Today’s blog is linked to my dear sweet friend, Lyn Smith. She asked me to guest blog for her, and God laid a pretty heavy message on my heart for the Church. You can read it here:
We use this term loosely in ministry, usually followed by a stay at an all-inclusive resort or a trip to some exotic place no one would consider “suffering” at all. But, despite our quips, suffering is a part of ministry; it is a part of relationship with God, in taking on His work in the Kingdom. No one knows that better than those that have been there, and yet we use comments like “Jesus isn’t suffering, broken, ill, or misused so neither are we.” Where does that asinine train of thought come from? True. Healing is in the name of Jesus, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone from everything. So if we suffer it isn’t because we do not believe on the name of Jesus.
In fact, if you think about sovereign saints that believed whole-heartedly and passionately in the healing work of God and the manifestation of His grace, don’t you think of all people, the disciples would have been spared from suffering? And you cannot speak of suffering without bringing up Jesus Christ, a man who suffered and died a cruel death in a state of innocence so that we would forever be cleansed from the cancerous cruelty of guilt and shame. Therein you will find freedom, but we are never guaranteed freedom from suffering. If that were the case, what do we make of the words of Jesus that say, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” He didn’t say “might” or “may have” but a definite “WILL.”
The words that got John and Peter and countless other martyrs through weren’t based on the denial of their pain, but the Truth that got them through was the understanding that no matter what, God had not forsaken them, and any sacrifice or suffering was worth the love of Christ. It is the same Truth that gets the countless Christians persecuted daily for their faith through to the next day even as they bury their children, spouses, and friends.
We have to stop pointing at suffering as punishment and pain as an act of disobedience. The truth is, we are all going to suffer in one way or another in the flesh as long as we are earth bound. We have a choice in how we react to that suffering, in bitterness or in joy. Let me explain, joy is not happiness. No one is happy to suffer, no one laughs through chemo or transplants, but at the end of the day, they walk through it knowing they are led by Hands that know suffering and unfair pain. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid or they do not have moments of hopelessness, but in the end, they rest in the knowledge that He sees, He knows, and He promises that there is more on the other side.
We cannot be afraid to suffer, and we cannot condemn those that do, questioning their faith, and challenging their obedience. If you do not suffer, praise God! It isn’t because of anything you have or have not done, and if you suffer, praise God, because He has seen fit to send a message through you. Some of the bravest souls I know, didn’t deny their pain or their suffering or their illness, they acknowledged it, embraced it, and made it a part of a lasting testimony of faith.
I’ve had quite a few conversations lately with people who are downright scared they are messing up, that God is disappointed in them, and that He is one more bad decision away from disowning them altogether. Have you had that thought? It’s actually rather common. I admit I have had those fears before, and let me say these things they are fearful of aren’t because they are sinful but because they are so afraid of missing His will, His plan, and His mission for them.
Two things come to mind:
1) We are not big enough to undo the will of God.
2) Who do we think He is?
Now I realize that some might have trouble with that first point, but have you thought about it? Never once as far as I have read does anyone ever undo the will of God. I have never read a single passage that says, “And so the will of God was thwarted.” I have seen mistakes and failures and delays, but ultimately the will of God was done. It’s humanity’s influence on faith that says we can mess it all up or we can utterly destroy the will of God in our neglect. Seriously? Think about the most heinous sins in the Bible and their consequences. Go on. I’ll walk through some with you:
Adam and Eve – the first sinners, placed in a Garden to live a charmed life but it wasn’t enough to know God, they wanted to be like Him. Did their sin send God in a cataclysmic conniption fit? “Whatever shall I do!? My creation has turned on me!” No. It set into motion His plan before the beginning of time – that Jesus would be the sacrifice.
David – Here is a man who not only had an affair with a woman but murdered her husband in order to cover His sin of passion. Do you think God said “David?! How could you?! I had a plan and now you’ve gone and ruined it with your rebellion!” No. In fact, Solomon, the second child birthed by Bathsheba had been selected as the one to build the temple long before David ever took a walk upon the roof… How is this so? God’s will cannot be thwarted. Might there have been another way? Perhaps, but the most infamous sin of the king didn’t undo the will of God.
