Tuesday, September 30, 2014

He Gives Strength

...The Lord is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might He increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31
When I blog, it is because something I have learned about God has really excited me, I am wrestling with a truth and trying to let it seep into my heart, or because a common theme seems to be swirling around me in this thing we call life. This morning it is the later. I chose to write on this passage today because I know people who are in need of some hope.  
I have several friends who are struggling with chronic illnesses. Some have been given answers and others are looking for answers so they know what is going on and how to manage symptoms. They are in pain and/or totally exhausted. They are reminded daily that their bodies aren't well. They have a host of unanswered questions that usually go unspoken. They live with frustration, longing for the energy to live life the way they want to live it. I can relate as I spent a year recovering from a severe break and then with a two year bout with CMV and anemia that seems to have forever altered my energy level. When I say these gals are exhausted, they don't just need a nap. They are bone tired...the kind of tired that can make you wonder if you have the energy to even breath.
I've know several young moms, who are sleep deprived and struggling with postpartum depression like I did which can leave a woman totally exhausted and wondering if she can make it through one more day and one more night and one more feeding. 
I have friends who, like me, are overcoming eating disorders, addictions, or recovering from past traumas. They've grown in huge ways and been set free, but occasionally something triggers them and they will have to work hard to renounce lies, shut down old defense mechanisms, and withstand strong temptations and compulsions in order to walk in the freedom that God has called them to. Addictions and eating disorders are often hard persistent battles fought on a daily basis. We long for total freedom but learned our recover is a day by day, moment by moment walk.  
I have friends who have a two year old grandson fighting a very grown up battle with liver cancer. God has been answering many of their prayers and given them opportunities to share Christ. Yet, their family is working hard to walk this precious little guy through this battle. With this type of battle, not only is the little guy exhausted, but so is his parents who are walking this scary valley with him.  

Our church family is grieving with parents who lost a teenage daughter last week. My heart aches for them and know they are going to be going through the grief process for a long time...and those of us who have experienced grief know that it is an exhausting work. At the same time my husbands company is grieving the loss of a lady who was killed in a horrible car accident.

Our grandsons who lost a puppy a couple of years ago in an accidental drowning, are now facing the fact that another little loving dog is struggling with seizures and have to meet with the vet today to see how to treat. Their little tender hearts have begun to shed tears as they are once again faced with the truth that life is fragile.

Then there is the whole issue of sin we struggle with...you know the struggle Paul talks about in Romans...the one where he says he does the things he doesn't want to do and doesn't do the things he wants to do. I know at the end of the day I often shake my head because I did something I thought I was so over doing, or I failed to do something God has called me to again because it is out of my comfort zone. Then there are the things I commit to in the morning and fail to do by evening. The words that wounded or the lack of words that didn't get spoken to encourage.

Life in this fallen world is painful, scary, and exhausting. As a result, we can be prone to despair and hopelessness unless we remember God. In our weakest moments we can remember He is an everlasting God, the Creator who has the power to speak the universe into place. We can remember that He never grows weary or faint.

We can remember His understanding is unsearchable. He understands how frustrating it is when illness robs us of energy and when pain exhausts us and depletes us of energy. He understands when fever hits and fear rises up within a parent's heart. He understands when grief is overwhelming and we can do nothing but shed heart wrenching tears. He understands our anxiousness when we wait for tests results and the questions floating around in our minds that we are either too afraid or too ashamed to ask. And as the Creator, He even understands how our temperaments color how we respond to life's struggles. As the Healer, He understands how our past trauma can still impact our ability to deal with life in the here and now.

When life is hard, the Enemy wants us to believe Jesus doesn't care or has deserted us. But the enemy is a deceiver. As believers, we can choose to refute his lies and embrace the truth of these verses. So, when we are emotionally, physically, or even spiritually exhausted it doesn't mean that we are abandoned. It means we are in a position to experience Him, His power, His strength, and His faithfulness.

His Word says that if we wait on Him He will renew our strength and we will mount up with wings like eagles. We will not grow faint and will not grow weary. Over the years my perspective of what it means to have wings has changed. It used to just mean doing huge things for God. Now I believe that sometimes the rising up is more about Him giving us strength to do what He has called us to do, even what we might consider the mundane tasks of this life. For a new mom, it might mean He gives her the strength to get up six times in one night to sooth a sick teething baby. There is no more important work to do. For in the faithful work of feeding and nurturing a baby a bonding process takes place that gives the baby the ability to love as an adult. For grieving parents, giving them the strength to cry a few more tears and get through one more day shows others that God is in the comforting business and creates in each of us a desire for our true home.  To the eating disordered or addicted, it may be just enough strength to call an accountability partner and walk in victory for the next hour. There is nothing more powerful that saying "NO!" to urges that are as strong as physical appetites gone awry. To a couple who is struggling, it may be just enough strength to reach past their anger and embrace just long enough to rekindle the spark of love that the enemy almost extinguished.  It might be just enough strength to silence a biting tongue and offer grace instead. To the chronically ill, it may be just enough strength and hope to keep the doctor appointment and to ask others to pray. In that strength comes the connection and community that can instill hope and allow us to love one another.

