Monday, December 14, 2020

Christmas Hope for Anxious Hearts

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 4:6-7) This is one of my favorite verses even though I realize it often gets misused to shame anxious hearted people. With  Holidays and Covid 19 looming in the background anxiety has increased. So, today I am revisiting the topic of anxiety, hoping to speak encouragement into to anxious hearts. 

As I have shared in the past, a few years ago we were given a small maltipoo from our kids who moved oversees. Harley came as is a well trained dog, who believes she's human. She was pretty anxious when she was left her with us. But at the time I had a viral infection that caused extreme fatigue for about a year and she spent the year cuddling with me. As a result she attached to me, my husband, and a son who was staying with us at the time. Then movers came and once again she watched stuff get packed and carried out the door and another person disappeared from her life as our son moved away. She once again grew anxious and wants to be in someone's lap 24/7.

When I put her down to clean house, she follows me from room to room and there are times I sit down with her and feel her trembling, which is what she does when she realizes we are about to leave the house without her. Her anxiety grieves my heart because she gets so anxious anticipating a possible abandonment that  she  can't enjoy the great amount of time she spends on my lap. In watching her, I realized I have had a lot in common with her. I spent many years living with the same type of anticipatory anxiety that prevented me from fully enjoying both life and my relationship with God. 

Anxiety is an experience common to all humans. This is especially true this holiday season with Covid 19 numbers rising. Rising numbers has caused lockdowns, which has means we are having to isolate more, increasing loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Anxiety is also rising because people are losing jobs, businesses, and homes right before the holidays. There is anxiety for those who are in the workforce who know they might be exposed to Covid and carry it home, especially those who work in the medical field. 

There is also anxiety that comes with a never ending election riddled with so many hate-filled words being spewed everywhere and the threat of violence that is residing just underneath the surface, looking for any reason to erupt. There is anxiety for those who have family members working in law enforcement who know spouses, parents or grandparents on the force may be targeted by violence for wearing the uniform.  
   
There is also anxiety that comes from wanting to have perfect Christmases, give perfect gifts, and respond perfectly to the gifts we are given. There is anxiety in anticipating family dysfunction and family drama that can erupt when people with unresolved baggage come together. This is especially true this year when many families are split politically. We also may experience anxiety because we want our Christmases to make up for the hard year we have all had. 

For believers, anxiety lends to toxic shame as we have come to believe we aren't supposed to ever experience anxiousness. Yet, we do experience anxiety even though we may try to either deny or hide it. When we do that we choose to live a lie instead of honestly acknowledging the hard that comes from living in a fallen world. 

The reasons we, as believers, experience anxiety are many. First, we live in a fallen world and may have experienced painful or traumatic events. A normal healthy response to early trauma does include anxiety. Think of a child who experiences childhood trauma at a young age who doesn't have the mental or emotional capacity to process it. Their body responds as it is designed to respond. That means surging chemicals floods them so they will flee, freeze, fight, or play dead to stay safe. Because they are too young to know how to use effectively use that energy, the anxiety of the experience gets imprinted in such a way that it recurs when it gets triggered by things the mind remembers  subconsciously--a smell, a sound, a season of the year, holiday lights, etc. As they experience triggers, anxiety rises of its own accord. 

There is also anxiety provoking things going on in the here and now. I think of those diagnosed with cancer. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we realize they face mortality daily in ways most of us don't. They face difficult decisions about therapies that can potentially poison their bodies as they kill the cancer. They also face soaring medical bills and do battle with insurance companies who refuse to pay. Anxiety can also come from not being sure one can tolerate chemo and wondering if their faith will be strong enough to endure the illness and its painful treatments. It comes from wondering if they will suffer well and continue to be a light or be able to sense God and His love, knowing full well that He can heal, but may choose not to. 

There is compounded anxiety when families deal with sick children during holidays. I follow the posts of mom's whose children were born with heart defects. A little girl named Charlie was born with half a heart and has gone through several open heart surgeries. The road they travel is long and death will always be a very real possibility. They walk closely with God and the song they sing over her continually declares yes to God's will and yes to His ways. But there is anxiety to be reckoned with when Charlie faces life threatening bumps in the journey and fights to survive with half a heart that loves big. 

The other child is sweet Caleb who has already been given a new heart. But the new heart didn't stop the anxiety for his parents when drugs preventing rejection left his immune system compromised and vulnerable to both blood and eye cancers with which he's battled brave. I know his sweet mama personally and am a part of her tribe. I know she is experiencing even more anxiety this year with Covid numbers rising. She makes healthy choices for her child and trusts God in ways I can't even imagine. 

There is a lot of anxiety felt in families who have someone struggling with addictions, which can raise their ugly heads in holidays. Each wonders what they will face during the holidays and walk on eggshells, fearful they will say or do something that will cause a relapse...and the drinking, the drug use, or visits to porn sites will start up, leaving the house in chaos as wounding behaviors follow in the aftermath. There is also anxiety because holiday stress can trigger addicts to drink, snort, shoot up, or return to the darkness of his or her infidelity through internet porn--the fixes that leave a family open to dark spiritual influences that can pass to future generations.

There is anxiety in families in which mental illness dwells. Will this be the holiday the depression gives way to suicide? Will mom, dad, or a sibling be calm and happy, agitated and angry, depressed and unavailable, or on a mania high or a catatonic slow state?  Will the fear instilled by the paranoid come to fruition? All the while the children are trying to figure out if there is something they did to cause the behaviors and actions of those they love or if there is something they can do to bring stability to the instability--a responsibility way to big for such little shoulders, birthing a debilitating storm of anxiety in a child's soul.  

There is anxiety in homes where marriages are broken as family members wonder if the next mistake made, the next thoughtless word spoken, the next problem experienced with the kids, the next financial setback might be the final trigger that ends the marriage, fracturing a family into two hurting pieces. Anxiety also comes to the children overhearing arguments and assuming responsibility to smooth things over so neither mom or dad leave. There is anxiety in kids whose families have already split as they travel between homes, hoping they won't be the source of conflict and disscomfort.

There is anxiety caused by core beliefs developed at an early age--beliefs that impact thoughts, actions, reactions, and feelings. Some of my anxiety-inducing core beliefs were: "I am responsible for everyone's happiness." "My being loved depends on me being a perfect size, a perfect wife, a perfect mom, and a perfect believer." "My value and worth as a person comes from what I do." During holidays, my anxiety is tied to wanting to find the perfect present for everyone and wanting to respond perfectly to every gift received, which is hard for an emotionally-reserved introvert. That perfectionism is complicated because having the perfect marriage, perfect family, and perfect holidays depends not just on me being perfect (and I am not), but on others being perfect (and they are not). I've no right to project perfectionism and am simply called to love well, to extend grace, and to lovingly speak truth. 

Over the last few years I've learned things that have calmed my anxious heart. First, I learned our God doesn't demand perfection. He desires us to be humble and to express anxious thoughts to safe, nonjudgmental friends. I am graced with such friends who listen well and friends who remind me they hear me and see me and their words remind me that my heavenly Father sees me as well. Sometimes my friends share truth about God's goodness, bigness, and graciousness in non-shaming ways, but most often they just listen, knowing I simply need to bring it to the light. Sometimes they offer to pray with me and give me the opportunity to cast my cares on God, because He cares for me.  

Secondly, I learned to choose wisely with whom I share my struggle. This was a hard lesson learned when I shared with people who were quick to judge and admonish me rather than listen and encourage. I have learned to share only with those who understand God's love and grace and who are more about transparency than appearances. They are the ones whose gentle encouragement reminds me to continue believing our God is bigger than Covid, conflicted elections, and family dysfunction.

