Coming Out of the Closet

Tags

, , , , ,

It’s dark in here.  It’s lonely.  I’m trapped.  I’m hiding from vulnerability and sometimes even from honesty.  It’s suffering to stay, but what will happen if I open up the door?  I don’t want anyone to know and to see me naked…broken…helpless…needy.  I spend my days trying to convince myself and everyone else that I am free, but the frustrating fact is that I am not.

Is it sin that keeps me here?  Maybe so.  Maybe sinful strongholds that have been built since before I even took my first steps. Thought patterns. Relationship patterns. Guilt patterns.  Patterns of broken trust.  Things that I could not control, but were quite happy to take control of me.  From a very young age, the world proved to me that it was not a stable, safe, happy place…and I believed it with all my heart.  I spent my early years pacing floors all night long…terrified to the pit of my stomach…wondering what was wrong with me.  I couldn’t and didn’t eat a lot, especially at night.  I remember finding a way to get out of dinner as much as I could.  Maybe the less food on my stomach, the less it would scream threats at me later that it was coming back up.  I didn’t have an eating disorder, but you probably wouldn’t have believed me back then.  I was always afraid.  It was an underlying, subconscious state of alertness that would never let go.  I rarely felt safe, even though I didn’t take risks.  I did everything I could not to get in trouble.  I rarely spent the night away from home, even my grandparents had to bring me back home in the middle of the night.  I was tormented most days and even more nights.

When I didn’t “grow out of it”, it became a spiritual war.  I spent many nights begging God to take it away…to make me normal…to set me free.  People from our church were called to come lay hands on me…”maybe it is demonic oppression” they said…cause that doesn’t make it scarier at all.  I read my Bible out of pure terror that I had done something to really make God mad and that’s why He had afflicted me.  Yet I still kept knocking, seeking, asking that He would open the door and let me out.  If the Bible was true, how could I still be locked in this horrible closet?  How could this be God’s good plan for me?

Fast forward to young adulthood.  I graduated from high school, got married, and was pregnant with my first child, all within a year and a half.  The first horrible panic attack that I remember happened on my wedding day as I stood outside the soon to open doors leading to a lifelong commitment.  Everything within me screamed “RUN”!  And I know it is only by the grace of God that I was able to walk down that aisle.  The next introduction to panic came on the plane to our honeymoon in Mexico.  I had only flown a few times, but I liked flying.  However, this time I was in the middle of complete life change and two large men who took up all the space.  I spent most of the flight in the tiny bathroom trying not to jump out of the plane.  Panic was my constant adversary when I became pregnant with Jordan.  I became trapped in a cycle of full fledged anxiety disorder that I did not know how to get out of.  I didn’t know one thing about anxiety or panic, and I just kept thinking that I was going crazy and they were going to have to lock me in a real closet somewhere.

When I read some of the Psalms…the ones where David talks about his tears being his pillow and crying out to God day and night…I start to think that maybe David had panic attacks.  Maybe he knew exactly how it feels to feel pretty good one minute and the next truly believe you are dying…how it makes you want to run for your life as you, at the same time, realize that you would be taking the threat with you because it’s inside of you. Maybe he felt the terror of adrenaline that sweeps up until you can’t breathe and makes you pray that God will just take you home so you can be relieved of the suffering.  There have been days that I have believed that hell doesn’t need fire, it could do it’s damage with anxiety and panic.

By the time I was 23, I had two children under the age of two.  David had started a company and was not around very much.  I was a wreck.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was living 24/7 in a nightmare of anxiety that I didn’t even know was anxiety.  I just thought I was worthless…that I was weak…that I was a horrible mom that couldn’t handle life.  I would torment myself with my really good imagination as I crawled my way through the day doing everything that I could to hold on to reality.  I had weeks and months that I could not function.  I would do the bare minimum to care for my kids and sit reading my Bible or pacing the day away.  God would send me little messages of hope that I could barely hear throughout that time, but it was enough to keep me going.  It was in this period that the internet was really becoming more accessible and research could be done from my computer.  I began to try to figure out what was wrong with me.  I came across a secular program on anxiety that gave me some answers.  I went to the doctor who wanted to put me on medication.  But taking this kind of medication, at my church, was unbelief.  It would mean that I was turning my back on faith and on God.  It would seal what I had believed all along…that I was not fit for the Kingdom.  After all, God says “Do not fear…” “Be anxious for nothing…” so how could I reconcile that I was living all of my life in fear and still be God’s child?!

I didn’t take the medicine.  I wanted with all my heart to live in faith.  I wanted to please God.  I didn’t want to displease Him even if it meant that I lived like that the rest of my life.  I begged Him to kill me.  I truly wanted to die and go to heaven.  I felt like I was not doing anyone any good and that I was even detrimental to the lives of those I loved the most.  I felt like a failure as a believer.  How could I possibly help anyone else when I couldn’t even help myself?  The devil was truly trying to destroy me and I have no other explanation for why I am here today, but that God has a plan for me and He kept sending me enough hope to keep going.

I suffered on and off for YEARS just finding new ways to cope with the suffering.  I tried all kinds of things…anything natural that I could find that would help…anxiety programs, supplements, breathing exercises, books…the list is long.  There were seasons when I would do nothing but fast and pray and read my Bible…some nights the only way I could fall asleep would be to hug my Bible against my chest.  I went through two brutal miscarriages…one which almost killed me and required a blood transfusion.  It was after my second miscarriage when my body literally began living in a state of full on panic that I asked for medicine again.  The only reason I did not feel like God would condemn me for it is because I had heard Sheila Walsh’s story about her clinical depression and how she was on meds that she would have to take for the rest of her life.  Yet God was using her.  He was bringing fruit from her story.  Slowly my fear that I was in danger of hell fire if I succumbed to medication for a mental problem subsided.  I took the meds because I wanted a better life for the people I was responsible for.  And slowly they began to stabilize me enough to live.  I still had anxiety and I still even had panic, but it was manageable for the first time in a long time.

However, the medicine was not a magic pill.  Along with anxiety and panic, it also took most all of my emotion.  I realized that God had made me extra emotional and sensitive and imaginative for a reason.  I can relate to suffering people.  He has given me words in due season.  My greatest weakness was the conduit for His strength.  The medicine took the edge off of all of it…and eventually it became more of a thief than a helper.  It was not the answer, but it was the reprieve I needed to get stronger in some areas of wrong thought patterns and beliefs and to jump out of the cycle I was stuck in.

I came off the medicine when God made a way and to this day I live while “coping” with the brokenness of my amygdala.  I keep my struggles hidden away from curious onlookers and prying eyes, because I fear the judgment, not of the lost…but of my own brothers and sisters in Christ.  I know that I am weak.  I know that I am broken.  I am faced with my brokenness every. single. day.  I used to be a Christian who would not admit that to myself or anyone else. I didn’t want to dishonor Christ.  I needed to find perfection or at least “fake it til I make it”.  I thought maybe that the reason I struggled because I wasn’t acceptable to God at all.  I think that some of us believe that when we receive Christ, we automatically become walking Bibles…we end up using Christ as a tool for self-righteousness.  After all, we aren’t broken any more…we found the “fix” for all of life’s problems…and we need to give off the appearance of “fixed” so we can evangelize effectively.   And truthfully, Christ IS the fix.  He is perfection for us.  His Word IS the answer.  But we still live in broken bodies…we still live with broken minds…we still live in a broken world. We are not home yet.  Until we truly see our brokenness, we can never appreciate the mercy of Jesus on that cross.  We can never realize that NONE of our righteousness comes from self…NONE.  Righteousness all belongs to Him and He, incredibly, freely lavishes it upon us.  The more broken we realize we are, the more mercy we can receive.  The less broken we admit to being, the less mercy we have access to.  He comes for the sick, not the well.  Our brokenness is really our biggest blessing, because when we ask Him into it, He shows up STRONG.

Is my struggle with anxiety sin?  I don’t know.  I wrestle with this question more than all others.  Much of the time, I feel like a victim of my own mind and body.  The war rages so violently some days that I feel like I am fighting a monster trying to tear me apart. I have tried a whole lot of things to change this part of me…most of all and first of all, prayer and Scripture and meditation on Christ and anything else that I can do to become a woman of faith, not fear.  I know what the Bible says about anxiety, so I am constantly working to shine brighter and brighter in this area, but also not even sure what that looks like…especially on days when I literally shake while doing the simplest of tasks.  It brings much guilt and shame with it, this cross. While I want to be a great woman of faith, I am daily battling fear just to do things like take my kids to school.  But I DO fight…God knows I fight. I surpass my perceived limitations each and every day.  I do things often that scare me to death that no one else would ever in a million years think of as “brave”.  I keep living and serving and searching for more of God.  I try to use what He has taught me through all of this for His Name and for His glory.  I don’t define myself or let anyone else define me by this fear…much of the reason that I don’t share it often with others. I am also well aware of who I am and what I am without Christ, so it is never flippant when I tell you that anything good in me comes from Him…anything brave…anything said boldly…anything that speaks to your heart…it’s not from this scared mouse of a girl.  I have experienced the Comforter up close and personally, and He is all that He says He is.

