Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Our Eyes are On You

 Matt Vorhees, Senior Pastor of Riverlakes Church posted this blog post on our church Facebook page on Saturday, March 21, 2020. He has graciously given me permission to share his words with you on my blog. I hope his words give you hope during these tough times: 
We are undoubtedly living in unprecedented times in our society, but here's what I love about the Bible. We have so many stories of God's people walking through similar kinds of uncertainty that show us how his people looked to Him.
An especially powerful story is that of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. Here's the setting: "Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, 'A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar' (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord..." - 2 Chron. 20:2-3 
Though the circumstances are different, Jehoshaphat was feeling what a lot of us are feeling right now. A visible horde of enemies was marching against Judah, and they were already in the land, as close as the southern oasis of Engedi. But unlike Jehoshaphat, the horde we're facing is invisible. It's not just out there somewhere, it's here, on our shores and in our community. And it's causing a lot of fear. There's nothing wrong with feeling afraid. At some level, we can't control that. But when those feelings arise, what do we do with them? Where do we go with them? To whom do we turn? Jehoshaphat models what, where and to whom we must take our fears, he "set his face to seek the Lord." But there is something particular in Jehoshaphat's public prayer before the people that I want to draw your attention to: 
"For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” - 2 Chron. 20:12
We are powerless against the spread of COVID-19 and the impact it's going to have. Social distancing, home isolation, testing and treatments are important and will help, but they can only do so much. Many businesses and organizations, including the church are asking how we can continue our work in light of the many restrictions. In a lot of ways, we feel like Jehoshaphat, "we don't know what to do." Again, these are unprecedented times. 
We may not know what to do, but we know who to turn to. "Our eyes are on you." We can follow the Lord into the unknown of the coming weeks and months, trusting that our God is sovereign and that He has good plans for His church. We can be salt and light in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos (Matt. 5:13-16). We may not know what's going to happen, but we know the One who will lead us through it. Jesus defeated the true horde that stood opposed to us: Satan, Sin and Death, so that in the middle of this crisis, we can be sure that He is with us through it all (Psalm 23:4). 
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me."

Saturday, March 21, 2020

These Isolating Times

Isolation has been a great teacher for me. The first time I experienced a long period of isolation was sixteen years ago when I suffered a severe break to my right ankle. I was house bound as I could not drive and was experiencing a great amount of pain that pain meds didn't touch. I had been a very active person, walking daily and serving in a youth ministry that kept me busy for many years. Then all of a sudden I was sitting at home, alone much of the day.

God was gracious in that when my husband picked me up to take me to the hospital, God impressed upon my heart that this season was for a reason. At first I didn't know what God meant by season, but soon found out. As the orthopedic doctor was looking at my quickly expanding ankle I said, "I guess I won't be walking for six weeks." He looked up from my ankle with concern on his face and gently said, "If you do walk, it will probably be a year from now. It is a bad break." I came home and looked around my living room and thought, now what? The first few weeks were spent mostly dealing with pain. My daughter supplied me with funny movies to watch and brought her first born over several times a week so I could just snuggle with him, which helped a lot. I began to learn important lessons about three weeks in to the isolation.

The first lesson I learned was about loneliness. When everyone was at work, I was alone for many hours and began to experience loneliness. At that time I wasn't good about asking for what I needed or wanted, so I didn't reach out, which increased the loneliness I experienced. When I realized what I was experiencing, I picked up Elizabeth Elliot's book on it to see what she had to say. As I read it, I realized what made loneliness hard to bear wasn't the loneliness itself, but what I was telling myself about it. I had come to believe the experience of loneliness was proof I was rejected, defective, or seen as unlovable. However, I learned loneliness is a God-given emotion that serves to remind us we are created in the image of God, which means we are created for connection--connection to God and to each other. When I understood that, the shame I felt over the experienced of loneliness melted away. I realized there were some things I could do to initiate time with friends and family. I had to swallow pride and ask for rides to lunch, appointments, and to attend a class I wanted to take, all of which cut down on the hours I felt alone.

One sweet lady from our church, brought by a meal for us to enjoy and as she was leaving she said, "I can't wait to hear what you learn about God through this time." Her simple words radically changed my perspective. I realized in that moment I didn't want to miss out on anything God might want to teach me. And, He was so gracious. I continuously felt His presence with me for that nine months. My quiet times were rich, my heart full, and my prayer life fulfilling. Then one day I picked up a prayer journal I had kept for counseling. In it were things I had written to God about some of the traumas I had experienced earlier in life. Even though I had shared them with a counselor, I didn't experience a lot of emotion in the writing or the reading of them. I opened the journal and read the letters out loud to God and I felt His love wash over me and I wept, finally able to grieve the things I had been processing in counseling. I realized I had been too busy to fully enter into the healing process, but God used that injury to slow me down to feel and to heal. Looking back, I am so thankful for that experience because I got to experience the truth of God's daily presence in my life. I not only got to experience God as my Abba (daddy), but as both the Wonderful Counselor and Comforter. He lead me to write curriculum during that time that in turn has been used to comfort others as I was comforted.

