, he had the men shout in recognition that the Lord had given them the city. When they shouted, the wall fell flat and they captured the city. I wonder what Joshua's warriors thought when he told them to march instead of waging an attack. I wonder what it would have been like to shout in joy for a victory that hadn't even happened yet. Their actions exposed their faith. Israel won, because they listened to God and did as He instructed.    

Third, we find God instructing Gideon to downsize his army so Israel wouldn't take credit for the upcoming battle. Gideon sent home 22,000 soldiers and kept 10,000. But, God told him that was still too many soldiers. He had Gideon tell the men to go down to the water to get a drink. Most of the soldiers knelt, leaning over to get their water, but 300 of them dipped their hands in and lapped water from them. God told Gideon he would win the battle with these 300 men. God sent Gideon, who tended to be fearful, down to spy on the enemy and he overheard a man telling a dream to one of his comrades. The comrade recognized the dream as a prophecy about Gideon and His army being victorious. When Gideon heard this, his heart was filled with encouragement and he worshiped God. He then returned to his camp and told the army of 300 to get up. He divided them in to three groups and gave them all trumpets and lit torches that they hid in jars. They surrounded the city, blew their trumpets and smashed their jars and cried out, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" The Lord set every man's sword against his comrade. Can you imagine coming against a large army armed only with a trumpets and torches? Can you imagine seeing a battle waged and won in front of you without ever having to raise a sword? Israel won because they believed God and did what He commanded.

Fourth, we have a battle won by Jehoshaphat. His men warned him a huge army was coming to wage war. He was afraid and proclaimed a fast and went to God's House to pray. He said, "O Lord, God of our fathers, aren't You God who rules over all kingdoms and nations? In Your hand are power and might, so that none can withstand You. You drove out the inhabitants of our land and gave it to us as a forever possession. We come to you now because the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom You would not allow us to invade are coming against us. Will you execute judgement on them? We are powerless against them and do not know what to do. But, our eyes are on you!" The Spirit of the Lord said, "Do not be afraid of this great army, for the battle is God's. Go against them tomorrow. You will not need to fight. Just stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord." The next morning Jehoshaphat rose and said, "Hear me, Judah and believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed." He appointed singers who wore holy attire to march before the army. When they began to sing and praise the Lord, the Lord set an ambush against the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir so that they destroyed each other. Israel won because they believed God and stood firm.

I believe God was very intentional in about sharing these accounts with us. Maybe God put the story of David and Goliath in the Bible to remind us not to be like the men in Saul's army who were afraid because of they listened to the enemy who has a very big mouth. The enemy wants us to cower in fear, believing he has more power than he does. If we are  not careful, we can become paralyzed by  fear that is irrationally based on the enemy's lies about God. We can cower in fear as He reminds us of our insecurities, our weaknesses, and our failures. We can hide in shame as we listen to the names he ascribes to us--names that are meant to shame. Maybe God also wants us to understand that one man or one woman who has faith can defeat the enemy and impact a whole community.

Maybe God put the story of Jericho in the Bible to remind us that God uses a lot of different methods to accomplish His plans and that His methods may not make sense to our finite human brains. All we have to do is keep marching, keep trusting, keep obeying, and keep praising God for the victories He will give. Maybe He was also telling us that there is no wall too big, no enemy too powerful, no temptation too strong, and no spirit so evil that He can't defeat when we fully trust Him and are obedient to that which He calls us.

I love the battle of Gideon and his small little band of men. I can relate to Gideon having fear. He thought he was showing God trust when he sent home 22,000 men and kept 10,000 men with him. But God stretched His faith by sending home 9, 700 more men home, leaving Gideon with only 300. That isn't typically done when there is a large army nearby. I love that God understood Gideon's fear and graciously turned that fear into courage by allowing him to hear the prophetic vision to which Gideon responded with faith and worship. Maybe God put this story in the Bible so we would understand that when he calls us into new territories filled with darkness, it doesn't take huge armies to make an impact. It only takes a small band of faithful warriors bearing the light of Jesus and proclaiming God's truth to the nations. We tend to think these battles are ours, but in reality they belong to God who is sovereign over all. The enemy cannot thwart the plans of our great God.

Maybe God put Jehoshaphat's battle in the Bible so we could learn how to face fear by understanding its source is often rooted in a sense of powerlessness. Maybe He put the story in the Bible to remind us that when we are afraid, we can unashamedly bring our fear to Him, declaring who God is and who we are in relationship to Him and by reminding ourselves of His promises. This story show us that we can defeat the enemy through worship. Max Lucado says worship isn't about performing, preparing our hearts for sermons, or making our hearts feel warm and fuzzy, it is spiritual warfare! Worship defeats the enemy by drowning out his lies and melting our fears and doubts by reminding us who God is and what He has done and what He will do in the future. We can become victorious believers, filling our lives, our homes, our places of work, and our churches with worship. We can even be victorious over besetting sin, by facing down the strong temptation with worship, after all  temptation is nothing more than a call to worship.

The Christian life is a war zone and will continue to be so until Jesus returns for His Bride. Because of this, there will be times we experience fear. It isn't a sin as some would have you believe. It is merely an emotion. What we do with that fear will determine whether or not we are victorious. Our battles, like those fought by David, Joshua, Gideon, and Jehoshaphat, will be won in unlikely ways when we live worship-filled lives. For in worship, we find ourselves taking thoughts captive to God's truth, admitting our powerlessness, re focusing our eyes on the all powerful One, and becoming overcomers by the word of our testimonies. The battles are not ours, they are the Lord's and they will be won in the most unlikely ways. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Fear is a Four Letter Word

Several years ago I wrote a book on emotions and in that book wrote a chapter called, "Fear is a Four Letter Word:. In that chapter I shared that my earliest memories of fear are from my preschool years. My dad often watched old westerns with battles between cowboys and Native Americans. At the time we lived in west Texas and we drove from Salt Flats to El Paso to get groceries. I remember being hypervigilant and watching out of the car window afraid Natives would come riding over the mountains to attack us. My mind didn't grasp that the westerns my dad watched reflected a different time period than the one in which we were living. My fear was irrationally based on childish perceptions, not on facts.

