Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Righteousness that Protects

It took me a while to realize righteousness is a gift that protects. When I first heard about God's righteousness, as a child, I was both fascinated and terrified. I was fascinated because I wanted desperately to be good. As soon as I learned to talk, I talked nonstop to anyone who listened. Needless to say, my mouth got me into trouble when I used it to argue with siblings, to talk back to my parents, and to repeat things I had overheard that were none of my business and not mine to share. In fact, I got in trouble so often I'd stay awake at night, trying to remember if I had lied, exaggerated a story, repeated something I overheard, showed disrespect to my parents, or said unkind things to siblings or friends. I often regretted the things that came out of my mouth.

It was because of that regret that God's holiness fascinated me. It was hard for the little girl I was to wrap her mind around the concept of God who was, who is, and who will always be perfect. It meant God never failed to do the right thing at the right time. It meant God never chose to do evil. It meant every word that flowed from His mouth was perfectly true, perfectly stated for the situations. and perfectly timed. It meant God's silences were born out of His goodness and served holy purposes. It meant God had never had to reflect on His actions or His words. Nor, had He ever felt the sting of regret I had in realizing I wounded others through actions, inaction,  words, or silence. It meant His words were never spoken in haste, never filled with half truths. or sprinkled with lies to cover sinful tracks. It meant His words were never biting, spoken in rage, or vengeful.

Early on, I knew I wanted to be like Him, but the harder I tried, the more I failed. That is where the terror came in. I wanted to be right with God and I wanted my words to reflect His heart. Sometimes I calmed the terror by comparing myself to others. If I sinned less than someone, I felt better, but then I would run into someone whose righteousness outshined mine. For years I lived with anxiety, trying to live the Christian life. I believed in eternal security, but was plagued with doubt about my faith.

When God planted us in a Bible-teaching church, I came to understand things that changed my perspective. Every week I heard the gospel given clearly and heard the Bible taught verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book. I grew confident in my faith and learned not to compare myself to others as Jesus was God's standard--a standard of which we all fell short. I grew more comfortable with the fact that His perfection would always expose my imperfection. I learned a about imputation, which meant that by faith I was given Jesus' righteousness and it is His righteousness that protects me from the wrath of God I deserve for sin. What a powerful concept! If I had understood imputation as a child, I would have spent less time marinating in guilt and shame and more time resting and rejoicing in God's grace.

Righteousness not only protects us from God's wrath, it protects our hearts and our relationship with the Lord. We are told in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts for they are the source of life. Just like Roman Soldiers had to protect their physical hearts, we must protect our hearts, our inner being) in a spiritual sense. The righteousness Jesus imputed to us becomes the Breastplate of Righteousness that we can wear to protect our hearts--the place our thoughts, emotions, will, and moral conscience dwell. We must keep in mind that just as physical breastplates are heavy and must be supported or undergirded by a belt, our spiritual breastplate is supported by the Belt of Truth.

The Enemy we battle knows our passions, our weaknesses, our past sins, and the stories we have lived often come with great pain. He studies us so much he predicts with great accuracy what we will think about in given situations and how we will react or respond. He knows what will cause us to doubt God's goodness and knows what will distract us from living the life to which God called us. He is doing his best to destroy us, our testimonies, our ministries, and our relationships with God and each other. The Breastplate of Righteousness undergirded with the Belt of Truth and the Helmet of Salvation protect us from the Enemy's attacks. God gave us those things because we believed! If we face life believing we are possess those pieces of Armor, we can live in a way that defeats the Enemy.

In her book, The Armor of God, Priscilla Shirer points out that our hearts can be attacked in four areas. First, He will attack our minds by distorting our thoughts with his lies and half truths. He will use half truths to draw us in because they sound true and then he feeds us overt lies about God, His Word, and our identity, causing us to not mistrust Him and our relationship with Him. Second, He will attack our will by drawing us away from that which is eternal and godly towards that which is  temporal and ungodly, preventing us from fulfilling His purposes. Third, he will attack our emotions by stirring up unbridled feelings and piggybacking them  with secondary emotions like anger, discouragement, hopelessness, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Fourth, He will attack our morals by convincing us God's Word is outdated and designed to deprives us rather than protect us.

When we live in rebellion, we leave our hearts unprotected. On the other hand, if we start each day acknowledging the truth of our salvation and Christ's imputed righteousness, our lives will line up with that truth. We can live knowing we have already been translated from the kingdom of darkness into Christ's Kingdom of light, that we have been given a new life, and that we have a new benevolent master and no longer have to serve the old.

In a practical sense we can choose moment by moment to put off past things that were corrupted by our evil desires and be renewed by taking our thoughts captive to God's truth. We can put on our new selves by choosing to act out of God's righteousness. That means we can put away lies and speak truth. We choose to deal with anger in non-sinful ways. We choose not to steal but to work so we can give to others. We choose to refrain from corrupt talk and use words that build up. We let go of bitterness, wrath, anger, slander, and malice and choose to be kind. We take off sexual immorality and covetousness and develop godly relationships. And when we blow it, we humbly confess sin, allowing us to stay in fellowship with God who empowers us to live out His righteousness.

