Monday, December 9, 2013

God Meets us in our Fear

"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
Psalm 18:1-3
 
 
As a volunteer youth worker, I had the privilege of  having many young ladies tell me about the things that caused them emotional pain. I remember having a conversation with a girl about the things that made her feel anxious. She shared that her parents were going through a rough spot in their marriage. They were fighting a lot and in their frustration their fighting had been getting louder and some things were being said that I am sure they both regretted. As she spoke, I was overwhelmed by this feeling of having everything fall apart. I brushed it aside, assuming that the feeling was only the empathy I was feeling for her.
 
I asked her what she did when they fought. She said she would take her little sister in her bedroom and put on loud music and give her toys to play with and then she would go sit at the top of the stairs where she could hear and see what was going on without being observed. I asked her why she did it when the issue was obviously between her parents and caused her so much anxiety. She said something to me that resonated with me to the core of my being. "I have to hear so I know what to expect! Not knowing if they are going to stay together or not is more terrifying than hearing what they are saying." I tucked her words back in my mind to think about later, but avoided them. 
 
That conversation took place over twelve years ago. Yet the Lord has brought those words to my mind again. I have since done some work with a Christian therapist and I know why I was so triggered by her words. I was the same little girl she was describing herself to be. I was only nine when my parents went through a rough spot and considered divorce strongly enough to tell us kids. They worked through it at that time, but I know every time I heard them talking late at night I tried to hear their words. Every time they went into their bedroom and closed the door, my little ear was listening at their door...because not knowing what was going on was more terrifying than knowing the truth.
 
I had taken on a false responsibility of trying to keep our family in tact. I know now it wasn't my job and that it is impossible for a child to control the decisions parents make, but it seemed so real that when I left home for college I experienced extreme anxiety and horrible homesickness because I didn't know what was going on at home. Don't get me wrong, my parents weren't loud mean fighters...they were really good at hiding their stuff so I had to be extra vigilante to read the signs of trouble brewing. When they later did divorce, my gut reaction was guilt and a sense of failure. But as an adult, I was able to reason that it really wasn't my fault.  
 
As an adult I have experienced the same fear and anxiety that comes with believing things are falling apart. The most obvious was when the twin towers fell on 9-11. I have heard many people express that feeling when the economy took suck a big down turn a few years ago. Sadly, I have also experienced that feeling many times in the different churches of which I have been a member. I know anytime a group of individuals with differing temperaments, spiritual gifts, backgrounds, goals, and desires come together there will be conflict and sometimes it handled well and sometimes it isn't.
 
But looking back, every time I have heard of conflict in a church I am attending (and it has been in every church I have attended) that old familiar anxiety comes up and I become that little girl ever listening at her parents' door. I have known for awhile that the amount of anxiety I experience has always seemed too big for the situations. Yesterday, I think finally figured out why. 
 
As a little kid, it was normal for me to look to my family to feel safe and secure. As a preschooler I saw a bad accident on the road and looked to my mom to reassure me that everything was going to be okay. During the Cuban crisis every time I heard an airplane fly over, I would look at my dad to see if he looked worried or scared. When he didn't, I knew I could relax and all would be okay. 
 
After I left home and got married my parents divorced and I transferred that need for security to my church. We have lived in several states and attended many churches. In every one of those churches things have happened where that sense of security was shaken. Sometimes through conflict, sometimes through the loss of pastors or key leaders or close friends with whom I spent hours fellowshipping.
 
Had I grown up in a Christ centered home my parents would have taken it as their responsibility to teach me that my true security, my family's security, my churches' security, and my country's security is in the one and only true Rock -- Jesus! 
 
Yesterday, Pastor Brent Van Elswyk preached a sermon about the sayings of angels around the birth of Jesus. Two points of his sermon spoke volumes to me in regard to those yucky feelings of my world falling apart. The first was "Do not be afraid...when every thing falls apart. Trust God!" I realized that fear and anxiety set in because I focus on the state of feeling like my world might crumble, but the truth is God is in control even when it doesn't look like it from the view down here. Instead of transferring my security from my family to God, I had transferred it to church which is simply made up of a bunch of other wounded souls, who like myself, are learning to work out their salvation. The truth is God was, is now, and always will be trustworthy. 
 
The second point that spoke to me was, "Do not be afraid...when God burst into your life!" He went on to point out many different ways that God can burst into our lives and I have taken the liberty to expand his list.
 
God bursts into our lives with the announcement of a pregnancy , planned or not.
 
He bursts into our lives with changes in our government, desired or not.
 
He bursts into our lives during natural disasters -- flooding, earthquakes, or tornadoes.
 
He bursts into our lives, in the loss of those close to us, some old, some way too young, some with sweet goodbyes and some without.
 
He bursts into our lives when kids disobey or are wounded to the core by bullies.  
 
He bursts into our lives when we realize our spouses aren't perfect and that living with them exposes our own sinful attitudes, strongholds, and unresolved issues. 
 
He bursts into our lives in the midst of ugly divorces and fractured families, some with abundant grace and some with deep and painful bitterness.
 
He bursts into our lives when friendships crumble and reconciliations fail even when we have done everything we know to do to make them work. 
 
He bursts into our lives when we are traumatized by events, past or present.
 
He bursts into our lives by altering our dreams and  plans...when infertility robs us, when a baby is born way too early, when a company transfers us, when early retirement is forced, when ministries are shut down, or when we are told we aren't needed anymore, when injuries or health force changes in careers, when accidents change us in someway forever either physically or emotionally through PTSD. 
 
By learning to reframe anxiety provoking situations which turn me back into that little girl who listened at her parents door into "bursts of God" into my life, I can be a woman who finds my hope in Him who by His very nature is both sovereign and good. If I can let the truth of His goodness and His sovereignty sink into the deepest recesses of my heart, then those bursts, instead of provoking anxiety, become opportunities to see God at work in my life just as He did in the life of Noah who in facing a flood survived God's judgment on the earth...just as He did in the life of Abraham who was called to sacrifice his only child saw the miraculous substitute ram...just as He did in the life of Joseph sold by his brothers in to slavery who ended up being their salvation during a famine...just as He did in the life of Rahab who saw her city crumbled to become the grandmother of David...just as He did in the life of Ruth who buried one husband to become a part of the lineage of Christ...just as He did in the life of young Mary who was faced with an unplanned pregnancy not of her own doing to giving birth to the Son who became her Savior as well as mine.  
 
 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God Meets us in our Faith

 "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were stranger and exiles on the earth." --Hebrew 11:13

I have been mulling over the third chapter of Daniel this week. The events in the chapter take place shortly after Daniel had interpreted a dream the king of Babylon had in which he saw a great statue made of different elements. Unsettled by the dream, he had called in his wise men to both recount the dream and tell him of its meaning. Sounds impossible and it was! Instead of listening to his advisors, the prideful king ordered them to be executed.

When they came to get Daniel for execution, he asked to have a meeting with the king to explain the meaning. In the meantime he had an emergency prayer meeting with his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, asking God to reveal the dream and its meaning. Daniel was shown the dream and its meaning by God and was able to explain to the king that each element in the statue represented different kingdoms which would come to power. The head of the statue was made of gold, representing Babylon. The other parts of the statue made of different elements represented subsequent kingdoms that would come to be after Babylon fell.

The King seemed thankful, declaring Daniel's God to be the God of gods and the Lord of kings. Daniel remained in the king's court, requesting that his prayer partners be appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon. It even looked like the king had a change of heart towards Daniel's God.

However, the more the king thought about the dream, the less he liked the outcome. He was not willing to accept Jehovah 's sovereignty over the beginnings and endings of kingdoms. So he took matters into his own hands in an effort to thwart the plans of God. He built a huge statue, but unlike the statue of his dream, he made the statue entirely of gold -- the element depicting Babylon in the dream.

What happened to the truth he had previously stated, "Daniel's God was the Lord of kings?" Did he not mean it? What a bold statement of rebellion the statue was! He then commanded all the leaders of all the provinces in Babylon to bow down and worship the statue every time they heard music, making the consequence of noncompliance death in a fiery furnace.

