Monday, February 26, 2018

A Heart-Mending God

I belong to a ministry that helps form supportive relationships as God is in the process of mending hurting hearts. We get to be image bearers to those hurting in ways that many people never get to be. I love it that the Scriptures are full of biographies of people whose hearts ached with deep longings, who were wounded by the lack of morals in their communities and the evils perpetrated by godless nations, and who didn’t think they were qualified to serve in the capacity to which God called them. Today I will share about some of my favorite women from Scripture whose lives were changed and whose hearts were mended by God.  

There was Sarah who lived with the shame of being a barren woman in the midst of a culture that  worshipped fertility gods. Month after month she lived with the pain of deep longing, only to have her hopes dashed again and again as her "time of the month" made its appearance. Surly she felt defective and believed she was less than the women who bore children. Surly she felt unheard by the gods of stone to which she offered sacrifices and prayers. Surly she found her arms aching and the longing of her heart growing unbearable every time she took food to a family celebrating their newborn.  

And just when her menses ceased and she thought she was finally free to grieve what would never be and move on, her husband told her God had called them out of their pagan culture and made a covenant with him that included a child. That had to seem like a cruel joke to a barren elderly woman, especially when God waited another 13 years to fulfill His promise. But, that thirteen years were not wasted years. They exposed Sarah's doubt, her tendency to do things in her own power, and her character flaws. Then God visited them again, He restated His promise and she laughed in disbelief. What woman wouldn't laugh at the idea of becoming pregnant in her nineties? But, God raised Sarah's body from its state of reproductive deadness and Sarah found herself birthing a man child she named Isaac, which means laughter. Isaac served as a reminder of how God, in His grace, turned her laughter of unbelief into laughter of pure joy.   

Then there was the prostitute Rahab, who lived in the city of Jericho, longing to know the God of the Jews. When the Jewish spies entered Jericho, she hid them and then helped them escape. As they left, she begged them to save her. They told her to hang a scarlet chord in her window and she would be saved through the battle. By faith, Rahab hung that blood-red Chord in her window and she was protected from tumbling walls and soldiers fighting. She was taken back to Israel’s camp. We now know that any woman with the title of Harlot attached to her name has some serious wounds that need mending and God provided her with a husband who loved her in spite of her past and they birthed a baby boy named Boaz who grew to be a godly, caring man.  

Around the same time Naomi was a Jew living in a foreign land with her husband and her two sons. in that place her sons took married foreign women and soon after her husband died. Then both sons died, leaving three grieving widows. Naomi’s grief was compounded by the death of her sons and it turned bitter. She longed to go home, and because Ruth loved she saw past the bitterness and she chose to walk Naomi home. There Ruth found mercy as she gleaned in the fields of Boaz and at her mother-in-law’s suggestion, she went to the threshing floor and laid at Boaz's feet. He treated her with both loving kindness and respect and became a kinsman redeemer to Ruth, taking her, a foreigner, as his wife and they birthed a son named Obed who became the father of Jesse who became the father of David who was in the lineage of Christ. And God continued mending the heart of a young widow and the grandma-shaped hearts of both Rahab and Naomi.    

These three women are in the family line of Jesus by God's design. It was not an accident. That family line is a long line full of broken, sinful, and needy people. I love how God put the prostitute, Rahab, in the line because she trusted Him enough to hang a cord in her window--an act that makes no sense apart from God. I love how the Gentile, Ruth, even in her own pain chose to love a bitter mother-in-law all the way home, trusting the God who holds life and death in His hands for something bigger.

Then there was the woman who met Jesus at a well. She came midday to avoid biting words, judgmental stares, and clicking tongues that came with the scandalous life she was living. He knew she had been publicly declared an unfit wife five times. He knew she was brokenhearted and craved to be loved with a love strong enough to stay. Jesus led her through a spiritual discussion that prepared her heart to receive Him. He gave purpose to her suffering by helping her see that it was Him she really craved. He gave her life purpose by using her--a scandalous woman--to bring salvation to the very community that despised her. Her passion and her willingness to share Him with those judging hearts tells us just how completely God was mending her heart.

