Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Oh, Those Stinky Grave Cloths

The man who had died came out,
his hands and feet bound with linen strips,
and his face wrapped with a cloth.
Jesus said to them, "Unbind him and let him go!"

One of the most intriguing accounts includes this verse. It is found in John 11. Jesus had a close relationship with Lazarus who had two sisters named Mary and Martha. We remember them because Martha was a doer who became frustrated with the more contemplative Mary who sat at Jesus feet listening to Him teach instead of helping Martha serve their guests. The sisters had fist hand knowledge of Jesus' healing miracles and when Lazarus got sick they're first response was to send for Jesus. But, He didn't do what we would expect Him to do.  He tarried where He was for a couple of days. When the time was right He declared to His disciples that Lazarus was dead and that He was glad He wasn't there so that they could believe.

It seems like such an odd statement coming from someone who was known to love this grieving family. Mary and Martha showed faith in sending for Him, but it seemed like He had chosen not to 't respond to their faith. He simply waited. He waited because He wanted to deepen their faith so they would be able to His death, which would soon take place.

When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Bethany, they found a crowd of people had come to mourn with Mary and Martha. The news spread of Jesus' arrival and the confused Martha immediately came to question His delay. He talked to her about the resurrection, in which she believed and then He declared a truth that at the time was probably just as confusing as His delay. He said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life!"

Martha then brought Mary to Jesus. Mary felt the same confusion Martha had about Jesus' delay and when she saw Him she fell at His feet, her favorite place to be. And in her weeping, she questioned Him. I find it amazing that even in her grief and with her questions she took a position of worship. Others notice that on the way to the tomb Jesus begins to weep with them. Some saw love behind the Lord's tears, while others scoffed at His tears claiming He could have prevented the sisters' pain. I have to remind myself that they couldn't see what we can see as we read the account.
When they got to the tomb, Jesus asked that the stone be rolled away which exposed the stench of Lazarus decaying body. Standing in front of the open tomb He prayed and then He called Lazarus out of the grave. And Lazarus came out still wrapped in the stinky grave clothes. Jesus instructed others to help him remove the wretched clothes. The thought of touching those smelly clothes makes me cringe, but I know those who loved Lazarus did so. I can't help be wonder if the joy they experienced seeing Lazarus come from his grave was greater because of the grief they bore. Jesus needed them to understand He was not just someone who had the power to raise the dead, He is the resurrection and the life for everyone who believes. This is a lesson they could have found such comfort in when He was crucified had they remembered.   

There are many details in this account, but the stinky grave cloths is what I want to focus on. Jesus could have spoken a word and the cloths would have fallen away, but He didn't. A few years ago I wrote a curriculum called Growing a Courageous Heart. We use it in our women's eating disorder support groups. Anyone dealing with an eating disorder knows disorders are difficult to treat because they're shrouded in denial. I used this story of the grave cloths to represent the layers of denial  women use to avoid to protect their disorders even when they are slowly killing them. As I was reading this story, it hit me that Lazarus' grave clothes are a great analogy for all our sin. Isn't it true that any sin we do has the potential to choke the life out of us? Doesn't it chisel away at our relationship with God? Doesn't it cause the self-centeredness that kills relationships God has called us to? Doesn't it lead to patterns of addictions that literally kill the body and suck the spiritual life out of us long before we die? Doesn't it lead to shame and despair which kills our joy and our purpose for living? Doesn't it lead to the abuses that kill the soul of every victim? Sin is a plague--a horrible stinking plague for which Jesus died to set us free.     

When we accept Jesus by faith we are raised from spiritual death to spiritual life and then we spend a life time working out our salvation through a process of sanctification that weeds out our sinful actions, our sinful thoughts, the lies that we believe, and our prideful attitudes we have. It also exposes self-protective behaviors so we can become more like Jesus and reflect Him to a world still plagued by sin. Maybe the reason God tells us to meet with one another is so we can help each other remove our stinky grave clothes, the clothes representing our old lives. The cloths that bind us and keep us from becoming more like Him. The cloths that remind us of what we once were, not what we are in Him. The cloths that keep our faith shallow and shaky. The cloths that distort the truth with the enemy's lies that render us helpless and useless in God's Kingdom. The cloths that rob us of the joy that we have at our finger tips as His chosen people. The cloths that keep us from giving thanks and enjoying the life in Him. With His help and with the help of others, we can take off the stinky cloths of our past that keep us in bondage and put on the armor of God and live in the truth He has given us. Its a stinky job and sometimes we don't want to rub shoulders with others who stink like we once did, but it is what we are called to.  