That's one way to win loyal friends and weed out potential enemies! Just have them worship a god of your own making and vow to kill them when they fail. That is one way to thumb your nose at Jehovah and His sovereignty over nations. Make your own statue in defiance of the vision he had been given. The king's religion, like pagan religions tend to do, used fear to manipulate compliance. I bet the smoke of the ever-ready furnace motivated many people to bow down to the stone idol. But not everyone! Daniel's prayer partners refused to bow to the statue and were brought to the king by some manipulative men and the king enraged demanded the soldiers throw them into the fiery furnace. And just to be sure they were punished well, the furnace was overheated, instantly killing the soldiers, but to the kings surprise it did not kill the prayer partners.

The king was the first to see it. As he smugly gazed into the furnace he saw the three men who had been bound standing with their God, the God who Himself is a consuming fire. They stood unharmed. The king called the men out. The once bound men climbed out of the fire -- their skin unburned, their hair  not singed, their clothes in tack and free of the smell of smoke! Astonished the king promotes them and declares that no one would be allowed to speak evil of their God.

What I find interesting is that the king only called the men out of the furnace. Why didn't he call the Lord out as well? Was it because he didn't want to face the Lord of kings? Was it fear because of his own defiance? Was it because he expects God to react like he does?

There are several things that come to mind when I think about this story.

The king's pride kept him from accepting the sovereignty of the Lord of kings.

The king's pride drove him to openly rebel and assert his own will over the Lord's.

The king's pride kept him from listening to wise advisors.

The king's pride drove him to lash out in anger when people didn't comply with his edicts.

And in the end, God put the prideful king in his place.

Oh, that God will continually expose my pride...pride that refuses to listen to wisdom, pride that wants my own will more that His, pride that get enraged when I am challenged by another, pride that too quickly writes off others when they have an opinion differing from my own.

The self absorption of the king makes me sick. But that only is because it exposes my own. Oh, my pride doesn't look just like the kings, it looks a whole lot more like self-contempt...but to be perfectly honest it is just as consuming and just as seeped in unbelief.

Oh, that I would be faithful like Daniel's three friends. Faithful in prayer. Faithful in the small decisions. Faithful in seeking God's face every day no matter where I am at. Faithful in the face of the hard, fiery things. Faithful even when the outcome isn't climbing out of the fire. Faithful enough to look for him in the fiery places.
 
I have had a few fiery experiences in which prayers were graciously answered my way -- a child who survived a ruptured spleen, a grandchild born way to early who survived and thrived, two sons and a daughter-in-law who have survived military deployments and returned home in one piece. But I have also seen others far more faithful than I who didn't get the results prayed for. One dear friend who, like me, had five children, but three of hers were living with Jesus from infanthood. A week before she died she told me she was blessed beyond measure with her two living children, knowing without a doubt that God has been good to her. I have watched faithful, praying parents stand at the grave's of their children fully believing God could heal but He had every right to chose how he healed . They at times did wish it had been here, not in heaven. But in the midst of grief trusted God's sovereignty over their lives. And I have friends who attend our church and who have a solid faith whose child didn't make it home from the same war my sons fought. We grieved, but we grieved with hope.  
 
Hebrews chapter 11 makes it so clear to us that what is important is that we be found faithful and that God honors faith in different ways. Sometimes He honors it through miracles, promises fulfilled, and in answered prayer and sometimes not.
 
I have got to remember the key verse today..."These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."
 
Oh that I would hold, loosely the things of this earth. Understanding that verse frees me from the irrational guilt of wondering if I prayed hard enough, often enough, or sincerely enough when God answers prayers differently than I asked. Maybe the key to accepting God's sovereignty is accepting the truth that my real home is heaven and that the here and now is, well, essentially living in exile and to be His child means living with the desire for a better country, while being contented in the here and now. 
 
Our God is so different than the king in the story. He didn't throw us away when we have failed to worship Him with our words, our actions, or our lifestyles. Instead, He sent His son to bear His wrath for our sin by having Jesus die in our place on the cross. He didn't draw us to Himself by instilling fear in us. Instead, He used His perfect love fulfilled in the cross to cast out our fear of judgment. This enables us to worship in adoration instead of fear! And that, in a nutshell, is the grace and the mercy that flowed from the heart of our God.        

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches
and favor is better than silver or gold."
Proverbs 22:1
 
About ten years ago I wrote a Bible Study on the book of Daniel for the youth in our church. I loved the book so thought I would work through Beth Moore's Bible Study, Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy. I had forgotten how meaningful, powerful, and how relevant it is. In the first chapter of Daniel we meet four young men who were probably taken captive by Babylon at the age of fifteen. The king of Babylon had requested that the young men who were taken captive be men who didn't have any physical defects and be men who were handsome. The king also requested they have an aptitude for every kind of learning, be well informed, and able to quickly learn so they could learn the language of Babylon and be qualified to serve in the king's palace within three years. What these young men must have experienced, must be similar to what Amish young people who leave their homes and culture for a period of time and go out into the world so they can choose for themselves if they want to continue in the traditions and faith of their parents. But the big difference is that Daniel and his friends didn't have the opportunity to return to their home land. They were educated in the literatures of the land and the pagan religions.
 
Each of the men that had been taken had been given names by their parents that reflected Jehovah God. Daniel's name meant "God is my judge." Hananiah means "God has been gracious." Mishael means "Who is what God is?" and Azariah means "God has helped." I can so relate to this because when I was having my children, I lived in the South. Our pastor taught verse by verse, explaining the meanings of Greek words and names to us. My husband and I chose names for our children either from the Bible based on their meaning or named them after people who had Godly qualities that we admired and desired our children to have. We took the responsibility of naming our children seriously just as the parents of these four young Jewish men must have. Their names reflected the faith and hope of their parents. Everywhere the young men went they would have reminders that the God who had created them was the only rightful judge, was gracious, was a helper, and was greater than all of His creation. Some truths these young men would need to hold on to when they were taken to Babylon, a land filled with temples used for pagan worship. To the Jewish people, names indicated their identity with their God.
 
The educational process was designed to acclimate the captives to their new land, new culture, new laws, and new religions so that they would serve long term in the new land. The Babylonians had no intention of sending them home and they wanted them to view Babylon as home, not Israel. They had no intention of letting the four young men bear witness of their God and changed their names to reflect the pagan gods of Babylon. Daniel was renamed Belteshazza, which means "Bel will protect." Hananiah was named Shadrach, which means "inspired of Aku." Mishael was given the name Meshach, which means "belonging to Aku." Azaraia was given the name Abednego, which means "servant of Nego." I can't help but wondering if the reason God protected and revealed His power through these four young men was to show Babylon that no one can change the identity of those who truly belong to Him.
 
As I read the Scriptures, I often ask God to show me the relevance of what I am reading to my life. So, when I noticed I was getting very angry that these young men were given different names I had paused to think on it for a couple of days before I could identify why I had such an emotional response to the renaming of these young men. There were several reasons I could identify. First, I imagined those parents choosing their names as carefully as my husband and I, and it seemed like the Babylonian leaders were arrogantly saying it didn't matter about the dreams of the parents or the plans that God had for these young men. Had my sons been captured when they went to war, I think it would have crushed my heart to find out that they had been given new names in an attempt to give them a new identity.

Second, my anger came from the permanence indicated by changing their identity and that part of me that wants life to be fair was triggered. I wanted the young men to get to go home.

Third, it reminded me of some of the most beautiful women I know who were given horrible names either verbally or through abusive actions or abusive inactions.
 
With the help of some of the support group leaders in the Passionate Heart Ministry, I put together a list of names or identities that we have either struggled in the past with or that we have observed with in our groups. The names are not pretty and to be honest they are hard to read. However, I will share them here to make a point. The names include" Ugly, Fat, Bad, Stupid, Attention-Seeker, Emotional-Wreck, Crazy, Unstable, Too-Much, Invisible, Lonely, Untrustworthy, Incapable, Embarrassing, Too-talkative, Liar, Stupid, Broken, Diseased, Crazy, Disgusting, Lazy, Prostitute, Satan's Daughter, Manipulator, Pedophile, Evil, Worthless, Unlovable, Too-Much, Not-Enough, Unseen, Unheard, Weird, Different, Out-of-Place, Alone, Unsuccessful, Difficult, Smart Ass, Little Brat, Hell-Raiser, Whore, Voiceless, Insignificant, Unplanned, Interruption, You-can't, Too-Needy, and Trouble.

