Thursday, December 27, 2018

Living in Desperate Places

One of our pastors recently preached on John 4:46-54. This is an account of an official who was so desperate to save his son's life that he walked a marathon to beg Jesus to come and heal him. Pastor Matt described the man as being in a desperate place--we all know that place. It is where life, as we know it, has been turned upside down and we found ourselves at the end of the proverbial rope, feeling powerless and unsteady. It is that place that we know only God can help us. As I listened to the sermon, I thought about a few of the desperate places I've been in that were similar to this man's.

One of the desperate places I experienced occurred the day I turned ten years old. My family was planning on celebrating my birthday, but an unexpected phone call radically changed our plans. My mom's aunt had had a serious stroke and was in intensive care in another town. Our celebration turned into several intense weeks as we traveled most evenings to the hospital she was in. Because they did not let children visit patients, my brother, sister, and I either sat in the car or in the lobby waiting while my parents and grandmother visited my aunt and uncle. The first night we went, my uncle came downstairs to visit with us kids and he cried. It was the first time I had seen him cry and his emotional pain scared me. And each time the phone rang at our house, my mom feared the worst and ran to answer it, choking back sobs before she knew who was calling.

I now know I experienced powerlessness as I watched the adults ride an emotional roller coaster that was full of ups and downs and scary turns. As a ten year old, I couldn't do anything to make my aunt get well and I couldn't do anything to take the pain away the adults were experiencing. All I could do was pray the simple prayers of a ten-year-old heart. I don't remember the prayers I prayed, but I do remember wanting her well and for things to be like they were before she got sick. I also remember desperately wanting God. I remember peace flowing through me as He met me in the fear of death, the fear of possible loss, the anxiety of seeing my caretakers hurting, and in my admitting I didn't know what to do.

The second desperate place that came to mind was when our son had an ATV accident. I met him at the hospital and we were told his collar bone was broken in several places. He had told the triage nurse he felt like he was bleeding inside and she noted it in his chart, but the ER doctor dismissed it as radiating pain from his collar bone. They sent us home and several days later he came out of his room an ashen gray. This time the ER doctor discovered his spleen had ruptured and his belly had filled with blood. When they wheeled him away, we assured him we would see him when he woke up, secretly fearing the worst. I was desperate and knew there was nothing I could do to guarantee the outcome I wanted. I was drawn to God and afraid of Him at the same time. I knew He had the power to heal him but in HIs sovereignty He also had the right not to. I was too tied up in knots too pray eloquent prayers, but felt His presence growing bigger, ever reminding me He was with us. There were complications and he remained in ICU for 12 days and the hospital floor for another 4. I left to shower and walk during the nurses' shift changes. In the shower tears flowed freely and on walks the prayers flowed directly from my heart to God's. I knew God was near.

The third desperate place that came to mind was when my daughter-in-law was put in the hospital on bed rest during her pregnancy. She and my son were on the other side of the country, making daily decisions that no parents should ever have to make to get their child here safely. As my son kept me posted, I felt the same feelings of powerlessness I had felt as a child. All I could do was listen and tell him I was available to him anytime he needed me. I daily poured out my heart to God, telling Him everything I longed for in regard to my kids and their daughter. And God met me there in the middle of passionate prayers. We were at the beach when my son called with the news that they had no more choices left, but to deliver our granddaughter early. She was three months a head of schedule and a very sick little baby. Our son's voice was so solemn as he gave us the news. My heart ached for them and I stayed up all night praying for them as a family, asking God to intervene and to let her live. Our son called back the next morning and said the x-rays that morning showed no sign of the infection that was there the night before. There was hope even though the next couple of months were critical for her. But our little granddaughter held on and was soon thriving and her parents found the strength to survive the ups and down of preemie life.

There have been several other desperate places for me. I could recount them, but for now they are not as important as the lessons I learned from them. I learned that God can always be found in desperate places, but to find Him I had to choose to lean into Him through radically honest prayers. I learned that desperate places have been the fertile soil for my faith to grow exponentially as those places brought me face to face with what I believe about myself and what I believe about my God. I learned that there is a very real Enemy and if I don't continuously pray, he preys on me, trying to convince me that desperate places are proof that God stopped loving me. I learned that deep intimacy with God happened as I leaned into Him in the hard, praising Him for who He is and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do in the future. I learned that my faith was purified in the hard as it brought me face to face with my limitations against the backdrop of His pure character and His powerful attributes, essentially reminding me He is God and I am not. I learned desperate places purify my heart as I have to decided if I really want Jesus or if I just want His benefits. I learned desperate places expose my tendency to make idols out of the things I desperately want and that idolatry is broken when I am put in a place that I have to give the desires of my heart to the Lord.

As I sat listening to the sermon, many people came to mind--people who have experienced desperate places in the past--people who stood over child sized coffins weeping, people who dealt with cancer in that came in its ugliest forms, people who suffered through horrendous abuses whose cries went unheard, people whose lives were turned upside down by someone's decision to drink and drive, people who watched their hometowns burn to the ground, people who watched homes being swept away by floods, and people who were suddenly laid off, wondering how they could feed their families. I wondered what lessons they learned about themselves and God. I wondered how they survived their desperate places on a daily basis and how their faith grew.

I thought of people who are currently living long in desperate places--people living with debilitating pain of chronic illnesses no one can see, people watching as their loved ones’ minds slip away, others watching loved ones with sharp minds whose bodies begin to cease functioning, those living with infertility and unfulfilled longings, displaced people who are beginning the long process of rebuilding, and those who suffer in the aftermath of mass shootings with PTSD and flashbacks they cannot control.

I also thought of those who will find themselves in desperate places this next year. Maybe they will be parents who will get that call from their soldier's commander because he won't be coming home because they sacrificed their life on the battle field. Maybe it will be the woman whose doctor calls to say her test is positive and the prognosis is serious. Maybe it will be the parents of a college student receiving news that their student has been missing for several days. Maybe it will be the business man whose auditor will tell him that someone swindled so much money from his company that bankruptcy is imminent. Maybe it will be the couple whose marriage begins to crumble under the weight of betrayal, untreated mental illness, or self destructive addictions.

I wonder, will they lean into Jesus or will they run from the very One who wants to minister to their heart? Will they see His infinite goodness or will they believe the lies the enemy speaks as he tries to destroy their faith and harden their tender hearts? I am praying for them because I know that as much as I care, we have a Savior that cares infinitely more who is longing to reveal Himself more fully to them. I know He is seeking to instill in them a hope big enough to allow them to fully live in the desperate places.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Statisfying our Unquenchable Thirst

When my brother, sister, and I were young, we often traveled with my parents, grandmother, and great aunt. On one trip we found ourselves very thirsty, but it wasn't time to make the scheduled stop. My little sister was the one who announced that she was thirsty. My great aunt dug through her purse and handed each of us kids chewing gum, hoping that would alleviate our thirst until we stopped. But, it started raining and all those drops of water constantly reminded us of the water we craved, but could not have. My sister reminded my parents that she was still thirsty, only to have my mom tell her to chew her gum to which she responded, "Well, now my gum is thirsty, too!" 

