Monday, March 29, 2021

Look for the Grace

 A couple of weeks ago our pastor covered the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. When he first started teaching the passage, I felt an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach just like I had every other time I read the story. As a mom of five children, I could not imagine being asked by God to sacrifice them on an alter. I began to pray as I listened to the sermon and God impressed upon my heart the words, "Look for the grace." 

To see the grace that lies in this story, I thought back on Abraham's life and put it in its context. Abraham and Sarah had lived in a culture that worshiped fertility gods. While there, they struggled with infertility and any sacrifices they might have made to the stone fertility idols didn't result in any children. When Sarah was 65 and Abraham was 75 God called them to leave this culture and promised them a son and many offspring through him. They left for a new county, hoping in the child God promised. 

On their journey Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife on two different occasions. He did this because he was afraid He would be killed rulers who might want to take Sarah as their wife. He justified the lies and his lack of protection over Sarah by pointing out that she was a half sister. Both times God extended them grace by stepping in to protect Sarah from the men who took her into their homes.  

On their journey they grew tired of waiting on God to provide them with the promised child. First, Abraham wanted to adopt his nephew so his children could become his decedents. But, the Lord stepped in and graciously affirmed His promise again. The waiting grew long and Sarah, fearing she would never bear a child, took things into her own hands and offered  her handmaiden to Abraham to conceive a child for them. Then when Hagar got pregnant, she treated Sarah with contempt. Sarah dealt harshly with her and had Abraham send her away. God graciously intervened for Hagar and sent her back to Abraham and Sarah and then once again affirmed His promise. 

After eleven more years of waiting, God sent messengers to again affirm His promise to them. At this point Sarah was in her tent when she heard the promise spoken aloud. The post menopausal Sarah laughed in unbelief as she thought, "Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?" The messengers confronted both her laughter and her thoughts, telling them within a year they would have a baby. She denied laughing because she was afraid and yet God showed them grace in the face of their lies, their missteps, their manipulation, their unbelief, and their denial>> He brought Sarah's body back to life and she conceived Abraham's child and birthed Isaac when she was 90 years old. 

The waiting, as hard as it was had been God's grace at work. It had exposed their ungodly ways and had allowed them to become apart of God's story as He revealed that He alone is the author of life. He did what no stone idol could do, He created life in an impossible situation. 

That brings us to the uncomfortable part of their story. God told Abraham to take his beloved Isaac to Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering. The request may not have seemed all that odd to a man who had deep roots in a culture that offered children as sacrifices. Yet, we know they deeply longed for and waited a lifetime of years for Isaac. To be honest, the first time I read this story I was a young mom and a part of me wanted Abraham to stand up and argue with God or to at least come up with an alternate plan as he had done many times before. But Abraham was now a changed man and he quietly and firmly resolved to obey God. Abraham and Isaac leave the next morning and travel for three days. 

During that three days Abraham had lots of time to process and change his mind, but with every step he took he remained resolved to obey his God. Hebrews 11:17-19 gives us insight into his mindset, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead." It still had to have been a difficult journey.

When they came to the place to which God had instructed them, Abraham built the alter and took the wood from Isaac and laid it out. He then bound Isaac and laid him on the altar. He took his knife to slaughter his son, but the Lord intervened and said to Abraham, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me." As Abraham lifted his eyes he saw there was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns and he took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. The Lord then tells Abraham, "...because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surly bless you, and I will multiply your offspring as the starts of heaven and the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." 

I think the first time I read this, it seemed harsh, but as I look for the grace in the story, I find it a sweet and tender story. I realize that God was testing Abraham and that the test not was set to prove something to God. It was set to prove something to Abraham, to Isaac and to us. By having Abraham go though this test, God graciously showed Abraham that his once floundering faith that tended to disappear in the face of fear had now matured and stayed strong in the face of this hard task. Abraham's faith was now based firmly on the words of His God. He had grown a deep resolve to honor and obey God who had given him a son. This faith trip was also an opportunity to grow Isaac's faith. Isaac who was big enough to carry the wood could have pushed back when it came time to lie down on the altar, but he, too, had a firm resolve to obey. When God had Abraham's story written, all of the missteps, the unbelief , and the lies were written for all future generations to see. But, in the telling of this part of the story, God shows us Abraham's strong faith and the resolved will of a man who now deeply loved his God.

