Monday, December 7, 2015

The Pursuit and The Promise--Christmas 1

When I was a child, Christmas felt magical to me. People were kinder, happier, and friendlier as they took time to greet one another and to stop and engage in conversations and wish each other, "Merry Christmas!" It also seemed magical because we had extended family visit and traditional holiday meals around elegantly decorated tables. I loved gazing at the Christmas tree lights as I sipped cocoa in front of a fireplace and loved listening to the garbled sounds of adults talking as I drifted off to sleep, thankful more of the people I loved were all under our roof.

When I began attending church, Christmas took on a more important meaning to me and the feeling of it being magical was replaced by a feeling of deep awe that continues to grow. I used to think the Christmas story began in the gospels. But, I have since come to understand the story didn't began with an angel visiting Mary or with angels singing to shepherds in the fields or the Shekinah Glory in the east--it began in the garden God had planted for the people into which He had breathed life. It began with something so sinister we don't like to  include it in the story, but we must because without the bad we can't grasp the loving goodness of God and the significance of His pursuit of us and the Promise He made to us.

The story began with temptation which started with a slithering serpent and the sound of his smooth voice whispering lies and half truths to God's people. It began with Eve forgetting she were created to be God's image bearer. It began as she became dissatisfied for the very first time, believing the serpent's lies over God's truth. It began as she saw God's command not to eat as a deprivation rather than a protection. Her dissatisfaction grew as her desire for the God-forbidden fruit inflamed by the feeling of deprivation and grew into a belief that she deserved more. It began with a bite and then a sharing of her sin with her man--her ever so silent man standing by her side as she engaged in a conversation with a serpent. It began with the overwhelming shame that grew in their hearts as the reality of what they'd done sank in and in their futile attempts to cover it with clothes of leaves proved inadequate. It began with their hiding from the Creator when they heard His approach and for the first time had to call for them.

But there was no place big enough to hide the shame they felt from the God who knows all and yet, still relentlessly pursues those He loves. He met them where they were and He clothed them in animal skins that He, Himself, sacrificed--a sacrifice that was a physical picture of His loving Promise. The one He made in the aftermath of the ugly choices man had made. The promise was that the Promised One would one day take God's wrath for sin committed, would overcome the death they were dying, and would destroy the enemy seeking to destroy them.

Since that day in the Garden we, who were meant to behold God, fellowship with Him, and reflect His glory have been sinning and forsaking our Creator just as Adam and Eve did. As a result, we, too, are shrouded in debilitating shame and hiding from the Creator and each other. We may not hide behind leaves and bushes, but we hide behind masks that portray false selves better than we are. We hide behind shameful behavior like name calling, addictions,  cursing,  deception, abandonment, and abuse. We hide behind vows of not needing the love, approval, and acceptance of God or other people. But the masks, the  shameful behavior, and the vows we make--they can't dissolve the shame that flourishes in hiding.

The solution of shame resides in persistently pursuing God who transforms shame with the blood of the Promised One. The Promised One being Jesus, His Son. The Promised One born shamefully to an unwed mother, lived in the shameful region of Nazareth, and shamefully walked with women, shamefully blessed children, shamefully touched lepers, shamefully cast out demons, shamefully forgave adulterers, shamefully supped with sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans, and tax collectors, shamefully confronted religious leaders who were shaming others. The Son fulfilled the Promise when He was shamefully sold for the price of a slave, was shamefully arrested, was shamefully insulted by the crowd calling for His death, shamefully flogged, shamefully face-slapped and beard plucked, shamefully stripped and crowned with earth-cursed thorns, shamefully nailed to a cross to die a criminal's death, shamefully faced His Father's wrath, and shamefully placed in a borrowed tomb.

We often fail to see, He chose to lay down His life, not just as a payment for sin, but because He despised the shame that's tendrils have been suffocating the life out of us. I wish we could understand He has never despised us; He has despised the shame with which we've been plagued since the fall. And as Diane Langberg so eloquently pointed out in her book, Suffering and the Heart of God, He did not let the shame people and His circumstance heaped upon Him define Him, diminish Him, or destroy His work and His purpose--He looked it fully in the face as His Father turned away so that He could transform our shame into glory.

As we remember the Babe born to a young virgin, laid in a manger, worshiped by shepherds, and visited by the Magi, may we never lose sight  that the Promised One humbled Himself, taking on the form of man, being obedient to death, was the very One who defeated sin and death so we could behold Him and have our shame transformed into glory as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "We all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory."

The Christmas Story without the backdrop of the Garden looses its ability to show the true story God has penned--a story that is both messy and beautiful-- messy because it includes our sin and shame and our failure to love and obey God and beautiful because it includes the loving God radically pursing fallen creatures, and a promise that was fulfilled in the Promised. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us of the glory of which our sin stripped us. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us that by faith in Christ we have been provided a way to enter His presence, which is the very place we need to be to have shame transformed into glory.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Living Brave in Scary Times

"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them,
for it is the LORD your God who goes with you.
He will not leave you or forsake you."
Deuteronomy 31:6
We are living in scary times. Just about every day we hear things that provoke anxiety and fear. We hear about terrorists' attacking civilians, bombs blowing planes out of the sky, mass shootings occurring in public places, and civil unrest exploding into violence. We hear about people having cars hijacked, phones stolen at gun point, and purses ripped from arms as we shop. We hear about murders occurring in every neighborhood. We hear about home invasions involving robberies, brutal rapes, or the killing of whole families. We hear about dates that turn into rapes, about relationships that turn into molestations, about spouses forsaking love for porn, and about sons and daughters lured into drugs and sex trafficking. We hear about baby parts being sold for profit, babies being stolen, and babies being abandoned in allies in spite of safe haven laws and parents longing to adopt. We hear about robbers not only snatching  physical possessions, but identities as well. We hear about gang shootings, drug overdoses, and loved ones lives snuffed out by drivers driving drunk. We hear about tragic accidents taking loved ones, wars maiming young soldiers, cancer ravaging the bodies of loved ones, and infections causing human bodies to go septic. We hear about family members carrying out acts of violence on the very ones they should be loving and protecting. We hear about moms or dads walking out on families, not once looking back. We hear about a failing economy, lost jobs, and repossessed homes.

And then there are a mass of other kind of fears with which we struggle--the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of being too much, the fear of being not enough, the fear of being overlooked,  the fear of being known, the fear of being found defective, the fear of being invisible, the fear if being unheard, and the fear of someone stumbling upon the truth of the stories we've lived and denied, the abuses we've born, and the sins we've sinned. And then there are the irrational fears that born out of unresolved pain, grief, and trauma--fears that don't make sense unless we take the time to hear the stories behind them.

Sometimes fear and anxiety creep slowly into our lives. We don't even realize they are there until it is  crazy out of control. Sometimes we're  aware of it, but because we've been told fear and anxiety are sin we put on "brave masks" that bely the fear-filled hearts pounding in our chests and the pain racking our bodies because we've carried the tension of anxiety far too long. Sometimes the fear is even shrouded in shame because we've tried to tell someone about the fear only to be told we, as believers, should not be feeling it.

How differently we might live if we accepted the truth that fear is a God-given emotion designed to help us stay safe. How differently we might live if we understood fear and anxiety can only do their job when we learn to listen to their messages and acknowledge their presence in our lives. So often we take verses like the one above out of context and interpret suffering as proof that God has forgotten us. Too often we forget the verses were penned by a God who has a great big Father's heart and we use them to shame either ourselves or others who are experiencing fear. What if God penned verses on fear not to scold us, but to remind us that He is ever with us? What if He penned them to remind us that everything we experience is filtered through nail-scarred hands, a Spirit acquainted with grief and trauma, and a heart that is beating wildly with compassion? I wonder how different our lives would be if we quit judging each other as deficient because of our experiences with fear and anxiety. What if we gave each other permission to acknowledge and to express these experiences?
What is the worst that could happen?

