Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Our Eyes are On You

 Matt Vorhees, Senior Pastor of Riverlakes Church posted this blog post on our church Facebook page on Saturday, March 21, 2020. He has graciously given me permission to share his words with you on my blog. I hope his words give you hope during these tough times: 
We are undoubtedly living in unprecedented times in our society, but here's what I love about the Bible. We have so many stories of God's people walking through similar kinds of uncertainty that show us how his people looked to Him.
An especially powerful story is that of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. Here's the setting: "Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, 'A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar' (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord..." - 2 Chron. 20:2-3 
Though the circumstances are different, Jehoshaphat was feeling what a lot of us are feeling right now. A visible horde of enemies was marching against Judah, and they were already in the land, as close as the southern oasis of Engedi. But unlike Jehoshaphat, the horde we're facing is invisible. It's not just out there somewhere, it's here, on our shores and in our community. And it's causing a lot of fear. There's nothing wrong with feeling afraid. At some level, we can't control that. But when those feelings arise, what do we do with them? Where do we go with them? To whom do we turn? Jehoshaphat models what, where and to whom we must take our fears, he "set his face to seek the Lord." But there is something particular in Jehoshaphat's public prayer before the people that I want to draw your attention to: 
"For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” - 2 Chron. 20:12
We are powerless against the spread of COVID-19 and the impact it's going to have. Social distancing, home isolation, testing and treatments are important and will help, but they can only do so much. Many businesses and organizations, including the church are asking how we can continue our work in light of the many restrictions. In a lot of ways, we feel like Jehoshaphat, "we don't know what to do." Again, these are unprecedented times. 
We may not know what to do, but we know who to turn to. "Our eyes are on you." We can follow the Lord into the unknown of the coming weeks and months, trusting that our God is sovereign and that He has good plans for His church. We can be salt and light in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos (Matt. 5:13-16). We may not know what's going to happen, but we know the One who will lead us through it. Jesus defeated the true horde that stood opposed to us: Satan, Sin and Death, so that in the middle of this crisis, we can be sure that He is with us through it all (Psalm 23:4). 
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me."

Saturday, March 21, 2020

These Isolating Times

Isolation has been a great teacher for me. The first time I experienced a long period of isolation was sixteen years ago when I suffered a severe break to my right ankle. I was house bound as I could not drive and was experiencing a great amount of pain that pain meds didn't touch. I had been a very active person, walking daily and serving in a youth ministry that kept me busy for many years. Then all of a sudden I was sitting at home, alone much of the day.

God was gracious in that when my husband picked me up to take me to the hospital, God impressed upon my heart that this season was for a reason. At first I didn't know what God meant by season, but soon found out. As the orthopedic doctor was looking at my quickly expanding ankle I said, "I guess I won't be walking for six weeks." He looked up from my ankle with concern on his face and gently said, "If you do walk, it will probably be a year from now. It is a bad break." I came home and looked around my living room and thought, now what? The first few weeks were spent mostly dealing with pain. My daughter supplied me with funny movies to watch and brought her first born over several times a week so I could just snuggle with him, which helped a lot. I began to learn important lessons about three weeks in to the isolation.

The first lesson I learned was about loneliness. When everyone was at work, I was alone for many hours and began to experience loneliness. At that time I wasn't good about asking for what I needed or wanted, so I didn't reach out, which increased the loneliness I experienced. When I realized what I was experiencing, I picked up Elizabeth Elliot's book on it to see what she had to say. As I read it, I realized what made loneliness hard to bear wasn't the loneliness itself, but what I was telling myself about it. I had come to believe the experience of loneliness was proof I was rejected, defective, or seen as unlovable. However, I learned loneliness is a God-given emotion that serves to remind us we are created in the image of God, which means we are created for connection--connection to God and to each other. When I understood that, the shame I felt over the experienced of loneliness melted away. I realized there were some things I could do to initiate time with friends and family. I had to swallow pride and ask for rides to lunch, appointments, and to attend a class I wanted to take, all of which cut down on the hours I felt alone.

