Bitter into Sweet

180bs3h47nd48jpg

In my previous post, I wrote about happiness and joy. I concluded that one must pursue holiness, not happiness, to find purpose and meaning in this life.

Today I want to explore the topic of pain and suffering. Fun, huh? Yeah… right.

Yet I’m choosing to swim in these dark turbulent waters because it is… necessary. I need to remind myself that there is purpose in pain. That God doesn’t waste anything. That He is working even when it hurts like literal hell.

Let me cut to the chase. These last few months have been some of the most difficult in my life. The daily responsibilities of life, the stresses of a new job, but most especially an unexpected splinter in my marriage- all these things have pulled me taunt like a cracked rubber band. To be honest, some days just getting out of bed has been a Herculean task. But when it would be so easy to succumb to the grief of a broken heart, I press on.

I press on because the Lord warned me hard days would come when He called me to Himself. Because He loves me, He taught me that He would use suffering to develop me into the daughter He has always knew I would become.

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4: 12-12

In this verse, we learn that trials will come. And when they come, Christ’s glory is revealed. In other words, when the world watches God’s people respond to hardships with love, grace, and faith, Jesus is revealed to them. As we overcome, Christ is glorified in our suffering.

The things is, so many of us bail out of the trial before the glory comes. We don’t want to wait on the Lord to do His work in us and through us. Instead, we seek retribution or vindication using our own clouded judgement. We get mad or become embittered instead of trusting God. We cut people off and sever relationships instead of waiting on the Lord to restore and heal. Believe me, I am talking to myself when I give these examples. I fail often. So many days over the past few months I have wanted to tap out and cry, “Uncle!” It would be so easy to run from the fire.

But I know through the truth of Scripture that the pressure of trials is vital to my spiritual growth.

James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Count it all joy? I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I trust with all my heart that I will one day be thankful to Jesus for this season. Why? God’s Word says so. I also have personal experience. God has used suffering to teach me and perfect me before. I know He can do it again.

Between the years of 2005-2008, the Lord sent white hot fire to strip me of many things. I lost a teaching job due to district budget cuts. I foreclosed on a house and had a car repossessed in the middle of the night. I declared bankruptcy. I gained a bunch of weight despite my best efforts and lost my vanity. A close Christian friend and mentor moved away. In the midst of all this, I had an unbelieving husband and two children at my feet who needed to learn about and know Jesus too- proving absolutely that the world did not revolve around me.

In short, much of my pride was pulverized to dust.

I vividly remember one afternoon during these crazy three years when I was totally overwhelmed with the weight of it all. I literally crawled underneath the kitchen table like a toddler seeking shelter and cried soul wracking cries. I knew Jesus was responsible for what I was going through but also in total control of it all. I also knew He loved me more than I could comprehend. I could not escape His hand on my life. There was no where to run. No where to hide. Where else could I run to but to Christ- the Author and Finisher of my faith? My only choice was to look up to my King with anguished tears streaming down my face and hang on to His wooden cross for dear life.

I’m so glad I did hang on. Once the storm died down and I had the chance to let go of the splintered wood, I looked around and could not believe what God had done for me. I learned that God is my provider. I learned His Word and how to pray. I learned how to war in the spirit and gain victory. I learned that stuff and acquired things are meaningless and can blow away with the wind. I learned to hold on to the people I love loosely, even my own children. God taught me that we all ultimately belong to Him. In short, I learned that God is in control, and I am not. The trust I gained in Jesus to reign in my life during this season set me free of fear and foolish worldly thinking.

Remembering what God has already done helps me to once again crawl to the foot of the cross and wait for Jesus to move in another season of fire. Like I said, if He can use pain and suffering once to mold me and make me like Himself, He can do it again.

But you know what? I confess that on really really bad days, all the Bible knowledge in the world isn’t enough to keep me. Only His presence and the power of the Holy Spirit can do that. This Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead.

Jesus is my anchor on days when I don’t have the oomph to open up the Bible and think logically and rationally. In those moments when the rushing high tide of suffering threatens to take me out to open sea, I cry out with short yet fervent prayers that go something like:

“Help!”

“What are You doing, Lord?”

“I can’t do this anymore… I’m so tired.”

