Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Love One Another

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

John 15:12

According to the Old Testament, we are to love the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and might and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The commandment given in John 5:12 tells us how we can begin to fulfill the Old Testament command. Essentially, this verse is telling us to look at how Jesus loved and to use that as our standard for loving. It's clear from both His words and His actions that Jesus loved His heavenly Father, loved His friends, loved strangers, loved Himself, and even loved His enemies. 

What did Jesus' love look like? It looked like spending time with His Father alone in prayer. It looked like trusting His Father even in the midst of storms, mistreatment, rejection, false accusations, and extremely difficult tasks. It looked like resisting the temptation Satan placed in front of Him. It looked like seeking out people and teaching, admonishing, and exhorting them. It looked like touching the untouchable and healing the sick, the lame, the blind, and the deaf. It looked like spending time with those who were deemed less than--the children, those in bondage to sin, and those who were outcasts from social circles. It looked like casting demons out of the souls of men. It looked like crossing the cultural, gender, economic, and spiritual boundaries to invite all who would come into a relationship with Him. At times it looked like being social and partying with friends at a wedding a grieving with those who lost a loved one. It looked like sharing openly His heart and seeking out others where they were. It looked like wrestling 's so hard emotionally that He sweat blood over God's will for Him to go to the cross in the face of His own desire to avoid it. It looked like choosing to obey His Father, even in that severe state of angst, just so that He could demonstrate God's great love and reconcile us to Himself. It looked like loving His enemies.

When we think of Jesus' enemies, we tend to think of Satan, the Pharisees, and those who put Him to death. But according to Romans 5:10, we were all enemies of God before we were reconciled to Him through Jesus. That's such a sobering thought. If Jesus considered us His enemies when He chose the cross on our behalf, what right do we have to refuse to love those we call enemies? If we're serious about loving the way He loves, we must identify and acknowledge our enemies and choose to love them. They're the people who aren't for us and the people who are proactively against us. They're the people who glare daggers at us every time they see us. They are the people who are nice to our faces, but speak ugly words about us behind our backs. They're the abusers who robbed us of our innocence or who left bruises on our bodies, and on our hearts as well. They're those who criticized us, wounding us to the core of our being with harsh words, untruths, and judgements. They're those who refused to see us, withholding their love and compassion. They're those who isolate us through slander, who kill our joy, or who rob our hope on a daily basis. They're those in positions of God-given authority who use their positions to harm us. Some might even consider God an enemy because He didn't protect them from the evil they experienced. But, sadly, for many of us, our worst enemies are ourselves. 

Every person we hate is a person Jesus loved unto death. That same Spirit who loved us unto death indwells us and gives us the capacity to love when it's humanly impossible to do so. As we bask in His love, we are able to love with His love--and that's a love without limits. It's a love that offers the gospel to those we would deem the most undeserving.  

To love as He loves, we must take an honest look at ourselves and the motives behind the words we speak, the actions we carry out, and our reactions to life. Sometimes our motives are loving and at other times our motives are selfish, self-serving, and/or driven by fear. We are capable of showing what looks like great kindness with a motive of hoping another will return the kindness. Some of us look like people who love well, but in truth we are people pleasers who are afraid to say "no" out of fear that someone would get angry with us, abandon us, or think that we are bad Christians. Sometimes we are serving others, hoping to earn favor with God. Sometimes we may serve compulsively to avoid dealing with the pain in our hearts, the anxiety we experience in our souls when things are out of control. Sometimes we keep the peace and refuse to rock the boat by speaking God's powerful truth into situations and relationships that desperately need it to be godly and healthy.

If we want to love as God loves, we need to understand the truth of 1 John 4:19, "We love because He first loved us." We can gain understanding of His love by spending time in the gospels and seeing how Jesus loved others and by seeing his Sacrifice for our sin. We can understand it even more by studying the attributes of God, gaining and understanding of how pure and holy God's love is. God's love pours from His character, not from a desire to get something from us. His love never rejoices in wrong and will always want what is best for us. His love is eternal, and it is based on His omniscience, which means there never was a time that He didn't love us and there will never be a time when He will cease loving us. His love is not dependent on our behaviors, thoughts, service, intelligence, or our appearance. It is only dependent on God and His Character. Our great God is a relational God and He desires us to be relational beings who love in ways that foster growth in us and in those we love. May the truth of His love compel us to love God with all that we are, to love others, and to love ourselves as well. 

(Adapted from Glimpses of God 11, Loving from a Pure Heart, by Wendy J. Mahill and Nancy Keller, Xulon Press) 

Monday, November 27, 2023

Acceptance the Road to Perseverance

In September I had the privilege of attending a world conference for counselors. The workshops are amazing, but I think for me the conversations about what we are learning are just as important for growth as both a person and a people helper. Brent, the pastor we were with, said that he believed acceptance played a huge part in peoples healing, I nodded in agreement and have continued to ruminate on the concept of acceptance these last couple of months. I wondered where I learned that concept and realized I had observed it both in others and in my own healing journey. 

