Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will the Real Enemy Please Stand Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

This is Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

It Will Never be Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, February 26, 2018

A Heart-Mending God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Second Class Citizens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Importance of Voice

Several years ago, I was working as a volunteer with youth and loved it. Then hurtful things happened and I found my voice being silenced and my spiritual gifts being negated. I had a couple of people I trust ask me if maybe God was using those things to redirect me to a different ministry where I could use my voice, experiences, and gifts freely. I wrestled with their words and could not decide if leaving was a redirection or running from a difficult situation God wanted me to work through. One night I went to bed and dreamed I was walking down a busy street and every person I passed had empty eyes and no mouth. I woke up with tears pouring down my cheeks, begging the Lord to please give people their voices. God used the dream to develop a new passion in me--a passion to help people regain their voices, speak their stories and move past pain they have endured. It led me to start writing curriculum and to start a support group ministry in which women find safety and are encouraged to use their voices. In our groups they get to tell their stories, knowing their stories will be treated with respect and they will be heard and treated with compassion. In this ministry we get to walk along side of women as they connect to the Savior so deeply they find hope, healing, and freedom from their pasts.

Well-meaning parents sometimes say things that shame children into silence, causing them to quit using their voices to tell their stories and express their emotional pain. Sadly, that pain actually signals that something is wrong and needs to be corrected, leaving them unprotected. The kinds of words that silence kids are: "Don't feel that way!" "You must have misunderstood what they said (or did)." "Don't be a baby." "Don't let you sister know she hurt you and maybe she won't do it anymore." "Other kids don't feel (or cry) the way you do!" "Hush, we can't talk about that person that way. We will ruin his reputation. (hurt our church’s testimony)." "Tell them sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." "Stop that crying!" "If you keep crying, I will give you something to cry about." "Put a smile on your face right now!" "We don't do anger in this house!" "Grow up!" Sometimes these messages given are silent or subtler. Maybe a child is only acknowledged or given attention when they smile and don’t complain. A lot of kids are never asked why they are sad, scared, or don't want to participate in activities. 

Believers' responses to emotional pain and hard stories are not always better. Take the issue of anger. We can forget there is an anger that is righteous. Christ demonstrated it several times. Yet, when I shared about the bullying my kids were experiencing on a daily basis, I was admonished by a believer for not forgiving. I honestly forgave daily, but it didn't stop the bullying or the pain we experienced as a family. Those who are hurting may first try to share anger over their mistreatment. They are often quickly silenced by admonitions to forgive, reminders that believers are supposed to be full of joy, or a Bible verse quoted in a condescending way. These things silence people, leaving them with their pain intensified by the secondary emotion of shame, causing people to deny and to bury both the story and the emotion deeper. What we need in those moments is for someone to acknowledge the pain underneath our anger. Sexual abuse victims' voices are silenced when they are asked what they were wearing, what they were drinking, and what they did to provoke the predator. They are also silenced when they are met with skepticism or told something that indicates they aren’t believed.

Take the issues associated with anxiety provoking events. Several years ago, one of our sons was in an ATV accident and his spleen ruptured. He when into surgery in serious condition and had complications that included fluid building up around his heart. I stayed with him in ICU for 12 days and then another six days in a regular room. During that time there was a lot of talk about another major surgery on a young man that had already had four units of blood given to him, severe pain caused by being cut from chest bone to pubic bone, who just wanted to be home. After we finally came home, I went to church and a woman asked how we were doing and I started telling her about everything we went through. Instead of letting me talk, she quickly put her hand on my arm and said, "Oh, he is fine, now isn't he?" She may have been uncomfortable with my story and emotions and just wanted me to be ok. Though she may have thought she was helping me, what she did was silence my voice, causing me to stuff emotions that were intensified by the shame behind the message that it was not okay to talk about what we had experienced. I am thankful for counselors and friends who let me use my voice to tell that story until I had drained all the emotions.

