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?




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Honoring One Another

Our church recently started a sermon series on honor. The first sermon was given on Mother's Day and was on the topic of honoring women. From the sermon one could draw the conclusion that if men honored women the ways Jesus honored them, there would be no need of a "Me too, movement." Afterward, I looked up a few verses on honor and landed on Romans 12:10, which says, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor." Can you imagine what our culture would be like if we all did that? Sadly, our culture is not doing a good job of honoring one another.

One of the places the lack of honor shows up is in our school systems. Many of the students do not respect authority figures. When teachers are presenting lessons, some students tune the teacher out and some disrupt the lesson by talking, sharpening pencils, being argumentative, or choosing to pick at another student for the answer they gave. When some students are being corrected by teachers, they cuss at the teachers or spread ugly rumors about them. Some teachers have even been assaulted by students on the campus.

I used to be shocked when someone said their child was being bullied, but now I am not even surprised. And, when I say bullying, I am not talking about a kid who gives another child dirty looks, a kid who abruptly quits being a child's friend, a group of kids excluding a child at lunch time, or a kid excluding a classmate from his or her birthday bash, as painful as those things can be for children to navigate. I am talking about kids whose language is filled with strong hate speech--harsh words that strike at the very core of another child's confidence and worth. I am not talking about kids gossiping, as wrong as that may be, but kids who choose to spread blatant lies, vulgar lies about another student. I am not talking about childhood scuffles where tempers got out of hand at recess, but physical assaults in which a kid pounds another child's face until he has a concussion, where  a child is tripped, pushed, punched, and threatened every time he walks down the hall. I am talking about gangs of kids beating students to the point they are hospitalized. I am also talking about sexual harassment, and not just the ogling every woman has come to expect, but the grabbing, the groping, and even full on rapes that occur on campus. The students lack respect for one another.

The culture of dishonor that is prevalent in schools is a reflection of the culture in which our kids are growing up. Dishonor impacts every area of our lives, including the work place, the businesses we visit, the places we worship, and yes, even our own homes. I am grappling about the heart issues that are at the root of our culture's dishonorable behavior. I suspect it has something to do with gender contempt that is a result of seeing it in the home, a result of abuse, a result of business that leaves parents too worn out to treat each others well, or the result of failing to instill honoring behavior in  children through the teaching and enforcement of God honoring boundaries. It could be partly do to the fact that our culture doesn't value life the way it once did. It could be that we as a nation no longer view people as image bearers of the Holy God. It is a very complex issue, I am sure. But, for today I simply want to invite other Christians to humbly take an honest look at ourselves, our attitudes, and our relationships to see if we are modeling honorable behavior or are we guilty of disrespectful behavior.  We have an opportunity in this dark climate of dishonor to shine bright by honoring one another and in doing so modeling Christ to the world that desperately needs Him.

As I am writing this, I  feel convicted about how lazy I've become about showing honor to my spouse. I realize how important it is to process what honor looks like in a practical sense. The first place a child learns to honor others is in the home. Their eyes see how Mom and Dad treat one another. Do they see Dad looking at Mom with eyes of love or see him ogling other gals? Do they hear Dad speak highly of Mom or do they hear words of criticism that exposes his dishonor towards her? Do they see Mom greet Dad joyfully at the door or do see her passivity in acknowledging his homecoming? Do they hear Mom express gratitude to Dad for his contributions to the family or do they hear Mom criticizing him for never being enough? Do they hear Mom extoling Dad's virtues or see her tearing him down for his weaknesses? Do they see Mom and Dad showing honor in the little things--like saying "please," "thank you," and "Can I help with that?" Do they see Mom and Dad manipulating one another or having honest conversations in which the necessary negotiations can build a heathy family? Do they see Mom and Dad exchanging smiles when they catch each other's eyes across the dinner table or the disrespect shown through impatient eye rolls? If a child visits a parent's work place, do they see a picture of the other parent on the desk? Do they model proper respect for legal authorities when stopped for traffic violations? We must remember that honor or the lack of honor is seen the most in the little things done in our every day lives.