That story often comes to mind when I read John 4. In this chapter, Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Samaria when they stopped by a well to rest. Jews usually avoided this region, because they believed contact with the Samaritans would defile them. The disciples left the Lord sitting by Jacob's well to go get food. As Jesus was sitting there, a Samaritan woman approached the well. At that time, it was customary for people to get water early in the morning or late in the evening when the temperatures was cool, but she came at noon, carrying her water pot on drooping shoulders. Even from a distance, Jesus also noticed her eyes were cast-down, there was no spring in her step, and no expressions on her face. He knew she came to the well when no one else was there. He knew she came at this time to avoid disapproving looks, clicking tongues, snickers, and biting comments she experienced in her community. 

As she approached the well, she was surprised by Christ's presence. As she began to draw water from the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. Surprised that he spoke to her, she asked Him why He, being a Jew, was speaking to her a Samaritan and a woman at that. Glancing at the well, He told her that if she knew who He was, she would have asked Him for a drink of living water. She was puzzled by his comment. To her living water meant fresh pure water that was fit for drinking. He spoke to her again, asking her to her to bring her husband to see Him. She squirmed under His gaze and said she did not have a husband. He smiled ever so slightly at her discomfort, knowing her statement was half true. He caught her eye and held her gaze, telling her He knew she had had five husbands and the man she was now living with was not a husband. 

We are not told why she had had five husbands. She could have been widowed five times and the sixth man was hesitant to marry her. Or she could have been divorced five times and in her day, women could not get divorces. That meant that five men had drug her to the center of town and declared her an unfit wife. Regardless, He understood that with each death or each divorce her longing to be loved grew unbearable. If she had been divorced, the feelings of rejection and feelings of failure in fulfilling the role she was born to fulfill would also have grown. We aren’t told why she was not married to the sixth man. It could have been that she was trying save herself the public humiliation of another divorce or maybe he was using her for his pleasure and she allowed it because she needed someone to provide for her physical needs. It would have been lonely for her to live with someone who didn't love her. 

Christ knew that an unquenchable thirst had grown deep inside of her--a thirst to be fully known and deeply loved. She had a desperate need for someone to see the ugly parts of her heart and not walk away. She needed someone to care enough to instill in her the hope that she could become the woman God designed her to be. As she listened, she recognized Him, not just as a Jew, but also as a prophet and asked Him where people should go to worship. Even though, she was dodging the personal issues Christ exposed, He answered her question. It was then that she became aware that she was talking to the Messiah. He knew she had been rejected repeatedly and had a boat load of sin, both of which instilled in her deep shame. Yet, He stayed. Yet, He loved her! And He was different from the men she knew. His love was pure. It didn't con to take from her or to use her. He came to give love to her, forever changing her from a vessel of dishonor to a vessel of honor.

Jesus, just like the lady at the well, was acquainted with both grief and rejection. He was cast out of the synagogues when He began to teach. He was the object of gossip. While his neighbor's questioned His heritage, His brothers questioned His sanity and the religious leaders accused Him of being possessed by a demon. His own disciples would desert Him, His countrymen would chose the release of a murder over His, and His heavenly Father would pour His wrath on Him for sin He didn't commit. After she understood who He was, she went to her community and told everyone He knew her and was the Messiah. 

The meeting between Jesus and the woman was not a chance meeting, it was a divine appoint scheduled by God. He went through Samaria to meet her needs by offering her salvation. He did this because He understood the pain of being rejected and having needs clamoring to be met. It is comforting to know Christ sought her out to expose and heal her pain. Just as He understood her pain, He understands ours. While He hates our sin, He understands unmet needs can become so painful we look for quick fixes--fixes that were never meant to satisfy the excruciating thirst we experience. He understands we try to satisfy our thirst with things--things like friends spouses, babies, education, jobs, notoriety, wealth, popularity, alcohol, and a host of other things. These things are not evil things, but they can become wells we have hewn to satisfy thirst. But the problem with these wells is that they are dry and not meant to fill the thirst written on our heart for our Creator. And these wells, they can become idols we worship if we think these things will fill lonely hearts, erase shame and guilt we feel, and give us joy enough to heal the constant aching of hearts broken by sin. 

There is not a human alive, that isn't experiencing soul thirst and trying to fill the thirst with something other than the Lord. You and I don't need another spouse, a child, a different job, more friends, more money, or substances to abuse; we need a deep connection with the Creator who can satisfy this soul thirst. We can share our longing to be known and loved with Him, knowing He will meet us there. We can let Him see the darkest parts of us and know He won't leave. We can confess the shame-causing sin, knowing He forgives and continues His transformative work in us. 

He is the One who can satisfy the thirst we, ourselves, cannot quench. The Samaritan woman could trust the God who traveled through Samaria to meet her and we can trust the God who left the glories of heaven to rub shoulders with us as sinful and broken as we are. We can trust the Savior who wrestled with God’s will until He sweat blood, still finding courage and the will to set His face toward the cross. We can trust the Lamb who bore God's wrath for our sin to give us His goodness in its place. We can trust a God who not only saves, but seals us with His own Spirit. We can trust a God who gives spiritual gifts, declaring us a valuable part of the body. We can trust a King who promised to come again to use this period of waiting to expose our brokenness and our tendency to fill thirst with things that cannot satisfy. During this season we would be wise to remember it is a Holy celebration of a Savior who is in the business of satisfying our unquenchable thirst.  

Monday, December 3, 2018

This is War!

We sang This is War, by Dustin Kensrue in church this week. I had never heard the song before and as we started singing the first stanza, I wondered why we were singing it during the Christmas season. The beginning, beautiful as it is, sounded like anything but a Christmas song. 

          This is war like you ain't seen.
          This winter's long, it's cold and mean.
With hangdog hearts we stood condemned.
But the tide turns at Bethlehem.

Oh, the last line of that stanza grabbed my heart and turned it toward Christmas. It introduced what was meant by the words, "This is war." The next stanzas explain it's classification as a Christmas song: 
This is war and born tonight,
The Word as flesh, The Lord of Light,
The Son of God, the low-born King;
Who demons fear, of whom angels sing. 

This is war on sin and death;
The dark will take its final breath.
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans: 
The mystery of God as man. 

As we sang, I began to think about God's story. The war on sin and death was declared long before the baby Jesus was born. It was declared in Eden when God came to Adam and Eve after they sinned. I've always heard the consequences God gave the couple and the Serpent referred to as curses. But what a different tone the story takes when we read it as a declaration of war against sin and death. 

It was a war that began long ago in the heavenly realm when Satan rebelled against God. It was a war man was unwittingly drawn into as the couple listened to the Serpent's voice. It was a war that was won in the mystery of God as man. It is a war that is still being played out in our lives every single day as the enemy continues to try to thwart God's plan. The Christmas story is important because without the little Babe, we would not have had a Kinsman Redeemer who laid down His life to bear God's wrath for our sin. I think there is a whole lot more to the war than this song states. 
 