As a person once driven by fear, I've learned some valuable lessons about it. First, rational fear can keep us safe because it triggers a natural fight, flight, or freeze reaction that enables us to fight battles, flee danger, and disengage from the overwhelming. Second, irrational fear exposes  festering wounds, unresolved grief, and unhealed trauma we have buried. Irrational fear tells us it is time to face our life stories and bring all to the light. Third, fear and anxiety are common human experiences that have the potential to bind hearts together if we are real. Fourth, fear loses its power over us when we bring it to the light. Oh, that we would remember that our silence feeds fear and expression starves it. Fifth, fear can serve as a reminder to reflect on Yahweh--the very name that sounds like a breath in the Hebrew language. It reminds us of the truth of Job 33:4, "The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." So, the need for deep cleansing breaths can cause us to focus on Yahweh and His character--He is the sovereign, loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, and radically loving Savior. In this life there will be suffering and the suffering can draw us to the heart of a very big, very loving God. Sixth, we can't be brave if we don't have fear. I don't know where we got the idea that brave is the absence of fear, but it isn't. Brave is the presence of faith that chooses to trust God in the face of the scary.  Seventh, there is a real enemy--an enemy  God has already defeated. The damage the enemy is trying to do now is merely his anger and his resistance to the loss he has suffered and the death he is dying at the hands of a God more powerful than he and that enemy has no power in our lives unless we choose to believe his sick lies.

In closing, when we remember that God's instructions to us are penned from a Father's loving heart, we will be encouraged rather than shamed. His Words remind us that we do not have to be afraid because God is with us, sheltering us, and providing for us. He is more powerful than the enemy, and He has overcome death. Because of His shed blood and His infinite grace, we are truly safe in Him. People, disease, or accidents may kill the body, but we will live because of the cross and the resurrection. Maybe God allows the scary now to draw us closer to Him, to give us sacred opportunities to encourage one another, and to make us a bit homesick for our heavenly homes. As we walk these scary times, let us remind one another that fear melts in the presence of a big big God. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Growing A Thankful Spirit

In preparation for this post, I searched the word "thanksgiving" on I noticed some interesting things as I read through the verses. First, the early church was characterized by the giving of thanks. They gave thanks for the food they ate, for the souls that were saved, for the generosity of people who met other's needs, for the joy of knowing other believers, for the people who had impacted others through their service, for spiritual growth, and for the love believers were developing for one another.

Secondly, there were times that the believers were encouraged to develop a lifestyle or a spirit of thankfulness. In Ephesians 5:4, Paul told the Ephesians their speech should no longer be characterized by foolish talk and crude joking, but should be characterized by the giving of thanks. In both Philippians and Colossians, Paul told believers not to be anxious, but to pray continuously,  making their needs known to God as they give thanks.

Thirdly, Colossians 2:7 indicates that those who are rooted and built up in their faith would have lives characterized by thankful hearts. That makes perfect sense. For the more rooted and grounded we are in God's word, the more we will know God and the more aware we become of His activity in my life and the more we can lean into Him, fully trusting His love, His character, and His faithfulness.

Lastly, I found thanksgiving isn't just for the here and now, it will continue in heaven.  Revelation 7:11-17 describes a scene taking place around the throne of God. There are angels circling the elders and four living creatures who are crying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!" (ESV) I love these words but they are even more powerful in their context. One of the elders explains there is a group of people near the throne who are the people who were killed during the great tribulation. Their robes were washed in the blood of the Lamb and they were given the privilege of serving night and day before the throne where they are forever sheltered by His presence, never again to hunger, to thirst, or to feel the scorching heat of the sun. And the One they serve is The Lamb who will be their Shepherd, guiding them to springs of living water as He wipes away their tears.  

As I read that, I am convicted of my tendency to be focused on the here and now. With that focus,  I display a spirit of entitlement can be pretty ugly. Instead of giving thanks for my warm, comfortable home I desire a newer, bigger home. Instead of giving thanks for my husband and his steadfastness in providing for me, I begin to complain about his cluttered office and am irritated by his unique quirks. Instead of giving thanks for our church leaders, I criticize the decisions they make and don't feel connected to the body. Instead of giving thanks for life and breath for each new day, I get frustrated with pain I feel in this body and speak words of complaint. I can go on and on...but the more important thing is that when I live in unlovely discontent, entitlement kills  my joy, love, compassion, and graciousness, allowing depression and frustration to permeate my soul. I become a self-absorbed mess, hiding the image of the loving compassionate God that was imprinted on my soul when He knit me in the womb.

The scene in Revelation 7, reminds me that I have a choice in how I view life. I can view it  through the hear and now, or I can view the here and now through an eternal lens. When I view life through an eternal lens, the home I have is more than adequate because my eyes are drawn to heaven where I will dwell in the presence of Christ who is more beautiful than my human mind can fathom. When I look at my husband through a heavenly perspective, I praise God for his salvation, his growth, the love he has for me, and I realize his irritating quirks that make him an unique individual are in part a result of the scars he bears from the story he's lived--a story God is still redeeming. When I look at my church from a heavenly perspective, I realize it is Christ's church, not mine, and I become more aware of Jesus and His activity and church feels a lot more like a loving family. When I look at the pain I bear through a heavenly perspective, I realize a few years of pain pales in light of eternally  living in a glorified body, making me aware that His grace allows me to live kindly rather than grumpily on my painful days.

When I choose to look at life through an eternal lens, I see Jesus and my heart fills with overflowing love. In love, I can view others through humility and compassion. In love, I can become grace-driven which makes forgiving a whole lot easier. In love, my frustration can melt into patience and forbearance. In love, depression can give way to uncontainable joy. And in love, I find myself longing for others to see the image of God in me and be drawn to the soul-saving, grace-giving, forever-faithful, lavishly-loving Lamb--the Lamb who is the Good Shepherd forever guiding His people to springs of living water and the words on our lips will no longer be words of complaint. They will be words full of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. They will be words of blessing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rape of a Princess

I've been reading Diane Langberg's new book, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores. One of the chapters in the book discusses the relationship between shame and trauma. In this chapter, Diane shared several examples of how people inflict shame on one another. One story was from Pakistan, one from a US city ghetto, one of a little girl considered to be "southern poor white trash," and one from a missionary school on an Indian reservation. The last example was from the story found in 2 Samuel 13. It is a story of King David's children, Ammon and his half-sister, Tamar.

This is one of the hardest Bible stories emotionally for me to read, because it evokes so many emotions. I was a teenager when I first read it and didn't realize the Bible was a story of redemption. I thought the Bible contained stories of people who had somehow arrived at some level of goodness and this story didn't match that false belief. As I read the story the first time, shame flooded my soul as confusions filled my mind. I came to understand that the Bible was about people just like you and me--people born in sin, people harmed by sin, people struggling to forgive sin perpetrated against them, and people struggling with sin that they were passing down from one generation to the next. As I reread the story today, it still stirs this heart of mine because bits of her story are my story and because I work with women who stories are even more similar to hers. As a result, I have seen first hand the wounding inflicted by abuse and rape and seen the impact it has had on their lives.

I believe Tamar's story begins with David's story. He abused his power as King to have sex with Bathsheba. That statement may bother some because we weren't taught that in Sunday School. We were taught she was immodest woman who caused him to lust. But the truth is that at that time, in that culture people bathed on roofs. David watched her bathe and requested her presence and in those days women had no rights and would not have had the choice to say no to a king. To deny him could have resulted in her death. The king killed her husband because she got pregnant and then he married her and brought her into his home along with a few other women over the course of time. So Tamar and Ammon grew up in a "multi-stepfamily" situation.

As often happens when people sin, the door for sinful influence carries over to the next generation. His son Ammon followed in his footsteps and began to lust after a woman who was not his to have. The woman he wanted was his half-sister, Tamar. However, God's law forbade marriage and sexual relationships between siblings. He lusted after her so much that he felt sick. Their cousin helped Ammon formulate a plan so he could have access to his sister. According to the plan Ammon went to bed, feigning illness and David came to visit. Ammon requested David send Tamar to him to prepare him food. I can't understand why David would have thought Ammon needed Princess Tamar to come and fix him a meal when he had servants. Yet, he sent her there.  

Tamar goes and begins to bake and I'm sure as she kneaded the cakes, Ammon watched her and his lust grew with her every move. When the cakes were done, she put them in front of him, But watching her and having her close wasn't enough to satisfy the hunger of his lust. He  ordered  everyone to leave and asked her to bring the food to his bedroom and feed him. When she came close He grabbed her by the arm, asking her to lay with him. She assertively tells him, "No!" She reminds  him that his request was not lawful and that it was a shameful thing that he was requesting. As he gets pushier, she asks him to ask their Dad for her hand, but he refuses. Instead, he rapes her. In the aftermath, when he saw her hurt and he felt his shame rising in his chest, his lust turned into hatred and he ordered her to be thrown out. The grieving princess left, tearing her royal clothes. In that one sinful  act, his shame was inflicted upon her. She was robbed of her innocence, her chance of marriage, her chance of ever having a family, and her chance of royalty.