Are Mom and Dad teaching children to show honor to others? Do they teach them to honor the other parent or allow them to name call and sass without giving consequences? Are there consequences for a child who shows disrespect to a teacher at school? While parents must be their child's strongest advocate, helping him or her use their voice assertively, they must also teach them to use it respectfully. A child who doesn't respect parents or teachers, will become a narcissistic grownup who loses jobs because he or she won't respect bosses. Do parent's teach their children how to treat siblings and friends? Do they teach them the energy expended in tearing others down can give them a better quality life when it is expended in showing honor? Do they teach them to resolve conflict in honorable ways or allow them to retaliate, seek revenge, or spew hate-filled words that can never be retracted? Do they teach children to respect grandparents? As a newlywed, one of the things that impressed me the most was how respectful my spouse  was towards my mother, my grandmothers, and my great grandmother. When we visited them, he greeted them with a huge smile, made great eye contact with them that said they mattered, and he helped them to their seats at the table.

I can't help but wonder how different a family might be if each person in it understood that with belonging to a family comes specific obligations and one of those obligations is to try to out do one another in showing honor. I think most of us want to be honorable people and we need to remember that honor or lack of it is shown through our  attitudes, body language, speech, willingness to listen, and through heart felt empathy. Oh, that we would become families who desire to honor God by obediently honoring one another. How might that begin to impact our schools, our churches, our communities, and our culture?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Grace of Discipline

My church just finished studying Galatians, which is one of my favorite books, It makes it clear that salvation is through grace and found only in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. It also tells us that anything we add to the gospel nullifies God's grace. Paul wrote this epistle to a church dealing with people who were adding things of the Jewish law to the gospel. They had trusted Christ to be their Savior when Paul was there, but when he left, they slid back into thinking they had to do something to keep God's love and merit HIs continued grace. They didn't grasp the truth that grace earned isn't grace at all.

Maybe the Galatians distorted the gospel so living out their faith would feel more familiar. The rules and rituals that had previously guided them when they sinned or when they wanted to be blessed by God were more comfortable than sitting in His grace experiencing conviction and sorrow caused by sin. They no longer had a way to numb this discomfort when they didn't work for mercy or ease their guilt through legalistic actions. Somehow they had not grasped that their Salvation had resulted in a relationship with God and the way of restoration for current sin was now a relational matter that was repaired through confession.

When I volunteered as a youth worker, I went on short-term mission trips with students. While on these trips the level of commitment and understanding of grace was thrilling to see. However, as students returned home, some returned to their old ways of life because they didn't know how to navigate relationships in light of the grace they had experienced, the new or renewed relationship they had with God, or the stickiness of the new moral compass God brought into their lives, but not their friends. Others seemed to grasp the grace of God on trips only to fall right back into legalistic, judgmental ways that stripped them of the joy they had experienced. Still others became so legalistic with themselves they were drowning in shame over sin committed after trips. Those had a hard time believing God could forgive them again and again and again. As some grew more legalistic, others left wounded by the legalism. I think these experiences were similar to what the Galatians were experiencing.

Sometimes in our zeal to mature believers, we become like the Galatians and we add regulations to the gospel so people in our church look like saved people should look. When they don't, we judge them as "probably not saved" while claiming we believe salvation is only though through Jesus. The problem is that different people and different churches have differing views on what "saved" looks like. A change in church can result in needless questioning of one's salvation. The problem is that any effort we put on people to look and act a certain way nullifies God's grace and fosters pride instead of growth. This judgment can discourage those who are struggling because they came to the Lord more wounded and broken than you or I. Who are we to decide what saved looks like in a given moment?

