Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Man Like Boaz

My church recently finished a study on the book of Ruth. The timing of the series was so prevalent to the culture we live in as the "Me, too" campaign unfolded. For too long women who have been victimized have been asked questions that implicate them as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, wearing the wrong thing. Even women, who should know better, say stupid things that cast blame on survivors, heaping even more shame on victims already drowning in sea of toxic shame. But the truth is, each person's actions are an indicator of what is in their heart. When a predator preys it is because of his heart, not his victim’s. I definitely believe that women need to raise daughters who walk with strength and dignity and who can command respect because they know they are deeply loved, fully accepted, and chosen by One who gave His life for them. But, that is no guarantee that they won't be harassed, molested, or raped.

We need to quit buying into the lie that men are victims of their bodies and just can't help themselves. We need to teach our sons that they don't prove their manhood by undressing women with their eyes and catcalling at them as they walk down the street. We need to raise our sons to understand they don't prove their manhood by asking women for what is not appropriate outside the marriage covenant. We need to raise sons who understand it is manlier to date and court a young woman with integrity that it is to get her drunk, so he can add another notch to his belt. We need to raise our sons to understand that real men do not wound women through sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. For a while, I thought maybe I was just being unreasonable to expect men to be different; then I read the story of Ruth and came across a man named Boaz.

Ruth was a widow from Moab living in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who was bitter over the loss of her husband and both of her sons. As was customary, Ruth went to a barley field hoping to glean what the reapers left. She ended up gleaning in Boaz's fields. When he approached the fields, he saw her, and he asked about her. Upon hearing that she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, he approached her. He was kind as he instructed her to not leave his field for other fields and to stay with the women that were working for him. He provided her with water and with food and even instructed his workers to pull some grain from their bundles and leave it so that she would have ample grain for her and Naomi's needs. He treated the young foreign woman with upmost respect and provided food and drink for her and Naomi. He protected her as she was vulnerable to mistreatment and assault.

I think every woman, at some level, desires to be treated like this. When I was in college, I had to walk by the cafeteria late at night to get back to my dorm after my class. I had been victimized as a child and I was nervous because several women had reported that they had been assaulted by athletes on our campus. As I came around the corner of the building, there was a group of athletes standing there. They started catcalling and I panicked and started walking even faster. When I started walking faster, they took it up a notch calling me all sorts of vulgar names. That night I longed for a Boaz, to step out of the crowd of guys who had enough integrity to speak kindly to me and to offer to walk me through the crowd so that I knew I could safely get home.

When Ruth told Naomi about Boaz's kindness, protection, and provision, Naomi explained Israel's provision for widows through a kinsman redeemer. At Naomi's instruction, Ruth bathed and anointed herself with perfume and went to the threshing floor and uncovered the feet of Boaz and laid there at his feet. He awakened and she asked him to be her redeemer. Even in the darkness of the night with a woman lying at his feet, Boaz integrity shined bright. He could have taken advantage of Ruth, but he listened to her and treated her with respect. He knew there was a closer relative who had the right of redemption, and he wanted to legally take Ruth as a wife without disrespecting the relative who was entitled to do so. As soon as it was light enough for her to go home safely he sent her on her way, protecting both her reputation and her purity. He asked for the right to marry her and it was granted. 

So, where did Boaz learn to treat women so well? Why was his heart so open and protective of the foreigner living in his community? I think maybe he learned it from his dad and his mom. His mom was none other than "Rahab the harlot" who was saved when she hung the scarlet chord from her window when the walls of Jericho tumbled down. Some people think that it was one of the spies that she hid that took her as his wife. Maybe Boaz learned from watching his dad demonstrate love and grace to his mom through kind words and protective actions. Or, maybe Boaz learned to be kind and full of integrity in his relationships with women from watching his mom suffer through the leers from men and the gossip of women who knew of her questionable past. Maybe it came from watching his mom be snubbed for being a foreigner living in Bethlehem and from the cruelty he endured as a product of a mixed marriage. We don't know for sure, but we do know that Boaz grew to be man of impeccable integrity and maybe, just maybe, our culture would begin to change if we began to raise each of our sons to become a man like Boaz. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I Love You. I Have Always Loved You

Saturday night my fourteen year-old-grandson asked his mom to take him and a friend to see a scary movie. She was worn out from teaching, graduate school, and driving through LA traffic for his water polo meet, so she suggested he ask me. I love spending time with him and felt honored that he was okay with that idea. So, I got to accompany two teenage boys to see A Quiet Place. I went expecting it to be a typical scary movie and it was intense; however, it was also a movie with a well-developed plot, telling the story about a family that worked very hard to survive monsters that had been attacking humans.

In the beginning of the story, the family consists of a dad, a pregnant mom, and three children. The oldest child is a teenage girl who is deaf. the middle child is a boy who is nine or ten and the youngest boy was probably two or three.  The world has been invaded by ugly monsters who are blind, but who have ears that hear everything and attack what they hear. In the opening scene, they are walking from the store in town back to their farm. They did not realize the little one had picked up a toy space ship in the store that made noise. They were walking single file with him in the rear, following his deaf sister. He lagged behind as he began to explore the space ship. All of a sudden, the little guy turned on the space ship and it made loud sounds that drew a monster. The deaf girl couldn't hear the sound and the dad, who was at the front of the line, couldn't get to the son in time to save him from the monster.