The are several acts of betrayal in the story. First, is Ammon's obsessive lust and his sense of entitlement to have his lust satisfied through incest and rape. One would expect a brother to be one of her protectors, one of the men teaching her what men of God were to be like. I believe her reminder of what God had said caused him to feel the shame that lust always brings and he avoided the shame with anger--the anger that fueled the rape. Ammon had a selfish, evil heart and a complete disregard for his sister's welfare, integrity, and future.

Second, the plan that gave birth to the rape was conceived by a cousin who also had no regard for the princess. What happened to godly accountability? What happened to godly reminders of God's plans and desires for his chosen people? What happened to the confrontation that might have drawn Ammon to the heart of God instead of deeper into sinful lust?

Third, is Ammon's hatred that was birthed in the aftermath of his actions. Even our culture tolerates a lack of integrity among men and acts as if they are victims of their hormones. While sexual desire is God-given, lust is born in the heart of prideful men who believe they're entitled to ogle women, abuse them, demand sex for dates, and then rape them when they don't get what they want. What happened to the belief that real men control their urges, enter into covenant marriages, foster emotional intimacy, love unconditionally, and celebrate love and commitment with sex? Our culture, like Ammon's, tends to victimize victims by placing the shame of rape and abuse on women who were victimized. Who hasn't heard that if a woman dressed more modestly, wasn't drinking, wasn't out late, wasn't in that place at that time, she wouldn't have been raped? Or who hasn't heard of women being told their husbands wouldn't have a pornography issues if they were prettier or if they were doing more to satisfy their mates? But the truth is: there is no way to satisfy the lust residing in an evil heart. 

Fourth is the way David responded to the rape of his daughter. I hate it that he didn't protect Tamar by telling Ammon to eat the food his own servants prepared. I hate it that when he heard about the rape, he chose to do nothing, deepening Tamar's belief that she was shameful. I also hate it that David remained silent. There were so many things she needed to hear from her father, but didn't. Why couldn't he have told her she was still beautiful, still loved, still cherished, and that her victimization was not caused by something defective in her? When I read the story I long for David rise up and turn things around in his broken family.

I can't help but wonder, if David had made different choices before or in the aftermath of Tamar's rape, if he might not have altered the course of history for generations of women in the Middle East. Diane shared a story of a young Jordanian girl who conceived a baby when she was raped by a friend of her father's who stayed in their home. Her brother and father shot her 8 times to alleviate the family shame of her rape. Is it possible that David, had he chosen to take a stand as King and teach  people to value and care for women, could have been a catalyst that would have impacted the way women are viewed in the Middle East today?

And what about us? We, too, lose sight of the fact that the choices we make have the potential to affect our families for generations to come. The contempt we carry for genders, racial groups, and for the impoverished will be exhibited even more strongly in future generations, unless we learn to love people the way Jesus did. The judgments we make to conceal our own shame and hide our own failures will be even harsher when we hear them coming out of the mouths of future generations, unless we push through shame and walk in the humility of grace. The criticisms we spout out of a sense of entitlement will sound even more critical when our children and grandchildren speak them, unless we learn to be givers instead of takers . The passivity we use in dealing with our own sin and corporate sin whether out of laziness or out of fear will become more prominent in the next generation, unless we choose to quit being passive. There is not an action or choice we take or don't take that isn't going to have a generational impact. We will never be perfect, but if we draw near to the heart of God we will be compelled towards right, confess failures quickly, and walk humbly as we seek to rectifying our wrongs. We will be people who speak truth as we extend grace.

We can't expect fallen people like David to be perfect. However, there are many times he had the opportunity to stand as a man, a husband, a father, and a King--stand in a way that could have turned people back to God and promoted healing in the hearts of wounded souls. Maybe it's time we stand for sexual integrity and  gender respect! Maybe it's time we own our own sin and do what ever it takes to move back toward the heart of God! Maybe it's time we recognize victimization and place responsibility on perpetrators where it rightfully belongs! Maybe it's time for us to realize we have the potential in Christ to be different in this world that desperately needs different! I don't want to be complicit or passive when it comes to victimization, I want to be brave and I want to be a person who is used by God to facilitate godly change. Maybe, just maybe, Tamar's suffering won't be in vain if we can learn these valuable lessons from her story.    


Sunday, October 25, 2015

I am the Lame Begger

Sometimes when I am in church, I am blessed with two sermons at one time. One is  the  sermon  being given by the pastor and the other is the sermon the Lord presses on my heart. Last Sunday I had one of those experiences as one of our pastors was teaching through Acts 3:1-10.* My mind was completely engaged in the sermon and I was feeling excited as I heard the concepts Pastor Brent shared. His sermon in a nut shell was, "God interrupts the usual with the unusual to do the undeniable."

This Biblical account is centered around a man who had been born lame. Because of this defect, he was not allowed to worship in the temple and would have been ostracized by his  community because people believed birth defects, illnesses, or other afflictions were often a result of a person or his family's sin. He was unable to work and his needs were provided when people took mercy on him and carried him to the Beautiful Gate of the Temple so he could beg. Daily he sat.  begging  those who came to the temple to pray at the same time every day. The disciples came to pray as was their custom. And the man sat there day after day begging and used to people walking by that he no longer looked up as he begged. 

However, this day was different. The disciples stopped and Peter looked down at the man and asked him to look at them. The man looked up and they told him they had no money to give him, but would give him what they did had. Then Peter said, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" He then took the lame beggar by the hands and raised him up. The man didn't just stumble up stiffly like someone who had not used his legs in a long time. He leapt up as his legs became strong. He took a few steps but his joy was so great that he couldn't contain it. He started leaping and praising God as he entered the temple for the first time ever to worship his God.

I love this man's response! I love his joy. I love it that God worked through the disciples to make this man whole. As I read through the gospels and Acts, I often find myself asking the same questions  Pastor Brent posed in his sermon, "Why him?" "Why here?" and "Why now?"

God may have chosen this man because He knew the man would rise up and praise Him unashamedly and many people would see the undeniable power of God and be drawn to the Savior. Maybe God wanted people to see the joy and praise that flowed out of the relationship that healed. Maybe when Christ had been by there before, the man's heart wasn't ready to receive healing or Him, but now he was. Or maybe it was just God's will for it to occur on this day, at this time, to this man.

During the sermon I was pondering the fact that Jesus didn't heal every person and was wondering why He chose who He chose. That is when the second sermon began to unfold in my mind. Every person Jesus touched is someone I can relate to and this time it was no different. Maybe, God chose to heal the lame beggar to show me and possibly you that we are all lame beggars.

We were all born spiritually dead and as a result were defective in the sense that the part of us that was to connect our hearts to the heart of God was unable to do its job, just as the man's legs couldn't do their job. In and of our selves we aren't good enough to enter the family of God and we needed Jesus to give us a way in, just as the beggar needed someone to make him whole so he could enter the Temple. So often, we feel defective as a result of our sin or the sin that was inflicted upon us by others and it is God who can free us from that feeling. 

We are also like the lame beggar, crying out for what we think we need, when what we really need is more understanding of Jesus. So many of us spend years asking God for things and we are asking amiss either because we don't recognize our true needs or we don't realize how big our God is.

We ask Him to make people love us, not realizing we already  possess a love so rich it fills the deepest holes in our hearts so we can become more about giving love than receiving it.

We ask Him for acceptance, not realizing He has taken us out of the Kingdom of Darkness and accepted us into His Kingdom of Light and we are now called  His chosen ones. We honestly can't be anymore accepted than that! All we have to do to feel accepted is to embrace the truth.

We ask for healing from addictions, eating disorders, and emotional pain, thinking if we could be set free that we could be close to God. But the truth is that by leaning in to Jesus and being close to Him we live out victory through His power being displayed through our weaknesses.

We ask for wisdom, not realizing that by having Jesus, we have been given the mind of Christ and we can tap into His wisdom by spending time with Him in His Word.

We ask God to free us from the crippling shame with which we are plagued, not realizing the way out of shame is bringing the shameful things to Jesus's light.

When we ask God for something, what we are often really needing is to draw near to Jesus and allow Him into the hidden parts of our lives so that our relationship with Him grows deeper, more powerful, and more satisfying. As believers, we have a God who takes the crippled and makes them whole. We have a God who can show us our true needs. We have a God who can help the unbelief that keeps us from seeing all that we already possess. Oh, that we would never ever forget that we have a  powerful God with a great big heart whose resources are infinitely enough to meet our every need. Oh, if we only believed the truth, then we would be filled with the same uncontainable joy the lame beggar had. After all, aren't we are all just different versions of him?