Then there was the woman caught in adultery that was thrust at Jesus feet by an angry mob, claiming they caught her in the act of adultery. Just as the man had used her, these men were using her to trap Jesus. But Jesus called them out, telling them that the man who was without sin could cast the first stone at her. Their unrighteousness was glaring in the face of His holiness. Thud after thud could be heard as stones fell to the ground. She was left alone, sitting fearfully at the Savior’s feet as He quietly drew in the sand. After the last man left, he looked up and told her to go and sin no more. She knew that she had looked into the face of Grace and that the only One who had a right to condemn her had chosen to begin mending her shame-riddled heart instead.

I bet women's hearts were mended when Jesus taught men that a woman who could only give two mites performed a more acceptable act of worship, than those who gave out of the abundance of their wealth. I know He mended the heart of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years, who by law had to live isolated from her family and community. Her heart began mending when Jesus called her out for touching the hem of His garment in an unclean state. This gentle confrontation forced her to publicly own the  physical healing she had received, so that she could be fully restored socially and spiritually. Then there was woman who was bold enough to enter a banquet and pour costly ointment on the Savior's feet under the glaring, judgmental stares of those attending. Christ began mending her heart the moment He silenced her critics.      

Oh, The Lion of Judah! He has a tender heart towards hurting women and He moves on our behalf. I don't know about you, but I can trust a God who removed a woman from a pagan culture that deepened her shame to resurrect her dying body so she could give life to a child. I can trust a God who placed broken, hurting women in the lineage of Christ to tell the world they matter. I can trust a God who went out of his way to fill the heart of one very thirsty woman. I can trust a God who healed a woman of the issue that was slowly draining the life out of her. I can trust a God who defended a woman caught in adultery and a woman boldly worshiping with her own tears and oil.  

I can trust a God who left the glories of heaven and rubbed shoulders with sinful, broken people who were just like me. I can trust a Savior who wrestled with God’s will so long and hard He sweat blood and still set His face toward the cross. I can trust a Lamb who bore God's wrath for my sin and gave me His goodness in its place. I can trust a God who not only saved me, but also sealed me with His Spirit and gifted me with spiritual gifts, declaring me to be a valuable part of the body of Christ. I can trust my Abba who calls me His beloved daughters. I can trust a King and who has promised to come again. And I can trust Him to use this wait, however long it be, to expose my brokenness, my tendency to fill my thirst with things that cannot satisfy, and expose and replace lies I believe keep me from fully trusting Him and from living out my true identity. I can trust a God who is mending my heart into a beautiful masterpiece that beats in such a way His love flows freely through it. My God--He is a heart-mending God.   

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Second Class Citizens

When I was a young child, women were limited to certain jobs. When they began to go into jobs that had been dominated by men, they weren't paid as much as men in the same jobs and they didn't climb the corporate ladder as quickly. In college I majored in math and some of the classes I needed were offered through the engineering department. When I took those classes I was often the only female and found the guys didn't appreciate me being there. It was during that time I became acutely aware that people are often partial to others because of race, gender, or socio-economic standing. I think that is one of the reasons I came to love the gospel so much, it is not partial to any people groups. 

In church yesterday we studied Galatians 3:26- Galatians 4:7. I realized even though the Bible was written long ago, it addresses the issues of partiality I recognized in college. The passage says that when we come to Christ by faith, we are found in Him. That means God no longer sees us as people in bondage to sin,  He sees us as Christ! He goes on to say explicitly there is neither Jew nor Greek, which handles the issue of race. This statement was significant because Jews, who were to be a witness to the nations around them, had developed lots of contempt for different people groups like the Samaritans who were of a mixed race. God gave Israel instruction on how to treat strangers who came and lived among them and they didn't always follow his directions. It doesn't matter what ethnicity people are, what culture they grow up in, what borders they are born within, when they come to Christ by faith, they are joint heirs with Him. God does not choose to save us based on the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the culture we grew up portraying. God  doesn't bless one race over another. He blesses simply because He loves. 

Paul went on to say that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. The Jewish law provided a way for people who were poor and unable to provide for themselves by allowing them to indenture themselves with richer people so they didn't starve and could climb out of poverty. That contract was to last a specific amount of time and then it was to end and the people were set free of their obligations. But many masters abused their power and didn't release their servants, causing God tp bring judgment on Israel. What was to be a temporary situation designed to help the poor, became a way for the rich to abuse and take advantage of the poor. I love it that Paul is telling the people in God's economy there no difference between the rich and the poor. The poor are not second class citizens. They, like the rich, are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. They have the same rights, the same privileges, and the same spiritual gifts as richer people do.     