Over the years I have been a person that people have confided in. And there have been several times as someone has shared their story with me, that I found myself silently asking, "Lord, do you not see how much this person has already suffered and now they are facing this, too?" My question isn't an angry "how dare You" question, it is a plea for His compassion and love to be poured out on the suffering person speaking to me. I am going to share a couple of examples of people I have admired and learned from.  

The first person was my dear friend, Millie, whom I met over forty years ago. She had already lost her parents when we met, and we quickly became family even though we initially were at different life stages--she was single and longing for a husband and I was married and popping out babies every 20 months. 

After she got married, she was so excited when she got pregnant and then had a miscarriage. A couple of years later, she helped us move several states away, just as she found out she was pregnant again. When her baby was about six months old, he passed away. I went and stayed with her, and we grieved hard, and then I returned home knowing her grief would go on for some time. She got pregnant soon with twins and later in her pregnancy, she called to tell me she had lost one of the twins and was on bed rest in every effort to save the live baby. So, as she gave birth to twins, she was both celebrating the birth of a daughter and grieving hard the loss of her other daughter. She went on and had another little boy. 

They came to see us when the kids were around five and three. The five-year-old, realized I had five kids and when her mom went to the bathroom, she came up to me and asked me if I knew her mama had five children, too. I told her I did and that I had met her older brother before he passed away and that he was funny, loved music like his mama, and that her parents loved all of their babies, even those in heaven. I sensed her mama in the hall listening and when she came out, she mouthed the words, "Thank you." 

Because they were open with their kids about their story, we were able to have awesome eternal conversations about life and death and trusting God in the hard. Millie and I were graced with a four-hour phone conversation two days before she passed away. And one of the things she told me was, "I need you to know how much I have been blessed and how much I have enjoyed my kids. I believe that was partly because she embraced grief and reached acceptance and was free to love and experience joy even when she thought of her losses. Not going to sugar coat it...her grief was complicated and hard, but she moved through it, and it allowed her to persevere in her faith until the day she died. 

The next person I am telling you about was a professor and a counselor, named Norm Wright. I took his Biola grief and trauma class, at our church a couple of times and then I had the privilege of assisting him in the class for several years. He and his first wife Joyce had two children. One was a boy who was born with severe mental handicap and health problems. Through acceptance he, could see Matthew's "little" accomplishments and enjoy him. Matthew lived several years and eventually passed away. Norm leaned into grief and learned all he could about it and before long he was a chaplain that went to places like New York after 9/11, churches or schools that had experienced mass shootings, and banks that had experienced robberies, debriefing people who had experienced trauma. He took his therapy dogs and served people well. His wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor and eventually passed away as a result. Then he lost his daughter and his son-in-law as well. He continued to show up and serve people in the face of so much loss. He went to GriefShare with us all and continued to go long after he probably needed it just so he could serve those who were suffering loss. I believe his acceptance of his story filled with losses caused him to persevere and to serve out of what he learned through his own grief. He, too, persevered in his faith until the day he died.   

During the time I first met Norm, I was working with a therapist because I had not dealt with some trauma I had experienced early in life. I was afraid of strong emotions was using an eating disorder to avoid painful emotions that sometimes surfaced with memories. Several times she had me discuss a trauma and visualize the time and place as I closed my eyes. She would quietly count to a hundred so I would know I wasn't alone and if I started feeling intense emotions, I would know by the number how much longer I would sit in it. I think it was the third time that we did it, that I was committed to fulling sitting in all of the emotion and not running from it. About halfway through the exercise, I realized this memory we were processing was my story and I was okay. 

As soon as we were through with the exercise, she asked me what happened at a certain number. I explained the best I could at the time, but realized later that what I had experienced was acceptance of the hard things I had experienced. I had not realized the fear of facing the real story had kept me stuck. Until then, I had not realized the fear of feeling was actually bigger than the grief and the righteous anger that was normal for what I experienced. Because I was able to experience acceptance of my story, I was able to persevere in my faith even when it was hard. Because of acceptance, I was able to experience God as a healer. Because of acceptance, I was able to write curriculum to help others navigate their trauma, work and to develop and run a ministry I had never ever imagined running.