And now here I sit again isolating because of the Covid 19. At first, it didn't seen like such a big deal, as we are retired and I have been an author for the last 16 years. However, about a week into it after one of the newscasts, I realized how anxious I had become and how much I was missing the freedom to hang out with my family and friends. One of my granddaughter wanted to come while she was off from school and her gym was closed and her parents had to say no because it isn't safe. Our grandkids that live an hour away can't come down and hang this spring break. Even the ones we live close to are becoming more cautious--we might share dinners sometimes, but always have to ask if everyone is fever free and avoid the usual bear hugs. I have a husband, son-in-law, and a grandson who are extroverted sanguines and find isolating really hard and when they run to the store to get out some it increases my anxiety a lot.

So, what is God teaching me this time? First, He is teaching me that love doesn't always look like a warm hug. Sometimes it means shutting down support groups you love to keep everyone safe. Sometimes it looks like a wave instead of a handshake. Sometimes it looks like a text message that contains a funny meme or a funny picture that depicts an inside joke. Sometimes it looks like a Facetime call. It sometimes looks like people standing on individual balconies singing as the sun sets. It sometimes looks like a Zumba teacher blasting music from her porch, leading neighbors in a class as they participate in their own yards. It sometimes looks like parents getting creative in helping children do school work and learn life skills like laundry and cooking. It sometimes looks like an exercise laid out with masking tape and toys and a mom cheering her preschooler for completing it. It sometimes looks like a child standing on a fire place fervently praying his heart out after hearing he may not get to return to school this year. It sometimes looks like preachers preaching to empty auditoriums so we can still hear sermons and worship together. It sometimes looks like a tired president and his staff giving us updates on a daily basis. It sometimes looks like living room concerts being played and cast by all kinds of musicians willing to share their gifts. It sometimes even looks like taking a firm stand with the sanguine in our lives, reminding them they can be a part of the solution or be the problem. It sometimes means being patient with people who are panic buying and hoarding, knowing it may not be selfishness driving them, but fear. I am also finding in the midst of what feels like chaos, God's relentless presence is my stability as well as my peace in the anxiety that keeps bubbling up.

I have come to believe this season of isolation is an opportunity for the church to shine brightly and because most of my communication is in writing I want to be careful of every word I write. Some of the harsh things I have seen online cause me to cringe, because I don't believe they accurately describe the Father's heart. Ez. 18:23 says, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" As believers, we would do well to reflect first on our own lives, the state of our own hearts, and the health of our own relationships before we point fingers at others. We know from the news, that the church needs revival just as much as anyone else in this world. So, I hope we all can speak God's truth with a clear and clean conscious, having taken the logs out of our own eyes first. I hope we speak it in such a loving way that others will be drawn to the very heart of the God who loves them enough to die and bear the wrath of God for sin for them. Let's try to reflect God's character in such away that others want to come near Him.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Where is God when it Hurts? (Revisited)

"The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Psalm 34:18

      Where is God when it hurts? This is the question posed in Philip Yancey's book by the same title. In his book Yancey discussed both physical and emotional pain. Physical pain is the pain caused by physical injury and/or physical illness. This type of pain varies in its intensity, ranging from mild discomfort to overwhelming, debilitating waves of pain. Some physical pain, like childbirth, has great benefits associated with it, while other pain seem to bear no blessings with it. Unlike the pain of childbirth that comes in waves and ends after the birth process, those struggling with cancer, losing a limb, or the pain of various chronic illnesses, often don't experience an end to their pain. The most they can hope for is pain management. 

It may be hard for those struggling with chronic pain to see pain as a precious gift from God. However, it is. It alerts us to the reality that something is wrong and needs attention. Physical pain can also help us realize where one's body begins and where it ends. For example, we may not be consciously aware of where our thumb ends unless we hit it with a hammer or where our foot ends unless someone steps on it. The nerves signal very clearly that our body space has been breached. This protects us from injury. Without physical pain we can do horrendous damage to our body without even knowing it. Without the discomfort of being cold, we might not put a jacket on. With out the sensation of hunger, we might not eat the nutritious food we need. Without physical pain we would not remove our hand from a hot burner or put on sandals when the sidewalk is too hot to walk on.

Emotional pain is every bit as real as physical pain, but it is experienced in a different ways. We may experience it in the form of loneliness, anxiety, fear, anger, insecurity, broken-heartedness, and sadness. Emotional hurts also come in intensities from a mild uneasiness to overwhelming hurt. Interestingly emotional pain can be so intense it physically hurts. For example, one time a car came around the corner and almost hit our neighbor’s child. I screamed and then doubled over in pain as my stomach cramped in response to the tension I experienced. 

Just like physical pain alerts us, emotional pain does as well. It can tell us we need to correct emotionally wounding situations in our lives. It can tell us we need to realch out and build relationships. It can tell us that we need to set some boundaries in the relationships that we do have. Our ability to feel emotional pain is God-given. Without emotional pain we might not be motivated to confront unhealthy or harmful behaviors, might not set boundaries within our work environments, or might not learn to take care of ourselves during stressful situations. 