Could it be that our discouragement is in part from wrongly categorizing things to which God calls us into categories of significant and insignificant? God sees us and what we are experiencing from a whole perspective that we do not have. He sees the lives impacted by even the smallest step of faith. He sees the lives impacted by the testimonies of ones who weren't sure that they had it in them to make it one more day, one more hour, or maybe even one more moment. Oh that we would be a people who remind each other that God never promised us storm free lives...He promised to give us wings like eagles....wings that rise above the storm and strengthen us to accomplish what it is He has willed us to do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Living Loved and Loving It

"We love because He first loved  us."
1 John 4:19
Last week our church started a sermon series called #forfamily. We've had fun with the title of the series, because many in the church have not kept up with social media. As a result, some had never seen a hash tag used in the context of a title. Some of us have seen it, but still weren't exactly clear on how to use it correctly. Our pastor has done a great job explaining the use of the hash tag and many of us are now dangerously armed with just enough information to cause our children to cringe when we use it incorrectly. In spite of the trendy title, the first two sermons in the series were meaty and have given me a lot to chew on in regard to relationships, especially those within the family. The pastor has given me permission to blog about his sermon. So, some of the thoughts I will share originated with him, but kind of exploded in my mind. I encourage you to take a listen to his sermons at this link: http://www.riverlakeschurch.org/index.php/watch-and-listen/sermons That way you can identify more clearly my rambling and his well thought out sermons.  
Those of us who have been in Christian circles for awhile have heard that we are created by God in His image. I have to confess that when I don't take time to really process biblical truth I don't always grasp the ramifications of some of the great truths found in God's word. One of those truths is that we are created in God's image.

To more fully understand what it means to be created in His image, I must understand some things about God. First and foremost is the fact that He is a triune God. That means He is one God who exists in three persons. Now, I accept  it as truth. I totally am fascinated by the concept, but it is really beyond my comprehension to fully explain it. In a nut shell, it means that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, yet three persons. They are one in essence which means all three have always existed and have always been in a perfect relationship. I conclude that God is a relational God and to be created in His image must mean we were created to be relational beings. That means first that we were created to have a relationship with God. Second, it means that we were created to be in relationships with other humans.

If the trinity was already in a complete, perfect relationship then we can know some things for certain about our God. He didn't create man because He was lonely, He had a completely satisfying relationship within the trinity. We know He didn't create man to meet His needs, because He is completely self-sufficient and self-sustaining. He didn't need us to survive. We can also know that He didn't create man because He needed someone to love Him, because He by His very nature love, so there was an infinite amount of love flowing between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He didn't need my measly efforts at loving to feel loved.

He simply created us because He is a creative God and because it is in His very nature to love. He created us and then He invited us into an already existing perfect relationship--the pre-existing relationship of the trinity.

Further more, Jesus life, as portrayed in the gospels, gives us a picture of what God intended love to look like. First, it looks like initiation--John 3:16 makes it clear that it was because God loved that He sent His Son. He didn't just sit up in heaven and wait on others to love Him first. He sent His Son to demonstrate His love when we were still trapped in our sin and often unlovable--His love remained ever loving, ever inviting.

Second, through His teaching, we see that the love of God looked like self-disclosure. As Jesus walked, talked, taught privately, taught publically, and lived out His true self in front of His disciples, man was give a clear picture of the love that the with in the trinity.

Third, His love looked like service. He saw the physical needs and fed the multitudes. He saw when His disciples needed rest and He incorporated that into their busy schedule. He saw the sick and He healed them. He saw those bound by demons and He set them free. He, who was worshipped and anointed, sat down and washed His disciples feet the last night, knowing the last thing they would see of Him was that He served.

Fourth, His love was self-sacrificing. He left His heavenly home and He came to earth to rub shoulders with those He created. He gave of His time. He gave of His energy. He gave of His heart. He gave of His emotions through His expressions of anger, grief, and the passion with which He preached. He sacrificed His own life to make a way for us to return to the perfect relationship with the trinity--that relationship for which we were created.