As you read this, your gut reaction to it, might be to judge these women as losers or unhealthy people. But these women are all beautiful women, many of whom have been raised in the church or are attending church now and who are very capable women. To glance at them on a given Sunday morning, you would never know that those are words that they have been called or that they have come to believe about themselves because of the actions (bullying or verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual abuse) or inactions (a lack of care, lack of protection, or lack of nurturing). It hit me the other day that just as the names of Daniel and his three friends were changed to names by an enemy in an effort to change their identity, the Enemy has tried to change the names of the daughters of the King of kings to keep them from bearing their Abba's image. It takes great courage for us to face the fact that we have assumed a false identity of lies and have forgotten to replace it with the truth of who God says we are.

With the help of the same leaders the names or truths that God says about us are: Beloved, Accepted, Chosen, Beautiful, Loved, Treasure, Cherished, Worthy, Good, Graceful, Affirmed, Accounted-for, Adequate, Always-Enough, Captivating, Loved, Sought-after, Peaceful, Whole, Pure, Blameless, Equipped, Called, Strong, Planned, Image-bearer, Restored, Redeemed, Saved, Forgiven, Friend-of-God, Whole, His-Child, Blessed, Capable, Intelligent, Unique, Covered-by-Grace, and Sound-minded. Now this list is one that excites me! There is no pride in it, because we are those things because we are in Him. Each of us has to make choices, just like the Daniel and friends did, to live up to the original identity established for us by the Creator!

So how do we do this, when we have either been hammered with lies or have hammered ourselves with lies because of what we experienced. I think the answer lies in one word found in Daniel 1:8. The verse says that Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. I can't help but think that Daniel's resolve went way beyond resisting the place food. I believe that this decision was one of many made on a daily basis to honor the one true God and to live up to the original name bestowed on him that served as a reminder of Jehovah.                                   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
We can take several lessons away from this story about names. What kinds of names are we calling our children, spouses, or friends when we are angry, tired, or impatient?. What messages are we giving them by our action or our inactions? Are we doing all that we can to counter the culture and its messages or the bullies that call our children, spouses, or friends all sorts of horrible names? Finally, are we as adult men and women resolving daily to living out the truth of who God says we are or are we defaulting to lies the Enemy has told us. If Daniel and his friends had believed the names that the worldly Babylonians had given them and spoke over them on a daily basis, instead of the ones their parents had given them, they wouldn't have had the opportunity to survive in a lion's den or in a fiery furnace. If they had believed the false names, their witness would have been silenced.

Oh, the same Enemy is still active. He brings to memory the ugly names we heard in the past. He brings people into our lives who will reinforce them on a daily basis. He whispers them in our own ears daily, hoping that we will take over the job of abusing ourselves with those ugly lies. We have got to understand if we don't resolve to believe what God says about us, and resolve to take the ugly thoughts captive, we won't live up to the names God ascribes to us and our testimony will be silenced and God's image in us will be masked by the lies, and we will live as captives even though God has set us free. We all need safe people in our lives who understand the battle between the Truth and the lies of the Enemy. We all need to be and to have people in our lives who will remind us of the names that God ascribes to us, His people. For it is only in the believing of the Truth that we can truly be the people we were created to be. For it is only in choosing to believe the Truth that we can resolve to act, react, speak, and restrain from speaking out of who we want to be rather than who the Enemy has defined us to be. So, if you were asked what kinds of words you use to describe yourself, what would the be? Would they be the Enemies words or the Lord's? I hope it is the Lord's!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Returning to the Beginning

We recently revised the book, Growing a Passionate Heart, that we use in support groups. As a part of our revisions we added a chapter about marriage. One of the resources I used was, When Two Become One, by Christopher and Rachel McCluskey. What I found in their book stirred in me a godly passion for marriage and for sexual integrity that I haven't felt before. The last few weeks I've contemplated other topics for writing, but this topic burns in my soul and won't go away.

I love the McCluskey's book for several reasons. First, it answered questions I asked long ago that never got answered, especially about sexuality. Second, they talk about Scripture, keeping it in its context, which gave new meanings to familiar Bible verses. I love when the familiar becomes so exciting that I can't get my mind off of it. Third, we live in a highly sexualized culture and I have seen and heard stories that deeply concern me and I know in my heart of hearts that just telling someone to stop or to just say, "No!" isn't enough to motivate them to do so. I also know loving God means obeying Him. Telling people that wasn't enough to make a difference in the struggles of those who deeply long for love and acceptance.

To explain what I mean requires I return to the beginning and the beginning is God and God created! He created man and woman in His own image and they were unashamedly naked. They communed in that state with the Creator and with each other. Imagine being naked, free, unashamed, and oh so happy, That indicates a tight connection with human sexuality and Biblical spirituality!

Then WHAM! Satan entered the garden, tempting them with the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. It wasn't the fruit that tripped them up, it was the promise that they would become like the Creator. But wait! Weren't they created in His image? That tells us something significant about Eve and it tells us something about ourselves. When Eve listened to the beguiling voice of the tempter, she forgot something essential; she forgot she was a woman delicately created in the image of her Creator! So she bit and then she shared a bite with the ever so silent Adam, violating the one boundary the Creator had given them. Suddenly, filled with shame, they covered themselves in an inadequate attempt to hide the guilt and the shame they were experiencing. As the Creator approached, they hid. He confronted with a question intended to invite repentance and they cast blame instead. Eve blamed the Serpent, Adam blamed Eve and then to top it off he even blamed the Creator.

Their choice changed everything. It killed them spiritually, leading to their physical death. It killed the trust and the intimacy they had with their Creator and with each other. It separated their sexuality from their spirituality as shown by their core of shame that exposed their sin and caused them to cover their nakedness. Shame, that horrible emotion that exposes the fear of truly being seen. That emotion that exposes our fear of being really known. Shame that causes us to hide and become protective of ourselves. Yet, amazingly the Creator reached out and He clothed them in animal skins, showing that He Himself would provide a sacrifice sufficient to cover their guilt. 

Now, fast forward past a bunch of sad stories of jealousy, murder, and worldwide sin and violence that lead to a judgment through a catastrophic flood and we find a barren couple, old in age, living in a culture seeped in pagan worship whose gods were fertility gods. The sacrifices given to appease the gods were virgin daughters who were sexually taken by temple priests and babies who were burned as offerings. Sexuality that was no longer used in its intended spiritual context was no longer marked with love or integrity. 

But the Creator, full of grace, called out the older barren couple, telling them to separate themselves from the culture and go to a new land. In return He would give them a child of their own. The Creator sealed His covenant with them by having the man shed his own blood by cutting away his foreskin, forever marking himself with a constant reminder of the Creator's and his covenant. They obeyed and with a few lapses in trust and an attempts to help God fulfill his promise of a child the Creator graciously reaffirmed He covenant. In the midst of their doubt and their unbelief, at just the right time, He gave the elderly couple a child of their own and they named the child Laughter! Through the covenant with the man, the Creator revealed Himself as the true God of life and of fertility. Through the covenant, He seeks to heal the fracture between human sexuality and Biblical spirituality.

Scripture makes it clear that covenant marriage is a picture of the covenant relationship Christ has with His church. Scripture also makes it clear that the Creator's plan includes sexual integrity. From the beginning sex has been a gift from the Creator. The gift serves several purposes in our lives that we have lost sight of. Sex was given to us to serve as the sealing of the covenant vows between a man and a woman. The Creator designed us with bodies that were different. His to be aroused by sight to insure pursuit of relationship and hers to be aroused by emotional intimacy requiring lifetime commitment which gives a safe place to remove masks and be emotionally and physically naked with each other. In His grace, the Creator designed us with millions of nerve ending in just the right places for sheer pleasure followed by an abundance of hormones that are released as a couple fully gives of themselves to each another that causes a couple to bond in joyful connection. The more frequently they participate in the act, the closer they will be. Who can find fault with a beautiful plan like that?

My heart grieves that we are living in such a sexualized culture that we are removing the bond between our sexuality and our spirituality and the bond that should exist between a couple who is committed for life. Pornography is rampant, selfish, and addicting and in no way reflects the relationship between the Creator and His church. Rather than being loved and cared for in homes where marriages reflect the Creator, many children are growing up in homes broken by sin, selfishness, violence, perversion, and some are even being sacrificed to the Evil One through sexual abuse as they are raped before they even start school.