There is something else that I love about grave cloths and what they tell us. Fast forward to John 20:6-7, "Simon Peter came following him, and went into the tomb.  He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded up in a place by itself." There is One who needed no help getting out of the grave cloths -- Jesus, the One who knew no sin, the One who became sin for us, the One who made it possible for us to be shrouded in His righteousness instead. 

I want to remember Jesus, who needed no help out of grave the cloths when I battle temptation or when the enemy tries to wear me down with his lies. I want to hold tight to the One who needed no help out of His grave cloths when life is hard. Oh, that I would remember that the sinless One who died in my place slipped out of the grave clothes because His perfect life was the perfect sacrifice for my imperfection. The One who has the ability to lay aside His grave cloths aside like that has my heart is the One who called me out of the grave. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

When Did I Sign up for This? -- Lent #2

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart; I have overcome the world." 
John 16:33
I am a mother of five children. The first four were twenty months apart and the last one came three years later. I loved being a mom and loved hearing their voices asking important questions like, "Have you ever seen a muscle as big as this one?" I loved the feel of their small hands on my arm as they patted to get my attention. I loved the kitchen as they washed dishes that would need to be washed again. I loved the strawberry stains on their little faces as they denied picking them from our strawberry patch. I loved most of all hearing them discuss what they learned at church. One Easter the oldest informed us that God was the most powerful being in the world. The second one, challenged him because he thought the wrestler, "Junk Yard Dog," was the strongest man. Promptly the oldest said that God was powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead and there could be nothing more powerful than that. 
But to be honest there were times I found being a mom hard. During my third pregnancy I awoke to a strange man in our bedroom. I was terrified and as a result became sleep deprived and then struggled a lot with post-partum depression. I felt so ashamed because we had three beautiful children at the time and had just bought our first home. I had everything I wanted, but I didn't feel good. The sound of the kids little arguments were like bullets through my heart, which traveled over every nerve in my body. I remember thinking, "When did I sign up for this?" Sadly, I mishandled the arguments and parenting a lot during that time. 
I eventually called my pastor and several women befriended me and that helped some. I also got through that season studying the Word, phone counseling with the pastor, and listening to tapes by Jill Briscoe and other great teachers like her. That season exposed lies that I believed without even knowing it. I thought by becoming a believer, my life would be easier and  more carefree, and that I would always feel happy. The key verse above makes it clear that even believers will have tribulation in this life, but somehow I didn't remember hearing it early on or reading it until after this season of pain.
There have since been several hard seasons and there have been a few phrases I have come to despise. One is, "God will never give you any more than you can handle!" "You need to work on forgiveness." and "Its a sin to worry!" First, of all none of those phrases occur in the Bible. These comments are often made by thoughtless people who don't want to experience pain or walk with someone as they wrestle with hard subjects like God's sovereignty and suffering. 
But what if that is exactly what God calls us to do. I watched my best friend bury her six month old after having already lost one baby to a miscarriage. We were a part of a very close church and we all wept with her. She had lost her parents and the pastor and every other church member had adopted her as family. I remember looking down at the organist's skirt and it was drenched with the tears that had fallen as she played. My friend soon got pregnant with twins and one of the twins didn't make it and I was so  overwhelmed for her and wondered if God knew how much she was suffering. We wept together for a few weeks before I returned home.
She told me about sixteen years later how precious her two living children were to her and how much she enjoyed them. Within a week, my friend died and I went back for her funeral. Even though we had been separated by miles, we had kept in touch and everyone understood that we were close. Many people came up to me and hugged me. At the funeral, my friend Joyce came and sat by me and put her arms around me as I looked at my friend in her casket. She didn't offer empty platitudes, but she wept with me as the praise team of which my friend had been apart began to sing songs of worship. Others spent hours reminiscing about her with me. Their willingness to feel their own grief and walk me through mine was a healing balm to my aching heart.
