Thursday, July 11, 2019

There is More to the Story of the Cross

Several years ago, I was struggling with sin, unresolved pain, and a defeated image of myself. I was working with a Christian therapist, who frequently challenged lies I was believing and cognitive distortions I with which I struggled that impacted how I viewed myself. While she never down played the seriousness of sin, she did encourage me to be as gracious to myself as I would be to others. She also suggested I become more curious about my failures and to try to understand why I did what I did, instead of "beating myself up" with harsh judgements and negative self talk .

One morning I woke up feeling extremely defeated, but I decided to push past it. I got out of bed, dressed, grabbed praise music, and went for a walk. While walking, I poured out my hurt, my discouragement, and the feelings of guilt that were plaguing my perfectionistic heart. One of the songs I was listening to was about the cross. As I listened, a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross came to mind. His blood was dripping from the wounds He had received when He was beaten and nailed to the cross. Then I noticed other wounds in His flesh. These wounds were the names of the sins that I had been confessing to Him etched in His flesh. For a moment I was filled with shame, but then something propelled me to look to His face. First, I noticed the crown of thorns and the blood dripping on His brow where thorns cut deep. Then I noticed His eyes were filled with kindness and His face with love. Something in me shifted as the shame melted away and I began to grasp that the radical implications of Jesus' death went beyond the satisfaction of God's justice for sin. And that place where Christ hung bruised, bleeding, rejected, cursed, and forsaken--it became a place of healing for me.

When I saw the words of my sin etched in His flesh, the reality of His death became close and personal. It no longer seemed like something that happened long ago in a far away land, it was real to me in the here and now. That wounded part of me that had believed the lie that my abuse, my failures, the messages others spoke over me proved I was the child that was less loved by God began to change. But, seeing Him in front of me with my sin etched in His body made it clear that God had sought me, putting many in my life to lead me to Him. The visual of Christ absorbing my sin reminded me that He died so I could have His goodness imputed to me by faith. That means the Father only sees me as one wrapped up in the goodness of Christ! Grasping that helped me to quit thinking of myself as a bothersome, tolerated child and to start seeing myself as a beloved child, created by Him and for Him, who had been forever fully reconciled by Jesus. I no longer pictured God as sighing and reluctantly turning towards me when I started praying. Instead, I began to see Him as a Father whose eyes are always watching over me and light up when I turn to speak to Him. I also began to see Him as a Father whose ears are tuned into my voice, recognizing it above the loud chatter of this world.    

Seeing the Savior, bruised and flesh-torn, hanging there naked on the cross helped me believe He understood what it felt like to bear the consequences of others' sin. From the time Jesus was born, His life was threatened. He was lied about. He was rejected. His motives were questioned. He was a victim of the first birther movement. His words were frequently doubted or misconstrued. He was called crazy and child of Satan. He was falsely accused and then illegally tried while the man in charge knew and chose to do nothing. His innocence was ignored, while a known thief was set free. His works that gave sight to the blind, working limbs to the lame, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, freedom to those tormented by demons, and life to the dead were called evil. He was beaten beyond recognition and then humiliated, the crowd spitting at Him and plucking hair from His beard as they mocked Him with hate-filled chants. All of that and the cross helped me see that He truly understands the wounds we experience at the hands of others. His being a sympathetic high priest became real to me. I no longer saw God as an impatient Father, telling me to suck it up, get over it, or just forgive and move on. I began to see Him as a Father, eager to listen until all the words I needed to say were said. I began to see Him as an empathetic Father, whose empathy never diminished as He was willing to sit with me until all of the pain buried deep was released. I began to see Him as a comforter, His own scars reminding me He truly understands.

The crown of thorns that represented the curse took on new meaning when I saw blood dripping from where it had pierced His brow. It helped me see that His blood not only covers my sin, it covers the curse. The thorns had their beginning in Eden where Adam and Eve freely communed with God and each other in a perfect environment. When they sinned, they were cast from Eden to live in a desert to experience thorns, pestilence, and droughts, all of which represent what was taking place in them spiritually and relationally. And the human race was cast with them to experience pain because of the thorns of selfishness, self-centeredness, and sin that enslaves us. And, our relationships became marred as we are driven by an unquenchable thirst to be known, accepted, or approved by others who are just as thirsty and broken as us. And the fear and the chaos caused by pestilence--those things that come against us to hinder the growth of marriages, the unity of our families, and hindering the  building of God-loving churches. The pestilence is things like pornography that kills marriages every day. It is the plague of divorce that robs children of relationships with parents, leaving them looking for parental blessings elsewhere. It is the redefining of good and evil and the political correctness that calls God's truth hatred. It is the everyday business and constant technology that hinders the face-to-face fellowship of believers, leaving them isolated, starving for relational intimacy, and looking a whole lot like the world.