It is not only a war on sin, it is a war on our inborn tendencies to do wrong, to become enslaved to sin, to go our own way, and to put our will and our fleshly desires above our Creator's. The war is won for each of us as we humble ourselves, recognizing our depravity against the backdrop of God's holiness. It is won as we come to the end of ourselves and come to Jesus and His finished work by faith. It is won because we have the ability in Christ to refuse to submit to the yoke of slavery again. 

It is a war on death. When we come to Christ by faith, our dead spirits are raised to life and we are given the capacity to see and understand great spiritual truths and given the chance to relate to our God freely. And when He comes back, those who are His will not see death and those who have died in the faith will be raised to life again. Death no longer has a sting for the believer. 

It is a war on the Evil One and his dark forces. Colossians 2:15 tells us, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them." One of the youth pastors I served under used to say, The only power the enemy has is a lie." We can choose not to believe the lie. 

It is a war on our unhealed wounds. I serve wounded women who often come to us feeling angry and abandoned by God. I witness them come to trust Him when they meditate on Isaiah 53. Jesus was despised and rejected as many of them have been. The God-man experienced sorrow and grief just like they have. He was one from whom men hid their faces, which speaks to those who cried for help and had people turn their faces away, pretending not to hear. Just as some have carried the grief and sorrows of their families, they are touched when they realize Jesus has carried theirs. Just as people have viewed them as stricken and smitten by God because of the abuses they endured, they realize Jesus understands as people of Jesus day viewed him the same way. He was pierced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, misjudged, and chastised as He paid for sin He didn't commit. By coming to understand the depth of the wounding of the Savior who loves them, they realize suffering can serve noble purposes and they come to trust Him with the deep wounds only He can heal. They realize He is their in their suffering and they hold on to the truth that suffering is only for a season.  

It is a war on the powerlessness we feel as a result of our weaknesses. We are strengthened with  power through His Spirit that resides in our inner being (Eph. 2:15 and Col. 1:11). Because of this, the mom who sits beside her suffering child's hospital bed can live with gratitude and hope. Because of this, the person living with chronic pain can bless the lives of those who come to minister to her. Because of this, the woman who just buried her husband can rise up out of her bed of grief and love her little ones well. Because of this, those who have suffered multiple trauma's at the hands of abusers and shooters can still rise up and say, "I will not live in fear." 

It is a war on broken relationships as He is our peace and has made us one by breaking down dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14). Because of this, couples can thrive as they allow God to repair their broken marriages. Friendships can endure the thoughtless actions and hurtful words of people still learning to love well. Women can forgive and move past horrendous betrayals of fathers who groomed them to abuse and then cast the shame of their actions on them. And, people of all races can come together, casting aside their preconceived prejudices to love one another well as they lift  voices in one accord to worship the King.   

It is a war on alienation from God. For as we are rooted and grounded in love, we are adopted into His family and are given the strength to comprehend the richness of Christ's love and to be filled with the fullness of God. If our roots go deep, there is nothing that can come against us that will cause us to doubt the Lord's love. (Gal. 4:5, Eph. 1:5, Eph. 2:18-19).

It is a war on anxiousness for the Lord is ever near. We now have direct access to Him through prayer and can cast all of our cares on Him, knowing He cares for us and that He is the source of the peace that surpasses understanding. That is how President Bush could tell his family he did not fear death. That is why first responders and soldiers can run into the face of danger as the rest of us flee. That is why in this unstable world that is marred by sin, catastrophic natural disasters, and horrible crime, we can still lay down and sleep a peaceful sleep. 

It is a war on shame--that toxic emotion, telling us we are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough and too much to be truly loved. It is that emotion that comes from unresolved guilt and the lies the enemy whispers in the aftermath of a failure or a trauma. Because of the work of Jesus, the Lord clothes us with garments of salvation: and He covers us our unrighteousness with robes of righteousness. Instead of shame we receive His blessing. Instead of dishonor He gives us everlasting joy. 

The war declared in Eden had promises of redemption and victory strewn throughout the Old Testament. The war commenced when Mary carried and birthed the baby who was God incarnate. The war was ultimately won in Gethsemane when Jesus set His will to lay down His life on the cross that the Father had set before Him. 

Oh, we struggle and often live as if the battle has not been won as we are waiting for Jesus to return and bind the Enemy. As we wait the enemy and his cohorts relentlessly whisper insidious lies about God, our loved ones, and us in our ears. We must remember the only power they have is in their lies and we can take their power away by destroying arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God and by taking every thought captive to God's truth as we set our wills to obey Christ. 

You and I can walk in the Lord's victory when we remember God is ever present and knows just what it takes for us to be transformed into the people He created us to be. We walk in His victory as we remember we are never alone, never helpless, never hopeless, and never invisible. For, we are His beloved children, bought with His blood, set free by faith in Him, sealed by the Spirit, and given truth and power to navigate this life until He returns. The war. The war has been won.   
  



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Blame Game

The blame game has its roots firmly planted in Eden. After Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit forbidden by the Creator, they covered their nakedness and hid themselves from the presence of the Lord. The Creator found them and asked them if they had eaten from the fruit. Adam responded by blaming Eve first and then God, reminding God that He had given him the woman. Eve blamed the Serpent who had deceived her. I used to think their blaming was simply an attempt to avoid owning their sin and that is partly true. But, I also think blaming was an attempt to discharge the uncomfortable feelings they were experiencing for the first time as a result of their sin.

Prior to this day there had only been one way in which the couple could sin and that was by choosing to eat the fruit God had forbidden. As long as they did not eat it, they fully enjoyed each other and lived naked and unashamed. They also enjoyed interacting with the Lord regularly. Immediately after eating the fruit, they were overwhelmed with shame as revealed by their desire to cover themselves. They were no longer comfortable in their own skins and no longer free to be open with each other. Along with the shame they experienced, they became fearful as revealed by their choice to hide from the One who had created them.

Shame, guilt and fear--those uncomfortable emotions we all want to avoid. Guilt leaves us with a sinking feeling in our hearts, reminding us of our disobedience, rebellion, and desire to do our own will rather than God's. Shame causes faces to glow hot, heads to drop, eyes to avert, and bodies to slump in an attempt to hide. It comes as we begin to believe we are the choices we've made and wonder if we are not enough and too much at the same time. Guilt and shame so often give way to fear, which can leave us shaken to the core as we believe we will be rejected if we are truly known. Fear can also be born out of a belief that we have lost perceived control--control of what other think about us, control over the relationships we've broken, control over others, and control over our circumstances. Out of the need to dispel these vulnerable emotions, blamers often take on anger, which feels more powerful. And that anger comes out in angry words being vented like a hot volcano spewing lava and that anger births blame.

I have had many interactions with people who have adopted blame as an integral part of their defense mechanisms. They are no longer blaming just to avoid facing their sin, but they are also blaming as a way of coping with all sorts of painful emotions. I have known people who are struggling with depression that hasn't been diagnosed who, in their pain, look for someone or something to pin the anger on.