My friend, Joyce, lost a grandson about a year ago. They had a memorial service last night. It sounded beautiful and her daughter-in-law, Daphne, wrote about her experience of grief in getting through this last year on Facebook. It has been a hard year and they aren't done grieving yet. But, through it all they have repeatedly shared how God has sustained them through this time and how people have encouraged them. Joyce told me, that another friend in the church had lost her mom and their family who is a part of the praise team got up and lead worship as usual. Joyce has a very tender heart, so I know there were tears shed as they sang. Joyce has always seemed to understand that love is sacrificial and that when one loves well, there will be tears involved. She and her husband have loved well many young families who came through that church and wept with them through losses and goodbyes.         
Out of my own healing journey, with God's help I have developed a ministry that I oversee that serves women who have suffered various traumas in their lives. We recently put together a leadership retreat for our leaders. There were fourteen women there who serve in this ministry. We took them through an exercise in which they spent time drawing the trauma's they had experienced in this life and then it took about twelve hours for them to share all that they had drawn on their boards. I cannot tell you how often I thought to myself things like, "No, little girl should ever have to have experienced what she experienced!" "No teenager should have had to experience that trauma!" or "No child should have had to experience that kind of loss!" Some of them shared some of the things that they had experienced as adults. I found myself wondering if they had known what they were in for would they have signed up for the retreat? Even more importantly, would they have become Christians had they know what they were to face? 
The next morning one of the leaders lead worship and another served communion and I have to admit that hearing those women sing was one so overwhelming that all I could do was weep at the beauty of it. These women who have experienced real heartache in their lives are women who have been courageous enough to face it and wrestle with it until they could fully trust God and His love and fully accept the stories that He has penned for their lives. These women, like my friend Joyce,  have loved in ways that only God could have equipped them to love. They have forgiven unforgiveable things that only God could have helped them forgive. They have chosen to revisit their own pain year after year as they hear stories similar to their own and walk women through the healing journey in the groups they lead. As we worshipped it hit me that they signed up for this when they became followers of the Traumatized Savior. The suffering they experienced over their life time has given them an understanding of God that is so rich and so deep that it has helped them to be able to hold on when life hurts in the here and now. It has helped them believe when life seems impossible to bear. They have learned to trust God even though their ability to trust was marred by their experiences.
Because of my experiences in my church in Mississippi and because of my relationships with these precious ladies, I know God cares when His people hurt because He has enabled these ladies to serve and worship against a backdrop of pain. I believe the suffering in this world is caused by the fall and remains so that we come to the end of ourselves and learn to trust in Him, not just once but day after day after day. He allows suffering so we can understand the depths of His love poured out on us at the Saviors death. I believe He allows suffering for now so that we will develop hearts of compassion, beating with His love that is showering His grace so that we could share how He comforts, He loves, He strengthens, and He sanctifies us through the "This's" of this life.    

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Traumatized for Love

"Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied;
By His knowledge shall the righteous One, my Servant,
and make many to be accounted righteous,
and He shall bear their iniquities."
Isaiah 53:11

As we enter the season of Lent, many people choose to fast from something as a way to express love and gratitude to a Savior who suffered to love and reconcile us to God. I know I'm a little more comfortable reading verses like Isaiah 9:6 that talk about the birth of Jesus and that tell us His name is "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace!" Those are powerful names that stir up feelings of safety and security and stir a desire to trust God whose names give us a picture of what He is like. But the truth is Lent is about a different part of His story, a part that I both love I hate. I love the story because it allows us to reflect on His life during the days that lead up to the cross and that gives me glimpses into the way He relates to people. I like it because it is through His death on the cross that we have salvation. I hate this part of the story because it also reveals to my messy heart that I have a Savior that suffered terribly because He loved me and wanted to reconcile me to the Father. I hate it because it exposes how poorly I love in comparison to Him.