In seeing that visual of God's grace so personally, I began to see that through Christ, the sin within, the curse, the thorns, the pestilence, and the unquenchable thirst I was experiencing no longer defined me. It was and is in my relationship with Christ that I find my true identity and the freedom to be who God created me to be. The words and the lies that were spoken over me, the actions that were perpetrated against me, the Enemy's accusing voice in the face of it all no longer have the power to defeat this child, who has been saved, is in the process of being sanctified and healed, and will be one day fully transformed by His grace. Oh, there is so much more to the story of the cross.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Sports Car Can't do What Marriage Can

"Iron sharpens iron, and one mans sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

One night my husband and I were watching TV and a restaurant commercial came on. This company has used sex for several years to sell hamburgers. My husband surprised me by saying rather assertively, "And that is why I never go there!" His statement lead to a fun discussion about commercials and how often they use sexuality to sell goods.

We concluded that companies that use sex to sell, weren't all that creative. It is the easy go to, and in all honesty it probably works. We both realized we prefer humorous commercials, especially ones that contain spunky people in them. We also acknowledged that sentimental commercials usually can also engage and get an, "Awe...." from both of us. I especially have a fondness for Hallmark commercials. It isn't because I necessarily like them. I typically think them a bit mushy, but they were the cheapest pregnancy test on the market when I was having babies. Before I would even know I was pregnant, one of those commercials would come on and I would dissolve into tears. When the tears came, my husband would turn and look at me with big eyes and we both knew it was time to go to the doctor. It happened with every pregnancy. 

We noticed we were partial to commercials that portrayed the life stage we were currently in. As newly weds, commercials that showed engagements, weddings, or honey-mooning couples appealed to us. A few years a coffee company put out a series of commercials about a couple who met over coffee and built a relationship. The series of commercials literally told the couple's love story over time. We both would stop what we were doing to watch those commercials, especially when new ones came out that told more about the story. As we started having kids, commercials with cute kids  made us smile. After all who wouldn't be drawn to dancing kids or toddlers toddling in green socks? Then as our kids were leaving home the commercial we both liked was a coffee commercial in which a sister wakes up early to her big brother coming home for Christmas. They enjoy a quiet moment before mom and dad smell coffee brewing and come running down the stairs. Then when our sons went to war, any commercial with military families in it would tug at our hearts. Now it is the grandchildren and puppy commercials that get our attention. 

I have thought a lot about the science of making commercials.  I am not against commercials. They serve a purpose. Some are even informative and some remind me I need to write something on the grocery list, and some help me decide to try a new product when I am not happy with one I use. 

On the other hand, there are many commercial that are misleading or full of lies. The people who create commercials want to make commercials that appeal to our senses, our emotions, or our desires. As a believer I was struck that the tactics they use are similar to the tactics of the Enemy listed in 1 John 2:16--the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. It didn't really surprise me in that we are ambassadors living in a world system in which the Enemy is very active. Maybe, just maybe we could categorize commercial by these tactics and become wiser consumers. 

Recently I saw a commercial that evoked a strong angry response from me and it wasn't even a commercial using sex. It was a car commercial that started out like the sentimental commercials that I like. It showed all the cars a couple bought over the years for the different life stages they were in. Towards the end of the commercial the dad handed his car keys over to his daughter and she pulled out of the driveway. The camera then switched over to the dad pulling out of the garage in a little sports car with the commentator saying, "And the car that reminds you of you when you were you."

I admit they initially sucked me in, as we had to change cars several times as our family grew. I admit I even lit up when I saw the sports car. I have wanted a red convertible every since I was fifteen. In my mind, I pictured my hair blowing, the warm sun on my face, loud praise music playing as I sped over mountain curves. But I got married and we chose to put my husband through six years of graduate school. Then had five kids. A sports care wasn't financially feasible on a graduate students salary or impractical for a large family. And the reality is I have PTSD and being in any car, much less a sports car with wind in my face isn't really fun for me. Not getting the sports car I had dreamed about isn't what made me angry at the commercial. It was the lie that is in embedded in the comment that was made as the man drove off.