The rest of the film is about this family who is not only working hard to survive, but is a family dealing with the tragic loss of the youngest child, each in their own way. The parents had moved the family into their underground root cellar to keep them safer and they communicated through sign language. The dad had developed quite a security system of cameras so he could observe their farm for approaching monsters. Every so often one of the family members does something that accidentally that draws the monsters toward them. As viewers, we could see the enormous guilt that followed the mishaps that put their lives in jeopardy. We could also see the weight of the burden the parents bear in keeping their family safe. Both parents do a great job of reassuring the kids, but they also have to remind them over and over of the dangers they face.

One day the dad decides to take the boy to teach him how to fish with traps. The boy, still traumatized by what happened to his little brother, is terrified and doesn't want to go away from the farm. The daughter pleads with her dad to take her instead, but the dad tells her to stay with her mom and he gets down eye-to-eye with his son and promises to keep him safe. He even takes him to a waterfall where under the safety of its noise they are able to talk to each other. The dad listens humbly to his son and learns a lot about his daughter from him.

The daughter feels guilty for her brother's death and has come to believe her dad blames her for it as well and has concluded he doesn't love her. She is aware that being deaf also brings more risk to her family. The mom gets busy with laundry and the daughter places a few things in her backpack and goes to the place where her littlest brother died. The mom goes into labor and as she brings the laundry down the cellar, she steps on a nail, causing her to drop a picture frame which draws the monster to their farm. She sneaks back to their house and moves from room to room to hide from the monster and to give birth. At the house, she flips on red outside lights to warn her husband that the monster is there and that she needs help.

As the father and the son arrive at the property, the father sees the lights and sends the son to set off fireworks so their noise would draw the monster away from the house, allowing him to get to his wife. The sister sees the fireworks and comes back, finding her little brother hiding in a field. They run to the grain silo to wait for their dad to come get them. Eventually, they connect with him and are making their way back to the house when they come face to face with a monster. The dad tells the kids to go get in the truck and he grabs an ax and tries to attack the monster, but the monster flings him and the ax to the ground. The little boy screams in anguish when his dad is hit, causing the monster to go after the two kids in the truck. The dad manages to stand up and makes eye contact with his daughter and signs to her, “I love you. I have always loved you." He then lets out a blood-curdling scream sacrificing his life for theirs.

I glanced at the two teens with me who both are good kids with good hearts and both of them looked away from the screen and their bodies literally slumped into their chairs. Later they talked about how they wish they would not have killed the dad, because he was a good dad. The family is left to figure out the weaknesses of the monsters to survive.

After I came home, I processed the movie as it felt somewhat personal to me. When I was working with a therapist on my eating disorder, she asked me to draw what the eating disorder looked like to me. I couldn't draw it because it had looked one way when it first began as a poor way of coping with trauma. It evolved, and as it took root it became a self-destructive stronghold in my life.  The description I wrote for the therapist so long ago perfectly described the monsters in the movie. I decided those monsters could represent the sin from which God has always been protecting us. We don't always recognize the depravity of our sin or its destructiveness. Yes, we sometimes rebelliously choose sin over God, but there are times we get simply get careless and just slip into it and before we know it, we are being consumed and destroyed by it.

I didn't wake up one day and decide to have an eating disorder. It began as a way of trying to find control in the midst of the chaotic emotions swirling beneath the surface, but it quickly took over my life. The control, which at first felt good, became uncontrollable and changed the way I viewed myself. It weighed me down with shame so toxic that ugly self-deprecating thoughts continuously ran through my head. In the same way, I have also seen alcohol take over a person and destroy her and her relationships with her children, leaving gaping wounds that will take a long time to heal. I have seen families destroyed by pornography as it took over the life of a spouse and a dad. And I have seen drug addictions that have taken over the user to the point that all he cares about is his next hit.

God has always wanted to protect us. He has always loved us, but the enemy tells us that our sin isn't that bad, that God, is depriving us, and that God doesn't really love us. In recovery circles we hear statements like, "Oh, that is not your child talking, it is the drugs." But the truth is that we all have a bent to do wrong and we use denial and lies to hide shame. As we sink into the miry clay, our character, which is a fluid thing, begins to change and even the most truthful people begin to lie--we lie to "protect" the next hit, to hide what we spend, and to hide the disorders that gives us a false sense of control, to hide the gossip we share so no one will notice the big monster on our back. We lie to try to shape what others think about us, so we don't feel the guilt or the shame over the choices we have made, over the fact that we are losing control of our ability to choose, and the fact that we know we are loving poorly as a result of the strongholds in our lives.