Living out practical righteousness is protective on many levels. First, it is protective because our new life is driven by love, which promotes righteousness that protects relationships instead of tearing them down. It protects relationships as we choose to take off old behaviors and put on new ones characterized by selfless behavior. It protects by helping us build trust as we speak truth and resolve conflict in ways that are godly and preserves the dignity and the hearts of those involved.

Second, it protects our hearts from the needless pain caused by selfish ambitions and unreasonable expectations that leave us frustrated and bitter. It teaches us to let God fill the void we have in our hearts so we can give out of the overflow of His love.

Third, practical righteousness protects our hearts from deep pain because sexual purity keeps a marriage bed undefiled, allowing the act of sex within marriage to bond a man and women for life. Our hearts were not made for serial marriages or sex with multiple partners any more than they were designed to worship multiple gods. It also protects us from the physical pain of sexually transmitted diseases. How often we mistakenly believe the consequences we face for our sin is God's punishment. But the truth is the boundaries God established for us is His loving protection from the pain sin causes. In Eden, the righteous obedience to God's command protected Adam and Eve in their relationship with Him and with each other. When they failed, they were thrown into a world of hurt. Couldn't practicing righteousness that God outlines in His Word protect us as well?  

Monday, September 3, 2018

Is God Mad at Me

Last night our pastor made a couple of statements that brought back some hard memories. He said pastors know that to make parishioners feel guilty all they have to do is ask them how they are doing in their prayer lives or with sharing their faith. This is because most of us believe we fall short in in these two areas. He said many people want to know if God is mad at them when they fail to do what He has instructed them to do. When he said that, I remembered the years I have struggled with believing God was angry at me for sinning. This would hit me hard when I went to bed at night and replayed my day in my head so I could make sure I confessed every single sin.

The fear I felt as I confessed sin was often overwhelming. This was because I did not understand the benevolent side of God who viewed believers as His children. There were times I expected God's wrath to hit me like a lightening bolt. An example of one of those times was when I was going outside and the wind caught the screen door and slammed it hard on my hand, hitting it between two of the bones. Waves of pain ran up my arm into my shoulder as a curse word slipped out of my mouth. I looked so terrified my mom laughed, but she didn't realize I wasn't afraid of her, I was expecting God's wrath to hit me like a lightning bolt because those words had come out of my mouth. It never occurred to me that God would be concerned about his daughter's injured hand and the pain she experienced that day.

When I went to bed at night, I replayed each day in my head to make sure I confessed every single sin I committed. During my prayers, my anxiety and fear of God would rise for several reasons. One reason was that I was such a perfectionist that I judged every conversation and every action harshly. That left me constantly feeling like a failure, believing God was always angry and disappointed with me for not being the perfect Christian. I also believed He was exasperated with me for not always speaking the right words into every situation or always performing perfectly in ways that would bring glory and honor to Him. Looking back at those times, I now realize some of my harsh judgments were because I didn't grasp that when people were unhappy with me because of the faith I was living out loud, that was between them and God. When they were unhappy with me, I always assumed I had failed and then felt guilty when the real issue was that they were feeling convicted and got angry at me for the discomfort they felt.

Another reason I struggled with fear and guilt was that I had an eating disorder. When I read new "diet" books, I viewed their rules as God's law and committed to keeping the rules perfectly. I felt guilty every time I ate a bite of something not on the good food list and confessed that as sin to God. I ate a diet of almost zero fat, no breads, and very little food. I was close to a hundred pounds and believed I was extremely overweight and sinful for being so. I believed God was angry and disappointed that I didn't eat a perfect diet, weigh a perfect weight, and wear a smaller dress size. I didn't realize He had created my body to need a balance of fats, carbs, and proteins and I didn't grasp that eating could be an act of worship when it was done with a grateful heart. I didn't understand that the Lord is pleased when one of His daughters put the food He gifted her in her body so that it could thrive and she could have the energy she needs to serve Him. I waisted so much time and energy on guilt that was based on lies.

I had other misconceptions of what I believed sin was. A part of that came from my melancholic temperament. To stay safe I viewed things from a very black and white perspective. Things were either all right or all wrong. That lead me to believe that there was an absolute way to do things that would be right in every single situation. When I left home and met all sorts of people, I found people from different walks of life, different churches, and from different parts of the country had very different views of what was right and what was wrong. My list of wrongs and potential ways to sin grew with every person I met. Over time it became exhausting!

Then we landed in a little Baptist church in Mississippi. This church was different than any church of which I had been a part. Our other churches had pastors who mostly evangelized, which left me in a state of wondering if I was really saved. But in this church, the pastor gave a clear gospel, spelling out God's grace every time he spoke. At the same time, he taught the Word verse by verse, taking as long as he needed to get through a book. In addition, the pastor loved to answer questions. Many of us were young college students or young marrieds and we were hungry for knowledge of God and His love. We were nurtured and taught the word of God by the pastor and the deacons and the Sunday school teachers. After church we often had pot lucks or went to lunch and continuously discussed the Bible and asked questions about the sermons and about how to apply the Word to life.