There is a grace that runs deeper still. And that grace is a glimpse of the Father's heart towards us. This story foreshadows Jesus's story as He lived a perfect life we could not live so that all of our lies, our missteps, our manipulating ways, our denial, our self-protective ways, and our sin could be covered by the blood of Jesus. It was the Father who showed Abraham what it felt like to sacrifice a Son and it was Jesus who stood in the place of Isaac as He lay down His life for us. That day so long ago at the altar God showed us His grace is relentless, flowing from a heart that continually pursues us until we are brave enough to lean into the hard that we face and look for the grace, 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

He is Not a Cookie-cutter God

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a ministry known as People and Songs and have followed many of the musicians on Facebook and Instagram. Recently Crystal Yates who is one of the women in the group shared her testimony and a song she had written. I loved it. With her permission I will share her story in my words, but this is the link if you want to take a moment to stop and listen to her story in her own voice. Crystal Yates- Leave Me Alone To Die - YouTube 

In her testimony she shared when she was five she often spent time with her granny who lived a couple of doors down from a little store. Her granny watched her as she walked to the store and picked out a treat and walked home. One day she went to the store for a jump rope and there were not any ropes. A stranger approached her and asked her what she was looking for and then offered to take her to another store to get one. She went with him. He snuck her out the backdoor of the store and headed to the woods with her. As they approached the woods, the man was beginning to disrobe and she sensed evil like she never had sensed it before. She became fearful and and remembered something her granny had taught her, "If you are ever in trouble or scared, say the name of Jesus." That little five year old girl began to cry out, "Jesus, help me!" The man immediately stopped and angrily said, "Do you want to go home?" She said, "Yes!" He immediately walked her to a clearing where she could see her house and she ran home.

I love Crystal's story. It shows her granny's faithfulness to teach her to call on Jesus and His power when she needed help. I love that the little girl spiritually discerned the evil presence guiding the man's actions. I love that she had the fortitude to cry out loud to Jesus and that he honored her plea. As I was listening to her testimony and the song she wrote I read through the comments people left on YouTube. Several women told her how much they appreciated the song and asked her to write one for those who weren't rescued. As a survivor I loved it that other survivors saw the beauty and the power of Jesus portrayed in this part of her story and as a result were drawn to it, even though their own stories were filled with trauma that wasn't stopped.  

I direct a ministry that serves adult women who were victimized as children. As they begin to share their stories, we come across similar situations in group. Some women cried out to Jesus and were rescued in similar ways. Some cried out to Jesus and were still victimized. And some either didn't know Jesus at the time or felt too afraid, too dirty, or too ashamed to cry out. We try to begin our groups by asking participants to draw a picture of where Jesus was when they were being abused. Those pictures give us insight into how the group members interpreted the action or seemingly inaction of God towards them during their trauma. Some of the pictures show Jesus as a defender, some show Him watching with tears streaming down His face, some show Him as a distant being without arms, without eyes, or without a mouth. Some have drawn Him with His back turned towards them and said they did it because they believed God could not look on evil or that they were too dirty to be close to Him.  

As stories are shared and women begin to talk more freely about their thoughts and feelings, they begin to uncover how they interpreted the events that took place in their life. Many of them assume that the evil they sensed and experienced was within them and that it caused the abuse to happen. They didn't realize the evil was attached to their perpetrators. As they do their work they begin to hand back the responsibility for the evil to those who harmed them and begin to more accurately interpret what has happened to them. Some of them assumed when they either asked Jesus to protect them or to stop their abusers that His lack of intervention proved they were guilty or were less loved by God than those who experienced God as Crystal and some of our ladies did. 