One sweet lady from our church, brought by a meal for us to enjoy and as she was leaving she said, "I can't wait to hear what you learn about God through this time." Her simple words radically changed my perspective. I realized in that moment I didn't want to miss out on anything God might want to teach me. And, He was so gracious. I continuously felt His presence with me for that nine months. My quiet times were rich, my heart full, and my prayer life fulfilling. Then one day I picked up a prayer journal I had kept for counseling. In it were things I had written to God about some of the traumas I had experienced earlier in life. Even though I had shared them with a counselor, I didn't experience a lot of emotion in the writing or the reading of them. I opened the journal and read the letters out loud to God and I felt His love wash over me and I wept, finally able to grieve the things I had been processing in counseling. I realized I had been too busy to fully enter into the healing process, but God used that injury to slow me down to feel and to heal. Looking back, I am so thankful for that experience because I got to experience the truth of God's daily presence in my life. I not only got to experience God as my Abba (daddy), but as both the Wonderful Counselor and Comforter. He lead me to write curriculum during that time that in turn has been used to comfort others as I was comforted.

And now here I sit again isolating because of the Covid 19. At first, it didn't seen like such a big deal, as we are retired and I have been an author for the last 16 years. However, about a week into it after one of the newscasts, I realized how anxious I had become and how much I was missing the freedom to hang out with my family and friends. One of my granddaughter wanted to come while she was off from school and her gym was closed and her parents had to say no because it isn't safe. Our grandkids that live an hour away can't come down and hang this spring break. Even the ones we live close to are becoming more cautious--we might share dinners sometimes, but always have to ask if everyone is fever free and avoid the usual bear hugs. I have a husband, son-in-law, and a grandson who are extroverted sanguines and find isolating really hard and when they run to the store to get out some it increases my anxiety a lot.

So, what is God teaching me this time? First, He is teaching me that love doesn't always look like a warm hug. Sometimes it means shutting down support groups you love to keep everyone safe. Sometimes it looks like a wave instead of a handshake. Sometimes it looks like a text message that contains a funny meme or a funny picture that depicts an inside joke. Sometimes it looks like a Facetime call. It sometimes looks like people standing on individual balconies singing as the sun sets. It sometimes looks like a Zumba teacher blasting music from her porch, leading neighbors in a class as they participate in their own yards. It sometimes looks like parents getting creative in helping children do school work and learn life skills like laundry and cooking. It sometimes looks like an exercise laid out with masking tape and toys and a mom cheering her preschooler for completing it. It sometimes looks like a child standing on a fire place fervently praying his heart out after hearing he may not get to return to school this year. It sometimes looks like preachers preaching to empty auditoriums so we can still hear sermons and worship together. It sometimes looks like a tired president and his staff giving us updates on a daily basis. It sometimes looks like living room concerts being played and cast by all kinds of musicians willing to share their gifts. It sometimes even looks like taking a firm stand with the sanguine in our lives, reminding them they can be a part of the solution or be the problem. It sometimes means being patient with people who are panic buying and hoarding, knowing it may not be selfishness driving them, but fear. I am also finding in the midst of what feels like chaos, God's relentless presence is my stability as well as my peace in the anxiety that keeps bubbling up.

I have come to believe this season of isolation is an opportunity for the church to shine brightly and because most of my communication is in writing I want to be careful of every word I write. Some of the harsh things I have seen online cause me to cringe, because I don't believe they accurately describe the Father's heart. Ez. 18:23 says, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" As believers, we would do well to reflect first on our own lives, the state of our own hearts, and the health of our own relationships before we point fingers at others. We know from the news, that the church needs revival just as much as anyone else in this world. So, I hope we all can speak God's truth with a clear and clean conscious, having taken the logs out of our own eyes first. I hope we speak it in such a loving way that others will be drawn to the very heart of the God who loves them enough to die and bear the wrath of God for sin for them. Let's try to reflect God's character in such away that others want to come near Him.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Where is God when it Hurts? (Revisited)

"The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Psalm 34:18

      Where is God when it hurts? This is the question posed in Philip Yancey's book by the same title. In his book Yancey discussed both physical and emotional pain. Physical pain is the pain caused by physical injury and/or physical illness. This type of pain varies in its intensity, ranging from mild discomfort to overwhelming, debilitating waves of pain. Some physical pain, like childbirth, has great benefits associated with it, while other pain seem to bear no blessings with it. Unlike the pain of childbirth that comes in waves and ends after the birth process, those struggling with cancer, losing a limb, or the pain of various chronic illnesses, often don't experience an end to their pain. The most they can hope for is pain management. 

It may be hard for those struggling with chronic pain to see pain as a precious gift from God. However, it is. It alerts us to the reality that something is wrong and needs attention. Physical pain can also help us realize where one's body begins and where it ends. For example, we may not be consciously aware of where our thumb ends unless we hit it with a hammer or where our foot ends unless someone steps on it. The nerves signal very clearly that our body space has been breached. This protects us from injury. Without physical pain we can do horrendous damage to our body without even knowing it. Without the discomfort of being cold, we might not put a jacket on. With out the sensation of hunger, we might not eat the nutritious food we need. Without physical pain we would not remove our hand from a hot burner or put on sandals when the sidewalk is too hot to walk on.