Maybe to be created in His image means that we are to be lovers. I don't know about you, but when I look back on my life, I spent a lot of time trying to get love instead of loving. One of my earliest memories was being in a social setting with my family and a bunch of other families. I remember grabbing a microphone that was sitting there and belting out some song. Now, I am not much of a singer, but it was a way of seeking attention and love. Later on, I developed a strong tendency towards perfectionism thinking if I could just be good enough God would love me, my parents would adore me, my teachers would dote on me, and all of the kids at school would want to be my friend. Then I eventually got married thinking that the deep hunger in my heart would finally be satisfied,. but it didn't happen that way.

What did happen was that two very needy young adults got married, each of us thinking that the other would love us in a way that would fulfill a deep craving for love that we each had. We pushed and we pulled and we each tried to extract that love from the other by demanding it and manipulating each other for it. The more we tried to get the love, the emptier we both felt until we landed in a Christian counselor's office. Over time I began to really grasp that I had needs, my husband had needs, and our marriage had needs. Then I wrote a curriculum for our co-dependency support group and by the end of the curriculum I had come to a conclusion about marriage and why marriages so often fail. Maybe it is because two broken, needy people come together and begin to look to each other, to fix them, to heal past pain, to meet the deep love needs that were written on our hearts by God Himself. But in our case we were both so needy, neither one of us could fulfill what the other needed.

Then one tough week my husband went out of town. We had a water sky trip with our youth group. Then that night while we were at a pot luck at church one of the girls came up and tearfully told me her brother and his wife had just found out their baby had died in the womb and would be still born that night. Her brother was one of my son's best friends. So, when my son got to the dinner, I told him and he headed up to their house on his motorcycle. I had no sooner gotten home from the dinner when the phone rang. The girl told me that her brother and his wife had headed to the hospital and that I needed to meet her and my son at the emergency room because our son had had an accident on his motorcycle. No bones were broken, but he was so badly scraped up that they wanted to bandage him and watch him for awhile. He asked me to go check on his friends. His friend's parents had gone to get her mom so they asked me to stay with them. I did stay with them until the baby was born. We wept, then I went down stairs to take our son home and had to take him back to the hospital for bandage changes over the next few days. We also got a call that my step dad had died. I couldn't go, because I was tending to my son. Then Sunday evening came, and I left to help at a Christian camp. I remember sitting in chapel the first night and telling God I had absolutely nothing left to give. As I was praying, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of being loved and found in that love the strength to grieve and to continue to minister to others. It ended up being one of the best weeks.  

As I look back I realize there was a time in which I felt the most loved and close to my husband. Ironically it didn't have anything to do with him. It was during the time that our youth had a small group of prayer warriors that we would take up to the mountains to pray. We would pray for about three hours solo and then come back together and share what we were learning and pray as a group. During that time I not only felt close to God, but I had a deep desire to love my husband and he was more loving toward me as well. We experienced a peace in our relationship and at that time our needs were filled by God and we were able to turn our expectations and demands into desires. Through counseling we also learned to communicate what we desired, without demanding it, letting the other off the hook for our happiness. It sounds easy, but it wasn't. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there. To be perfectly honest, we are both still working on letting God be the one who fills our hearts with love so that we can love each other well.

Our pastor loves to teach about marriage and his way of putting it is that marriage is about sanctification and personal responsibility. I used to get angry when I heard him say that, but I have come to believe it whole heartedly. Because marriage is an intimate relationship it exposes our selfishness, self-centeredness, sinfulness, and brokenness and to be honest I kind of wanted to blame all of that on my spouse. But I also think that marriage exposed something more that I found terrifying at first. It exposed a deep craving for love that never felt filled. I realize it had always been there. As a child I looked to my parents for that love and then my friends and then eventually transferred that need and expectation to my mate. The exposure of that need was painful, because I feared it would never be filled. And it wouldn't be if I kept trying to extract that love from my spouse. It was a craving written on my heart by God, but it was also a craving only God could fill.

I wonder, how different our marriages, our families, out church families, and our communities would be if we empty, broken people quit trying to excise love we so desperately and legitimately need from other empty, broken people and begin to really believe and to live as ones who are already loved. Maybe we could really grasp the truth of the verse that says we to because He first loved us. In this crazy culture we will have to make time to sit before Him and let His love fill us. We will have to assume our personal responsibility to love--to initiate, to disclose, to serve and to sacrifice. So, I confess, that I am a needy person struggling to fully learn to live loved, and I am loving it! 



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!