Monday, June 26, 2017

The God of the Impossible

What do we do when we face an impossible situation? Maybe it is mounting bills in a time when pay raises don't keep up with inflation. Maybe it is a diagnosis of stage four cancer and limited funds and little hope given. Maybe it is dealing with a child who was born with a defective heart that will require many surgeries and life-threatening bumps in the road ahead. Maybe it is being trapped in a marriage in which domestic violence occurs, wanting to honor God and be safe at the same time. Maybe it is the realization that one's marriage is dead and needs to be resurrected, but the patterns of relating are so set in stone that they seem impossible to change. Maybe it is relational difficulties with extended family members who don't take responsibility for the part they play in creating havoc when the family comes together. Maybe it is the struggle with an addiction to pornography, alcohol, drugs, or food where the spirit is willing but the flesh is so weak. Maybe it is waking up with persistent depression that runs deep and just getting out of bed feels too hard. Maybe it is the loss of home due to flood or fire. Maybe it is the loss of one's country being ravaged by war. Maybe it is the need to escape an enemy, but having no place to go and no means to get there. Maybe it is standing at the side of the grave and wondering how one can survive the pain of the loss. Maybe it is the longing for a child with a body that is infertile. Maybe it is the sharing of the gospel with one whose heart is stone cold. It doesn't matter whether the impossible is physical, emotional, or spiritual, it creates fear as well as feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.

How we respond to impossible situations we face often has its roots in our past. If we were lucky enough to grow up in a healthy family, we may have gained some coping skills and navigate the impossible quite well. However, if there is a history of childhood trauma and family dysfunction it is not likely that we will respond well to situations we view as impossible. Early childhood trauma can even leave us with a limbic system that is hair-triggered, leaving us in a panic, wanting to respond by fleeing, fighting, or freezing. When we feel overwhelmed we are more likely to panic and that fear will make it hard for us to remember God and what He has done in the past, what He may be doing presently, and what He is fully capable of doing in the future. We can learn a lot from Israel's story in Exodus 13:17-14:31, which tells the story of the Jews when they were caught in an impossible situation. They had the Red Sea in front of them with Pharaoh and his army was quickly coming from behind.  Israel responded to their situation with panic just like we do! 

So, how can we overcome the panic in the face of impossible situations? For me, it begins with acknowledging that what is going on inside of me is a physiological response, designed by God who wants me to be able to take care of myself. My response is flawed because of past trauma, and it is helpful to understand that the feeling of panic is just a feeling that will subside if I don’t fuel it. It feels extremely uncomfortable, but it really isn’t unbearable and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.

Second, I can overcome panic by acknowledging God's sovereignty, resting in the fact that His sovereignty is ruled by every aspect of His godly character. It is ruled by His goodness, His love, His mercy and grace, and His justice. In addition, He is ever present. Even though my emotions might tell me I’m alone, the truth is He is with me and He is all powerful, having infinite understanding of every situation I face--even the ones I believe to be impossible. Though they seem impossible to me, they do not surprise God, nor do they render Him powerless. There are times the panic I feel is so strong that the only way I can get my focus back on God is to take a walk and listen to praise music--the walking releases the physical energy of the panic and the music reminds me of who my God is. 

Third, I remind myself who I am in relationship to God--His child, bought with Christ's own blood. I can trust that God doesn't want me to be in bondage to sin or to fear, nor does He want to do me harm. In the impossible, I can remind myself that Satan wants me to believe the impossible proves God doesn't love me or have my best interest at heart. I can rebuke his lies and cling to the truth found in God's Word. I can step out in obedience and faith just as Israel stepped onto dry land with mountains of water heaped beside them. I can trust my ways are not His ways. His are infinitely better. 

Fourth, I can remind myself that God is a God of order even in what feels like chaos. Everything we face is either designed by Him or allowed by Him and has purpose. As we face the impossible in faith, God can use it to strip us of false securities. This enables us to view our lives through an eternal lens, grasping that this is not our home and we are Christ's ambassadors temporarily living here. 

God can also use the impossible to strip us of pride so that we quit living independently of Him and begin to fully recognize it is in our weakness that His strength is made known. He may put us in situations that cause us to have to exercise faith and trust in His promises in order to make our faith more than matter of head knowledge. 

God can use the impossible to strip us of the idols we have in our lives. Remember, when Israel wanted to leave Egypt, God used a series of plagues to get the attention of Pharaoh. Each of the plagues was designed to show Egypt's false gods were powerless, but the living God was not. When Israel was facing the sea Pharaoh, who was viewed as a god, and his armies were approaching and God used the impossible situation to expose the last false god by proving that Pharaoh was just a man. We may have idols that we use for security, for peace, for hope, and for love and God will lovingly strip them away so that He has our whole heart.  