Who else? Let’s talk about Jonah for a minute. He was a man that ran far and long from the direction of God, but did the Ninehvites never hear the Word of God? No. Not his rebellion, not a storm, not even the putrid vomit of an oversized fish could undo the will of God!
Do we think we are more powerful than they? Do we think God is so small?
Which leads us to the second point, who do we think God is? One of my favorite parables in the Bible is that of the talents. We hear this story and always we become afraid, “Am I the first servant or am I the last? Am I making the most of what I have been given or am I squandering it?” And we fear our punishment, our removal of blessing. Here is what I want you to see. Do you think the Master was angry because the servant had only the one talent? Do you think if in humility the servant had said “I didn’t want to lose what you had given me because I didn’t want to have nothing to give to you,” that the Master would have been so upset? I don’t think so. You know why I think the Master was so upset? It was because the last servant painted a picture of Him out of fear. Instead of admitting his failure and taking the blame, he cast the blame and labeled the Master cruel and unyielding. So what did the Master become? Cruel and unyielding, sentencing him to death and distributing his wealth. Fear can mess us up, but it doesn’t change who God is. How do we know this? Because to those that had gladly multiplied their talents, he gave more. The cruel task Master was in actuality a generous and giving Lord.
One of the most powerful things I have heard to describe our relationship to God in this faith journey was spoken by Graham Cooke. He challenged my image of God by these simple but compelling words, “Too often we see God as the overseer in a concentration camp than a loving Father teaching us to walk.” We see life in Him as a chore and an unyielding obligation, where He has said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Fear of messing up fills us with dread because we fear punishment. Cooke encouraged the image of a parent as his child is learning to walk, and I want us to imagine God in the same capacity:
The daddy holds the child under the arms and speaks to it, lovingly and telling it to walk. The child lighting up with anticipation, or nervous and unsure depending on their disposition, positions itself to stand on wobbly legs. Once he sees the child is stable, the daddy slowly loosens his grip. Smiling in the direction of the child, he moves back a pace and beckons it forward. The child unsure takes the first step. Seeing that the child has it, the daddy backs up yet again and beckons one more step. The child, usually growing in confidence, takes that next step and so it goes until the child finds itself back in daddy’s arms. Such a lovely picture, isn’t it? Their is a side of you that cannot fully believe the loving nature of God like this, and you are immediately pointing to discipline, aren’t you? After all, the father disciplines those whom He loves.
Yes. He does.
So, we suppose the child gets excited and before it can make it to the other side of the room falls. Does the parent get upset and demand the child to get up and walk! Or say that as the child is walking, it sees something that captures it’s attention and suddenly it’s back on all fours chasing after it. Does the daddy yell and spank and refuse to allow another go? No. He catches the wanderer and he begins the process yet again until eventually the child is in it’s daddy’s arms. Discipline resembles this type of correction, not punishment. Discipline as it is referred to in that passage about disciplining out of love is in the intent to better the child and to steer it in the right direction, not to punish the child out of anger or hostility.
Too often we put our earthly natures onto our Supernatural Father. Knowing these two things, can you honestly believe the fear that you will mess things up, that your mistakes are too many and you will miss the will of God, His mission for your life? Not if you are honest. God is a good King, kind and generous and also lovingly corrective. Do not mistake Him for less. He has a plan for you, before you ever took that first breath or gathered strength on wobbly legs for that first step. Don’t dismiss His correction anymore than you would dismiss His love for you. He loves you. He has not lost sight of you, and you cannot undo His will.
Just about the time my heart gets excited about all that Christmas holds and the celebration of Jesus, Christians everywhere ruin it for me. See, instead of rejoicing in the holiday, we make it a war against words and hatred of tradition. I’ve seen just as many rants in the last few weeks as I do during election time. Suddenly we pride ourselves on being better, more attuned, and more sincere than others and because we do it in the name of Christ we consider it okay. We start a holiday jihad and anyone who doesn’t stand with us is a religious terrorist. How does that look to a world that is looking for hope? How does that settle in the hearts of those hoping to be proved wrong in their evaluation of us? How does that look to our forefathers in the faith that sacrificed everything for us to have the freedom to share the gospel? How does that answer a call to love our neighbors? We look like self-righteous, joy squashing, peace stomping hate mongers.