Isaiah 53 tells us that He was despised and rejected by men. He was Israel's long-in-coming Messiah and they rejected Him. He was wrongfully accused of many things because the miracles He performed pointed to the truth of who He is, the Words that He preached convicted spiritually dead religious leaders and freed people they had long oppressed, and the love He showed wasn't limited to just the lovely who fit the picture of religion. His love was for the unlovely, messy, wounded, needy, and sinful people like me. The gospels also tell us His own family thought He was crazy! He was "run" out of town. He was also accused of getting His miraculous power from Satan and eventually was betrayed and deserted by friends during His final hours. 

The Scriptures tell us He was a man who was acquainted with grief. He wept at the death of a friend and He wept over Israel because she was like a bunch of sheep without a Shepherd. He served the crowds meals, cast out demons, healed broken bodies, gave sight to the blind and ears that hear to the deaf, restored life to a woman whose life-force was flowing out of her. He gave women used wrongfully back their dignity, allowing those deserving death and those deemed unfit for "worship" in the temple to come worship Him--One can't serve in such a messy and painful world without grieving. 

Though He had enough power in His words, to create the universe, to calm a raging storm, to cast a legion of demons out of a man no one could control, and to call a man out of His grave, He also had restraint to be silent when He was arrested. He said not a Word so that He would  be convicted, thus laying down His life for me. Looking at His restraint in light of the horror of His death, makes His silence all the more amazing. He could have spoken and those accusing Him would have fallen down dead. He could have spoken and softened their prideful hearts by exposing the ugliness within and the ungodly motives driving their actions. He could have called down the powers of Heaven, but instead, He remained silent. Silent through beatings that ripped skin from His back and left His back bleeding and raw. Silent though the crowds taunted Him. Silent as the nails were pounded into His flesh binding Him to the cross. Silent as the cross to which He was nailed was hung posing Him between Heaven and earth between two criminals--one mocking, the other trusting. 

He even chose to remain on the cross as the sin of man was put on Him--not on the cross, on Him. The darkness grew as sin after sin was placed on Him and He faced the wrath of God in my place. As darkness grew, His anguish swelled until He could be silent no more. He cried out, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" He had been silent until He felt what I feel as a broken, sinful human being who wondered if I had been forsaken when I experienced deep pain. He was silent so He could lay down His life, but He broke the silence so I would know He understands the part of me that wanted to be protected, but wasn't--that part of me that felt  forsaken, but wasn't.
His death was brutal because He faced God's wrath for sin. It serves as a reminder of the seriousness of sin--sin that draws us away from God, His pure love, and His goodness. His death was a brutal reminder that sin kills. It kills the human spirit, deceives the human  mind, crushes the human emotions, and destroys families, churches, communities and countries. 

His death was brutal because we need reminders of the depth God would go to woo us back to Him, of how far He would go to defeat the enemy of our souls, and what lengths He would go to communicate His love to our desperate hearts. It is not about warm fuzzy feelings we call love, it is about sacrifice, it is about confronting the false idols that don't satisfy our soul thirst or heart hunger, it is about doing the next right thing no matter how hard it is or how much it goes against what our prideful hearts want. It is about facing fearful things with courage, facing confusing circumstances with firm belief that those circumstances don't negate His love, care, and compassion, and laying down our demands, our sense of entitlement to embrace the truth that this life is not about me, it is about living life one sacrifice at a time. 

His death was brutal so we would never forget that grace covers sin with a blood sacrifice, that goodness overcomes evil, and that love overcomes hatred. His death was brutal to remind us that love never comes easy, it is hard and always requires a laying down of self.

As I contemplate His death this Lent season, I can see in my mind each of my sins etched in His skin. I am so thankful I'm no longer shamed by that picture, but am overwhelmed with a love that would do that for me. Anne Voskamp shared in one of her posts on lent that she sat down and ate the soup of a meal she had committed to fasting for Lent. Upon realizing it, her thoughts weren't self-debasing thoughts as mine so often are. Instead, she whispered a prayer, "Do I love You so little?" When I read her words it hit me, that is Godly sorrow. She understands grace and she understands it is His goodness that leads to repentance not toxic shame we heap on our selves. I pray that by contemplating the sacrifice of my traumatized Savior I will allow His great love to be shed abroad in my heart and have the courage to love as sacrificially as He loves. 


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!