Fifth, I try to remember that God may use the impossible to reveal Himself experientially to me. The Word says He is all powerful and I can't experience His power unless I am rendered powerless. The Word says He is a Healer and I can't experience His healing without illness--physical or emotional. His word says He is our protector and I can't experience His protection without experiencing what feels unsafe. His Word says He is our comforter and I can't experience His comfort without pain and loss. Because we are all so human, it just may be that we would not fully experience His presence without being stopped in our tracks with no resources of our own that we can realize all we ever needed was just Him.

In the aftermath of the impossible, we want to praise God through worship and through thanksgiving, building monuments of remembrance so that we don't grow complacent or forget God and what He has done. If we are living God's will, we will face more of the impossible and monuments of remembrance made of stone, or prayer journals, or praise reports spoken aloud will help us remember God is the God of the impossible. 

http://www.riverlakeschurch.org/index.php/rcc/sermons/facing-an-impossible-situation




Sunday, June 18, 2017

No Empty Words

Most of us know what empty words are. Some had their first exposure to empty words in childhood when Dad frequently promised to attend school plays or soccer games, but never showed up. Sometimes his failure to show wasn't even acknowledged and when it was discussed, there was a promise to come next time or an admonition to not be a crybaby about his absences. Or maybe Mom repeatedly promised a trip to a favorite ice cream parlor after chores were done, but trips never materialized and when asked about them, she was too tired or claimed it was too close to dinner. And to add insult to injury she would usually add, "Maybe next week!" Some had their first exposure to empty words, when a noncustodial parent never showed up for visits. The excuses were many--new wife needed him, the dog was sick, got home too late from work, or maybe there was just silence with no excuses offered. Some had their first exposure to empty words when a parent's addiction was the root of broken promises. They promised repeatedly to stop drinking and to be a better parent, but the roots of addiction ran too deep and words--they were empty and couldn't be trusted. Some experienced empty words that were threats of disciplinary actions that never followed through and Mom and Dad still wonder why their kids are so unruly or got in trouble with the law. 

Some grew up in healthy homes where words were kept, but they were exposed to empty words outside the home. Maybe it occurred when a friend repeatedly failed to fulfill the plans you made together. Maybe she left you hanging at the Mall, the Basketball game, the movie theater, or just didn't show up for planned sleepovers. For some it occurred when they were dating a guy who repeatedly double booked or got caught up in the moment with his friends, failing to show up for dates, and promising to do better while expecting you to be "understanding." After all, isn't that what good girlfriends do? After all, don't Christians have to show grace? For some, it happened in a job when a boss promised a raise that never materialized. He was good at convincing workers to work until the project was finished so the company could make enough money to give you the raise you hoped for--the raise that never came to be.  

For many, empty words came in the form of apologies. Oh, the apologies rolled so easily off the tongue. "I am sorry I missed your game." "I am sorry I pushed you so hard to "do it," it won't happen again." "I am sorry, I didn't make it home in time for dinner again." "I am sorry I forgot to fix that leaky pipe this weekend, I'll do it next Saturday." "I am sorry I forgot to call you when I knew I was going to be late." "I am sorry I can't pick up the kids this weekend." "I am sorry I got drunk and made a fool of myself in front of the kids, it won't happen again." "I am sorry I was viewing porn again, I promise I won't do it again." But the apologies are made of empty words and the people saying them are saying the words only to alleviate his or her guilt and the behaviors, but they never change. 

But, with God, there are no empty words. In a world filled promises broken, vows not kept, pledges retracted, and assurances quickly given and even more quickly forgotten, God remains true to His Words. History proves it:
  • "Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers." (Joshua 21:43a) 
  •  "And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers." (Joshua 21:44a)
  • "Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass." (Joshua 21:45} 
These verses are important verse because they show the partial fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham in Gen. 12:2-3, "And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonor you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

And the complete fulfillment of them is found in Jesus. In Him, every person has the possibility of redemption. We have a truth-minding, promise-keeping, covenant-fulfilling God. And this is important as we live out our faith in a broken world filled with fear-inducing events, debilitating illnesses, broken promises, and sinful people who fail to love well. 

God's faithfulness is how the parents of a child who is suffering with heart defects or cancer makes it through the day. They hold on to the Psalmists words, "The LORD sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness You restore him to full health."  (Psalm 41:3)

Those grieving can find comfort and hope in Psalm 30:5b, "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." 

