Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christ's Compassion in the Face of Shame

It was a warm day and Jesus and His disciples were walking through a crowd. A rich religious leader abruptly pushed through the crowd, falling at Jesus' feet, imploring Him to come heal his dying twelve-year-old daughter. Jesus knew the man risked his position, his power, and his influence in the community by coming to Him. The desperate dad, risked it all and Jesus agreed to go. As they headed towards his home the crowd pressed in and a woman who had been ill for as long as the man had been a dad came near. She wanted to see The Christ and in her desperate state forgot she, an unclean woman, wasn't supposed to be near others and wasn't supposed to interrupt a leader's hope for a miracle.   

She was as pale as pale could be with shades of gray circling her lifeless eyes. She had been bleeding for twelve years--years that felt like an eternity. She had spent all she had on doctors who didn't have the power or knowledge to heal her and she was left destitute with no choice but to live life as a beggar. According to Jewish law, she was ceremoniously unclean and she lived isolated. She couldn't do things we take for granted. She couldn't go to church, shop in the market, ask for a hug, have sex with a spouse, or bear children. She couldn't care for a home as everything she touched became unclean. She couldn't visit with friends or invite company to dinner. She was physically weak, listless, and tired, and left to deal with a heap of emotions common to the chronically ill--emotions like discouragement, despair, loneliness, confusion, and shame--shame that was born from being unable to function, unable to do the things women do, unable to engage in the social life of her community, and unable to join in public worship in the outer court. Shame that came from the belief that suffering is always due to sin that is hidden.  
When she saw that Jesus was heading to the leader's house, she was desperate to get as close as she could. As she drew closer, she was overwhelmed with the thought, "If only I can just touch His garment,.." She mustered up the energy to squeeze through the crowd, pressing closer and closer. Trembling, in fear and with a remanent of hope igniting within her, she stretched and stretched and stretched and hoped and hoped and hoped. She was stretching with the ache of longing for a dozen years until she touched His hem. And the loneliness running deep subsided in the single act of connection. And the senseless flow of  blood stopped and her pale cheeks glowed healthy. She straightened as the cramping dissipated and strength flowed from the top of her head to her tippy toes. Fatigue faded as Christ's as the realization that His power stopped the life flowing out of her, making her uncleanliness clean once again. 

Feeling unworthy, she turned to slip away, but He scanned the crowd, asking, "Who touched Me?" Fearfully she wanted to flee, but the healing gave her the courage to own what she had become done. After she finished speaking, she expected to be reproved and treated with the same disdain with which she had become familiar. But He looked at her with eyes full of compassion, and tenderly spoke, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be well." When she heard the tenderness in His voice and the endearing term "daughter" she found the courage to lift her eyes and look into His, finding there both the love and the acceptance she craved. 

It was Christ’s compassion that compelled Him to give physical life to her body slowly dying. It was His compassion that caused Him to call her out. For, in the asking, He was inviting her to move out of shame to live in the light. He was also inviting her to a face-to-face encounter so she could experience acceptance and restoration. His love expressed in the word "Daughter" went straight to the heart, healing the shame born out of being unclean. It was that same word that healed the pain of loneliness she had endured for twelve years. She had come hoping for a miracle, but He gave her something more--He gave her relational connection that melted away her shame.  

It is interesting to note that the man came to Jesus both boldly and publicly to plea for his daughter's life while she came quietly and secretly, wanting to live. He was wealthy; she was destitute. He was a religious leader, she was rejected and declared unclean. His family was well respected, she was rejected and isolated. He faced the possible loss of a daughter. She had been facing death physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually since her illness began. Though their circumstances differed, they both came to Him in the midst of the hard, confessing their desperate needs. 

While we may not suffer with her physical ailment, we have the same shame sinking its talons into us--shame because we aren't the perfect Christians, wives, mom's, and employees we pretend to be. Shame that we aren't the perfect size, with perfectly manicured nails, and perfect skin. Shame that we don't always sing on pitch, don't always paint our pictures perfect, don't always dance perfectly to the beat, and do not cook perfect meals like a top chef. Shame that our bodies tire, that we leave tasks undone, and fail to show up to commitments on time. Shame that we get sick, and can't be what everyone wants us to be. Shame that we, at times, relate in ways that deeply wound those we love most. Shame that we have everything we could ever need, yet often feel dissatisfied and discontent. Shame that we, at times, feel both unloved and unloveable while at the same time knowing we so often fail to love well. Shame over the sin we hide, the idols we cling to, and the thoughts we are thankful no one can see. And then there is that persistent thought that maybe, just maybe we really are beyond redeeming. 

But, Jesus! He knows! He is calling each of us out and reminding us grace given depends on the Giver, not us the recipients. He is constantly inviting us to come out of shame and live by faith. And it is by faith we were saved and by faith we are growing in Him. It is by grace that we are called His, "Chosen," "Beloved," "Redeemed," "Reconciled," "Daughters." Because His love is outrageous we can know that His compassion is limitless and His grace sufficient.   

