Monday, January 30, 2017

Godly Passion

This last year of politics left me feeling a host of unpleasant emotions. Some were caused by the fake news presented as truth and the frustration of trying to discern what was real and what wasn't. Some of the emotions were due to the polarization of the political parties, which in itself could be an awesome system of checks and balances if people listened to one another and wanted what is best for all. Some of them were due to the manipulation tactics used by people to sway voters. Many believed the loudest voice, the crudest words, the most hateful labels, and the most unrelenting gas lighting techniques could create enough fear, obligation, and guilt to sway people to vote for their candidate--qualified or not. Some of it was due to the demonizing of the main players in the political arena. If you believe one side, you believe President Trump is a demon possessed man incapable of doing any good and if you believe the other side, you believe both Obama and Hillary were Satan's cohorts doing his bidding. But when we take off the blinders of misplaced passion we see they are humans who each have both weaknesses and strengths. They are people who have accomplished some good and who have made some serious mistakes and made some poor, sinful choices, just like you and just like me.

Now that the election is over and the new president has taken office, I've been trying to decide how to respond in a godly way to the government we have in place. To be honest, as a survivor, Trump's moral character and objectification of women grieved my heart as did the nation's and the churches varied responses to it. As much as I was bothered by the information that came out during the elections on both sides I realize President Trump is not the worst of the worst and neither was Obama and Hillary. Just think about Pharaoh--he was known for his enslavement and mistreatment of the Jewish nation and the murder of innocent babes. Nebuchadnezzar--he took captive many of Israel's finest young men and attempted to turn their hearts from their God and their homes and to use them for his own purposes. Herod--he was an infamous murderer who ordered the killing of all male children under the age of two in an attempt to thwart the life of Christ, the promised Messiah. Then there was Nero who was known for slaughtering Christians in an attempt to thwart the spread of Christianity and the worship of the King of kings. And then there was Hitler--he attempted to destroy the Jews, encamping, starving, experimenting on, and the mass murdering of Jews and those who gave them refuge.

Because Christ's Kingdom, the church, is not a visible kingdom, I know this world and even this country, as much as I love it, is not my true home. My loyalty and my deepest affections are to lie with Christ and His heavenly Kingdom. In fact, all the hate and the accusations being spewed back and forth have made me long for His return and made me a bit homesick for Home. In a perfect world, we would live in a Theocracy under the rule of a perfect, benevolent King. But that is not the case right now. But, as long as I have breath I am Christ's ambassador, representing Him as I navigate this life in this world. My allegiance, like any other ambassador, lies with the King and the living out of His word as I represent Him here in this world.

To do this and to remain in joy, I realized I need to change my expectations. President Trump isn't the Savior and if I expect him and the ruling party to fully embrace Christian thinking and Christian values, I will live in a constant state of disappointment and dissatisfaction. And I have been afraid that people demanding ruling parties do so don't realize there is danger in demanding that. I was relieved that John Piper expressed that danger, "The linking of the Christian church with the ruling political regimes has more often proven to corrupt the essential spirit of Christ." I think he is right on.

So the question, I wrestle with is, "How do I passionately live this life of ambassadorship?

First, I need to keep in mind my heavenly citizenship and the King I represent. Because of this, I can follow what He has laid out in His word. He has promised that any suffering and discomfort in this present time including suffering under worldly leadership is minute compared to the glory I will experience when I go home. For now I just want to represent Him well and if suffering is a part of that, I want to suffer well so that my life would continue to draw people to Him.

Second, I can pray for the government, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to officials what righteousness truly looks like and convict them of sin and wrong doing and their need for a Savior. I can pray that God would cause them to be sensitive to His leading and that He would fill them with humility, patience, and godly wisdom. At the same time, I can hold on to the truth of God's Word and remember God's providence has always ruled and continues to rule over the ungodly kings of this earth. He has and still can use even the most rebellious rulers to fulfill His purposes. He sets them up, He takes them down, and He turns them around. Their hearts are like flowing waters in His hands. I can rest in the fact that God is always good and that ungodly leaders who believe they are in control cannot ever negate His goodness and His sovereignty.

