Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Meeting God in the Face of Rejection

"For I am sure that neither death nor life,
not angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come,
not powers, nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:38-39

My church has been covering a series on fear and yesterday the topic was the fear of rejection. It covered the story of Jacob found in Genesis 32:22-32. I loved the sermon because I have never met a person who hasn't been hurt deeply by rejection at some point in their lives. Some of us have experienced rejection when a friend quit being a friend. Some can relate to rejection by being left off the invitation list of an important party. Some can relate because we had a boy friend or girl friend decide the relationship was no longer working even though love was expressed and commitments were made.  Some could relate to rejection because a bully rallied a class full of kids to ostracize one.   
As adults we relate when we experience rejection when bosses over look us or women excluded us from girls night out. We relate when those in our church overlook our giftedness or choose to victimize us through gossip or slander. Some have experienced rejection when marriages ended and it wasn't just the rejection of a spouse that hurt. It was the rejection of friends choosing sides. Sometimes there have been rejections due to changes in life stages. Maybe friends without kids no longer wanted to socialize after our babies came or friends turned away when we were overwhelmed with a special needs child. 
There are also those pesky little everyday rejections where spouses don't "feel like" loving or  communicating. There are rejections experienced when children rebel or reject our values.   
There are also some experiences in life that may be perceived or interpreted as rejections. They may be real rejections or may be we experienced them as rejections because of the way we interpreted them. Some of these types of rejections are when a parent, grandparent, or teacher seem to favor one child over another...something that could be true or something that could be a perception.  Maybe it was being the last child chosen for sports teams. Those choosing may have simply wanted to win and chose those who played the best, but it feels like a rejection to the child who isn't best. Maybe it felt like rejection when a friend chose to go shopping with another friend for the day. In our heads we know it is okay and not rejection, but in our neediness it feels like that. 
There is another type of rejection...where one feels rejected as a person. It may have been a parent silencing a talkative child or punishing a creative child for coloring outside the box, causing the child to believe the person they were created to be was not acceptable. It may have also been a parent withholding love as discipline or a parent not meeting the basic needs of time and affection that caused the child to believe they weren't good enough or were too much.     
As I was listening to the sermon yesterday three other stories came to mind of people who had suffered rejection and how God met their needs in the face of that rejection. The first woman that came to mind was Hagar. She was the handmaiden of Sarah. As such she didn't have a lot of power or control over her own life. God had promised Sarah and Abraham a baby in their old age and it didn't happen right away, prompting Sarah to "help" God fulfill His promise. By following the customs of the day, she had Abraham lay with Hagar who conceived a child in her place. When it happened the women understandably have all sorts of feelings and attitudes towards each other and Sarah sends Hagar away. God sends Hagar back. After Sarah births her own child, she sends Hagar away again. Alone in the desert with the child she had born at her mistress's request, she sits down and weeps. God meets her there, speaking hope into her rejected heart and assures her that He will make her son into a great nation. Hagar ascribes to God the name El Roi, which means the God who sees me! God saw Hagar in the pain she was experiencing from rejection and He met her there. 
The second woman who came to mind was the Samaritan woman who came to get water from a well. She came in the heat of the day, indicating she was avoiding social contact and Jesus surprised her by asking her for a cup of water. She was surprised because Jewish men didn't relate to Samaritans, especially those who were women. He engages her in a conversation as a way of revealing who He is to and in an effort to get her to own who she is. At some point Jesus asks her to bring her husband and she says that she doesn't have one. He tells her she was right in saying she had no husband and reveals that He knows she had been married five times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. We need to understand some things about the culture of her day. To be divorced she would have been taken to a public place where judgments happened and declared her unfit as a wife.  She wasn't just rejected one time, she experienced the shame of this rejection five times. In addition, living with someone who chose not to marry her left her scandalized. Jesus met her where she was. I am not sure how much choice a woman had in those days, but today when women go through serial marriages, they are often looking for someone to fulfill the void left by rejection they have experienced. God revealed to her the love, acceptance, and validation humans show will always pale and always fail in comparison to the love, acceptance, and validation of our Great God. I remember one lady telling me that if she knew in her first marriage what she knew about God now, she would not be divorced for the third time. 
Rejection hurts! It hurts enough when it is private and only know to a select few. But it has to hurt even more when it is so public and so shaming. Notice, Jesus sought her out and met her where she was at, just like God had done with Hagar. This is really significant, because sometimes when we are experiencing rejection by a human, the enemy does all he can to convince us that we are unlovable and rejected by God as well. It strikes at the very core of our heart where we wonder if we were too much, not enough, or both. But, rejections is mostly about the heart of the rejector and their inability to love well. When we fail to remember that God seeks out the rejected, we may be prone to seek out relationships independently of God to numb our wounded hearts. But, we, as hurting people, don't make  wise decisions. In fact, we may choose relationships that set us up for a whole lot of rejection and pain. 
The third story that came to mind was the story of Joseph. First, He was thrown into a pit by ten of his brothers.and then taken out of the pit and sold as a slave to some Egyptian men. We aren't told of a face to face reckoning meeting like Hagar and the woman at the well had, but as we read the story of Joseph, we see God had His hand on Joseph's life and Joseph remained faithful to God no matter what came his way. He was raised to a high place in the government and provided a plan that saved the nation from famine. He ultimately saved the lives his family and when they sought his forgiveness, he was able to grant it and tell them that even though they meant what they did for evil, God had meant it for good.     
So, how do we live in the face of rejection? First, we want to remember that God meets us there. We cannot listen to the lies of the enemy that would tell us different. Sometimes, we'll experience Him  directly and sometimes we'll sense Him through faith. Sometimes we'll experience Him through others sent to encourage us and at other times we experience Him through solitude and wrestling as we expose grieving hearts to His healing love. 
Second, we want to remember that rejection by another person isn't proof that we have been neglected or rejected by God. He is ever faithful, no matter what others do. He has promised that nothing can separate us from His love, so by faith we can look to Him trusting His goodness.  
Third, it is wise to take time to grieve and to ask God to teach us what we need to learn to grow through the pain of rejection. He may want to show us a fault we need to correct that drives others away. I believe Joseph resolved a pride issue, growing into a humble man who waited on God to fulfill His plans. God may even want to do a deeper healing of pain a current rejection surfaced, which I suspect was the case for the lady at the well. 
Finally, when we look at Jesus, we can't forget that He was well acquainted with rejection. John 1:10-11 says, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own people and His own people did not receive Him." His own family didn't recognize Him. the nation rejected Him. A disciple betrayed Him while His friends denied Him. His heavenly Father even forsook Him as our sin was laid on Him. 
Surely we can trust a God who willing experienced such rejection for us. Surely, we can and look to Him to minister to our rejected hearts and remember that His love is big enough to fill every void and to see us through the emotional pain of rejection. He is the One who will never, ever desert us. With Him we don't have to ever worry about being too much or not enough. He loves us at our worst and draws us to the center of His heart, freeing us to be our best. Maybe the journey of rejection is a journey that leads us to the love that never fails.     