Sometimes we present grace as a doctrine that allows us to overlook sin and its consequences. Many are living in broken relationships because instead of dealing with the sin, we tell people to forgive and forget, forcing them to reconcile with those who aren't repentant. There are some who in the name of grace even redefine sin so it doesn't have to be dealt with. For example, when a wife reveals her spouse is in bondage to porn and is told to give him more sex so he doesn't need to fill his "need" with porn we have redefined his sin as a need. This "grace" is toxic and leaves people who aren't repentant demanding grace. And grace demanded is nothing more than an invitation to enter a sick system that is in denial of sin.

The Bible tells us local churches have goats mixed with their sheep, tares mixed with their wheat, white washed "tombs" that look clean and bright, and wolves wearing sheep clothing. We may or may not be able to discern which is which and in our effort to make sure we all look good we preach grace while making snap judgements that classify people into "true believer groups" and "those who probably aren't really saved groups." The problem with this is that how we look on the outside is often influenced by how we were raised. A moral person may look saved, but never have face the sin in his life or the fact that he needs a Savior. When one has grown up in the church, he may have the church lingo down and never reflect personally on what he believes about sin,  Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. When we get to heaven, there will be some we thought were saved, but weren't because they were self-righteousness people who never tasted God's grace.  Then there will be others whose lives were messy and who struggled daily with sin who are dancing in glory because they placed their faith fully in Jesus and His complete work on the cross.

I think when we err on either side--the legalism mixed with grace side or the "feel-good grace of denial" side, we do great damage to people, to the church, and to our relationship with God. When we err it could be that we have forgotten God believes in discipline. He wants us to discipline ourselves--that discipline meaning training. When the flesh wants to sin, He wants us to discipline ourselves so we can resist sin. A disciplined life is a proactive life. It is proactively spending time with God in His word and praying over it. It is proactively fellowshipping with others so we have a natural iron sharpening iron process in place that is mixed with encouragement. It is proactively sitting through the angst of temptation, choosing to delay fleshly gratification, keeping our eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith.

The Bible also makes it clear that God, Himself, is a disciplinarian who disciplines those He loves and calls His own. We don't always understand and embrace this concept, but can gain insight by looking at our own parenting. First, we instruct our children. God does this through his Word. It tells us how to live and that we have the Spirit who will help us to remember what we learn and will empower us in our weakness to live lives worthy of His calling. We must be humble and acknowledge our weaknesses and our dependence on God to experience His strength.

Second, as parents we know our children don't like the pain of broken fellowship with us. They feel convicted and either run away from us or run toward us, desperately wanting to experience our love in the distress of their guilt. The same is true for us as we read His Word and gain knowledge. With that knowledge comes feelings of conviction and grief and the discomfort of these feelings is God's discipline as that discomfort motivates us to change when we don't deaden the discomfort through denial or legalism.

Third, good parents safely allow their children to bear the consequences for their actions so that they learn their choices either bring good or bad into their lives. Likewise, God disciplines us by allowing us to bear consequences for our sin. A man may want to blame God when he loses his job, but the truth is God graciously lets him face the consequences for bad behavior or unacceptable work ethic so he will grow and change. A young lady might blame God for her out of wedlock pregnancy when God allows her to face the consequences for choosing to have sex outside of marriage. God doesn't desert people in these kinds of situations, He graciously walks them through them just like we do our children.

Fourth, there are times when parent's have to take desperate measures to get between their child and the destructive path they are on. God does this through church discipline that He lays out in His Word. When we see each another person we care about practicing sin, we are to confront them in a loving way. If that doesn't draw them back to the light, we are to  confront them again with a witness. If that fails, we are to engage the church leadership and the body, the goal never being to shame but to invite one back to the light. This kind of discipline is hard to do right, because it requires we be involved in a church and choose to do life together. It also requires honesty, humility, and a vulnerability that very few are comfortable with. I think sometimes we could head off huge moral failures had we confronted early on. One pastor shared in a sermon that he was having lunch with a believing friend and noticed him ogling every woman that walked past him. He asked about his walk with the Lord and his relationship with his wife and the guy claimed both were stellar. So, he gently pointed out what he had observed. His early invention saved the man from big sin that would have devastated his wife, kids and church.