*This sermon can be heard by going to

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

They said, "Yes!"

A couple of weeks ago our nation experienced another mass shooting. This shooting was different, in that the shooter had victims lie on the floor and then asked them to stand up one at a time. When one stood, he asked if he or she was a Christian. If the answer was yes, he shot to kill; if the answer was no, he shot to injure. It reminded me a little of the shooter in Columbine High School who also had asked his victims if they were believers, shooting them when they said yes.

As I viewed the news stories about Umpqua, my heart hurt because a small community suffered so many losses and it will hurt for years to come. I also grieved because those who were present that day suffered a horrible trauma and trauma forever changes the lives of those who experience it. Many people will have to work way harder at living because of one person's hate-filled actions.

I found myself contemplating many things that day--What drives a person to hate believers enough to shoot them? What gives people the courage to say, "Yes," when it will cost them their life? How will those who denied their faith deal with their shame? And how do I deal with this seizing fear that wells up in my own heart as I think of those I love possibly dying because of their faith?

There is and will continue to be a lot written about the psychology behind mass shooters by people way more qualified than I to write on that topic. I find myself drawn to write about the questions I have been pondering, but I do so with fear and trepidation because when lives are lost for the sake of Christ, I feel like I am standing on Holy ground and want to write in a way that honors God, honors those that were martyred, and honors those who suffered tremendous loss.

First the hatred people feel towards believers goes way back. The Bible is full of accounts of hatred, first, towards Israel and then towards Christians. Some who hate believers may have cause for their anger--some may have been spiritually abused by legalistic people who covered their own shame by shaming them. Some may have been victimized by believers who judged and shamed them for their sin, rather than showing them God's grace. Some may have been  sexually, psychologically, emotionally, or physically victimized by someone claiming to be a Christian while church leadership remained passive in the face of their pain. Maybe they had the gospel forcefully crammed down their throats with out experiencing Christ's love through those bearing the message. Maybe they were simply overlooked and ignored and treated as invisible individuals, not worthy of acknowledgement.

On the other hand, maybe they hate believers because we remind them of the God-hunger etched in their hearts by the Creator. Maybe, that hunger is what triggers shame that they cover with anger and hatred. Maybe that shame was inflicted on them by others or maybe they donned it themselves by the choices they made, choices they regret and can't undo. Maybe they hate believers because their shame runs so deep they can't face the pain of it long enough to look into the loving face of the Savior who frees humans from the shame they bear. Maybe they hate believers because they see something in them they desperately want, but are afraid to seek. Maybe they hate believers because giving up the pride of trying to control life is too scary. Maybe they hate believers because admitting they need a Savior feels too vulnerable and unsafe. Maybe believers lives expose the darkness in their own souls and they hate that. So, they hide, they blame, they hate, and they murder.

There was also the very real possibility that the shooters hatred was fueled by the Enemy who is ever seeking to devour, destroy, and demolish God's people. Unresolved issues in people's lives  leave them open to all sorts of demonic influences that distort the thinking, causing destructive thoughts, destructive patterns of behavior, and the making of ungodly vows that drive hateful behavior. Those distorted perceptions blind people to the Truth.

When I think of the courage it took for the students at Umpqua to stand and say, "Yes," I feel  humbled. I thought of a guy I was interested in during my sophomore year in college. He asked me if I was a Christian. I admitted that I was, but I played down the importance of my faith, because I feared he would reject me. The guilt and shame I experienced afterward have helped me stand firmer in my faith since that time. But here were students the same age as I was who were staring down the barrel of a gun when they were asked the same question and they did not waver. When the first person was shot for saying yes, I think it would have required even more courage for the second person to say yes, and then the third, and then the fourth...

When I think about what gave them the courage they displayed, my thoughts are drawn to Stephen who was also martyred for his faith. In Acts 6 Stephen was described as a man who was full of grace and power. He was known for speaking with wisdom and for having a bold Spirit that offended nonbelievers who were in rebellion against God. Acts 7 tells us those nonbelievers responded to Stephen's last sermon by becoming enraged to the point that they were gnashing their teeth at him and they immediately dragged him out of the city where they stoned him. But the Lord  graciously  gave Stephen a vision of the Jesus standing at the right hand of God. As they stoned him he commended his spirit to Christ and then in a gracious act cried out for mercy to be shown to the crowd. That same Spirit that indwelled Stephen indwelled the believers who stood firm in their faith at Umpqua. I wonder if God gave them the same vision?

The Bible says the death of the saints in precious in the sight of the Lord (Psalm 116:15). It says that the spirit who is behind the martyrdom of believers will ultimately and completely be destroyed (Revelation 17)! The believers who were killed in Umpqua join a great cloud of witnesses found in Hebrews 11:35-38. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release so they could rise to a better life. Some suffered mocking, beatings, imprisonment, and death by stoning, sword, being sawn in two, and we could add guns. Some lived destitute. Some were afflicted. Some were mistreated. And God said of them that the world was not worthy to have them.

I also believe the precious Saints at Umpqua are with those mentioned in Revelation 6:9-11. John saw them in His vision when the fifth seal was opened and he wrote, "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been." (ESV) God will honor both their faith and their deaths. The last part of that passage seizes this grandma heart of mine. It indicates there will be more deaths of believers who bear witness of Jesus. It could be me or you or those we love.

A part of me prays for my loved ones' protection, and another part of me prays that God will instill in them and in me a faith so strong we could stand firm and say, "Yes!" even while looking down the barrel of gun.

The faith of martyrs in precious to God. It stands in the Faith Hall of Fame with-- the faith of Abel and his acceptable sacrifice, the faith of Enoch who never saw death, the faith of Noah and his life-saving ark, the faith of the nomadic Abram, the faith of Sarah and little "Laughter" who suckled her post-menopausal breast, the faith of Isaac and blessings he spoke over Jacob and Esau, the faith of Joseph and his bones returned to Israel to wait for the resurrection, the faith of Moses and the first born Hebrew children who escaped death by keeping the first Passover, and the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets all of which conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped mouths of lions, quenched power of fire, escaped death, or became made mighty warriors despite plaguing weaknesses, and the women who received back their dead by resurrection.

It remains a mystery why one's faith results in a miracle and another's faith results in death. But we know God notices faith. He saw the martyrs Umpqua and He cared. By their testimony they showed that God is real, that God saves, and that this life is not all there is. The enemy would have us believe he won that day and that their deaths prove that God doesn't care. But, the truth is because of their faith the enemy has lost yet another battle in the war he has waged on God.

I will be praying for those who lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, teachers, or friends. I long for God to fill them with His peace and His love. I long for Him to make His presence very real as they grieve their losses--the loss of people, the loss of a sense of safety, the loss of future holidays, graduations, weddings, children and grandchildren.  I pray that they would be able to work through their anger and fully forgive, not because the shooter deserves it, but because they want to honor the faith of their loved ones and the God of which they testified. I pray that in spite of the deep pain they experience they will be able to eventually reconnect to joy. I pray they will be surrounded by people who understand grief, who won't rush them or speak wounding platitudes to them.

I wonder if there might be victims who denied their faith to preserve their lives. I fear that if there were some, they might bear much shame. Some will say they could not have been "real" believers because they denied the faith, but I suggest that Peter's story tells us something very different. He denied Christ three times in one night and the Lord Himself sought him out and restored his calling. If some denied Him, I pray their faith would be strengthened and their shame transformed. We can all learn from their stories just like we learn from Peter's. God can use this event to strengthen their faith--just as He used Peter's cowardice to help him become a humble preacher who went on to preach some of the most powerful sermons ever voiced in the face of great adversity. Our God never  gives up on His children.

Finally, I pray for us who believe and still live--that we would be strengthened by the testimony of the witnesses in Umpqua whose testimonies included the giving of their lives--that we might live with hearts fully devoted to Christ. I desire for others to see our "Yes!" by our words, by our actions, by our attitudes, by our lives, by our deaths, and by our loving obedience to Jesus, who gave His own life for us.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Transformation of Shame to Glory

"But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head."
Psalm 3:3
I recently had the privilege of hearing my favorite author, Diane Langberg, speak on the topic of shame. It reminded me of the journey I've been on the last few years. I will be sharing some of her thoughts in this post. Her talk was titled "Shame and Trauma" and was given at the AACC Be Strong World Conference 2015 and can be purchased from their website.