Emotional pain is every bit as real as physical pain, but it is experienced in a different ways. We may experience it in the form of loneliness, anxiety, fear, anger, insecurity, broken-heartedness, and sadness. Emotional hurts also come in intensities from a mild uneasiness to overwhelming hurt. Interestingly emotional pain can be so intense it physically hurts. For example, one time a car came around the corner and almost hit our neighbor’s child. I screamed and then doubled over in pain as my stomach cramped in response to the tension I experienced. 

Just like physical pain alerts us, emotional pain does as well. It can tell us we need to correct emotionally wounding situations in our lives. It can tell us we need to realch out and build relationships. It can tell us that we need to set some boundaries in the relationships that we do have. Our ability to feel emotional pain is God-given. Without emotional pain we might not be motivated to confront unhealthy or harmful behaviors, might not set boundaries within our work environments, or might not learn to take care of ourselves during stressful situations. 

Now, in going back to our original question, “Where is God when it hurts?” Psalm 34:18 tells us the answer to that important question. It says, "The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit." If we are believers and know this verse, experiencing pain is an opportunity to choose to believe and wrestle with this verse, moving its truth from our heads to our hearts. God is very near to the broken hearted. Does that mean we will always automatically "feel" His presence? Nope. Men like David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all openly vocalized their questions about where God was in their difficult circumstances. They said at times they felt deserted. While our emotions are real, they are not always based on truth. If we "feel" or "think" God is far away when we hurt, we need to remember it is not the truth. It is a lie the enemy wants us to believe so we will pull away from God. When I am in either emotional or physical pain and feel abandoned, I have found finding God in the midst of it comes from being honest with God about my pain, my feelings, my doubts, and the lies that I struggle with. The more I pray, the more I begin to experience His presence in the pain.  

Another question we might find ourselves struggling with is, "Does God care that I hurt?" Today’s verse tells us He does!. Christ, Himself, experienced pain. He got hungry. He got cold. He got tired. He was beaten, whipped, and had hair plucked out from his beard. , and was crucified which is an extremely painful way to die. He felt emotional pain. He experienced. loneliness. He felt the sting of disappointment. He fest the knife like pain of betrayal. He felt the frustration of false accusations. He felt the grief of being so misunderstood. The Bible says Christ lived and suffered so we could know we have a high priest who understands the feelings of our infirmities. Wow, that needs to sink into our hearts. As we live we will suffer in the same ways He did because we live in such a broken world. His suffering--it gives us a clear picture of the love Christ had for us as He lay down His life for our sin. He chose to suffer to demonstrate to us His great love. 

Why would a great God permit pain? There are several reasons He might. First, trials can mature us and He is fully committed to completing the work He began in us and physical and emotional pain may be a part of the tools He uses to weed out sin, doubt, and false core beliefs. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us pain allows us to experience the comfort of God so we might in turn comfort others. I think these verses address our original question, "Where is God when it hurts?" He is in the church. 

A part of our calling as believers is to comfort the broken hearted, whether their pain be physical or emotional. Why do we sometimes not do it? Sometimes it is because we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. We do not need to be afraid, all a hurting person needs to know is that we are there with them and willing to listen to their concerns and their questions without judgement. Through us they will sense God's care and love. Maybe there are times we are too busy. Maybe we don't understand another's pain. Maybe their pain reminds us of our own pain we do not want to face. Or, maybe we are simply uncomfortable in the presence of deep pain we can't fix. All we are called to do is comfort. The rest is up to God.  

Several years ago I was undergoing counseling for deep emotional pain, but I stayed too busy to feel and ran from the pain every time we would get close to it. I was in a freak accident and suffered a severely broken ankle and was housebound for a year. I had to sit in both the physical and emotional pain for about a year. At the time I didn't know many people at a friendship level, so I spent a lot of time alone, talking to God both about the physical and the emotional pain I was experiencing. I was so bless to connect to God at a whole new level and to feet His love continually present with me! There have also been other times when I was hurting emotionally and I was surrounded by people who comforted me and wrote me encouragement notes and I also felt loved–not just by them–but by GOD! Once in a Bible Study I did not even realize how a lesson had affected me. When the teacher followed the lesson with a prayer time in which we were to pray aloud about our commitments and changes we wanted to make I could not bring myself to do it. The quietest gal in the class reached over and gently took my hand and her touch gave me the courage to pray out loud. I thanked her later and she said she didn't know why she had done it, only that she felt in her spirit that she was supposed to! I know why she did it, God led her to do it to show me He was with me. 