Some people get stuck in patterns of blaming themselves for everything. This placates their fear of rejection as they believe if someone looks too closely at them or their lives they will walk away. They believe by "beating themselves up" noone else will. This shields them from the discomfort of healthy confrontations, from the fear of rejection, and from the fear of someone else's anger if they were to confront ungodly, unhealthy behaviors hurting them. Sadly, this turns anger inward, resulting in depression and loneliness, which in the long run feels worse. It also keeps people from having mutual relationships in which iron sharpens iron, something we need for both personal growth and the growth of true intimacy.

On the other hand, some practice blaming others. These people often come across as angry and critical as they project their anger outwardly. Sometimes it's global anger in which they are angry at the whole world. Sometimes it is anger projected at God whom they believe hasn't acted on their behalf. Sometimes it is at a people groups, the government, or religious organizations. Sometimes the anger is aimed at a specific person because they hold that person responsible for their happiness or because the person triggers their insecurities or reminds them of something painful they've experienced. Blaming others tends to give someone a feeling of power because they believe if they can find out who is to blame they can fix it. The anger blamers experience can alleviate the discomfort of feeling vulnerable emotions, but can destroy relationships as they lash out at others.

It is important for us, as believers, to understand blaming may make us feel more powerful and in control in the face of pain or the aftermath of sin, but that is a false sense of control. Blaming is the opposite of the accountability to which God has called us. It stops us from leaning into the mistakes we have made and learning from them. Brene Brown says that we gravitate to blame because it is much faster than accountability and I think she is right.

However, for us Christians, accountability is an integral part of the sanctification process. It is a vulnerable process that requires courage, humility, and a lot of time. It includes things like the ownership of one's actions and emotions and that feels risky. It includes the confession of one's sin and hurtful behaviors that have harmed relationships and that feels risky. It includes developing the empathy to hear another's point of view, while giving up the tendency to defend, deflect, or blame and that feels risky. It includes the boldness to share how another's actions have impacted us and to ask for change and that feels risky. It includes forgiving and asking for forgiveness and that feels risky. It includes a committment to do the hard work required for personal grown and change and that feels risky, too. The most important truth to remember is that God took a risk on us when He sent His Son to die in our place for our sin. No one wins when they play the blame game, but we win when we put on humility and lean into God in our failure and our pain, allowing Him to work in our hearts and our lives.      

  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Made for Glory

There are several passages in the Bible that grabbed a hold of my heart and changed the beliefs that ran deep into my soul. This usually happens when I am reading passages with which I am familiar. It seems like the Lord slows me down and causes me to take notice of truths that my heart desperately needs to notice. One such passages was Psalm 139. I had read it over and over. Then one day I was reading it again and felt excitement stirring and goosebumps rising. I began to see things in the passage that radically changed how I viewed myself, my life, and my relationship with my God.

The first things that grabbed a hold of my heart was that I was created by God and intimately known by Him. For years I'd struggled with negative thoughts that caused me to believe I was bad, defective, not good enough, too much, a mistake, a disappointment, and unlovable. Psalm 139:13-15, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows 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." If you had asked me who had created me prior to reading these verses that day, I would have said God. But to be honest, I was living as if I believed I was God's mistake. The one in which He said, "Whoops, didn't mean to make her!" These verses refuted lies I had believed for years and told me God, in His infinite wisdom, was in my mother's womb, carefully forming each cell, masterfully stitching them together stitch by stitch.

This means He knew me before I was born! He knew how tall I would be, how many fingers and toes I would have, what color my eyes would be, and that my hair would be mostly straight. He knew what shape my body would take as it grew from a single cell to a grown woman. He even  designed my body to heal itself when it got sick, gave me skin that would regenerate after a knee was scraped, and bones that would calcify and heal after they were broken.

God also designed my brain, knowing that I would be good at math, that I would love music, and that I would grow up wanting to write. He knew what strengths and what weaknesses I would have. He knew what would make me smile, what would make me chuckle out loud, and what would evoke a belly laugh so hard that tears would spill. He knew what would make me frown, what would make me sad, and what would move me to compassion so strong it couldn't be contained. He even knew what would cause such pain that the tears would get stuck deep inside. He knew what would leave me feeling miffed and what would leave me so enraged I would want to scream at the top of my lungs to get someone to understand the depths of frustration I can feel. He knew what would leave me feeling anxious and that snakes could terrify me and leave me screaming ten minutes strait.

Another truth from Psalm 139 that grabbed a hold of my heart is found in verse 16, "...in your book were written, ever one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." This verse tells me God, Himself, penned the story I am living and that my story is to be lived out loud. That includes the highs that leave me feeling exhilarated and the lows that leave me spent and broken. That includes the painful parts when I was sinned against and the journey it took to fully comprehend that Jesus understands that kind of pain as a traumatized Savior and is in the process of fully redeeming it. That also includes sitting in the burning shame of my own sin and the journey it took to see my sin etched in His skin as He faced God's wrath for me, showing me tiny glimpses of the glorious grace that is to be forever mine.

The next truth that grabbed a hold of my heart from this Psalm is that I have never been alone. I was in His thoughts as He was penning my story and then He was with me in my mother's womb from conception on. He was there when I was born, calling me out of the womb by name. This passage says, He knows when I sit down. He knows when I stand up. He can discern the thoughts I have before I, myself,  am fully aware of them. He knows the path I am on and He is acquainted with how I will deal with all that is on that path. He knows every word I have spoken and every word still on the tongue. He goes before me, follows behind me, and keeps His hand on me, holding me steady. There is no where I can go that His beautiful Spirit will not be there. When I climbed mountains, I found Him there. When I felt like I was in the depths of despair, He was there. Were I to travel the oceans there would not be a port in which His presences and glory could not be found. Even my darkest days do not surprise Him, for in His hands the darkness is made light.

Our God created us with His infinite wisdom, preserves us with His mighty power, and loves us with a love that is both sacrificial and incomprehensible. There is no one like Him! We can search the earth and we will never find works that are as beautiful and perfect as His works and you and I are a part of those works! We were made for His glory and can rejoice that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.



Sunday, October 21, 2018

We are His Plan

I can't remember a time that I wasn't curious about people and the stories they've lived. Because of this, I've had heard many stories, some exciting and fun to hear and some painful and hard to hear. Because I listened to stories, I have had the privilege of knowing women who moved past extremely painful things to become loving, kind, and compassionate. It is a sacred privilege to hear these stories and to see the impact pain things have had and watch as people choose to forgive things that most would deemed unforgiveable. It is also exciting when survivors take responsibility to change their maladaptive ways of dealing with pain, life, and relationships so they can become the women that God designed them to be.

One surprising thing I've discovered over the years, is that the circumstances surrounding one's conception can have a huge impact on how a person sees themselves. Some knew without a doubt that they had been planned, wanted, and celebrated. Knowing that helped them navigate the hard things that came against them. On the other hand, some were told or discovered on their own that they were accidently conceived. Those whose parents embraced the pregnancy and celebrated them believed they were wanted even though an accident. They, too, drew on their parent's love and acceptance to get through the hard.

Those who weren't celebrated have believed they were simply tolerated and others believed they were unwanted and they carried shame. Some knew their conceptions was the reason their parents got married. Those who handled that news well were those who had healthy families who openly discussed their questions and who were reassured they were wanted, loved, and a source of joy. But, those who found out on their own and who lived in families that refuse to talk about these things struggled and took on the shame of their parents.

