Saturday, August 4, 2018

Obeying the Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, July 9, 2018

Know the Enemy's Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Know your Enemy

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

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

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

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



Monday, June 4, 2018

There is Grace in Defining Moments


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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




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. 


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!