The third lesson I've learned is when I feel panicked and anxious I can talk freely to God about it because He isn't waiting to strike me with lighting because of a feeling I am experiencing. He's always  inviting me to remember who He is and who I am in Him. Remembering God's character, strength, love, and grace helps me stay calm today just as it did through an accident our daughter, her husband, and infant son were in, an ATV accident our youngest had that caused life-threatening injuries, and the birth of a granddaughter born three months too soon, and a such a severe break in my ankle that the doctors said, "If you walk again..." 

The fourth lesson I learned was that I could dissolve or manage anxiety that was caused or increased by lies I believed. I learned the lies from others who were misguided, from misinterpreting things I saw, and from The Enemy who seeks to squash faith by whispering lies in our ears. His lies made me feel that I was both too much and not enough. He lies stirred anxiety when he whispered half truths that stirred up doubt about God, His character, His love, His goodness, and His faithfulness. My anxiety decreases when I confront lies and boldly declare truth. 

The Enemy wants us to forget we are chosen, accepted, redeemed, beloved children who have been bought with the blood of God's own Son and sealed us into His family by His own Spirit. Satan wants us to believe our circumstances prove we're bad, forgotten, unseen, or abandoned by the God who calls us His own. The Enemy shames us because shame causes us to hide or deny our reality instead of casting it on God through prayer and thanksgiving. The Enemy uses shame to stir a form of pride that drives us to look "all together" while quaking at our core so we won't experience the care and comfort of the God who gives it freely. The Enemy also uses shame to isolate us because he knows when we engage with others, we get out of our own heads and see the lies for what they are. The Enemy deceives so we will feel responsible for things of which we have no control--things like others' feelings, attitudes, choices, beliefs. and actions. He prompts us with the should of shame, the seduction of power, and reminder of sin already confessed.

So, why do I write of all this in a advent post? I write it because this holiday is a Holy Holiday  commemorating the birth of our Savior--the God-man who took on flesh to die as a payment for sin, the birth of our Shepherd who loves and seeks His sheep, the birth of our King who had made us joint Heirs with Him. The Enemy wants us to take our eyes off Jesus and put it on anxiety-provoking things like the creation of the perfect Christmas, Covid, and political unrest. Let's not buy into the lies he tells so we can rest in God-given peace and joy. May our holiday goals be connection, loving well, acceptance of our perfectly imperfect selves, sweet conversations, and simple gifts that remind us of Jesus. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

The Promised One

When I was a child, Christmas felt magical to me because people seemed to be friendlier and kinder to each other during the Christmas season. When they passed each other in the store or saw each other at church, they took time out of busy schedules to greet one another and to engage in conversations. And, wen they parted they wished each other, "Merry Christmas!" It also seemed magical because we had extended family who visited and had traditional holiday meals laid out on elegantly decorated tables. I remember the peace of gazing at the Christmas tree lights as I sipped cocoa in front of a fireplace and the joy of listening to the garbled sounds of adults talking as I drifted off to sleep, thankful more of the people I loved were under our roof.

When I began attending church, Christmas took on a more important meaning to me and the feeling of it being magical was replaced by a feeling of deep awe that continued to grow year after year. I used to think the Christmas story began in the gospels. But, I have since come to understand the story didn't began with an angel visiting Mary or with angels singing to shepherds in the fields or the Shekinah Glory in the east--it began in the garden of Eden--a garden God had planted for the people He created and breathed life into. It began with something so sinister we don't like to include it in our sanitized versions of the Christmas story. But, we must. For without the bad we can't grasp the depth of the the good and of the loving kindness of our God. Nor, can we grasp the significance of His pursuit of us and the Promised One He has given. 

The story began on a warm perfect day with temptation laid out by a slithering serpent and the sound of his smooth voice hissing lies and half truths to God's people. It continued with Eve forgetting she were created to be God's image bearer became dissatisfied with her life for the very first time. It continued as she began to see God's command not to eat one particular fruit as a deprivation rather than the protection it was. Her dissatisfaction grew as her desire for the God-forbidden fruit became inflamed by the feeling of deprivation and grew into a belief that she deserved more. It continued when she eyed the fruit and reached for it and smelled its sweetness and took a bite, It continued as she shared of her sin with her man who was ever so silently standing by her side as she engaged in the conversation with a hissing serpent. It continued with the overwhelming shame that grew in their hearts as the reality of what they had done sank in. It continued when their futile attempts to cover their shame with clothes of fig leaves that proved inadequate. It continued with their hiding from the Creator when they heard Him approaching. It continued when for the first time ever He had to call for them.

But there was no place big enough to hide them and their shame from the God who is omniscient. Little did they understand that God loved big enough to relentlessly pursue them even in the aftermath of what they had done. He met them where they were at and He clothed them in animal skins that He, Himself, sacrificed--a sacrifice that was a physical picture of His loving Promise of One who would one day take God's wrath for sin committed, who would overcome the death they were dying, and who would destroy the enemy seeking to destroy them.

Since that dark day in the Garden, we who were meant to behold God and fellowship with Him and reflect His glory have been sinning and forsaking the Creator just as Adam and Eve did. As a result, we, too, are shrouded in debilitating shame and hiding from the Creator and from each other. We may not hide behind leaves and bushes, but we hide behind masks that attempt to portray false selves that are way better than we really are. We hide behind shameful behavior like name calling, addictions,  cursing,  deception, abandonment, and abuse. We hide behind vows of not needing the love, approval, and acceptance of our God or other people. But the masks, the  shameful behavior, and the vows we make--they don't dissolve shame that flourishes in hiding.

The solution of shame resides in our persistently pursuing God who transform shame with the blood of the Promised One. The Promised One being Jesus who was born shamefully to an unwed mother, who lived in the shameful region of Nazareth, who shamefully walked with women, who shamefully blessed children, who shamefully touched lepers, who shamefully cast out demons, who shamefully forgave adulterers, and who shamefully dined with sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans, and tax collectors. The Son fulfilled the Promise when He was shamefully sold for the price of a slave, was shamefully arrested, was shamefully insulted by the crowd calling for His death, shamefully flogged, shamefully face-slapped and beard plucked, shamefully stripped and crowned with earth-cursed thorns, shamefully nailed to a cross to die a criminal's death, shamefully faced His Father's wrath, and shamefully placed in a borrowed tomb.

We often fail to see, He chose to lay down His life, not just as a payment for sin, but because He despised the shame that's tendrils have been suffocating the life out of us ever since Eden. I wish we could understand that He has never despised us; He has despised the shame with which we've been plagued since the fall. Diane Langberg so eloquently pointed out in her book, Suffering and the Heart of God, He did not let the shame people and His circumstance heaped upon Him define Him, diminish Him, or destroy His work and His purpose--He looked it fully in the face as His Father turned away so that He could transform our shame into glory.

As we remember the Baby born to a young virgin, laid in a manger, worshiped by shepherds, and visited by the Magi, may we never lose sight  that the Promised One humbled Himself, taking on the form of man, being obedient to death, was the very One who defeated sin and death so we could behold Him and have our shame transformed into glory as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "We all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory."

The Christmas Story without the backdrop of the Garden looses its ability to show the true story God has penned--a story that is both messy and beautiful--messy because it includes our sin and shame and our failure to love and obey God and beautiful because it includes our loving God radically pursing fallen creatures, and a promise that was fulfilled in the Promised One. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us of the glory of which our sin stripped us. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us that by faith in Christ we have been provided a way to enter His presence, which is the very place we need to be to have shame transformed into glory.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

When Christmas Leaves You Longing For Home

 I have had the privilege of serving in a support group ministry and have met some amazing ladies over the years. One year I had several younger women who had grown up in extremely dysfunctional and abusive homes. They quickly bonded because they each had difficult stories and could relate to the pain the others had suffered. They could also relate to the struggles each faced as they worked to find freedom from their pasts. They worked hard to find healing and to become the women God created them to be. 