God's discipline can be very uncomfortable, but it is never a punishment for sin. It's purpose is for our good so we might share in His holiness. That is grace! God wants us to be not only free from the penalty of sin, but from the power of it as well. It shows He values our relationship with Him and does what ever He needs to do to protect it. Oh, that we would not only fully trust in the finished work of Jesus, but embrace all aspects of His grace, including the grace of discipline.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Man Like Boaz

My church recently finished a study on the book of Ruth. The timing of the series was so prevalent to the culture we live in as the "Me, too" campaign unfolded. For too long women who have been victimized have been asked questions that implicate them as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing the wrong thing. Even women, who should know better, say stupid things that cast blame on survivors, heaping even more shame on victims already drowning in sea of toxic shame. But the truth is, each person's actions are an indicator of what is in their heart. When a predator preys it is because of his heart, not his victim’s. I definitely believe that women need to raise daughters who walk with strength and dignity and who can command respect because they know they are deeply loved, fully accepted, and chosen by One who gave His life for them. But, that is no guarantee that they won't be harassed, molested, or raped.

We need to quit buying into the lie that men are victims of their bodies and just can't help themselves. We need to teach our sons that they don't prove their manhood by undressing women with their eyes and catcalling at them as they walk down the street. We need to raise our sons to understand they don't prove their manhood by asking women for what is not appropriate outside the marriage covenant. We need to raise sons who understand it is manlier to date and court a young woman with integrity that it is to get her drunk, so he can add another notch to his belt. We need to raise our sons to understand that real men do not wound women through sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. For a while, I thought maybe I was just being unreasonable to expect men to be different; then I read the story of Ruth and came across a man named Boaz.

Ruth was a widow from Moab living in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who was bitter over the loss of her husband and both of her sons. As was customary, Ruth went to a barley field hoping to glean what the reapers left. She ended up gleaning in Boaz's fields. When he approached the fields, he saw her, and he asked about her. Upon hearing that she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, he approached her. He was kind as he instructed her to not leave his field for other fields and to stay with the women that were working for him. He provided her with water and with food and even instructed his workers to pull some grain from their bundles and leave it so that she would have ample grain for her and Naomi's needs. He treated the young foreign woman with upmost respect and provided food and drink for her and Naomi. He protected her as she was vulnerable to mistreatment and assault.

I think every woman, at some level, desires to be treated like this. When I was in college, I had to walk by the cafeteria late at night to get back to my dorm after my class. I had been victimized as a child and I was nervous because several women had reported that they had been assaulted by athletes on our campus. As I came around the corner of the building, there was a group of athletes standing there. They started catcalling and I panicked and started walking even faster. When I started walking faster, they took it up a notch calling me all sorts of vulgar names. That night I longed for a Boaz, to step out of the crowd of guys who had enough integrity to speak kindly to me and to offer to walk me through the crowd so that I knew I could safely get home.

When Ruth told Naomi about Boaz's kindness, protection, and provision, Naomi explained Israel's provision for widows through a kinsman redeemer. At Naomi's instruction, Ruth bathed and anointed herself with perfume and went to the threshing floor and uncovered the feet of Boaz and laid there at his feet. He awakened and she asked him to be her redeemer. Even in the darkness of the night with a woman lying at his feet, Boaz integrity shined bright. He could have taken advantage of Ruth, but he listened to her and treated her with respect. He knew there was a closer relative who had the right of redemption, and he wanted to legally take Ruth as a wife without disrespecting the relative who was entitled to do so. As soon as it was light enough for her to go home safely he sent her on her way, protecting both her reputation and her purity. He asked for the right to marry her and it was granted. 

