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. 


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!