God has been good to me, as there are many other stories I could have shared. There are many people he put in my path to teach me about trauma and its impact on us as humans and as believers. He put people in my life to model Jesus' compassion and others to speak or write out truths I needed to hear. One of the most significant things I have learned recently was penned by a speaker/counselor named Phil Monroe who said that one of the myths we face as sufferers or healers is, "Suffering is God's way of strengthening me." That myth is simply a minimization of the suffering we have experienced. It is true that God will be glorified when we seek Him in the face of suffering, and if we do the work necessary, we may even gain some strength as we process our trauma and its impact on us. But the truth is God's heart for the hurting tells us that suffering is not His master plan for growth. As Phil put it, "When suffering entered the world, God's master plan was to pursue lost people (Gen. 3:9, 21) and to care for them. Suffering is the result of evil and of living in a fallen world. And our God is not evil! HE is GOOD! 

When I had the first conversation about acceptance at the conference, I sensed there was something missing that we weren't addressing. Then this week it hit me, the truth that a part of healing is acceptance was for me an incomplete thought. For me acceptance has also been the path to perseverance that has been what deepened my faith in Jesus and has given me rest in the Abba's arms.         





Friday, August 25, 2023

Oh, Those Pesky Birthdays

 I recently had a conversation with an awesome group of friends when it came out that three of us have had birthdays this month. One friend expressed all the craziness she experienced around her birthday, leaving the rest of us amazed and relieved that someone had so adequately and so cutely verbalized what we have all been experiencing, but never acknowledged out loud. At one time or another we all had wished we were like those girls who got excited and announced from the mountain tops that it is their birthday month and celebrate loud and big all month, but we aren't. I can't remember her eloquent words exactly so I will simply try to express what has gone ion in my own heart and mind over the years when my birthday rolls around.  

I have one birthday picture I love that my mom set me before she passed away. I have held on to it because it was before all of the crazy thoughts and feelings centered around birthdays started. It was my fourth birthday, and I am standing in front of my birthday cake in a beautiful pastel plaid dress that my mom had made. I am posed in front of the cake, holding the skirt of the dress out, with joy beaming though my smile and the excitement written on my face. Within a few years my reactions to birthdays grew more reserved as I began to experience ambivalence bubbling up inside of me whenever my birthday rolled around.   

For me, that meant I wanted people to know my birthday was coming and at the same time I didn't want them to know. I wanted people to wish me a happy birthday and at the same time I was afraid they might acknowledge it. I wanted a birthday cake and at the same time I didn't want to have to have the cake placed in front of me, causing the attention to be squarely on me as I blew out the candles. I wanted people to sing Happy Birthday and at the same time I was petrified and knew my face would be beet red when they did, especially if we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant and the wait staff brought over the huge sombrero to don as the whole restaurant joined in lively song. And as I began to age, I also wrestled with not wanting others to know my age and at the same time wanting to grow old gracefully and learn to celebrate ever trip around our sun God gives me. 

And then there came this whole social media thing. When I joined social media, I filled in the information, which included my birthday, not knowing everyone would wish me happy birthday. I was so overwhelmed as I read so many sweet messages. I soon deleted my birthdate from my page for a year and found myself thinking about those messages left the previous year. So, after some contemplation I added my birthdate back to my profile and thought it is time to try to lean into birthdays and figure out where all the crazy angst comes from. 

As my friends and I were talking, I realized this was the first year that I can honestly say that much of the ambivalence around my birthday was gone. There are serval reasons for this. First by leaning into the birthdays through social media I have had the opportunity to read lots of birthday messages. That so many would take the time to acknowledge my birthdays floors me. And there are those that take the time every year to write beautiful affirmations, stating the things that they see and appreciate in me. Some have shared the way that I have impacted their lives, often in ways I didn't even realize as I know I have lived such an imperfect life. At times there has also been Bible verses left, speaking God's truth over my life. For example, Psalm 39-13-16 reminded me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and that it was God who carefully perfectly knit me together in my mother's womb and that He knew my days before they even began. And there is Isaia 43:7 and Revelation 4:11 that remind me I was created for His glory. These verses all tell me I wasn't an accident, I was planned for and that there wasn't ever a time that I wasn't wanted by Him. And then Ephesians 2:10 reminds me I am God's workmanship. 

This year as I read my birthday posts, I was so amazed at the people that God has put into my life over the years and the many different locations and life stages we have lived. As I read each message, God blessed me with sweet memories and kindnesses given by each person. One friend who was in band with me in junior high left a message and two other girls that were also her friends left messages directly under hers. It was perfect because the memory that pops into mind as I read their posts is of the three of them standing with me getting ready to perform in a concert. They were a year older than I was and as a junior higher I looked up to them. They were always so sweet to me and modeled such beauty and grace. I don't think they knew how much of an encouragement they were to me as an awkward junior higher. There were other messages from women who were in my life from grade school, high school, and when I was a young mom, all of whom modeled so many things for me. There were also beautifully written messages by people who have seen me at my worst and privy to my raw emotions that somehow still saw beauty and value in me as I live life. This 70-year-old is an extremely blessed birthday girl whose heart is so filled.