To be honest, I get frustrated by those who tell people facing anxiety provoking events that they are sinning for feeling what they feel and for sharing their concerns. Can we not just turn to the person and ask them in that moment if we could pray for them or what we could do to help instead of judging them? We could pray God would meet them in the middle of their hard, that He would give them the strength they need to face each day, that He would calm their fears, and give them insight into what He is doing. We could pray His love would overwhelm them as they journey through difficult times and that He would show them things about Him that they would not otherwise see.

We are friends with a family whose little boy had stage four liver cancer. The mom shared posts on Facebook that included their journey and the Bible art she was drawing that helped her get through those long days of hospital stays. Every year she shares the memories that come up on her page about that time. I have never once thought, "Oh, she should be over this by now.!" When she shares I am reminded of what God did with that sick little boy, with his parents, with his extended family, and with his church. I believe every time she shares those posts I am privileged to hear her voice and watch her continue to work through the medical trauma they all experienced. Some want the church to be a place where everyone is happy all the time, but it isn’t. While we pray for healing, God doesn't always choose to heal. Maybe there are lessons for us in how to love and show compassion in the hard-ongoing painful situations God is working in. Can we allow people to grieve when they need to and to express their concerns even if it is uncomfortable for us or makes us realize God doesn’t fit into a nice and neat little box?

Our God is a communicating God. His word contains stories about real people who had real emotions just like you and me and they had a need to share their stories, too. Think about Joseph who was sold into slavery and suffered so many injustices as he did his best to live well. When those brothers who had sold him showed up at his door needing food, he had a lot of emotions to work through. He cried, He wailed, and he tested them. Those tears and the working through the abuse he suffered was what enabled him to fully forgive his brothers and see God's redemptive plan fully unfold before him so that he, in his grace, preserved the nation of Israel.

When we read Paul's letters to the various churches we catch bits and pieces of his story written in them. I don't believe when he wrote and preached about his past history of trying to destroy the church that he didn't feel remnants of grief over the deaths he caused and the families he destroyed. At the same time, I believe he was overjoyed at the grace God showed him and it motivated him to write and preach the powerful things he did. When he talked about the suffering he endured relationally and physically as a missionary, he penned and preached those things with the same feelings we might experience in those situations. His voice has served generations of believers, including us. From him we learn about the depth of God's grace, and the richness that comes in persevering in the hard.

If we aren't willing to hear others' voices and the stories they tell and if we are not willing to walk through the emotions that arise in the telling, we are missing out on powerful redeeming stories that God is actively writing. We also miss out on the opportunity to witness God's lavish grace. As I watched the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, who sexually abused hundreds of girls, I was infuriated by his predatorial attempts to manipulate the survivors into feeling sorry for him and the judge into silencing their voices in the court room. But the judge did not put up with it. She gave everyone who wanted to speak the chance to use their voice. In doing so, she validated their stories and the pain they suffered at his hands. We need to remember we do not have the right to silence other's voices either--not with platitudes, not with admonitions, not with pats on the arm followed by, "Now, now everything is ok.!" Neither do we have the right to silence others' hard questions about where God was, where God is, or where God will be in their painful stories. We are called to show the same compassion Jesus showed and that includes allowing people to use their voices. Giving importance to another’s voice is giving value to the person and their story.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

It's Always Been about Grace

As a child I usually walked to church alone. When I came home there were no discussions about what I was learning or what I thought about God. I remember being confused and scared because it seemed like there was one God revealed in the Old Testament who was strict and harsh and a very different God revealed in the New Testament who was gracious and kind. I loved the God presented in the New Testament, but my fear of the God from the Old Testament, and trauma I had experienced, made it difficult for me to fully trust Him.