But I’ll be honest.  I get exhausted too.  I get tired of trying to live up to the “I have it all together in Christ” expectations.  Of making excuses for myself because I fail the man made expectations so often. Of looking completely healthy, but feeling completely sick so often.  Of wondering if I open the closet of my life if anyone would refrain from judging long enough to try to understand…I meet so few people willing to step out of their own experience of life into someone else’s, let alone put judgement aside.  I get tired of wondering if I would lose “face” or “friends”…wondering if people would continue to be encouraged by my words and hear the Voice of Living Hope in them or if anxiety and panic would take that from me too.

So I write this morning…to spurn the devil who far too often has the upper hand.  I write to encourage those that live in their own closet, afraid to come out, afraid to ask for help, afraid to reveal what really drives them to do what they do or don’t do.  I have hesitated to share this part of me with the world because I don’t think bringing something to light necessarily needs to be an open revelation to the public.  I think that you can just as effectively find a counselor…or a friend…or a pastor…or a support group to help you walk your path.  But I have isolated myself in this for far too long under the accusations that “noone will understand. You will be judged.  You will be talked about.  You will be disappointing.”  And maybe all of that will be true, but this morning I felt like it was time to punch the devil in the face for the constant accusation.  GREATER IS HE THAT IS IN ME.

This morning I drove by fields ripe with some kind of green vegetable that has been growing for months now.  In the middle of the field was a tractor with a plow on the back of it.  It was plowing up all of the vegetables and mixing them back into the soil.  I was flabbergasted thinking “what a waste of good planting time! Why aren’t they harvesting something?”  God spoke to my heart, “some seasons of growth are not meant for fruit. They are meant to make the soil richer so that the next season can produce better fruit.”

There are some things in our broken lives that we will never understand.  They will never make sense to us or to the world around us.  There are things that we will spend time working through, fighting, struggling with, suffering for that are not our choice or our fault…things that seem like a futile waste of God given time…but they were planted there to grow anyway.  If we will humbly bring those fields of suffering to Him, God will come along with His plow and He will rip those things up and mix them back into the soil to make it richer for the next season of planting that He has planned out in our lives.  He doesn’t waste ANY suffering that is allowed to afflict His children.  It all works toward an ultimate harvest.

So there it is.  I’m out of the closet.  I might still wrestle with a broken mind and body, but I am ready to do it out in the light.

“Shout for joy, you heavens!  Earth, rejoice!  Mountains break into joyful shouts! for the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.”  Isaiah 49: 13

(I strongly recommend reading the entire chapter of Isaiah 49 if any of this has resonated in your heart.)

Racism: Exposing the Demon of Oppression

Tags

, , , ,

I was having a conversation with some mom friends of mine yesterday and one of the African American moms in my circle began relating to us how she deals with her grown children.  She mentioned as a side note that her grandmother practically raised her and was always very controlling.  She ended this side note with a glance over at another African American woman and a “you know, that’s just how ‘we’ are.” that gave me the impression that what she was talking about was a cultural thing that transcends generations.

So as she was continuing her conversation with us, my mind was turning over the fact that for some reason African American older women (and I have experienced this myself over the years) have a tendency to control the family.  Why is this?  What has been passed down from generation to generation to create this “normalcy” for African American families.  It didn’t take me long to turn a light bulb on.  A couple generations ago when slavery was “normalcy”, the men of the family were missing most of the time.  They were working day and night.  Not only were the men missing, but the younger women as well…they were working day and night.  This left who to tend to the children, to raise the next generation?  Y’all.  This left the grandmothers.  For 245 years (and that is just in America…slavery has actually been going on for thousands of years) the grandmothers shouldered the chief responsibility of keeping some sort of semblence of a family together.

Stay with me here.  What is on my heart is not to shame white people, but rather to help us all come to a better understanding of the demon that we are fighting here in racism.  If you have African American friends that you love dearly, please just hear me out for a minute.  If you are an African American, please bear with me, because my history knowledge is pretty much lily white which means I will not get this right in any sense of the word unless the Holy Spirit is speaking, but please hear my heart as I speak into something that He knows better than any of us.  If you claim loudly that you are not a racist and have no racist tendencies in your heart, please let that open heart make sure that it has a good understanding of the depths of superiority so that it can reject this evil at its outset.  Hear me out and in the end disagree with me, educate me, slander me…all I ask is that you hear me.

I am a woman who at every raised racism issue has said, “What in the world is the problem here?  Slavery has been dead for 100 years.  Why are we still making issues over this? I would never in my life own a slave and haven’t and none of my friends have ever been slaves and won’t be.”  And then I have gone about my life, only having to deal with race issues when they come up in the news.  Some of my African American friends, however, deal with them every. single. day.  Those issues are imbedded in their culture and imbedded in their identity.  While we tell them to “get over it”, they are struggling to understand how we can expect someone to “get over” something that is IN them.  For instance, in many African American communities education is still consider to be “for white people”.  As a matter of fact, young people are often viewed as traitorous when they leave their community to pursue higher education.  Why?  Because for THOUSANDS of years, white people have told black people that education is for white people.  As a matter of fact, that generational deception did not even end with slavery… schools in the South did not desegregate until the 1950’s and 60’s.  We currently live among African Americans that were not allowed the same education as white people. With that lie in mind, why would African Americans that had just been released from slavery want to pursue something that belonged the people who had just oppressed them for GENERATIONS?  The white culture released God created people from their chains in the 1860’s and then white people went on with their lives assuming they had done their “good deed” and now people, who were enslaved, beaten, raped, murdered and overall treated like animals, should be happy and move on with their lives.  How do you “get over” that kind of lie sown deliberately into the fabric of your culture?  How do you “get over” that kind of lie when the people who sowed it not only don’t take it back, but they fight to keep it?  That’s what white culture did after slavery.  If they couldn’t have slaves, they were going to fight for the lie that education is for white people.  The slaves could be free, but they couldn’t have education.  The slaves could be free, but they couldn’t believe that they were worthy of the same rooms as white people.  The slaves could be free, but let’s see them put their culture back together after white people destroyed it.  The slaves could be free, but they wouldn’t get support or help from most white people…they would be free in a world that would fight them to hang onto the lie.  This is the kind of racism we are still fighting today because knowledge is power, and there are white people all over this nation, hidden in every nook in cranny of it that are more comfortable with white people in charge of the education.

The other day I spoke into my son’s life.  I told him that I had noticed something he was gifted with… I saw a strength in him given to him by the Lord.  It was ONE conversation…ONE encouragement.  I saw him almost instantly begin to grow in this area.  He began to act as if he believed what I said was true.  He had not seen this about himself before, but now he was aware of this gift of God.  Recently I heard him respond to a question that someone asked him with almost my exact words about his strength in that area.  And this morning it hit me square in the chest.  We have a very hard time understanding why the African American culture lives in poverty…we have a hard time understanding why most of the violent crime is caused by this culture…we use the arguments of “if they would just do this…or do that…we wouldn’t have these problems” yet white culture told them for GENERATIONS what they were.  White culture told them that they were only good for menial labor.  White culture told them that they weren’t worthy of families and weren’t worthy enough to raise their own children.  White culture told them that they were the dirt we should be allowed to walk on.  White culture told them this for GENERATIONS.  White culture still tells them that they are the reason for America’s problems.  White culture still tells them that they are not smart enough.  White culture still tells them that they are likely criminals.  White culture still tells them that most of them belong in jail…that it is weird if they are stay at home moms…that it is abnormal if they adopt (especially if the children are white *gasp*).  White culture may not say all of this out loud, but white culture still tells them that they don’t belong.

An African American male in this country, particularly one raised in an area of poverty, has all the makings of a criminal, but not because he aspires to be one.  Often his father is already absent… an absent father is the norm in African American families because it has been for GENERATIONS.  Slavery was quick to consume the males…to render them broken, ineffective, and submissive…for GENERATIONS…to teach them that they were less than, not worthy, on level with animals…for THOUSANDS OF YEARS this was spoken into them.  And friends, they still believe it…millions of them still believe it.  They still believe, in the back of their heads, the lies that have been repeated generation after generation.  You want to know something even scarier, white culture still believes it…the white community as a whole still believes that the reason such a high percentage of the crime rate belongs to African Americans is because they are just less than…they just can’t get it together.  I am now sobbing at the truth of what I am typing…because I know it is truth.