The statistics are not much different for believers. In this day of "free sex" we are destroying the part of us that is supposed to bond with another person. If a girl has sex with twenty people before she is married, the only way she can disconnect is to disassociate from the bonding hormonal process. I remember many years ago that girls who had sex and then broke up were crushed by the break up. Now, they hook up instead, claiming it is less complicated. It is not just young people doing this, it is people of all ages. Yet, everyone is still seeking something they can't find.

When are we, as believers, going to rise up and teach our sons to be sexually pure? When are we going to challenge them on their sense of entitlement of sex for a date? When are we going to teach them that to mistreat a young woman who says, "No," is abusive and wrong on so many levels? When are we going to challenge them on a double standard that rakes Miley over the coals and allows the older young man who was twerking with her off the hook? We are we going to teach our sons to look at the young women in their lives as creations of the Creator, as daughters of the King of kings, as potential spouses to be protected and whose precious virginity to be preserved? When are we going to teach them that they have no right to even ask a girl to have sex outside of marriage? When are we going to quit saying "boys will be boys" and "men will be men? If we believe that the Creator God is infinitely wise, then surly we know guys are not simply victims to their raging hormonal bodies. It is time for us to teach our young men to quit abusing and using young women. When will we explain to them that one out of four young women has already been abused and to not respect her and show her honor will forever put him in the class with those who previously abused her and will deepen the gaping wounds in her already broken heart.

When are we, as believers, going to rise up and teach our daughters to be modest? And I don't mean frumpy clothing, hiding beautiful young bodies behind sweatshirts and bulky sweaters. I am talking about instilling in them a dignity and God-confidence that commands respect and proper treatment and a willingness to walk away from all that is not holy. A dignity that would never entice a young man to lust or enter a sexual relationship before marriage just so she can feel a false sense of security. When are we going to teach our daughters that their bodies were bought with the blood of Christ and they are not their own to give away outside of marriage? When are we going to teach them their identity comes in being the daughter of the King of kings, fully loved and accepted, not in a false acceptance that comes by trying to hold on to a young man by giving up their virtue to a demanding date who doesn't deserve it? 

So, we live in a highly sexualized culture that is supposed to be advanced, but wants what it wants when it wants it. And as a result depression and anxiety and suicide are rampant. Babies are being savagely sucked out of their moms' wombs. Sexual abuse is growing in numbers along with incidences of kidnapping and sex trafficking. And STD's are leaving couples infertile. And at then end of the day people are still lonely, disconnected, and discontented as they keep looking for something that never ever satisfies.

What if what we all want in our heart of hearts is what the Creator created us for and is continually calling us back to--real love symbolized by a blood stained cross and hands scared by the nails that pierced them? What if Intimacy with the Creator Himself is what truly feeds the deepest parts of our hearts and teaches us to love with a love that is long lasting, committed, fulfilling, and binding through integrity and appropriate sexual acts in their proper context.

I wonder what would happen if we, one by one, turn back to what the Creator has called us. I wonder what would happen if we begin to live it and model something our young people will want with all of their being--to know the Creator and to be fully known by Him so that they are safe enough and strong enough and loved enough that they can choose to love another with all that they are, not the fractured parts of themselves that their sin is killing. What if we refuse to let our children be prematurely awakened sexually so obedience to the Creator's plan is doable, feels right, and offers deep soul connection and satisfaction. What if, just what if God was right all along?

Monday, September 23, 2013

God Meets us With His Truth

Christian therapist and author, Leslie Vernick, recently gave me the opportunity to read her latest book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. It was a privilege to do so and I found the book a fascinating read, especially since I serve women who've been victimized at some point in their lives. The author defines emotionally destructive relationships, clarifying the difference between being in a marriage that is destructive and one that is disappointing. She also gives excellent advice on how to confront a destructive relationship and steps that one can do to bring healing to it.

I believe the church has needed this book for a long time. I have seen too many women shamed for seeking counseling about their destructive relationships. They were told to try harder, to submit more, to just forgive and trust God more. I have talked privately to some women who were afraid to get help, for fear that things would get worse, fear that they would lose their kids, or fear things might escalate and promises of personal harm or death would be carried out. I have talked to women who went through divorces, because they could not bring themselves to do the perverted things being required of them by their spouses and they were abandoned by their churches because they were too ashamed to tell anyone. Could it be that the church has at times failed to help women who needed help? Could it be that the church has neglected to confront sin and taken the easy way out by rushing to the forgiveness issues? Leslie does point out the necessity of those being abused of taking responsibility to bring evidence when they seek help. Evidence can include recording angry tirades and name calling, receipts of expenditures on pornography and prostitutes, or pictures of wounds or personal property that has been destroyed.

A chapter that I found especially interesting is "What's Wrong with Me?" This is because women who have been victimized as children or women who've been beaten down in destructive relationships often blame themselves for the behavior of others. Most, if not all, ask the question that is proposed by the title of the chapter. The question may come out of a tendency towards perfectionism that they developed to try to get love and approval or to stay safe. The more they measure themselves by perfectionistic standards, the more their shame grows and the bigger the question becomes. The more love is withheld, the deeper the questions burns. The question may come out of being repeatedly told that they aren't enough or that they  are responsible for causing an abuser's maltreatment. The question may have come out of misunderstanding God's Word and Biblical concepts like submission and headship. I remember reading a book early in my marriage that said if a woman had enough faith she could always obey her husband, because God would take her out of situations that would cause her to compromise His word. Just think of the shame evoked when he asks her to do something wrong and she does it in faith, believing God will rescue her out, and He doesn't. She is left believing her faith must not have been strong enough, that God didn't value her enough to rescue her, or she must have some secret sin that kept God from answering. This whole concept enrages me! The person who wrote the book must have been totally na├»ve about the evil that resides in the hearts of people as well as theologically inept. I loved Leslie's presentation of submission. (I am going to leave you hanging so you will get the book and read it :-)

One thing Vernick makes clear in the book is that very often the victim plays a huge part in the development of a destructive relationship. She points out that one of the big problems for those who struggle as victims is that they often give other people the power to define them. Leslie, points out that Christ Himself did not let others define who He was and if we read the gospels we can find a lot of opinions about who Jesus was and what He was like. In Mark 3:21-22 it says that Jesus' family came to take Him away because they believed He was out of His mind. The religious leaders thought that He was possessed by Satan. Other's thought He was a wonderful teacher, some thought He was a good man, some thought He was the Messiah, and some declared He was the Son of the Living God. The important thing is that Jesus, believed what God said about Him and didn't let man define who He was and He didn't lose joy over what others thought about Him.

As believers, we have got to be sure we are not letting our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our church leaders, government leaders, culture, our experiences or our bosses define us. Humans fallible. People are broken and they sometimes lie when it serves them best. Their perceptions are often greatly distorted by their experiences, their own wounds, their own shame, and their own childhood messages. They also have the propensity to change their minds when they experience discomfort or strong emotions like anger and rage. They have the propensity to project blame and shame like their fleshly parents Adam and Eve. Therefore their opinions aren't always reliable and are not always true.

As someone who ministers to survivors of childhood abuse, I also want to suggest that we don't want to let our experiences define us either. How many times I have heard women say that they are unworthy, unlovable, a victim, trash, too much, or too little. So many of the women have assumed a identity of depression and shame because they accepted the blame for another's sin.

There really is only One Person who has the right to define us and that is our creator. His Words are true and they never change with His mood or with what is going on in the world.

     To the sister, who believes she is unlovable...Christ died to demonstrate His love to you!

     To the young woman who believes she is an accident that shouldn't have been born...Christ created you in your mother's womb. He knew you before you were born and crafted you in love at just the right time.
     
     To the wife who is lonely and believes she isn't worthy of love...Christ proved your worth when He died for you and He loves you with a love that is radically passionate.

     To the woman who believes she is dirty and unclean...Christ has made you holy and blameless.

     To the dear one who believes she is shrouded in darkness as a result of her past...Christ has already translated you into His Kingdom of light.

     To the young lady who was abandoned...you have been adopted into the family of God and given an inheritance with the Saints.

     To the woman who was victimized who trembles as the thought of conflict...God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

     To the sister who believes you are nothing more than a victim...you were victimized, but your true identity isn't victim, it includes being the daughter of the King of kings, His ambassador, and His friend!

