Friday, September 30, 2016

Words God Never Spoke--Part 1

Sometimes I click on links to watch clips of teachers I admire. And sometimes those links lead me to other links of people I've not listened to before. It was in that manner I stumbled on a clip of a talk given by Abi Stumvoll titled, "Words God Never Says to Us." That clip brought back so many memories of the struggle I had with learning to fully trust God. Over the next few weeks I will be writing about words I believed God said, but were words God never spoke. Today I am going to talk about the words, "Be Good and I will Bless You," and "Be Good and I will Love You." 

Some of the struggle I've had over the years with trust issues came from not growing up in a church-attending family. We didn't discuss sermons over Sunday dinner and my childish misinterpretations of what I heard went unchecked, leaving me to create my own system of theology and what a sick, shaming system it became. We also didn't discuss the Bible as a family. So, when I was reading it on my own, I didn't always interpret it correctly; I interpreted it through a distorted view of God in which I viewed Him as distant, angry, and impossible to please.

Because we didn't discuss Bible things at home, I often asked Sunday School teachers questions. Most of the time it was okay. However, I remember one Sunday close to Christmas they brought several classes together and we had a male teacher I didn't know. He talked about the virgin Mary in his Christmas story presentation. So, I asked him what a virgin was. A hush fell over the room and even as a ten year old I could sense his discomfort and his struggle to find words to answer my question. After a few moments he gave a short answer, leaving no room for followup questions. "It means Mary was a good girl."

In my fifth grade mind, those words took on a life of their own. I interpreted them to indicate God must have said, either directly or indirectly, "Be good and I will bless you, be bad and I won't," which lead to, "Be good and I will love you and be bad and I won't" Those words became a part of my system of theology. Sadly, the statements ended up coloring my view of God and left me with an unsettling fear--a fear that made me want to believe in Him, a fear because I did believe in such a scary God, and a fear that I would never be good enough for Him to love. This belief impacted how I interpreted so many other things as you will see over the next few weeks.

In his discomfort, the man missed the opportunity to teach the doctrine of the Virgin Birth so crucial to embracing the truth of Jesus as both God and man. I know the man knew nothing about the little girl sitting in his class--the little girl struggling to make sense of the Christian life she knew God called her to live. He knew nothing about the little girl believing she was bad to the core of her being, longing to be good. He knew nothing about her believing God might never love a girl as bad as her desperately longing for His love. He knew nothing about her view of God and herself being skewed when someone had taken advantage of her when she was 4. He never knew his words contributed to the strengthening of her false belief that something bad in her invited abuse and something bad in her kept God from protecting her. Nor, did the man know his answer contributed to a long struggle with perfectionism--perfectionism developed to overcome obvious her many flaws, the badness she believed resided deep inside, besetting sin with which she struggled, and an attempt to become lovable.

But, God! God cares about people! And God cared about the young woman I grew up to be--a woman still struggling with a skewed view of God, deeply yearning to know Him and to be loved by Him. And after I was married, He took us to a place I claimed I would never go--a place I went, silently protesting in my heart. A place where I sat under a Bible teacher who taught his congregation to be Bereans, testing what they were taught with the Word of God. A place that was safe enough to ask all the questions with which I struggled and where the pastor was humble enough to not be bothered by questions. A place where the pastor and teachers never offered quick or flippant answers.

There I asked questions to my heart's content. And when I asked, he always pulled out His Bible instead of talking off the top of his head. As we poured over Scriptures, he always showed me the process that lead him to believe truth he taught. A part of that truth included teaching on the sin nature with which some people have a hard time. But for this girl who had been viewing the sin nature as a core of bad that only I possessed, it was good news.

Through my conversations with him and with many other members of that precious church I began to grow. For the first time, I had the opportunity to discuss sermons over Sunday meals, and I began to see God differently. He no longer seemed distant, angry, and impossible to please. He was and is a relational God, loving with a love so radical it's unfathomable! I came to understand God had never said I had to be perfect to be loved by Him. The truth was that He had already demonstrated His love when I was yet deep in sin! He proved His love by sending His Son to take on my sin in His body and die in my place and then He rose again proving His payment was satisfactory. Then when I trusted Him, He imputed Jesus' righteousness to me--righteousness I could never achieve, righteousness that graciously reconciled me to Him, making it possible to approach Him as a beloved child, forever crying, " Abba!" Abba--such a intimate term--like Papa in our culture.

Overtime, I came to understand God had always loved me. He loved me in my most imperfect state. He loved me when my theology was based on misconceptions. He loved me when I messed up and sinned against Him. He loved me when others hurt me. He even loved me enough to pour out His blessings on me--blessings I couldn't earn, didn't deserve, and didn't always recognize at the time. Like the blessing of being taken across the country under silent protest to a little community with a small church with a great big heart and a Bible teaching pastor with a deep southern accent and a congregation full of people loving Jesus and loving God's Word so much, it was a part of everyday conversation. And those conversations were used by God to satisfy the deep thirst in my soul to know God and to be known by Him. It was in that knowing that I was set free from the false words I once believed were His, but were, in truth, words God had never spoke!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is Noise Killing our Relationships?