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Putting on the Proper Attire

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness,
and patience bearing with one another..."
Colossians 3:12-13a

I am fascinated that the writers used by God to pen His Word often used word pictures to convey important Biblical truths. The key verse above is a great example of this. Sanctification is considered an important doctrine of our Christian faith. Yet, Paul used words like taking off and putting on to describe the process of sanctification. When I was a new believer, I often felt shame and guilt when I read passages like this because the analogy seemed to make it sound like the sanctification process was as easy as taking off old clothes and putting on new ones. 
However, more recently I've been thinking about this analogy and realize it is a good analogy. When we become believers we are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We are made joint heirs with Christ and all the Saints who have gone before us, including Noah, Abraham, Peter, John, Paul, Mary, and a host of other people. We enter into a close relationship with the King of kings. The clothing is a good analogy because clothing is what people usually see first. Spiritually speaking, they will see Christ or they will see the old Wendy before she was redeemed?  

Now if I were marrying a prince and moving into a castle I would accept there are responsibilities that come with that position. I would want to put on clothes that would be appropriate as well as learn the behaviors that are appropriate for the position I was marrying into. As a young bride, I would not want to bring shame to my prince. I would want to know what was considered polite and I would want to avoid behavior that is considered rude or inappropriate for a princess. When I think along those lines, it just seems like the reasonable thing to do. At the same time, I have to admit that in my heart of hearts I know I am a blue jean gal and would find it difficult to wear dresses and fancy shoes. I also know I have the tendency to jiggle my leg, and don't typically care about using the right fork and would have to work at staying present in the moment rather than longing to get home and kick off the shoes, put on comfy slacks and wiggle and jiggle my leg to my hearts contentment.  
When I contemplate the clothing picture I realize what a good picture it is for me of how difficult sanctification is. For I don't have that perfect body that can just go to any rack and pick up something to wear. As a result I have always had a love-hate relationship with clothing. I love to walk into a clothing store and see the colors and feel the textures of the fabrics. When I see the clothing on a model or someone else trying on the clothes, I get excited about how the clothing looks on them. But when I put on new clothes, I don't automatically feel pretty or comfortable. This is because the clothing doesn't feel familiar, and familiar is important to me. I experience this weird phenomenon familiar to women who struggle with eating disorders where I feel like a can of biscuits exploding and in my mind's eye I see my body in a distorted way. Every where the clothing touches me is proof it must not fit. I can't wait to get out of the new clothes and put on old clothes that feel familiar. For me to dress up is so far out of my comfort zone that it is painful. I would rather stay at home in my comfortable clothes. Old clothes are comfortable and feel familiar.  

