Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Importance of Voice

Several years ago, I was working as a volunteer with youth and loved it. Then hurtful things happened and I found my voice being silenced and my spiritual gifts being negated. I had a couple of people I trust ask me if maybe God was using those things to redirect me to a different ministry where I could use my voice, experiences, and gifts freely. I wrestled with their words and could not decide if leaving was a redirection or running from a difficult situation God wanted me to work through. One night I went to bed and dreamed I was walking down a busy street and every person I passed had empty eyes and no mouth. I woke up with tears pouring down my cheeks, begging the Lord to please give people their voices. God used the dream to develop a new passion in me--a passion to help people regain their voices, speak their stories and move past pain they have endured. It led me to start writing curriculum and to start a support group ministry in which women find safety and are encouraged to use their voices. In our groups they get to tell their stories, knowing their stories will be treated with respect and they will be heard and treated with compassion. In this ministry we get to walk along side of women as they connect to the Savior so deeply they find hope, healing, and freedom from their pasts.

Well-meaning parents sometimes say things that shame children into silence, causing them to quit using their voices to tell their stories and express their emotional pain. Sadly, that pain actually signals that something is wrong and needs to be corrected, leaving them unprotected. The kinds of words that silence kids are: "Don't feel that way!" "You must have misunderstood what they said (or did)." "Don't be a baby." "Don't let you sister know she hurt you and maybe she won't do it anymore." "Other kids don't feel (or cry) the way you do!" "Hush, we can't talk about that person that way. We will ruin his reputation. (hurt our church’s testimony)." "Tell them sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." "Stop that crying!" "If you keep crying, I will give you something to cry about." "Put a smile on your face right now!" "We don't do anger in this house!" "Grow up!" Sometimes these messages given are silent or subtler. Maybe a child is only acknowledged or given attention when they smile and don’t complain. A lot of kids are never asked why they are sad, scared, or don't want to participate in activities. 

Believers' responses to emotional pain and hard stories are not always better. Take the issue of anger. We can forget there is an anger that is righteous. Christ demonstrated it several times. Yet, when I shared about the bullying my kids were experiencing on a daily basis, I was admonished by a believer for not forgiving. I honestly forgave daily, but it didn't stop the bullying or the pain we experienced as a family. Those who are hurting may first try to share anger over their mistreatment. They are often quickly silenced by admonitions to forgive, reminders that believers are supposed to be full of joy, or a Bible verse quoted in a condescending way. These things silence people, leaving them with their pain intensified by the secondary emotion of shame, causing people to deny and to bury both the story and the emotion deeper. What we need in those moments is for someone to acknowledge the pain underneath our anger. Sexual abuse victims' voices are silenced when they are asked what they were wearing, what they were drinking, and what they did to provoke the predator. They are also silenced when they are met with skepticism or told something that indicates they aren’t believed.

Take the issues associated with anxiety provoking events. Several years ago, one of our sons was in an ATV accident and his spleen ruptured. He when into surgery in serious condition and had complications that included fluid building up around his heart. I stayed with him in ICU for 12 days and then another six days in a regular room. During that time there was a lot of talk about another major surgery on a young man that had already had four units of blood given to him, severe pain caused by being cut from chest bone to pubic bone, who just wanted to be home. After we finally came home, I went to church and a woman asked how we were doing and I started telling her about everything we went through. Instead of letting me talk, she quickly put her hand on my arm and said, "Oh, he is fine, now isn't he?" She may have been uncomfortable with my story and emotions and just wanted me to be ok. Though she may have thought she was helping me, what she did was silence my voice, causing me to stuff emotions that were intensified by the shame behind the message that it was not okay to talk about what we had experienced. I am thankful for counselors and friends who let me use my voice to tell that story until I had drained all the emotions.