Shame is a very uncomfortable emotion and is experienced in relationships. It begins in childhood when we realize we're "less than" others. Little boys feel it when they realize they aren't as strong as Dad. Little girls experience it when they realize they can't read as well as Mom. It's also apparent  when we observe a parent in a store, dragging a little one behind. We can read shame in the child's face as she believes she's defective because she can't keep up. 

After The Fall, Adam and Eve's emotional response to sin was shame. To hide their shame they covered the parts of themselves that were different. But, the coverings couldn't cover the shame running deep within. So, when they heard the Lord coming, they tried hiding, but the hiding couldn't conceal the wrong done or the shame felt. So, they blamed--Eve blamed the serpent, Adam blamed Eve, and Adam cast a bit of blame in God's direction, as well. But, the covering, the hiding, and the blaming couldn't alleviate their shame. So, shame was passed down to their children, who passed it down to their children, who passed it down to their children, all the way down to you and to me.

I admit that shame is something I've been intimately acquainted with. My first memory of it was developmental shame. On a family trip, Mom started singing beautifully. I was around age four and started singing with her and did okay as I sang melody with her. Then she asked me to sing the melody so she could harmonize. But when she sang harmony I couldn't hear the melody in my head and couldn't harmonize with her. Though she tried to ease my discomfort, I heard her words through a veil of shame and sat there with face beet-red, believing I wasn't as good as her.

Another source of shame was inflicted upon me when I was abused. I was too young to understand what had happened the first time, but old enough to understand something shameful had occurred.  The shame grew with a few more abusive encounters and grew again when I was old enough to realize what had happened. I carried the shame of being chose by those abusers--shame that was really theirs to bear.

Shame also surfaced when I disobeyed my parents and was punished because I interpreted punishment and love as mutually exclusive and believed, when punished, I was too bad to be loved.

Shame also surfaced with the realization that I had the power to inflict pain with words, with silences, with actions, and with inaction.

Then shame sank all the way to the core when we were in an accident in which there was a fatality. I believed I should have been able to stop the accident. We weren't to talk about it, so I stuffed the shame and developed an eating disorder. I focused on calorie-counting, obsessive exercise, and  numbers on the scale to avoid feeling shame caused by the accident and by a maturing body that was drawing unwanted attention.

The eating disorder brought its own shame, but the shame of not being a size 1 and less than 95 pounds, as bad as it felt, was better than experiencing the shame of sin, of abuse, of the accident, of being inadequate, and of feeling defective. As shame grew, I avoided its pain with anger that anger ran hot. It was turned inward so both my real and my imagined failures were met with self-contempt.

Shame runs all the way to the core, because we are bent to do wrong. It runs to the core because we hide our trues selves behind masks that we're too terrified to remove and we know the selves we present are false. Shame runs to the core because we've been deeply wounded by others, leaving us believing we aren't worth loving, we aren't good enough to be accepted, or we aren't valuable enough to be cared for. It runs to the core because of broken relationships we can't mend, move past, or in which we haven't be able to give or receive forgiveness. It runs deep because at the end of the day we know just how poorly we fulfill the command to love as Jesus loves.

I've known many others like me, who numbed shame with self-hatred, believing and living as invisible individuals, not worth the space they take up, the food they eat, or the compliments they receive. I've also known others who numbed shame by having contempt for others. These are dear souls whose judgments are harsh, whose words cut deep, or who cast doubt on the character of others with words softly, but slyly spoken.

I wouldn't be surprised if under the hateful actions of bullies, rapists, mass shooters, runs a core of shame so deep it's strangling the good in them. They avoid  shame by verbal assaulting, physically assaulting, raping, or murdering any who might see their shame. Shame drives the hatred that is spewed at individuals and people groups like families, genders, races, religions, or whole cultures.

We can experience communal shame that is felt when someone in our community sins. For example, when church leaders fall, we all feel the shame. When a family member fails, the whole family feels the impact. This thing called shame can be governed by culture whose morals codes are different. In our culture, we experience shame more as individuals. But in other cultures shame is felt when family honor is broken by things like poor grades, not giving birth to a man child, or by being raped. Diane shared stories of women who were killed by family members because they were victims of rape, which brought disgrace to their families and the only way out of the shame was killing the victim.

Shame is a thief. It robs us of dignity, of relationships, of being fully known, and of being accepted. When God asked Adam and Eve where they were after they sinned, it was because He wanted to see them and set them free from the shame they were experiencing. But in shame they feared exposure. Like them, we hide our shamed selves. We hide from the exposure of guilt,  dishonor, humiliation, and inadequacy. We hide behind arrogance, education, economic status, power, self-contempt, others-contempt, alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, rage, good behavior, bad behavior, and ultimately suicide. Hiding can never resolve shame, it only deepen it because  isolation  allows shame-filled thoughts to fill our minds--thoughts like "I am too big," "I am too ugly," "I am too stupid," "I and too defective," as well as thoughts like "I am a loser," "I don't have a spiritual gift," or "I don't fit in anywhere." As Diane pointed out, it causes us to measure our uniqueness from how defective we believe we are rather than from the gifts, abilities, and intelligence we have.  Shame runs deeper than emotions because, in shame, we lose sight of who we were created to be as image bearers of the great I AM. She pointed out that shame has been handed down generation after generation and so people curse, use drugs, sell themselves, inflict pain, and we murder. And all of this is because shame was the loss of glory we all experienced in The Fall.

Diane also pointed out that our responses to shame are the same responses we have towards trauma. First, we respond by fighting. We do this by attacking our selves through starvation or other self-destructive behaviors. We do this by attacking others, especially those that might expose us or our weaknesses. Second we respond by fleeing. We do this by isolating or being over zealous in religious activity and a frenzy of work. Third, we respond by freezing. We do this by dissociating so no one will see us and so no one can make us own our shame. We also do this by remaining silent or passive. Regardless of our response the goal is always to make sure the real us won't be seen.

Yet there is so much more to the story!

We were created in God's image to bear His glory, not to live as disgraced, blemished, reprehensible, and inadequate beings. We're to remember God Himself covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, pointing to the Savior who shed His blood for sin and shame. It's God who is our glory and the one who takes our head and lifts it up so we can view His beautiful face.

He is a Savior deeply acquainted with shame. He was a born to  an unwed mother and came from shameful region called Nazareth. He rubbed shoulders with the poor, the tax collectors, the women, the prostitutes, the lepers, the maimed, the blind, the deaf, the demon possessed, and even the half-bred Samaritans, all of whom were considered people of shame. He was accused of being Beelzebub, crazy, and a liar. He was rejected and sold for the price of a slave. Arrested by religious leaders, He was crowd-mocked, face-slapped, spittle-drenched, beard-plucked, clothing-stripped, and cross-hung. In death He bore the full weight of our sin and our shame. Yet, He did not hang His face, He despised shame and looked it squarely in the face until His redemptive work was done.

We were called in Hebrews to fix our eyes upon Him. As we behold Him, we are fully seen by Him and our shame is transformed into glory as our position as Image bearers is restored. When we grasp that, we are free of shame. We are free to love and free to go to the shamed and identify with them as Jesus did us. We are free to lift their faces so they, too, can behold His face and have their shame transformed to glory.

The questions we must face is, "Where is our gaze? Is it on ourselves as we bury our shame or is it on Him who can set us free?"

Friday, September 11, 2015

Worshipping in the "No"

A pastor told me he had read my post "How Long the Waits," which is a post on prayer. He had enjoyed the post, but mentioned I had not addressed the "no" answers to prayer as thoroughly as I had addressed the "yes" and "wait" answers. I told him, I didn't struggle with the "no" as much as "wait" because when answers come quickly and are clearly "no," I know I've been heard and can move on while the "wait" leaves me feeling unheard and unseen. As I reread the blog in preparation to address the "no" answers, I realized my response wasn't as true as I had alluded to several significant prayers that had been answered through "waits" that turned into "no's." Some of those were listed in the blog when I explained that sometimes the answers I got left me full of shame and an obsessive heart searching for hidden sin that might have hindered my prayers.