It is important for us to realize that unbelief is not just not believing what God says about Himself, it is also not believing what He says about us. This battle to believe the truth is life long. We will occasionally bump into people who have negative things to say to us or about us. The enemy will sometimes try to remind us of what we used to be or we will have old tapes in our minds that sometimes begin to replay of their own accord. But we can choose to believe what God says about us  instead of accepting the lies and old tapes. I know I am also fortunate to have some Godly women in my life who remind be often what God has said about me! I hope that is true of you.

I hope that you will get Leslie's book. It is a labor of love and it is full of wisdom. Even if you have a healthy marriage, you more than likely know someone in a destructive marriage and the book can teach you to respond in a more compassionate and helpful way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

God Meets us in our Needs

As for me, I am poor and needy, but the LORD takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay O my God!
Psalm 40:17
 
     About twelve years ago I was sitting in the office of a man who was a pastor turned therapist. I had come to him struggling with depression and an eating disorder. After a rough week I came in and told him I was struggling with really strong self-contempt  and hated myself. He asked me what I hated about myself and I said the first thing that popped into my head, "I hate it that I am so needy." He whipped out his Bible and flipped it to Psalm 40:17 and had me read it out loud. Then he said, you know this was penned by King David, who was called by God, "The man His own heart." Then he posed the question to me, "If David had needs and God called him that, why is it not okay for you to have needs." I had a really hard time answering that question then.
     Since that time, I have pondered my needs, how I think we as believers view needs, and sometimes how the church responds to needs. Let me say up front that my church and several other churches in my community have done a lot to meet the special needs of people by forming ministries designed specifically to meet those needs. One church opened its doors to the deaf community and allow a small church of deaf people to meet there. I believe one hearing couple who loved deaf people helped to bring that about and they still serve there. My own church asked for volunteers to work with special needs kids. One of my friends whose daughter has severe problems because of cerebral palsy has benefited from the ministry of very loving people. These are just two examples. I think education has helped the church desire to meet the special needs of very precious people. It hasn't always been that way. I have heard horror stories of people who were told not to bring their special needs kids back to church. The problem was that they probably weren't equipped to handle the needs, but the way it was said left the parents feeling their children was not loved or wanted.  
     I was faced with some interesting dilemmas last year tat reminded me of neediness. Our church does outreach in a poverty stricken, drug entrenched, educationally starved area of town. I lead a ministry designed to help women find healing from past sexual abuse. A couple of those ladies asked to be in a group. We put them in and some of them did very well. Some of them really struggled, because their needs of food, shelter, and safety made it difficult for them to do the work we were doing. To be honest it complicated the group process and I had to let go of the goals and desires I had for these ladies and meet them right where they were at, while at the same time continuing to lead the group in the group process. It would have been easier to tell them they weren't ready, but I knew that God called me to love these ladies just like the others from more affluent backgrounds. We, as leaders, did try to recognize their more imminent needs, while giving them an exposure to the healing work of our groups. Some nights they needed to learn about boundaries. Some nights they needed to have physical needs provided. Some nights they needed to know how to handle domestic violence and a host of other things before they could look at the emotional impact of their past abuse. Ultimately, they needed most to begin to understand that God loves them, desires to heal them, and is fully capable of redeeming their stories. They needed to understand more about God's grace and His forgiveness to begin to understand how to give both grace and forgiveness to those who wounded them so deeply. Their healing journey may have looked different, but in all honesty it hit me that the deepest need of each woman in the group was the same, no matter what side of town they were from.
     About the time I entered counseling, there was a new term, "EGR," being used in the church in reference to people we find a bit more difficult to love or to relate to or who may require extra time and energy in our home Bible group. EGR stands for Extra Grace Required. In our home group, there was a young guy who said up front that he knew that he was the ERG for our group. I laughed along with everyone else. But, I was convicted in my spirit that night, that those of us using the EGR term were being prideful. I pushed the conviction to the back of my mind. I continued in counseling and over the course of a few years learned a lot about my own dysfunctions and at times was overwhelmed with shame because of them. Then one of my best friends died and I went to a community I had lived in as a young bride and mother. The man who was like a spiritual dad to my friend and I, sat by me at the visitation and I was so overwhelmed with shame of how needy I was during the time I had lived there. I was hungry for all of God's word and called numerous times to ask Bible questions. My husband was in school and I was having babies and had some post partum depression and severe loneliness and I called to talk about that. I personalized everything at the time so I talked to him for hours about relationships and how to get along with people. But at the core of that, neither he or I knew was that I was struggling with some unbelief. I believed the things that had hurt me at the very core of my being made me a second class citizen in the family of God. I knew I was saved. I knew God loved me because I was His creation. But my ability to relate and trust God was broken by things in my past. I was hating my needs because I knew that there was nothing that filled them. As much as I was loved at church, in my home, by my spouse...I felt so empty, so needy, and I hated that feeling.
     As I began to find healing for the things in my past, I began to realize, God had created me in love with needs that drive me to Him. I began recognize the lies I believe and to accept that I wasn't loved in a second class way. He died and took my sin in His body....it wasn't just hammered to a cross...it was etched into His body as He hung between heaven and earth and in turn for my sin He imputed his righteousness to me. The suffering He bore was proof that He cares about sin and that He understands what it is like to live with the consequences of another's sin.
     It hit me recently that in God's eyes, we are all ERG'S! Just as children or adults with handicaps have special needs that can be best met by someone with training, we all have needs that only Christ can meet. The rub is that sometimes to learn how to let God meet the needs we have we have to have the freedom to wrestle with the needs in light of God's sovereignty with out being shamed for it. I am so thankful that my spiritual dad listened, answered questions, and reassured me over and over. I am so thankful that he didn't push me away and act like I was too needy even for God and the church. The last time he saw me he hugged me and held both my husband and I tight for the longest time. He grinned from ear to ear conveying that he was glad to see us...no attempt to hide from us, just joy from seeing us.
     I have had the privilege of seeing and hearing the deaf pastor preach and seeing an interpreter sign the words of favorite songs. It is just so beautiful. My friend showed me pictures of her daughter being in the wedding of a very gorgeous couple. There was great joy, love, and acceptance of her daughter and her special needs that day...she was give honor by being in the wedding party. She was given the chance of experiencing what "normal" people experience. It was beautiful. I experienced Jesus in the core of soul because no matter how needy I was, a godly man showed me He in his words, actions, care, and patience what Jesus was like. Where there is great needs there is a great opportunity to experience love and to give love. Maybe, just maybe a good adjective for needs is "beautiful." Beautiful needs strips me of the pride of trying to meet needs apart from God. Beautiful needs that are not met fester and cause such pain inside that I went to all of the wrong places to have them met...but all I need to do is fall at the feet of Jesus in honest transparency. He is the one and only One who can heal my pain and meet my needs.Beautiful needs give me the opportunity to love as He loves--with patience, kindness, grace, and truth.  Beautiful needs give me the opportunity to be His hands and feet to a World desperately needy world. There is now no shame in needs for as I live I see my neediness gives me the understanding I need to quit looking at others as ERG's to be tolerated and see them as people with needs as beautiful as mine.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

God Meets us in our Foolishness

"Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out His word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction."
Psalm 107:19-21
 
 
I am amazed that these verses stir up both such deep painful conviction and abiding hope at the same time. I can look back at my life and I can see that with God's help and the love of some very loving friends that I have weathered some pretty painful life events and experienced some deep losses. But, to be honest much of the affliction that I have suffered has been because of my own iniquity, unbelief, and mistrust of God.
 
Now, the mistrust of God, came from not understanding His ways. Growing up I developed some cognitive distortions and it was often through the lens of these distortions that I viewed the  Scriptures, which lead me to view God as distant and angry, rather than the loving Abba that His word describes.
 
And then there's the unbelief. It wasn't a purposeful unbelief in which I would read the Word and immediately choose to discount it. For God has gifted me with many wonderful teachers and a love of His Word. The unbelief was such that in the moments of stress, temptation, and trials my default was to fall back on untrue core beliefs that I had developed early in life. A counselor friend very gently pointed out to me that I said I believed something, but my life wasn't showing that I believed it. She went on to explain to me that when that happens in her own life she recognizes a truth has not yet fully replaced a faulty core belief and is acting out of the core belief rather than the truth. So, with the help of Beth Moore's Believing God and continual work on replacing those old lies with God's truth, I believe I have made a lot of head way overcoming the stronghold of unbelief. I think the most significant thing I learned about unbelief was that it was as important to believe what God says about me as it is to believe what God reveals about Himself. What is cool is that as I work on the unbelief, I have realized the mistrust I have had towards God is also being dealt with.
 