I've come to realize we live in a noisy world. When I actually listen, I hear the constant flow of traffic interlaced with sirens and an occasional speeder with revving engine and screeching tires. I also hear rumblings of distant trains, planes flying overhead, and lawn mowers. I hear the noise of concrete being both torn out and concrete being poured as streets are repaired. There's the sounds of a neighbor blasting two kinds of music at the same time with windows wide open--music that rattles windows and vibrates walls and causes hearts to thump. There is also the fun sounds of dogs playing, birds chirping, school bells ringing, and kids playing. There is other kinds of noise. I don't mean noise in the normal sense, I mean constant stimuli through TV, radio, social media, internet, video games, and printers running, computers humming, and telephones that clang, ding, and sing their various notifications.

Ironically, I've realized I have felt a bit disconnected from both God and from people. At first I dismissed this feeling of disconnection, after all don't I live in one of the most connected societies of all times? All I have to do is pick up a tablet, look at Facebook, read emails, or text and I am instantly connected. But, I am reminded that only 7 percent of what we comprehend in communication is through spoken words, the other 97% comes through body language, facial expressions, and the tone and inflections of voices. While I enjoy reading the words of encouraging friends, I realize that at times it is more satisfying to chat face-to-face, sharing at a heart level, laughing until the belly hurts, and crying until the tears are spent.

I've also get lost in reading negative comments, hateful posts, inflammatory accusations over social issues and elections, finding myself in a world of frustration, anger, hurt, or anxiety over words written by people I don't even know. At times I may need to be jolted out of complacency and comfort, but to be honest there are times I've spent so much time and emotional energy on social media that when my husband comes home or my kids stop by, I am too exhausted to stay present, to actively listen, to engage in conversation, or to encourage them.

I need to put some balance back in my life. I love social media and its pictures of friends and families near and far. I love the precious words posted by loved ones that gives me insight into how they think, feel, and dream. However, I need to guard against obsessively checking social media and allow ample time for eye-to-eye contact with the humans standing in front of me. I need to guard my heart against the hateful rambling of people hiding behind anonymity, choosing not to read the posts of those who rage when others own different opinions and perspectives on life, politics, and religion. I also want to guard my heart when other people's passions turn into a defensive posture looking for a fight, spewing harsh accusations and hate speech, encourage violence, or try to hold me responsible for the sins of others. I've realized the number of contradictory posts also create unneeded anxiety for this heart that desires to know truth.

Face-to-face interactions are beneficial because as we gaze into the eyes of another we can't forget they are a person with feelings and a complex intellect instead of seeing them only through a single post with which we may or may not agree. Face-to-face allows us to express concern, empathy, and care through body language and to see those same things in the eyes of another. That is where the connections of the heart--the connections that can satisfy this deep soul thirst with which we were born.

Sensory overload has also impacted my relationship with God. When I had five little kids in the home, I got up early when the house was quiet and had my coffee with God. I would read His Word, and then walk as I listened to praise music. On my walk I would pray about what I had read and share the deepest things of my heart with God and ask Him questions and sometimes just listen for His voice in my heart. I remember that time period as one in which I was very connected to God and growing in both knowledge of Him and understanding of His grace. The desire of my heart at that time was to learn to love well, to overcome the judgments I had used as self protection, and to be a giver of lavish grace.

Last week a conference speaker referenced 1 Kings 19, which is the story of Elijah, the prophet who was in his own words, "...jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away."  Elijah was suffering from the depression of let down that sometimes comes upon people fighting great spiritual battles. He longed for Israel to come back to the LORD and he is fearing His life because Israel is on a sinful path and killing God's prophets.

In the middle of Elijah's messy feelings, God instructed him to go and stand on the mountain before Him. The LORD passed by, "and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper." When Elijah heard the whisper he covered his face, because he recognized it as the voice of the LORD.

I realize I don't often allow myself to sit quietly to hear His whispering voice. It is drowned out by the constant "noise" around me. There were times I put on noise to keep the negative, fearful thoughts at bay. But the way to intimacy and closeness was to sit quietly and let the thoughts surface--yes, the thoughts so sinful I was ashamed, the thoughts seeped in unbelief that I don't want to admit were there, the thoughts selfish, unloving, and unbecoming a woman of God that caused me to cringe when they bubbled up. But it was that uncomfortable bubbling that allowed me to acknowledge and confessed them, which in turn shattered the barrier of pretense that stood between me and the God I wanted to know. Dissolving pretense melted the shame of not being who I wanted to be, allowing me to bask in a love steeped with grace.

Our relationship with God, like any other relationship, is nurtured through quiet moments of transparent sharing, confession, adoration, and a willingness to just sit and listen with one's heart. If we aren't careful, the ''noise" will kill even the desire to relate in person, leaving us sorely dissatisfied with what the media gives. Is the noise and constant stimulation impacting your relationships as it is mine?