They were wise and set strict, healthy boundaries with their families of origin. The boundaries were very needed for them to grow and heal. But sometimes those boundaries felt hard and felt lonely. That year when Christmas was approaching, one of the young ladies remarked that she was really missing her family. One of them sighed and responded wistfully, "Yeah, I miss the family I made up in my head, too!" They looked at each other and laughed because of the profound words that hung in the air. With their permission, I share this part of their story as holidays approach, because it isn't just true for them, it is true for many of us. 

Holidays can be fun. But, holidays can also be very hard. They can be difficult when we have had to separate ourselves from abusive families to stay safe. They can be especially hard because holidays often surface the longing for healthy loving families that that most often go unfulfilled. 

Holidays can also be difficult when we don't have to separate for safety sake. They can be hard as anxiety rises around holiday preparations that gets coupled with the dread of conflicts that often ignites when extended families rub shoulders. The shared history that sometimes bonds us also leaves us vulnerable with the knowledge of how to push each other's emotional buttons. Holidays can be hard as tongues are loosed when the alcohol flows freely and words become cutting and pierce the soul. 

Holidays can be hard because we find ourselves grieving over loved ones we have lost. Those loved ones may have been the ones who made the holidays special for us--the child, the soldier, the mom, the dad, the grandparents, or the friend gone too soon. Their empty place stirs an ache in the heart that we try to cover with a smile. 

Holidays can be hard because of grief that we experience over unfulfilled dreams. These dreams can be exposed by the questions we are asked. They can also be exposed by simply being around others whose dreams were fulfilled--dreams of a baby longed for but never had, dreams of specific jobs that went to  less deserving coworkers, dreams of a spouse that hasn't materialized, dreams of an intact marriage that slowly dissolved into a heap of pain, or the dream house we can't afford due to a failing economy. Or grief over the family we can't see due to covid quarantines

Holidays can be hard due to illnesses that can't be healed and pain that makes it hard to be around people we don't want to burden. It can be because of mental illnesses and the unpredictability of another's actions or even our own depression that is a dark fog continually trying to crowd out joy and light. They can be hard because of eating disorders that trigger anxiety as holidays are planned around food or the avoidance of holiday toddies due to one's recovery from alcohol addiction. 

Holidays can be hard because of the fear of giving presents that don't please others or because we fear we can't give the outward joyful reaction our heart feels to a gift that others need us to give. 

And, holidays can be hard when the family puts pressure on us to do away with preset boundaries that we put in place to protect our families, our recoveries, our healing journey, and ourselves.    

So, how do we navigate the holidays in a healthy way? First, we begin by going into the holiday season with eyes wide open. There are no perfect families and their will never be a perfect Christmas. We can enjoy Christmas more when we let go of expectations and the made-up families living in our heads and accept our families as they are. Isn't that acceptance something we, ourselves, long for as well? 

Second, we can commit to treating others with respect while we practice good self-care by getting plenty of rest, drinking water, eating somewhat healthy, and using our voice to request what we desire and what we need. 

Third, we can refuse to take every word, action, or attitude personally because those things are about others' hearts not ours. We can take quiet moments alone to breathe, to grieve, or to regroup as we need it. 

Fourth, we can give thanks for the good moments and learn from the bad, knowing that one doesn't cancel the other out. We can make sure we extend grace to others as well as to ourselves. 

Fifth, we can own our mistakes, apologizing and making amends when needed. We can keep short accounts and forgive quickly. Those of us who are overwhelmed introverts can refuse to compare ourselves to extroverts and focus on one person at a time, fostering meaningful conversations and maybe looking for the one who looks as lost as we feel.   

Sixth, we can remember we have a Savior who cares and wants us to take our grief, our fear, our hurt, and our dreams to Him. If anyone understands dysfunctional families He does. Just look at the people who were in His family line. Abraham, who though he was commended for his faith, lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob weaved a mighty mess with his wives and concubines and the favoritism he showed to one son over eleven others. Naomi the widow became so bitter after the loss of her husband that she changed her name to Mara. David, the man after God's own heart messed up his family by abusing Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He ended up with a son who raped his daughter and chose to do nothing about it. Jesus own brothers thought He was insane. 

Oh, Jesus' family line had its sin, its secrets, and its dysfunction. So, He gets ours. This was proved by the way He treated those around Him. He was full of compassion for the woman caught in adultery who was thrust at his feet. He was full of compassion for the woman at the well who had been married five times and then lived with a man in sin. He was full of compassion for the ill, the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. He fed both those who were hungry, both physically and spiritually. He allowed Mary and Martha to vent their grief and stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept with them before He called him to come out. Our Jesus cares. 

Seventh, we can enter the holidays confident that we have been given a new Heritage through Christ. The pain of our past, the dysfunction of our families, the failure of our Christmases to be perfect don't define us. Jesus, His love and His sacrifice, do. He calls us beloved, chosen, blessed, forgiven, children, and friends. 

As I reflect on past Christmases, one of my most pleasant memories is of when my children were teenagers. They got up early as they always had and opened gifts and all fell asleep watching a Christmas movie. I looked around at my sleeping family and picked up my Bible and read the Christmas story again. I felt overwhelmed by His love, experiencing a heart connection with Him that gave me peace and joy. That joy and that sense of belonging was because I truly felt at home in Him. That sweet moment prepared me for future losses and changes that life brings about in families. But I also realize it fulfilled one of my deepest longings--to finally feel at home somewhere--the somewhere just happened to be a Someone and that Someone is Jesus. 




Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Grace Is More Than A Pardon

When I first became a believer, I had a pretty narrow view of grace. I would have described it as a pardon for my sin. But that view began to change when I studied the attributes of God and came to realize grace was more than a pardon, it was one of God's attributes. That means grace has permeated every action God has taken and every instruction He has given. This means grace dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden when God created Adam and Eve, He graciously placed them in the Garden to tend to it. In that Garden they had everything they needed. They had human relationships that were unhindered by sin, deception, guilt, or shame. They had a sense of purpose when they explored the beauty God created, when they tamed and named the animals, and they they tended the Garden, freely eating from the fruit. They had a spiritual life that was unhindered by sin, allowing them to fellowship freely with their Creator. They lived with only one protective limitation placed on them and as long as they obeyed God's instruction this sheltered, abundant, and harmonious life they live would continue indefinitely. The world and the life God gave them was a demonstration of God's favor--the byproduct of His grace. 

Then Adam and Eve came face to face with a crafty serpent, through whom Satan cast doubt on God's goodness. He did this by questioning God's command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As the serpent spoke Eve glanced at the forbidden tree, noticing it was full of beautiful fruit that whet her appetite. She began to ponder over the serpents words, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil." Those words filled her with doubts God's integrity and about God's goodness and provisions for them. And most importantly she felt a sense of deprivation and dissatisfaction for the first time ever as she longed to be like God, knowing good and evil. And in that state of dissatisfaction and that sense of wanting more, she chose to quit relying on God and to take charge of her own life. She took the fruit and bit and turned to her mate and offered him a bite and he, too, bit.  

Their eyes were immediately opened and they were filled with the dark feeling of shame. They sewed fig leaves together to cover their shame and to hide their nakedness. Then when they heard the Lord walking in the garden, instead of moving towards Him, they hid themselves from His presence. The deceiver hadn't prepared them for the guilt and the shame they would feel over their actions. Nor had prepared him for the fear of the Lord that would fill their souls in the in the aftermath of the choices they made.  

But God's attribute of grace was still in place when He entered the garden that day. Not seeing them, He called to Adam, in a sense inviting him to confess his sin. Adam didn't take him up on the invitation, instead he admitted to God that he was afraid to be seen by Him because of his nakedness. God asked him if he had eaten from the tree He had commanded him not to eat. Adam once again ignored the invitation to confess his disobedience. He instead cast blame on God for creating the woman and then he blamed the woman as well. And the woman did no better. She blamed the serpent for her choice. 