The other thing that has helped me get more comfortable with birthdays is that I have been blessed with grandchildren who celebrate birthdays big. I have gotten texts filled with balloons and confetti, funny birthday memes, bitmoji's of birthday hugs and even birthday songs left as messages on my phone. I have even been invited on birthday lunch dates at Chick Filet! Who could resist? A few years ago, my daughter who is an educator and was in the middle of starting her new year messaged me from work and said we needed to come up with a plan as her sons were blowing up her phone reminding her it was my birthday and they needed to celebrate me. Who am I to argue with grandchildren over who deserves to be celebrated?

I do wish I had learned these lessons earlier in life as I know I would have celebrated my husband, my children, my parents, my grandparents, and my friend's birthdays more consistently and in much bigger ways, recognizing they, too, deserve to be celebrated and rejoiced over even in the midst of some discomfort they might feel over birthdays. I am so thankful that those pesky birthdays have become reminders of the beautiful people God has placed in my life at just the right time to give me companionship, encouragement, comfort, love, and more joy than I could have ever asked for or dreamed of having. I encourage you to remember that it isn't selfish to celebrate your birthdays, God planned you, knitted you together, and has ordained your days just as He has mine! Don't believe the lies centered that feed the birthday angst. You worthy of celebration.


Sunday, August 13, 2023

Houston, we have a Humanitarian Problem

In 2012, I had the opportunity to watch a movie called Trade of Innocents and was awakened to the ugly truth of child sex trafficking. It started the conversation in our country but did not have as big of an impact as I hoped it would. I am so thankful another movie, The Sound of Freedom, has had a much larger impact and that more people are seeing this film and talking about it. However, I have been frustrated that some news casters have claimed the film is made up conspiracy theories. I suspect that is because they want to politicize the film, so they don't have to take an honest look at the human (both adult and child) trafficking being spawned by open borders and human smugglers. 

Trafficking of humans and sexual abuse is not a conspiracy theory. Both have been around from the beginning of time. The Old Testament makes it clear that it was woven into various pagan religions when children were offered as human sacrifices and virgin daughters were sacrificed to priests who then used them as temple prostitutes. If we read through the Pentateuch and the prophetic books, we can see all sorts of ugly, horrendous actions perpetrated by mankind. The Bible tells stories that reveals that women were little more than property, not viewed as image bearers of the living God. It is clear that there were times wives and daughters were less important than men and not protected. I am going to share some stories from the Bible and encourage survivors to take care of yourself as you read.

The first story I want to talk about is found in Genesis 19. Lot and his wife and daughters had settled in Sodom and Gomorrah. Tso angels in human form came to warn Lot that God was going to destroy the cities because of their moral decline. Lot invited them into his home and soon the house was surrounded by men of all ages clamoring for Lot to deliver the men to them to gang rape. At first Lost seems like a good guy wanting to protect his guest, but things took an ugly turn when he stepped out to offer the crowd two virgin daughters to abuse instead. They tried to press past Lot to get the "men" and the angels reached out and pulled Lot inside and struck the whole group of men with blindness so that they could not get in the door. This is one place where the daughters had no agency over their bodies and lives and were seen more like property and less value than guests who were strangers. 

Now we will skip to Genesis 34 and look at Dinah's life. She was the daughter of Jacob and Leah. A Hivite prince named Shechem thought he loved her and seized her and raped her and then decided he wanted her as his wife. She again had no agency over her body or her life and like some women in our day became a political pawn. Her brothers became angry and acted like the prince could marry her, if all the men in the Hivite community would get circumcised. So, they did. Then the brothers attacked and killed all the Hivite men on the third day of surgical recovery and plundered everything belonging to those they killed, including their wives and children.

Next, we will visit 2 Sammuel 11-12. This is the story of David and Bathsheba. Most of the things I learned about early in my faith was that she seduced him. The more I read this story and the more I learned of the culture of that day, I realized that isn't true. It was a case of power rape. David as the king was supposed to be out of town fighting battles and she was bathing as was customary after her period. He was walking around his roof and saw her and sent men to bring her to him, knowing her husband was at war. I don't believe she had a lot of choice, because in the story of Esther even a ruler's wife was at the mercy of her husband if she approached him uninvited. When Bathsheba got pregnant, David had her husband killed in battle so he could hide his sin and look like he was simply providing for her. The prophet Nathan came and confronted him and him alone, by exposing his predatory choice to take someone that did not belong to him. Nathan warned him that his secret actions that had so dishonored his God would be dealt with publicly. 