"I don't know how many times I would find myself waiting on God and find shame and guilt rising in my soul. leaving me obsessively searching my heart for the hidden sin. Over time I learned more about prayer, but occasionally the guilt would come flooding back like it did when I prayed my parents' marriage would be healed, but it ended in divorce. Like it did when I had been praying for a friend to receive Christ and he died in unbelief. Like it did when I had prayed for a friend to conceive, but she died without ever bearing a child. Like it did when I'd been  praying for a friend to find a mate and it never came to be. Like it did when I prayed for healing for a friend battling cancer that eventually took its toll and friends and family had to let go and say goodbye. Like it did when I prayed for God to heal a friend's sick heart, but she died of congestive heart failure. Like it did when I was praying for God to lift the fog of depression but it lingered for several years more. Like it did when I was praying a friendship would be restored, only to realize it won't happen this side of heaven"   

These prayer requests were emotional prayers because I prayed for people I loved dearly. Some felt complicated because sometimes the answer looked like it was "yes," then it turned back into "wait," then looked like a "no," and then repeated. An example of this is when I prayed for my parents' marriage to be healed. Their marriage was one of severe ups and downs, threats of divorce, separations, and reconciliations, and ultimately ended in a painful divorce. All of this taking place from the time I was conceived until they divorced when I was pregnant with my second child. I have been contemplating the "no" answers this week, trying to figure out exactly how I feel about them. There is more in my heart in regard to the "No," than I originally thought.

First, some prayers that were answered with a clear "no" were easy to accept and move past. Sometimes it was because I had little emotional attachment for whom I was praying. If I don't know someone well, I don't experience as much emotional energy praying as I do when I pray for close friends or family members. "No" can also be easy to accept and move past when I've prayed and it becomes obvious that God's answer is "no" and His answer alleviates suffering, as it did in the case of my friend, Karen. She received a diagnosis of lung cancer and was not given long to live. She lived several years past the doctors' predictions and loved God, trusting Him until the end. She reminds me of the group of saints mentioned in Hebrews Chapter 11:39-40 who remained faithful through severe hardships, "And all these, though commended through their faith did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." Although God did not answer our prayers for the full healing of her body, He granted her extra years and the strength and grace to fight valiantly the cancer ravaging her body. She died in faith, believing He could heal her, but her healing occurred in heaven. God's "No" ultimately alleviated her pain and suffering. The years of her fight taught me a lot about faith and about trusting God in the hard.

Other "No's" have been harder to take. I prayed for years that God would heal a friend of a heart condition. I knew the answer went from a "wait" to a "no" when she passed away in her sleep  from congestive heart failure. I struggled with the "no" because I experienced Jesus in my relationship with her. She loved well, forgave quickly, was slow to anger, gave lavishly, and had a heart for others to know God. As I grieved, I knew God had the power to heal her and had chosen not to in this life. It pulled at my heart strings because she left two kids, a husband, and a slew of friends missing her. I don't know why God chose the time He chose to take her home, but when I look back I see God's gracious hand all over the situation. I had called her the week prior to her death and for some reason neither of us wanted to get off of the phone. We had talked regularly, but that day our conversation lasted hours and took on deeper transparency than any of our other conversations. We affirmed our love for each other and celebrated the long friendship we had in spite of the miles between us. She shared that even though she had deeply grieved the loss of three babies when we lived close, she was blessed and thoroughly enjoying the two children God had allowed her to raise. I shared with her the blessings of being a mom to my children. We laughed, we cried, we reminisced, and we challenged each other to love well and to forgive readily. As we hung up, something in me sensed it was our last conversation. I shook it off, but soon after that call a mutual friend called to tell me she was gone. She got choked up and couldn't speak and I gently told her I already knew it was Millie.

The love and comfort I received from the church at her funeral and from our last conversation helped me navigate the "No." In her death, I was given the privilege of seeing things she had done to help that church grow in  ways God wanted it to grow, but she would have never told me about those things herself. Sometimes I wish I could pick up the phone and call her, and I feel a wave a grief that I can't. Yet, I am confident the God she exemplified is good and is faithful to His promises. His taking her home alleviated the painful and scary symptoms she had described to me in that last conversation. I know the impact she had on the church, her friends and her family is ever  evident.  Her impact helped many become lovers of God and lovers of people. I know she is still singing praises, but now I know she has the joy of singing praises to the Lord, face-to-face.

As I look back at other "nos" I realize there were seasons of life in which the "no" answers challenged my faith and caused me to close myself off from God. I was afraid to ask, fearing the "no" because I believed it to be a pronouncement of judgment on me and my walk with God. I have since accepted we all have a fleshly sinful core that runs deep. But it is really all about God's grace and His grace is always bigger than my sin. It His is grace that saved me and it His is grace that is slowly and surely transforming me. It is His goodness that leads me to repentance, not a fear of "no' answers and surely not the fear of not having the approval of others over my spirituality.

For a time I also struggled with the idea that the "no" answers meant I was less loved than others who share how God answers their prayers. But as I look back at my life I see something more about how God has relentlessly pursued me. I never deserved it, it is all of grace. I didn't ever physically run from God, but I did run emotionally from Him by closing off my heart and living in an emotionally  numbed state. One day I finally realized that whenever I "ran" there would always come a point that I felt like I hit a proverbial wall, emotionally and spiritually and I am thankful that "wall" that I ran into was Jesus, Himself.

I have come to realize God doesn't work the same way in everyone's lives. Three mothers can ask God to heal their children. God takes one home. He heals one. He teaches one how to live with chronic illness. Yet I believe God relentlessly loves all three mothers and the children for which they prayed.

Four mothers can pray for their sons or daughters to return safely from war. Yet, one comes home in a coffin, one comes home seemingly unscathed, one comes home with emotional wounds running deep to the core, and one comes home with missing limbs. Yet God loves all four mothers and the children for which they prayed.

Several dads pray for their drug addicted children to come home and get clean and sober. Yet one has to identify his son in the morgue. One has to pass his daughter on the street corner, prostituting herself on the street to pay for her habit. One has the joy of watching his child work hard for sobriety, return to Christ, and help others overcome their addictions. And God loves every dad and the children for which they prayed.

Several moms pray as their children struggle with depression. One loses a child to suicide, one sees her child healed, and one watches as her child learns to find joy in the midst of the depression. And God loves the moms and the children for which they prayed.

Then their are catastrophes like the Twin Towers. People prayed for family members to be rescued.  Some came home and some didn't. Then there were those who had last minute changes in flights and their lives were spared. There were some who stopped to help others and lost their lives because of the sacrifice they made, while there were some whose lives were spared because they too had paused at just the right moment as they were helping someone. Yet, somehow I believe God loved
relentlessly and was pursuing people in the midst of what appeared to be chaotic abandonment. And God, He loved them--those who lived, those who died, and those struggling still because of what they experienced that horrific day.

There are times we, as Christians, judge others who have prayed and have received life altering "no's." We act as if they were somehow more sinful, less worthy, or less faithful than those whose prayers were answered with resounding "yeses." Maybe, just maybe, we do this because we're uncomfortable with a God whose ways are bigger than our ways, who is not bound by our human finite minds, and who can say "no" to the things we so desperately desire. We want a magic formula to insure we get what we ask for, but maybe prayer isn't so much about the answers as it is about the relationship we develop in the humility of the asking.

Not one of us has everything figured out about prayer. When a tsunami hit Thailand several years ago, many believers claimed it to be God's punishment for overt sex trafficking of children occurring there, not realizing it is happening here in our own communities. Maybe some traffickers died that day, but so did victims and believers who never trafficked anyone. Yet, in the aftermath grace was visible in the midst of horrific trauma and Christ was extended through believers who went in and provided relief and that tsunami access to those who needed Jesus and those who needed help out of the trafficked life. Many things, we tend to be so judgmental about, are invitations to be Jesus' hands and feet to people who have been made vulnerable by the Master's design so that they might  recognize they need Him. Those things making them vulnerable are our calling to meet their need.

I watch as women struggle with God's sovereignty over abuses they experienced. Many prayed God would protect them and carry great shame because He didn't. They mistakenly believe His lack of protection to be a pronouncement of their worth. But the truth is there were people who turned their heads, pretending not to see. Some believed healing would come from understanding the "why's" now understand that it came from a transparent relationship they developed with God as they wrestled honestly with Him over His seeming lack of protection. That wrestling helped them accept that their life story as a redeeming life story God, Himself, is still penning.