So a boy is born African American and everything in his life is already stacked against him.  He likely lives with other African Americans who believe the lie that they are worthless… if they don’t believe it at first, they only have to watch as their mentors and friends to have that lie reiterated to them over and over.  This boy decides that he is not going to be like the others and begins to focus on his education…he begins to be mocked and called “white boy” by his African American friends.  His mother sees something in him and supports his education in whatever ways she possible can.  She gets a third job, but that takes her away even more from her child and she can’t be there to make sure he gets home safely or isn’t in with the wrong crowd.  If the boy makes it through without believing the lie among his own community, he has to fight his way into a “white world”, no longer filled with blatant racism (although he will likely come into contact with some of that), but filled with people who could just care less whether he makes it or not…people who are more likely (just subconsciously because their thoughts haven’t traveled any of these paths) to choose the white boy because he often has more money, better clothes, and has had his mom (and most times his dad) at home all his life to make sure he has the proper manners and training.  I certainly hope right now that I am not “stereotyping” this by telling a story…I certainly am not saying it is like this for everyone…but only that it is like this for far too many… because even after all that this boy, who just wants to make a difference, has fought through and had to watch on his way and had to resist and had to go alone, we expect that he will have no rebellion or bitterness in his heart, but just accept that this is the way the world is.

“Let no one deceive himself. If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool…” Galatians 6:3

“Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself.”  Phil 2:3

“I say to every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly because every one of you has a God given measure of faith.” Romans 12:3

The attitude of superiority and privilege is not limited to color.  City people can look down on country people.  Wealthy people can look down on poor people.  Beautiful people can look down on ugly people.  Gifted people look down on average people.  Healthy people look down on disabled people.  The world loves winners.  It loves the well dressed and the affluent.  It automatically loves white people…black people have to fight for it.  I have seen it.  I have walked into rooms and rooms of stay at home moms, homeschooling moms, moms able to be involved in their kids education because the father is present and has one great job that covers it all…very, very, very few of these women are ever African American. I have walked into schools where the overwhelming number of students are black, but most of the teachers are white.  I live in a county that is majority African American while the one right next door is majority Caucasian.  Is that my fault?  No it’s not.  But it bothers me enough to take action against the lies that divide us and that is what I hope this offering does for you.  I don’t know enough about black history to even be dangerous.  I probably have even over stepped my bounds in what I have written here.  This is not written to garner “pity and sympathy” for anyone which honestly just makes the situation worse, because the African Americans that I know are infinitely stronger individuals than most of the white people around me.  They are stronger because they have survived more, they have forgiven more, they have not had the luxury of “faking it until they making it”…they have just had to make it.  They are not to be pitied in any sense of the word.

Rather what I am calling for here is support and encouragement.  What I am calling for here is an exposing of lies and deception.  What I am calling for here is a purposeful eating of the elephant in the room one bite at a time.  We are not fighting a surface problem here.  We are fighting the demon of generational deception.  We are fighting a racist demon who has effectively blinded the world with prejudice.  We are fighting a demon whose lies must be exposed and conquered!  These young people need our support and our encouragement to go and do better than we have.  White young people need to be taught about the evils of slavery, not just the word.  The wound needs to be uncovered so that our kids see the horrors of it and refuse to ever have any part in the lies of it.  Black young people need to be taught that they are equal…whether this stupid, broken world treats them that way or not…they are worthy of education and they will find supportive white people all around them to help them succeed and let them lead.  If we aren’t racist then we are ACTIVELY seeking to break the deception whenever and wherever we have the opportunity.

Listen.  We can keep putting a bandaid back over the problem and then wondering why the wound isn’t healing or we can uncover it completely, disinfect it, clean it out, and bandage it properly.  It only heals if we are willing to put ourselves through the pain of purifying it.  We can continue to act like there isn’t a problem, but we can’t then wonder why there is still a problem.  This may lose me some friends of both colors because my heart on paper this morning is not likely popular with either side, but so be it.  The Holy Spirit gave me this to write today and I must be obedient.

To my African American friends reading this.  I am so sorry if I in any way caused pain in what I have written…if I have gotten this wrong…if I have stopped too short or needled into things I have no right to.  I am so sorry if in trying to be a part of a solution, I have just been “white”.  I am so desperately sorry for the difficulty that has been created for you in this country that directly results from the horrendous evil called slavery.  I am so sorry that if I had lived in that time and space, if I had not known better or been taught right, I might have had a part in the suffering of your great grandparents or grandparents…suffering which has been passed down to you in some ways.

And I just want to say that IT IS WRONG.  IT IS A LIE what you have been told.  IT IS A LIE what the accuser says to you over and over again.  I know what he says because he says it to me, but I do not face the same rejection that you might on a daily basis.  IT IS A LIE.  You are worthy.  You are just as worthy as any President and so am I.  We were all created EQUALLY… no one superior… as a matter of fact, the ones who will reign in heaven are the ones who exercise no superiority here on earth. You should not have to fight in any way simply to establish your worth, God did that for you when He created you and it is appalling that I have not found this idea more appalling before now.

And thank you.  Thank you to the African American followers of Jesus who have fought against the deception, who have fought against the voice inside and outside your head, who have fought tooth and nail against the demon of deception to walk in the light as He is in the light and to teach your children to do so.  You have chosen to lay down bitterness, to accept the revilings of others, to break the generational curses, so that you might lead others out of that same darkness.  Today, at this very second, I could not be more impressed with you and more proud to be your sister in Christ.  I love you with the depths of my heart and am not deserving of your kind of mercy.

Friends of all colors, this kind of deception cannot and will not be eradicated with laws.  This kind of deception is only broken by the light.  It must be exposed wherever it is encountered and the truth must be spoken and prevailed.  Boys must be told and taught their value and girls must be protected and cherished as they are meant to be.  We, as children of the Light, are the leaders of this change.  We must fight the darkness that is racism.  We must do it by consciously speaking truth to our children and to our neighbors.  We must do it by exposing and refuting the lies that still exist in our culture today.  We must do it with an understanding of the demon that we are fighting here instead of an attitude that blames others and leaves them holding the responsibility.  It is our privilege to experience redemption here on earth and nowhere greater is it needed than between the races.

Of all evil things in the Bible, oppressive superiority is spoken against the most.  God hates pride.  He especially hates the type of pride that leads to oppressing others. All His commands point to helping those in need and taking care of those without. He destroyed the Israelites for becoming an oppressive people as if to say “I don’t put up with this from ANYONE.”  Jesus, Himself, left His comfortable throne in heaven to come down into our dirt and free us from the enemy’s deception.  In that He leaves us an example of what anyone with talent or beauty or position or wealth or personality or anything that this world considers superior should do with it if we are to truly be following Jesus. Oppression is OUR battle, Christians…because of Jesus, it’s always our battle too.

I am Eve.

Do you ever read a particular Bible story and just think “How could they be so dumb?”  It just seems like certain stories jump out at me…”after all God had already done for them, why in the world?”

That is until #reallife.

When I think back over my life…and I have been doing a lot of that lately, I see the Lord’s faithfulness throughout.  I see His Hand when I was growing up and our family struggled to make ends meet.  I see His Hand through my parents divorce and my mom’s struggle to finish raising us by herself.  I see His Hand through my mom’s mental breakdown and struggle with mental illness.  I see His Hand through my young years of courtship and struggle with marriage when I had NO idea what I was doing (not that I do much more now).  I see His Hand through 4 pregnancies (2 that ended very traumatically) and 3 adoptions.  The Lord literally has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all.

So why in the ever loving world, do I still not trust Him?  Why do I feel anxiety well up and overtake me at every hard turn of circumstances that maybe this is the time He won’t come through?  Why do I still try to control every aspect of the world around me as if my life depended on it?  Why is it still so hard?

Because I am Eve.

That same woman who had seen her husband walking with God every. day.  That same woman who had heard His voice and was looking at His face.  That same woman who benefited from His unending goodness and yet still believed a talking snake.

I hear the question every day, don’t you?  “Did God really say…”

Did God really say that He would come through for you? Maybe He didn’t know you would be so hard headed.

Did God really say that it would work together for good?  Maybe He didn’t take into account how big of a mess you are really in.

Did God really say that He would sustain you?  Maybe He didn’t realize how bad this would be.