The last story we will discuss is the story of Tamar found in 2 Samuel 13 and reveals an example of generational sin. David had a son named Amnon and a beautiful virgin daughter named Tamar. Amon thought he had fallen in love his half-sister and confided in one of his friends who crafted an ugly plan. Amnon followed the plan and pretended to be sick and had his dad send Tamar to bake him cakes. So, David sent her and when Tamar arrived at Amnon's house, he was lying down. She made the cakes in view of his sight and when she emptied the pan before him, he refused to get up to eat. He sent everyone else out of the home and told Tamar to bring the food into his chamber and feed him. She took the cakes to him and when she leaned over with a cake in hand, he told her to come lie with him. She said, "No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing." She went on to remind him of the shame she would bear and that he would be considered a fool. She suggested he talk to their father to see if they could marry. He took her by force and violated her and immediately Amnon hated her with a hatred way deeper that the "love" he had loved her with. He he told her to go, leaving filled with shame and grief she put ashes on her head, robe that signified her status as a virgin daughter. She wept hard and lived a desolate life in her brother Absalom's house. And even though David got angry when he heard about the rape, he asked Absalom to spare his life, offering Tamar no words of comfort with the lack of justice for her.  

Even though these are Biblical Stories, the behaviors of the people involved do not reflect the heart of God. God cares about children. Matthew 18:10 says, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." In addition, Jesus crossed the social norms of his day to serve children and women. Matthew 10:24 says, "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." Matthew 18:6 says, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."  

Jesus actions crossed the social and cultural mores of his day. He healed two daughters in Mark 5:21-43. The first was a 12-year-old whose dad was Jarius, a leader of the synagogue. The second had been bleeding for the entire 12 years the other had been alive. Her bleeding wasn't an inconvenience, it was a matter of life and death and had left her poverty stricken and exiled from social activities. But for some reason she believed if she could touch His clothing, she would be well. She reached. She touched and she was healed and Jesus' words, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease," sweetly reestablished her socially into the community. Jesus then went to Jairus's home where is little girl lay, having passed away. He raised her from the dead and told them to give her something to eat. This passage of care is a powerful antidote to misogynistic tendencies of men in that day. It proves that women and children are not less valuable than men in God's eyes.

John 8:1-11 is the story of a woman who was caught in adultery. She was thrust at Jesus feet without the partner of the adulterous act. Jesus penned untold words in the sand and challenged those who were without sin to cast the first stones. And one by one the men turned and left, and Jesus tells looked her in the eye and said, "Neither do I condemn you." Jesus made it clear that church is to be a place of compassion and grace, even for women. He also made it clear that women were not to be expected to pay for the sins of the men in their life. 

In John 4:1-30, Jesus crossed the barriers of gender, nationality, tribe, and religion when he conveniently sits by a well so that he can have a lengthy conversation with a Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was now living with a man to whom she wasn't married. After touching on her life's story, the conversation turned into theological debate that resulted in her believing in Jesus and God used this socially ostracized daughter to bring her community to Himself. 

In Luke 13:10-17 Jesus was confronted for healing a woman who had been suffering physically for 18 years on the Sabbath. He stood up to the religious leaders who condemned the healing on the Sabbath saying, "Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?  

And then in Mark 14:3-9 another woman poured costly ointment on Jesus' head, causing those in the vicinity to complain about the waist. Jesus again defended her for showing Him love in the way she did. He said, "Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her." He was defending and celebrating her lavish act of love in the anointing of His body and the fact that women are often the intuitive and compassionate ones to meet important needs. 

With what I have shared I hope you can see that the stories of abuse are nothing new to this world. They are not conspiracy theories. They happen everywhere--both inside and outside the church. It happens in families, friend circles, in communities, in schools, in every people group across the world. When will we wake up as human beings and realize this is not a political issue, not made-up stories of hysterical women, it is a critical humanitarian crisis that needs immediate attention, Our God's heart is weeping for every victim, and the Lion of Judah--He is roaring to get our attention. How are we going to respond? What actions are we going to take. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Just Trying Harder No More

I've been pondering something for the last six weeks or so. I could not remember a time that just try harder wasn't my mantra. When I was trying to figure out when those words had become a part of my mind set, a childhood scene popped into my head. When I was 9, my parents were struggling in their marriage and brought us kids into the living room to tell us they were going to get a divorce. I remember crying and begging them to just try harder. They listened to us and they each took a short break from the family and each other and came back together and decided to try harder. And try they did. They managed to stay married until we were all out of the house. 

In high school I tried hard at a lot of things and when I didn't feel like I did them well enough I would just try harder and harder. Whether I was drawing or writing or do schoolwork, it was not unusual for me to be up most of the night. It was during those years I developed an eating disorder. The way I tried to overcome the disorder was to confess it as sin and try harder. I spent years and years and years just trying harder. It didn't matter what phase I was in--the dieting/restricting phase, the binging phase, the compulsive exercising phase, or the self-condemning thoughts with which I struggled--trying harder was always my goal until I realized I was too exhausted to try anymore and that just trying harder and harder while doing the same thing over and over would never set me free. 

