Saturday, January 31, 2015

Love Those Mighty Oaks!

I started attending church with friends in grade school. I wasn't familiar with church lingo and what I heard often raised questions, which I would boldly ask in Sunday School. I now realize that some of those questions probably made teachers uncomfortable. For example, one Christmas I asked what a virgin was. The teacher hesitated and then mumbled that it meant Mary was a good girl. In high school when I was reading the Christmas story in the Bible the truth of what a virgin really is hit me.  As I read, I struggled with doubt, because I knew virgins don't have babies. This created guilt because I had never doubted before. As I continued reading I was able to reason that God doesn't lie so the story had to be true. A host of other questions whirled through my head---questions like did she sense the conception or did she simply wake up one day with morning sickness. 
Needless to say, I began to read the Bible with new eyes and a questioning mind. This lead to new a understanding of what the Bible was about, but it also lead to many more questions. I discovered other confusing stories in the Old Testament. Stories of people who were liars, and murders. I also found stories of unfaithfulness in marriages and unfaithfulness in people's relationships with God. I secretly wondered how much wrong had to be done to be too disgraceful for God to redeem. And of courses there was the problem of my own failures and my own sins, both open and secret that left me wondering if I was truly saved. I felt guilty all of the time--guilty for what I thought about when I read and guilty for the sinfulness that dwelt within me. 
After I was married, we moved to Mississippi and sat under a pastor-teacher who taught the Bible verse by verse and who was energized by questions. For eight years I got to hear his teaching and ask all my questions and discuss the Scriptures with him and with other believers. It was there that I fully understood the significance of the virgin birth and believed the truth of the God-man, Christ. In that church I made peace with many of the stories in the Bible. I also changed my view about the Bible. I had mistakenly believed people in the Bible were good and earned their Salvation and God's love. But, I came to understand the concept of grace and the concept that the Bible as a redemption story. Even though the doctrine is complete and provides all that we need to know, redemption stories are still being penned in the lives of people to this day by God Himself.

I fell in love with the Savior who saved me by grace through faith. I became grateful for grace that
was big enough to save liars, murderers, prostitutes, and unfaithful people who just like me had visible sins and hidden sins of the heart. I fell in love with the Savior who is in the business of transforming broken and sinful people into the people He created them to be--people who reflect His loving image to a lost and dying world.

I wish I could say I've made peace with every story in the Word. But I can't. There's one story in particular that haunts me every time I read it. When I read it, a strange mix of compassion, rage, and frustration rise up within me--emotions so strong that I want to scream. The story I am talking about is the story of Ammon and Tamar. They are siblings who share a common father, King David. But they don't have the same mother. Their story is found in 2 Samuel 13:1-22. It begins with a description of Ammon's lust for his virgin sister, Tamar. She lived in her mother's home and as was the custom she was kept in seclusion as a King's daughter. So, he had no access to her. His lust was so strong for her that he literally became ill.

That makes me angry! It's not because he experiences lust, but because he doesn't deal with it. Men given to lustful patterns don't seem to grasp that lust isn't love and lust doesn't make a man a man. Confessing and dealing with lust as it surfaces and choosing to do what is right in the face of it is what makes a man great. Choosing to treat a woman with honor in the face of lust shows godly strength, not giving into lust and pining away longing for what's not rightfully theirs to have.

Ammon's cousin Jonadab comes to visit. He's a crafty guy who noticed Ammon's  melancholy state and asked about it. Ammon confessed his lust to him and Jonadab devised a plan that gave Ammon access to Tamar.

That raises my anger a couple of notches! The last thing Ammon needed to do was share his struggle with someone known to be conniving! And the last thing Ammon needed was for someone to encourage his lust! What happened to reminding a friend of laws forbidding such relationships? What happened to an offer of accountability? What happened to the reminder that wrongful actions as a king's son would have far reaching consequences? What happened to the reminder that, as a brother, his was to protect and care for his beautiful sister? Is that really the best you two can do? 

Ammon carries out the plan by feigning illness and asking King David, to send his sister Tamar with food. David complies.

Oh, Come on, David? I am sure you could have sent a servant instead! Why would you comply to such a request?

She arrived with food and Ammon orders everyone to leave. He called her to bring the food into his chambers so she could feed him.

When I read that part, everything in me is screaming, "Don't do it.!"

As she came close to him with the food he grabbed her arm and asked her to lie with him. She says, "No!" in every possible way. She directly stated her "NO! verbally. She resisted him physically. She reminded him that to take her by force would be rape and should not be done. She called it "a disgraceful thing that should not be done in the land," which served to remind him of the prior rape of Dinah and the consequences Israel faced. She even appealed to him to talk to the king about marrying her. Ignoring her pleas, he brutally raped her.