Now, in going back to our original question, “Where is God when it hurts?” Psalm 34:18 tells us the answer to that important question. It says, "The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit." If we are believers and know this verse, experiencing pain is an opportunity to choose to believe and wrestle with this verse, moving its truth from our heads to our hearts. God is very near to the broken hearted. Does that mean we will always automatically "feel" His presence? Nope. Men like David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all openly vocalized their questions about where God was in their difficult circumstances. They said at times they felt deserted. While our emotions are real, they are not always based on truth. If we "feel" or "think" God is far away when we hurt, we need to remember it is not the truth. It is a lie the enemy wants us to believe so we will pull away from God. When I am in either emotional or physical pain and feel abandoned, I have found finding God in the midst of it comes from being honest with God about my pain, my feelings, my doubts, and the lies that I struggle with. The more I pray, the more I begin to experience His presence in the pain.  

Another question we might find ourselves struggling with is, "Does God care that I hurt?" Today’s verse tells us He does!. Christ, Himself, experienced pain. He got hungry. He got cold. He got tired. He was beaten, whipped, and had hair plucked out from his beard. , and was crucified which is an extremely painful way to die. He felt emotional pain. He experienced. loneliness. He felt the sting of disappointment. He fest the knife like pain of betrayal. He felt the frustration of false accusations. He felt the grief of being so misunderstood. The Bible says Christ lived and suffered so we could know we have a high priest who understands the feelings of our infirmities. Wow, that needs to sink into our hearts. As we live we will suffer in the same ways He did because we live in such a broken world. His suffering--it gives us a clear picture of the love Christ had for us as He lay down His life for our sin. He chose to suffer to demonstrate to us His great love. 

Why would a great God permit pain? There are several reasons He might. First, trials can mature us and He is fully committed to completing the work He began in us and physical and emotional pain may be a part of the tools He uses to weed out sin, doubt, and false core beliefs. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us pain allows us to experience the comfort of God so we might in turn comfort others. I think these verses address our original question, "Where is God when it hurts?" He is in the church. 

A part of our calling as believers is to comfort the broken hearted, whether their pain be physical or emotional. Why do we sometimes not do it? Sometimes it is because we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. We do not need to be afraid, all a hurting person needs to know is that we are there with them and willing to listen to their concerns and their questions without judgement. Through us they will sense God's care and love. Maybe there are times we are too busy. Maybe we don't understand another's pain. Maybe their pain reminds us of our own pain we do not want to face. Or, maybe we are simply uncomfortable in the presence of deep pain we can't fix. All we are called to do is comfort. The rest is up to God.  

Several years ago I was undergoing counseling for deep emotional pain, but I stayed too busy to feel and ran from the pain every time we would get close to it. I was in a freak accident and suffered a severely broken ankle and was housebound for a year. I had to sit in both the physical and emotional pain for about a year. At the time I didn't know many people at a friendship level, so I spent a lot of time alone, talking to God both about the physical and the emotional pain I was experiencing. I was so bless to connect to God at a whole new level and to feet His love continually present with me! There have also been other times when I was hurting emotionally and I was surrounded by people who comforted me and wrote me encouragement notes and I also felt loved–not just by them–but by GOD! Once in a Bible Study I did not even realize how a lesson had affected me. When the teacher followed the lesson with a prayer time in which we were to pray aloud about our commitments and changes we wanted to make I could not bring myself to do it. The quietest gal in the class reached over and gently took my hand and her touch gave me the courage to pray out loud. I thanked her later and she said she didn't know why she had done it, only that she felt in her spirit that she was supposed to! I know why she did it, God led her to do it to show me He was with me. 

We need to ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our responsibility to be near to those in pain? We have been called to restore each other, bear each other's burden, to comfort, to be kind and tenderhearted, and to labor for each other in prayer. How are we doing in all of that? If one of us is  hurting and feeling like God is far away, where are the rest of us? Do we need to be more transparent about our own pain to encourage another to share theirs? Do we need to be better listeners to discern someone's pain? We can remind ourselves to find the courage in Christ to share in others' pain. We don't need to let feelings of inadequacy deter us, for God ia able and He can help us know when to take a hand, when to sit quietly, when to cry with someone, or when to gently remind a hurting person of the truth of God's presence and care in the midst of their pain.

Father, help us to care about those who are hurting physically or emotionally. Help us to see behind the masks that so many of us wear. Father, pain often scares us because it is something we cannot fix or control. Please help us overcome our fears and fill us with your wisdom, your love, and your compassion for the hurting. Please don't let any of us be the reason that someone believes that she was deserted by you when she hurt. Guard our hearts from our tendency to want to “fix” or heal pain that only you can heal. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

When We Think We Have Blown It Too Big

When I used to blow it, I found myself struggling with feelings of  abandonment, especially at the times I believed I was unworthy of God's mercy and grace. You know those times when I believed I had blown it so big that God was ready to wash His hands of me. Those times of besetting sins that I had repeatedly vowed to never commit again, but did and feared God was so angry He could easily turn His back on me. At those times I thought I had to overcome sin and trust God perfectly to be close to Him. But, the truth was that I wasn't strong enough to withstand overwhelming urges I experienced and I didn't know how to grow my faith enough that I could perfectly trust Him. 

