Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Growing A Thankful Spirit

In preparation for this post, I searched the word "thanksgiving" on Biblegateway.com. 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.    



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!