For you see, as a math major I could have gone on to graduate school and made quite a bit of money and gotten that little red sports car I wanted. But I chose marriage and marriage didn't make me less me. In fact, marriage brought out the best of me and the worst of me. It brought out in me a heart full of compassion and love for a man who had a very difficult childhood and who was told he wouldn't amount to much. Yet we got through his graduate schooling together and he graduated as Dr. Daddy, partly because I believed in him. Whenever we hit rough spots in our marriage I look at his childhood pictures and remind myself that I am married to that cute little guy in coveralls and my pride melts and my love grows.

Being married exposed the ugly selfishness residing in my heart and my tendency to be self-centered. We both had to learn a lot about compromise and setting goals together. We had to learn to look at ourselves when conflict arose, because the other wasn't capable of making us angry, it was his selfishness bumping against my selfishness that did that. Nope, neither of us became less of ourselves, we became better selves because of what our relationship exposed and the lessons we learned from that exposure. I learned that a soft answer could truly turn away wrath, that love covered a multitude of sins, that grace is experienced the most in intimate relationships, and that some of the best confrontations are gentle ones. Marriage was "iron sharpening iron" God talks about in His word! And believe me, I needed that process badly!

By the time kids came along, I thought we had grown quite a bit and life would be smooth sailing. I was mistaken. I found having five kids did the same thing marriage did--it brought out the best in me and exposed the worst parts of me. I never felt more like who I was supposed to me than when I was pregnant and carried a moving being inside. I would sit for hours and watch the movements and connect with feet and fists. I have never been able to find words to describe how full of love my heart was and is when it comes to my kids (and my grandkids.) That love gave me what I needed to get up all night with crying kids, wipe snotty noses, clean stinky bottoms, wash away blood from wounds, scrub dirty bathrooms when little guys missed the pot, cook countless dinners, wash sink loads of dishes, wash and fold mountains of laundry, pray over sick children, referee squabbles, listen to endless chatter, hold kids with ear aches and asthma all night, and sit by a hospital bed for two weeks,
waiting for our son to heal. 

But it also brought out the worst in me. The time that a knick knack got broken and brought out my wrath. The times the angry voice came out of my mouth and lectured kids who couldn't even process all the words I thought I needed to say. The times I asked the kids how their day at school went, only to realize when I pulled into the drive way that I had tuned them out and not heard a word they said. The banquets I missed as I isolated myself during the battle with an eating disorder. Believe me, I could go on and on and on. Having kids didn't make me less me. It just exposed the ugly parts of me that needed to be transformed. It exposed the immature parts of me that needed to grow up. Being a mom did not make me less of me, it made me more of who God created me to be. Having a sports car earlier in life would not have helped me be more of me. Having sports car now would not make me more me! A sports car could not do for me what being married and having children did. I confess I needed the iron sharpening iron of relationships to grow and become a better me and I needed all the grace I got in that process.

The line in the commercial bothered me because our society is plagued by broken families. The kinds of statements in that commercial appeal to our pride and resemble the temptation in the garden that implies so subtly that something is missing if we don't have something. In my eyes, there is nothing more manly than a married man loving his wife with his words, actions, and sacrifice. There is nothing more manly than a man playing with his children, praying faithfully for them, disciplining them with love, and giving grace when needed. There is nothing more manly than a man who is worn out and feeling inadequate who wants to leave, but chooses to stay. And there is nothing more manly than a man who gives up the dream of a sports car to raise a family. 

Likewise, there is nothing more beautiful than a wife who respects her man. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom feeding a baby from her own body. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom rocking a sick toddler through the night. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom taking her son on a dinner date or dancing in the kitchen as if no one is watching. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom graciously cleaning up milk spilt by two brothers proving strength in an arm wrestling match. There is nothing more beautiful than a mom hugging a child who was dumped by the boy or girl who didn't deserve them any way. There is nothing more beautiful than a worn out mom who is tempted to run from the chaos of family, choosing to stay. Nothing! 

We would do well to remember that is the stuff that real men and women are made of. They push through the hard, through the fear, and through the selfishness to embrace the iron sharpening iron process. I am, I have always been, and I will always be fully me! 

Take note car company: You might have sucked me in had you not ended the commercial on that note!


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!