When we first started the ministry, I was still doing my own work and found myself struggling to trust how God works in our lives. I questioned why He seemed to answer some prayers and not others. In that wrestling I reached a place that I told Jesus I was choosing to believe He was who the Scriptures said He was and I would no longer let my experiences, my feelings, my misinterpretations about my trauma define who I thought I was and who I thought He was. I began to accept that I am deeply loved and treasured by God and that what happened to me in no way proved I was less loved. I began to fully trust that Jesus was good and I became willing to accept His sovereignty over my life meant there was not anything that wasn't filtered through His love-scarred hands. 

I saw a shift in my thinking, experienced my shame melt away, and I saw myself trusting God more with my life. I no longer believed I was an invisible second class member of God's family. The questions I voiced also changed. They were no longer protests disguised as questions, but were heart-felt questions driven by faith and a deep desire to know Jesus and His heart. Sometimes He answered questions though Scriptures, sometimes through spiritual insight during prayer times, and sometimes He answered them through people He provided to help me and to encourage me. Sometimes He answered questions right away and sometimes He waited to show me Truth and I learned to be comfortable with His timeline of answering. 

I also began to ask Him where He was in the different traumatic events I experienced and He filled my mind with pictures of the events with Him there--each one different and unique to the situation. Now, when I think of those traumatic events, I think of Him there with me and those memories no longer bring the fear, the shame, or the terror with them. They bring peace and joy and a sense of being deeply loved through some really tough stuff.   

One of the most important things I learned from the traumas I experienced was how deeply Jesus loves. As I worked with a counselor, I also studied Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The more I studied His arrest, His trials, and His crucifixion the more I connected to His story and the more I believed He truly understood mine. Satan wants us to continue to believe we were so bad we caused our trauma, that we are still unlovable, and that God doesn't care about our suffering. However, Isaiah 52 and 53 reveal we have a traumatized Savior. He understands our pain, because He went through similar pain for us. He not only took on the sin of all men, but also God's wrath against it. He was stripped of His clothes and had people cast lots for them as He hung naked and exposed. He understands the pain of being physically wounded through violence and the emotional pain of having others blame Him for things for which He wasn't responsible. He understand heart-wrenching grief and sorrow of rejection. He understands what it is like to have those closest to Him turn their backs on Him when He was facing His worst pain and His greatest fears. He understands what it feels like to be misunderstood. He understands the feelings associated with being oppressed and suffering the pain and consequences of another's sin. He understands the feelings we have had when we say we feel forsaken by God who could have protected us, but chose not to, for on the cross He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Growing a Passionate Heart, by Wendy J. Mahill and Nancy Keller, LMFT, Available on 

During the beginning of my trauma work, I stayed busy so I couldn't feel the emotions and the presence of God in that area of my life. Then a freak accident caused me to be housebound with a severely broken ankle for most of a year. As I was on the way to the hospital, I sensed God saying the accident was for good and felt His love and peace wash over me. I spent time praying over my life story and reading out loud things I had written for my counselor. My tears began to flow freely and the love and peace of God overflowed and out of that overflow the Passionate Heart Ministry was born. I also learned when God, in His sovereignty, allows deep pain He invites us into a deeper knowledge of the fellowship of His suffering where we can begin to grasp that His love runs deeper than the pain residing in our hearts. I am so thankful for what the healing journey has taught me about God and HIs love. Trauma no longer controls me, my thoughts, my emotions, or my life. It is merely a tiny portion of the redemption story God has written for me to life. I have grown more comfortable and more excited to see all the different ways God works in the life of those He has called. He is not a cookie-cutter God. 

In closing, Natalie Grant sang a song that impacted my healing journey. I hope you will take a listen here: Natalie Grant - Clean (Performance Video) - YouTube 

If you have suffered sexual trauma I hope that you will lean into Jesus and keep getting help until you find peace, hope, and joy returning for it is by His stripes that we are healed. Please check our page and our Facebook page Friends of Passionate Heart Ministry | Facebook. We have resources and videos about our ministry at both places.   


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!