In the above verse Paul wants us to put on clothing of a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. To be honest my old "clothes," the comfortable "clothes," the clothes of my flesh, don't really look a lot like his list. When I think about compassion, I must admit it is much more natural for me to tell someone to pick themselves up by their boot straps or to bury myself in my writing so I don't have to feel the pain that comes with compassion. Over the years God has helped me become more compassionate by giving me the opportunity to deal with my own pain.
As far as the clothing of kindness I wish I had that one nailed. But in my heart of hearts I know my kindness is often missing, because I just don't think about taking the time to show kindness. It is also often conditional and based on other people's behavior and attitudes. Kind people bring out my kindness, but when I am dealing with difficult people, they don't. Yet, I know when I am struggling and behaving out of my flesh, what I most long for is for another person to show me the kindness of God, to love me out of my anger and frustration I feel. I know God wants me to wear that kind of kindness for others, a kindness that is intentional and unmerited. 

As far as the clothing of humility goes, that, too, has been a bit of a struggle because my stinking pride keeps getting in the way. And my pride has so many stinking faces! It is kind of like finding a comfortable tee-shirt and buying it in several colors--the red one representing the rising of anger of indignation when I believe I've been wronged, the blue one representing the pride that surfaces because I feel like I deserve something better, the green one representing the pride of believing I don't deserve to be mistreated, the gray shirt representing the other side of pride that looks like shame and self-contempt, the black shirt representing the pride of feeling invisible and overlooked which comes from believing old lies. It is a strong one because it was developed out of a need to protect a very wounded heart.

The clothing of meekness has been a hard one because meekness is really strength under control. There were times I didn't believe I had strength and then there were times that righteous anger rose up so fast in me that it felt like it was impossible to control the strength behind it. Yet, over time I am learning to listen to anger's message, dealing with emotions in private so I can use its energy to make the needed changes. 

Finally, the clothing of patience. That is a hard one to put on, because I not only have the flesh to deal with, I live in a culture that has taught me to expect and demand instant gratification! I want what I want when I want it. I wanted to climb to the top quickly when I worked rather than work my way up. I want instant food without cooking it. I want quick transportation and hate stop lights. I want  instant intimacy without doing the hard work of building trust and listening to another's heart. I want instant apologies without giving God time to work in a person's heart. I want to demand instant forgiveness, without allowing another the grace and the time needed to open and treat their wounds  so that they might actually know what they are forgiving.

Yet, as a believer I really do want to put on all those things that Paul is talking about. It is just hard. I find Romans 7:21-24 comforting in that it shows that my struggle to put on is shared by others. "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members."

One of the reasons that I felt shamed by the "take off" and "put on" lists in the Scriptures was because in my tendency to be a Martha I would gloss over what was prior to the lists. Before he tells the Colossians what to put on, Paul reminds them that they are chosen, holy, set apart, and beloved children of God. Those words would have been noted by Mary and would be what motivated her to don the proper clothing. Skipping those important words can create frantic, busy bee efforts rather than action and attitudes driven by love. Those truths of who we are stir up gratitude and puts the lists in a proper perspective. Paul often used this technique in his epistles. He didn't just stop at the cross, he taught what the cross meant for us, including important truths like reconciliation, redemption, a new identity, and a new relationship with both God and man. Paul reminded them that they are chosen, holy, and beloved before he told them what to put on. 

Paul also often penned the prayers that he was praying for the people he was writing to. He prayed they would be empowered and they would know the love of God. They knew his prayer when they read his lists concerning sanctification. They knew they were being passionately prayed for.
Third, Paul often expressed his own love towards them. He had developed relationships with them and he cared about their growth, cared about their pain, and cared deeply about their relationships with God and with others. His instructions were given from a pure heart and given out of motive of love, not out of a desire to shame. 

When I began to really see Christianity as a love relationship with God, I found the lists created less shame. When I realized the epistles were written by a transparent man who deeply loved people he wrote to, I understood his lists were written out of a desire for others to grow in Christ so those characteristics of love would be manifested in them, making Christ known. I still don't think it's easy, but I don't feel shame about the lists now. I think the lists of what we are to put on are only possible as we relate to God on a daily basis and depend on Him to help us put them on. .
As we keep putting on those characteristics daily, they become more familiar and more natural.  When we put on those characteristics, we experience God in the practice of loving because we choose to live chosen, holy, and loved. When we put on those characteristics we get to see healing in others as a result of the  compassion we donned. We get to see anger melted by our kindness, see pride calmed by our humility, and see conflict deescalated by our meekness. We also get to see souls saved and relationships healed by patience. God is so gracious that even in our imperfect attempts to put on behaviors befitting His children, we are given the opportunities to experience Him as we see Him work in and through us. 

The lists tend to remind me there will be a day when my sanctification is complete and I will no longer have the struggle between my old clothes of the flesh and my new clothes of the Spirit, a day when I will be forever fully clothed in His righteousness! That thought brings such joy to this messy heart...a heart relying so heavily on His grace. 


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!