I know I’ll get grief from this blog. But before you take me out to the woodshed and rake me over the coals of faith and the gospel, I want to point to these words:
I am a free man, nobody’s slave; but I make myself everybody’s slave in order to win as many people as possible. While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them; and even though I myself am not subject to the Law of Moses, I live as though I were when working with those who are, in order to win them. In the same way, when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile, outside the Jewish Law, in order to win Gentiles. This does not mean that I don’t obey God’s law; I am really under Christ’s law. Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. All this I do for the gospel’s sake, in order to share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GNT)
Paraphrase: By whatever means possible, I become subservient to those around me, not to bombard them with my beliefs but to win them to the love of my Saviour.
I ask you, what part of this holiday battle is based on servanthood? Because I see it more like feigned humility and exaggerated worship then about winning the lost to Christ.
In a culture where “bullying” is defined as using “superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants” – we are dangerously close to that in our religious expectations. And the sad thing is, we don’t just turn our anger outward to those who don’t believe, but we accuse our own of hypocrisy because they choose to do things differently. We make “believing in Santa” akin to worshipping the devil. We refuse to appreciate the tradition in our angst over the commercialism. I confess, it is upsetting that consumerism has threatened the sacredness of the celebration, but is it my fault? Is it the fault of my unbelieving neighbor? Is it the fault of the story of Santa and his elves.. Some of which make daily journeys to our homes to observe our kids? No. It’s the fault of the almighty dollar… Which we don’t seem to be warring against, and I don’t suggest boycotting Christmas like we have Disney (since that was so successful) or JC Penney (which was equally so), because those actions aren’t making a difference except to further paint us as prejudiced elitists.
So what is my suggestion?
I’m not saying give in and give up, but you can lovingly disagree without looking self-righteous and judgmental. Loving your neighbor should be most significant this time of year. It should be more than giving others gifts or helping out hurting families. It should include putting your differences behind you, reaching out a hand of love that says, “I love you and no matter what you believe or what you don’t, I will put aside my preferences to make sure you know that this season is about grace. This holiday is about a God that loves you and whether you know Him or not, nothing can change the fact that He paid a price that you could never pay, and gave a sacrifice you could never make, not so I can lord my beliefs over you but so that you might know love and have life.”
After all, if restraints and laws could change hearts, Jesus would never have had to be born. His advent ushered in Love, Joy, Peace… And requires our patience. So, let’s be Christ this Christmas – Ambassadors instead of Gestapo. The Angels declared it best, “Fear not. I bring you good tidings of great joy. A Saviour has been born to you, He is Christ The Lord.” Good tidings. Great joy. A Saviour. THAT is the reason for the season. We would do well to live up to that, humbly. All year round.
The wicked witch was only seeking what seems to elude us all – beauty, and she was willing to kill to get it. What I find ironic is that she was beautiful, but because the mirror spoke another name, she was determined to destroy her perceived threat. Many times we stand before mirrors and ask, “Am I beautiful?” And more often than not, it answers back no. The mirror lies.
Most girls have self image issues. Insecurities run rampant in most teens, but add a few extra pounds and suddenly fat becomes ugly. I hate this. I have never struggled with weight which is a gift from God! I do not take that for granted, and I realize that being able to eat what I want is a luxury many feel they cannot afford. But, I had friends, and have friends still, that battle the bulge and literally have to wage war to stay fit.
A woman or teen’s confidence can literally hinge on 5 extra pounds. Many of them are BEAUTIFUL with sparkling eyes, flawless complexions, and full lips not to mention their inner beauty, but all they see in the mirror are round midsections or wide hips. Then there are those who look perfect in every socially defined way but struggle with their skin, and when they look in the mirror instead of seeing a long, lean body their eyes zone in on the red patches and pimples that they can’t seem to get rid of, or unseen imperfections that stand out to them like glaring eye sores. The enemy won’t let them look past their “flaws” and often, more so with teens, uses callous comments by others to further imbed that self-imposed image of ugliness. As if that isn’t enough, the media pushes the “perfect” image as tight abs and perky breasts with slender legs in stilettos. We’ve all seen the enhanced images where curves are accentuated, cellulite is erased, and any imperfections are deleted to protect that “perfection.” It’s a false depiction of beauty that has our teens and women starving themselves and succumbing to eating disorders and medical procedures to attain!