And again…

“HELP!”

Mostly, though, I have prayed these words over and over again: “Jesus, I love You.” I sing them with my eyes closed at stop lights. I doodle “I love You, Jesus” on scrap paper during meetings. I write “I love You, Jesus” in the condensation on the door during a steamy shower. I pledge my love to Christ over and over because I am just. so. grateful. that I’m not alone.

My precious Jesus is a man well acquainted with grief and suffering. He is not a High Priest that cannot understand what we go through down here in the dust. The Lord willingly walked down the road called Suffering because He wanted to be there for me when I was in pain. King Jesus wanted to carry me on the days I couldn’t walk in my own strength.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

I need Him, every day. I so desperately need Him when my flesh rises up to want to take my life back into my hands- when I want to usurp His throne. I need Him when my foolish worldly thinking clouds the wisdom found in God’s Word. I need Him when I want it my way after I’ve already pledged myself to my Lord. I need Him to enable me to extend His grace to others, especially grace for those who have the power to hurt me the most.

I just need Him. I need my Jesus so desperately in seasons of trial and pain.

The Apostle Paul was a man also familiar with suffering. He was beaten. Starved. Shipwrecked. Imprisoned. Yet through all this he was able to say,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-19)

There is a coming day, dear one, when this world and its troubles will pass away. Until then, the Lord promises that the troubles we endure now will not be worth even comparing to the future blessing and wonder that awaits us beyond the veil where God’s presence lies. And I can’t wait.

But until then, I close my eyes, breathe a deep cleansing breath, and vow to stay under the weight of His loving hand when He brings the rain. I choose to stay in the fire. Let the fire burn burn burn away all that is not Him. Because one day, through God’s master workmanship and relentless patience, I am going to look like a gleaming beautiful diamond. I am going to look like Jesus.

Advertisements

Truthful Beauty

My brother Scott and I walked down the main drag one summer evening in a cute little part of town in Indianapolis called Broadripple. Quaint little window displays entertained my artistic leanings, and independent restaurants serving eclectic cuisines made for adventurous foodie fare. Because of the late hour, college students from nearby Butler University romped up and down the sidewalk ready for a night of partying. They made for a raucous crowd.

When I noticed many attractive young girls wearing smoky cat eye makeup and sparkly tight clubbing clothes, I knew my red blooded brother noticed them as well (understatement!). The abundance of beautiful girls made me, a late twenty-something mother, feel self-conscious in the crowd. Oh how I wished I could be that young and vibrant again! Scott seemed to read my thoughts. He rescued me from my inward comparisons and turmoil by saying something like, “Sin tries to masquerade as beautiful, but in the end it is only pedestrian and cliché. True beauty is rare and always unique.” I knew what he said was profoundly true even before I could ruminate on the implications.

A few years have passed since that night in Broadripple, and I agree with my brother’s observation even more. We live in a culture that holds both beauty and ascetics in high esteem, but our very definition of beauty has been corrupted so much so that the profane and vile can now be called “art”.

To illustrate my point, I randomly picked a song on the today’s Billboard Top Ten. Consider the lyrics of the chorus of Maroon 5’s Animals:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

When we read these words in black and white away from catchy beats and the cute pop star, they are seen for what they really are: ugly. Without thinking, millions sing along to a song about a man who sees women as something to be stalked, preyed upon, and conquered. He’s a common beast driven by instinct without reason or sense.

YUCK!

And what of our books, our magazines, our TV shows? They are no better!

Just this past weekend, I flipped through the channels stumbling upon show after reality show depicting the lives of perfectly manicured mostly rich men and women. Ladies draped themselves in diamonds and silk and kept house in high rent districts. Dudes drove fast cars and sported Armani suits and Rolex watches. To the casual observer, they seemed to have it all. They need only open their mouths, however, to reveal the darkness ruling their lives. (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34) Bitter rivalries, jealous forked tongues, and immature pettiness painted these grimly colored worlds.

America has chosen to be entertained by this lot of worldly characters to her shame. We value glamor and fame over sacrifice and hard work and focus on outward appearances more than the heart. Yesterday we cared more about Kim Kardashian’s pornographic picture in Paper Magazine than the stunning photographs captured from a probe named Philae that Europeans managed to land on a comet. Seriously… what is wrong with us?