Because I was tired of struggling and living in fear, I began to read Biblical stories that revealed how God related to people and soon realized I had developed faulty theology and misunderstood what God desires for His people. Looking back, I think Satan had me right where he wanted me--struggling with sin and believing God condemned me because of sin, doubt, mistrust, and abiding shame. As I read story after story, I began to understand the trials I faced, struggles I had with besetting sin, and doubts I had about God's presence were the very things God uses to grow faith and develop intimacy with Him. I soon realized most of my life I had been trying to earn God's love. But the harder I tried, the more I failed and the more alone I felt. I began to understand that it is in my struggle that God makes Himself the most available to me. All I had to do was cry out to Him and He would walk through it with me.

From the beginning God has continuously reached out to people. He communed freely with Adam and Eve and met their every need. The Enemy came and used words carefully crafted to stir up doubts about God's goodness. He also stirred up dissatisfaction with the perfect life they lived and the perfect fellowship they enjoyed with God and each other. In that state they chose to eat forbidden fruit, allowing darkness to pervade the light in which they lived. After they ate, God's goodness was overshadowed by Satan's evil, their innocence was drowned out by burning hot shame, and their relationship with their God was shattered by broken trust. Adam and Eve blew it big and yet, God pursued them and set out to heal the chasm their sin had caused. He didn't desert them in their rebellion or leave them stuck in shame. He met them in the ugliness of it all, slaying animals to provide covering for shame, securing their relationship with the promise of a Savior. Because of their story I can trust God to be present even when I blow it big.

Then there was Abraham and Sarah's story. They were an infertile couple living in the midst of a culture that worshipped fertility gods. Theirs was an ugly harsh religion as young virgins were offered to temple priests to win the affection of stone-cold gods. It was also a religion in which babies were sacrificed to celebrate the favor they believed stone gods had shown when they conceived. It was against the backdrop of that ugliness God initiated a relationship with Abraham and Sarah, calling them to a new land and promising them an heir of their own. They believed God and left for a new land. But, years went by and no heir came. There were times of doubt in which Abraham lied in big ways to protect himself, placing Sarah at risk and God intervened, protecting her. Then Sarah doubted and tried to help God out by giving Abraham her handmaiden to bear a son for them. Even in her doubt and their sinful choices, God didn’t turn away. Instead, He came to them and established the Abrahamic Covenant, resulting in a child of their own. 

Covenants are contracts that outline the rights and responsibilities between people. In Abraham's day they didn't sign written contracts, they sealed them with animal sacrifices cut into two parts and laid out on the ground. Both people participated in the contract by walking between the pieces, essentially saying, “This is what you can do to me if I fail to keep my promises." The amazing thing is that when God established His covenant with Abraham, He alone walked through the pieces, saying He alone would bear the responsibility to uphold the covenant. Walking the aisle of sacrifice alone was God's response to Abraham and Sarah’s doubts, sin, mistrust, and missteps. God did what He did to protect the relationship He had with His people flawed, broken, and inconsistent as they were. That is hard for me to wrap my mind around! But, because of their story I can trust God to protect my relationship with Him even when I doubt, sin, mistrust, and misstep. 

Another story that captured my attention was Jacob's story. He came into this world holding onto his brother’s foot. From then on he and Esau developed an ugly sibling rivalry that was fueled by living with parents who played favorites. Jacob was one to want what he wanted when he wanted it and he would used deceit to get it if need be. The final straw was when he deceived his dad into giving him Esau's birthright. He had to flee to escape Esau's rage and as he lay down to sleep the restless sleep theives on the run sleep, he had a dream. He saw a stairway extending from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending, revealing that God was with him even in the aftermath of his deception and running. He gave him the land on which he lay, promising him that all people on earth would be blessed through him. I take comfort in the fact that God didn’t leave him alone in the mess he had created, but met him right in the middle of it all. And, as far as I could tell, he didn't even require him to reform before He made His promises known. He simply extended to him a relationship based on His covenantal love. 

Jacob went on to marry two sisters, one of which he favored. He had children with them both as well as their handmaidens. Still a greedy soul, he manipulated his uncle’s herds to gain wealth. And, when he got caught, he fled with his family in tow. With an angry brother ahead and an angry father-in-law behind, he had another late-night encounter with God, which turned into a long, hard wrestling match that ended when God wrenched Jacob's hip out of socket and told him his name would be changed to Israel. I love that God refused to give up on Jacob. Instead, he came to him and let him wrestle long and hard. I even love that He left Jacob with a limp that would forever remind him of God’s presence in the darkest parts of his story. Because of his story I can trust God won't leave me in the messes of my own doing, but will meet me as often as it takes to make me willing to hold on to Him so He can lead me out of the darkness.   