Some have said they knew through either their parents actions or their words that they were neither planned or wanted. These often struggled with the belief that something was innately wrong with them to cause their parents to reject them physically and/or emotionally. They couldn't identify what it was in them that caused their parents rejection, but they were sure it was their fault. I have even known a few that found out they were the product of one night stands. They struggled because they weren't the product of a relationship, just sin. Some had been told that their dads wanted their moms to abort them and some were survivors of attempted abortions. Most felt grateful to be alive, but grieved at how easy it is for some to end a life.

There are ladies who were the product of rape. They knew they were treated with less warmth than their siblings and some even suffered physical abuse at the hands of mothers and believed it was because they served as a reminder of  perpetrator who harmed them. These often bear great shame, wondering if the evil of a rapist father could be residing in them or passed down to their children.

Some shared that they believed their moms got pregnant to hold on to a boyfriend or a husband who wanted to leave. Some felt loved because the parents worked hard at making the marriage work and in the process of that they became good parents. Others ached because theirs dads acted as if they felt trapped or their moms projected frustration on them as they were a reminder of the failures in the marriage and their manipulating ways.

We can't change the facts surrounding our conception and our birth. But, the Word of God can change how we view these events. Psalm 139 tells us that in God's eyes we are not mistakes, accidents, interruptions to plans made, or manipulative actions to be reckoned with for a life time. "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows 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. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them." Our God was there in the womb with us, lovingly forming us according to His will and His plans.

Our God is a creative God! He designs and created us with intentionality and purpose. He values us enough to send a Savior to redeem us. He is loving and never avoids us. He never abuses us and never treats us with disdain because we interrupted His plans. We are His plan--beautiful and unique, fearfully and wonderfully knitted in the womb. We are not an embarrassment that He would rather not acknowledge, He called us by name. We are not a source of shame or a reminder of a careless, shameful mistake made. He delights in us and has purposed every single one of our days before they came to be.

In addition, the Bible tells believers that we are born again by His will. John 1:12-13 says, "But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." Not only was it God's design for us to be born physically, it was also His will that we be born again spiritually and with that spiritual birth we are also adopted as His sons (Ephesians 1:5). We are no longer outsiders wishing we could feel at home in a family. By faith, we know He has given us a heritage with the saints of old and we are treasured members of His family. No one can ever take that away from us. The Lord is faithful and He will never abandon us.

When Satan reminds us of our fleshly roots, we want to remember that in God's eyes, there was never a time we weren't loved, never a time we weren't wanted, and never a time we weren't a central part of His plan. When this truth takes a hold of our hearts, the lies the Enemy whispers to try to shame us lose their power over us. We are His plan and His plan is always perfect.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Have we Failed in our Responsibilities

The Kavanaugh hearings has been hard on our country, especially those who have experienced sexual trauma. The hearings showed us just how ill equipped our nation is to handle the impact of the "Me, too, movement. Many of us were glued to our televisions as Dr. Blasey Ford and Bret Kavanaugh testified before a Judicial committee. Many had already made up their minds and few opinions were swayed by what we heard.

As someone who serves survivors, I found her testimony and demeanor in line with those who are in the early stages of facing past trauma. At the same time, I found myself wanting to believe him, too. Some felt that the gaps in her memories proved she was lying. Yet, our minds are not video cameras, documenting every detail in our lives. Memories are fluid and impacted by our interpretations of the events we experience. They are also impacted by what others tell us, by what we tell ourselves,by how we process those events, and even by our belief systems. When we feel powerless and experience an event as traumatic, some details are seared into the brain and others are forgotten.

Right after 9/11 some people were asked to write down what they experienced. Years later some of them were asked to write down what they remembered about those days and they found that two accounts written by the same person could be different. One might write in their first account that they were on the street with a friend watching as the towers fell and in the second account write they were home, watching the event on TV and called their friend. When some were shown what they originally wrote, they said they didn't know why they would have written what they did in the first account. Maybe their memories changed so they could feel safer or could have a sense of distance from the horrific event they experienced. 

As I watched Kavanaugh testify, I saw the hurt written on his face as well as the pain on the face of his wife and I ached for them as much as I ached for Christine. None of them should have become pawns in our sick political system. I have been processing this and have come to the conclusion that maybe we as a nation are partly responsible for what happened on that day. We have failed to teach our kids to handle themselves appropriately and failed to call for change earlier. Most of all, I think we, as believers, have failed to teach our children God's design. 

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, relationships between men and women have been complicated and teens who begin to date and socialize just as their hormones start raging have little skills to navigate these new relationships. We haven't done a good job of equipping them or protecting them from themselves. Their brains are not fully developed and alcohol and drugs diminishes their impulse control and the ability to make godly, loving decisions and sometimes we are complicit in their use of substances that do that. Out of that comes situations in which an encounter can feel consensual to one and like an assault to another. We can't keep pretending that underage substance use and boyish behaviors are big problems. Some of us have simply been too trusting of our teens, leaving them unsupervised, trying to navigate the messiness of relationships without needed skills.    

At the time I was dating I knew guys who behaved the way Ford described Kavanaugh and his friends and I was warned by guys that there were guys who got girls drunk just to add notches to their headboards. I used that info to keep myself safe. Yet, gals were groped in the cafeteria line, guys let their junk hang out as they sunbathed in front of girl's dorms. And walks back to the dorm after late classes were scary, leaving us vulnerable to inappropriate names being shouted by a pack of men who congregated in front of the cafeteria. And dating more often than not turned into nights of guys constantly trying to push past  "No's!" 

Our culture has become even more sexualized and telling someone to stop or say, "No!" hasn't been enough for a very long time. We have strayed so far from God's design. God created Adam and Eve in His own image and they were naked and unashamed and related with the Him and each other with joy. They were unafraid and vulnerable and their sexuality was closely tied to their spirituality. But, Satan tempted them, promising they would become like the Creator and that hooked Eve. As Eve listened to his beguiling voice, she forgot she was a woman delicately created in the image of her God and she bit. Then Adam bit and they were instantly filled with shame and tried to cover it with leaves. As the Creator approached the leaves were inadequate to cover their shame and they hid. God confronted them, inviting them to repent. But Eve blamed the Serpent. Adam blamed Eve. And, then Adam blamed God. 

Their choice that day killed them spiritually and eventually physically. It also marred their ability to trust God and each other and put a chasm between their sexuality and spirituality as shown by the core of shame that had developed. Graciously, the  Creator reached out and clothed them in animal skins, picturing the Messiah who would save.    

As we fast forward past sad stories of jealousy, murder, sin, violence, and ugly dysfunctions, we find a barren couple, old in age, living in a culture that worshipped gods of fertility. The sacrifices given to appease these gods were virgin daughters taken by temple priests and babies who were burned as offerings. Sexuality was no longer used in its intended context became so perverted it ceased to be marked with love or integrity. The Creator told the old couple to separate themselves and go to a new land and He promised them a child. After a few lapses in trust and judgement God reaffirmed His covenant with them. At just the right time He gave them a child and they named him Laughter! Through the covenant the Creator revealed that He was God of life and He sought to heal the fracture between human sexuality and spirituality.