So, where did Boaz learn to treat women so well? Why was his heart so open and protective of the foreigner living in his community? I think maybe he learned it from his dad and his mom. His mom was none other than "Rahab the harlot" who was saved when she hung the scarlet chord from her window when the walls of Jericho tumbled down. Some people think that it was one of the spies that she hid that took her as his wife. Maybe Boaz learned from watching his dad demonstrate love and grace to his mom through kind words and protective actions. Or, maybe Boaz learned to be kind and full of integrity in his relationships with women from watching his mom suffer through the leers from men and the gossip of women who knew of her questionable past. Maybe it came from watching his mom be snubbed for being a foreigner living in Bethlehem and from the cruelty he endured as a product of a mixed marriage. We don't know for sure, but we do know that Boaz grew to be man of impeccable integrity and maybe, just maybe, our culture would begin to change if we began to raise each of our sons to become a man like Boaz. 


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I Love You. I Have Always Loved You


Saturday night my fourteen year-old-grandson asked his mom to take him and a friend to see a scary movie. She was worn out from teaching, graduate school, and driving through LA traffic for his water polo meet, so she suggested he ask me. I love spending time with him and felt honored that he was okay with that idea. So, I got to accompany two teenage boys to see A Quiet Place. I went expecting it to be a typical scary movie and it was intense; however, it was also a movie with a well-developed plot, telling the story about a family that worked very hard to survive monsters that had been attacking humans.

In the beginning of the story, the family consists of a dad, a pregnant mom, and three children. The oldest child is a teenage girl who is deaf. the middle child is a boy who is nine or ten and the youngest boy was probably two or three.  The world has been invaded by ugly monsters who are blind, but who have ears that hear everything and attack what they hear. In the opening scene, they are walking from the store in town back to their farm. They did not realize the little one had picked up a toy space ship in the store that made noise. They were walking single file with him in the rear, following his deaf sister. He lagged behind as he began to explore the space ship. All of a sudden, the little guy turned on the space ship and it made loud sounds that drew a monster. The deaf girl couldn't hear the sound and the dad, who was at the front of the line, couldn't get to the son in time to save him from the monster.

The rest of the film is about this family who is not only working hard to survive, but is a family dealing with the tragic loss of the youngest child, each in their own way. The parents had moved the family into their underground root cellar to keep them safer and they communicated through sign language. The dad had developed quite a security system of cameras so he could observe their farm for approaching monsters. Every so often one of the family members does something that accidentally that draws the monsters toward them. As viewers, we could see the enormous guilt that followed the mishaps that put their lives in jeopardy. We could also see the weight of the burden the parents bear in keeping their family safe. Both parents do a great job of reassuring the kids, but they also have to remind them over and over of the dangers they face.

One day the dad decides to take the boy to teach him how to fish with traps. The boy, still traumatized by what happened to his little brother, is terrified and doesn't want to go away from the farm. The daughter pleads with her dad to take her instead, but the dad tells her to stay with her mom and he gets down eye-to-eye with his son and promises to keep him safe. He even takes him to a waterfall where under the safety of its noise they are able to talk to each other. The dad listens humbly to his son and learns a lot about his daughter from him.

The daughter feels guilty for her brother's death and has come to believe her dad blames her for it as well and has concluded he doesn't love her. She is aware that being deaf also brings more risk to her family. The mom gets busy with laundry and the daughter places a few things in her backpack and goes to the place where her littlest brother died. The mom goes into labor and as she brings the laundry down the cellar, she steps on a nail, causing her to drop a picture frame which draws the monster to their farm. She sneaks back to their house and moves from room to room to hide from the monster and to give birth. At the house, she flips on red outside lights to warn her husband that the monster is there and that she needs help.

As the father and the son arrive at the property, the father sees the lights and sends the son to set off fireworks so their noise would draw the monster away from the house, allowing him to get to his wife. The sister sees the fireworks and comes back, finding her little brother hiding in a field. They run to the grain silo to wait for their dad to come get them. Eventually, they connect with him and are making their way back to the house when they come face to face with a monster. The dad tells the kids to go get in the truck and he grabs an ax and tries to attack the monster, but the monster flings him and the ax to the ground. The little boy screams in anguish when his dad is hit, causing the monster to go after the two kids in the truck. The dad manages to stand up and makes eye contact with his daughter and signs to her, “I love you. I have always loved you." He then lets out a blood-curdling scream sacrificing his life for theirs.