Those struggling with loneliness and fear of abandonment can hold onto the Lord's promise found in Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you or forsake you." 

Those wondering if the sin they just committed is one sin too many sins to be forgiven can hold on to 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Those afflicted from every side can hold onto the promise found in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all."   


Those struggling with fearful hearts can trust the words of a prophet in Isaiah 41:10, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." 

Those facing death can hold on to the promise Jesus made in John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" 

And those feeling distraught over the immoral, hate-filled climate in which we live can hold onto   1 Thessalonians 4:16, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God." 

In this world filled with empty words, we can remember God speaks no empty words! Every word is trustworthy, powerful and life-sustaining. Our struggle with unbelief often has had its roots in man's failures, not God's. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Is it really a Great Big Wonderful World?

I come from a line of women who cared deeply for pets who were down on their luck. When I went to visit my mom and grandmother, it was not uncommon to find a new pet with special needs. At one point, they had a dog who was blind, one who was epileptic, and one with severe arthritis. While two of them developed their conditions after they had adopted them, the blind one they chose, knowing full well he was blind. It seems that those genes of compassion have been handed down to some of my children. Our youngest son recently bought his first home and after getting settled he decided he was ready to get a puppy. He went to the pound and was somehow smitten by a sweet female dog. He named Sweet Dee.  

Recently I got a chance to meet and experience Dee and she is a sweetheart. I also got to watch my son nurture and care for her. During our visit, he told me her story. She was in the womb when her mother was confiscated in a police raid. The mom and the puppies she was carrying could not be adopted out until after everything was settled in court. So, Dee was born in the shelter and then lived it in for fourteen months. Though her physical needs were adequately met, some of her emotional needs weren't and to her the world was a small kennel. When he walked her out to the car, she was terrified. When she rode in the car to his house, she was terrified. When they walked into his house, she was terrified and didn't understand she could roam around the house and explore it like most puppies would. When he took her outside and showed her the backyard for the first time, she was overwhelmed. And when he went to bed the first night, he invited her on to the bed, and she wouldn't come. It took her awhile to understand she could climb on the bed and sleep with him. 

She quickly bonded with him and a whole new set of issues popped up. She would get so anxious when he had to leave her alone that she would get sick all over the room. So, he had to crate her and smart as she was she learned to undo the crate so he had to keep her in the bathroom where he could easily clean up after her. With his consistent love and provisions, she is slowly and surely adjusting to life outside the kennel. Now she is a bit more comfortable getting to experience new things like parks, beaches, and people who are loving and kind toward her. Oh, she can easily revert back to old fearful behaviors in new situations, but each time she seems to overcome them more quickly. He shared that once she has done something wrong and realizes it, she gets so anxious that she has blown it that her bad behaviors escalate. While he disciplines her, he has to lavish her with love at the same time so she will calm down and stop the behavior he is correcting. It does a mama's heart good to see a son's love, patience, compassion, and discipline helping a neglected pup with a hard start in life overcome fear and anxiety, making it possible to live a good life. 

As I sat and watched my son and his Sweet Dee interact, it reminded me that sometimes churches don't know what to do with people who have suffered emotional trauma and emotional neglect. Fortunately, my church is different. It has given me the freedom to build a support group ministry that serves women who have been emotionally traumatized, some through neglect and some through all sorts of abuse. Many of women who come into our groups come in full of anxiety and fear much like Dee did. In some of them it is very visible, but in some of them it is well hidden by confusing, self-protective behaviors. Sometimes those behaviors cause others to view them as an EGR--a person who needs extra grace. Maybe in home group their anxiety causes them to be overly talkative or abrasive and defensive. Maybe they seem to be overly sensitive and everyone in the group gets exhausted because they feel they must walk on eggshells around them so they don't say something that wounds or offends them. Maybe they appear to be so quiet or so closed off that the majority of the group is uncomfortable, because they can't connect with them. Maybe they are the people that always have huge drama going on in their lives and are constantly eating up prayer time with overly dramatic narratives, and yet they can't seem to make changes to end the drama. Maybe they are the people who come across as rigid and unbending, needing everyone to agree with their opinion to be okay. Maybe they are the ones stuck in sin they can't break out of--you know the ones who the group doubts their salvation because they just keep giving into sinful behaviors and addiction again and again--be it alcohol, drugs, food, porn, people, shopping, or self-harm, drama, etc. Or maybe they are the people in a community group that have trouble fully trusting God, who has really already proven Himself trustworthy. 