Many believers think fear is a sin, but it is a protective, energizing emotion when it is operating in a healthy way. In fact, we can't display courage unless we are experiencing fear. We know fear is built into our emotional makeup from conception as babies jump in the womb in response to loud sudden sounds. God put fear in our emotional make up so it could motivate us to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Fear warns us of potential danger and energizes us by speeding up blood flow so that we can think and act more quickly. It motivates us to flee, fight, or play dead.

Fear can sometimes help to bond people. This occurs when we embrace fears together, especially when we do it for fun's sake. I did this watching Alfred Hitchcock's shows with my family as a young child. We  snuggled close to our parents as the show built towards its climax. Sometimes my dad would growl or yell, "BOO!" just before am exciting part. We would scream, jump, and then all laugh. Our family felt close during those times. I also experienced this when I faced my fear of heights, riding rollercoasters with my kids and climbing a rock wall with our youth group. Even though I experienced fear in those situations, I knew I was with people I trusted and we bonded as we talked and joked about our fears, encouraged each other, and then debriefed afterwards. These things provided shared memories and these memories provide points of instant reconnection when one of us says, "Do you remember that time...?"

Because we live in a fallen world, fear can becomes irrational. If this happens, it can paralyze and control us to the point it becomes a stronghold in our lives. Irrational fear, can make us cowardly if we give into it. This occurred in the book of Numbers when the Israelites were to enter the Promise Land. God had instructed Moses to send a man from each tribe to check out the land. Forty days later, the men returned with pomegranates, figs, clusters of grapes so heavy they had to be carried by two men. All agreed they had found the land of "milk and honey" God described. Yet, only two of the twelve believed Israel could take the land with the Lord's help. They had all observed people of large stature living in the land and ten of them felt so intimidated that they refused to take the land, missing many years of blessing. In their fear, they forgot about God's power and His faithfulness to them. Our fear can make us forgetful, toe.

Irrational fear sometimes has a spiritual component to it as Satan is a master deceiver and can make routine battles look unbeatable, everyday trials look insurmountable, and daily temptations look undefeatable. If we buy into his lies, Satan can turn us into cowards, experiencing chronic fear and living mediocre lives. Cowardly fear can come out in the fear of rejection, which keeps us from reaching out to others, leaving us bound by loneliness. It can come out in the fear of failure, which keeps us from taking risks that would help us develop our talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. It can come out in the fear of abandonment, which keeps us focused on self, instead of loving others well. Hence, irrational fears can cause us to miss out on relationships and opportunities in education, jobs, and ministry.

Unhealthy fear has the potential to cause confusion, which increases the fear we are experiencing. We see this in the book of Judges when God instructed Gideon to call 300 men to surround the Midianite camp, carrying trumpets and clay jars hiding lit torches. He told them to surround the camp, blow their trumpets, break their jars to reveal their torches and shout, "A sword for the Lord and Gideon!" This caused sudden fear among the Midianites and, in their subsequent confusion, the Midianites drew swords on each other. Kind of looks like what Satan and his legions do in our churches today, doesn't it? He knows each of our vulnerabilities and insecurities and attacks in a way that causes fear-fueled confusion. This confusion paralyzes us, keeps us stuck, misconstrues reality, stirs up strife, and causes us to attack each other. Every time I have experienced conflict in the church, there was a great amount of confusion concerning it and at the root of the conflicts was some sort of fear.

When fear becomes a stronghold, it draws our focus away from God and zaps our energy, leaving us with little power to obey. We see this when Saul and the Israelites were facing Goliath. Goliath was a large man with a big mouth. He stood on the mountainside taunting Saul and his army. God had told Israel He would defeat Goliath on their behalf, but they became so afraid that no one took action. Only young David believed God and had the courage to face down the giant. Sadly, Saul's fears became more irrational as time went on. He began to fear his faithful servant, David, tried to kill him and ultimately his fear led him to commit suicide. His fear had become an idol, one that he spent much of his life trying to appease, to no avail. Fear ruled his heart and drove him to carry out ugly, ungodly actions.

In his book, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear, Ken Nichols pointed out that there are 366 "fear not's" in the Bible. Contrary to what many believe, these were not given to us to admonish us or to shame us. When God says not to fear, He follows it with sweet reminders of His presence, His faithfulness, and His power. Fear doesn't have to be a four letter word when we realize it gives us opportunities to be courageous and grow in faith. When we call fear sin, it is because we have forgotten the Bible is a book about a relationship between a God and the people He loves. It is not a list of do's and don'ts written from an angry God waiting to zap us. It is written with from a heart filled with love that desires to protect us and our relationship with Him. His telling us not to be afraid is similar to us lovingly telling our children not to be afraid because we are with them, have knowledge they don't have, will protect them, and can identify irrationality behind many of the fears they have. We can be thankful God won't obliterate our fear as it not only helps us stay safe, it is the very thing that drives us to Him.

(Ken Nichols, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear; Wendy J. Mahill, Embracing a Feeling Heart ) 

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!