Did God really say that you belong to Him?  Maybe He overlooked this or that person coming against you.

“Did God really say…” All. Day. Long.

And I, like the Eve that I judge so harshly, listen to the stupid serpent.  I try to control and manipulate and push and pull and work it out here and work it out there.  I try to protect myself because I am so scared He won’t protect me.  I try to make a way where there seems to be no way, because I am so scared He will leave me here.  I try to do it my way, because His is taking too long or it’s too painful.

And then I try to explain it all away as normal, human behavior.

And maybe it is, but it is also something else, friends…

It is sin.

Distrust is the same sin that Eve committed that first time in the garden.

And then she made it worse…she took it to her husband and said “Here.  I have fixed everything.  Let’s be in control of our own lives and our own destinies.”

She didn’t just want control of her life. She wanted control of his too.

And don’t we see that in our marriages.  We, women, we are the fixers.  We keep everything under control.  Sometimes we even “mother” our men because we want to make sure everything turns out okay.  We worry and we fret.  We work and we plan.  We are Eve continually listening to that serpent ask “Did God really say…? cause you better have a backup plan.”

It is sin.  Just like lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering.  We are harboring sin in our hearts when we refuse to trust.

But we have all the excuses.  “My dad left me…” “I was done wrong by an ex.” “I didn’t have a great childhood.”  “I was born this color.” “But my husband…”  “But my kids…” We are great at convincing ourselves that we fall outside the expectations of trust in God.

But it remains sin.

So this morning, I was driving down the road with this anxious knot in my stomach that I am afraid to get rid of…because lately every time that I start to rest in Him, something else comes up and punches me in the face.  But He whispered so gently to me…

“It’s sin, Candace.”

Oh Jesus, I repent.  I am so sorry that after every dog gone amazing thing that You have done to carry me to this place, I still hold onto my distrust like a shield.  Pry this lack of faith out of my hands and replace it with Your shield of faith.  The unknown is never unknown to You.  You have the plan.  Help me to refuse to give into the temptation to formulate my own plans and plow my own path that only ever leads right off the cliff.  I want to look less and less like Eve and more and more like Jesus.

“Whatever is not from faith is sin.” Rom. 14:23

“But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Corin 11:3

*You can read the account of Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3.

 

Is Hope Enough?

Tags

, , ,

I watched the radar like a hawk from Friday to the very last pieces of the storm last night.  My husband called me “obsessed” and I resembled it.  We live in a one story house surrounded by windows.  Our safest place in this house that is big enough for the 7 of us is a small bathroom.  In our last home up north, where tornadoes are few and far between, we had a finished basement.  When a system would come through, we would just move downstairs for the duration and do life as usual.  So this house feels very flimsy and unprotected when meteorologists are saying things like “strong and long tracking tornadoes are likely”.  I was anticipating the tornado sirens and the warnings because I knew that Albany was already on edge with this system.

The last system that came through on January 2nd did massive and widespread damage to entire regions of the city.  It left thousands without power and damaged hundreds of homes.  The Lord was gracious and there were no lives lost specifically attributed to the storm, but it also was severely under-reported because of that.  With very little attention, help and resources, our community…lead by area churches and the local government…went to work to clean up and rebuild.  Many people that we know were without power for 2 weeks.  Even now, it is reported here that over 80% of the debris remains untouched after 3 weeks of work. So you can imagine the trauma that another report of severe storms brought to our already reeling community.

I, like many others, felt the seriousness of this situation.  I have never in my life been in the middle of weather like what happened on Saturday night into Sunday morning.  The lightning was incredible and the downpours were massive as storm after storm after storm rolled through our area.  I didn’t sleep and when the tornado warning sounded at 2am, I calmly woke everyone and hurried them into our “safe place” that felt anything but safe when you can’t know or see what is coming.

As I gathered my crew, my mind raced to anything else that I might need to get into the bathroom so it could be preserved.  What would I save in what might be the last moments before everything was destroyed?  My family (I did grab my purse after all we might need insurance cards).  That’s it.  That’s my treasure on this earth.  Everything else can be replaced.  We hunkered down and we prayed for our city.  We prayed for the places that had already suffered and we prayed for the ones that hadn’t.  We prayed for our church family and for all the loved ones in the path.  We didn’t pray for cars and houses and financial documents…although we did ask that the damage would be limited.  We prayed for people…lives.

So the devastation this morning has wearied us.  Not only has massive damage been done, but lives have now been lost.  We have taken a direct hit again and January seems to want to destroy us.  I feel the exhaustion even into the depths of my spirit.  And that is why I write… because I know all my Albany friend and neighbors feel it too.  We worked so hard and put so much heart into recovery and now we have to start from the beginning.

Yet if we want the Lord to really work in this city, we cannot be weary in well doing.  He is using this evil to put open doors in front of us to be light and to share Christ.  He has opened the hearts of a weary people in this world to the only true Hope in the world.  As we weep with those who weep, Church, we have to find the strength to point out the hope and the joy so others can see it too.  When we have lost, we still really win…because Jesus. These people need to know Him. They need to be able to lean on Him.  They need to know the One in whom all hope is found.

This morning I want to point out the good in the midst of all the devastating pictures and heartbreaking stories.  I want to give God glory for His protection over this city.  I don’t want in any way to minimize or to ostracize the destruction that has taken place just down the street from me, but I want to point you to the God who sees and knows and has the plan to turn it from the evil that the enemy meant to the good of a whole city.

Within 20 minutes of the passing of last night’s storm, men of God headed directly into the most heavily impacted areas.   They took chainsaws and heavy equipment and immediately began rescue efforts.  Churches opened shelters within hours for the people who lost their neighborhoods.  Over 100 people were at the First United Methodist church last night and the church noted this morning that immediately people had donated to fulfill the needs of this effort. We were ready.  We knew what to do and how to do it.  We are exhausted, but hope is enough.

Schools were cancelled again today.  My kid’s school is 2 minutes from the tornado’s direct hit. The cross in Legacy Park next door still stands straight and tall like a beacon, untouched by ferocious winds, but the power in the area is out. So students gathered at Sherwood Baptist Church this morning and headed out to meet the needs again.  These kids are tired, but hope is enough.

I drove through Albany this morning surveying the hardest hit areas of the last storm.  For the most part, those areas have not sustained any more heavy damage.  A full weekend of storms through this area where “damaging winds” were the top thing predicted and yet it seems that besides the new area of devastation there are no widespread repeat power outages and most tarps stayed in place.   These places have not fully recovered, but hope is enough.

The Coke Plant which our pastor officially renamed “The Hope Center” on Sunday was packed with vehicles this morning of people headed out to volunteer.  Just as one of our church leaders noted yesterday, the Lord gave us this facility for such a time as this and it remains such a beacon of hope in the middle of a city despairing.  The rebuilding isn’t over, but hope is enough.

A 4 year old was missing last night.  Her mother screaming for her in that neighborhood.  We all felt the worst would happen in this situation. I expected to wake up to the news of it.  So when I read the words “they found the 4 year old alive”… it sprung up in my heart.  There was loss of life, but hope is enough.

We have prayed and prayed for revival to come to Albany, yet 80% of the community remains unchurched and leery of church people.  In the past 3 weeks, people have welcomed the church into their neighborhoods with open arms and let us bring Jesus in.  Samaritan’s Purse has a running count of over 40 people who passed from death into life specifically because of these storms…and that is just one organized effort.  Is there a cost to winning souls to Jesus?  Always. But hope is enough.

Let’s go to work, Church.  Hope is enough.

“This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5

(Picture courtesy of the Weather Channel of actual tornado that devastated the Radium Springs part of the city of Albany, GA.)

*I have removed the story of the infant in the dryer because it has been reported that it was false.  I did not want it to detract from the real point of this article if that was the case.

They tell us we’re poor…

Tags

, , ,

Not long ago, Albany, Georgia was named the 4th poorest city in America.  This survey was based on average income or some such nonsense that the world uses to label things.  A label like this is hard on a city that is already struggling and often a cloud of despair can be felt when driving through some of the poorer areas.  It’s easy for those who “have”, to look at those who do not and think that the problem can be solved by better education or harder working people.  Yet, the poor are often some of the hardest workers out there.  They take the jobs that require long hours with little pay.  They work weekends.  Sometimes they work more than one job.  And they remain poor.  Poverty is a deeper problem than most people think.  It is an anaconda weaving its way harmlessly through a society until it is entirely wrapped around it and starts to squeeze as hard as it can.  And as I drive the streets of this city sometimes, it is literally palatable…the spirit of poverty.  When one stops to look in the eyes of these people in this city, one realizes that this is less of a choice and more of a prison.  And to break out of prison, there must be some explosions.