To be honest, I get frustrated by those who tell people facing anxiety provoking events that they are sinning for feeling what they feel and for sharing their concerns. Can we not just turn to the person and ask them in that moment if we could pray for them or what we could do to help instead of judging them? We could pray God would meet them in the middle of their hard, that He would give them the strength they need to face each day, that He would calm their fears, and give them insight into what He is doing. We could pray His love would overwhelm them as they journey through difficult times and that He would show them things about Him that they would not otherwise see.

We are friends with a family whose little boy had stage four liver cancer. The mom shared posts on Facebook that included their journey and the Bible art she was drawing that helped her get through those long days of hospital stays. Every year she shares the memories that come up on her page about that time. I have never once thought, "Oh, she should be over this by now.!" When she shares I am reminded of what God did with that sick little boy, with his parents, with his extended family, and with his church. I believe every time she shares those posts I am privileged to hear her voice and watch her continue to work through the medical trauma they all experienced. Some want the church to be a place where everyone is happy all the time, but it isn’t. While we pray for healing, God doesn't always choose to heal. Maybe there are lessons for us in how to love and show compassion in the hard-ongoing painful situations God is working in. Can we allow people to grieve when they need to and to express their concerns even if it is uncomfortable for us or makes us realize God doesn’t fit into a nice and neat little box?

Our God is a communicating God. His word contains stories about real people who had real emotions just like you and me and they had a need to share their stories, too. Think about Joseph who was sold into slavery and suffered so many injustices as he did his best to live well. When those brothers who had sold him showed up at his door needing food, he had a lot of emotions to work through. He cried, He wailed, and he tested them. Those tears and the working through the abuse he suffered was what enabled him to fully forgive his brothers and see God's redemptive plan fully unfold before him so that he, in his grace, preserved the nation of Israel.

When we read Paul's letters to the various churches we catch bits and pieces of his story written in them. I don't believe when he wrote and preached about his past history of trying to destroy the church that he didn't feel remnants of grief over the deaths he caused and the families he destroyed. At the same time, I believe he was overjoyed at the grace God showed him and it motivated him to write and preach the powerful things he did. When he talked about the suffering he endured relationally and physically as a missionary, he penned and preached those things with the same feelings we might experience in those situations. His voice has served generations of believers, including us. From him we learn about the depth of God's grace, and the richness that comes in persevering in the hard.

If we aren't willing to hear others' voices and the stories they tell and if we are not willing to walk through the emotions that arise in the telling, we are missing out on powerful redeeming stories that God is actively writing. We also miss out on the opportunity to witness God's lavish grace. As I watched the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, who sexually abused hundreds of girls, I was infuriated by his predatorial attempts to manipulate the survivors into feeling sorry for him and the judge into silencing their voices in the court room. But the judge did not put up with it. She gave everyone who wanted to speak the chance to use their voice. In doing so, she validated their stories and the pain they suffered at his hands. We need to remember we do not have the right to silence other's voices either--not with platitudes, not with admonitions, not with pats on the arm followed by, "Now, now everything is ok.!" Neither do we have the right to silence others' hard questions about where God was, where God is, or where God will be in their painful stories. We are called to show the same compassion Jesus showed and that includes allowing people to use their voices. Giving importance to another’s voice is giving value to the person and their story.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

It's Always Been about Grace

As a child I usually walked to church alone. When I came home there were no discussions about what I was learning or what I thought about God. I remember being confused and scared because it seemed like there was one God revealed in the Old Testament who was strict and harsh and a very different God revealed in the New Testament who was gracious and kind. I loved the God presented in the New Testament, but my fear of the God from the Old Testament, and trauma I had experienced, made it difficult for me to fully trust Him.