My anger has just about hit the top!

As so often happens in the aftermath of sin, Ammon's lust gave way to hatred fueled by shame and her pain. Ammon orders Tamar to leave. She pleas for him to make it right and marry her and he angrily has his servant cast her out.

She returned home to sit in his shame. She puts ashes on her head and tears the royal garment that had marked her as a virgin and stored it away. She sat in her grief. She grieved her disgrace. She grieved her pain. She grieved the loss of relationship that was now marred by rape. She grieved a wedding that would not ever take place. She grieved the loss of trust in men. She grieved the loss of a sense of self as her personal boundaries were denied and her choices were not honored. She grieved the hope of the longings of the loving married sex Solomon had written about and she grieved all else that was stripped away by brutal force.

Another brother, Absalom, came to visit her and asks about the events that took place at Ammon's. He was compassionate, offering her a home and protection. He tells her not to take it to heart, not realizing rape had already ripped gaping holes in her heart--holes not easily repaired. He doesn't speak to Ammon, but later takes revenge.

There are twelve words in the story that make me the angriest of all!

Those words are, "When King David heard all of these things, he became very angry."

The mighty warring king all of a sudden becomes a weak spineless man in the face of the disgrace that took place in his own home? 

There is nothing in the story that tells us that he confronted his son. There is nothing in the story that tells us that he carried out any type of justice on the behalf of Tamar. And even worse, there is nothing in the story that tells us that he went to his daughter and comforted her. I long to hear him confront Ammon.

I long to hear him take action on her behalf. I long to hear him comfort her and tell her she is still his beautiful beloved daughter. I long to hear him apologize that he had unknowingly taken part in such an evil plan. I long to hear him tell that Ammon's shame is not hers to bear and to give her an opportunity with his help to hand it back to him. I long to see him tell her that he will carry out justice on her behalf. I long for more. I long for more, not just for her, but for every other woman victimized by abuse. But there was nothing more said of the action of David's first born son!

I am also very frustrated!

We are told that she lived her life in Absalom's home in a desolate state. The word desolate indicates she lived in a bleak emptiness, wretched and unhappy. It should not have ended there. The verses in Isaiah 61:1-3 convey to us what God desires for his people. They state, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD that he may be glorified!" 

These are the verses God gave me as He gave me the vision of a ministry for women who struggle with past sexual abuse. They come into our groups because they're stuck in the pain of their past and it is governing their lives in some way. Some come in to work on stuff for the first time and others because the work they did wasn't enough. Some come in because they have been labeled and lead to believe they'll never ever get better because their core beliefs are so entrenched their emotions, thoughts  and actions have begun to affect their personality. They were essentially told the most they could ever be is a shadow of who God created them to be...kind of like being a bent tree in a forest full of tall strait trees.

The women who walk into our groups are poor in the sense they are needy. They need to be heard. They need to have their stories validated. They need to be shown the way out of the abyss they are living in. They need to be deeply, profoundly loved in their pain and dysfunction. They are broken hearted by what was done to them and what was said to them or not said to them in the aftermath. They are captive to their past and captive to the lies of the enemy seeking to keep them from fully loving and trusting Jesus--the very One who can heal hearts, give hope, and make sense of painful stories. They need to know they have found favor with God and that the vengeance is perfectly meted out by His hands. They need to fully face their pain and go through a season of grief with others who understand and who can help them wash away the ashes of grief and the ashes of their dysfunctional lives. They need to sit with others who can teach them to focus on what is praise worthy so that their spirits would be strengthened and their hearts healed. They need to believe that the Lord is placing a beautiful headdress--a crown befitting His princesses and clothing them in His goodness. They need to know that God has not called them to live as weak bent over trees, but as oaks...mighty oaks, planted with His love and His power. They need healing so He can be glorified by their redemption stories. Most of the women come stuck because of strongholds that have taken root. But the truth is there is not a root that God's truth cannot destroy. The women don't have to live as shadows of what God created them to be. They can live full, productive, joyful lives. I don't care how strong the strongholds are, our God is stronger yet.

As I write this, I write with a heavy heart. While most people look forward to Super Bowl weekend, I find myself grieving. It is one of the heaviest weekends in the year for sex trafficking. More and more is coming out about sex trafficking. What was once called lightly, "the oldest profession" is being exposed as a sick, disgusting, degrading business in which young girls and women find themselves entrapped, kidnapped, drugged, and controlled so that others profit off of their bodies. I am asking you to join with me in asking God to provide all that is needed for victims to escape their perpetrators, for all the loved that is needed for survivors healing, and for all the patience that is needed for their growth in Him. Pray that He would display His power by releasing captives and  by growing them into might oaks that are a display His splendor for the world to see.     

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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!