Which brings me to Monday night. Honestly, it was a night like any other.  We had some semblance of an idea that there might be some bad weather throughout the evening, but we weren’t on high alert.  Even the tornado watch was ignored to some degree as it is a normal occurrence down here in the South.  It really wasn’t even until the tornado warning that any of us at this house moved a muscle toward preparation.  Suddenly things began to knock up against our house and we realized it was time to take shelter in the only place in our basementless house that we consider safe…a small middle bathroom.  So there we sat, 10 of us in a small bathroom, waiting for the storm to pass and the lights to come back on.  We were scared…okay, some of us were terrified at that point…but I really still thought it was just a bad storm with some really high winds.  It wasn’t until we ventured outside a few minutes later that we realized that something worse than a thunderstorm had occurred.  Two of the trees on our property had literally been pulled up by the roots and thrown down across the street.  These were not small trees, they were large pines.  Within about 15 minutes, our neighbors were out with flashlights in the streets, checking from house to house to make sure everyone was okay.  The neighbor’s house a few yards down the street was covered in trees.  They were standing outside in shock as they took in the scene.  A tree had also fallen across all three of their vehicles.  It was destruction like I have rarely seen in my life.  Little did I know that this was just the very tip of the damage iceberg.

As I said before, our trees had fallen into the road and were blocking passage to this neighbor who needed the help, but neighbors started coming steadily to our street.  We were still under a tornado warning and it was still raining, but these people parked their cars to shine light on the roadblock and quickly worked together to clear the path.  They, then all moved down the block to see what they could do for others who might need help.  No one called 911.  No one waited for the city to show up.  No one hunkered down in their own undamaged home.  Instead, they met needs.

The next day, we ventured out into the city and realized that the damage was not just widespread, but incredible.  Thousands of large trees had been pulled up by the roots and were lying on houses and cars, businesses and power lines.  Century old oak trees had been demolished some of them as if they had exploded.  Major portions of the city were powerless and major thorough ways were blocked.  It was a disaster area by anyone’s standards.

And yet, no one in this city sat back and waited for someone to report all of this or for the governor to officially declare it a disaster.  The first posts on social media to organize volunteers were not from government or the city.   It was the Church that we heard from first.  The churches of Albany went to work around the city.  Crews of volunteers began gathering and deploying out into the city.  Groups of people took up their chainsaws and began clearing trees out of the roads and alleys.  Students went from house to house raking and sweeping and moving tree limbs.  Samaritans Purse and the Red Cross rolled into the area quickly and set up command posts.  Businesses and restaurants began offering free services and sustenance.  Donation drop offs were quickly organized.  Church members began canvassing areas and getting the word out about where people could get help.  Hotlines were set up and shelters were organized.  This wasn’t done by the local government or by the city, although, of course, it was done with their knowledge and support and alongside their own services. This was done by the Church.

Today I drove down the street to deliver some water to the command post that Samaritan’s Purse and Sherwood Baptist have set up in the city.  I passed church buses, church trailers, church signs offering help, church people out clearing trees… I passed the Church in action.  Not just one denomination or group, but all of us working together to bring Jesus to a hurting Albany by meeting physical and tangible needs.  I checked my Facebook and read post after post of resources being offered and needs being met.  I watched as people joyfully worked to unload water onto pallets, fix hundreds of lunches, and pray together for this community. Later tonight, volunteers will man churches set up as shelters…sacrificing their own sleep to make sure everyone will stay warm and well fed.

One man from the Red Cross said that in all his years of being deployed around the country to help, he had never seen anything like the Church in action in this area.

Another man posted on Facebook yesterday that a local official was being interviewed by the press recently and they asked him if they had reached out to the local church for help in restoring the city.  His response was “we didn’t have to.  They called us.”

The numbers say this city is poor…

I have lived in many cities over the course of my lifetime and have never experienced such riches.

*picture courtesy of Emily Flynt of K&R Photography

Are there really any guarantees?

Tis the season for overthinking.

I was in the car this morning and wrote this in my head.  I had forgotten that I wanted to get it on paper, until one of my most encouraging readers contacted me and reminded me how long it has been since I have written here.  So Wayne, this one is dedicated to you, dear brother. I wish I had something more jolly to write, but hopefully this will be refreshment to some searching, weary soul.

Today is the 5 year anniversary of the death of some friends.  Their small plane crashed on a trip to see family, killing all on board, including the daughter of a dear friend and both of the sons of another.  My heart twists and turns in my chest as I grieve with them today. Less than a week and they would have been opening presents already under the tree.

A news story popped up in my Facebook feed last week.  It caught my attention because it seems a young woman had been shot not 5 minutes from my home.  In following the story it was revealed that she had actually committed suicide. Turns out that she was in the choir at my church.  She was married only 6 months before her husband discovered her lifeless body in their new home right down the street.  Right smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season, yet such hopelessness at work.

Just last week in Gatlinburg, Georgia, they finished putting out fires that destroyed parts of the town and took the lives of several people.  The fires descended so quickly that people were literally running for their lives.  As it happens, these fires were set by a couple of teenagers just out to have a good time.  Now these young people are facing a life mostly spent in prison in exchange for mindless “good time”.  Instead of turtle doves and French hens, they will be hearing jail birds this holiday season while more than a few of their victims pick up the pieces of their shattered homes and families.

I don’t know if you have been following the story of Aleppo, Syria, but it has been a brutal one.  Uprisings that led to massacres that have left this city in shambles.  The pictures of the mothers and the children and the rubble just keep coming and I just can’t ignore the pain so evident.  There are no twinkling lights or Christmas cookies in Aleppo this week.

All of this and more has been on my heart this Christmas and it has led me to ask the question, “Where are the guarantees?”.  For most of my life, my heart has been leaning on things that are not promised to be here tomorrow…my husband, my kids, my business, my right mind, my money, my friends, my things.  All these things we rely on daily to keep us “okay” or “safe” or “full of hope” and yet we are not in control of them or what happens to them tomorrow.  Fear wells up if we think deep enough about life itself and how little we can control it.

As I said, I am an over-thinker.  I have lived in much anxiety and panic over the years, partly due to this trait.  But it is also what gives me a deeper perspective sometimes and what helps me to convey it.  I think often about the meaning of life…the purpose of it all…matters of life and death.  I have been known to also think “if I could just pull out my brain and throw it away, maybe I could live like an actual normal person”.  But for some reason, I have to make sense of it all.  When the pieces of life don’t fit together, I am overwhelmed and frustrated.

This is why I found myself deep in thought this morning about things that I cannot drowned out with hot chocolate and Christmas carols.  How in the world does any of this make any semblence of sense?  How can we reconcile such tragedy and a Sovereign God?  And what guarantee do we have that we can live any part of our lives in peace and security when it seems that sometimes we are just a few more breaths away from losing everything dear to us?

We humans base our whole lives around guarantees and predictability.  It’s why we buy insurance and use calendars.  It’s why we develop systems and spend money to manage them.  It’s why we set our alarms and leave ourselves reminders.  We do our best to control our lives so that we can guarantee ourselves that it won’t all fall apart.  It’s why we hate natural disasters.  It’s why we seek out motives and investigate accidents.

It’s why we often hold as much of our lives back from Christ as we can without being obvious.

Honestly, I think that most Christians hold to a form of godliness, but they unintentionally deny its power.  They go as far with Christ as they can go while holding their lives tight and then they just live in some sort of a holding pattern until they die…not really growing in Christ, but not really back-peddling either.  They are comfortably Christian because they have no idea that what they are living is only a form of godliness.  They want to be able to rely on the things of this world.  They want guarantees and predictability because they want control.  And when WE are in control, God’s power is inhibited in our lives…we become powerless Christians.

I think about powerless Christianity a good bit because for most of my life, I have been a powerless Christian.  I want my guarantees to come from what I can see.  But in seasons like this one, I realize that I don’t get that from life…noone does. And when that reality starts to sink in, I am left with one guarantee…one great hope…one way that any of what we see every day makes sense.  It’s the guarantee that whispers to those whose world just came crashing down and the one that will help pick them up if they grasp its truth.

This life is not all there is.

As a matter of fact, it is only a tiny speck on the timeline of eternity.  I know. I know. You’ve heard it all before, but very few of us actually live this life as a springboard to the next.  We don’t live with a perspective that takes into account heaven and hell on a daily basis.  As a matter of fact, most Christians do not want to think about eternity.  They simply want their inheritance now so they can spend it.  Hence, the reason that we hold so tightly to control because God is always working our present together with our future in mind.  He is always working toward the eternal, even when what is happening makes so little sense to us in this present life.  And we don’t like that, because sometimes it means walking with Him through some really hard, but “necessary to the big picture” things.