The next verses in the story contain what has always been known as "the Curse." But as I read them, I see God's grace beautifully woven through God's declaration of their consequences. Within the curse, we see grace in the form of the first promise of the Savior who would take their sin in His body. Within the curse we see grace through the protective covering of Adam's leadership assigned over Eve. Within the curse we find grace in the promise that Adam will someday die and return to dust. That may not seem like grace, but it was because God didn't want them to live forever in their fallen, sinful state. I believe Adam saw God's grace in the curse as the name he ascribed to the woman was "Eve," "the mother of all living." 

We also can see God's grace in His actions towards them. God killed an animal and clothed them in garments of skins. When Adam and Eve took off their fig-leaf coverings and replaced them with the garments God had made, they acknowledged that they, themselves, could not repair the damage their sin had caused to the world, to their relationship with each other, and to their relationship with their Creator. He also removed them from the Garden so they could not eat from the tree of life and live in that fallen state forever.

God's grace also shows up in our lives everyday. It shows up in the sunrises and the sunsets He paints across the sky. It shows up in the way He fulfills our needs. It shows up in the work of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our sin, brings to mind God's truth, and whispers the truth of God's love into our hungry souls. It shows up in the design of the church as He gifts people with gifts and passions to build up the body. It shows up in His daily reminders that because of Jesus we are no longer defined by our sin, but by the words Jesus has spoken over us--words like chosen, beloved, redeemed, blessed, restored, reconciled, delivered, forgiven, holy, blameless, above reproach before Him, and qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints. He has also shown us grace through the comfort He gives, the healing He does, and the discipline he administers that helps us grow into His likeness. 

Yes, grace is more than a pardon, it is the assurance that comes from knowing our God and the truths contained in His Word--truths like, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing."(Zephaniah3:17)


Thursday, November 5, 2020

To Please or Not to Please

Hi, my name is Wendy and I am a recovering people pleaser. I do not mean any disrespect to people in recovery by writing that. It is a part of my story. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to please people who were in my life--that included family, teachers, friends, and church family. What I remember most from those years of people pleasing was a terrible angst that I experienced when what I believed would please the Lord would in someway displease some of the people in my life and the angst I experienced when a decision made pleased one person and upset another. I remember at those times crying out to the Lord, saying, "Lord, there is no right choice for me to make." When I did make decisions during those times, those choices most often carried a heavy burden of guilt and shame and a belief that I had somehow failed and second guessed decisions that were godly. 

Some things have happened over the years that have helped reshape my views of people pleasing. First, during a difficult season of decision making I mentioned to a friend that there seemed to be no right decision to make. He looked at me puzzled by my statement and said, "There is always a right decision to be made." We didn't have time to process what I meant by my statement or what he meant by his statement. But, I began to think something was amiss in how I was approaching decision making in my life. Sometime later I was seeking the advice from a pastor on a ministry decision and he laid out the possible options. All of them good and godly, but not all of the options would please everyone involved. I pointed that out, and he gently pointed out my people pleasing ways. At the time I carried a lot of shame and even though the pastor was a good man who did not mean to heap shame on me, I felt a deep shame envelop me when he said those words. From that time on I assumed the desire to please was something shameful which I needed to correct.  

Recently I was listening to Dr. Henry Cloud, on a call in program and he addressed the problem of people pleasing for one of his callers. One of the first things he stated was that the desire to please is written on our hearts by the creator and that the desire to please was not an evil thing. He pointed us to Matthew 25:21, "His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." I realized when Cloud shared those verses that hearing those words from Jesus as I enter into His joy forever is one of my strongest desires. It was so freeing to realize that the desire to please is a good desire, not something about which to be ashamed. 

As I processed the idea of people pleasing through the lens of this truth, I became excited. I realized that when I experience the desire to please whether it be God or others, I don't have to take on that old yoke of shame I once wore. I can simply acknowledge the desires to please and prayerfully research and set some parameters around it to help me discern the choices I have ahead of me that may or may not please others. I identified a couple of things that could help me in this. 

First, I can seek God's wisdom through His Word and through prayer. I know both His will and His design for my life are perfect and never wrong. If my desire to please God is at the center of my decision making process I will seldom make wrong choices. That means when I make a decision that pleases God and displeases a person I have not done anything wrong and a person's displeasure with me is not something I have to own. I can make myself available to have a conversation with them, but at the end of the day, their displeasure with me will not be a deterrent to choosing to please the Lord. Nor, am I responsible for fixing that their feelings as their feelings are about their hearts. I have had a couple of great leaders from our ministry come to me and tell me God was calling them to do something different. I initially felt some grief at the loss our ministry would experience when they left, but I did not feel displeasure or disappointment towards them. I experienced deep joy that they were recognizing God's callings on their lives and were moving a head in faith and confidence to impact women in ways I had never even dreamed of doing. They had in fact grown and matured enough to see more clearly the path God had for them. Their decisions impacted me and the ministry, but God will provide what we need as He moves them. I would have hated it if they were so afraid of disappointing me that they didn't obey God's calling. And it would have been wrong of me to guilt them into staying. 

Second, there are times that I have had to choose between two good choices. Maybe it is a choice of having to choose with whom I will spend time, knowing I would leave the other person disappointed. Maybe it is a choice of choosing which short term missionary trip I will participate in, causing an organization to feel disappointed that I won't be on their team. Maybe, it is choosing which project I will finish first, leaving the recipient of the work not yet done displeased that they have to wait a bit longer. Looking back I see that when I worried about those kinds of things, the mature people graciously accepted the decisions I made without questions or shaming statements. There were times less mature people expressed displeasure over my choices. Sometimes they simply stated their feelings and graciously accepted my explanation that my intention was not to hurt them and things were quickly resolved. There were also times when people became angry, demanding, or judgmental and tried to manipulate me through guilt and shame evoking statements. I have had to learn that their reactions are more about them than me.

I have worked hard to learn to rest in my prayerful decisions, understanding my limitations are sometimes going to expose other's impatience and inappropriate tendency to place expectations and demands on others. By being gracious in hearing, but kindly firm in boundary setting, others are given the opportunity to grow and become more patient and gracious as well. In learning these lessons it has also helped me to not take others' decisions personally, allowing them the same freedom to seek God in their decision making processes. 

I want to be a person who strives to please the Lord in all things. While I want to be a blessing to all the people in my life, I realize that I have had to take a look at what blessings really are. Sometimes they occur when I make a choice that pleases them. But sometimes the bigger blessing comes from the growth of allowing someone to sit in the disappointment caused by a decision I have made. The codependent in me wants others to always feel good, but that is not in their best interest anymore than it is in mine. To please or not to please...that is a fair question. But we won't go wrong if we seek to please the Lord first and utilize His wisdom when our choices impact others.     

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Rachel is Still Weeping

As I was watching Amy Comey Barret's hearings, my heart ached for what she and her family were being put through just because so many are for abortion. I knew as I watched it was time to revisit the topic of abortion. I have shared before that when I read the Bible through for the first time, Matthew 2:18 left me feeling unsettled. "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more." I also shared that I first associated this verse with Moses' time when Pharaoh ordered midwives to kill Jewish babies and with Christ's time when all boys under the age of two were to be put to death to make sure the "King" would not rise to power. 

At the time I discovered these verses I was having my own babies and as I thought about those verses, I could not wrap my mind around the brutal orders given by those men that were responsible for the deaths of so many children. This was especially true as I stood over the baby-sized coffin weeping with my friend as she was burying her six-month-old baby, my heart ached for every child that has been lost and for every mama that has stood with empty arms and engorged breasts, weeping for a child she wanted with all of her heart, but had to lay to rest. It hurt my heart to know those mamas would never hear their babies cry again. Never hear them laugh cute belly laughs. Never hear them call for her after bad dreams. Never hear them sing or watch them dance. Never watch them play tag, catch balls. Never celebrate those milestones that we often take for granted--first steps, birthdays, graduations, holidays, and marriages, and grandchildren. I couldn't help but believe as my friend's baby was laid to rest that Rachel could be heard weeping with all grieving Mamas.  