The answer to this question is simple but profound: we don’t know truth, so we don’t recognize true beauty. Christian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias observes, “God’s Word commands us to, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9). Beauty must be bounded by the very character and nature of God.”

If we want to know what beauty really is, we must look to God’s Word and His character for a truthful definition. Here are just some of God’s Names. I fell in love with Jesus even more when I began to explore His Names because they reveal His character:

Author of Peace (1 Corinthians 4:33)
The Crown of Beauty (Isaiah 28:5)
Comforter (John 14:26)
Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Disciplinarian (Hebrews 12:6)
Excellent (Psalm 148:13)
Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11)
Father (Matthew 6:9)
Friend (Matthew 11:19)
Good (John 10:11)
Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Love (1 John 4:8)
Merciful (Jeremiah 3:12)
Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
Refuge (Jeremiah 16:19)
Righteous (Malachi 4:2)
Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
Teacher (John 20:16)
Truth (John 14:6)
Wise (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6)

Because God is Love, we know that unloving things and actions cannot be beautiful. However, we also understand through examination of the Scriptures that love must also be truthful, because God is Truth. It is therefore ugly, for example, to withhold a truthful correction to spare another’s feelings. God Himself disciplines us because it is in His very nature to be a Good Father.

True beauty is at its very heart holy, or set apart. Beauty is not seen in something as cliché as batting eye lashes or syrupy sweet flattering words. Real beauty is demonstrated when God’s character is put on display.

The sleep deprived mother who comforts her sick child is beautiful. Outwardly this woman may not look beautiful. She probably has bed hair and may even carry an extra fifteen pounds more than she’d like, but inside her brilliant heart is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

The husband that loves his wife, serves her, and gets dirty wading through the trenches of her heart is beautiful. God’s Word says that when a husband loves his wife unconditionally, he purifies her as Jesus purifies His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-26). As a husband reflects God’s attributes in his daily life, God receives glory.

When we see Christ, we see beauty incarnate. However, even those that don’t know the Name of Jesus can learn of God’s character by simply observing His creation. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they (those that have never heard of the Name of Jesus) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

When we stand agape at the vastness of the stars, we get a glimpse of God’s magnificence and power. The Psalmist joyfully declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament the work of His hands!” (Psalm 19:1)
stars
When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
sunset

or gaze out over mountain peeks
mountain
or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
newborn
we intuitively understand that there is a Being greater than us at work. The lessons of creation teach us that God is wise, powerful, intelligent, and interested in both grand displays and the smallest details.
But let’s not forget God’s other less recognizable displays of beauty.

Jesus wept with others when they grieved.
jesuswept

He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
jesuscross
Out of great love Jesus died. He was mocked, scorned, rejected and humiliated. Men did not recognize the beauty of the man they tortured. The prophet Isaiah, seeing 700 years into the future, describes Jesus in agonizing detail, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Do we see that God’s definition of beauty is infinitely more rich, true, and GORGEOUS than the world’s pathetic counterfeits?

Michael Card said, “A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.” Mr. Card is right! May we be like King David and say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Apostle Paul, writing from a damp dark prison cell, said with great fervor and joy, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Jesus Christ is altogether beautiful. May we seek to discover and know Christ in all His loveliness and forsake all else.

Big

big

When I was a child, one of my favorite places to play was my Grandparents’ yard. Grandma and Grandpa lived in the country on a sprawling green lawn. A lazy Willow tree swayed by the mailbox and fire bushes lit up the long gravel driveway during the fall. Behind their red brick house was a field where deer and other wildlife could be seen. My brother and I would romp around their vast property using walky-talkies to communicate from afar. We marveled at wild mushrooms, set up forts under the Willow, got muddy with the other animals in their field, learned to shoot a sling-shot and a BB gun, and identified different kinds of rocks under my grandfather’s expert tutelage. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was truly a curious child’s paradise.

Years later when both my grandparents had passed, Mom and Dad decided to drive by the old house. As it came into view, I was astounded. Their yard was so small! Time seemed to have shrunk the whole place.