“I’m fat. I’m so ugly.” I looked up from my laptop to see my 12 year old looking in her reflection. I immediately corrected her. She isn’t fat. She isn’t bone thin with a collarbone that sticks out like a boomerang but she’s not obese. But even if she were, she’s not ugly! Most parents might simply say, “No honey, don’t say that,” and let it go. Or worse, “Well, eat less and exercise more, and you won’t be so fat.” I’m not most parents. I’m a vigilante when it comes to insecurities! I have seen too many women and teens struggling with the issues and pains mentioned above that I REFUSE to let those thoughts marinate in the soul of any girl, much less my child! Bless her heart she had to listen to a sermon about beauty and what defines beauty and realizing that God makes us in all shapes, sizes, and colors because He loves diversity! After I got down from my pulpit of indignation, I made her think about two features that she really likes – she chose her eyes and her nails. I pointed out how those things don’t change, and no matter what her body looks like those two things will always be a source of beauty. And you know what, by the end of that conversation, she was looking at herself differently, even flirting with the mirror. It’s funny, but it’s beautiful because in that moment she was able to see beyond her insecurities to the beauty she possesses and her whole demeanor changed. I’m not naive. We will have that conversation again… After all, she is a teenager!
It’s so important that we as women set a positive example of image to those younger. What they see is what they parrot. I’m guilty. I have not always been happy with my body or my skin, and I have made offhanded flippant comments, comments that I have heard my girls repeat.
I know better! But, I am especially prone to this around bathing suit season, and I totally blame the photoshopped bikini clad models that bombard the magazine covers for that insecurity. And it happens to be those moments that my kids are listening (actually, word to the wise: they are ALWAYS listening) and that insecurity grows a little bit deeper in the soil of their souls.
As women we are horrible. We judge others to make ourselves look better. We size them up so that we come out better, making comments like “I may need to lose a few pounds, but I don’t look like her!” But worse than that, we can be feeling pretty good, wearing a new outfit, new hairstyle, and someone comes up that we judge to be far more attractive, fitting more the trumped up image of beauty, and suddenly all that we were feeling good about pales in comparison.
Therein lies the problem.
Pun completely intended.
We don’t accept our beauty as individualized and unique. Instead we feel like if we don’t resemble another perceived beautiful person then we aren’t beautiful. My prayer would be that we would be able to appreciate one another’s beauty without comparing ourselves. How beautiful would it be if we could embrace our individuality and still see the attraction of others? Much of our stress and insecurity lies in feeling inferior and inadequate. What if we could see ourselves as God sees us? What if who I am is perfectly fine for me just as who you are is perfectly fine for you?
We are created in the image of God. He is not ugly, and like a wise teenager once told me, after fighting the lies of self image and insecurity herself, “God makes beautiful things out of the dust.” It’s true! Who do we consider the most beautiful and perfect image of all time? Many would say “Eve” the first woman, and God created her out of a rib and dust, and just like us she was beautiful. She wasn’t judged by what she didn’t have, but she was loved for who she was. Lucky chick didn’t have another woman to compare herself to! She didn’t have to fight for the affections and attentions of her porn addicted husband. She didn’t have to worry about being replaced by a younger, prettier, perkier model. She didn’t have to face the taunts of models on magazines. I’ve heard many men make comments in awe of what she might have looked like – conjuring images of voluptuous and perfectly carved women. But, what if she wasn’t? What if she had wide hips and a protruding forehead? What if she looked more like a cave woman than Wonder Woman? Chances are good she didn’t look anything like their fantasies. In fact, a mere 200 years ago the beautiful women of today would have been pitied and dismissed, looked over in the pursuit of full figured pale women that were more fit to wed.