As I read through the Old Testament, I saw some other things I believed might have caused Rachel to weep. As Israel moved into the Promised Land, some of them made unholy alliances with people who were steeped in pagan worship. Pagan religions were fear-based and centered around idols representing angry gods. To appease angry gods, sacrifices were made and sometimes the sacrifices were daughters who were taken to temples to be sexually abused and trafficked by temple priests. Some parents offered babies to be burned on the alter of stone idols. It was common enough that God forbid the practice in His Law, even requiring a death penalty for those sacrificing children. I can't help but believe as young daughters were taken and left in priest arms and babies were placed on altars to be burned that Rachel could be heard weeping. 

Its easy for us to judge those who sacrificed babies in pagan worship, but aren't we just as guilty of sacrificing children? Some sacrifice their children by letting godless schools and daycare centers raise and indoctrinate their children with perverted confusing ideologies so they can live more comfortably. Some sacrifice them by spending time on technology and watching TV, leaving their children feeling invisible, unheard, and unloved. Some sacrifice them when we vote for legislatures to go easy on those trafficking people's sons and daughters. Some sacrifice their children when they protect their families' or churches' reputations by covering horrific abuse going on in their home or their churches. Some sacrifice their children to the god of lust by bringing pornography into the home, leaving it in the bathroom or on computers where it randomly pops up for little eyes to see. 

Some sacrifice their children by having them literally sucked and scraped out of the womb for convenience sake. Our culture is covering the atrocities of abortion by blocking stories that talk about it in a truthful way. They also cover it up by calling abortion by different names like "women's health care" when it literally has nothing to do with a woman's health. They have also labeled it as a woman's right to choose while refusing to acknowledge that the choice can be made before a child is conceived. They have also cover it by calling a baby "a clump of cells." As I said in the past, we may not be offering our children to gods of stone, but we are offering them to gods of ease, god's of unbridled pleasure, god's of selfishness, god's of addictions, god's of pride, and god's of convenience. I can't help but believe that Rachel can still be heard weeping for the children who need to be loved and protected. When Cain killed Abel, God told Cain that Abel's blood is crying out from the ground...if we could see the blood of aborted babies crying out, we would be swimming in it.  

I have quietly been reading the reasons many women give for being for abortion. Some say it is needed because it interrupts the education and careers of women. Could it be that Barret's hearing enraged many people because by her life and her choices she has proven that with a caring and involved partner women can successfully wear more than one successfully. They can be moms and be judges, nurses, teachers, business owners, architects, Bible study leaders, authors, artists, dancers, musicians, singers, and a host of other things. Some have stated that it is needed for rape victims, yet the abortion industry doesn't always report sexual abuse of minors that resulted in pregnancy. And the number of abortions performed everyday and the number of women marching and saying they are proud of the abortions they have gotten points to the reality that many view abortion as birth control. I have seen posts where women were in favor of abortion they knew women who had more children than they believed they could handle or who were pressured by husbands who wanted to continue to have children until they got the preferred sex. Those are marriage and maybe spiritual issues that need to be handled in counseling offices before conception takes place instead of abortion clinics.  

The handmaiden costumes worn by women in protest of Barret's nomination showed how intolerant some are. My mom told me that as early as I could talk I wanted baby dolls and when I was asked how many kids I wanted, it was always six. As an adult I still wanted six kids. When I got pregnant with my fourth and fifth babies, I could count on one hand the number of people who were excited for us. Most people made jokes about us and others asked rude questions that I would never ask. One of my friends even admitted to me that she had told the doctor we both saw that she thought it was insane, and my doctor graciously told her, "If anyone should have a big family it is her. She is such a capable mom." We chose to stop after our fifth baby, because I wasn't sure my body would carry another child and I had suffered trauma at the hands of a brutal doctor during childbirth. It was a hard decision and one that I grieved. Some don't understand that some women both desire and enjoy children and want large families and take it on themselves to shame women who make that choice. The handmaiden's costumes, the media's judgmental posts, and those crying that her appointment sets women back a hundred years and the jokes and rude comments made to me and my husband prove that proabortion people are not really prochoice when the choice a woman or a couple make is different than theirs.    

I pray often that our government will reverse laws that allow abortion. As I have prayed the period in which legal abortions can occur has been extended to the point that in one state it is up to full term and babies surviving are left to die. It hurts to see women who God made to be nurturers smiling and applauding the lives that have so brutally been terminated. 

Our church sometimes puts up crosses in its lawn representing lives lost every day to abortion.


As I look at all of those crosses I can hear Rachel weeping for the children, can you? 

As I sat by the incubator of our granddaughter born at 26 1/2 weeks, I prayed for her as I observed how perfectly she was formed. She had a head full of golden curly hair, was super active, fought hard for her life, and showed her spunky little personality when she would be woken up from a sound sleep for tests. I knew I was given a glimpses of life as it is in the womb and wondered how anyone could terminate it. 

I do know children of church going people have been sacrificed as well. It has occurred when abuse has not been reported, but was covered up to protect the abusers and churches' reputations. It has occurred when church going women and teens get abortions to cover shame they feel over pregnancies conceived outside of marriage or when it feels overwhelming. Sadly, terminating lives doesn't solve sin or shame issues. In fact it increases guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, and regret, causing grief over a life time. Thankfully, churches in our area provide are providing safe groups in which women can confess to one another their sinful choices. They can come out of hiding and collectively grieve openly the babies they terminated, and experience grace that is bigger than the shameful choices made. I am sure every year in those groups Rachel can be heard weeping along with the ladies who have the courage to attend. 

The psalmist wrote, "For you formed my inward parts, you knitted me in my mothers womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them." We must understand our God is the giver of life and not equate choice with terminating life. God at times revealed his plans for people's children before they were born. Samson's parents were told. Mary was told about Jesus role. John the Baptist's parents were told and amazingly, John recognized the Messiah Mary was carrying in her womb while in his own mama's womb. I believe he leapt for joy when Mary approached. 

Sarah Purcel, who was on TV when I was young shared in an interview that she gave the birth mom of her adopted child a tape of her singing songs to play against her belly. The birth mom complied and played those songs daily. When Sarah sang those songs aloud in the delivery room, the baby quit crying and looked around for the one whose voice was familiar. Babies in the womb are not clumps of tissue growing. They are humans fashioned by the living God. I long for the day that Jesus reigns in perfect love and righteousness and stops the death of children. I also long for the day that He will he wipe away every tear every "Rachel" has wept. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Reconciliation--An Interesting Doctrine

Some friends and I are working through Cloud and Townsend's book, How People Grow. This book written from a Biblical standpoint helps me understand the process of spiritual growth. As a new believer I was often frustrated because I thought when I got saved I was instantly going to be changed into the person God had created me to be, but it didn't happen. I still struggled with sin, with negative thoughts and emotions, and with maladaptive ways of dealing with hurtful memories and hurtful relationships. This caused me, a perfectionist, to struggle with a lack of assurance of my salvation. My imperfections, the ugly and hate-filled thoughts that sometimes passed through my head made the person I longed to be seem out of reach. We eventually landed in a great Bible teaching church and fellowshipped with loving, godly believers several times a week. These transparent people talked often about how to rightly handle the word of God and how to apply it to our lives. I grew in my relationship with God, my assurance of salvation, and in my relationships as I began to understand the process of sanctification. When we began working through the book, I was struck by how much the doctrine of reconciliation plays out in the gospel and in our growth as believers. I was also struck by the fact that through the gospel we are not only reconciled to God, but to others and to ourselves as well. 