We need to ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our responsibility to be near to those in pain? We have been called to restore each other, bear each other's burden, to comfort, to be kind and tenderhearted, and to labor for each other in prayer. How are we doing in all of that? If one of us is  hurting and feeling like God is far away, where are the rest of us? Do we need to be more transparent about our own pain to encourage another to share theirs? Do we need to be better listeners to discern someone's pain? We can remind ourselves to find the courage in Christ to share in others' pain. We don't need to let feelings of inadequacy deter us, for God ia able and He can help us know when to take a hand, when to sit quietly, when to cry with someone, or when to gently remind a hurting person of the truth of God's presence and care in the midst of their pain.

Father, help us to care about those who are hurting physically or emotionally. Help us to see behind the masks that so many of us wear. Father, pain often scares us because it is something we cannot fix or control. Please help us overcome our fears and fill us with your wisdom, your love, and your compassion for the hurting. Please don't let any of us be the reason that someone believes that she was deserted by you when she hurt. Guard our hearts from our tendency to want to “fix” or heal pain that only you can heal. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

When We Think We Have Blown It Too Big

When I used to blow it, I found myself struggling with feelings of  abandonment, especially at the times I believed I was unworthy of God's mercy and grace. You know those times when I believed I had blown it so big that God was ready to wash His hands of me. Those times of besetting sins that I had repeatedly vowed to never commit again, but did and feared God was so angry He could easily turn His back on me. At those times I thought I had to overcome sin and trust God perfectly to be close to Him. But, the truth was that I wasn't strong enough to withstand overwhelming urges I experienced and I didn't know how to grow my faith enough that I could perfectly trust Him. 

Because I was tired of struggling and living in fear, I began to read Biblical stories that revealed how God related to people and soon realized I had developed faulty theology and misunderstood what God desires for His people. Looking back, I think Satan had me right where he wanted me--struggling with sin and believing God condemned me because of sin, doubt, mistrust, and abiding shame. As I read story after story, I began to understand the trials I faced, struggles I had with besetting sin, and doubts I had about God's presence were the very things God uses to grow faith and develop intimacy with Him. I soon realized most of my life I had been trying to earn God's love. But the harder I tried, the more I failed and the more alone I felt. I began to understand that it is in my struggle that God makes Himself the most available to me. All I had to do was cry out to Him and He would walk through it with me.

From the beginning God has continuously reached out to people. He communed freely with Adam and Eve and met their every need. The Enemy came and used words carefully crafted to stir up doubts about God's goodness. He also stirred up dissatisfaction with the perfect life they lived and the perfect fellowship they enjoyed with God and each other. In that state they chose to eat forbidden fruit, allowing darkness to pervade the light in which they lived. After they ate, God's goodness was overshadowed by Satan's evil, their innocence was drowned out by burning hot shame, and their relationship with their God was shattered by broken trust. Adam and Eve blew it big and yet, God pursued them and set out to heal the chasm their sin had caused. He didn't desert them in their rebellion or leave them stuck in shame. He met them in the ugliness of it all, slaying animals to provide covering for shame, securing their relationship with the promise of a Savior. Because of their story I can trust God to be present even when I blow it big.

Then there was Abraham and Sarah's story. They were an infertile couple living in the midst of a culture that worshipped fertility gods. Theirs was an ugly harsh religion as young virgins were offered to temple priests to win the affection of stone-cold gods. It was also a religion in which babies were sacrificed to celebrate the favor they believed stone gods had shown when they conceived. It was against the backdrop of that ugliness God initiated a relationship with Abraham and Sarah, calling them to a new land and promising them an heir of their own. They believed God and left for a new land. But, years went by and no heir came. There were times of doubt in which Abraham lied in big ways to protect himself, placing Sarah at risk and God intervened, protecting her. Then Sarah doubted and tried to help God out by giving Abraham her handmaiden to bear a son for them. Even in her doubt and their sinful choices, God didn’t turn away. Instead, He came to them and established the Abrahamic Covenant, resulting in a child of their own. 

