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?"


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!