Now for the really convicting part...the part about the fools. I believe we are fools when we attempt to live life or deal with its pain apart from God. Sometimes we are simply a rebellious people and choose to sin and sometimes we do this as a result of our unbelief and our mistrust of God who is trustworthy. But the thing about sin, is that it is like cancer that grows and kills healthy tissue around it. Another way of looking at it is it is like a mold that is growing in fruit. Not only does the mold destroy the healthy cells right around it, it emits toxins that can make us sick. Another good analogy for sin is infections that destroy our flesh. Those commercials on TV about meningitis that state that it doesn't always kill and then the camera spans and shows people who have lost limbs or are paralyzed come to mind...and sin in all of its ugly "glory" does the same, slowly but surly it destroys and kills. It not only kills us physically as it wrecks havoc on our bodies. It can also kill us emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. Even at the times we look really good on the outside, the tendency towards Pharisaical thinking crops up. As a result, we lose touch with our own badness and are slowly killing our joy and our relationships through critical spirits and a lack of grace towards others and sometimes ourselves.  
 
The truth about sin, is that we all tend to hide it and live in shame, fearful that we will be found out. When we keep things hidden in the dark, our shame grows, which in turn causes more hiding until we are so steeped in sin that we are heart sick and feel like we are near death and sometimes in actuality are. Those shaming voices in our heads tell us everyone else has it all together. Everyone else sins less than we do. Everyone else will judge us if they knew how bad we really are. The voices also tells that even GOD deems us beyond help. Toxic shame silences us, causing us to either fake holiness as we continue dying or go into despair and give up.
 
But, we have a God who desires to meet us where we are at, even when where we are at is caused by our foolishness. He is already seeking to deliver us from the distress we experience, Even when that distress is caused by our own sin. He has His ears turned toward us waiting to hear the cries of His troubled children. He longs to deliver them from their distress. He knows that in our shame we tend to hide from Him, causing us to bear more pain than we have to. Our God is a God who longs to heal and desires that we quit ducking our heads in shame and cry out honestly to Him. He is waiting for us to call out to Him so that we are truly ready to hear his words -- words which have both the power to heal us and the wisdom to deliver us from our sin and our distress. He longs for us to recognize His passion for us to be whole and healthy individuals, relating to each other in ways that promote growth, display His love, flood us with joy, and draw us and others to the center of His heart and His will.
 
If we are experiencing shame, we can face that shame, calling it by name and cry out to Him, fully knowing that He, Jehovah Rapha, will save us from death. As we are scrupulously honest with ourselves and with Jesus so that anything that is poisoning us spiritually is exposed. We must come to Him humbly confessing that our ways lead to destruction. He will teach us to walk away from sin. He will teach us to stand in the face of temptation. He will teach us to remain faithful in the face of heartache and tribulation. He will empower us to love with a pure love that doesn't destroy those in its path. His ears are ever turned in our direction.
 
The question is, "Are we willing to cry out to Him and face our tendency to self destruct?" He is not angry with us, He is waiting with open arms. He is not disappointed in us, He understands that we are but dust and that it is in our weaknesses that His strength is made manifest. He is not disgusted with us, died to save us. He is not enjoying our pain, He's waiting until we truly want Him, not just relief from our affliction. He can and He will heal us and will deliver us from our affliction. He will deliver us from ourselves as He draws us to the center of His heart. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Satisfied at Last!

"How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My Soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."
Psalm 84:1-2
     I am in recovery from an eating disorder that I have had for a long time. I restricted my intake of food, compulsively ate, and compulsively exercised. Looking back at my  recovery, I think the hardest thing for me was that there were times the compulsion to overeat or begin a binge was absolutely overwhelming. It would start in the middle of the afternoon. When I resisted a binge in the early stages of recovery, I found I could often resist until bed time and I would be exhausted from experiencing such a long period of angst that the desire to binge and the desire not to binge at the same time caused. When I chose to give in to the binge, I found there was instant relief from the angst even before I took the first bite of food. I felt so much shame over that until I came to understand more about the brain and realized my pleasure center was activated by the anticipation that followed my decision and not just the food itself.
     Then there were those other days that I hated the worst. I would crave something and I would choose to eat it only to find that it didn't satisfy. Then I would crave something else, only to find it didn't satisfy either. I could spend a whole afternoon looking for that thing to help satisfy me, only to find at the end of the day that there was no satisfaction in any of the foods, only a great deal of shame for not being more committed to recovery and wiser with my choices. There was shame for not being strong enough to resist temptation. And the biggest shame of all, was for not remembering God in the moment of temptation and crying out to Him for the strength and wisdom I needed to have victory. 
     I met others in recovery and found out that it didn't matter what it was that they craved, they had all pretty much experienced what I had. Oh, they may yearned for a cigarette, a drink, drugs, sex, a view of pornography, a unhealthy relationship, more power, accolades, more new clothes, to be even busier, or a host of other things any of us can find ourselves yearning for. At the end of the day all of of us were filled with the same toxic shame. Many believed as I did that we were defective for having a issue of compulsion and not overcoming it. 
     I understood for a long time my eating disorder was out of control and it was sin. No one ever had to confront me with that truth! I felt shame that my problem was centered around food. Then it hit me one day that the first sin Eve committed in the garden was driven by her lust of what was beautiful to behold, appealing to her physical appetite and tastes, and appealing to her desire for power. I began to pay real close attention to what and when I craved anything. A conversation, a binge, a compulsion to over exercise, shop, etc. and over time I realized how often I was just seeking relief from boredom, emotions, loneliness, powerlessness, or exhaustion. At other times I was trying to fill the emptiness that resided deep in my soul. 
     I paid close attention to the desires I had, but that were never satisfied and realized that they were often things that pointed me away from God. I saw that when I could spend time with people and have conversations about God, I didn't crave as much. When I had lunch with a friend and God was the center of our conversation, I didn't overeat. When it was a shallow conversation, I often left feeling unsatisfied by the encounter. 
     When I came across the above verse I thought, "What if, what if God designed us to yearn, which in today's language would be to crave? What if the fall and our tendency to sin had distorted our appetites in such away we forget it is for Him that we yearn? What if we have forgotten He alone can satisfy our deepest yearnings of which we might not even be aware? What if when we are feeling dissatisfied, we take that feeling as a sign to begin to look to God who made us with our individual cravings and acknowledge that the craving is distorted and ask Him to daily remind us that in our heart of hearts we were made to yearn for Him?" Maybe those who struggle with addictions and compulsions have been given an extra dose of the yearnings and that those yearnings were misplaced. At first glance that seems kind of unfair. But the truth is, if we understand that we are craving time with our Savior, we will be driven to His arms where there is deep soul satisfaction! If there is truth that those of us who struggle with compulsions were given an extra dose of cravings, then we have the potential to be driven to more intimacy with the Savior than those who don't experience such strong cravings.   
     Maybe, no not maybe, certainly the answer for those of us who yearn for the wrong things is to get to the place we know the Savior so well that when we let our mind go in neutral, it automatically goes to Him. If we experience enough satisfaction in Him, we may begin to recognize those yearnings we despised in recovery are really a blessing as they drive us to Him who loves us so deeply that He died for us. Oh, how I want to be that woman whose soul yearns so much for Jesus that my heart and my flesh will continually cry out for God, not the things of this world that never satisfy the deep yearning in my soul. Oh, that at times when life leaves me feeling shaky and weak I want to get to the point I cry out to the one who can strengthen my spirit and give me peace and joy no matter what is going on in my little corner of this world. The times that I have cried out to Him, I have experienced joy replacing this ugly toxic shame that often comes with disordered sinful patterns as my heart and my flesh cry out to the LORD Almighty, the Living God.           

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jehovah Shama

"I am the Lord who Hears"
Psalms 69:3
 
Growing up as a compliant rule follower who was afraid to rock the boat was hard! I don't know how many times I spoke my mom or teachers' name only to be ignored. One who was more assertive would have just spoken up and made sure they were heard, but not me. I had those ugly voices in my head telling me I was too much, not enough, an interruption, and a bother. 
 