Covenants are contracts that outline the rights and responsibilities between people. In Abraham's day they didn't sign written contracts, they sealed them with animal sacrifices cut into two parts and laid out on the ground. Both people participated in the contract by walking between the pieces, essentially saying, “This is what you can do to me if I fail to keep my promises." The amazing thing is that when God established His covenant with Abraham, He alone walked through the pieces, saying He alone would bear the responsibility to uphold the covenant. Walking the aisle of sacrifice alone was God's response to Abraham and Sarah’s doubts, sin, mistrust, and missteps. God did what He did to protect the relationship He had with His people flawed, broken, and inconsistent as they were. That is hard for me to wrap my mind around! But, because of their story I can trust God to protect my relationship with Him even when I doubt, sin, mistrust, and misstep. 

Another story that captured my attention was Jacob's story. He came into this world holding onto his brother’s foot. From then on he and Esau developed an ugly sibling rivalry that was fueled by living with parents who played favorites. Jacob was one to want what he wanted when he wanted it and he would used deceit to get it if need be. The final straw was when he deceived his dad into giving him Esau's birthright. He had to flee to escape Esau's rage and as he lay down to sleep the restless sleep theives on the run sleep, he had a dream. He saw a stairway extending from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending, revealing that God was with him even in the aftermath of his deception and running. He gave him the land on which he lay, promising him that all people on earth would be blessed through him. I take comfort in the fact that God didn’t leave him alone in the mess he had created, but met him right in the middle of it all. And, as far as I could tell, he didn't even require him to reform before He made His promises known. He simply extended to him a relationship based on His covenantal love. 

Jacob went on to marry two sisters, one of which he favored. He had children with them both as well as their handmaidens. Still a greedy soul, he manipulated his uncle’s herds to gain wealth. And, when he got caught, he fled with his family in tow. With an angry brother ahead and an angry father-in-law behind, he had another late-night encounter with God, which turned into a long, hard wrestling match that ended when God wrenched Jacob's hip out of socket and told him his name would be changed to Israel. I love that God refused to give up on Jacob. Instead, he came to him and let him wrestle long and hard. I even love that He left Jacob with a limp that would forever remind him of God’s presence in the darkest parts of his story. Because of his story I can trust God won't leave me in the messes of my own doing, but will meet me as often as it takes to make me willing to hold on to Him so He can lead me out of the darkness.   

Let’s look at the Israelites who lived in Egypt. The first Israelite to get there was Joseph, whose brothers had sold him into slavery. While God blessed Joseph in Egypt, his father and his brothers were starving back home. God graciously used Joseph's blessing to save his brothers. Four hundred years later the Egyptians became afraid of the Israelites because they had grown in numbers. They enslaved them, treated them ruthlessly, increased their work load, and ordered midwives to kill their babies to stop their population growth. The desperate Israelites cried out to God and He heard, sending Moses to lead them home. After many negotiations intertwined with catastrophic plagues a stubborn Pharaoh let Israel go. God went with them, becoming a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Pharaoh quickly changed his mind and chased them, flanking the Israelites from behind with the Red Sea directly in front of them. They became terrified and cried out to God, questioning His love, His motives, and His plans. It was in the face of their doubt that God delivered them through the sea. In response to their deliverance they worshiped God, praising His unfailing love and strength. 

However, they soon became thirsty and grew dissatisfied with God's provisions and leading. In their state of dissatisfaction they failed to enjoy God's continual presence. But, God never left. He knew that trust is hard for those wounded by trauma, abuse, and infanticide. He was patient, understanding that in an imperfect, sinful world people carry wounds that impact their ability to trust Him. From their story, I can know that God understands wounding and is patient with me even when my faith is harder to grow. 

There are so many more stories that spoke to me--a whole Bible full! But I'll stop with Peter because I can so relate to him. He was quick to follow Jesus, quick to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, and quick to proclaim what he could do for Him. Yet, in Jesus darkest hours he vehemently denied Jesus--not once but three times. And, in the shame of that he withdrew to his former life. I am sure he thought He had blown it too big to be of use, but Jesus sought him out and reinstated him to His calling, promising the Holy Spirit would enable Him to live out that calling. From his story I know I can trust God who forgives denial and failure by leaning in closer still, filling me with His Spirit. I can trust God who provides a Helper to indwell, empower, and comfort to not give up on me even when I struggle. 

The more stories I read, the more I realize the story God is penning for me (and you) to live is a story of redemption, not perfection. And, no matter how big or how frequently I blow it, my God is there in the midst of it all. The victories I have sought have became more of a reality as I have invited Jesus into the dark places where sin was pervasive and pain ran deep. When I chose to be real about my weaknesses I learned experientially His truth that His power is made perfect in weaknesses. No matter how big the struggle, my God is bigger still and now matter how weak I am, God's strength is sufficient. 


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!