I’ve come to believe that our dreams shrink with time too. Ask a little boy what he wants to be when he grows up, and he might shout, “A NFL football player!” or “An architect!” Little girls want to be Miss America, an actress, or the doctor that finally finds the cure for cancer. As children grow into adolescence, they come to understand their unique gifts and talents. Teenagers are wonderful to talk to because they have a youthful optimism usually lost on adults. Most high school graduation speeches drip with hope and an anxious energy that motivates listeners to “go” and “do”. Kids truly believe that their life matters and that they are destined to make a dent in the world.

However, something happens to many of us as we age. Our priorities change. Sometimes we get hurt. Our once starry eyed buoyancy can give way to apathy. Worse, we can become cynical. In my opinion, the folks that are the most difficult to be around are those that have morphed into bitter shells through the course of time.

After my brother and I got our driver’s license in high school, we enjoyed the privilege of driving to and from school together without the prying ears of our parents or other censoring adults. I always let Scott drive so I could relax and enjoy the view outside the window. Sometimes we’d talk about mundane things as our little red Chevy sped down the road. Many days I would spend the morning commute applying my makeup. Every once in a while, however, our usual teenage conversation would take a turn to higher more secretive subjects. Even though both of us were far away from the Lord, we had a sense that we were a part of a bigger plan. Perhaps those listening would have found us arrogant as we tried to verbalize a feeling of being “different” or “set apart” from the crowd. We weren’t prideful though. We just somehow intuitively knew that there was something undefinable about us verses many of our peers at school.

I wish I would have known this Scripture back then like I do now because it would have explained so much:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Now that I know of God’s love for me, I read these verses and marvel at His absolute astounding generosity and powerful sovereignty.

God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). All of God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Because I have accepted the free gift of salvation based on Christ’s work on the cross (and not anything… ANYTHING… I’ve done to earn my way to heaven), I know through reading God’s Word that:

• I am a part of a chosen race. God CHOSE me. I have no idea why He chose me (I would not have chosen me), but He did. He chose me regardless of my faults, my worst secrets, and my failures to honor Him with my words and actions.

After my brother and I were adopted, Mom used to say, “Most parents don’t choose their children. They simply have the baby that is given to them. However, your dad and I chose you both to be part of our family.” This explanation always made me feel special and wanted.

I was chosen all over again when Jesus drew me to His side to be a part of God’s family. Paul writes in Romans 8:15:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father’! The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Chosen sons and daughters of God are coheirs with Christ. Jesus is not only our God, He is our Brother. The Lord God Almighty reigns forever, and in our Father’s generosity and love, He has chosen us His children to reign with Him.

• All of those that believe Jesus’s message of hope are holy. Holy literally means set apart. God’s set apart people are bonded spiritually in ways that cross all boundaries, yet His family is comprised of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. I take joy in knowing that I not only will spend my life here on earth in relationship with other Christians, but I also rejoice because I will spend eternity with these precious people!

Even though time and conscious awareness hadn’t yet caught on to God’s perfect plan for Scott and I back in high school, our eternal spirits inside us cried out for more than the rat race we saw others running. We understood that life was somehow more than school, job, kids, the acquiring of things, and death. We were purposed for something big. Jesus had His hand on our lives, and a desire deep down under the surface craved and will always crave fellowship with our Creator and His people.

• I am here to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Just typing this sentence gives me goose bumps. This is my purpose! I write this blog to tell others that God is real, that He is good, and that Jesus is in the business of redeeming lives. This calling is the highest calling in the universe. It’s bigger than any job promotion, bigger than finally purchasing that Mercedes or mansion, and bigger than finally finding a spouse or having a child. God’s people are called to live lives that have eternal impact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am accepted in the Beloved. I am recklessly loved by the Maker of the Universe. This knowledge changed the direction of my life. I hope it has changed or will change yours!

Because my Father is the God of the universe, I can and should dream big. My childhood dreams sound small and silly in comparison to the dreams that God has given me through His Spirit. The crazy part is that God’s dreams for me are even grander than I could ever imagine.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

God not only goes before me as I move in my purpose to declare His attributes and glory, He is literally living inside me giving me the power to accomplish the good works that were prepared for me in advance.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

I hope that you are seeing through the reading these scripture passages two things:

1. God loves you. He is madly in love with YOU.
2. Knowing Scripture is imperative. If you don’t read the Bible, you will never understand just what lengths God has gone to redeem you back to Himself. You won’t know how to stand under trial. You won’t know His promises. You will be destroyed due to lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Know God’s Word! All God’s promises are mine as a coheir with Christ. God’s Word is true. It is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).