I have learned over a long period of time with a lot of wrestling that I can lean into God in total honest transparency when life is hard. The harder I lean into Him, the more I can see His goodness as He reveals it in the "yes" answers, in the "wait awhile" answers, and in the "no" answers. As I boldly, specifically, and continuously pray I want to have an open heart that accepts that His ways are not defined by me, but by Him. I want to believe whole-heartedly that He is fully present even when I don't sense Him and when I can't understand what is happening. It is in prayer that I find my relationship with Him growing and the more real I am the more I pray like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is then that I see His will revealed not only in His Word, but in the way He chooses to answer prayers. God is not mean. God is not manipulative. God is not seeking to control me with fear. God is not seeking to destroy me. He is gracious and every action and decision He makes is filtered through love scarred hands and a heart that has been pursuing me relentlessly. I can't help but wonder if the "no" answer is often the intervention God uses to bring me to the place I am humbled enough to open my heart fully to Him. And maybe it is the prayers I pray and the praise I give in the aftermath of the "no" when my heart has been laid bare and doubts have surfaced that allows me to exercise faith and participate in worship in its purest form as I proclaim, "God is good!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How Long the Wait

I am reading the Sacred echo*, by Margret Feinberg. Her third chapter is titled "how long?" I love the chapter because it speaks to one of the struggles I've had with prayer--"the waits." For years it seemed like I would pray and then just wait and wait and wait to see if the prayer was answered. When the waiting got long, I found myself giving up because I felt invisible, unloved, ignored, and unworthy. I also found that unanswered prayer often left me filled with shame and guilt because I had heard pastors say unanswered prayers indicated that there was sin in our lives. I don't know how many times I would find myself waiting on God and find the shame and guilt rising in my soul leaving me obsessively searching my heart for the hidden sin. Over time I learned more about prayer, but occasionally the guilt would come flooding back--
  • like it did when I prayed my parents' marriage would be healed, but it ended in divorce
  • like it did when I had been praying for a friend to receive Christ and he died in unbelief
  • like it did when I had been praying for a friend to conceive but she died with ever bearing a child
  • like it did when I'd been  praying for a friend to find a mate and it never came to be 
  • like it did the time I'd been praying for healing for a friend battling cancer, but it eventually took it toll and friends and family said good by 
  • like it did when I prayed for God to heal a friend's sick heart, but she died of congestive heart failure
  • like it did when I was praying for God to lift the fog of depression but it lingered for several years more
  • like it did when I was praying a friendship would be restored only to realize it won't happen this side of heaven      
Don't get me wrong, I can fill pages with answered prayers--a son who survived a ruptured spleen, a thriving granddaughter who survived a traumatic birth three months early, a friend who shared how God had healed her grieving heart after losing three babies, allowing her to enjoy the two she had, infertile couples conceiving when they were told conception was impossible, our friends' grandson surviving leukemia, other friends' grandson surviving liver cancer, addicts walking in victory, victims finding voices, wounded souls finding deep joy, lost souls finding salvation, prodigals returning to serve, deep healing conversations at just the right time, and words of affirmation that have filled hungry souls and imputed God's hope just as souls were running dry.

Margret shares in her book that she has learned to look for themes that have played out in her life because they teach her things that God may be doing in her life. One of the themes she'd noticed was the theme of waiting and she began to ask the question "Why so much waiting?" As she searched the Scriptures she saw that it is a theme that was woven through out the Scriptures. God is waiting, Creation is waiting. We are waiting. One of the things that makes waiting hard is that we tend to forget that God is waiting with us. She also found that many before her asked, "How long must we wait?" In fact the first person to ask how long was God, Himself. In Exodus  10:3 God asks Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron, "How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me."

After finishing the chapter, I have been thinking about the waiting and realized the waiting has done some significant transforming work in my life. First, it has exposed areas of unbelief that I didn't know existed. Sometimes the unbelief had to do with God's character. I could say God was good, but there were times in the waits God showed me I doubted His goodness. I could say God is love, but in the waits God showed me I was not believing He loved me in a real and personal way. I could say God is all powerful, but in the midst of the waits God showed me that at times I doubted He had the power to do what I was asking. If someone was really sick, I prayed half heartedly for healing, because it was the right thing to do, but in my heart of hearts I struggled to believe He could and/or would heal broken bodies.

Many years ago when we moved from Mississippi a friend called often to see how I was adjusting. We spent a good part of the time talking about God, His character, His power, and how He acted in the days the Bible was being written. I believe she had the spiritual gift of faith and I soaked up godly wisdom from those conversations. I began to pattern my prayers after her prayers and after the prayers found in the Scriptures and I began to see a difference in me as my eyes and heart became more open to what God was doing when He seemed active and when He seemed inactive.

A few years into the journey I realized I struggled with unbelief in that I didn't fully believe what God said about me in His word. This made it difficult for me to come boldly to the throne of grace. It made it hard for me to persist in prayer as God instructs us to. When I began to choose to embrace my God-given identity, I began to pray more often, more persistently, and more expectantly.  

Second, after my faith began to develop I realized the waiting stirred up passion in me that was new and exciting. The first time I became aware of this was on a short-term mission trip in Mexico. We had prepared our students to teach and minister to children in Mexico through a student lead Vacation Bible School. We helped the students prepare and we prayed with them that God would bring the children to the churches we would be at. The first day we went to the church we were assigned to and only a couple of children showed up where as in the past the church had been packed. Our students went back to base camp, defeated. At the worship service that night other sites were giving glowing reports of their day. Finally, a student stood up and said that she was glad they had had a good day, but then she began to cry and shared passionately how she longed to have a chance to shower the kids with love and to share Jesus with them. The more she shared, the more passionate and the more powerful her words were. When she sat down the leader looked over our team of hurting teens and gently said, "Your day was not wasted. God was still at work. He has used this day of waiting to grow a passion in you that was not there before." I don't think a student or an adult took a conversation, a teachable moment, or prayer request lightly the remainder of that week.

That was only a one day wait, but I have had other "waits" that went on much longer. In fact, I am still in the middle of some. As I continue to persist in prayer I find the passion still growing. I long for the lost to find God in ways I never have before. I don't just hope the prodigals will return, but passionately long for God to meet them on the horizon, bathing them in His lavish grace. I don't just kind of hope wounded hearts find healing, I crave it. I don't just hope married couples might be reconciled, I deeply long for it because in reconciliation they will see something of God they won't see any other way. I no longer just half heartedly lift up grieving souls who need God's comfort, I persistently and passionately pray they get to see His goodness in the pain of their grief, and will experience Him personally as the Comforter.

Third, I realize the "waits" help purify my heart. Before I prayed because it was the right thing to do. But when I pray during times of waiting, I find it builds compassion and love in a heart that was once numb and that drives me to pray more often. It purifies my motives because it brings me face to face with my pride and my desire to appear more Spiritual than I really am. The longer the wait the more the prayer becomes about God and the person for whom I am praying. I have realized that God has used the waits to help me learn to love the things He loves and to hate the things He hates. As He puts passion, Holy desires, and deep longings in my heart, I realize He is sharing His heart with me and I am longing for others to see His goodness in the darkness permeating this land. I am longing for His holiness to shine brightly in this sin-filled world. I am longing for His love to replace the hatred so prevalent today. 

Fourth, praying "during "the waits" have brought healing to my heart. I often share that in our home group that our pastor taught a lesson on waiting. He asked us at the beginning why waiting was so hard for us to do. I remember I couldn't answer the question for myself. When He shared that God has His hears turned towards those who wait upon Him, I realized why the waits were so hard for me. When I was waiting, I had this picture in my mind of God just walking right past me as I called out His name and requested something. I felt unheard, overlooked, and unloved. After I saw that He had his ears turned toward me, I began to picture the wait as an invitation to keep on talking to Him. And in those waits buried pain surfaced and was given to Him. In those waits doubts were expressed and cares were cast on Him. In those waits fear was faced and courage was found. And in those waits deep wounds were shared that only the Healer could heal. I think sometimes when we come to Christ and trust Him as Savior we get the idea that we are just to put on a happy face and pretend that life is perfect. But the reality is when we pretend we don't experience fully all that God is...the Healer, the Comforter, our source of strength, our source of power, our source of humility, our source of courage.