There were also different areas of sin that I've dealt with over my lifetime and in the beginning my goal was again always to just try harder. And again, the trying harder didn't often get me freedom from besetting sins that tripped me up. The trying harder phase of life did not allow me to experience grace and give rise to consistent victory. And that increased shame, which often led back to sin. 

And then there was my own relationship patterns that had plenty of bumps and bruises in them. I just tried harder as a wife, a mother, a friend, and ministry leader only to find myself exhausted and longing for better relationships, and yet doing and saying things that were detrimental to the relationships I valued. How I longed to be a blessing to others, not a burden; a giver, not a taker; an encourager, not a critic; a radical giver of love, not one sucking others dry; and a bold truth speaker, not a people pleaser, driven by fear.

As I was contemplating where the trying harder came from, the words from 1 Timothy 4:7b, 15 popped into my head, "Rather train yourself for godliness...practice these things immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (I know I skipped a few verses here and encourage you to read the whole chapter.) What if we deleted the words "just try harder" from our vocabulary and looked at growth through a lens of training and practicing?

If one is training for a sport or a job, there are things she might do. She might read training materials, attend classes, employ a life, professional, or sports coach to work with. After gaining head knowledge, she would then begin to put that knowledge into practice under the guidance of a coach, who could help her set reasonable goals that would enable her to grow in her skills, while at the same time not setting herself up for failure. When she fails or stumbles, the coach helps her reevaluate what she did in the moment and what she could do differently to get a different outcome without getting disheartened. It is in this way an athlete can earn medals, a teacher can become a master teacher, or a public speaker can capture an audience. This is applying the principles of 1 Timonthy 4!

I realize now that when I sought help from a Christian therapist for my eating disorder, I started therapy with the just try harder mindset. Before long my therapist began to provide education, trauma therapy, practical tools that I could practice using, and helped me set reasonable goals that were doable and helped me quit doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different outcome. In addition, she allowed me to experience both truth and grace, giving me a safe place to be totally honest when I stumbled and helped me learn from the failures and move forward more quickly. I continued to try hard because I wanted to gain freedom, but I also learned to try smarter by applying the principles of training and practicing that are found in 1 Timonthy 4. The eating disorder work wasn't so black and white or all or nothing for me anymore. The disorder was complex, and I leaned to look for growth in a lot of different areas not just in the ability to rigidly adhere to a diet.  

When my parents were struggling in their marriage, there was not a lot of good materials on marriage and their generation was more private. So, they didn't have anyone other than their kids begging them to try harder. But I have realized my husband and I have had concepts of training and practice built into our marriage. We spent years in a fellowship group reading and discussing books on marriage with other people who valued marriage and wanted to learn how to have godly marriages. Then we spent some time in a counselor's office talking more specifically about the weaknesses in our marriage and were able to gain some valuable education and tools and see healthier communication demonstrated for us. In addition, we have been a part of a lay counseling ministry and at times have had the privilege of educating, giving tools and encouragement, and reminders of the importance of practicing over and over what at times feels foreign to the couple and if we are honest to us as well. 

When I look back at the times that I was trying to overcome besetting sin and growing in godliness, I was more successful and grew more when I applied the principles of training and practicing. A part of the education was saturating my mind with God's word and the truth about who He is and who am in relationship to Him. I also educated myself on what I was dealing with at the time and put into place accountability, mentoring, counseling, or coaching, with someone who could see the big picture and help me set reasonable goals that help set me up for success. 

I wish every young-in-the-faith believer were taught the concepts of training in godliness and practicing the things that promote growth, rather than focusing on a list of sins to avoid or things to do to be a "good" Christian. 

I wish that parents would begin to teach their children to be godly friends by applying training and practicing. They need to be taught about relationships and practicing the skills they need to navigate them when their relationships become hard. 

I wish that every young couple getting married would go into it with an understanding of God's beautiful design of marriage and then gain the training they need to begin to build a godly marriage and then practice the things they learn over and over until they become second nature to them. I love how God loves us and gives us what we need to grow in godliness. 

But this gal is just trying harder no more, I am training and practicing.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Messy Churches are Growing Churches

When I first started going to church, I did not know the church culture or church etiquette. My lack of knowledge caused me to be extremely self-conscious and hyper-vigilant. I tried to dress like everyone dressed and tried to act the way I saw others act at church. I remember sitting in the little church near my house on one of the first hot days of the year. I was in night grade, and I remember getting so hot that my face felt flushed, but I was afraid it would be wrong if I got up and opened a window. I sat there until someone in the choir motioned for me to open the window. I opened the window because an adult said to, but I felt awkward and embarrassed, thinking I was being a disruption. 