Some of the fear I had was healthy fear that the Holy Spirit used to draw me to the Savior. But, some of the fear was toxic and was formed through misunderstandings of God's Word. These misunderstandings came from not having conversations with adults who could have clarified what I believed, correcting misconceptions I had formed about God. Some fear was caused by good people who left out details they thought we were too young to hear, making God's judgments seem unreasonably harsh and out of control. Some of the misunderstanding came from simply being young and not grasping how sinful humans can be when they choose to live life apart from God. I was scared and literally expected God to strike me dead when I made mistakes or sinned. As a child, I laid in bed at the end of the day worried and replaying my day in my head, hoping every word spoken was true, that I had respected my parents adequately, and that I was loving enough to get to wake up the next day. One time, when the wind blew the front door shut on my hand, it hurt so bad that I screamed a curse word and immediately began trembling, not from pain, but from the fear that God was going to strike me dead for the word I had said.

Fortunately, God took me and my husband to a small Bible teaching church where I studied the Bible under a great teacher and for seven years I could ask questions and explore my views of God in depth. The pastor and the elders believed in a gospel filled with grace and I began to grasp more and more of the love of Christ. I had forgotten which books of the Bible alleviated my unreasonable fears until yesterday when one of our pastors was teaching on Galatians 3, which was the same book that had radically changed my view of God and the Bible.

Verses 17-18 say, "The Law introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." The law was given because of sin and it remained in place until Jesus came. The law is beautiful because it describes God and His holiness. It describes His love and shows His grace through the temporary sacrifices that pointed to the grace that would be shown us through Jesus who would be the Lamb, without blemish or spot, sacrificed for our sin. The law was also God's protection for us and the suffering we inflict upon each other and upon ourselves because sin always causes spiritual, physical, emotional, or relational death.

It is important to understand that when the law was given it was not a replacement for grace and it did not nullify God's promise to Abraham. Neither can the law give us life, because we are incapable of keeping it. The law, when it is obeyed, only puts a stay to the sin in man's heart, preventing some of the wounding and the damage caused by it. Without the law, sex is a free-for-all that spreads disease and death. It also destroys the hearts of those involved because we were not made for sin that binds us into a one flesh relationship with multiple people. Without the law, alcohol and drug abuse destroys bodies and families as users seek their next hit. Without the law rageaholics rage at those around them, breaking hearts and bones, and either killing others or themselves from the stress rage puts on their bodies. Without the law, our selfish hearts tend to love poorly, putting ourselves first, neglecting the hearts and needs of spouses, families, and friends. Sin is serious, serious business. When we don't deal with it and when we don't call the evil deeds we do or the ugly attitudes we display sin, we are prone to take it to levels we never thought we would. This is because it can't fill the needs that were written on our hearts by our Creator leaving us starving for what will fulfill us, and then we lose sight of the truth that only He can fulfill those needs.

The law was a guardian showing us God's character and our need for a Savior and our need to be justified by faith. Now that Jesus has come, we no longer need the law. When we believed in Christ we were sealed by the Holy Spirit who came to dwell in us. We are now children of God, Abraham's seed, and joint heirs with Christ. As believers, we now have the ability to love as Jesus loves. Because of this we don't need the law. That statement will cause some people great angst when they read it. But, if we are walking closely with Christ and spending time with Him, His Spirit in us gives us discernment and godly desires. His Spirit leads us to speak loving words of encouragement that build others up and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. His Spirit enables us to extend grace when it is needed and to set godly boundaries with those who refuse to repent, and to speak the truth in love in such a way that pride is melted and others are drawn back to the Savior.

Non-believers still need the law and its protection as it shows them what sin is, but we don't. We are to focus on love, not sin. As we focus on loving God and others we will automatically show honor and respect to those around us. As we focus on loving, we won't do things from a selfish motive and we won't sin in ways that deeply wounds others. We won't hold on to grudges and we won't speak wounding words intentionally. Those who love well don't abuse or murder others physically or emotionally, they offer life to them. Even in the heat of arguments, Spirit led people can find themselves asking, "What can I do to love you better right now?"

The law does serve a purpose, but its purpose was never about Salvation. That has always been, still is, and always will be about grace.            