Being a soft spoken person in a world full of loud was so hard! I am often drowned out by people louder than me and overwhelmed by crowds of people talking at the time and the sounds of movies or music that loud enough to pound in my chest. At time I suspect I might have been too soft to hear. At other times I believe that because I spoke softly, others didn't perceive the importance of my words. So, they continued on just as if I had never spoke at all. I remember, as a child, have something important to say. I called out a name and the person continued to walk by. So, I mumbled ever so quietly what I wished I could have shouted -- she came back and heard my words that day -- words that were so quietly spoken. The little girl that I was didn't understand that her presentation probably had a lot to do with being invisible, with being unheard. Sadly, her presentation came out of her toxic core beliefs. No one understands how much energy it takes for me to speak up, to speak loud. I still at times wish others would just tune in and listen a little harder.    
 
Being an adult introvert in a world full of extroverts is so hard! I don't know how many times I have been asked a question and as I am internally composing an answer have the person turn to the next person and begin a different conversation, leaving me feeling like my need to process internally is a defect rather than a creative design by my Maker. I don't know how many times I have been asked a question and in mid sentence have the person literally turn around and walk away as my incomplete words hang in the air between us as a rejected gift.
 
The belief that I had to be a compliant rule follower who never rocked the boat combined with a soft voice and an introvert personality is not a huge problem, but it is one that impacted my relationship with God. For years, I was uncomfortable with praying even though I did it on a regular basis. I could handle God's answers to my prayers when they were "yeses" and when they were "nos." But I had a really hard time with the "waits" ... you know those holding patterns that never seem to end. 
 
One night I walk into a Bible Study and sat down. The pastor usually handed us a handout and the good girl in me would often look ahead and have all of the answers filled in before he even got to the points. But this one night he didn't pass out a handout, he simply asked us, "What do you find hard about waiting on God?" Everyone answered the pastor and I could agree at a shallow level that their answers were true, but deep inside I knew that their answers weren't what was the most difficult for me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. He moved through the Scriptures and because there was no handout I couldn't work ahead but had to sit in the uncomfortableness of trying to name what was hard about God's waits. He got to a verse a part of which said that God had His ears turned to those who wait on Him. All of a sudden it hit me that I had put on God the behaviors of man. If the answer was wait, I had been assuming He was just walking on by me or turning and leaving while my words still hung in the air. The truth is that God has His ears turned to His people. He hears our voices all of the time, no matter what time of day or night it is.
 
He even hears the soft voice of the compliant child who is afraid to rock the boat. He hears the words of the introvert while they are still being formed in my mind. His waits are not proof that He has walked on by, they are His invitation for me to keep on talking...talking until all the buried hurt is poured out and replaced with joy...talking until the compassion and emotions that were shut down were resurrected...talking until unbelief is exposed and replaced with belief...talking until all of the lies are brought to the light and replaced with His truth...talking until I face my sinfulness and cry out for His mercy to be fulfilled in me...talking until the desire to know Him is bigger than my desire to be healed or experience the gifts He gives...talking until He has fully captured my heart.
 
A friend recently shared with me that one of God's names is Jehovah Shama...the God who hears...who hears even me. He hears the cries of the scared, the sad, and the lonely. He hears the cries of those facing huge injustices in their lives. He hears the cries of the abandoned, or those betrayed by someone close. He hears the cries of the disappointed and those with deep heart wounds left their by those who should have nurtured and cared. He hears the cries of those beaten down and trod upon by others. He hears the cries of those who have been led to believe by the Enemy that they are not enough -- not good enough, smart enough, small enough, pretty enough, funny enough, or special enough. He hears the cries of those who have born burdens way too big for their shoulders. He hears the cries of those longing for peace and freedom from both emotional and physical pain, shame, guilt, and addictions. He hears the cries of those who have questions that rise up from the soul in deep agonizing grief and understands those questions reveal tender and broken hearts more often than pride gone awry. He hears every prayer spoken aloud and every prayer spoken only in the heart. He even hears the prayers that are so deep they come out as nothing more than a groan or a whisper. 
 
Jehova Shama, I love that name! He hears this overly compliant, soft spoken, introvert just fine. His waits are Him giving me His full attention. His waits are Him giving me time to collect my thoughts, weed through the lies, and come back to the truth. His waits are Him inviting me to humbly trust in His goodness. His waits are Him inviting me to know His Heart...the Heart of the God who hears. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Meeting God in the Hard

Life is hard because of the losses we experience. These include people we dearly love and people we’ve spent years grieving over because some relationships are so broken. Life is hard because of long seasons of loneliness in which we reach out and beg for changes that could build intimacy with spouses or friends only to be met by anger that leaves us wounded or by passivity that leaves us feeling invisible and unheard. Life is hard when we lose relationships or friendships due to divorce or because conflicts couldn’t be resolved; no matter how hard we tried. Life is hard even when we chose to end relationships to preserve our integrity or to stop pain we could no longer bear. After all, aren’t we, as believers, supposed to make it all work? In reality, it is not always possible. Whether loss of relationship is by choice or not it sometimes makes life hard. 

Life is hard when we lose material things–things stolen, homes repossessed, or homes destroyed by natural disasters. Material losses include things we can easily replace and the sentimental items that can’t–baby pictures that burned, wedding albums floating in flood waters, scrapbooks of family vacations taken by a tornado, or grandmother’s china that shattered in an earthquake. And yes, things are things, but some things have special meanings and, yes, sometimes life is hard when we can’t replace those things.

Sometimes life is hard because we face losses due to abuses we’ve experienced. It doesn’t matter whether they were sexual, physical, and/or emotional in nature–victims experience a loss of innocence. They lose a sense of being safe in their home, their family, their community, their church, and even their own bodies. Losses are felt when we experience violence either first hand or vicariously. They are felt when we experience injustices and judgments in the face of divorce and long drawn out custody battles. Losses can be unfulfilled dreams or decreased abilities due to illness or injury, or even the aging process. 

Life is also hard because we are part of a culture that experiences violence such as Nine-Eleven, Columbine, Newtown, Colorado, Taft, churches all over the world, bombings, and now the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Many will grieve because of so many lives lost. Many will struggle as they work hard to physically recover from wounds. And many will struggle the impact of trauma from having been there and survived, having watched it on TV, and having been shocked to realize our sense of safety is being rocked to the core. 
When there are such big losses some will shut down and not experience their losses for a while as they struggle to come to terms with it. Yes, life is sometimes hard for a season as we face and grieve these losses.   

Ironically, the more we love, the more potential we have to experience hard. I’ve lost extended family and three friends who deeply impacted my life. I’ve lost my parents, my parent-in-laws, my spiritual Dad, and precious friends I met through church. My heart has also ached because I have chosen to walk with many through painful things. Yet, observing them courageously facing their hard and choosing to acknowledge it and move through it so it can no longer control them blesses me! Standing shoulder to shoulder with the hurting is standing on the most sacred ground there is. I’ve watched as friends, both near and far have buried loved ones–parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren. To be honest it has made me angry at death and sin and it has created in me a thirst for heaven where I know there will be no more death, no injustice, no sin, no abuse, no grief, and no tears–no hard-but for now sometimes life is hard.

Friends have just buried their eighteen-year-old son, grandson, brother, and friend. I’ve pondered a lot about how we deal with life in the face of the pain of the hard. The pat answer, of course, is in the promise of eternal life. Yet, I think we are missing something in the now if this is the only tool we use to cope. Israel was instructed to build monuments to remember who God is and what God had done for them. My dear friend Joyce, her husband, her son, and her daughter-in-law have shared monuments of Scriptures that have seen them through this painful time. One monument Joyce shared was a verse that a mutual friend had preached on years ago proclaiming God upholds us with His right hand. When he preached on the verse, it impacted her so much she wrote about it in her journal and she was able to go back to that verse and hang on to it in this season of hard. The last few months I’ve experienced loss and been surrounded by pain to a point I’ve been overwhelmed. A friend reminded me it comes with the territory of being in the business of loving others-my grief has become tinged by thankfulness even in the hard.

