Thursday, November 20, 2014

Shattering the Myths of "Too Much" and "Not Enough"

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your works; my soul know it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 139:14-15 

I have the privilege of  serving in a ministry along side of some of the most amazing women I have ever met. We lead support groups for women who were victimized by sexual abuse, who have eating disorders, who struggle with unhealthy relationships, or who struggle with emotions. No matter what the group is studying, every year we find that a big part of our work is helping women identify lies that they believe and how those lies are impacting their lives. I have come to feel passionate about this part of our work because I once struggled with such strong negative thinking that I could not have told someone a positive attribute about myself if I had been asked. Ironically, I could quote all the scriptures about who we are in Christ. But somehow the Scriptures weren't sinking into my heart. After  working on an exercise about my negative thinking with a therapist, I left her office feeling convicted that my thinking was sinful. I wasn't sure what to do about it, because it was so automatic and I wasn't purposely choosing to think like I thought. It was just there. I also had the feeling that the therapist had no idea just how negative the thoughts were and how much of the day the thoughts filled my mind. But I wanted to change.

I knew that the first step for me was to get radically honest with her about the severity of this struggle. When I got home I flipped open a magazine to a little girl sitting on a great big chair. She looked so alone and emotionally dead. I cut the picture out and put it in the center of a poster board. I typed all the negative messages I heard in my head and I cut them out and pasted them all around the little girl. I sat and looked at it and asked God to help me know what to do next. He brought to mind a bunch of messages I specifically heard growing up or that I formulated from my experiences and from what I see in our culture. There were layers and layers of negative messages surrounding that little girl. 

I took it in to my counselor and we looked at it together. It was so freeing, because it was like I took all of the garbage out and laid it on that board. At one point she asked me what I thought happened when someone complimented me or told me that they loved me. It hit me that positive words trying to come in would just bounce off of all of the garbage inside. It hit me in that moment that the core of shame with which I had been struggling was fed by all of those lies and that those lies were like a shroud that kept God's truth from coming in. It was like I had unknowingly at some point in time begun to agree with the Enemy who was slowly and surly destroying me with His lies. I was a believer at the time we had that conversation. I believed in my head what God said about me, but in the core of my being were all of the old lies and messages. We practiced in the therapist's refuting the lies and silencing the enemy's voice with His truth until I truly understood what it meant to take my thoughts captive to His truth.

This week during our leader's prayer time I handed my leaders a piece of paper that had two fill in the blanks. I asked them to fill them in with the thoughts that they had struggled with or still occasionally struggle with. The first statement I gave them was, "I am too___________." The answers I got from them were I am: too busy, too needy, too talkative, too judgmental, too anxious, too isolated, too spiritually weak, too forgetful, too fat, too outspoken, too different, too broken, too far gone, too fearful, too codependent, too stubborn, too critical, too self sabotaging, too Kookie, too loud, too stupid, too inadequate, too hopeless, too wordy, too spacy, too helpless, too emotional, too sensitive,  too inadequate, too dirty, too picky, too lazy, too self centered, too jealous, too na├»ve, too gullible, too chubby, too lazy, too depressed, too lost, too unhappy, too needy, too ugly, too boring, too distant, too damaged, too abused, too dumb, too stressed, too excitable, too moody, too smart, too fragile, too opinionated, too unhealthy, and too much.

The second statement I asked them to fill in is: "I am not_____________ enough." The answers that I got from them are I am: not friendly enough , not intelligent enough, not good enough, not worthy enough, not loved enough, not strong enough, not disciplined enough, not consistent enough, not focused enough, not trusting God enough, not a good enough mom, not a good enough wife, not a good enough friend, not a good enough daughter, not smart enough, not crafty enough, not faithful enough, not loyal enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not attractive enough, not courageous enough, not willing to sacrifice enough, not educated enough, not brave enough, not trusting enough, not generous enough, not thin enough, not exciting enough, not happy enough, not perfect enough, not articulate enough, not connected enough, not fast enough, not cute enough, not pretty enough, not engaging enough, not innocent enough, not clever enough, not spiritual enough, not calm enough, not helpful enough, not organized enough, not intuitive enough, not compassionate enough, not patient enough, not forgiving enough, not "Christ-like" enough, not healthy enough, not gracious enough, not thin enough, not put together enough, not sexy enough, not girly enough, and not enough.   