Some of the fear I had was healthy fear that the Holy Spirit used to draw me to the Savior. But, some of the fear was toxic and was formed through misunderstandings of God's Word. These misunderstandings came from not having conversations with adults who could have clarified what I believed, correcting misconceptions I had formed about God. Some fear was caused by good people who left out details they thought we were too young to hear, making God's judgments seem unreasonably harsh and out of control. Some of the misunderstanding came from simply being young and not grasping how sinful humans can be when they choose to live life apart from God. I was scared and literally expected God to strike me dead when I made mistakes or sinned. As a child, I laid in bed at the end of the day worried and replaying my day in my head, hoping every word spoken was true, that I had respected my parents adequately, and that I was loving enough to get to wake up the next day. One time, when the wind blew the front door shut on my hand, it hurt so bad that I screamed a curse word and immediately began trembling, not from pain, but from the fear that God was going to strike me dead for the word I had said.

Fortunately, God took me and my husband to a small Bible teaching church where I studied the Bible under a great teacher and for seven years I could ask questions and explore my views of God in depth. The pastor and the elders believed in a gospel filled with grace and I began to grasp more and more of the love of Christ. I had forgotten which books of the Bible alleviated my unreasonable fears until yesterday when one of our pastors was teaching on Galatians 3, which was the same book that had radically changed my view of God and the Bible.

Verses 17-18 say, "The Law introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." The law was given because of sin and it remained in place until Jesus came. The law is beautiful because it describes God and His holiness. It describes His love and shows His grace through the temporary sacrifices that pointed to the grace that would be shown us through Jesus who would be the Lamb, without blemish or spot, sacrificed for our sin. The law was also God's protection for us and the suffering we inflict upon each other and upon ourselves because sin always causes spiritual, physical, emotional, or relational death.

It is important to understand that when the law was given it was not a replacement for grace and it did not nullify God's promise to Abraham. Neither can the law give us life, because we are incapable of keeping it. The law, when it is obeyed, only puts a stay to the sin in man's heart, preventing some of the wounding and the damage caused by it. Without the law, sex is a free-for-all that spreads disease and death. It also destroys the hearts of those involved because we were not made for sin that binds us into a one flesh relationship with multiple people. Without the law, alcohol and drug abuse destroys bodies and families as users seek their next hit. Without the law rageaholics rage at those around them, breaking hearts and bones, and either killing others or themselves from the stress rage puts on their bodies. Without the law, our selfish hearts tend to love poorly, putting ourselves first, neglecting the hearts and needs of spouses, families, and friends. Sin is serious, serious business. When we don't deal with it and when we don't call the evil deeds we do or the ugly attitudes we display sin, we are prone to take it to levels we never thought we would. This is because it can't fill the needs that were written on our hearts by our Creator leaving us starving for what will fulfill us, and then we lose sight of the truth that only He can fulfill those needs.

The law was a guardian showing us God's character and our need for a Savior and our need to be justified by faith. Now that Jesus has come, we no longer need the law. When we believed in Christ we were sealed by the Holy Spirit who came to dwell in us. We are now children of God, Abraham's seed, and joint heirs with Christ. As believers, we now have the ability to love as Jesus loves. Because of this we don't need the law. That statement will cause some people great angst when they read it. But, if we are walking closely with Christ and spending time with Him, His Spirit in us gives us discernment and godly desires. His Spirit leads us to speak loving words of encouragement that build others up and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. His Spirit enables us to extend grace when it is needed and to set godly boundaries with those who refuse to repent, and to speak the truth in love in such a way that pride is melted and others are drawn back to the Savior.

Non-believers still need the law and its protection as it shows them what sin is, but we don't. We are to focus on love, not sin. As we focus on loving God and others we will automatically show honor and respect to those around us. As we focus on loving, we won't do things from a selfish motive and we won't sin in ways that deeply wounds others. We won't hold on to grudges and we won't speak wounding words intentionally. Those who love well don't abuse or murder others physically or emotionally, they offer life to them. Even in the heat of arguments, Spirit led people can find themselves asking, "What can I do to love you better right now?"

The law does serve a purpose, but its purpose was never about Salvation. That has always been, still is, and always will be about grace.            


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!