Friends, we can walk through life with a form of godliness and continue to deny God the opportunity to be powerful in our lives, but we will continually lean our lives on things that crumble.  We are taking the greatest risk of all by relying on things that will inevitably pass away.  And when tragedy comes or destruction hits or there is another war or another bombing, we will find ourselves in fear of what tomorrow will bring, lost in the unknown, and wasting all of our great opportunities to invest in the Kingdom.  We have built our lives on quicksand and though it might seem stable for a while, eventually and inevitably we will sink.

THIS is why when those angels broke into song “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men!” the shepherds rejoiced.  They had lived on the quicksand of this present life for far too long and they were ready for some guarantees!  That baby Jesus born in Bethlehem, ya’ll, HE WAS OUR GUARANTEE.  Our guarantee that this world is only our temporary home.  The guarantee that the best is yet to come.  The guarantee that we would be able to navigate this life with the God who created it inside of us and that He would bring us fulfillment as we fulfilled our purpose on earth.

Jesus is our guarantee that humanity is redeemable and that every circumstance allowed in the life of a child of God is an investment into something bigger.  After all, He, Himself, ended up on a cross, dying a horrible and seemingly senseless death. If we had been there to watch, we might have stood in horror with the disciples wondering if the only guarantee in life was death.  And it was…until He tore up the contract that death was holding over our heads and rose to life instead.  Because of this, there is hope and a future for all who believe.

My friends that lost their dear family members in a plane crash 5 years ago have lived some of these words of mine…they haven’t had a choice.  They can no longer find their guarantees in presents under the tree.  They must rely on more than light displays.  They need The Light to walk this season.  I have been so incredibly inspired by their love for Jesus and the way that He has given them strength to keep going and growing through what is now 5 Christmases of the most painful reminders.

That precious woman who committed suicide just the other day, I believe she is with Jesus.  She knew Him and He was her Lord and Savior.  She couldn’t endure the mental torment that somehow had captured her in its claws, but I fully believe that when she escaped this world, it was right into the arms of the One who could hold her…the One who could free her.  I still struggle to understand the mess that has been left behind, but every time I picture her with Jesus, I have peace.  She is safe for all eternity and this is the most important thing.  This is what will carry her family through the grieving.

Gatlinburg is rebuilding and there are stories already of how the church is being used in the starting over process.  The opportunities to be light have not dwindled and many are able to now see what they are missing in their lives because they can no longer rely on a guarantee of things.  In an instant, fire can take everything earthly, but it cannot take the hope of redemption.  A fire resets nature.  All the forests that have burned will regrow even more beautiful and green and dense and healthy.  Just another way that God tells us, “this isn’t the end”.

And Aleppo, oh Aleppo.  Such a very tragic story and taken together is overwhelming to compassionate hearts.  But Aleppo, Syria has always been a stronghold territory of Islam.  Their allegiance to Allah runs deep and far and wide there and they have always been more likely to lynch a Christian than to listen to one.  Right now, though, while the need is so great and the wounds so deep, they are hearing the Gospel and many are receiving eternal life.  They have lost all too much in this speck on the timeline and they will likely never be the same while finishing their mission on earth, BUT what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?

My friends, it is much better to lose your life here than to lose your eternity there.  None of these temporary trappings can give you any guarantee, don’t let them lie to you and say that they can.  Your time and energy and attention are so much better spent in the pursuit of Christ.  Next year at Christmas, our own circumstance might be like that of the ones around us that we throw sympathetic glances at as we go on our merry way.  Some things are not within our control whether we want them to be or not.  We really have no worldly guarantees.

But here is the reason that we can still celebrate this Christmas wherever we are, whatever we have lost, however life has slapped us across the face.

“Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in Godbelieve also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be alsoYou know the way to where I am going.”

“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ”

Jesus told him, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:1-5

If you believe what He says, you have all the guarantees that you will ever need.

 

 

 

This one thing will change your life.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

I have almost finished reading through the Bible for the 3rd time since seriously giving my life to Christ.  Every single time through, I have changed…I have grown…I have learned new things about the character of God. I’ve been a Christian for the majority of my life and nothing now rings truer to me than the fact that the Words of God are my life.

Most Christians that I meet have never read the Bible through…and if they have it was a drudgery “check the box” type thing.  The first time I read through the Bible, it was because I was being taught error.  I had relied ridiculously too long on my authority figures (my parents, my pastor, my teachers at the Christian school I attended) to throw out bits and pieces of the Word at me with commentary that fit their agenda for the passage.  I know that sounds harsh, but looking back, that was my foundation in the Word.  People teaching me things so that I would do or act or think like they wanted me to.  And guys, let me tell you, the Bible is a GREAT book for behavior control.  It has the scare factor down pat.  It also has the prosperity factor plain as day.  AND you can even find things like genocide, polygamy, and slavery and make it sound like God totally approves.  Truth be told, the Bible can be used by the devil in a variety of manipulating ways.  Didn’t he start in the garden?  “Did God really SAY…?  You know He’s just holding out on you, right?”

The thing is, you will never really know the character of God unless you take the Bible as a whole…unless you see the big picture…unless you sit at His feet and listen for a while.  This is what I did, the first time I read the Bible through from cover to cover.  Well, actually what I did the first time was read and be astounded that nobody had ever told me that…or that I had been told this verse meant something totally out of context…or that I had misunderstood so much about the God that I had fairly rashly given my life to because I didn’t want to go to hell.  I read about people being beaten and mocked and scorned and KILLED for their faith and I thought “how in the world did someone get ‘God wants you to be a millionaire'” from THAT.  I literally felt pretty much fooled as I read through the first time.

And I had a lot of questions too…it’s not like the Bible always explains everything instantly. Why did God not kill Adam and Eve after they ate the fruit?  He had said “eat it and die”…it took me a while of study under some good teachers to realize that they died spiritually that day, while He had mercy on them physically.  Where did Cain’s wife come from?  …most theologians agree that they multiplied quickly and Cain likely married his sister (ewww, incest…I know…people have tried to say God condones that too and He doesn’t…though we don’t have time for the discussion about His Ways of getting things done).   In Leviticus, I wanted to throw in the towel…just give it up…and the chapters on all the genealogies…forget it.  I still skip those unless I am studying under someone who knows what they are talking about.  I chuckled with a friend the other day about the fact that not only are the names brutal, but multiple people used the same unpronounceable name for their kids…so sometimes it is almost impossible to know if it is the “same so and so” without some solid background information.

I was hard on myself the first time around because I still believed that I was justified by works. It was how much I did for God and how perfectly I did it that pleased Him. I read in huge chunks to score more brownie points :).  I got to David and I was SO confused.  THIS was a man after your own heart, God?  Do you know how many times he screwed up?  I mean he had a hero KILLED because he had gotten the man’s wife pregnant.  You sure you don’t want to talk about this a little bit?  Cause I have been working my BEHIND off to get it perfect and I don’t feel any closer to you than King Saul.

You see, I was perfectly happy using the Bible to control my world.  Even though I was miserable doing it, at least I was “safe”.  We like the rules.  We mostly like them when we are good at keeping them…because we can feel good about ourselves when we look around and see others breaking them.  We can feel like God must be beaming with pride that we are getting it right.  David didn’t get it right.  His life turned into a glorious mess.  So why did God single him out as a man after His own heart?  Read the Psalms.  There is where you realize that God treasures intimacy.  He treasures humility.  He treasures people who run to Him when they mess up when everything within them is telling them to hide. He treasures a heart that desires to do the right thing because of an overwhelming love for the Father, not because one wants to look like a perfect child.  He treasures a heart that loves others first and doesn’t waste all the time on introspection.  And His love covers a multitude of sins for the person who loves Him back.

I trudged on through the prophets.  Honestly, the first time I read, all I felt was condemnation and a lot of “God, is it really necessary to tell people that you are going to make them eat their children?” I was thrown off by God’s wrath, not understanding the narrative here…not seeing the mercy in plea after plea and warning after warning of the consequences that come with rebellion.  He waited and waited and waited.  He sent prophet after prophet.  He had warned them when they rebelled and wanted a “king” like all the other nations that it would be nothing but trouble.  Did they listen?  No.  So He went along with their plans watching His chosen people, His prize, His holy generation destroy themselves.  He stepped in and worked even though they had chosen their own path.  And finally, yep…He brought justice.  But His justice was mercy.  If He had walked away and left them to their own devices, they would have been destroyed completely.  His judgment came in a way that left a remnant so that you and me…so that we could hear of His Great Name and His deeds.  He left a remnant because He just couldn’t give up His children.  His portion is the people.  He loves us so.