From the beginning sex has been a gift designed to take place in the covenant of marriage, which pictures the relationship Christ has with His church. God's plan called for sexual integrity as sex was designed to seal the covenant marriage. The Creator designed us with bodies that were different, his to be aroused by sight to insure pursuit and hers to be aroused by emotional intimacy to insure commitment. The Creator designed us to enjoy pleasure followed by a release of hormones that cause two people to be bonded into one, giving them a safe place to be vulnerable and real.

Our sexualized culture continues to drive wedges between sexuality and spirituality. Rampant porn is selfish, addicting, and doesn't reflect the Lord at all. Kids are growing up in fractured homes broken by sin, selfishness, violence, and perversion. Some are being sacrificed through sexual abuse. "Free sex" is destroying the part of us that is to bond with another. This is because to survive serial sex we disassociate from the bonding process that is take to place between spouses.

As believers we must teach our sons to be sexually pure and to date in Godly ways, challenging any sense of entitlement they might have. We must teach them that mistreating dates who say, "No," is abusive and challenge the bragging that follows sinful conquests. We must teach our sons to look at young women as creations of God, as daughters of the King, as sisters in Christ, and as potential spouses to be protected. We must teach them to hold virginity (theirs and another's) in high regard and treat it as something to be preserved, not robbed. We must teach them not to ask a girl for sex outside of marriage. We must stop saying, "Boys will be boys and men will be men!" Guys are not victims to their bodies. We must tell them that one out of three girls they date has been abused and to not treat them honorably can forever put him in the same class as her abusers. They need to understand their actions have consequences and can haunt them later and that what they do now has the potential to bless or harm their future spouse.   

We need to teach our daughters to walk with dignity and God-confidence that commands respect and proper treatment. We must love them so well that they are willing to walk away from ungodly relationships. We must teach them to walk with God in such a way they would not entice a young man to lust or enter a sexual relationship for a false sense of acceptance. We must teach our daughters their bodies were bought with the blood of Christ and are not theirs to give away outside of marriage. We must teach them their identity comes in being the daughter of the King, fully loved and accepted, not in losing their virtue to a guy she wants to hold on to.

We are responsible for what happened on that committee when we fail to model and teach these things to our children. We can't assume they learn them by osmosis. We need to model godly behaviors. Men to assume responsibility for their personal godliness and teach their sons to bounce their eyes instead of ogling girls they pass. Women need to model respect for men and teach their daughters to let God fill them, so they are not looking for love where it can't be found. We need to teach our children-the right of ownership over one's body, the importance of consent for every level of a relationship, and the beauty of covenant marriage and the role of sex within it. We also need to teach children to date in ways that honors God and each other. There is nothing wrong with desire, but they can either learn to let the desire grow into destructive lust that will result in anger and entitlement or they can use the desire to remind them to draw near to God who can enable to them to walk in a manner to which He has called them. 

We are also responsible for what happened in that committee when we have seen inappropriate things and stayed silent and didn't try to help. Some of the deepest wounds are felt when a survivor believes someone saw something turned away. Some were hurt when they tried to tell and were silenced. I think most of us can recall something we saw that caused us to feel uncomfortable and we chose in the moment to not make waves by confronting it or maybe we talked ourselves into believing what we saw wasn't really what we saw or we worried we saw it wrong. We need to pay attention and not be complicit through silence. The following is a link to a blog that describes what I mean in detail. (https://acestoohigh.com/2018/10/10/i-was-a-witness-to-serial-silence/)  

Some want this highly sexualized culture to advance. But, it has already has left us with an epidemic of depression, anxiety, high suicide rates, STD's, and babies being savagely sucked from wombs. We also have higher numbers of sexual abuse cases being reported along with kidnappings and people being trafficked against their will. And even in the midst of the sexual revolution we are still lonely, disconnected, and discontent, looking for something to fill our empty hearts. I believe what each of us really wants is the sacrificial love symbolized by a blood stained cross and the nail-scared hands of the Savior. Intimacy with Him feeds the deepest parts of our hearts and teaches us to love one another with a love that is long-lasting, committed, sacrificial, and binding. With that love we would have less situations like Judge Kavanaugh's to face. I hope we learn to be gracious to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh no matter what we believe about them. I hope we rise to the call for needed change by accepting the fact that we can do better if we don't assume our sons and our daughters know how to navigate the messiness of their first relationships.     

Don't we want our young people to feel safe enough and strong enough and loved enough that they could choose to love another with all that they are, not just the fractured parts of themselves left by sinful choices. What would happen if we refused to let children be prematurely awakened sexually so that obedience to the Creator's plan felt right and was doable and offered deep soul connections that satisfied. Maybe if we took personal responsibility seriously we could turn this painful way we have had of developing relationships into one that is God honoring and leaves no room for accusations. I know...it is an idealist wish, but sitting by and doing nothing has done nothing to help. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Righteousness that Protects

It took me a while to realize righteousness is a gift that protects. When I first heard about God's righteousness, as a child, I was both fascinated and terrified. I was fascinated because I wanted desperately to be good. As soon as I learned to talk, I talked nonstop to anyone who listened. Needless to say, my mouth got me into trouble when I used it to argue with siblings, to talk back to my parents, and to repeat things I had overheard that were none of my business and not mine to share. In fact, I got in trouble so often I'd stay awake at night, trying to remember if I had lied, exaggerated a story, repeated something I overheard, showed disrespect to my parents, or said unkind things to siblings or friends. I often regretted the things that came out of my mouth.

It was because of that regret that God's holiness fascinated me. It was hard for the little girl I was to wrap her mind around the concept of God who was, who is, and who will always be perfect. It meant God never failed to do the right thing at the right time. It meant God never chose to do evil. It meant every word that flowed from His mouth was perfectly true, perfectly stated for the situations. and perfectly timed. It meant God's silences were born out of His goodness and served holy purposes. It meant God had never had to reflect on His actions or His words. Nor, had He ever felt the sting of regret I had in realizing I wounded others through actions, inaction,  words, or silence. It meant His words were never spoken in haste, never filled with half truths. or sprinkled with lies to cover sinful tracks. It meant His words were never biting, spoken in rage, or vengeful.

Early on, I knew I wanted to be like Him, but the harder I tried, the more I failed. That is where the terror came in. I wanted to be right with God and I wanted my words to reflect His heart. Sometimes I calmed the terror by comparing myself to others. If I sinned less than someone, I felt better, but then I would run into someone whose righteousness outshined mine. For years I lived with anxiety, trying to live the Christian life. I believed in eternal security, but was plagued with doubt about my faith.

When God planted us in a Bible-teaching church, I came to understand things that changed my perspective. Every week I heard the gospel given clearly and heard the Bible taught verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book. I grew confident in my faith and learned not to compare myself to others as Jesus was God's standard--a standard of which we all fell short. I grew more comfortable with the fact that His perfection would always expose my imperfection. I learned a about imputation, which meant that by faith I was given Jesus' righteousness and it is His righteousness that protects me from the wrath of God I deserve for sin. What a powerful concept! If I had understood imputation as a child, I would have spent less time marinating in guilt and shame and more time resting and rejoicing in God's grace.