Overtime, my views began to change. I no longer viewed God as an angry, distant God who sat in heaven, waiting to punish people who failed. Instead, I viewed Him as a God who loved so much He became not only the just, but the justifier. I saw Him not only the lawgiver, but the law fulfiller. I not only saw Him as a judge, but the Sacrificial Lamb who bore His judgement--God's wrath for sin. I saw Him not only as the Sovereign One who has the right to determine my days and my journey, but as the Good Father who walks me through life step by step, revealing Himself and His grace to me as He reveals hidden sin in my life in a loving way. I no longer saw Him as a God who expected me to already be a better person, but as a God who understands my brokenness and the ambivalence with which I struggle in wanting to do His will while my flesh is clamoring to do mine and gives me the strength to make better choices. I no longer saw Him as a God who expected me to not be broken, but as the God who gives me counsel as He heals my brokenness.

I came to realize that the condemnation that had plagued me for so long was the work of The Enemy and that God calls me to repentance through His goodness. I began to relax and lean into God in faith, fully trusting His finished work on the cross and His loving care in this life I am living. I began to see the Christian life as less black and white and more in shades of gray where love can often determine actions that need to be taken as I trust God to give me wisdom abundantly.  

So, is God mad at me? The answer to that is a resounding, "NO!" The proof is in the Word. Romans 5:9 says, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." The disciple known as the one Jesus loved even said, in 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Abuse and the Church

When church leaders abuse power, they do great harm to people God has placed in their care. That is why God gave the church a list of specific qualifications for church leadership. Paul gave Timothy two lists, one was the qualifications of elders and one the qualifications of deacons. For the sake of space I combined the lists. Leaders are to:

  • be above reproach
  • be the husband of one wife
  • be sober minded
  • be self-controlled
  • be respectable
  • be dignified
  • be hospitable
  • be able to teach
  • not be a drunkard who is addicted to wine
  • be gentle--not violent
  • not be quarrelsome
  • not be a lover of money
  • be a good manger of his household and his family,
  • not be new covert
  • not be double-tongued
  • be tested and proved blameless over time
  • have a good reputation with those outside the church. 

Because Timothy was young, Paul also gave him additional advice on being a godly leader. He told Timothy to train himself for godliness as he taught the Word of God. He also told him to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity so no one  could despise his being a young pastor. In additions, he was to develop the gifts the Holy Spirit had given him. Paul said, "Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself! Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

In addition, Paul also advised young Timothy on how to relate to those God placed in his flock. He told him to not speak harshly to older men. He was to encourage them as he would his own father. He was also to encourage the older women as he would his mother. He was to treat young men with the respect he would show his a brother. He was also to treat the younger women as sisters and Paul added the words "in all purity." Important words they are! 
 
From Paul's instructions,  we see he understood the potential leaders have for failure. He put several things in place that he had hoped would safeguard them. First, Paul set the standard for becoming a church leader high. His plan wasn't to give mediocre believers leadership positions and then hope they would somehow live it out. No, they were to be chosen because they were already living the standard out loud! Second, Paul gave instructions they were to follow to insure they stayed on track. The verbs he used in this list are proactive words that were to be done continuously--"train," "develop," "practice," "immerse," "watch yourself," and "persist." Third, he wanted Timothy to have a great regard for the people in his care. He was not to use them or abuse them in any way, but to care for them as he would his own family. Those are tall orders for any of us to keep, but they are even more important for leaders, because every Sunday when they stand in the pulpit or the classroom and declare the Word of God, their lifestyle impacts how people receive the Word, which in turn has an eternal impact on people and their souls. 

Recently, the Catholic church has been in in the news for thousands of cases of childhood sexual abuse that took place over many years in Pennsylvania. Instead of dealing with the sin, the Catholic church silenced victims, hid horrific sin, and left sinful men to continue to abuse more children. The church quit being the church when it quit caring for the flock! Because of the support group ministry I lead, I can honestly say that it isn't just the Catholic church in which abuse takes place. It happens in every single denomination. Church can even be a good place for predators to hide, because who would believe gifted pastors, youth workers, Sunday School teachers, or worship leader would do harm to others? Abusers don't look like abusers. They look like good people. They groom others to believe they are good and then they betray them.  

Maybe, just maybe, all churches need to make sure their qualifications for leadership truly aligns to the Word of God. Maybe they need to make sure every pastor, church volunteer, and worship leader passes background tests and are living out loud the same list of verbs Paul gave Timothy. And maybe every one of us in the church needs to examine our own hearts and make sure we are treating one another with respect that family is due, in all purity. Our men need to teach our young men what it means to live purely and to treat young women with all purity! 

And when a church and/or its leader fails, we need to be honest and report it to the church and to legal authorities when necessary so abuse is stopped in its tracks! We need to believe the victims who report and provide care over the long hall to help restore their faith in Christ. 

Think what it is like to a child or an adult who was not believed, who was silenced, or who was dismissed by leadership when they reported something that took every ounce of courage they could muster. 

Think how hard it is for the survivors who were forced to continue attending church with their perpetrators because it wasn't reported to legal authorities and let's give them ample time to work through that kind of betrayal as well as the betrayal of their perpetrator.  