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Power of Love

I love to read the interactions that Jesus had with people in the gospels. One that intrigues me is often called the story of the Good Samaritan and is found in Luke 10. In Jesus’ day, it was not unusual for rabbis to hold theological discussions in public places. In this account, a scribe who would have studied the Jewish law, asked Jesus the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" This question was most likely a commonly debated question, but Jesus perceived the Scribe to be testing Him rather than seeking truth, so He simply turned the question back on the scribe. The scribe, knowing the law, answered his own question by quoting two commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him he is right and that if he did these things he would live.

I don't know about you, but when I read those commandments, I can't even get past the first one without feeling strong conviction. I've wrestled long and hard with what it means to love the Lord with all that I am, and I fall short. When I compare my love for the Father to the love Jesus had for Him, my mind gravitates to the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestles in prayer over His impending crucifixion where our shame and sin would be placed on Him, leaving Him to bear His Father's wrath for it. The Bible tells us that the struggle Christ experienced there, as He begged the Father to remove the cup of suffering from Him while desperately longing to do His will, caused Him so much angst that sweat tinged with blood poured from His pores. To be honest, I have never resisted sin to the point that I was shedding blood through my pores. 

The scribe, on the other hand, glossed over the first commandment, asking for clarification of the second. Did he think he loved God so much he was above reproach? Or, did this indicate that in his heart of hearts he knew he was failing to love God well and deflected to the second command that seemed a bit more tangible? As he tried to engage Jesus in philosophical general discussion about who one's neighbors are, Jesus skillfully turned the discussion to a specific, practical discussion by telling him a parable.

The parable was about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers who stripped him of his clothing, who beat him severely, and then left him dying on the side of the road. A priest walking down the same road saw him lying there and he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to see him up close and personal. Then, a Levite came by and did exactly the same thing. They may have been afraid for their own lives, they may have been on time schedules, they may have thought him too far gone to help, or they may have just been self-absorbed people who didn't want to be bothered.  Soon, a Samaritan came by and took pity on the dying man and cleansed and bandaged his wounds. He then put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn and gave the innkeeper two days’ worth of his wages to pay for the man to stay, promising to reimburse the innkeeper for anything else the man might need. Jesus ended the parable by asking the scribe, who was a neighbor to the man in need? The scribe concluded that the one who had mercy on the dying man showed himself to be a neighbor and Christ, in agreement, told him to go and do likewise. 

Our Jesus was not one to waste the words He spoke. He was intentional when He chose to make a Samaritan the hero of this parable. He knew, as a student of the law, the scribe would know that God required Jews to show mercy to both strangers and enemies (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev. 19:33-34; Micah 6:8). Yet, the Jews were known for their hatred of the Samaritans. This meant that the Samaritan in the parable was one who loved those who hated him. He was the one willing to sacrificially spend to provide for the welfare of a stranger without any hint that he expected to be repaid or even recognized for his good deeds. He was the one Jesus used to show us that one doesn't love because one is a neighbor, one becomes a neighbor because we love. 

This parable definitely gives us a good picture of the love to which Jesus is calling us. But even more important, it describes the love Jesus has shown us. Before we believed, we were just like that man. We were broken and dying with no hope of saving ourselves. I love the words Paul penned to the Colossians that describe this, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation." (Col. 1:21-22)  

God has called us to love because there is power in love! It was love that compelled Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that raised us from spiritual death to new life full of hope. It was love that reconciled us with our Creator, fulfilling our deepest longings to belong to a loving family. It was love that freed us from sin and its power over us. It was love that translated us from the dark kingdom ruled by sin and hate into a glorious kingdom ruled by love and holiness. Our love, whether demonstrated through words, actions, compassion or even restraint, also has the power to draw broken, dying people to the Savior who can transform, restore, and heal. There is power in love that is like no other power, because it can soften the hardest heart, making it tender and compassionate. It can change the stone-cold heart into a heart that beats with fierce passion. And it can take a fractured heart and suture the pieces back together in such a way that hope and joy and love flow with every beat of the heart. That is the power of love.   


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!