Many years later, I read Mike Yaconelli's Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love for Imperfect People, which quickly became one of my favorite books. In it and some of his other writings he talks about the little church he pastored. He had a young gal in the church, who like me was not familiar with church culture, but she handled it way different than I did. If she had a question, she would not wait until the sermon was over, she would just blurt out her question. Mike said the first time she blurted out a question, he was taken back because we simply don't do that in church. But he grew to love her impulsivity, because it revealed her thirst for knowledge of God and he chose to give up his preconceived ideas of what his church "should look like." I admire her and wish I would have been more like her. I wanted to learn like she did, but as a youth I simply sat on my questions, afraid to even open a window to make the building more comfortable. 

My husband and I have been a part of a large church for over twenty years. Even though I am a small-town-girl at heart, I've grown comfortable in the church and know when to stand, when to sit, when to bow, when to sing, and when to listen. Because of its size and location, our church tends to have people that are a lot like me in it. I am short in stature, easily distracted, and a relational person so I have convinced my husband to sit on the second row so I can see the pastor and worship leaders up close, which helps me stay more engaged and to feel connected to what is going on. Over the last couple of years, several different people our age who claimed the chairs directly in front of us have come and gone.

When our church opened up after covid, we quickly reclaimed our usual spot, and soon a young man named Travis started coming and sitting right in front of us. Travis is an exuberant person who has a learning disability and because of that he is not like the others who have owned the seat before him. He sings loud and he dancers big during worship, sometimes requiring my husband and I us to take a step back to avoid his moving arms. He blurts out things to lets the pastors know when he loves what they are teaching about Jesus. And he has made some connections with a person he feels safe with and sometimes turns around when he hears something in the sermon that he likes and loudly state his excitement to his safe friend.  

I confess I was overwhelmed by Travis at first and have felt compelled to check my heart for the expectations I have of what I think church should look like. Thankfully, I have slowly developed an appreciation for our seat mate who sits so faithfully on the front row. I have grown to love his passion for the Word, His exuberant worship, his loud verbalizations where maybe Amen might be shouted from the congregation in a church more charismatic ours. I even appreciate his sweet desire to connect with his safe friend around the Truth because that is an eternal connection that will never die. 

A couple of weeks ago, Travis was there and participating as big as ever in worship, but after worship he got up and left. When he left, I realized I was sad that he left. I was also quietly proud of myself for having adjusted and being able to appreciate him. The thought that maybe I had learned the lesson God wanted me to learn from Travis crossed my mind, but just as Travis exited down one aisle another man entered and walked all the way to the front and sat down in Travis' seat. He was an older gentleman, wearing tattered clothes that a homeless man might wear. He had a baseball cap with what I had thought was a handkerchief underneath the cap to cover his neck like farm workers often wear to protect their skin. I was okay until I turned my focus to the pastor who was starting to preach and noticed the scarf on his neck wasn't a scarf. It had a waist band and was fully visible on the side of his head. Realizing the scarf was boxer shorts, made me uncomfortable like I was seeing someone in their underwear. I didn't know where to look, because if I looked at the pastor, the underwear on his head that were in my line of sight. So, I tried to keep my vision on the large screens so I could focus on hearing the sermon, not the neck covering. When the sermon ended, much to my delight, the man sang the closing songs much like our Travis would. Loud, passionately, with lots of hand motions that accented the words of the song perfectly, and his voice cracking as he sang about Jesus calling him friend caused my eyes to leak a bit. 

As I think about these two men James 2:1-6 comes to mind, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and Heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love Him?" If Travis's and the gentleman's passionate worship and exuberant responses to the sermons is any indication of their faith, then they are both men who are way richer in faith than me! 

I am hoping God will continue to bring more people like Travis and the stranger who took his sit for that one mourning. They will challenge us in good ways to love those who don't look, or sound like us. It will teach us to appreciate passion that causes some to listen loud, sing passionately, and dance big, and vocalize amens in a lot of different forms. This will free us to give the gospel to people who don't look like our churches look. I believe God is moving in our big church and I want to be someone who grows as a result of His movement. I hope our church becomes more and more messy as a result of God's movement because it is the messy churches that are growing churches. 

Building a Life upon the Rock

In Matthew 27:24-27 Jesus tells us that everyone who hears His words and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. That the house stood against the floods and the winds that beat on it. The house stood because it had been built on a solid foundation. He also tells us that everyone who hears His words and doesn't do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. And that house on sand was not able to stand up against the floods and the winds that beat against it. As I think about the times we are living in, I think Jesus words are significant and deserve some deeper contemplation. 