When I finally got to the Gospels, Jesus brought me to my “working for God’s favor” knees.  He said thing like “You think you are good enough by keeping the law?  If you even LUST in your heart, you have broken it.  You think that you can control your life by obeying the commandments?  Go sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and we’ll talk.”  Everything that I believed about how good I was absolutely failed the test of Christ the King.  The Man blew me away and I was only left with condemnation.  To be honest, the first time through the Word, the accuser of the brethren (Satan), whispered, “See. It’s hopeless.  You will never be good enough.”  The first time through I didn’t fully understand what Christ did on the cross…the fact that He BECAME the once and for all sacrifice for sin…that He saw that humans in their weakness would NEVER be able to become perfect through the law…they needed a Savior.  He saved me on that cross.  He saved you on that cross. He said “Don’t give up. Look at me hanging here for you.  You are precious to Me…why else would I be here?  Don’t give up.  Come to Me. Give it all to Me.”

And if that weren’t enough as I dragged my still condemned works driven self into the writings of the disciples, I realized that His plan didn’t just include salvation.  It included leaving His own Spirit with us when He left the earth.  That SAME Spirit that was in Christ Jesus now dwells in us when we surrender to Him.  The SAME Spirit that raised Him from the dead.  He left that Spirit with us and in us so that we can live out our mission successfully.  I had been taught up until this point that the Holy Spirit was good for a lot of dancing and shouting and running around the church and making people fall out on the ground…oh, and speaking in tongues.  I didn’t know that He was an actual being…an actual down payment of what was to come…an actual powerful and convicting and guiding and protecting force inside of me so I can live out the mission that Christ has given me.  It took me a while and a few studies through these great books to re-frame my beliefs about the Holy Spirit.  Now I see SO many Christians living without His power, direction, guidance, and conviction.  SO many Christians who don’t understand and realize what is available to them through the Holy Spirit.  SO many Christians who think saying “Holy Spirit” makes them a crazy, fanatical charismatic.  Oh does the devil love error.  Error in doctrine, error in theology, fights between denominations…they all play into his distraction and destruction plans quite nicely.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make with this post…which was never about reading through the Bible…the Holy Spirit totally ran this one through twists and turns that I had not planned.  He is always GOOD like that. There are people who stake their whole faith on one portion of the Bible…one platform…one doctrine.  They cling to it like the whole expanse of heaven will fall apart if that ONE thing does not turn out like they believe it is.  These people deal in extremes.  There are the “grace people”.  There are the “you’re going to hell people”.  There are the “predestination people”.  There are the “rapture people”.  There are the “once saved always saved” people.  There are the “10 commandments” people. There are the “choose life” people. There are the “perfect family” people.  There are the “free will” people.  There are the “I’ll fly away” people.  There are the “prosperity” people.  There are the “missions” people.  I really could go on and on, but I think you have met some of the people that I am talking about.  Any time that we take our focus off of the whole character of God and His redemptive plan and start to focus on one aspect of it, we are flirting dangerously with a false god.  It would kinda like people going out and telling others how much of an encourager Candace is.  How she is always encouraging about everything. If you need encouragement definitely go to her.  Suppose one day, a child whose greatest desire is to play in the street comes to me for encouragement.  She (I say “she” because I have a daughter that might totally ask that someday) will be in for a huge surprise.  It is not in my character to encourage people to do things that I know will ultimately harm them.  Yet sometimes, we get stuck on one aspect of God…one portion of His Word.  We cling to the thing that makes the most sense to us…the logical…or what fits with our personality best…or what gives us the greatest “go ahead” with whatever we are wanting to do…or what guilts and controls the people around us the best…or sometimes just whatever place God has US at the time for learning.  Believe me, I’ve been through the Bible 3 times, you can excuse a whole lot of things.  Satan knows it too.  He used the Bible to tempt Jesus.  GUYS.  He used the BIBLE against the Author.  If you don’t think the Bible is a weapon in the enemies arsenal, you are deceived.

Sometimes I AM an encourager…and I encourage you today…if you have not read the Bible through like a normal book, you should do it.  No matter how long it takes and how much you struggle through it.  If you go and do this because you want to know God more…to know His character…to be informed about the faith you have given your life to…I guarantee you will be changed…you will grow…you will find error that you have believed as fact.  EVERY TIME I have traveled through this GREAT book, I have been changed…my perspectives have adjusted to His Light…my desires have become to make His AMAZINGNESS more famous.  Look things up as you go.  Use Google to find commentaries on passages you don’t understand (use Google carefully as you will find the gamut of “commentators”  stick with those who have a spirit of humility…who don’t always claim to know everything about the Word (some of it will be a mystery until heaven)…who are not ugly or critical).

And of course, it is not necessary to only study by reading the Bible through.  There are many great studies out there, great pastors, great teachers, great lovers of Jesus that we should be learning from.  One of my favorite things about my church is the depth of the Word and the availability to study it.  Of course, go to any study that you can go to.  Listen to sermons.  Be in church.  Reading through the Bible will give you some kind of knowledge and point of reference for all these things.  It will allow you to spot error more quickly.  It will give you a sense of the character of God and when someone is abusing the Word for their own agenda.  Start with a children’s Bible or a children’s translation and read it along with a good, easy to read translation like the NIV or the ESV.  I use the Holman Christian Standard Bible and ADORE it.

Don’t take my word for the power of God’s Word to change your life.  Start reading.  He is readily available to any who will make the effort and take the time.  He WANTS to be known by you.  But He’s a God who will make you work for it…because that’s relationship…that’s intimacy.

I am nearing Revelation right now on my 3rd time through.  Truth is, I still don’t get Revelation.  I’ve never done a study on it.  It’s like the “Nightmare on Elm St” of the Bible.  Yet even in this scary book, I see God’s kindness, His compassion, His warning of justice on the horizon.  And I take great comfort that if I stay close to Him, I do not have to fear the future, however hard it gets.  I know the God who will never leave me or forsake me. I know His character more surely than I ever have before.  And I try to rest in the fact that He has overcome the world.

After all, the Bible tells me so.

Are We Serious About Reconciliation?

There is more than one system at work here.

Everything Rides on Hope Now

In light of the outbreaks of anger, protest, violence, and grief going on around our country, I don’t think anyone has the luxury anymore of brushing off racism and ignoring it.  Rather, I think progress will only come by discussing it.  That’s right, I think it is high time for white and black to sit down at the same tables, on the same couches, in the same vehicles and to talk about what is going on…to share our perspectives in a calm and open manner…to listen to what is being said by the other side and to develop any solution based on facts instead of assumptions or racial stereotypes.

We need much, much more mature and open dialogue between races… but not an intense, defensive dialogue…rather one that takes into account that the person (or people) sitting across from us are ALL God’s intricate and beautiful creation.

I was privileged…

View original post 1,741 more words

Independence?

Tags

, , , ,

Are you free?

I’m not asking what country you live in or where you are celebrating the day that America’s Declaration of Independence was signed.  I’m asking if you are free.

There are still many types of physical slavery in this world today.  David and I just finished our tax returns and felt quite close to slaves of our government.  There are young girls being trafficked around the world…sold as slaves.  There are systems set up within our country and others that seem to make people slaves…banking, the stock market, politics, the stability of the dollar…if you don’t think that we are all slaves to one system or another, you have your eyes shut pretty tight these days.  Racism and its divisiveness makes us all slaves to our own color…shamed for something we cannot change.  Sometimes employment can feel like slavery.  Too often in the corporate world, I see companies getting fat and happy off of the laborers…taking far too much advantage of their skill and dependence on a pay check.

The truth of the matter is that slavery will always exist in this world.  It is the bent of humans to be greedy…to fall into the trap of hunger for power…to think too much of themselves and too less of others.  As quickly as we free slaves in one arena, they are made in the next.  It is a never ending cycle because we live in an imperfect world…one that we ourselves cannot perfect.

I don’t say that to bring despair.  I don’t say it lightly.  I don’t say it because I don’t want to end it.  I just say it with eyes wide open.  I say it having spent time in a communist country and raising children who were born there. I say it having friendships that have enlightened me to the horrors of growing up a slave of parents who thought bondage was the way to raise children.  I say it knowing people who have walked into the darkness and come out burdened with the knowledge that they cannot change it all…that the world is filled with slavery and the need for freedom is overwhelming.

In this world, there will always be slavery…if not physically than mentally for certain.  How many come to mind who are slaves to the next drink?  Who do you know who lives constantly in insecurity?  In what circle of influence is there not plenty of people whose focus is completely self centered?