Oh, I get it. I have been that EGR person and people were either trying to fix me or ignoring me because I was so needy that they felt overwhelmed. I have been that person who readily smiled but who was so closed off that little was known about that state of my heart or the dreams I dreamed of fulfilling. I have been that person who struggled to trust an awesome God to help me for fear I would find out I wasn't worth helping. And I am ashamed to say I have also been that home group member irritated, confused, and impatient with peers--the ones who ate up time telling stories instead of talking about the lesson, the ones addicted to drama who presented the same prayer request over and over instead of confronting in love or setting godly boundaries that could evoke change, or who continued to wallow in victimhood instead of putting on their big girl panties and choosing to live in freedom and joy. 

To be honest, I spent years in a Christian counselor's office. As I began to become more self-aware, I went through a stage where I was so frustrated at how I reacted and responded to different situations. I truly wanted to be a person who wasn't as socially awkward as I was, who didn't interpret events, words, and body language through a lens of trauma. I remember saying to my counselor that I didn't understand why I did what I did. My therapist suggested I read the book, A Child Called "It." I read it fast because once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. When I went back to the therapist, she asked me what I thought of the book. I told her what I liked and how I felt about Dave and the story he lived. She then asked me what I thought of his behaviors once he was rescued. It hit me then that his behaviors made perfect sense in the context of his story. She pointed out to me that she viewed me the same way. Even though my trauma wasn't as severe as the boy in the story, it was still trauma and I developed behaviors that served to protect me. Some were wise behavior and some were maladaptive behaviors that weren't really serving me well anymore. I now realize those were deeply ingrained in my brain and because they were tied to trauma they can, even now, still pop up when I feel unsafe. I don't have to shame myself or act on them, I can choose more wisely how to respond most of the time. The more time that passes and the more practice I get, hopefully I will continue to act and react out of the person God created me to be. But the truth is that for the majority of traumatized people, recovering is a life-long process. It is, in my opinion, the Biblical process mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways." Traumatized people spend a lifetime giving up childish ways because the trauma sealed those ways deep within them.   

There are several things churches can do to help people who've been traumatized grow past the trauma. First, recognize people are living redemption stories penned by God. Our church realizes stories are important and has begun to publish written stories and show video clips of people sharing parts of their stories. I love this, because it makes it safe for us to share and it helps us to understand each other in the context of our stories.

This has proven true repeatedly in our support groups. When women come into group and begin to work on their various traumas, we see all sorts of behaviors and protective defenses that in and of themselves don't make a lot of sense. As they begin to feel safe and tell their stories, we find their responses to life and their defense mechanisms make perfect sense. As they continue to do work in a safe environment and experience godly love, acceptance, and complete grace, they reach a place they begin to recognize the changes they need to make and they find themselves in the place Sweet Dee found herself when our son first brought her home. Freedom, healthy relationships, trusting God and other people, joy and happiness, and peace are as inviting to the traumatized as our son's home and back yard was. Yet, as inviting as those things are they are tremendously scary, because they are so unfamiliar and so different from what they know. 

It takes time for traumatized people to really believe they are safe with people, especially when they were traumatized by people who should have loved them and kept them safe. It takes time for them to wrap their minds around the fact that both God's sovereignty over the traumatizing events they experienced and His great love for them are true. It takes times to really trust that God will give audience to their concerns when the people in their lives ignored them. It takes time for them to not be afraid of this strange new feeling rising up in them, that we would define as joy, when that joy they experienced in childhood was crushed in horrific ways. It takes times to truly believe that one comes to Christ for the power to overcome sin when they have been told repeatedly that the way to God is to give up sin. It takes time to trust others when they were so deeply wounded by those most people could trust with their lives. It takes time to trust that people can love them and give them attention when life is calm and good when the only way they got attention as children was to create chaos. It takes time to believe one can truly be so filled with the love of God that they can be more concerned with loving others that trying to milk love out of other love starved hearts. 

I want to be someone that recognizes the hard-to-understand behavior and irritating defenses that seem to invite me in and then push me away often hide painful stories that need to be told. I want to be someone who refuses to judge people's actions and attitudes, instead showing curiosity about the story behind them. I want to be a someone who chooses to walk alongside of people who are "coming home" for the first time and "exploring a great big beautiful world" that feels so unsafe, allowing them to draw on my courage and hope when they need it. And I want to be a person so connected to God that when another's actions and reactions seem to be testing my love that I can love consistently enough that the fears of the wounded are laid to rest and they, too, can begin to live no longer defined by trauma, but by the love of God; and so that the question asked in the title of this piece, “Is it really a great big wonderful world?” can be answered with a resounding, "YES!"

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!