Our image of beauty is fleeting. Cultural images of beauty are fickle. Why do we tie our self-worth to something that isn’t consistent or attainable? Why do we allow the enemy to destroy our individuality by forcing us into conformity? And, what does our Maker think when we say “Why did you make me this way?” – the Creator that intricately designed us in our mother’s womb? I think He says, “Don’t listen to the enemy. Don’t let him saturate your delicate mind with lies and accusations. Drown out his voice with the knowledge that you are fearfully and wonderfully made and the very things that make you cringe, make me smile. That scar on your eye that seems to mar your beauty only enhances it. That mole on your leg that you cover every time it might be exposed, I placed it there like a kiss.” And one by one, inch by inch, everything that we hate about ourselves He would point out as uniquely beautiful. Because we are. And if we can’t see it, He does, and He knows us far better than any skewed image in a mirror can reflect.
It’s hard for us to fathom… Something for nothing? There is always a catch. We look for the catch – surely I must do something to gain this great reward? So we involve ourselves with works, to be better, to be acceptable, to be worthy of a gift we are completely unworthy to receive. Then faith becomes about what we do rather than who we are, and relationship becomes about us pleasing God rather than being pleased by Him. We somehow forsake the gift in an attempt to earn what is freely given. We are quick to point out the hypocrites and Pharisees without seeing we often play their roles.
I will never forget the time I was so distraught and discouraged because someone that I loved and I had invested in heart and soul returned to a life of sin and depravity. I beat my chest and yelled for God to tell me why? Why was I working so hard to make a difference, why was all that time and energy just thrown away in a fit of passion and recklessness? I didn’t dishonor Him with my frustration, but I felt surely He must be just as frustrated as I felt! Then I heard these words, “You are not called to be the Holy Spirit.”
I stopped. I sat. I pondered. I meditated on that thought.
That’s what I expected. I expected that my good works and words would transform her life and when they didn’t, I felt I had failed. The Truth rushed into my heart like a whisper of correction, “You can’t change them. You can’t save them. Point them to My perfect grace and let Me wrestle with them through their salvation.”
The truth was I had seen her as a project, and when I saw successes I marked her off my to do list and went on to the next project. I think we are guilty of thinking God does the same, and we would be wrong. People aren’t projects, they are souls that are in a process of salvation… And what happens on that journey isn’t about instant purification but enduring sanctification. It’s about the battles, the scars, and the long suffering patience of a Savior.
Faith is a journey defined by grace. None of us can ever earn what we have been given. Too often we picture God and think like the days of Moses, “I cannot look upon you and live.” This is not the God that Jesus introduced to us, a God intolerant of imperfection, but instead He sat in the midst of them telling them stories of forgiveness and grace. Not only that, it’s not the God that I truthfully see through His Word.
I see a God more like Job. Have you read the first chapter of that book? I have too, a few times and yet last night for the first time Daddy God highlighted a verse I hadn’t seen before:
When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice. (Job 1:5 NLT)
That’s the heart of a Father that loves beyond failure. The difference is, unlike Job, God knows what we have done and how we have failed, and He didn’t have to make sacrifice a daily practice – Jesus met that requirement once and for all.
Let’s not gloss over the investment in that burnt offering. Job’s kids were partiers, they had feasts and drunken social gatherings on their father’s dime. We might picture Job as taking an animal to the temple leaving it there and going about his merry way… He had 7 kids so, okay, he deposited a flock at the priests door and left. No. One by one Job would take each animal to the threshold of the temple and lay his hand upon its head to symbolize transference and then he would kill this perfect specimen to be offered up to the priests as atonement. He did this 7 times with 7 animals 7 days a week. That’s the devotion of a father who cares, who desires to see his children safe, and is willing to pay a great cost to see them free from sin.
That’s such a beautiful picture of our Father’s love. Job’s kids aren’t recorded as requesting this… They aren’t depicted as even knowing anything about it. They didn’t earn the honor of sacrifice, but because Job loved them so much, he paid the price, over and over and over again – the patient concern of a loving Father.
We can’t explain it. We can’t earn it. We can’t fathom love so deep, so unconditional, so sacrificial, and when we try and work to make it ours we neglect the beauty of the gift.
If He loved us so much and extended enduring grace to us, a flawed and desperate people, how can we expect perfection of others? Better yet. Why do we expect perfection of ourselves? Faith is a journey defined by grace. Embrace that.
I hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.
I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?
That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.
And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.
“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)
I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.
Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.
“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?
But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:
“So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)
With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!”
And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.