Over the years these women and I have had conversations about these types of thoughts. I remember at one point one of them saying to me, "Isn't it weird that we can believe that we are too much and not enough at the same time?" I think if you had the chance to spend time with these women you would see them as I do. They are some of the brightest, most beautiful, kindest, and most generous women I have ever met. They give of their time and their energy to volunteer in a hard ministry that requires them to listen patiently to painful stories, to confront lies gently with His truth, to encourage the discouraged, to comfort the distraught, to hope for the hopeless, to love even when someone acts harshly out of their woundedness, to model healthy relating even when they, themselves, feel triggered by what they hear or by how they are treated. They have had to learn to depend on God to speak His truth even when they are afraid of conflict, rejection, and anger. They are strong women who have been not only be tempered by their own painful experiences and their own recovery journeys, they have been tempered by their making a decision to step out in faith in the face of the lies the enemy whispers in their ears and trust that the truest thing about them is what God has said in His Word.

Every week when I look into the faces of these ladies, I am reminded that God never has been is not and never will be in the business of making junk. He is in the business of creating men and women in His image. Oh yes, I know that the enemy did everything he could to destroy that image in them by enticing others to destroy them physically, emotionally, and spiritually by their evil actions, lack of actions, evil words, and silences. He did everything he could to entice them to follow him, promising them relief from their pain and shame. He did everything he could to get them to believe his lies even camouflaging them in half truths. '

But, God intervened and saved them out of the chains with which they were bound. I have been blessed to see God's activity in their lives as they have become acquainted with Him, not just as their Savior, but as their Comforter, their Healer, their Strength, their Truth, and their Safety.

In Him, they never ever have to worry about being good enough, because Jesus imputed His righteousness to them. In Him they never have to worry about being strong enough, because His strength is made manifest in their weaknesses. In Him they don't have to worry about being smart enough, because they have been given His wisdom. In Him they don't have to worry about being too different, because He was the one who knitted them in their mothers' wombs. In Him they don't have to worry about being courageous enough because Jesus has already defeated the enemy at the cross and he no longer has a hold on their lives. In Him they don't have to worry about being too needy, because they were saved by the King of Kings and He has promised them great and mighty things and He is in the business of meeting emotional needs. In Him they don't have to worry about being too spacy because the Holy Spirit indwells them and will bring to mind all that they need to know to do His will in His perfect timing. In Him they don't have to ever worry about being loving enough because God will fill them with His love and it is a love that is kind, patient, gracious, forgiving, merciful, and sacrificial. In Him they don't have to worry about being beautiful enough, because He makes all things beautiful.

In Him they don't ever have to worry about being too dirty, because they have been bathed by the blood of the Lamb and they are as white as snow. They don't have to worry about not being smart enough because He has gifted them for the service He has called them to. They don't have to worry about being perfect enough, because He has died for their imperfection and has granted to them the ability to grow in Him. In Him they don't have to worry about not being enough to fulfill His expectations because what He requires of them is to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him. In Him they don't have to worry about being unworthy because Jesus showed them their worth when He died for them. They don't have to worry about being intuitive enough, because the Holy Spirit will lead them to sense what another needs from them. They don't ever have to struggle with being too girly, because they were created in His image to reflect certain part of His Heart to a broken and hurting world.         

The leaders in our groups know these truths that I am sharing here just like I do. We learned and are still learning that God and His truth has the power to break the chains of the lies bombarding us every day. At times it was like we could hear the Sword of Truth clanging against the chains that held us captive. Clang after clang after clang until the lies lost their power. It was like you could hear the chains dropping one by one as we shook free of the lies as His truth moved from our heads to our hearts.

By being radically honest in our groups, we have seen joy replacing sorrow, peace replacing anxiety, happiness replacing depression, grace replacing guilt, forgiveness replacing bitterness, love replacing hatred, light replacing darkness, good replacing evil, and VICTORY replacing defeat!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

God Meets us in the Buts

"But God, being rich in mercy,
because of the great love with which He loved us,"
Ephesians 2:4
Yesterday I heard a sermon on Ephesians 2:1-10 and when we got to the verse above and I saw the words "But God" and what followed I got so excited that it was all I could do to sit there. I realized that "But God" is a theme that has run through my life. I looked up a few verses that have some form of the words in them and it seems that it is often during the darkest times that these words appear as a beacon of hope.