The foundation of our faith is built on the Word of God given to us through people of God's choosing. It includes history that tells us of creation and of our own origin. It tells us of the Fall of man and its consequences that have stretched down though all of human history. It tells us of God's promise to send a Saviour. It includes the Law of Moses, which continually pointed to a coming Messiah, who would save His people. That Messiah ended up being Jesus--the ultimate perfect, sacrificial Lamb of God. It includes the books of poetry that show how relational, how compassionate, and how loving our God is. It includes words of the prophets that pointed out Israel's repetitive failures that drew their hearts away from the very God who radically loved them. And sadly, we are no different than them. It includes the gospels that tell the story of a God who left glory, took on human flesh and rubbed shoulders with men and women in desperate need of grace and then who performed the ultimate act of love--the laying down of His life purchase our redemption. It includes the book of Acts which reveals what life looks like when God's people are indwelled, filled, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It includes epistles written to believers, who needed reminders of who God is and what He has done so they could learn how to trust and obey Him and to lean into Him in the hard as they are being purified and built into building of believers. The believers who are living lives of growth as they are continually sanctified by His blood. It includes the book of Revelation that reveals to us bits of Heaven, encouraging us to live with our gaze on Jesus and our hearts set on eternity.  

Lett's think about the foundation of a building for a minute. When builders lay foundations, they lay them to bear the full weight of all of the building materials. The ground must first be leveled and dug out so that footings can be spaced just right so that the building will not fall. There will be layers of rocks and wires and rebar placed in preparation for the concrete to be poured. With out these the foundation would not be strong enough to hold the building. Maybe the groundwork before the foundation could picture the Old Testament. 

Then after the concrete is poured, it will need to be spread, smoothed, and pressed down so that it fills every nook and cranny of the prepared foundation. This will remove any bubbles and thin spots that might weaken it. It will then be tended to for several days so that it can set up perfectly and not become crumbly. No construction will be done until the foundation has completely set. The foundation is a great picture of our Lord, Jesus. As He walked this earth, Satan tried to tempt Him, offering Him counterfeit kingdoms. Satan tried to discourage Him by stirring throngs of crowds to persecute Him and spew hatred at Him. Satan also tried to stop God's plan through discouragement, which sent the Lord to the Garden of Gethsemane with a breaking heart where He pled for another way but the cross, while at the same time yielding Himself fully to His Father's will. And it was Jesus' resolve to yield that makes the foundation of our faith strong enough to build upon. 

We sometimes forget our salvation rests solely on Jesus and His Word. Some of us think our good works, our kind words, our service has somehow helped us merit becoming a part of the house of God. But our good works are only as good as our worst work, our kind words are only as good as our most hurtful words spewed in anger, and our service...well that is only as good as the service we don't render to the one we didn't feel worthy enough to even glance at. A foundation built with any part of us in it is a shoddy foundation because we are a perfectly imperfect people. The foundation has to be built on Jesus and Jesus alone. He is the only one who perfect enough to have died and paid for sin--his resurrection proved that, and we enter into a relationship with Him by faith and faith alone.

The Word tells us that as we are saved so we shall live. That means we live daily, hourly, moment by moment by faith. If we, as individuals or as congregations, let stress, trials, temptations, business, hurt, or failure take our eyes off of Jesus it is like building a little shack on a massive, glorious foundation. But if we are intentional about keeping our eyes on Jesus, a glorious house will be built that will reflect the Saviour to a lost and dying world. 

It is important to think about what a life of faith looks like. When stress comes, it means remembering who Jesus is and holding on to that so He can dispel the fear and the hesitation that grows so easily in our hearts. When trials come our way, it means remembering that the God who endured and overcame every kind of trial we could ever face indwells us and can strengthen and empower us if we trust Him. When temptations come, it means holding on to Him as long as it takes like Jacob did as He wrestled with God and his own the personal weaknesses.  It means remembering that because of the sealing of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer slaves of sin, we are free to walk in victory. When business comes, it means spending time on our knees, asking Him to purify our hearts and motives and trusting Him to order our days so that the use of our gifts and passions are the most fruitful they can be. And when hurt comes it means, remembering that by Jesus' stripes we are healed. He sees what is done to us. He hears the things said to us. He notices the times we're overlooked, ignored, or pushed aside. And those stripes He bore in His body constantly remind us that He, too, suffered trauma in order to love us well. He is for us, and He is offering us Himself. And when failure comes (and it will because we are human) it means keeping our eyes on Jesus and leaning into Him through confession, knowing His blood alone is and always will be enough to cover our sin. The building will still stand in our imperfection because the foundation is perfectly strong--the foundation is a rock. 

As we learn to live by faith, we will learn to live fully in His grace and that will enable us to learn to we learn to love as He loves, which will enable us to come together to build our lives upon the Rock. 


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!