Righteousness not only protects us from God's wrath, it protects our hearts and our relationship with the Lord. We are told in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts for they are the source of life. Just like Roman Soldiers had to protect their physical hearts, we must protect our hearts, our inner being) in a spiritual sense. The righteousness Jesus imputed to us becomes the Breastplate of Righteousness that we can wear to protect our hearts--the place our thoughts, emotions, will, and moral conscience dwell. We must keep in mind that just as physical breastplates are heavy and must be supported or undergirded by a belt, our spiritual breastplate is supported by the Belt of Truth.

The Enemy we battle knows our passions, our weaknesses, our past sins, and the stories we have lived often come with great pain. He studies us so much he predicts with great accuracy what we will think about in given situations and how we will react or respond. He knows what will cause us to doubt God's goodness and knows what will distract us from living the life to which God called us. He is doing his best to destroy us, our testimonies, our ministries, and our relationships with God and each other. The Breastplate of Righteousness undergirded with the Belt of Truth and the Helmet of Salvation protect us from the Enemy's attacks. God gave us those things because we believed! If we face life believing we are possess those pieces of Armor, we can live in a way that defeats the Enemy.

In her book, The Armor of God, Priscilla Shirer points out that our hearts can be attacked in four areas. First, He will attack our minds by distorting our thoughts with his lies and half truths. He will use half truths to draw us in because they sound true and then he feeds us overt lies about God, His Word, and our identity, causing us to not mistrust Him and our relationship with Him. Second, He will attack our will by drawing us away from that which is eternal and godly towards that which is  temporal and ungodly, preventing us from fulfilling His purposes. Third, he will attack our emotions by stirring up unbridled feelings and piggybacking them  with secondary emotions like anger, discouragement, hopelessness, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Fourth, He will attack our morals by convincing us God's Word is outdated and designed to deprives us rather than protect us.

When we live in rebellion, we leave our hearts unprotected. On the other hand, if we start each day acknowledging the truth of our salvation and Christ's imputed righteousness, our lives will line up with that truth. We can live knowing we have already been translated from the kingdom of darkness into Christ's Kingdom of light, that we have been given a new life, and that we have a new benevolent master and no longer have to serve the old.

In a practical sense we can choose moment by moment to put off past things that were corrupted by our evil desires and be renewed by taking our thoughts captive to God's truth. We can put on our new selves by choosing to act out of God's righteousness. That means we can put away lies and speak truth. We choose to deal with anger in non-sinful ways. We choose not to steal but to work so we can give to others. We choose to refrain from corrupt talk and use words that build up. We let go of bitterness, wrath, anger, slander, and malice and choose to be kind. We take off sexual immorality and covetousness and develop godly relationships. And when we blow it, we humbly confess sin, allowing us to stay in fellowship with God who empowers us to live out His righteousness.

Living out practical righteousness is protective on many levels. First, it is protective because our new life is driven by love, which promotes righteousness that protects relationships instead of tearing them down. It protects relationships as we choose to take off old behaviors and put on new ones characterized by selfless behavior. It protects by helping us build trust as we speak truth and resolve conflict in ways that are godly and preserves the dignity and the hearts of those involved.

Second, it protects our hearts from the needless pain caused by selfish ambitions and unreasonable expectations that leave us frustrated and bitter. It teaches us to let God fill the void we have in our hearts so we can give out of the overflow of His love.

Third, practical righteousness protects our hearts from deep pain because sexual purity keeps a marriage bed undefiled, allowing the act of sex within marriage to bond a man and women for life. Our hearts were not made for serial marriages or sex with multiple partners any more than they were designed to worship multiple gods. It also protects us from the physical pain of sexually transmitted diseases. How often we mistakenly believe the consequences we face for our sin is God's punishment. But the truth is the boundaries God established for us is His loving protection from the pain sin causes. In Eden, the righteous obedience to God's command protected Adam and Eve in their relationship with Him and with each other. When they failed, they were thrown into a world of hurt. Couldn't practicing righteousness that God outlines in His Word protect us as well?  

Monday, September 3, 2018

Is God Mad at Me

Last night our pastor made a couple of statements that brought back some hard memories. He said pastors know that to make parishioners feel guilty all they have to do is ask them how they are doing in their prayer lives or with sharing their faith. This is because most of us believe we fall short in in these two areas. He said many people want to know if God is mad at them when they fail to do what He has instructed them to do. When he said that, I remembered the years I have struggled with believing God was angry at me for sinning. This would hit me hard when I went to bed at night and replayed my day in my head so I could make sure I confessed every single sin.

The fear I felt as I confessed sin was often overwhelming. This was because I did not understand the benevolent side of God who viewed believers as His children. There were times I expected God's wrath to hit me like a lightening bolt. An example of one of those times was when I was going outside and the wind caught the screen door and slammed it hard on my hand, hitting it between two of the bones. Waves of pain ran up my arm into my shoulder as a curse word slipped out of my mouth. I looked so terrified my mom laughed, but she didn't realize I wasn't afraid of her, I was expecting God's wrath to hit me like a lightning bolt because those words had come out of my mouth. It never occurred to me that God would be concerned about his daughter's injured hand and the pain she experienced that day.

When I went to bed at night, I replayed each day in my head to make sure I confessed every single sin I committed. During my prayers, my anxiety and fear of God would rise for several reasons. One reason was that I was such a perfectionist that I judged every conversation and every action harshly. That left me constantly feeling like a failure, believing God was always angry and disappointed with me for not being the perfect Christian. I also believed He was exasperated with me for not always speaking the right words into every situation or always performing perfectly in ways that would bring glory and honor to Him. Looking back at those times, I now realize some of my harsh judgments were because I didn't grasp that when people were unhappy with me because of the faith I was living out loud, that was between them and God. When they were unhappy with me, I always assumed I had failed and then felt guilty when the real issue was that they were feeling convicted and got angry at me for the discomfort they felt.

Another reason I struggled with fear and guilt was that I had an eating disorder. When I read new "diet" books, I viewed their rules as God's law and committed to keeping the rules perfectly. I felt guilty every time I ate a bite of something not on the good food list and confessed that as sin to God. I ate a diet of almost zero fat, no breads, and very little food. I was close to a hundred pounds and believed I was extremely overweight and sinful for being so. I believed God was angry and disappointed that I didn't eat a perfect diet, weigh a perfect weight, and wear a smaller dress size. I didn't realize He had created my body to need a balance of fats, carbs, and proteins and I didn't grasp that eating could be an act of worship when it was done with a grateful heart. I didn't understand that the Lord is pleased when one of His daughters put the food He gifted her in her body so that it could thrive and she could have the energy she needs to serve Him. I waisted so much time and energy on guilt that was based on lies.