Let’s look at the Israelites who lived in Egypt. The first Israelite to get there was Joseph, whose brothers had sold him into slavery. While God blessed Joseph in Egypt, his father and his brothers were starving back home. God graciously used Joseph's blessing to save his brothers. Four hundred years later the Egyptians became afraid of the Israelites because they had grown in numbers. They enslaved them, treated them ruthlessly, increased their work load, and ordered midwives to kill their babies to stop their population growth. The desperate Israelites cried out to God and He heard, sending Moses to lead them home. After many negotiations intertwined with catastrophic plagues a stubborn Pharaoh let Israel go. God went with them, becoming a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Pharaoh quickly changed his mind and chased them, flanking the Israelites from behind with the Red Sea directly in front of them. They became terrified and cried out to God, questioning His love, His motives, and His plans. It was in the face of their doubt that God delivered them through the sea. In response to their deliverance they worshiped God, praising His unfailing love and strength. 

However, they soon became thirsty and grew dissatisfied with God's provisions and leading. In their state of dissatisfaction they failed to enjoy God's continual presence. But, God never left. He knew that trust is hard for those wounded by trauma, abuse, and infanticide. He was patient, understanding that in an imperfect, sinful world people carry wounds that impact their ability to trust Him. From their story, I can know that God understands wounding and is patient with me even when my faith is harder to grow. 

There are so many more stories that spoke to me--a whole Bible full! But I'll stop with Peter because I can so relate to him. He was quick to follow Jesus, quick to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, and quick to proclaim what he could do for Him. Yet, in Jesus darkest hours he vehemently denied Jesus--not once but three times. And, in the shame of that he withdrew to his former life. I am sure he thought He had blown it too big to be of use, but Jesus sought him out and reinstated him to His calling, promising the Holy Spirit would enable Him to live out that calling. From his story I know I can trust God who forgives denial and failure by leaning in closer still, filling me with His Spirit. I can trust God who provides a Helper to indwell, empower, and comfort to not give up on me even when I struggle. 

The more stories I read, the more I realize the story God is penning for me (and you) to live is a story of redemption, not perfection. And, no matter how big or how frequently I blow it, my God is there in the midst of it all. The victories I have sought have became more of a reality as I have invited Jesus into the dark places where sin was pervasive and pain ran deep. When I chose to be real about my weaknesses I learned experientially His truth that His power is made perfect in weaknesses. No matter how big the struggle, my God is bigger still and now matter how weak I am, God's strength is sufficient. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

We Come Limping to His Table

In high school I developed an eating disorder that expressed itself in many ways over time. My kids were in high school and college when I realized my dieting was dangerously out of control and I decided to get help. When I first started counseling, I was in denial about the impact my disorder had on others and said something like, "At least it's only food and doesn't impact my family like alcohol or drugs might." The counselor smiled and explained that if he were doing family counseling with us, the first things he would do is ask my children to draw the family dinner table. He then asked me what I thought they would draw and I had to admit that they would have drawn the table with my place empty as I seldom ate with them. I realized in that session that the dinner table was as much about family interaction as it was about food. In recovery, I also became more and more aware and fascinated by Bible passages that dealt with food and meals.

I had struggled with deep shame for a long time over my relationship with food. I hated how often my thoughts were consumed with food, dieting, or the number on the scale. I was also ashamed that food itself was the source of my struggle. After I entered recovery I realized the very first sin committed was centered around food. I also realized Adam and Eve's choice to eat the fruit was more about what Satan promised than the fruit itself. Satan's temptation stirred in them a desire that the fruit didn't fulfill and they ended up miserable.

I could relate to Adam and Eve as I turned to food when I mistook relational hunger for physical hunger.At times I searched frantically for the perfect food to satisfy a hunger I couldn't identify--a hunger food could never satisfy. I could relate to them when I thought I would be happier if only I had something else, which for me was usually a low number on the scale. I restricted food intake so I could feel more powerful when I felt powerless over life, only to realize it was a vicious cycle.I could relate to them when I thought certain foods would calm my anxious heart.  And, when I ate to calm my anxiety, I could sleep the sleep of a food coma, only to awaken to unresolved issues that had stirred my anxious heart, now coupled with the shame brought on by my choices. I eventually realized food wasn't the enemy and it didn't have power over me unless I gave it power. I also realized that eating wasn't a shameful act when I did it with a grateful heart, praising God for His provision. In fact it was an act of worship, resulting in God being ever present. I could walk with Him through disordered thoughts and temptations and see them as an opportunity to know God better.

A few years into recovery I was in a freak accident that left me with a limp. As a result, I embraced the story of Mephibosheth who was Jonathon's son and Saul's grandson. It would have been customary for Jonathon to become king when Saul died, but God appointed David instead. David faithfully served Saul in the interim, but Saul was filled with jealousy over David's God-given abilities, future kingship, and David's victory over Goliath that resulted in popularity. In a fit of jealous rage, he tried to kill David and David realized the king viewed him as an enemy. This grieved both Jonathon and David who were close friends. Jonathon helped David escape and David vowed to show Jonathon and his family mercy when he became king.

