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.   
  



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!