Third, regardless of the person(s) in office, I can demonstrate godly respect towards the positions they bear and obedience to Christ at the same time. I can maintain values consistent with my faith just as Joseph did when He was sold into slavery by his brothers. I can remain faithful to God, always keeping in mind that my identity is in Christ and humbly and assertively relate to those over me just as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego did while living captive in Persia.

Fourth, I can choose to remember my true calling is to worship God and to love others well no matter what is going on around me. I can pray and look for opportunities to serve, support, and witness to people from every economic class, every ethnic people group, and every educational background because I know with out a doubt that it is God's will that His church be a beautiful blend of diverse people united by a common faith in an awe inspiring God. It is His desire we love each other well and keep ourselves unstained by the corruption is in this world. I can choose to walk in the joy that comes from knowing Him and having the greatest message to share.

Fifth, though President Trump's character leaves something to be desired, I refuse to worry and to complain about every nuance of His presidency. I refuse to look at him as either all good or all bad. I refuse to buy into the lie that I am powerless over the next 4-8 years because I find both love and prayer to be empowering. I refuse to buy into the passion turned hate of so many that tends to drain the soul of energy. I prefer to have His passion--the life-giving passion that drove Christ to sacrifice His life for me--be the passion that fills and energizes the soul. I prefer to have His passion driving me to my knees, driving me to share the gospel, driving me to love well, and driving me to to serve the wounded women God brings our way so that their stories can be redeemed and they can walk in godly passion, loving well, experiencing unexplainable, uncontainable, and unimaginable joy that comes from trusting in a merciful, gracious God.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Art of Loving Well

As I reflected last week on learning to love well, it reminded me that the art of learning to love well can only be learned in the context of relationships. Ironically, as much as I want loving relationships they are difficult to navigate because they are like the process of iron sharpening iron and when iron sharpens iron sparks fly! Because relationships are designed to refine, rubbing shoulders with others has a way of exposing ungodly things like selfishness, weaknesses, overactive defense mechanisms, and a bunch of other stuff I will simply clump together and call the messy parts of relationships.

In my relationships I've experienced love by being the recipient of others' kind actions, acts of service, or the graces extended me in the reality of my failure to love well. I also experienced love through words--sometimes in the words, "I love you," sometimes words of affirmation for a job well done or for a character trait others observed and appreciated, and sometimes in simple sweet encouraging words that were balm to my soul when it was aching. I tried to emulate those things.

But, I also loved in some ways I learned were not healthy. I mistakenly thought love and grace meant overlooking bad behavior, but it was enabling others to continue to behave in ways that were destructive to the relationships we had. I also mistakenly thought it was loving to rescue others from the consequences of their choices because it prevented them pain. But, I learned they needed that pain to understand the need for change. Just like I am having to teach my new puppy his love bites aren't the best way to show this human some love. I had to learn godly love requires I not overlook bad behavior or rescue. Love includes gentle, direct confrontation and the speaking of truth in love. I am learning the best love I can give is truth and staying out of God's way so people experience consequences of their choices and His love through discipline. It sometimes hurts to observe, but ultimately God is infinitely wiser than me and He knows what each of us needs to motivate growth so we experience His love and develop the desire to embrace His life of loving others.

At one point in my life I believed I would someday obtain a level of spirituality and loving well would become so natural. I believed I would no longer be triggered or be tempted to act out of my sinful flesh. But, I still struggle daily with temptation to protect my heart through harsh words that can flow from anger and judgement. I am sometimes still tempted to hurt those who hurt me through slander or by blasting them with toxic, loud, and critical words aimed like arrows at their sweet hearts. Sometimes I am also tempted to withdraw in stony silence exhibiting aggression in a more passive-aggressive way.  I am not proud of these things, just owning the reality of them. The more I get to know others, the more I realize this isn't just a Wendy issue, it is a human one. It is just that some openly admit the struggle and others don't. But the truth is we are all just one step, one moment away from committing sin that wounds, and we are all just one step, one moment away from loving well in a way that builds others up. It is a moment by moment walk and it will never be done this side of heaven.

Several years ago I learned the skill of self reflection, which is way different than the self absorption I had struggled with in the past. Through reflection I learned to recognize the weaknesses of my temperament, the defense mechanisms I tend to favor, and the sinful tendencies that flow from my flesh. This has driven me to continually search for God's wisdom in how to overcome these fleshly patterns so I can love well. I have seen that the closer I walk with God, the more I experience His love and see it being poured on others through me. His love helps me bridle my tongue and use it for good. It motivates me to carry out actions that are loving and kind rather than selfish and self serving. His grace motivates me to forgive and to extend His grace to others.