Then Saul and Jonathon were killed, leaving behind Mephibosheth. When Mephibosheth's nurse heard of their deaths, she fled with the young boy and fell, injuring both his legs. After David established his kingdom, he remembered his promise to Jonathon and called a servant to find out if there was anyone from Saul's house alive to which he could show mercy. The servant told him about young crippled Mephibosheth and David sent for him.

I imagine Mephibosheth was filled with fear when he was called to the palace of the king that his grandfather had tried to kill. And, when he arrived, he humbly bowed before David and David told him not to be afraid because he had called him to show him favor. Mephibosheth offered himself as a servant, but David gave him a seat at his own table, which meant he, the king, considered Mephibosheth as a son. David also gave him land so his servants could work it and provide all that he needed, which gave the crippled Mephibosheth back his dignity. 

I love this story because of my limp and the invitation to the king's table. Each one of us is Mephibosheth. We were born God's enemy and have been crippled by sin that we have committed and by sin that has been perpetrated against us. Since the fall we have all also been crippled by all sorts of trauma, causing us to be crippled in our ability to do good, our ability to manage our emotions, our ability to discern truth from lies, our ability to love well, and our ability to worship and honor God. Yet, like Mephibosheth, we have been invited to the palace of the King of kings and we come limping to God's table with nothing to offer. Just as Mephibosheth found mercy because of David's love for Jonathon, we have found mercy because of the Father's love for Jesus. Like Mephibosheth, we who don't deserve to even be servants, have been made joint heirs with Christ.  

There are still times that my ankle gets sore and stiff and my limp becomes more pronounced and walking more awkward. There are times that something happens to trigger feelings of past traumas and I find myself walking through my relationships with an invisible "limp" that, too, feels awkward and uncomfortable. There are also times I experience stress and old eating disordered thoughts raise their ugly heads and I find myself "limping" awkwardly through the day barely holding on to what is healthy and good. At those times I know I can either get frustrated and give into shameful thoughts that shout in my head, "I should be over this by now!" Or, I can choose to remember how Mephibosheth, who was David's enemy came to be seated at the king's table and then choose to cling to the truth that I, who was once God's enemy, am now seated at His table, forever belonging to His family. I am also reminded that through His divine power He has given me every thing I need for a godly life through the knowledge of Him who has called us out of His goodness. Over time I've let go of the shame I associated with my different "limps"--physical, relational, and emotional--and I am thankful for this Biblical picture of my reconciliation to the King of kings. 

I know that as we, God's crippled children, each come hobbling up to His table, we are met with lavish mercy and grace that we did nothing to earn. I know that at His table we are forever covered with a love that has been shown through Christ's brutal death on a cross. You  and I may come limping to His table, but the Father welcomes us without hesitation, seeing each of us hidden in Christ becoming the person He created us to be. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A New Point of View

Several years ago, I read John Fisher's book, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me), and it was an eye opener. After I read it, I tried to overcome Pharisaical behavior's and correct my attitude to be more like Jesus. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn't. I recently read Michelle Cushatts' book, Relentless, The Unshakeable Presence of a God who Never Leaves and realized I have not only looked at my family and peers through a Pharisaical lens, but I have also looked at people whose stories were told in the Bible that way, too. The reason I did this is because I didn't consider the trauma humans have experienced since the fall, whether it be because of our their choices, the choices of others, or simply living in a fallen world. When I didn't  consider the impact of trauma on people in Biblical narratives, I often judged them, amd was impatient and frustrated when I read about their actions, reactions, words, emotions, and attitudes. 

There has been a lot of research lately on the impact of trauma and it has shown people who experience trauma often struggle to trust each other and God. This is because trauma changes the human brain, impacting our ability to form secure attachments. In addition, the Enemy tells us trauma is proof that God is not loving or trustworthy and that we are too bad to love. People with unhealthy attachment styles present in all sorts of ways, but one way is that they are trusting one moment and unable to trust the next. The deep needs that didn't get met due to trauma, can be triggered, causing all sorts of emotional responses long after a traumatic event is over. I will share a few of the Bible characters we often judge. Michele talks about them in her book.

First, there was Adam and Eve who represent those whose trauma was caused by their own choices. Before the Serpent, they lived in a protected environment in perfect communion with God and each other. Afterward, they experienced a break in those relationships and for the first time experienced fear and shame and they hid. They were expelled from the Garden that was filled with all they needed and had to work hard to survive. Their lives became messy and dysfunctional and they struggled with conflict and trust, living with the knowledge that their actions had impacted all mankind. Yet, God in His grace promised them a Savior, covering their nakedness with animal skins, He, Himself, killed. 
Second, there was Abraham and Sarah. When I first read their story, I was confused by their strong faith being interrupted by doubts. That is until I learned more of their story. They lived in a culture that worshiped fertility gods, which would have been difficult for a barren couple. It would have been assumed that their infertility was due to moral failure and that their infertility was the result of the gods displeasure with them.. I imagine Sarah was judged harshly and mocked as she tried to fix what was wrong in her life. Yet, she couldn't identify what it was she needed to fix. She and Abraham answer God's calling to leave for a new country, receiving His promise of a child. Years later, Sarah was still barren and beyond childbearing years, so she took things in her own hand as she most likely had done before. She tried to help God by giving Abraham her handmaiden to bear a child for her. The handmaiden mocked her and Sarah treated her harshly, which is understandable in light of the trauma of having lived in a land that idolized fertility and treated her with the same kind of contempt Hagar had shown her. Even though life got a lot more complicated, God was with them and kept His promise, raising their reproductively dead bodies to life and giving them a child. He even made a covenant with Abraham and in that covenant, God assumed all of the responsibility for keeping it, walking alone walked through the sacrifices, His actions telling Abraham that even if he messed up, God would keep His covenant. 