I glanced at the two teens with me who both are good kids with good hearts and both of them looked away from the screen and their bodies literally slumped into their chairs. Later they talked about how they wish they would not have killed the dad, because he was a good dad. The family is left to figure out the weaknesses of the monsters to survive.

After I came home, I processed the movie as it felt somewhat personal to me. When I was working with a therapist on my eating disorder, she asked me to draw what the eating disorder looked like to me. I couldn't draw it because it had looked one way when it first began as a poor way of coping with trauma. It evolved, and as it took root it became a self-destructive stronghold in my life.  The description I wrote for the therapist so long ago perfectly described the monsters in the movie. I decided those monsters could represent the sin from which God has always been protecting us. We don't always recognize the depravity of our sin or its destructiveness. Yes, we sometimes rebelliously choose sin over God, but there are times we get simply get careless and just slip into it and before we know it, we are being consumed and destroyed by it.

I didn't wake up one day and decide to have an eating disorder. It began as a way of trying to find control in the midst of the chaotic emotions swirling beneath the surface, but it quickly took over my life. The control, which at first felt good, became uncontrollable and changed the way I viewed myself. It weighed me down with shame so toxic that ugly self-deprecating thoughts continuously ran through my head. In the same way, I have also seen alcohol take over a person and destroy her and her relationships with her children, leaving gaping wounds that will take a long time to heal. I have seen families destroyed by pornography as it took over the life of a spouse and a dad. And I have seen drug addictions that have taken over the user to the point that all he cares about is his next hit.

God has always wanted to protect us. He has always loved us, but the enemy tells us that our sin isn't that bad, that God, is depriving us, and that God doesn't really love us. In recovery circles we hear statements like, "Oh, that is not your child talking, it is the drugs." But the truth is that we all have a bent to do wrong and we use denial and lies to hide shame. As we sink into the miry clay, our character, which is a fluid thing, begins to change and even the most truthful people begin to lie--we lie to "protect" the next hit, to hide what we spend, and to hide the disorders that gives us a false sense of control, to hide the gossip we share so no one will notice the big monster on our back. We lie to try to shape what others think about us, so we don't feel the guilt or the shame over the choices we have made, over the fact that we are losing control of our ability to choose, and the fact that we know we are loving poorly as a result of the strongholds in our lives.

My thoughts that night also went to the ladies I have worked with, many of which didn't have dads and/or moms that worked as hard to provide and protect as the movie parents did. I thought about those who had at some point in their healing journey expressed the deep longing they had burning in their souls to be protected and to be fully known and loved in spite of their wounds, their flaws, their mistakes their needs, and their sin.  And the Lord whispered into my heart, "I have loved you all that way."

It is so true! Since the Fall we have all been struggling at some level with shame that causes us to doubt the love of God. And yet, the Scripture, from beginning to end, points us to Jesus and shows us His great love, which ultimately was demonstrated on the cross. I know at the times that I have pictured Christ on the cross with my sin etched in His body, I have looked up into His face and I have seen the same look on His face that was on the face of the movie dad as he signed his love to his daughter the last time. And that look said as loudly as the signs, "I love you. I have always loved you."  



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Opposition is Opportunity in Disguise


The gospel stories weren't penned just for our entertainment. They were written to teach us about Jesus, His life, and His ministry. Each story reveals something about who He is, about His character, and about His heart. Each story gives us glimpses of how He related to people and our reactions to the stories reveals stuff about our own hearts and our relationship with Him. One of the stories I have been pondering lately is the story about a paralyzed man found in Mark 2.