To understand reconciliation, we need to remember God created us to be relational with Him and with each other. In the Garden Adam and Eve enjoyed a pure, unadulterated relationship with God and with each other--a relationship that was open, vulnerable, and without any shame. When they sinned, their relationship with God became fractured and they became alienated from God. Colossians tells us bluntly that we, too, became enemies of God as demonstrated by our thought life and by our evil behaviors. By their choices, Adam and Eve also fractured their relationship as was shown by their feelings of shame and the desire to cover their nakedness. As Cloud and Townsend put it, their  vulnerability and intimacy was replaced by alienation, unfairness, adversity, and a whole lot of dishonesty. We don't have to read very far into Genesis to see the truth of that. And in their attempt to become like God they became fractured people who were actually less of themselves. 

As believers, we know we are reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul in his letter to the Philippians tells us we are to work out our salvation. When I read the words "work out" I was so  relieved because I realized this thing called Christian growth isn't an instantaneous thing, it is a process that takes time and energy. It is what I call practical reconciliation with God, with ourselves, and with each other. 

Practical reconciliation with God occurs as we read His word and interact with Him over it. Sometimes it is reading narratives of how God and His Son related to people and looking for His interaction in our own lives. Sometimes it is meditating on passages of Scripture and asking Him questions about them and waiting for the Holy Spirit to teach us the deeper things we miss on our own. Sometimes it is praising Him for His attributes and for being a God who actively and passionately pursues broken people. Sometimes it means being radically honest with Him when we are struggling to trust Him or when we are struggling with issues of sin and find ourselves wanting to hide from Him or cast blame on others as Adam and Eve did. It is being radically honest about the feelings we experience, both positive and negative, and reframing our circumstances and suffering through the lens of His truth and His loving, compassion. 

Reconciliation with others begins to occur when we are in a right relationship with God. It living out the "one another" verses contained in the Scripture--love one another, live in harmony with one another, do not judge one another, forgive one another, instruct one another, greet one another, do not deprive one another, submit to one another, and comfort one another. And, these one another's are just the beginning, there are many others contained in the Word. Practical reconciliation can also mean choosing to stay present and involved when relationships becomes difficult. It can mean separating from some people, leaving the possibility for relationship open once sin and hurtful behaviors are acknowledged and changed. Practical reconciliation lived out well is important, because iron sharpens iron and if we hide and run from the hard of relationships we won't grow. It is also important because the world is watching the church and if we can't love one another and work through the hard, why would they want what we have? 

Reconciliation with ourselves is a new idea to me. The Scriptures instructs us to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. Over the years I have heard pastors say we all love ourselves and I remember thinking, "If I loved my children the way I love myself, I would be sitting in a jail cell right now." I have come to believe our ability to love ourselves was as fractured by the Fall as our ability to love God and others was. For me, practical reconciliation with myself included things like learning about my identity in Christ and replacing my identity as a victim of trauma with that. It included learning about the depth of God's love and trusting it even in the face of the hard, the aftermath of sin and shame, and the midst of prayers that seemed to be unanswered. It included spending time with Christian therapists who did not judge me, but gave me a safe place to share the shameful parts of my story, my life, and myself. It also meant learning how trauma had impacted my views, thoughts, choices, reactions, and actions so I could choose to move out of victimhood, learn to love my enemies, and refuse to let Satan use my suffering to keep me from experiencing God and His joy. It meant leaning in to the very things Satan had used to try to destroy me so God could display His glory and healing power in my life. That was what helped God's love become a driving force in my life instead of past trauma. The doctrine of reconciliation is an interesting doctrine as it helps us understand more about God's infinite love and grace.           





Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cancel Culture in Jesus Day

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in John 9. As I reread the passage this morning, I realized this thing we call "cancel culture" has been around a long time and this story sadly bears witness to the fact that when Jesus walked the earth He, too, bore witness to it.

The story began when Jesus and His disciples passed a man who had been born blind. The disciples asked Jesus if the man's blindness was due to his own sin or to the sin of his parents. Jesus turned to His disciples and addressed their false belief--a belief quite common at the time and sadly one that sometimes still resurfaces. He explained to them that the man's blindness was not a result of his sin or his parent's sin, but that the man was born blind so the works of God might be displayed in him.

Jesus then spit on the ground and made mud with His saliva and anointed the blind man's eyes with it. Jesus told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The blind mad made his way to the pool and washed the mud from his eyes. When he lifted his face from the water and opened his eyes, he could see. I can't imagine what it was like for a man who had never had eyesight to all of a sudden see faces, a blue sky dotted with light grey clouds, green fields dotted with white sheep, trees filled with an array of brightly colored singing birds, and all sorts of wild flowers growing along the water's edge.

As he walked back to his own neighborhood, the man wasn't met with joyful celebration like we might expect. Instead, he was met with skepticism. People weren't even courteous enough to directly ask the man questions. Nope, as he walked by, they asked each other if he was the blind beggar or someone who looked a lot like him. Ironically, the questions not directed to him, but spoken within ear shot give us a pretty good glimpse of how he had been treated most of his life as a handicapped person--he was one deemed "less than them" and "unworthy" of their direct interaction. Jesus may well have been the first person to speak directly to him. The once-blind man looked them in the eyes for the first time and acknowledged who he was and how he received his sight.

The man's neighbors took him to the Pharisees because he had been healed on the Sabbath. Apparently making mud from saliva on the Sabbath to heal someone was considered sinful work instead of God's work. The Pharisees asked the man questions and he gave them an outline version of his story--short and to the point. In response the Pharisees told him Jesus was a sinner because he didn't keep the Sabbath. They then asked him what he thought of Jesus and he simply replied, "He is a prophet."

The Jews did not want to believe the miracle so they called the man's parents in and asked them three questions. "Is this your son?" "Was he born blind?" "And, how did he receive his sight?" The parents acknowledged their son and stated that he was born blind. They looked around the crowd of stern Pharisees and told them they didn't know how he had received his sight. They then absolved themselves of any responsibility to the matter by saying that they should direct their question to their son because he was an adult. They were afraid of the Jews because the Jews had made it known that anyone who believed in Jesus would be put out of the synagogue--they didn't want to experience the ugly cancel culture of their day.

So, the once-blind man was brought back and they tried to get him to claim that God alone had healed him, not Jesus, which tells us they didn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The blind man answered their questions again and they accused him of being Jesus' disciple rather than Moses', pointing out they didn't even know where Jesus came from. The man scanned the sea of angry faces and his gaze landed on his parents' fearful faces and said, "Why, this in as amazing thing! You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." And that testimony got him thrown out of the synagogue.

I love that it was their persistent questions that were so carefully formulated to cast doubt on Jesus that actually lead the man to a deeper understanding of Jesus. I love that their manipulation didn't trap him, but empowered him to speak the truth. I also love it that he didn't succumb to their gaslighting ways and trade his truth for a lie.

When Jesus heard the man He had healed was cast out of the synagogue, He found him and sat down beside him. Through a different kind of conversation, Jesus revealed to Him that He was the One who had healed him. He then told him who He was and the man responded, "Lord, I believe!" And, in that place he became a worshiper of the Son of God. Jesus then said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind." That last part was aimed at those who were spiritually blind and had cast the man out of the synagogue. 

I have always wanted to know this man's name. I think it interesting that the people never used his name when they asked him questions. It is also interesting that John, who penned this account, didn't tell us his name either. Maybe it was because we are all him in the sense that we are born spiritually blind and that it is only by faith in Jesus that we receive spiritual sight and can begin to understand the things of God, which are spiritually discerned.