I had other misconceptions of what I believed sin was. A part of that came from my melancholic temperament. To stay safe I viewed things from a very black and white perspective. Things were either all right or all wrong. That lead me to believe that there was an absolute way to do things that would be right in every single situation. When I left home and met all sorts of people, I found people from different walks of life, different churches, and from different parts of the country had very different views of what was right and what was wrong. My list of wrongs and potential ways to sin grew with every person I met. Over time it became exhausting!

Then we landed in a little Baptist church in Mississippi. This church was different than any church of which I had been a part. Our other churches had pastors who mostly evangelized, which left me in a state of wondering if I was really saved. But in this church, the pastor gave a clear gospel, spelling out God's grace every time he spoke. At the same time, he taught the Word verse by verse, taking as long as he needed to get through a book. In addition, the pastor loved to answer questions. Many of us were young college students or young marrieds and we were hungry for knowledge of God and His love. We were nurtured and taught the word of God by the pastor and the deacons and the Sunday school teachers. After church we often had pot lucks or went to lunch and continuously discussed the Bible and asked questions about the sermons and about how to apply the Word to life.

Overtime, my views began to change. I no longer viewed God as an angry, distant God who sat in heaven, waiting to punish people who failed. Instead, I viewed Him as a God who loved so much He became not only the just, but the justifier. I saw Him not only the lawgiver, but the law fulfiller. I not only saw Him as a judge, but the Sacrificial Lamb who bore His judgement--God's wrath for sin. I saw Him not only as the Sovereign One who has the right to determine my days and my journey, but as the Good Father who walks me through life step by step, revealing Himself and His grace to me as He reveals hidden sin in my life in a loving way. I no longer saw Him as a God who expected me to already be a better person, but as a God who understands my brokenness and the ambivalence with which I struggle in wanting to do His will while my flesh is clamoring to do mine and gives me the strength to make better choices. I no longer saw Him as a God who expected me to not be broken, but as the God who gives me counsel as He heals my brokenness.

I came to realize that the condemnation that had plagued me for so long was the work of The Enemy and that God calls me to repentance through His goodness. I began to relax and lean into God in faith, fully trusting His finished work on the cross and His loving care in this life I am living. I began to see the Christian life as less black and white and more in shades of gray where love can often determine actions that need to be taken as I trust God to give me wisdom abundantly.  

So, is God mad at me? The answer to that is a resounding, "NO!" The proof is in the Word. Romans 5:9 says, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." The disciple known as the one Jesus loved even said, in 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Abuse and the Church

When church leaders abuse power, they do great harm to people God has placed in their care. That is why God gave the church a list of specific qualifications for church leadership. Paul gave Timothy two lists, one was the qualifications of elders and one the qualifications of deacons. For the sake of space I combined the lists. Leaders are to:

  • be above reproach
  • be the husband of one wife
  • be sober minded
  • be self-controlled
  • be respectable
  • be dignified
  • be hospitable
  • be able to teach
  • not be a drunkard who is addicted to wine
  • be gentle--not violent
  • not be quarrelsome
  • not be a lover of money
  • be a good manger of his household and his family,
  • not be new covert
  • not be double-tongued
  • be tested and proved blameless over time
  • have a good reputation with those outside the church. 

Because Timothy was young, Paul also gave him additional advice on being a godly leader. He told Timothy to train himself for godliness as he taught the Word of God. He also told him to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity so no one  could despise his being a young pastor. In additions, he was to develop the gifts the Holy Spirit had given him. Paul said, "Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself! Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

In addition, Paul also advised young Timothy on how to relate to those God placed in his flock. He told him to not speak harshly to older men. He was to encourage them as he would his own father. He was also to encourage the older women as he would his mother. He was to treat young men with the respect he would show his a brother. He was also to treat the younger women as sisters and Paul added the words "in all purity." Important words they are! 
 
From Paul's instructions,  we see he understood the potential leaders have for failure. He put several things in place that he had hoped would safeguard them. First, Paul set the standard for becoming a church leader high. His plan wasn't to give mediocre believers leadership positions and then hope they would somehow live it out. No, they were to be chosen because they were already living the standard out loud! Second, Paul gave instructions they were to follow to insure they stayed on track. The verbs he used in this list are proactive words that were to be done continuously--"train," "develop," "practice," "immerse," "watch yourself," and "persist." Third, he wanted Timothy to have a great regard for the people in his care. He was not to use them or abuse them in any way, but to care for them as he would his own family. Those are tall orders for any of us to keep, but they are even more important for leaders, because every Sunday when they stand in the pulpit or the classroom and declare the Word of God, their lifestyle impacts how people receive the Word, which in turn has an eternal impact on people and their souls. 

Recently, the Catholic church has been in in the news for thousands of cases of childhood sexual abuse that took place over many years in Pennsylvania. Instead of dealing with the sin, the Catholic church silenced victims, hid horrific sin, and left sinful men to continue to abuse more children. The church quit being the church when it quit caring for the flock! Because of the support group ministry I lead, I can honestly say that it isn't just the Catholic church in which abuse takes place. It happens in every single denomination. Church can even be a good place for predators to hide, because who would believe gifted pastors, youth workers, Sunday School teachers, or worship leader would do harm to others? Abusers don't look like abusers. They look like good people. They groom others to believe they are good and then they betray them.  

Maybe, just maybe, all churches need to make sure their qualifications for leadership truly aligns to the Word of God. Maybe they need to make sure every pastor, church volunteer, and worship leader passes background tests and are living out loud the same list of verbs Paul gave Timothy. And maybe every one of us in the church needs to examine our own hearts and make sure we are treating one another with respect that family is due, in all purity. Our men need to teach our young men what it means to live purely and to treat young women with all purity! 

And when a church and/or its leader fails, we need to be honest and report it to the church and to legal authorities when necessary so abuse is stopped in its tracks! We need to believe the victims who report and provide care over the long hall to help restore their faith in Christ. 

Think what it is like to a child or an adult who was not believed, who was silenced, or who was dismissed by leadership when they reported something that took every ounce of courage they could muster. 

Think how hard it is for the survivors who were forced to continue attending church with their perpetrators because it wasn't reported to legal authorities and let's give them ample time to work through that kind of betrayal as well as the betrayal of their perpetrator.  

Think what it is like for survivors who decide to go back to church, only to be greeted at the door by their perpetrator. Think what it is like for the one who watches as his or her perpetrator prays with other children at the front of the church. Think what it is like for the one who is being lead in worship by a former abuser. Think what it is like for the one who is being taught the Word of God by someone who abused them in the counseling office. Let's carry out Biblical discipline so that perpetrators are not leaders in the church. 

At one point we discussed an abuse support group what it would take to learn to trust a church after one has been abused by someone who claimed to be a Christian. I expected the women to say they wanted leaders to be perfect to insure their safety. But no one of them said that. They said they would feel safe if a leader who falls fully owns it and then confesses it without casting blame or giving excuses. They said that they would trust a church who dealt swiftly with the sin of its leaders and reports to the police when a crime is committed as in the case of childhood sexual abuse or rape. The consensus was that Christ didn't hide sin in the religious system of His day, He fully exposed and dealt swiftly  with it. And to be like Christ, don't we have to do the same? 

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!