Here are a few of the "But God's" I found:

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit, entering all men into a state of sin and spiritual deadness. But they were the first to taste the darkness of rebellion and the shame that wells up in our hearts when we choose sin. They made inadequate clothes to cover their shame. So they hid from God when He came near. In verse 9 we find our words, "But the Lord called to man and said to him, "Where are you?"" Adam and Eve feared being found out. They didn't realize God wasn't just coming to confront them, He was coming to open the door of repentance. He was coming to cover their shame through clothes of animal skins, pointing to the blood sacrifice that would ultimately cover their sin, remove their shame, raise them to life, and make a way to the center of His heart. 

In Genesis 7 we find the account of the flood. The world had become so sinful that every thought of man was filled with violence and God judged through a flood, saving only Noah, his family, and the animals He steered to the ark Noah built. It was a sad, terrifying time as the rain fell, the waters killed, and the boat rocked in the violent storm. But we come to Genesis 8:1, "But God remembered Noah and all the beasts, and all the livestock, that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided." And a new a covenant given covered by a bow.

The story of Abraham was riddled with "buts." He and barren Sarah lived in a culture that worshiped fertility gods, making life so miserable for them. But God called them out. But God promised them a child. But when Abe lied twice, placing his wife in the hands of men who would have taken her as their own, God intervened. They even tried to insert their own "buts"  into God's plan -- one of them being Sarah's servant having a child for them, but God stepped into the mess and gives them the child He promised. But God in that act showed Himself to be the true God of life.

Then came the deceiver Jacob who ran away from his dishonest father-in-law with his wives, children, and livestock. Laban wasn't a nice man so God intervened. Genesis 31:24 says, "But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, "Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad."" Jacob was a deceiver, but God redeemed Jacob from his deceiving ways.

Then Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers who then fished him and sold him into slavery. His life, at times was bleak and life took some unfair turns. But God sovereignly worked to preserve life and to change Josephs heart. Listen to the words he spoke to the brothers who betrayed him, "So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and Lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt." But God preserved His people through the dejected brother.
When Israel no longer had favor with the Egyptians they were forced into brutal slavery. But God heard their cries and through a series of challenges given to Pharaoh through Moses, they were miraculously freed and in defeating their idols God showed Himself to be the one true living God.  

Then later in Ezra 9:9 we see, "For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us His steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem."

In a more personal realm the psalmists said in Psalm 73:26, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." This teaches us to look for the buts in our own lives.

In the midst of idol worship and going after detestable things we have God's "but" delivered through Ezekiel in Ezekiel 37:23,  "They shall not defile themselves any more with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I (God) will save them from the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God."  

The book of Daniel we have a bunch more "buts." Wise men couldn't interpret dreams, but God enabled Daniel to. His friends were thrown into a fiery furnace, but God was there and delivered them smoke free. Daniel was cast into a den of lions, but God shut their mouths and Daniel lived.  

Moving forward to the darkest hours ever known to man, the son of God was slain and the promised Messiah was laid in a borrowed grave, but God  raised Him on the third day, defeating sin and death.

And in our never ending struggle with sin we have Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God, is eternal life in Christ Jesus"  and Romans 9:16, "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.  

I love the "buts." My own life is full of the "buts!"

I am a sinner, but God gave me His righteousness.

I was spiritually dead, but God gave me life.

I lived in the passions of the flesh carrying out its desires, but God intervened and now I am controlled by His spiritual, and compelled by godly passions to do His will.

I was alienated from God, but God reconciled me to Himself through Jesus.

I was a child of wrath, but God adopted me and I am now a child of the King.

I was sentenced to die, but God abolished my spiritual death and brought life and immortality to me through Jesus.

I never fit in, but God chose me and made me acceptable and placed me in His family.   .

I was wounded, but God healed me.     

I was insignificant, but God made me an ambassador of His great kingdom. 

I was inadequate, but God gifted me to serve.

I was fearful, but God  filled me with courage.

I was in bondage to sin, but God showed me the way out.

I was stubborn, but God disciplined me in love and softened my heart.  

I have been unfaithful at times, but God has remained faithful and showered me with His grace.

I could go on and on. I don't deserve the buts, but they were God's loving interventions to draw me to the center of His will. I could say a whole lot more about each one of the "buts" as they are a chapter in my story...a story God is penning with His own hand.

I am so thankful for the "buts." They are there ever doing His continuous redemptive work in me, ever drawing me home to His heart.  


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!