As Jesus disciples, I hope we remember two things from this story. First, there is a purpose behind the infirmities and suffering we see in people around us or that we ourselves experience. That man we know born blind, that woman born barren, that child born deaf, that grandma that is limping through life, that aunt struggling with ongoing clinical depression are all people through whom God can be glorified--maybe though a miracle of healing or maybe through an even bigger miracle that creates in us a changed heart filled with such deep compassion that we lean to love as radically as Jesus loves.

Secondly, as believers, we will face situations in which we have to speak God's truth into people's lives, running the risk of facing the wrath of our own cancel culture. It is my prayer that, as believers, we will stand firm in our faith, speak God's bold truth seasoned with grace, and continuously shine light into this dark world, May we stand firm even in the face of the very loud, clamoring, hate-filled, divisive voices all around us.

May we remember that even though our culture may cancel us, our Jesus never will. I imagine after every spiritual battle we face in this life time we have Jesus sitting beside us just as he sat by the once-blind man, His voice ever reminding us who He is and who we are in relationship with Him. Just sit quietly in midst of the cancel culture's screaming voices...can you hear His voice? It's the one filling you with love, with peace, and with hope.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Who is Sitting at Your Table Revisited

A while back I wrote a post entitled Who is Sitting at Your Table? With the number of covid cases growing in our state, the shut down of our state, economic issues, and the postponement of our ministry I have found myself struggling with a lot of negative thoughts. So, I went back and listened again to Louis Giglio's talk on Psalm 23:8 and decided to revisit the truth in his sermon on the blog. 

I loved the word picture Giglio presented. The negative thoughts I was experiencing, were the enemy whispering in my head. As I watched his sermon, I was reminded again that God has prepared for us a table in the presence of our enemies. Those enemies can be anything from a person who has verbally attacked us, spread rumors about us, or someone who acted like a friend and then stabbed us in the back. The enemy could be things like hard circumstances like this pandemic, threats against our safety, and addictions raising up their head during a time when support is difficult to find. The enemy can also be Satan or one of his cohorts, whispering ugly lies into our heads as they were mine when I postponed our support groups. The lies the enemy whispers are many--you are not good enough, you are too much, you are not smart enough, you are crazy, your not a valuable part of the body, and you not loved. The lies can also be lies about God--He isn't hearing your prayers, He doesn't care about the things happening in your life and country, and He no longer is working in your life or your ministry. 

I think our natural tendency (at least mine) is to beg God to destroy or remove our enemies and to make life easier. But Psalm 23:8 tells us that He actually prepares a table for us in the their presence. Wow, this tells us is in the midst of battles, in the midst of temptations, in the midst of the ugly things we hear in our heads our God is ever present and serving lavishly what we need to survive. Giglio says we need to remember God has given us the power and authority to choose who sits down at our table. As believers, I imagine we are sitting at a beautifully decorated table with a lavish feast the Lord Himself has prepared. As we engage with Him through His Word, He reminds us of His Holiness, His goodness, His power, His strength, His faithfulness to us, and His great love. He also reminds us that we are redeemed, we are accepted, we are reconciled to the King of kings, and we are chosen to be a royal priesthood. He also reminds us that through Jesus we have been made good enough, beautiful enough, are fully known and loved, and have been adopted as sons and daughters into His family with the full rights of sonship. He also reminds us that His Spirit empowers us, comforts us, and dwells with in us so that all we need is to live holy lives that is pleasing to God. 

When we are focused on the One forever seated at our table, I envision our enemies hovering over our table. We are safe even with them there hovering. I picture the enemy walking repeatedly by our table and whispering lies into our ears--If God really cared He would have wiped out covid, you could use a drink to deal with this stress, that man (or woman) over there could make you happier than your spouse, you really aren't good a enough teach to teach your classes on line, you are a failure as a parent--and the list of lies could go on and on. If we are really focused on the Lord, we probably don't even notice the whispered words. 

But when we get triggered, exhausted, lose focus, struggle with temptation, are dealing with traumatic events, or are ignoring the Savior seated at the table, Satan sees it as his opportunity to pull up a a chair and join us at out table. Sometimes, we  recognize the Enemy for who he is and we tell him he is not welcome. But, at other other times when we are vulnerable the Enemy speaks a lie or a half truth that resonates with what we are thinking or feeling in that moment and we get hooked and begin to ruminate on the lies. Before long we  have turned our chair away from the Lord and are fully engaging with the Enemy and buy into one ugly lie after another. Before we know it, we have forgotten the Lord who is sitting at our table and we are feasting on the lies. You are ugly. You are fat. You are a failure. You are unloved. You are unwanted. You are too broken. You are too much. You are not enough. You are nothing but damaged goods. You deserve to be battered. You are too weak. You are invisible. You don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. You deserved the abuse you experienced. Something in you caused the man to do those vile things. Everything wrong is your fault. You are responsible for everyone’s happiness. And the ugliest lie of all--Jesus didn’t really love you, what you experienced has proven that. God has forgotten you. He is not really good or all these things would not be happening.

But, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He understands our weaknesses and our thought patterns because He lived in a fallen world and rubbed shoulders with people just like us. He is the Good Shepherd who lay down His life for us. He demonstrated His lavish love when He was wounded, beaten, rejected and hung on a cross, bearing the blame for things He didn't do. Because of His love and His faithfulness, Jesus never leaves our table even when we turn our attention to the Enemy. When we are engaged with the enemy, the Lord may gently nudge us, but when we are struggling with confusion, shame, fear, pain, or anger, we may not notice His nudging. After a moment or two, an hour or two, a day or two, a week or two, a month or two, a year or two, or maybe more, we realize we have been listening to the Enemy and have given him power that is not rightfully his. The Holy Spirit within us may get our attention or send someone we know to remind us that we have the authority to decide who sits at the table with us. And, we yell, “STOP, LEAVE!” And we turn back to the Lord and reengage with Him, hanging on to His truth and begin, once again, to live out our faith. 

It sounds easy, but it isn't. When there has been trauma the lies Satan uses are deeply are often embedded deeply into our core. To overcome them, we must change our core by taking our thoughts captive to God's truth twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We want to remember that at Calvary, our Jesus stared into the face of our Enemy and defeated his hold over us and all we have to do is use our God given authority to boot the enemy from the table. 

So, we need to ask ourselves who is sitting at our table today? To whose voice are we listening? God's God’s voice isn’t a condemning voice, that is the Enemy’s. We would do well to remember that we, as believers, decide who sits at our table with us. Fear, insecurity, lack of peace, condemnation, bitterness, the ugly lies we think about ourselves, and the paranoid things we think about others usually indicate that we have let unwelcome guests sit down at our tables and we can dismiss them and focus on Him who is ever present, ever loving, offering His peace even when we are surrounded by enemies. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Real Radical Risky Relationships

There have been times in my life that I have been richly blessed with deep relationships. There have also been times that real relationships were so few and so shallow that I struggled with deep loneliness. Ironically those lonely years occurred when I was struggling with emotional pain. And even while I was begging God for deep friendships, I guilty of isolating and pushing people away. My isolation didn't look like living in a cabin in the woods, it took the form of hiding behind the busy roles I played--a wife, a home-schooling mama of five children, and being involved in busy ministry as volunteer youth worker.

After one long season of loneliness, I began to crave connection but realized I was somewhat terrified of being vulnerable enough with others to connect. I searched the Scriptures for what relationships should be like. I started with Matthew 22:37, "...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Saw and the Prophets." To me this verse indicates that the Christian life is a life that can only be lived out in the context of relationship--first in our relationship with God and then i our relationships with other people.

I looked at Jesus life and realized and realized real relationships are both radical and risky. Jesus' relationships were radical as they were governed by sacrificial love. Of course His greatest sacrifice was His life. Most of us will never have to lay our physical lives down for others, but to love well requires many daily sacrifices Jesus made in His relationships. This includes the sacrifice of time, of comfort, of energy, of plans, of emotions, and of resources. This is a radical concept in our culture, which tends to applaud isolating qualities of independence, business, and self sufficiency. We can learn a lot about radical, risky relationships by looking Jesus' relationships in the gospels.  