Third, we skip to the Israelites living in Egypt. Exodus tells us the Hebrews were oppressed, forced into slavery, and their lives were made bitter with hard work. They were a fertile people and their numbers grew, causing the Egyptians to fear them. So the Egyptians increased the Hebrew's labor and eventually ordered midwives to kill their children when they were born. The Hebrews cried out to God, whose ears had always been turned towards them and He called Moses to lead them to the Promised land. After witnessing the plagues, Moses lead them out of Egypt, which had its own set a problems. I used to wonder why they so quickly vacillated between belief and unbelief, questioning God's purpose and Moses's leadership. But in the context of trauma, their story of faith followed by anger, fear, and doubt makes sense. They questioned God, because they had previously felt abandoned by Him, wondering if He was hearing their cries when they lived as slaves. It also makes sense that they would have a hard time trusting Moses's leadership as the generation leaving Egypt had never experienced benevolent leaders, only brutal and oppressive ones. They had wanted to be rescued and cried out to God, but in waiting on Him to answer, the story they began telling themselves was that God brought them out to abuse them, too. It makes sense they would wonder if God really would take them through the sea, provide food for them,  and keep them safe. Would life in a new land be better? Would Moses be fair as he dealt with them? When I look at them through the lens of trauma, I have more compassion and understanding. I wonder if maybe God put their story in the Word, not to make an example of them, but to show us what lengths He will go to save His people traumatized by living in a fallen world.  

Forth, we have Elijah. I always loved the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal found in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was a prophet who lived in perilous times due to God's discipline, a severe drought, and ungodly leaders like Ahab and Jezebel, who killed God's prophets. In that social climate Elijah confronted Ahab and set up a challenge between God's true prophets and Ahab's false ones. They both built alters and the false prophets called on Baal to ignite their sacrifices, using all sorts of passion and antics. Nothing happened! Then Elijah and his prophets poured water on their alter and prayed and God came down, igniting their offering, proving He is who He says He is. They slayed the false prophets who were leading people astray, igniting Jezebel;s wrath. She plotted to kill Elijah and he ran, he feared, he hid, and he doubted. He even asked God to take his life. I judged him harshly, but God didn't. He had compassion on Elijah and met his physical needs of rest and food and gently met the traumatized, depressed prophet in a soft whisper, showing him the lie he believed that he was all alone was false. 
Fifth, we have Job and his wife. I have had several friends bury children and had already grown more compassionate towards them. In fact, at times I get angry with believers who  judge them harshly. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose all of my children, my home, my resources, and my employees in one day, especially in a culture that assumed everything bad experienced is because of moral failure. The reactions the couple had to the relational, physical, and financial losses they experienced were appropriate. The grief of a child runs deep and is cyclic and remains a shadow for a lifetime in both times of trust and times of doubt. As a child when I read their story, I mistakenly thought when God gave them more children and more wealth that their life would return to normal and their pain would end. But, that is not the case! Even after people work through grief and their joy has returned, there is an empty place in their parental heart. God wasn't put off by their emotions, their struggle to make sense of their losses, and the questions they posed. So, why are we? Maybe God met them in their pain, to show them and us that the way through pain is to say the questions ruminating in the heart out loud so Satan can't use those questions to plant seeds of doubt. Maybe it was to teach us to make room for the truth that suffering helps us understand the love of God and the suffering Jesus experienced when He lay down His life for our sin. The fellowship of suffering reveals the deepest parts God's heart to us. 

Sixth, lets briefly discuss the disciples of Jesus. They walked with Jesus, heard Him preach, saw Him heal, saw Him cast out demons, and watched as He confronted Pharisees who had painted God as a hard task master never to be pleased. They ran when Jesus was arrested and denied knowing Him at the crucifixion. I judged their actions many times. But, viewing them through the trauma in their story allows me to be more empathetic. Their country was being controlled by other nations and God had been silent for 400 hundred long, hard years. They heard Jesus's words through that lens and probably heard a few lies the enemy planted along the way. All of a sudden the Messiah they loved and hoped in  was taken, illegally tried, beaten beyond recognition, and crucified between two thieves. They emotionally weren't prepared for what they saw, the grief they felt, and the confusion of faith the events brought about. The fearful disciples returned home, lost in their hurt...until He rose again! Jesus wasn't judging them like I was. He went straight to them and reestablished their callings to be His disciples and promised them the Holy Spirit who would increase their understanding of Spiritual things. God met them in their pain so they would understand the cross was the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. That even in their failure to be faithful, Jesus alone paid the price. They would need to know this grace when they served Him enpowered by the Holy Spirit who would come. Jesus understood their fear of abandonment and He clearly conveyed to them that He would not leave them alone, but would give them a Comfortor who would bring to mind what He had taught and enable them to understand and empower them to do what He called them to do.   