Finally, one of the best things I uncovered in the waits was intimacy with God. When my dear friend lost her babies and I lived far away, the only thing I could do was to pray for her and I did so daily. When a young friend walked away from God for a season, all could do for her was pray and I did so daily. When a couple in our Bible study struggled with infertility and longed for a child, all I could do was pray and I did so daily. When our granddaughter came early and was in the NICU for so long all I could do was pray. When far away friends were dying of cancer all I could do was pray so I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. As I write this another friend is terribly sick and has been in critical care for over twenty days and the passion I feel for him and his family overwhelms my soul and all I can do is pray--so I pray and pray and then pray some more. As I pray passion grows, doubts dissipate, pride melts and I find myself feeling closer to God, realizing as never before that God is just as much in the wait as He is in the activity. It reminds me most that we are all waiting for Christ to return so our redemption is complete. We are all waiting so there will be no more sickness, no more pain, no more death, and no more ungodly rulers for Jesus will reign perfectly. Sometimes God gives me glimpses of what He is doing during the waits, but other times the waits remain a mystery--a mystery with benefits--the benefit of transformation, of purification, of healing, of a growing faith, and a deeper sense of God's relational presence in our lives.

*the Sacred echo, Margaret Feinberg, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Surviving a Culture Full of Counterfeits

One of our teaching pastors, Brent Van Elswyk, recently taught a sermon on marriage. It was so full of truth and insight that it has taken me over a week to get up the courage to begin to process some of what he said in the sermon. I encourage you to listen to his sermon by clicking on the link below. A lot of what I will share in this post is from his sermon.

Lately I have been wrestling with how to live, as a believer in this non-Christian culture we live in. I know I am to speak the truth, but I have been convicted that I am to speak it in a way that makes it palatable. I want to be sure when someone rejects the gospel, that they are rejecting the gospel itself, not my presentation of it. I have also felt some confusion about I am to speak the truth and show grace at the same time. After hearing the pastor's sermon I've come to a couple of conclusions that I have relieved me of some anxiety. First, speaking the truth and showing grace aren't mutually exclusive; they actually go hand in hand. Jesus modeled this through out the gospels. The only people He ever spoke harshly to, were religious leaders who pretended they were something they weren't and who were placing on others a works salvation that could not save.

The second conclusion I came to was that the ability to do both things simultaneously flows naturally from a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. Having an intimate relationship with Jesus requires  I fully understanding the depth of my sin and my need of His lavish grace. It requires that I embrace the fact of His all-consuming, sacrificial love and His payment for my sin. The more time I spend with Him, the more His character and nature "rubs off" on me, allowing me to bear more and more of His image. When I was thinking about what His image looks like I settled on John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." As I become more intimately acquainted with the Savior, I'll be filled with His truth and with His grace.

God's creation and design of marriage is a good place to illustrate how living in an ungodly culture plays out. Marriage was established and designed by God on the sixth day of Creation. In Genesis 1:26 God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Notice the pluralistic language--it is referring to the trinity, revealing relationship of the triune God who exists in three persons and, yet, is One. God then paraded animals in front of Adam, awakening in him the desire for a horizontal relationship. He created Eve from Adam's rib. They were the same, but they were  also very different. One was male and one was female, not accidentally, but by God's design. Together they reflected an even more complete picture of God as image bearers. This is because their relationship was designed to reflect the relationship of the trinity. Right away marriage was established between the two. Genesis 2:24-25 states: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." They had an intimate satisfying relationship between them and with their Creator and their sexual union sealed the covenant of marriage, providing an intimate bonding, giving them pleasure, and giving them the ability to procreate.

But along came the deceiver. A sneaky of snake who was seeking to destroy what God designed. He came and essentially offered them a counterfeit religion. He did this by casting doubt on God's provisions and God's character. He did this by causing them to doubt their identity as God's image bearers, promising something better that he wasn't even capable of giving. Third, he deceived them into thinking there would be no consequences for the choices they made. Oh, the Serpent--he lured them in with his deceit. Deceived, they took his bait. Discontentment rose up in their hearts and they beheld the God-forbidden fruit and desire gave way to prideful entitlement. And they chose the counterfeit and ate.

They were immediately filled with shame and made clothes in an attempt to hide it. But leaves don't have the power to dissolve shame that wells up, causing a fear of exposure. Leaves don't have the power to clean away the stench of sin and the pride that burns within. Leaves don't have the power to resurrect spirit that has died. Leaves don't have the power to redeem.  

Ever since the fall, Satan has offered us all sorts of counterfeits. He has done this by trying to get us to redefine what God has designed. Sexual identity was designed and imprinted into each being by the Creator. Now the enemy is convincing people it is a fluid thing that and one can choose. He is convincing people to redefine marriage using a variety of counterfeits--counterfeits like common-law marriage that has no covenant to protect it, serial marriage in which people repeatedly marry and divorce, same sex marriages that don't have the ability to procreate, polygamy where a man has multiple wives, and there is even suggestion that marriage to children is the way to find happiness. Satan has even offered counterfeits of the sexual act itself. There is premarital sex, extramarital sex, hooking up, pornography, sexual abuse, rape, and sex trafficking. Satan claims sex is no big deal and solely for human pleasure. But any abuse survivor, including this one, will testify that sexual abuse isn't just a physical touch. Its a touch that runs deep all the way to the heart where the spirit and the soul reside. Sex was designed by God to be the "crazy glue" that bonds a man and a woman together. It is the union of two bodies that literally binds souls together.

Brent shared that there are three purposes in marriage. First, marriage was to reflect the relationship Christ has with the church. It is a relationship of choice, entered through a covenant, and sealed by a sexual union. In that covenant we see illustrations of commitment, faithfulness, service, and sacrificial love. In marriage we have the opportunity to make the invisible love of God visible. We have the opportunity to make the invisible commitment of faithfulness of God visible. We have the opportunity to make the relational aspect of God's character visible. God's design of marriage allows us to experience and display the image of God.

Second, marriage is an opportunity to display the gospel of grace. It is an intimate, vulnerable relationship between two people. Because of this our sin, our shame, our wounds, and our selfishness surface, revealing a deep need of grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love. This is played out as each grows to be like Jesus and learns to give love, to serve, to extend grace daily, and to forgive when it is needed. This exposure of our sin and need for grace is an iron sharpening iron process that causes growth and develops His character in us. God's grace is made visible when two people learn to extend grace to each other. His character is visible when they choose to serve when they would rather be served. It is visible when they choose to love when they might feel like hating. It is visible when they show respect when everything in them wants to be disrespectful. It is visible when they forgive when they want to hold a grudge. It is visible when unkindness is repaid with kindness.

Third, marriage is designed to give us a glimpse of heaven. This is hard to believe because we are such broken people and we love so imperfectly. Yet when there is obedience to God's design and each is owning their responsibility to love, to extend grace, to build the other up, and to bond through a sexual union their are huge rewards. These rewards consists of moments of joy, satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment for which we were created. The shared glimpses of God-painted sunsets a couple enjoys, the bonding experience that takes place through the sexual union, the joy of unmerited kindnesses received, the satisfaction of serving another, the depth of intimacy achieved when our messy sinful selves are exposed and grace is given, the miracle of a new life conceived that bears the image of both parents as well of God, the comfort of a relationship that feels familiar, the risk of passion given, and the freedom of not hiding--these all portray glimpses of heaven and the future fulfillment of our love with Jesus.

So, the question we must ask as believers is, "How do we survive living in a culture full of counterfeits?"  First, we commit to going to the word to become familiar enough with the truth that we can recognize the counterfeits Satan is offering. We commit to courageously speaking the truth. Counterfeits create confusion and they devalue the real thing. Marriage was designed to tell a love story between God and His people. But, that design broke down during the fall. As a result, people have been deceived and wounded by counterfeits, not God's original design. We, as believers who are committed to the truth, can teach the truth both verbally and by example. We need to speak the truth! However, we need to do so with compassion. As transparent believers our sinfulness, brokenness, and shame are exposed. We will be more effective image bearers if we bathe our truth in compassion, recognizing that at the fall marriage became more about power and control than serving, more about personal gratification than glorifying God, more about lust than love. Counterfeits are nothing more than false promises that can't be fulfilled. They will never satisfy, they will only create deeper thirst that feels unquenchable. People need the truth, but it needs to be bathed in compassion because counterfeits always leave people wounded. Only God can satisfy the deepest needs of human hearts, not redefined sex, not redefined marriage, not reassigned genders.  

Lastly, we need to realize our culture is no different from Jesus' culture. Believers in His day spoke the Truth and both the message and the messengers were hated. They were imprisoned, tortured, burned at the stake, fed to lions, and crucified. Yet, their message prevailed, not through politics, governments, or armies but by the courageous power displayed in their spoken words. It takes courage and compassion to expose counterfeits to those deceived. It is not a task for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of love to be motivated to courageously and compassionately join God's work of exposing the counterfeits of darkness and extending His love and His grace through the gospel.  

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the Returning to the Beginning @ 


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!