Christ took risk simply by calling people into relationships. Some happily came, some didn't. To offer friendships is risky for us, too. We may experience rejection. We may experience having someone  accept us, but be unwilling to give us as much as we pour into the relationship. We may experience someone accepting us, but then bailing out at the first sign of distress, conflict, or hard stuff. Hopefully some of our relationships will become mutually balanced relationships with staying power like Christ had with most of disciples. And, yet we shouldn't be surprised by these risks, for even as Christ's friends who were the most committed to Him deserted Him when the going got rough.

Real relationships are risky because they require disclosure. Christ took many risks in disclosing things about Himself and His mission to others. As He disclosed, many flocked to Him--some with good motives and some with bad. As He disclosed some got so angry with Him that they rejected Him and eventually had Him killed. In these days, we are beginning to experience similar risks and have similar outcomes when we take those risks. When we share our hearts, our pasts, our dreams, and our beliefs, some will like us while others will be hostile towards us. Yet, we're called to be like Christ and to reach out to others, pouring both love and truth into their lives.

Without real relationships our thinking and viewpoints can become skewed and distorted. This is because we have the tendency to develop blind spots. I have fortunate enough to have had precious friends point out parenting flaws and give me creative ideas for disciplining and discipling my children. I have had other friends point out disrespectful flaws in my relationship with my husband, giving me the opportunity to grow and change as a woman and wife. I have also had friends who lovingly pointed out the differences in what I said I believed and what I was showing I believed through my actions, giving me the opportunity to help my head beliefs become heart beliefs that drove more consistency in my life.

Real, radical, an risky relationships draw others to the faith. Acts 9:36-42 describes Dorcas as a woman who was always doing good and helping the poor. The poor in her days included women who were widowed and she often made them clothing. When she became sick and died, the widows gathered to grieve and they sent for Peter. When Peter arrived, the widows showed him the robes and other clothing Dorcas had made for them. Peter cleared the room and raised her from the dead and widows rejoiced to see her. The Bible says many believed after the miracle, but I can't help but also believe that some were initially drawn by the love they had observed.

Radical, risky relationships have the potential to be avenues of healing. When I think of healing relationships, I think of the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was grieving and had became depressed and somewhat and bitter. Who could blame her. She had lost her husband and both of her sons. In her bitterness she doesn't seem all that loveable to me and does what she can to push her daughter-in-laws away. She decided to move to her home town and pushes so hard against her girls that one actually leaves, but Ruth refuses to leave her. Even though Naomi is so bitter she claimed God has come against her, Ruth makes a committment not only to stay with her, but to follow Naomi's God. Naomi's pain ran deep in the loss of a spouse and both sons. Yet, Ruth, even in her own pain as a young widow was committed to helping Naomi bear the pain she felt. Ruth loved so well that others in her home town told Naomi she was better off with Ruth than her own sons. Eventually God provided a kinsman redeemer and provided a husband for Ruth and a grandson for Naomi to love.

I love that God created us for relationships. I hope that we, as believers. don't ever just settle for shallow and comfortable relationships. I hope that we will find the courage to form real, radical, and risky relationships, for it is in those types of relationships that we become the most like Jesus.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Looking for Peace in an Unpeaceful World

It seems like the "new normal" we keep hearing about in commercials is stress-filled days caused by "bad" news of the pandemic, economic struggles, the constant bickering of elected officials who refuse to work together, and violent protests and political unrest that's evolved into people calling for the erasure of our country's history--both the good and the bad. I have noticed that the cry of my heart at the end of every day is for peace. And, the question I ponder is, "How do I sow peace in a world so filled with discord?"

Because my husband spent years doing research on cotton, I have grown fond of faming analogies. So, if peace were a crop we could grow, we would do is secure a field, cultivate the ground by breaking up the soil, add needed nutrients, and form perfect rows in which to plant seeds of peace. I would liken the cultivation process to putting into our hearts and mind God's truth because He is our source of peace, whether that peace is in our relationship with Him or in our relationships with each other.

The next thing we would do is set up a perimeter around our field to guard it. I would like that to 1 Timothy 6:20, "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoid the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." We want to remember God's Word is as true today as it was in the days it was written. We would do well to saturate our minds with it so it becomes a measuring stick by which we measure everything we see and hear. We may need to limit how much news we watch or how often we scroll Facebook, because much of what is on there right now is equivalent to profane, idle babbling, and contradictions to the truth being portrayed as knowledge. If we aren't careful, we can be carried away by the false narratives being so loudly proclaimed.

At times we will need to deal with pests that destroy the peace we are sowing. Imagine if you will, a field full of freshly sown seeds and a flock of crows starts circling overhead and are ready to descend. If we look carefully we can see names of the crows written on them. The first crow that tries to land is Temptation. He wants to draw us into sin because sin can destroy the sense of peace that we have with God. If we aren't careful we can invite this crow in through all kinds of media--inappropriate shows, angry posts to which we want to respond in an ungodly manner, and enticements to visit and revisit the besetting sins we once thought we had conquered. Other crows bear the family name of Fear--Fear of the Future, Fear of Illness, Fear of Rejection, Fear of Change, Fear of the loss of our constitutional rights, and many more. Some of these crows bear the family names of Discouragement, Despair, and Depression. We can deal with these crows by placing a Scare Crow in the middle of the garden. If you haven't already guessed, the Scare Crow is Jesus. The dark forces of the world literally tremble in His presence and we need to let Him be the guard of our lives and our hearts. We want to keep our eyes focused on Him as we do the work of cultivating peace.

Next imagine seedlings popping through the soil. They need to be nurtured with nutrients and water on a consistent basis to be healthy. They need to have the weeds growing near them pulled. The nutrients represent the Word of God, the water the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live lives connected to the Lord, and the weeds represent all that hinders our peace. Young plants are vulnerable to little worms, beetles, and aphids that want to feed on the plants. These pests can do great damage, even destroying crops all together. These pests are the lies--big and small--that the enemy whispers in our ears. These lies left unchecked and unrefuted can cause us to lose focus of the crop we're growing. These lies are designed to keep us bound in shame. They are designed to cause us to doubt our relationship with God. They are designed to cause us to doubt the goodness, the love, the power, or the presence of our God. We deal with these little pests by plucking them off of our plants when we take our thoughts captive to God's Truth, and maintain our focus on the One who is the complete embodiment of truth.

As we tend to our growing peace, we want to remember to take one day at a time. Any farmer can tell you that there are so many things that can go wrong over the course of the life of his crops that one could drive himself crazy with the "what if''s." Matthew 6:34 is a great reminder of this. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things." If a farmer focuses only on today's chores, todays pests, today's weather, and todays problems he'll experience less stress, less turmoil, and less strife in his life and enjoy more peace.

Sowing peace is hard work and we want to dress appropriately to have endurance. This means we must take off old clothes of pride, corruption, deceitfulness, lust, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice, lying, and evil speaking--all of which rob us of peace in our lives and in our relationships. And, through the Holy Spirit we put on the adequate clothing of truth, righteousness, humility, and love. This will enable us to cultivate peace through sacrificial giving, the speaking of truth in a loving ways, kindness, and tenderhearted compassion. And, when discord seeps back into our field and we can fertilize it with repentance and truth spoken lovingly and then shower it with grace and forgiveness.

As I am ending this post, I dawns on me that it really isn't about looking for peace in a world that cannot give it. It is about staying connected to the God of peace who sanctifies me completely so that my spirit, soul, and body are preserved blameless at the coming of Jesus. Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you." As I wait for His glorious return, the cry of my heart has evolved into, "Let me be a conduit of Your peace, Lord, to a world that sorely needs you."




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!