Think what it is like for survivors who decide to go back to church, only to be greeted at the door by their perpetrator. Think what it is like for the one who watches as his or her perpetrator prays with other children at the front of the church. Think what it is like for the one who is being lead in worship by a former abuser. Think what it is like for the one who is being taught the Word of God by someone who abused them in the counseling office. Let's carry out Biblical discipline so that perpetrators are not leaders in the church. 

At one point we discussed an abuse support group what it would take to learn to trust a church after one has been abused by someone who claimed to be a Christian. I expected the women to say they wanted leaders to be perfect to insure their safety. But no one of them said that. They said they would feel safe if a leader who falls fully owns it and then confesses it without casting blame or giving excuses. They said that they would trust a church who dealt swiftly with the sin of its leaders and reports to the police when a crime is committed as in the case of childhood sexual abuse or rape. The consensus was that Christ didn't hide sin in the religious system of His day, He fully exposed and dealt swiftly  with it. And to be like Christ, don't we have to do the same? 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Obeying the Master

I recently visited a dog training class in which there were six large dogs, all who had very different temperaments.

There was the dog who began talking the minute it entered the room and didn’t stop until they left.

There was the super compliant quiet dog who would do anything for praise.

There was the veteran dog, who knew all the commands and was completely obedient.

There was the dog who would do anything as long as he received a treat.

There was the aggressive dog who growled and was distracted by all large and fluffy dogs, who entered his space.

Then there was the young dog who was energetic and a bit more anxious, but worked hard to learn everything he was supposed to do.

Their job during class was to follow their masters commands and no one elses. Newer dogs were still on leashes and the handlers carefully applied pressure in certain ways as they gave different commands until the their dogs learned to respond solely to their verbal commands.

One of the commands was “heel,” which meant they were to walk evenly with their master. This was fun to watch, as I could see the dogs constantly glancing at their masters to see if they were walking in sync. They also learned the commands sit, down, stay, come, and place. Each handler gave commands to their dogs and at times the trainer had the handlers give different commands to different dogs to make sure they were each listening to their own masters. When the handlers told them to stay and walked away from them, the dogs kept their eyes on their handlers waiting for them to tell them to come. When the handler pointed to a mat, stool, or chair and told them to place the dog simply relaxed in that place, but was still carefully listening until they were given their next command by their handlers

One of the things I found interesting is that the trainer went to great lengths to figure out what would distract different dogs. One dog was distracted by food. The trainer had the handler drop little treats around her trying to distract her as she continued to give commands. If the dog made a move toward the treat, the handler simply said no. At one point the trainer put treats on both of the dogs front paws.
She learned to still look at the handler until she told the dog she could eat one of the treats. Another trainer brought in a fluffy Saint Bernard to help train the dog who behaved aggressively when she encountered large fluffy dogs. Every time the the fluffy dog walked by the dog, I could see him tense up and give a low guttural growl. The two handlers walked in different patterns, gradually getting them to the point the dog could stay focused on his handler as the Bernard walked by. They continued to do this until the dog also consistently kept his eyes on his master and maintained a more relaxed demeanor as the Bernard passed. The class was a safe controlled environment in which the trainer could create scenarios that enabled the dogs to get to the place they could listen and obeyed their masters even when other dogs played, talked, disobeyed, or showed aggression. They could then carry the skills they learned to life outside of the class.

I've helped create a small group ministry for women who have experienced trauma and/or who are struggling in life because they are fearful, struggling in relationships, or stuck in behaviors they hate and of which they feel ashamed. As we work through the core issues, we also introduce skills that help them navigate the group in healthy, godly ways. We have them practice these skills until they can successfully and consistently use them both inside and outside of group. Many of them have come into group having read similar materials to ours, but without the group they couldn't practice those skills and little had changed. They had a lot of head knowledge that didn’t make its way to their hearts where it could transform into natural healthy actions and responses.

As I was watching the class, I also saw many analogies to the Christian life. Sometimes we live in the Christian community struggling with things we keep well hidden because of shame. If we are not careful, shame can cause us to become great pretenders, hiding behind “good Christian” masks, stagnant in our growth as believers. When this happens we come to church looking good, but at home live in severely broken families, hiding pain, broken relationships, anxiety, aggression, and addictions. The truth is that we all come to Christ with our own personalities, emotional make up, and sinful and broken ways of relating to each other. I wonder how different our lives and our churches might be if we learned, as new believers, to view life as a training class with Jesus being our master and trainer, instructing and training us all how to live. Knowing that sometimes He carefully places people in our lives who distract us with endless chatter and empty philosophy and  pleasurable things that in and of themselves are not evil but can distract us. However, if we view life as training rather than something we are supposed to do perfectly, the bondage of  shame can melt away and we can mature to the point that no matter what comes our way—that distraction, that pleasure, that event, that aggressive person harassing us—we learn to listen to the Savior’s voice and act out of who we want to be instead of letting all these other things define us. Just like a dog owner must be humble enough to say he or she needs help with their dog struggles with, we have to be humble enough to take an honest look at ourselves and identify the areas with which we struggle. For when we are honest, we can focus on recognizing and hearing our Master’s voice and learn to obey as we learn to ignore the many distractions that could keep us from the most important an most fulfilling relationship in our lives.