This new perspective of looking at the Bible characters in the context of their story and the trauma they experienced makes me want to reread every story again to see the relentless love and presence of God more fully in their lives. It also inspires me to look for that in my own life and in the lives of people around me. A trauma lens helps me have more empathy and compassion. As Michele so eloquently said, "God doesn't condemn our questions, doubts, and despair but actually pushes further in, drawing closer still. And to discover, to our deep relief and lasting delight, that God's greatest desire isn't to browbeat us into obedience but to woo us with His relentless nearness." I can't help but wonder how differently our lives would be, if  we grasped this concept and became totally and radically transparent with Him, expectantly looking for Him to be near. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Legacies We Leave

I watched the celebration of life held for Lois Evans, who was the wife of Pastor Tony Evans. The service was long and filled with lots of speakers, which gave me an opportunity to see glimpses into the life of a lady I wish I have had the opportunity to know. As I watched thoughts about what a legacy was began floating around in my brain.

I saw Lois's legacy when women talked about their friendships with her. As they shared parts of conversations they had had over meals about their children, their spouses, their ministries, their churches, and their relationship with God. Repeatedly I heard people say how their lives were drawn to the Savior by the conversations they had with Lois.

I saw her legacy when women spoke about Lois as a mentor. These women moved to Dallas when their husbands went to Dallas Theological Seminary. They were young brides who had moved far from family and were facing early years of marriage to men who were students at a seminary that demanded a lot of their time. Lois took them under her wing as a mama hen would her chicks. She encouraged them in the Lord, drawing them into the Word. She taught them to love their husbands, gave them wisdom in how to parent their children, and taught them how to relate to the churches their husbands pastored. She shared recipes, enabling them to feed their families on a student's budget, taught them to manage their house holds well, and to become women of dignity and grace. She not only mentored with her words, she mentored by living out a transparent, godly life in front of them.

I saw her legacy in the words people used to describe her. They used the word humble because she wasn't one to draw the limelight to herself. She was more about helping others become who God wanted them to be.

She was known as a loving woman. Lois loved her husband. She loved her children. She loved her friends. She loved those she mentored. and she loved her congregation. Someone told her children she had saved her life by taking the time to have an after-church conversation when she was feeling suicidal and had told Lois she didn't think she was supposed to be here anymore. Lois listened and responded with, "Oh honey, we need you here!" That mama of two is still alive and serving God. 

She was also known as a kind woman. I looked up kind to try to understand just what kind actually means. I found that it meant Lois's behavior was marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern and consideration for others. It means that she helped others in need without expecting anything from then in return. It meant that she stopped to listen, stopped to speak truth into hurting hearts, and stopped to offer compassionate care to those who needed it.

I saw her legacy in her children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren as they took the stage. Every single one that spoke did an eloquent job. They were confident in who they were because Lois had taught them about their identity in Christ. They can teach, preach, sing, and share the gospel in such a way that one would want to know their Savior. They shared a bit about their last days with her. Even during her final days she was showing them how to embrace the end and how to trust God through her transition. She loved Jesus to the very end. They will miss her, but she left them with hope!

And, as I was contemplating legacy one of the speakers shared that one of her favorite things to do was to view sunsets, especially at a lake. She said that as they were watching the sunset together her mom was picking up stones and casting them into the lake, causing the water to ripple. She said watching that, she realized that legacy making is like casting stones into a lake. Each action has a ripple affect. It was then that I realized, that legacies aren't just in the big things we do, but also in the everyday things we do in front of families, friends, and congregations.

I realized today that the legacies we leave are not always just the big things that we do. They are the small everyday things, too. They can either be good legacies or bad ones. When we build up someone, speak healing words into their lives, or remind them gently of God's truth and love it not only impacts them in a positive way, but it impacts those in their sphere of influence as well. However, when we speak harsh, judgmental words, tearing someone down, it will not only impact them but also those around them as well. In the same way when we do something kind without expecting something in return, it, too, will have a positive ripple effect or when we know to do good and withhold it, it will have a negative ripple effect.

While watching people share about their interactions with Lois Evans, I realized that her goal in life never had to be about leaving a specific legacy, it was about living a life deeply connected to her Savior. It was about loving Him with all of her heart, mind, and soul, and a lot about loving others as she lived loved. Her legacy was simply the fruit of making a daily commitment to trust and obey the Savior who died to give her life. It was simply a lifetime of choosing daily to trust His heart towards her and obey His instructions given in His Word. Her legacy was the fruit of a commitment to trust God's sovereignty in both the good and the hard. Her legacy was formed one word, one conversation,  and one act of kindness at a time, each rippling outwardly from the intended receiver. Her amazing legacy is reflective of what God wants for us all.


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!