The Lord has been gracious to give me a teacher and mentor who showed me how to dream big by depending on Christ. His name is David. Just like King David, my friend David is truly a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). He is a simple guy and super likeable. What sets David apart (there is the definition of holy again) is that he truly believes that Jesus is with him wherever he goes (Joshua 1:9). David dreams big. If he wants an audience with a well-known person for example, David prays for the appointment, does what he can to accomplish his goal, and then he waits for God’s answer. I’ve seen Jesus open doors for David over and over again. God does the miraculous through David simply because David believes Jesus at His Word in faith and not fear.

Predictably, David’s influence has rubbed off on me.

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)

I recently took on a project that involved getting prayer leaders throughout the city of Indianapolis to volunteer to pray on the steps of Indiana’s State House on 9/11/2014. David encouraged me to “dream big” and aim high. The turnout that day was great, and Jesus afforded me the opportunity to meet key Christian figures in our state. I was so encouraged to be surrounded by influential men and women of faith. It was an awesome learning opportunity.

Back when I first came to Christ, the Lord revealed His plan for my life using the following verse:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Remembering that Jesus was speaking to his disciples here in Acts just before His ascension, when Christ said Jerusalem, He meant that the disciples would begin their work not far from home. The twelve would witness to their own Jewish people including the disciples’ inner circles and families. Judea and Samaria would push them outside their normal boundaries and cultural comfort zones. Finally, Jesus, looking forward through all of church history said that His Gospel message of grace would reach the entire world.

The Holy Spirit visited me as the Spirit visited the disciples on Pentecost back at the beginning of my faith walk (see blog post Fire). My “Jerusalem” is my family, neighbors, and friends. Scott came to Christ very shortly after I did, my husband got saved and is serving the Lord as a Bible teacher, and my parents’ faith is growing and producing good fruit. I take zero credit. All glory goes to the Lord Who is faithful.

Three years ago, I began working in a Christian school. I’ve taught a Bible study here and been able to serve God and His people joyfully. I’ve managed the prayer event just spoken of above and have gotten to do a myriad of other things that have helped me grow. Slowly, as Jesus allows, my sphere of influence is widening just as He said it would.

Truthfully, I’m looking forward to the next season of life when I get to be a light and a witness in the whole world. Those days are coming. I believe that Jesus is with me and will take me to those remote places of the world because His promises to me can be trusted. God’s dreams for me are BIG! Amen!

I don’t share these promises to boast in myself, but to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31)! I’m not deserving, but I believe in God’s grace and plan for my life. My name, Julie, means “youthful”. I pray that I will always be as a child, with childlike faith and dreams looking to Papa God to use me, a simple vessel, to accomplish His purposes.

To close this post, I will sneak in just a few more amazing Scriptures and a song that describe how much Jesus loves you and me.

“For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them
!” (Psalm 139:13-17)

For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust
.” (Psalm 103:8-13)

Undaunted

flower-in-sidewalk

I. Am. Tired.

Not just tired. I’m overwhelmed. I feel like a small animal wanting to weasel her way behind the potty during a thunderstorm. All around me is busyness. My thoughts are in turmoil. Things aren’t peachy in my world, and I’m brave enough to say so.

Someone I am friends with on Facebook recently wrote that she was thinking about leaving social media because she was tired of the façade. “Our lives are not all rainbows and unicorns,” she lamented. She was right to put off by the hypocrisy. Unlike every posed, cropped, filtered, and smiling picture, life is not perfect. It’s not whiny or a “buzz kill” to say so. It’s real.

I would like to expand on my Facebook friend’s point to say that life is especially difficult for Believers. God’s Word warns us that life will be hard for Jesus followers. However, every time the Lord speaks to us of inevitable suffering and trials, He then reminds us of our anchor through the storm, our ultimate hope in Christ, and His precious promises. A few verses to exemplify:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2 (Notice James says when you encounter trials, not if.)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
• And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

I had already written all of the above and much of the rest of this post when I came across a horrifying news report on CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHa5WemS2Kw.