I am committed to bringing more balance to my life so the "noise" can't drown out the still small voice of the LORD--the very voice that I long most to hear. Oh, how I long to be to the place that when I let my mind wander in the quiet, it consistently finds its way to God.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Finding Purpose in Pain

I was an adult when I realized there is purpose in pain. I first noticed it in the physical realm when one of our little ones had an ear infection. I picked him up from the church nursery and he was his usual cheerful self. But, then I noticed this ugly mess oozing from his ear. The doctor said the membrane holding his ear drum had ruptured and the infection was oozing from behind it. I told her I didn't even realize he was in pain and she said she believed me because his other ear was ready to rupture and most kids with ears like his were screaming in pain. Yet, he acted like he wasn't experiencing pain. I realized then that physical pain could be good. It can signal an infection or a wound that needs treatment. The pain of a slight cut can keep us from slicing off a whole finger and an irritated  eye can keep us from permanently damaging a cornea.

Over time I also came to realize emotional pain can also be good. I went through several years of recovery work for an eating disorder and during that time I visited many painful memories. As I journaled letters to God about pain uncovered, I realized the same God who had allowed the deep pain was the same God who was loving me with a love deep enough to heal it. I also learned a lot about my heart and my sin and my God in that place. Since that time I've reread many stories in the Bible and become more aware of the painful places in which the people lived and the began to look for His purpose in the pain they experienced.

For example, There was Sarai and Abram who suffered the heart-wrenching pain of infertility while living in the midst of a pagan culture that worshiped false gods of fertility. Even after God called them out and promised them a son, they lived with their pain of longing--longing so painful they devised plans to help God fulfill His promise. But God had them live in their place of longing until they fully believed God was who He said He was--the life-giving God, the Keeper of promises. At the right time God resurrected their aged bodies to conceive, carry, and nurse a tiny man child called, "Laughter." God wanted them to know Him and He wanted their hearts undivided. So, He had them sitting in the pain long enough for their unbelief  buried deep to bubble up, allowing a firm belief to take root. He had them sit in the pain long enough that His power could be displayed, proving stone-cold idols don't give life--He does!

And there was the deceiver, Jacob, who had to flee after his deceiving enraged his brother. God said his brother would serve him and, like Abram, Jacob wanted to help God make it happen. He ended up in a painful place, working for seven years for a bride he loved only to have his father-in-law give him a taste of deceit by substituting his older daughter as a bride. So, Jacob worked another seven years for the daughter he loved and another six for a flock to call his own while he lived in the messiness of a two wife family. The deceit he experienced was a mirror of his own deceitfulness, revealing to him the pain he inflicted on his brother. God let Jacob sit in that painful place, dealing with a difficult person to show him something about his sin and his heart and to prepare him for the long journey home. His painful place was not proof of God's desertion, it was proof of His love. God wanted him to experience the beauty that comes with humility. He wanted him to draw near to Him in faith, see that God could fulfill His Words without his help. God is good and it is His goodness that led Jacob to repent and in this case the goodness that would draw Jacob to His heart and the center of His will came in the form of the discomfort of seeing his sin mirrored.

And there was a lady I've come to love--the precious Samaritan lady Jesus met at the well. She was living in a pain-filled place, having been married five times and having each marriage end as she was dragged to the middle of town and declared unfit. Five times she'd been crushed by rejection and five times publicly labeled "not good enough." She'd was unable to live down her reputation and her loneliness ran deep, being ostracized by a community who judged her and made her the focus of gossip to deflect from shortcomings of their own. But Jesus sought her out at the right time when she was at the end of herself and the pain of her unmet needs ran so deep that she knew He and only He could meet her there.

I am thankful the Bible is honest about the stories people lived, especially the painful places in which they landed. The enemy wants us to believe pain is proof that God doesn't care. But, His Word shows repeatedly He sees us and He walks with us us through those tough places. He witnesses every tear spilled and every tear choked back. He's listening to every word cried out and every silent prayer our hearts can't find words to express. It is His goodness that allows us to come and to sit in the painful places--

    --places designed to expose unbelief and mature faith
    --places designed to allow His character and power to shine
    --places designed to expose and excise sin
    --places designed to bring us to the end of ourselves
    --places designed to surface longings etched deeply in hearts by God
    --places designed to show us the purpose of our pain
    --places designed to draw us to the center of His will and His heart.

Maybe one of the reasons God chose not to remove pain from this life is so that you and I can understand the love of God through the pain of the cross. It was at Calvary that Christ was beaten for us. It was at Calvary that He bore the shame for the sin we commit and the pain that that sin inflicts on Him and others. It was at Calvary that Christ died so that He could exchange our filthy rags for His righteousness. God is the author of redemption stories, not fairy tales. Every redemption story leads us back to Christ, where we have the joy of finding purpose in pain.


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!