Again, I ask you… Are you free?

And you know if you are free because the bondage of slavery runs deep.  It’s chains are felt often.  It makes itself known in the fear and dismay that pummel at every turn.  It is obvious in the feelings of shame and regret that just won’t go away no matter what you try.  It pipes up in the dark of night and makes itself known…”I’ve got you.”  It is evident in lives that refuse to sit quietly for fear that they will have to admit they are prisoners.

Yes, you know if you are free.

And if you are free, you know that there exists only ONE way to freedom.  Indeed, we could end slavery tomorrow in a million different ways and have just as many slaves roaming the earth.

This freedom is not found in a country.

It isn’t found in a religion.

It isn’t found in a cause.

It isn’t found in a pill.

It isn’t found in any psychotherapy or meditation.

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:27-29

Being clothed with Christ is the only way to freedom.  Not only is it the only way to true freedom, but it trumps all other forms of freedom.  When you are in Christ, you can still be a physical slave and yet be free.  In Christ, the deepest parts of you find independence.

How is this possible?  Because the Kingdom of God is outside of this world’s domain.  When we identify ourselves with Christ…when we let that overtake every other identity in us…we are able to live life outside of this world’s system and according to God’s.  We are no longer subject to what the world determines is important.  When we let Christ determine our focus and our priorities, we are able to let go of all the impossible worldly expectations that keep us in slavery and instead live for the very One who created freedom.

Why don’t more people live free in Christ?  Because they choose to instead remain subject to the systems of this world.  They first identify as Baptist or American or black or rich or Democrat or slave.  They allow their inner being, their thought life, their influences, their belief systems, their direction to be shaped by this world and they try to sprinkle the Word in the gaps…or even defend their slavery with the Word.  They proudly wave their binding cords high, wear a chip on their shoulder, and dare anyone to disagree.

Patriotism is a good thing.  It is good to be thankful for our country and for the people who sacrifice for it.  It is good to celebrate it’s victories and mourn it’s defeats.  It is good to seek to guide it onto a successful path and pray for its healing and welfare.  But devotion to Christ must still outweigh devotion to country. They are not one and the same. Even when your country is free.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

When Christ sets you free, He does it so that you are no longer held captive by this world’s way of doing things.  You are no longer under the structure that this world has set up…the structure that will not be made right until our God makes a new earth.  When Christ sets you free, He does it so that He becomes your freedom. You are first and foremost identified as a Christ follower…and if that means you have to let go of all your other pet identities or alignments, you are willing because you know that only Christ sets free.

In Christ, a prostitute can become a beloved wife and mother.  In Christ, an overtaxed income can be multiplied to cover as many expenses as it needs to.  In Christ, a life long pro-choice advocate can become a saving grace for young mothers in crisis.  In Christ, a community can be unified with black and white, white collar and blue collar.  In Christ, those who have been delivered from forced slavery can forgive and move forward in the purpose God has for them.  In Christ, an overworked employee can find the strength to shine light in the workplace despite unfair conditions.  In Christ, a person who once hated can now love.

Truly, in Christ, men and women have done great things…not just in affecting change in the world, but also in covering themselves with Him in their current daily conditions.  This because they made Christ and His Word the foundation of every other allegiance in their life.  They allowed Him to shape the way that they thought and felt about the world around them, and they found incomprehensible freedom in remaining ultimately in Christ.

Independence?  Until Christ holds the core of our identity, it won’t truly belong to us.

This One Thing Solves all the World’s Problems

Tags

, , , ,

These words came out of my mouth the other day…

“They are trying to solve problems that they are still creating by rejecting God’s design.”

I was talking about politics, of course.  What else is anyone talking about in an election year.  It’s quite clear that we are in trouble and that the course we have chosen to take as a nation is leading to destruction.  We have effectively moved the boundary lines and now we are trying to come up with human answers to our rebellion so that we will not have to repent.  That’s the thing about rebellion, once you have committed to it…once you have walked away from God’s table to put your own plans into action…when they screw everything up, you have two choices…repent and go back to doing it God’s way or make up more answers to try to solve the problems on your own.

Back in 1973, our country legalized abortion through the decisions of one court case.  Since that day over 51 MILLION pregnancies have been terminated by women and their medical professionals.

This abortion decision was the world’s answer to the problem of “unplanned” pregnancies, most of which were the result of sex outside of marriage.

The world is still treating a symptom in a horrific and destructive way.  The root problem is society’s rebellion against God’s design for sex.  There was a reason that God made sex a sacred act between husband and wife who were committed to each other for life. There is a reason that He established this union as the foundation on which to build a family. Additionally, God calls any life planted in the womb a gift from Him.  There are so many sweet Scriptures on the blessing of children even from the womb that you can’t miss this part of the character of God in His Word.

School shootings rose dramatically after the Roe vs Wade decision in the 70’s .  The world’s answer has been more gun laws and stronger mental health programs along with tighter security measures and more rules in classrooms.  Yet not once has the actual root of the problem been considered by the decision makers.  Sure, these measures might fend off some symptoms, but do we really expect the same children that day in and day out get taught that they are the result of some huge cosmic accident, that the only thing that matters is how they feel, and that they are the “lucky” ones who made it out of the womb, to grow up mentally healthy.  Only the Truth can set our children free.  The Truth that they are intricately planned and designed in their mother’s womb by a God who created them for a specific mission on this earth…that they are His workmanship…that they are greatly loved by a God who gave up His own Son to save them.

The world has rebelled against God’s law because it is tough on sin.  It doesn’t bow to feelings, as a matter of fact, it specifies that we are to control them and not the other way around.  God’s way says that there is a time and a place, there is a season, there is waiting, there is investing, there is a way to find fulfillment and consequences to the cheap imitations. The way to blessing is down a narrow path that can only be traveled successfully with strict adherence to the Guide.  But we want to do it our own way.  Only, while we are out there creating our own life and building our own Kingdom, we are actually creating problems and consequences that are impossible for man to solve, not only for ourselves but for the people and circumstances around us that we break in the process.  These are things that can only be fixed by a return to God’s design.

On Father’s Day, I spent some time in deep thought about the epidemic of fatherlessness in our culture.  The symptoms are many and the stories are heart wrenching. The answer to the problem is a return to God’s design.  He designed the husband to be the head of the home and the provider and protector of his family. He told us also not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  He sets out the design of marriage in His Word and it doesn’t include fatherlessness or feminism.  The world has redefined the marriage relationship to the point that a really great marriage is looked at as antiquated or boring or even a little like prison.

This year the world decided that God’s design should no longer govern marriage in the public sector.  In a quest to solve the problems of confusion and loss of identity in part brought about by the fatherlessness epidemic, they decided the answer was to champion alternate sexual orientation and other such lifestyles.  They empowered groups of people whose publicly stated purpose is to destroy the family and redesign the culture.  It wasn’t enough that our children have to mentally process their accidental existence and their survival of the womb…now we want them to make sure they have “chosen” the right gender and that they are open to any and every sexual orientation that anyone can think up.  They are now taught by society that sexual desires (and choices to act on them) are as unchangeable as the color of our skin, and should be treated as such. They now are forced to consider the options because not to is bigoted.  They now have a much more treacherous path to navigate as they live inside the culture of confusion…the generation trying to figure out how to live outside of God’s design without any consequences.

This world is broken.  It is broken because of the very thing that we are trying to find a way to embrace.  It is broken by sin.  Everything outside of God’s design IS sin.  We can’t fix this world…we can’t fix ourselves…we can’t fix the root of all these problems.  And God knew that.  It’s why He sent Jesus.  Because He knew that we would need redemption.  He paid for us…for all our mistakes…for all our rebellion with His Son’s own blood.   Because of THIS and only THIS, it is possible to return to God’s design.  He pleads daily “Be reconciled to Me.”

This world will continue to rage against the design of the Creator of it.  The enemy knows his time is short and he will use every trick in His bag to deceive, like he did to Eve in the garden…”Did God really say…?”  “That’s just old fashioned.”  “But if you do it that way, you will miss out.”  “It’s okay because you were hurt.”  “God’s way is too hard.” “If He said that, He must really hate women.” “If you believe that, you are just hateful”  “You won’t make it.” “You mess up anyway, so why even try.”  “You are too far gone for God’s design.”  “God is done with you.”  He will keep on and keep on, until you either shut him up with the Truth or accept and believe his lies.

He knows that your life will never be truly lived until it is put back under God’s design.

And that simply following God’s design is the bottom line answer to all of this world’s complicated problems.