Monday, July 9, 2018

Know the Enemy's Strategy

When we enter battle, we not only want to know who the enemy is, we want to know what strategies he employs. Satan uses a couple of different strategies. One of his strategies is to trap us the same way trappers trapped wild animals for their fur. A trapper would put something the animal would eat in the middle of the trap on a trigger. When the animal smelled the bait, he would approach the trap cautiously, because he could smell scent of the trapper lingering with the bait. As he would circle the trap sniffing the bait, at some point the animal's desire for the bait grew bigger than his fear of the man whose scent he could smell. He would then step into the center of the trap, taking the bait, which triggered the trap to shut. The trapped animal was either killed or wounded if only one of his limbs was caught. In the same way, Satan has observed mankind and figured out what he can use to bait us. 1 John 2:16 tells us the bait Satan uses falls into three categories--the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Glancing back to Eden, Satan planted doubts about God's goodness and then baited Adam and Eve in all three of these categories. First, the fruit was good for food and would satisfy their fleshly appetites. The appetite could have been any appetite--food, relationship, sex, status, or significance. The desires we have are not bad as God provides us ways to fulfill every appetite in legitimate ways just as he provided a garden of food for Adam and Eve. Second, the fruit was appealing because of its beauty. Don't we all go for beautiful fruit, passing over that which is misshapen or insect damaged? That is why the advertising industry uses airbrushing to make food, goods, services, and people look better than they are. After all who falls for ugly? Third, the fruit appealed to their human pride as it would make them wise like God. That equates to our wanting to be in charge of our own destiny. We fear God won't give us a spouse so, we don't wait for a godly man, have sex outside of marriage, or marry someone of questionable character. We get impatient as we are working our way up the corporate ladder and begin to take credit for others' work, hoping to get ahead. The enemy watches us and knows what bait we will most likely take and he uses it over and over wearing us down until it becomes a strong hold. Can't we hear him laughing as he watches us circle the bait and play with it, knowing that if we keep circling it we will bite.

Because Satan is not equal to God, his only power is in his ability to deceive. He wants us to believe God isn't really who He says He is, that we aren't really who He says we are, and that His plans and laws deny us instead of protecting us. He did that in Eden. He insinuated God was not really good as He denied them of one fruit in the garden. Look at how he changed their focus from all God was providing to the one restriction. They were made in God's image and fellowshipped with Him daily. Yet, the enemy also implied they were less than they were and that they needed what God prohibited to be more--to be more fulfilled, to be wiser, and to be happier. He stirred the desires with which God had created them, but focused the desires on what God in His love had prohibited. When they bit, they were thrown into a world of hurt and shame and they turned on each other, making each other and God their enemies instead of the serpent who hissed in their ear. The devil took the order God had created and turned it into chaos. Satan does the same thing to you and to me. Can't we hear him laughing when we turn on our spouses, hurt our friends, blow up at our kids, misrepresent our God to a culture that desperately needs him, or when we walk away from God disappointed in the journey He has designed us to live.

Why does the Enemy do what he does? He does what he does to dull our passion for the spiritual. For when we aren't passionate about God, His truth, and His holiness, our relationship with Him grows cold, our witness gets destroyed, our power is diminished, we live in chains that have already been broken, and the image we bear looks nothing like our Father. Satan does what he does to distract us away from our identity in Christ--our inadequacies, the parts of ourselves we believe to be defective, the failures marked by sin, and abuse that has ripped hearts opened wide have a way of distracting us from who He has created and redeemed us to be. He does what he does to stifle the callings God has placed on our lives because worry and fear keep us from living in a way we are most fulfilled and God most glorified. He does what he does to entice us to live lives full of impurity because impurity leads to a perverted state that hides God's beauty and glory. He does what he does to destroy our relationships, because it destroys the picture of our God being a relational God.

The truth is believers positionally are already seated at the table of God. All that we need is found in Him. When the enemy sets a trap before us that looks like a table containing food that is better than the Lords, we need to remember the character behind the meal--he is a thief, a deceiver, and a murderer. His every intention is to destroy. We need to call him out. "You have robbed me one to many times. I will no longer give you the power to deceive me. I choose life. I will not let you kill me with your lies and your forbidden meals. My God is good. I am beloved and redeemed by the blood of His precious son. Depart from me. I belong to God. He will provide."  

The Bible gives us two interesting instructions. First, it tells us to flee the flesh. When it is being tickled by the Enemy, we need to run and we need to run fast. We don't sit in a bakery to lose weight. We don't sit in a bar to stop drinking, we don't flirt in the office when our marriage needs work. Second, The Bible tells us to resist the devil. We stand firm, having girded our loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having shod our feet with the gospel of peace, taking up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit for greater is our God than he who is in the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Know your Enemy

I am currently working through Priscilla Shirer's Bible study, The Armor of God. She gives a lot good things to chew on. Her first chapter is called "Sizing up the Enemy." I love this as we tend to either totally discount the Enemy's presence and activity in our lives or we tend to ascribe to him way more power and control than he actually has. We also fail to remember in the midst of the messy that "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) This verse indicates that everything occurring in our lives is directly connected to a spiritual battle being fought in the heavenly realm. The misunderstandings we have had with our spouses this week, the rebellious attitudes and choices our teenagers are making, the bullies attacking our children on the playground, the pornography and perversion of God's plan for sex infiltrating our homes through the internet, the bosses wielding power in ungodly and harmful ways, those ugly conflicts at church that never seem to end, the political wars currently being waged--the Enemy is behind them all. To live victoriously, we need to take the time to understand the Enemy, not so that we will obsessively focus on him, but so that we will recognize him when he comes against us. 