I cannot fathom the trials and suffering the linked news story is covering. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is seeking to eradicate all Christians in Iraq by burning churches with dozens trapped inside, beheading children and placing their heads on stakes in terrorizing displays of barbarism, raping and murdering women in front of their bound and helpless husbands, and hanging and crucifying (yes, I said crucifying) men. It’s systematic genocide. Right now, 40,000+ Christians are running for their lives in the northern, mountainous, and arid region of Iraq some 50 miles from a safe border. President Obama has responded to their desperate plight by authorizing air strikes and humanitarian aid. I agree with the POTUS’s decision but wish he would do more. In fact, my flesh says, “Bring the rain.” All my pacifist tendencies vanish when I see a picture of a little girl dressed in a blue doll dress, hose, and shoes who is missing her head. Oh the horror. Yet, I have not only prayed for my Christian brothers and sisters, I have also prayed for their persecutors (Luke 6:28). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). I have also prayed that many would come to know Jesus the Nazarene because of the faith of Iraqis Christians.

After viewing the news and hearing of ISIS boasts that they “will raise the flag of Allah in the Whitehouse,” I go back to the scriptures I copied and pasted rather flippantly and hang on tight to their words. I am not arrogant enough to think that persecution will not come to my part of the world. In fact, I believe that in my life time and especially in my children’s, suffering for Christ’s name will be an ever present reality in the west because of our rapidly changing and (often) disintegrating culture. To quote the Book of James again: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” I am thankful for the hope that I have in Christ and for the crown of life that awaits me. This world, this utterly broken, sinful, often scary world is not my home. I am glad that one day God will erase the injustice on the planet when He comes in fierce justified wrath. By His spoken Word His enemies will be erased.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Until that great and terrible Day of the Lord, Jesus tarries. He waits with supernatural patience and love so that more of His lost children living in a temporal world would come back to their eternal home.

The personal “trails” that I began describing when I opened this post are completely superfluous compared to what my brothers and sisters around the world are going through. It is sobering to view my blessed cushy life from a wider perspective. My prayer after learning about these things is this: May I and the rest of the Western church be found faithful in our freedom. Amen.

However… 

Because Jesus loves me, He takes the time to comfort me. He used a strong man of God to bring a word of encouragement just this past Sunday. So, although my issues and battles pale in comparison to the persecuted church (and should not really appear in the same sentence), God is still taking care of me. Wow. How great is our God! And so, I continue to write very gingerly. I do so because I know I am probably not alone in my weariness. 

Yes. I admit it. I’m weary of doing good. The mind is the battlefield, and I am exhausted by fighting off the shooting arrows that attempt to break me down and tear me to pieces- particularly when I am low on gas. I have to fend off 1,000 lies a day with the truth of scripture. Lies that whisper that God doesn’t know what He is doing when He sets up boundaries, lies that tell me I’m not good enough or unlovable, lies that tempt me to quit running the faith race in favor of the concrete curb of Lukewarm Christianity.

Some days, when I’m feeling particularly blue, I look around at others living for themselves and wish my life were as easy. Answering to no ultimate authority is a fun illusion. Sin has a season. Living selfishly feels like flying- until you slam head first into a mountain.

Mercifully, God let me crash and burn when I was 18. Yes, I said mercifully. God loves those He disciplines. Many will never fall as hard as I did and thus never see their folly until it is too late. The consequences of selfish living hurt worse than anything I could ever verbalize here. I hope I never feel that much pain again. I still can’t openly talk about that period- perhaps someday. However, when all around me was ash and rubble in my late teens and early twenties, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life: living “free” by only serving myself led to slavery.

The Lord showed me that to gain my life, I have to lose it (Matthew 16:25). Unlike my Godless friends, I should pray about everything before taking any major life step (I’m working on being able to say “do pray” instead of “should pray”). I can’t work wherever I want, live wherever I want, go to whatever movie I want, make plans however I want, dress however I want, and say whatever I want. “Jesus is Lord” is not some trite profession. He is my Master and King. I must do His will out of the abundant love and gratitude for all He has done for me. Back in 2005, I promised to be a slave for Jesus. I wrote down that promise and signed my name. I still have this covenant/contract in a small Dollar Store frame as a reminder. The Lord needs no such reminder of my promise. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t kept my word every day at every moment, but I can say that this promise has dictated the course of my entire life. I am His and He is mine.