My thoughts that night also went to the ladies I have worked with, many of which didn't have dads and/or moms that worked as hard to provide and protect as the movie parents did. I thought about those who had at some point in their healing journey expressed the deep longing they had burning in their souls to be protected and to be fully known and loved in spite of their wounds, their flaws, their mistakes their needs, and their sin.  And the Lord whispered into my heart, "I have loved you all that way."

It is so true! Since the Fall we have all been struggling at some level with shame that causes us to doubt the love of God. And yet, the Scripture, from beginning to end, points us to Jesus and shows us His great love, which ultimately was demonstrated on the cross. I know at the times that I have pictured Christ on the cross with my sin etched in His body, I have looked up into His face and I have seen the same look on His face that was on the face of the movie dad as he signed his love to his daughter the last time. And that look said as loudly as the signs, "I love you. I have always loved you."  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Opposition is Opportunity in Disguise

The gospel stories weren't penned just for our entertainment. They were written to teach us about Jesus, His life, and His ministry. Each story reveals something about who He is, about His character, and about His heart. Each story gives us glimpses of how He related to people and our reactions to the stories reveals stuff about our own hearts and our relationship with Him. One of the stories I have been pondering lately is the story about a paralyzed man found in Mark 2.

Word of Jesus and His miracles had spread and when Jesus and his disciples came to Peter's house, a crowd soon descended there to see the miracle-working Teacher - the Teacher whose words were a soothing balm to some and a strong irritant to others. The large crowds made it difficult for the neediest people to get close enough to Jesus. One of the neediest that day was a paralyzed man who lived life on a stretcher, but he had four loyal friends who picked up his stretcher and headed to Peter's house. However, because of the crowd, they could not get near the Teacher. So, the men devised a plan and carried their friend up the stairs to the roof and began digging through tiles and dirt, making a hole large enough that they could fit their friend and his stretcher through it.

I find myself wondering what the man thought as they approached the house. Did his heart sink when he saw the crowd? Did his anger rise as he was reminded of his limitations? Did he feel hopeless and immediately resign himself to living from the perspective of the stretcher? What did he think when his friends began to climb the stairs and dig through the roof? Did he feel loved or was he embarrassed by their actions? Did he believe he was worth the hassle or would he have preferred they not to make a scene? Was his friends' faith beginning to take root in his heart? I don't know the answers to the questions, but I do know that I want to be the kind of friend this man had. I want to be the person who sees beyond the hopelessness of a situation. I want to be one who believes that the more hopeless the situation seems the bigger the opportunity to bring someone closer to Jesus. I want to be that friend who persists and persists until I have done all that it takes to help a friend land at the feet of Jesus.

I also find myself wondering what Jesus thought as the men began to dig through the roof. Did He raise His voice to be heard above their digging or did He stop and wait patiently, knowing the roof-digging crew was providing His sermon illustration that night? Did He need to calm Peter and remind Him that holes could be fixed? Did He smile as He brushed away the dirt that was settling on His shoulders? Did rise and help lower the man in or did they drop him at His feet?

The Bible makes it clear that not every illness is a result of sin. It may have been in this case that something he had done to another had resulted in his paralysis. It may have been that Jesus knew the crowd usually associated illness and handicaps with sin and was exposing their belief. Or it may have been that Jesus could see the burden of regret and the shame that was residing in the man's heart and knew that the man needed to be spiritually healed more than physically. So, He told him sins were forgiven.

Jesus then turned his attention to the religious leaders--the skeptics who thought He was a blasphemer for telling the man his sins were forgiven. I love it that Jesus both exposed and confronted their thoughts by asking, "Which is easier to do--tell a man he is forgiven or tell him to take up his bed and walk?" He then turned back to the man and said, "Get up, take your stretcher and go home."

What ran through the paralytic's mind when the Savior commanded him to walk? Did he look around at the crowd that wouldn't let him through the door? Did he glace at the religious leaders who disapproved of what Jesus was telling him and feel conflicted? Did he immediately respond in faith and jump up or dance a jig? Did he look down first, expecting to see atrophied legs and find them healthy and strong? Or did he have to do the impossible and try to stand up on atrophied muscled legs for the miracle to take place? I don't know, but I can relate to having to demonstrate faith and obedience in the face of people who opposed me and what God called me to do. It was terribly hard and it sure didn't feel safe. However, choosing God in the face of that opposition strengthened my faith, gave me opportunities to see Him work in new ways, and opened a new direction for me to do the ministry God had called me to.

That day, Jesus graciously chose to do a deeper work in the heart of the crippled man so not only his body was healed, but his heart as well. Jesus used the opposition He faced to publically affirm His deity as he exposed the hidden thoughts of men, established that He had the authority to forgive sin, heal a broken body, and called Himself, "The Son of Man."

I fear that we often view the hard as proof that God doesn't love us and we let the hard paralyze us. What if the hard--our past traumas, our broken hearts, the adversity we experience, the weaknesses we have, our struggle to fully trust, the sin that trips us up, the people and the demons who come against us--is what the Lord will use to reveal Himself to this broken and fallen world? Would not our faith and our joy grow exponentially if we just believe God is good and that the opposition we face is nothing more than disguised opportunities for Him to do His greatest work? 


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!