First, we must understand what the Enemy is not. He is not God's equal. That means he is not infinite, he is a created being who had a beginning and whose end is foretold in Scripture. He is not all knowing, his knowledge of us is limited to what he observes in us. He is not all powerful, the only power he has is getting us to believe his lies and half truths. He is not immutable, he changed from being an angel passionately serving God to being an enemy passionately coming against God and His people. He is not omnipresent, he can only be in one place at a time and depends on other fallen angels to do his dirty work. He does not have the perfect, unchanging wisdom God has, as by the fact that his rebellion results in his demise, not life. He is not faithful, he betrayed God and he tempts us to sin, then condemning us while he fails to fulfill his promises of satisfaction and happiness. He is not good as his thoughts and actions are driven by pride and hatred. He is not full of mercy or grace, distorting God's image and His redemptive plan. He is not self-sufficient, he is alive only because God is allowing him to live for a season. He is not loving, holy, or righteous in character, words, or deeds, every intention of his heart is evil. (Biblestudytools.com)

Second. when the Scriptures were written, names had significant meanings. They were carefully ascribed to people either to described the person or with the hope of influencing what people would became. Sometimes people's names were changed. Naomi asked to be called Mara, reflecting the bitterness she was experiencing over the loss of her husband and sons. Two of Jesus disciples were brothers known as the Sons of Thunder because of their quick tempers. Sometimes people's names were changed after they encountered God and discovered His purposes for their lives Abram and Sarai's names were changed to Abraham and Sarah and Simon's name was changed to Peter. People also ascribed many different names to God to help us understand His character. He was called the God who sees, the God who hears, the God who provides, the God who redeems, the God who heals, the Comforter, the God who provides, Holy God, God Almighty, God most high, Savior, Redeemer, Lion of Judah, King of kings. I could go on and on. In the same way, Satan also has many names ascribed to him that help us understand just who he is. Lets look at a few:
  • Satan means "adversary." This name tells us Satan comes against God in every way possible. He maligns God's character and tries to thwart His plans and disrupt His purposes in our lives. The temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden and the Christmas story in which the deaths of baby boys who might be the Messiah demonstrate this.  
  • Devil means "slanderous." The Devil whispers lies into our minds, hoping to destroy God's reputation and our trust in Him. Lies I have personally heard in my head are: "God isn't really good." "God doesn't really care." "God can't forgive me this time." "God is depriving me." "God doesn't see me." "God is choosing not to hear me." "God won't help me." If I am not careful these lies can stir mistrust towards God and His direction for my life. The Enemy also whispers lies in my head about others. I have worked myself into a fit of anger as I hear the enemy telling me a person's intentions towards me are evil. I have worked my self into a blue funk as I let him convince me that a person doesn't care about me. I've experienced despair as I let him convince me a relationship is irreparable. Anytime I reach a point I doubt God or can only see the bad in another person, I know the Enemy has influenced my thinking. The truth is God is always good  and people are seldom completely bad. Every person, like me, is a blend of both strengths and weakness.  
  • Lucifer means "shining one." He approaches us in ways that are charming and attractive. Just think of how sexual predators operate. They come looking like nice, kind people who offer their victims something they need or long for. Their deeds turn ugly and cause great pain as they then cast blame on those they have violated. That is how Satan operates. People are daily being influenced into sinful life styles, with empty promises of love, satisfaction, and fulfillment while the Enemy also neglects to tell them about the consequences of sin--sin that leads to addiction, STD's, broken relationships, painful guilt that comes from breaking God's laws, and toxic shame that results from the fear of being found out--shame that sinks it talons deep into the heart.    
  • Tempter means "one who tempts to entice us to sin." The enemy is in the business of trying to get people to fulfill their God-given passions in sinful ways because sin drives a wedge between us and our Creator, disrupting our role in God's plans. The Enemy watches us and personalizes temptations in a way that insures we will be lured and hooked. He does this by using our vulnerabilities, our exhaustion, our business, our loneliness, our longings, or our physical or emotional pain. We know we have taken the bait when we justify sin to ease the pain of guilt. 
  • Ruler of the World tells us the Enemy works in different cultures and countries and tries to derail entire nations and people groups. He carefully spreads false philosophies, doctrines, and moral perspectives to drive people away from their Creator. Religions that are driven by fear are the very religions the Enemy has created. 
  • Prince (of Power, of Darkness) indicates that the Enemy is not alone. He is the head of a dark army who helps him carry out his evil plans. 
  • Accuser means "one who condemns." The enemy draws us into his ugly plans and then he turns around and accuses us. I know in my own life, he is the one who entices me to sin and then turns around and condemns me for it. This condemnation is way different than the loving conviction of the Holy Spirit calling me out of sin as I read His Word or listen to a sermon. Accuser uses harsh words and ugly names designed to shame--words like stupid, ugly, defective, failure. idiot, loser, trashy, beyond redemption, you don't love Jesus. The Accuser also suggests God is not all that He says He is. When I have gone through tough things and hear a sermon about God's goodness, love, faithfulness, or care, I can hear skeptical thoughts running through my head--thoughts like, "Yeah, right. Maybe for everyone else, but not for me." "Maybe God doesn't love me in the same way He loves others." "Why pray when God won't answer me anyway." I know those thoughts are from the enemy because God has never shown Himself to be anything but good, faithful, loving, and caring.  
  • Father of Lies means just what it says. Every word the Enemy speaks and every action he takes is an attempt to deceive us into believing our God is not who He says He is, that we aren't who He says we are, that we are being deprived of something good that we deserve, that we don't need a Savior, or that we are so bad that we aren't redeemable anyway. By observing us, he is able to misconstrue the truth of our circumstances, the reality we live, and the truth of God's word to influence us to sin, rebel, or withdraw in hopelessness.  I don't know how many times he has used people in my life who didn't know me to attack me in ways that hurt the most tender parts of my heart in an effort to direct my path away from God and to thwart God's most loving work of redemption. (Priscilla Shirer)
So, how do we defeat the enemy? First, we recognize we can't expect him to be a gentleman. He comes after us when we are worn out, sick, tired, lonely, stressed. and feeling down. Second, we recognize that fear, anxiety, seething anger, unforgiveness, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, and confusing conversations that make resolving conflict impossible are all indicators that the Enemy is trying to destroy us. Third we want to remember the Enemy will increase his attacks when we are fulfilling the ministry to which God has called us. I work with a group of women who walk along side of others in need of emotional healing and we see God do great things. Yet, this year every one of us have experienced things we believe to be attacks from the Enemy. He is doing all that he can to discourage, discredit, and disable our leaders. There are also times that conflicts happen in our groups and we can see the enemy distorting things in the minds of the ladies in an attempt to interrupt the healing work God is doing in their lives--healing that will set them free to love well and to worship Him wholeheartedly. Over the next few weeks I hope to share what I learn from the Shirer's Bible study on the armor of God. For now I want to close with Paul's prayer to the Ephesians who, like us, were engaged in spiritual battles. This prayer will be key to being victorious.   