Word of Jesus and His miracles had spread and when Jesus and his disciples came to Peter's house, a crowd soon descended there to see the miracle-working Teacher - the Teacher whose words were a soothing balm to some and a strong irritant to others. The large crowds made it difficult for the neediest people to get close enough to Jesus. One of the neediest that day was a paralyzed man who lived life on a stretcher, but he had four loyal friends who picked up his stretcher and headed to Peter's house. However, because of the crowd, they could not get near the Teacher. So, the men devised a plan and carried their friend up the stairs to the roof and began digging through tiles and dirt, making a hole large enough that they could fit their friend and his stretcher through it.

I find myself wondering what the man thought as they approached the house. Did his heart sink when he saw the crowd? Did his anger rise as he was reminded of his limitations? Did he feel hopeless and immediately resign himself to living from the perspective of the stretcher? What did he think when his friends began to climb the stairs and dig through the roof? Did he feel loved or was he embarrassed by their actions? Did he believe he was worth the hassle or would he have preferred they not to make a scene? Was his friends' faith beginning to take root in his heart? I don't know the answers to the questions, but I do know that I want to be the kind of friend this man had. I want to be the person who sees beyond the hopelessness of a situation. I want to be one who believes that the more hopeless the situation seems the bigger the opportunity to bring someone closer to Jesus. I want to be that friend who persists and persists until I have done all that it takes to help a friend land at the feet of Jesus.

I also find myself wondering what Jesus thought as the men began to dig through the roof. Did He raise His voice to be heard above their digging or did He stop and wait patiently, knowing the roof-digging crew was providing His sermon illustration that night? Did He need to calm Peter and remind Him that holes could be fixed? Did He smile as He brushed away the dirt that was settling on His shoulders? Did rise and help lower the man in or did they drop him at His feet?

The Bible makes it clear that not every illness is a result of sin. It may have been in this case that something he had done to another had resulted in his paralysis. It may have been that Jesus knew the crowd usually associated illness and handicaps with sin and was exposing their belief. Or it may have been that Jesus could see the burden of regret and the shame that was residing in the man's heart and knew that the man needed to be spiritually healed more than physically. So, He told him sins were forgiven.

Jesus then turned his attention to the religious leaders--the skeptics who thought He was a blasphemer for telling the man his sins were forgiven. I love it that Jesus both exposed and confronted their thoughts by asking, "Which is easier to do--tell a man he is forgiven or tell him to take up his bed and walk?" He then turned back to the man and said, "Get up, take your stretcher and go home."

What ran through the paralytic's mind when the Savior commanded him to walk? Did he look around at the crowd that wouldn't let him through the door? Did he glace at the religious leaders who disapproved of what Jesus was telling him and feel conflicted? Did he immediately respond in faith and jump up or dance a jig? Did he look down first, expecting to see atrophied legs and find them healthy and strong? Or did he have to do the impossible and try to stand up on atrophied muscled legs for the miracle to take place? I don't know, but I can relate to having to demonstrate faith and obedience in the face of people who opposed me and what God called me to do. It was terribly hard and it sure didn't feel safe. However, choosing God in the face of that opposition strengthened my faith, gave me opportunities to see Him work in new ways, and opened a new direction for me to do the ministry God had called me to.

That day, Jesus graciously chose to do a deeper work in the heart of the crippled man so not only his body was healed, but his heart as well. Jesus used the opposition He faced to publically affirm His deity as he exposed the hidden thoughts of men, established that He had the authority to forgive sin, heal a broken body, and called Himself, "The Son of Man."

I fear that we often view the hard as proof that God doesn't love us and we let the hard paralyze us. What if the hard--our past traumas, our broken hearts, the adversity we experience, the weaknesses we have, our struggle to fully trust, the sin that trips us up, the people and the demons who come against us--is what the Lord will use to reveal Himself to this broken and fallen world? Would not our faith and our joy grow exponentially if we just believe God is good and that the opposition we face is nothing more than disguised opportunities for Him to do His greatest work? 



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Will the Real Enemy Please Stand Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!