Monday, December 5, 2016

3 Trials--A PS to Unquenchable Thirst

I intended to blog about a different person from the Bible today, but a couple of things have prompted me to not move on so quickly. First, I notice anger is triggered when I read John 4:42. "They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world." It seems like a bit of a dig and it bothers me that those who had just received Christ couldn't just thank her for leading them to Him. But, to give them the benefit of the doubt, I realize I don't know with what the words were spoken. Nor do I know what their body language conveyed. They may have said it nicely, meaning it as a compliment or they may have said it with excitement, expressing gratefulness that it had been made personal. I do hope it wasn't with the snide voice I hear when I read the words. However, there is a truth here we want to grasp. Not one of us is birthed into the family of God through another's faith. Not our parents's, not siblings', not a bible teacher's, and not a pastor's. It is always through personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Second, last week something happened that reminded me of a period of time in which I found my self facing the hard stuff. First, there was the death of one of my closest friends. She was there when several of my kids were born, did Bible studies with me, and we had long conversations over meals cooked, socials planned, diapers folded, and diets failed. She challenged my faith, challenged lies I believed that fed self-contempt, and she loved on my kids. I was in her wedding and walked with her through a miscarriage two babies that died. Our experiences allowed our friendship to survive the miles caused by my move. One day we spent hours on the phone catching up and a couple of days later she died in her sleep from congestive heart failure. I sat at her funeral surrounded by people she loved well and who loved her well. How I longed to hear her cute southern accent, share with her another her belly laugh, and hear her sweet voice singing praises. I longed to tell her I regretted not making more opportunities to visit, that I wish I had handled the few rough spots we experienced in our relationship better, and that I was thankful her grace was bigger than my dysfunction and self-centeredness.

A couple of weeks later one of our sons had an ATV accident. He told the doctor he thought he was bleeding inside, but he discounted as radiating pain and a week later, we returned to the hospital with son with skin tones of gray to find out his spleen had ruptured. When they wheeled him to surgery, there were regrets for not having listened to my gut telling me he had more than a broken bone. That first night I was terrified and found myself facing the sovereignty of God in a way I never had before. I could feel God's presence looming big, inviting me to trust in His goodness! But I was afraid because I knew He could heal him, but didn't know if it was His will. After surgery, things were still serious as water collected around his heart like it had my friend's. They considered doing another surgery, but eventually figured out where to place tubes to drain what needed to be drained so his body could heal. We made it through it with the support of friends, but I sensed something different between me and God.

Not too long after that, a different son called to say his pregnant wife was put on bed rest in a hospital on the other side of the country. The pregnancy had high risks and lots of ups and downs. During that time I was reminded of how I felt those first few hours while our son was in surgery. I decided to push through my fear and run to God with all that I was. I prayed nonstop for the baby being carried and I prayed for the mom and dad to have the strength they needed for the days ahead. I also told God all of my longings and desires to know this little one, and at the end of the prayers I acknowledged my love for God, my acceptance of His sovereignty, and my faith in His goodness. I don't know how to explain the depth or the beauty of the relationship I had with God during those long hard weeks until she was born early and the long three months of waiting for her to grow big enough to go home.

Last week, the thing that happened that triggered my memories and feelings triggered a few other people whose children had suffered serious life-threatening events and illnesses. I had some neat conversations about those things. One of those chats was with one of our pastors who faced life threatening illnesses with a child first and then a grandchild, which I think is why his favorite book of the Bible is Philippians. As I was sharing with him what I remembered learning during that period of time, he pointed out it was exactly what Philippians says. I joked, "I hate it when pastors are right!" But then it hit me, the book of Philippians had become alive in me through those trials and I said to him the exact words we find in John, "Now, I know it to be true for myself!"

The enemy would have us believe suffering, especially suffering over time, proves God's doesn't care or listen to our prayers. But His ears are turned to those waiting on Him. The enemy would have us sink into shame of regrets or the despair of hope given up on instead of praising God in the midst of it all. He would have us flee or freeze in response to growing fear instead of running through it to God whose arms are open wide. He would have us reject the truth instead of wrestling with it, so our faith wains He would have us cower in the face of God's sovereignty over life and death situations and have us fail to understand that His perspective of a life no matter how long or short matters and fulfills purposes we may not understand.

What if we view the suffering we endure and the trials we face that stretch us tight like rubber bands ready to pop as opportunities to apply head knowledge of God and His word? What if we look at them as opportunities to wrestle with God and His truth in prayer until all doubts are purged, all lingering lies rebuked, and our shielded hearts are laid open and vulnerable to receive all that He has to reveal and give? What if we faced the hard with the firm belief that His intention is to make us fully alive, to soften calloused hearts, to strengthen weak faith, draw us deeper in to the very relationship for which we were created? What if we look at them as the means God may use to instill in us passions that help us fulfill the purposes for which we were designed. What if?

I believe all of this hard comes with living in a fallen world and being people broken by sin. It is also a part of living a redemption story where God's grace abounds and takes what we would label bad and uses it to transform hearts and minds and bring His Word fully alive in us.

When I adopt this perspective I won't find myself so anxious in the powerlessness of someone else's suffering. Nor, will I find myself wanting to talk someone out of their emotions, shame them out of their doubts, or draw them out of a life-transforming wrestling match that has the potential to strengthen their faith, ignite their passion, and give them a bigger more true view God that reaches all the way from the heavens down to their core of their being so they, too, can proclaim, "I have seen His truth for myself!"


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!