Father, let the eyes of our hearts be enlightened so we can know the hope to which He has called us, that we can know the riches of our inheritance in Christ Jesus, and that we can understand the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him in heavenly places far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. Lord, strengthen us with your power so that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith--that we would be rooted and grounded in love, would be strengthened to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we could be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen. (Ephesians 1-18 and 3:14-19.)  



Monday, June 4, 2018

There is Grace in Defining Moments


Life defining moments come in many forms. They come in the form of temptations--the temptation to use porn, addictive substances, binging and purging, entering unhealthy relationships, holding on to bitterness, or using harsh words that cut to the core. They come in the form of choices--do we take this job or that job, attend a neighborhood church or one across town, go on the mission field or stay on the home field, work or become a stay at home mom, home school or put our children in public school? Defining moments come in events beyond our control--events like natural disasters, accidents, illnesses, deaths, infidelity, or acts of abuse perpetrated against us. 

Sometimes defining moments alter our lives in ways that they present ongoing defining moments. A couple of years ago my husband and I went out to eat and saw a couple in the restaurant. He was sitting beside her and feeding her. She wasn’t cognizant of her surroundings, but he was very attentive. When they left, he helped her up and took both her hands in his and walked backwards so she could walk forward face to face with him. They took small shuffling steps as he looked directly into her eyes, smiling the whole time. They went five or six steps and then he took her gently into his arms and embraced her sweetly. After a moment or two they resumed the shuffle. They did this repeatedly until they got to their car. While, I am sure her illness was a huge defining moment for them as individuals and as a couple, her illness causes him to face ongoing defining moments daily. He can choose to love with acceptance, patience, kindness, and endurance or become angry, bitter, and cold. While watching him treat her tenderly, I had the feeling I was on sacred ground, seeing him live out his true identity as a man, as a husband, and as a follower of Jesus. I had the feeling I was seeing Jesus Himself love and encourage her through her spouse. "Come on, Sweetie, just take one more step, your almost home.” 

While defining moments are hard to experience and difficult to navigate, they are one of the vessels God uses to extend His grace to us. There are several ways we experience His grace. First, defining moments force us to come face to face with what we believe about our identity. If we are really honest, we have to admit we wrestle with our identity daily. Whether defining moments involve our sin, another's sin, or rob us of heart longings, we can fail to remember we are beloved, redeemed, set apart, empowered, and gifted and let our mistakes, our sin, another’s sin or what the enemy whispers define us and accept the lies as the truth. Those ugly lies paralyze and shame us—lies like stupid, ugly, invisible, barren, unloved, unlovable, too much, and not enough. Even after embracing our true identity, we face events, people, or circumstances that surface those old lies, forcing us to choose again and again to believe what Jesus has said about us. We sometimes even act out of who we were before He saved us or before He began a healing work in us. If we grasp the concept of our true identity, it helps us navigate those defining moments by guiding our decisions, changing the words we use, and governing our actions, especially when our flesh is raging battle with our spirits. And giving us the opportunity to live out our true identity is grace. 