I've been thinking about specific monuments God has given to me, many of which came through seeking God in the process of healing from past emotional pain. One of those monuments occurred after a counselor friend asked me to choose a word to describe how I viewed myself. Without hesitation I told her, “Invisible!” Several months later I was praying with a prayer director who told me she sensed God wanted me to renounce something she had never come across before. I asked her what it was and she said, “God wants you to renounce the spirit of invisibility.” I had not told her about feeling invisible and became overwhelmed at God’s goodness in revealing this to her so I could be set free from a stronghold. Shortly after the prayer time, I came across Hagar’s story. After becoming pregnant by her mistress’ husband, Hagar developed an attitude and was sent away by the slighted, bitter Sarah. Alone in the desert where life was hard, she sat down and wept. She was all alone or so she thought. God met her there in the hard of her being used, her loneliness, her invisibility, and her rejection. In an act of worship, she ascribed to God, the name El Roi, which means “The God who Sees!” This means He is also the God who sees me…even in the hard!

This name for God has so many implications for us. He sees little ones abandoned by their parents physically and/or emotionally. He sees little ones whose spirits are crushed by abusive words spoken by caretakers or bullies. He sees little ones being pounded by those who are supposed to nurture them. He sees girls and boys trying to scrub away the shame of perverted people who violated them. He sees girls trafficked by their parents and girls taken off the street by pimps and shipped to who knows where-to be used to death. He sees those displaced by natural disasters--tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and landslides. He sees families struggling to understand why loved ones were killed violently by angry people they don’t even know. He sees those struggling with flashbacks and anxiety in the aftermath of violence and abuse. He sees the parents watching children struggling with horrific illnesses and painful syndromes no one can explain or heal. He sees families wracked by addictions, infertile women sitting through sermons for moms on Mother’s Day, and women fighting down a mountain of shame for babies they chose to abort and moms who did everything they could to carry their children but couldn’t. He sees tiny babies that fit in the palm of a hand fighting to live the life God created them to live and the parents pleading for Him to grow little ones out of the womb too soon. He sees parents weeping as they bury babies in tiny coffins and parents who’ve buried, not just one child, but two, three, or more. He sees people struggling with depression so deep and dark they grasp desperately for hope and the families left in the chaos created by an unpredictable world of mental illness. He sees parents and grandparents standing before flag-draped coffins as well as soldiers coming back physically and emotionally scarred for life. He sees families burying loved ones taken by accidents too soon, families facing the ugly truth that suicide has forever marked their family with deep pain. He sees families standing over hospital beds to say goodbye and those who are too late to say or hear a last, “I love you!” He sees little ones orphaned as well as those of us who are learning to live as adult orphans. EL Roi! The God who SEES! He Sees! He Sees! He Sees! Oh, how I love that name!

God isn’t just in the mountain tops, He is in the hard. We know that because God is the El Roi--the God who sees. He is also the God who creatively acts. Many of His names reveal to us His actions in response to what He sees! In response to the pain He saw His people in He came to love by taking on flesh and rubbing shoulders with people just like us--people who were in bondage to sin, in bondage to deep pain, and those with overwhelming needs no person on earth could fill. He died a cruel, unjust death-suspended between Heaven and Earth-so our shame, guilt, and ugly sin could be placed on Him. He died so His unending grace, peace, goodness, and love could be poured out upon us. He bore unspeakable abuse so we could know He, too, has experienced the hard and know He understands our pain in the hard!

In the moments, I'm overwhelmed by what I see others going through, by what they've survived, by what I know they will face in the future, or by what I am experiencing, I can look to the truth that God is the God who sees, who loves, and who acts in ways I am only beginning to understand. I remind myself that the cross preceded the empty grave and the hope that the resurrection brings. I remind myself that the cross preceded the gift of the Comforter who leads us to repentance, gives us supernatural strength to overcome sin, helps us endure the hard, and gives moments of connection to the wounded Savior that heals hearts and instills hope and peace. 

Maybe we live in this life with the hard so we can learn to thirst for the completion promised when we are face to face with Jesus where pain, suffering, and the constant tug of sin on our hearts is once and for all removed. Maybe we live in this life where the hard is not removed so those of us who know the Savior can be used by Him to be His eyes and His ears to a world of people who have lost their way in the hard. We live in the hard so the message that His Resurrections speaks of hope and power and joy is more readily received by the hurting. We can rest in the promise of His return and the promise of life eternal, which tells us the hard in this life is all the hard there is. I will remember the monuments He has given me personally and I will cling to the truth of who He is and know He sees me all the time--even in the hard!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Meeting God in the Storms

Mark 4:35-41
     "On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side.' And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? have you still no faith?' And they were filled with great fear and said to one another who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
     I love this encounter of Jesus with His disciples. First, Jesus tells them they will go to the other side of the sea. He gave them clear cut directions and then entered the boat with them. In His humanness, Jesus who was the Savior, the Teacher, the Healer was exhausted and promptly found a cushion, stretched out, and fell asleep. Before long a catastrophic wind arose. It wasn't just the city boys that were afraid, it was the seasoned fisherman who became terrified because the boat was filling with sea water. 
     I've never been in a storm at sea, but one time my husband and I were taking a turn in a rubber raft on a small lake in New Mexico. Our children were waiting with their grandparents on the shore hollering for us to hurry up so they could have a turn. All of a sudden small summer storm rose out of nowhere. First, the wind picked up and then a small band of dark clouds headed our way and covered the lake. We knew we needed to get out of the lake because of the lighting so we started rowing back to shore. But, the winds picked up and the harder we rowed towards the kids, the further away we got. In my nervousness, I began to giggle so hard I wasn't much use to my husband who was frantically rowing. All of a sudden he calmly instructed me to lift one of my paddles out of the water and he changed the direction of the boat and we began to work with the wind instead of against it. It seemed counter intuitive to me, but I trusted him and did as he said. Soon we were receiving warm hugs from our kids who had been frightened by the sight of their parents being carried away by the storm. 
     Even with that experience, I can't imagine being on a ship in a storm strong enough to scare grown men who lived and navigated the sea on a daily basis. They are so frustrated by Jesus' napping through the storm that they asked Him, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" Ouch! That statement convicts me! How often I've assumed my Jesus didn't care because I found myself in the middle of a life storms. And some of those life storms weren't nearly as cataclysmic as the one the disciples were facing. I weathered some storms in faith clinging tightly to the Savior, but there are many more that I weathered in fear and frustration with that question on my lips though I didn't have the guts to speak it aloud. I even weathered a few with Him fully inviting me to come to Him, but was too terrified to do so and amazingly He kept inviting me to come to Him.
     I love how Jesus orders the seas to calm and then confronts their unbelief. He didn't confront them for waking Him, but because they were so afraid they had forgotten His Words stating they would go to the other side. They forgot they could depend on His Words. Had they remembered what he said, they might have woken Him up and asked Him to help bail water. Had they remembered who He was, they could have woken Him up and asked Him to calm the Storm.
   Interestingly Jesus calming the sea redirects their fear. They no longer fear the storm, they have a healthy fear of their Creator who has power over both the sea and the flesh. The flesh in me wants to judge the disciples for their fear and lack of faith, but I have to admit I am them. God has blessed me repeatedly with gifted Bible teachers, a love and reasonable command of His word, and a thirst to know Him. But, then a storm hits and I find myself a doubting Thomas, an impetuous Peter and a Daughter of Thunder all rolled up in one, wanting to demand Jesus explain to me about that appears to be His lack of care? 
     But then I realize I really don't want my God, my Savior, the Lover of my Soul, to be a God who only lives in my comfort zone. I want to see Him and His power in the Storms. I want to Hear His voice say, "Peace be still!" Not just to the storm, but to my terrified heart as well. He graciously tells us in His Word that in this World we will have tribulation...why, then am I, are we, so often surprised by sudden storms. I have to remind myself that my Jesus doesn't have to enter my emotional drama because He has power over the storms of my life. He is calm because He enters them with me. He is confident because He uses them to reveal more of Himself to me, which strengthens my faith, humbles my heart, and causes me to depend on Him which in turn fosters the intimacy my heart craves. 
     Maybe, just maybe, the next time I face a sudden storm I will cling to Jesus in faith and if I listen hard enough, I will hear His voice calming my heart and silencing my questions, "Peace, be still! I will meet with You in the Storm."

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!