When we come to Christ, He no longer sees us as males or females, which deals with the issue of prejudice based on gender. I know some people believe the Bible is antiquated, but look at what it is saying and think about the time in which it was written. In those days, women did not have legal rights or economic stature. If they were unmarried, they lived with parents. If they were in an abusive marriage or their spouse was unfaithful, they could not get a divorce as that was a "right" only men had. If they were widowed, they were at the mercy of their husband's family members, who may or may not choose to provide or the husband's near kinsmen who may or may not choose to marry them to preserve the dead spouse's  inheritance. In addition, women were restricted to certain areas of the Jewish temple and never worshipped with the men. In the nations around Israel, women were even used and abused in the name of worship to appease false gods, as were children. Father's took young virgin daughters to the temples to be temple prostitutes and offered their babies as sacrifices to appease angry gods. There was an ugly imbalance of power between genders at the time and here Paul tells them that in God's eyes there is no male or female. That doesn't mean we all lose who we were created to be. God creates us. He assigns our gender. He places us in families in the countries of His choosing. I embrace that I was created as a woman and know as a believer I still am one. These verses make it clear that though I was born and raised a girl outside of the Bible belt, I am not a second class member of God's family. I and every other female are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. That means we have the same rights and responsibilities as our Christian brothers. 

I started going to church as a young kid. When I was in fifth or sixth grace I received a letter from the small  church I attended. It told me how much offering I had given and that it cost the church so much money to operate per person and I wasn't giving my share. I was filled with shame and felt like I was a second class person when I went to church because as a 10 year old I didn't make much money. After I got married, we moved to several different locations and became involved in several different churches. I found each church had their own ways of doing things. At one point I was trying to accomplish a task and was told by a woman I hadn't grown up in their church and just didn't understand how things were done. Those words caused those old feelings of inadequacy to resurface. I took her words to heart and tried to ask questions, only to find out later I had offended people, because they assumed my questions were either hidden statements of dissatisfaction for decisions they made or the way they did things.

Every time we moved or switched churches, I found myself feeling defective and inadequate because I didn't know how each new church operated. There were always unwritten rules, traditions, and ways of doing things that defined the culture of that particular church. At times I found it less painful and easier to just plaster a smile on my face and do what I could do to make myself somewhat invisible. That way my words, my questions, and my actions could not offend, wound, or look wrong.

So when I read, "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ." I felt free of those unwritten standards to which I was supposed to live up. When I read, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither, slave nor free, there is no male or female," I realize I was wrong to give other people the power to make me feel like a second class Christian, because there really is no such thing! It doesn't matter how much money our families have when we're growing up or how much we make or don't make now. It doesn't matter in if we grew up in a church family learning how to do church or not. It doesn't matter if we are male or female. We are all joint heirs with Christ and are given spiritual gifts, abilities, and passions to serve and all of us are needed to make the body of Christ function as Christ designed it to function.

Paul also made it clear that even our sin cannot make us second class Christians. He put the title, "The Worst Sinner," on himself. I believe God had him do that so you and I couldn't use it to live defeated because we falsely believe the sin we commit or the sin perpetrated against us makes us second class believers. Instead, we all get to rest and to bask equally in God's grace!

Can you imagine how Paul's messaged rocked the early church? Indentured servants were equal to their masters at church and a master might even have to even sit under a servant who was gifted as a teacher. The poor were just as important in the church as the wealthy were. In God's economy two coins given sacrificially might even be viewed as a more sacrificial, worship-filled act than a someone who gave a thousand coins out of their surplus. And the women who once had limited access to religion were now sitting in the pews with men all because Jesus, Himself, broke the barriers down and allowed women to sit at His feet to both learn and worship. Both men and women could view God as their Abba. I even love it that Jesus called us (women) sons. He is not excluding us or declaring us less than the men as some would have us believe. He is saying, "In my eyes, you are joint heirs with my Son!"   

About thirty years ago, we visited the Church of the Open Door on Easter weekend. Standing at the door talking to the pastor, I saw people of different races entering the church and greeting each other warmly by name. I saw people dressed in blue genes and tee shirts chatting with the people dressed in fancy clothing. I also noticed men and women were respectfully exchanging greetings with each other with heads held high, showing they saw each other as equals and I thought to myself, "This is what heaven will be like!" A good understanding of the gospel helps us realize that in God's family there are no second class citizens. 


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!