There are so many treasures of wisdom in the word that teach me to love well, but for them to impact me I have to think on them continually and practice them over and over until they become natural to me. Other wise His Word becomes just go in and out of my brain and don't take root in my heart where they can produce godly fruit in my life.

As I shared in my last post loving well begins with accepting the truth that God's love is the source of all godly love. Loving others well requires I sit in His love so it can empower me to love like Him. Ephesians 4 is a powerful, practical chapter about loving. Paul even began the the chapter urging the Ephesians to walk worthy of  of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, and forbearance--all of which are fruits of the Spirit! These are produced in me as I spend time with God, choosing to walk in obedience by faith.

It is so easy for me to get caught up in the "If he (or she) does this then I will show them love." or "If he (or she) quits doing that I will show them love." I may not have ever said those exact words, but anyone observing me closely would have been able to see the reality of them guiding my life. I remind myself often of my personal responsibility as a child of God to love well. It is never contingent on others' actions or attitudes. It is only contingent on my being loved well by God.

Because there is an active enemy and because I have a sinful flesh I daily must put to death, the relationships and the unity I desire in them takes work. I have to continually grow so I am not tossed to and fro by the deceit the enemy whispers in my mind. I've also been learning to focus on others more than I am focus on myself. I'm learning to put off old, unhealthy ways of relating and put on God's loving ways. According to Ephesians 4, that means not responding out of my flesh which can lead me to sensuality, greed, impurity, and deceit. It means replacing falsehood with the truth. It means replacing thievery with hard labor with the intention of sharing out of the reward of that. It means replacing corrupt speech with words that build up and fit the occasion and give grace to the hearer.

We can apply this principle of replacement with anything that hinders our ability to love well. For the one who likes to stonewall, it means replacing stonewalling with humble engagement and a willingness to hear. For the manipulator, it means releasing the desire to control another and fully respecting their right to their own thoughts, words, feelings, perspectives, and choices. For the one who yells, it means taking off the tendency to blast another with words and gently engaging in conversation. For the one who withdraws to punish, it means doing the next loving thing even when it is hard. for the one given to blame it means accepting personal responsibility their part in the ugliness of a relationship.

There is an art to loving well. Just as an artist would take great pains to choose his colors and placement of strokes, we have to be willing to put the time and energy into loving well so each is built up, our integrity is maintained, and the relationship itself is both preserved and enhanced. It is a time consuming and sometimes painful process, but the masterpiece of a godly, loving relationship is is a beautiful portrait, exemplifying God's love to a world full of hate.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Who do you Love?

Every New Year's we hear a lot about resolutions that help us be physically, emotionally, relationally, and/or spiritually healthier people. The resolutions range from making diet changes, to exercising more, to setting better boundaries, to not losing one's temper, to having more date nights with a spouse, to reading the Bible more often, and to developing a consistent prayer life.

This year I noticed a bit of push back towards those stating resolutions by those who believe resolutions set us up for failure. And to me a resolution does feel all or nothing. Once I've blown it, I feel like I've blown it for the whole year. Some of the discussions I heard about resolutions remind me of the discussions the Lord had in Matthew 22. The Pharisees, who were all about keeping the law, posed the question, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Even though they were asking with a motive of trying to disprove Jesus, I resonate with the question because I lived in fear and I longed to be a good girl and I longed to please the Lord.

I know I'm not the only one. As a volunteer youth worker, I was often asked how far one could carry out particular behaviors before Jesus (or others) consider them sin. I loved the honesty in the questions, because I think we adults want the same kind of direction, we are too ashamed to express it. At some point we've wondered when social drinking become drunkenness and sinful? We have wondered when does a friendly interaction between two married people moves from friendship to adultery either emotional or physical? How far is too far to go physically in a dating relationship before it is sin? Or, how many times can we miss church before it becomes sinful?