Defining moments also force us to look at what we really believe about our God. Parents who bury children have to come to terms with what they really believe about God in the face of deep grief. Is there really an afterlife? Is God really good? Does He really care about their pain? Can He really work the horrible devastation they feel to their good? Those who experienced natural disasters must wrestle with their beliefs about God who allowed widespread destruction as they pick through the remains of a home the earth shook to rubble. They wrestle with God as they remember children snatched from their arms by floodwaters. A woman who has begun to have flashbacks of sexual abuse will wrestle long and hard with who God is as she is plagued with the memories of praying for safety only to be victimized again and again. She will have to decide at some point if she believes her God is good and trustworthy in the face of seemingly unanswered prayers that left her feeling invisible, unheard, unprotected, and less loved. And giving us the opportunity to bring our doubt to the light and deal with it is grace. 

Defining moments also expose our misplaced affections and puts us in a place that we must choose to act our of our faith. We can get so easily distracted by the things of this world, by the life we think we are supposed to have, and by the many different directions our hearts get pulled in a given day. But when we face difficult defining moments, our love get refined in ways that we can't even imagine before hand. People who have lost beautiful homes in fires and floods last year repeatedly said those things paled in comparison to having their families safe and still being able to hold their children in their arms. I am sure that even as they continue the hard work of rebuilding homes and lives, they will have a love focus so different than those of us who haven't face the loss of homes and the near loss of families and there is grace in that refining of our love. 

Several years ago, our youngest son was wheeled into surgery after his spleen had ruptured. I faced the fear of losing him and even with the crowd of family surrounding me, I felt alone. I was terrified because there was nothing I could do to insure I would get the outcome I desperately wanted because the God I was asking to heal my son was the same God who had every right to choose to heal him or not. There were several complications that kept him in the hospital for 16 days, ten of which were in ICU. There were times I was overwhelmed, wondering if he could continue to fight his way back to health. As I slowly began to remember my identity in Christ, I understood that as alone as I felt, I wasn’t alone! I wrestled honestly with what I believed about God, knowing in my head He is good, though I struggled to fully trust it in my heart. I was forced to decide if I really believed in His goodness no matter what the outcome might be. I never doubted that God could heal him, but had to learn to trust His goodness with His sovereign plans as I watched our son deal with unimaginable pain and tubes that drained the fluid from around his heart. The decision to remind myself of who I was in Christ and to choose to trust God was who He says He is helped me to be able to stay engaged with my son those long days and nights. Choosing to pray to the God who held his life in balance gave me hope and strengthened me when I had nothing left to give. During that time God showed me grace by allowing me to see my son through new eyes as it gave us sixteen days in close quarters to get to know each other. Those days with a son in ICU who handled the situation with grace and dignity definitely changed my heart and mind about what is really important in life and that change has impacted my decisions and actions since. 

Some defining moments are small, but have the potential to impact life in big ways because we have a big God! We face those kinds of "small" moments in marriage after kids come, life is busy, jobs are demanding, energy is low, patterns of neglect set in, and distance between spouses grows and loneliness cuts to the core where seeds of hurt and bitterness grow. It’s when each long to be seen and heard, when hope is low, and the desire to retreat strong that defining moments present themselves the loudest. That moment is when God tugs at a heart to be the first to reach out, the first to take a hand, the first to serve the other, the first to speak words of affirmation, or to be the first to apologize for the neglect of the relationship. It is in that moment when everything in us waits for the other to move first that our pride can either grow or it can melt. The humility that can cause us to act first moves a couple one degree closer and that degree has the potential to radically change a marriage. That hesitant touch, that thirst offering, that kindness spoken, or that apology whispered without excuse can stir the last ember of dying love, allowing it to burn bright again. That little changes can evoke big changes is grace.   

Our defining moments give us the opportunity to remember who God is, allowing us to see His redemption stories that prove He is capable of redeeming what we deemed too broken, too dirty, or too lost. A small act of obedience gives us a chance to move knowledge of God from head to heart, giving us the will and the power to act in new exciting, living-giving ways. It is in the exact moment we act that we are snatching the victory from the enemy’s hands, proving God redeems our pain. It is in life defining moments God takes a grain of faith and builds it into a powerful faith that knows no bounds and that is grace. 

Our God is a God of grace. Even His sovereignty that allows life defining moments is ruled by that attribute. We can look back and see how things that wounded us have impacted our lives and brought us face to face with our true identity in Christ. We can see how those moments brought us face to face with what we believe about God. We can see how they brought us to the place that what we truly love was refined and how those moments brought us to the place we had to decide what we would do with what we believe and afford us the opportunity to live out loud what we believe. How differently our stories feel when we grasp this concept of life defining. It in fact strengthens our relationship with God so that it can satisfy the deepest parts of our hearts where our God cravings reside. Could it be that the life defining moments we once thought were bad, are really graces designed by His own love scarred hands?




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!