Like the Pharisees, we want clear guidelines. We want to know so we can feel good about ourselves and know we are good people.We may want to know because we feel safer if we know exactly where the line is drawn and what is expected of us. And if there is more than one thing expected, we believe we have a  better chance of pleasing God if we figure out what the most important thing to fulfill is. We may want to know because we may have been in bondage to sin and be afraid that we will be sucked back into it if we don't set a protective bar high. But sadly, that may help us, but we may sin by becoming Pharisaical as we judge and push our standard on others, robbing them of their freedom in Christ.  

Jesus's answer is probably not the answer they expected, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." It seems somewhat subjective. Not black-and-what enough!

Reading the Lord's words, I remember hearing a sermon on them and asking God to help me understand what it means to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind. Those words sound like being completely consumed by love and passion for Him. Though I had experienced moments like that I wasn't sure what it meant to actually live that out continuously. So, I continued to pray for God's help and over the next few weeks, I noticed every sermon I heard was on the love God has for us. Every time I turned on the car radio a song about His love was playing. I also received many unexpected encouragement notes during that time, containing verses about God's love for me--notes written by people who knew nothing about my prayers. I looked up verses on love and one of them said, "We love because He first loved us." and I grasped that to love God the way I desired, I had to first begin to comprehend and embrace the truth of His great love for me. Prior to that, if one asked me if God loved me I would say yes, but in truth I struggled daily to believe it and that doubt often drove my thought life, my responses to God and others and to my circumstances, and it drove my actions.

Over several years God showed me through words and through experience how much he loved me. Sometimes it was when I was showing love to my children, I would sense Him saying, "This is how I love you." Sometimes it was when a friend extended grace that I sensed Him saying, "My loving grace is deeper still!" Sometimes it was in the struggle to overcome sinful patterns, as I cried out to Him for help to overcome that I sensed His presence overwhelming me with love and silencing the angst of desire gone awry! Sometimes it was in the roar of a wave at the beach, or the birds singing in the mountains, the eerie silence of snow blanketing desert town, the roar of the thunder, the tremble of the quaking earth, the beautiful sunrises, and the display of the milky way across the darkened moonless sky reminded me of His loving presence. Sometimes it was in the sacredness of hearing another's pain that I could feel His loving presence wash over us and see the beauty still present in the brokenness. Sometimes I experienced His love as He brought me to specific passages in His Word--passages that revealed how He loves and passages that exposed my misunderstandings of Him and the stronghold of disbelief that kept me from fully enjoying His love.

This was different! Before, my faith had been about me trying to be good. My faith had been about me trying to earn His love. My faith had been about trying not to make Him angry at me. Now, it became about understanding and fully receiving the love He had already demonstrated at Calvary and looking for was to love Him in return.

The more I studied the more I realized how tightly the second command is tied to the first. One cannot totally demonstrate love for God apart from loving others. Matthew 25:35-40, "'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' and the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you as you did it to me one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" So, to love another visible person well is to love the invisible God the way He wants to be loved!

I also had been a person who struggled with severe self-contempt and came across the truth of Psalm 139. "I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." That concept blew me away! But the more I pondered it, the more I realized living in shame and contempt draws the focus from God to me in a sick way. The more I dwelled there, the more I tended to hide from both God and man and the more I was driven by self-protective behaviors than love. I grew to accept that Temptation is common to man. Paul, claimed he was the worst of sinners and I decided to quit fighting him for that title and just focus on the fact that by faith Jesus took all of my bad on Himself and gave me His goodness. I began to grasp the freedom of the greatest two commandments. By choosing to believe He loved me, I could focus on getting to know Him by studying His attributes and trusting that He is there when I cry out to Him in desperate need of strength to fight sin or in desperate need of grace and mercy in the face of failure. By focusing on the next loving word to speak I can overcome sins of the tongue, not giving into the tendency to gossip, slander, bear false witness, or spew hatefulness at another. By focusing on the next loving action I can perform, I can overcome both sins of commission and sins omission, and the sin of self-protection. By focusing on love, I can overcome the sinful desires not yet weeded out of my heart. By focusing on serving others, I no longer clamor to be served, living with constant disappointment because other broken creatures like me failed to meet my expectations. By focusing on the love of Jesus, I become empowered to love God, others, and myself well, and the righteousness I used to seek is worked out in a natural way that exceeds my frantic efforts and gives a spirit of humility rather than pride. So, who do you love?


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!