It’s not an easy life. The road is so narrow.

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)

How much easier would Moses have had it in this life if he would have chosen to enjoy palace life, drink, and be merry? Instead, he elected to walk a much more difficult path that included standing up to Pharaoh at the risk of his life, running from armies, circling mountains in the desert, and leading a grumbling, displaced, and disobedient people. Moses wisely understood that true riches had nothing to do with what the world could offer. He knew I AM, and willingly gave up everything in exchange for Him who is altogether worthy, beautiful, and holy. Paul confirmed this truth when he said, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

As I (finally) finish up what has proven to be a difficult post, today’s headlines have shifted from the dire situation in Iraq to the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Robin was a man who had it all according to the world: riches, fame, a beautiful family, a successful career. All of these could not bring him true lasting happiness. Christ said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mark 8:36) It’s a sobering lesson.

Daily I choose to sacrifice my wants and wishes as the men and women of God have done before me. I wait and hope and reach. Jesus encourages me to keep going when He says, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Truth is right. I have seen miracles. I have lost nothing and have gained everything. The joy that a life with Jesus brings is not the world’s shallow version found in such things as weekend entertainment, a big house, or public praise. The joy and gladness that I possess in Christ sustains me through the suffering and hardships of this life. I don’t need all the other stuff that is supposed to make me happy. They amount to garbage compared to the all surpassing joy of knowing Jesus.

One day in my early twenties, I drove down a highway leading me to Indiana University where I was taking classes during my senior year of college. A song called I Can Only Imagine started playing on my favorite and very secular radio station. When I listened to the lyrics, my eyebrows furrowed. “What is this cheesy song?” I thought. After a few more seconds of Velveeta, I checked the frequency to make sure I hadn’t accidentally nudged the dial to another station. Nope. I was still tuned into my regular spot. The more I listened to this (what at first I thought to be a) ridiculous song, the more uncomfortable I got. A man fervently belted out the chorus,

“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.”

Obviously, for the gentlemen singing, the prospect of meeting Jesus brought great hope. For me, facing Christ invoked only one feeling: fear. I knew I wasn’t right with God. I broke His laws daily and had to acknowledge that a just Deity would rightly punish me for my behavior. Although I was inwardly quaking at the truth coming through my speakers, I could not muster the strength to turn the dial or lower the volume. Even in my Godless state, I thought it disrespectful to change the station.

There were two things that I didn’t understand that day in my car:

1. Mercy Me’s I Can Only Imagine broke all records in Contemporary Christian music. The single became so popular that secular radio stations were forced to play it because the demand for the song was so high.

2. The Lord used this piece of music as the impetus to my new life in Him. My fear of death and of God drove me to begin to search for answers to life’s important questions. This fear was God’s mercy in action. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) I had lived a decade for myself in the pursuit of happiness but had never found it. The man singing had what all of us ache for- a peace that surpassing all understanding.

When I hear I Can Only Imagine now, I can smile because I am no longer afraid. My hope in Christ and the final glorious rest that awaits me is my all surpassing hope and thus the anchor in my soul.

The Solid Rock (Edward Mote)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. Refrain:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

My God Provides

If you’ve read my blog, you know that the Lord has brought me through some very tough financial times. In the span of one year between 2006 and 2007, I lost my teaching job, foreclosed on a house, had a car repossessed, and declared bankruptcy. Writing these events down matter-of-factly in one sentence is comical (I’m literally laughing at the idiocy of it) simply because they were anything but comical at the time. Jesus burned away everything material so I would be left with nothing but a desperate desire for Him. I wouldn’t trade this purging season in my life for all the gold in the world. Because of it, Jesus Christ became and will always be my pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46), my one true treasure, my magnificent obsession.

Because the Lord has shown me through His Word and my experience that He is my portion, listening to prosperity preachers on TV and in the pulpit misrepresent God and His promises is particularly nauseating. These wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing spread the lie that God is merely a genie existing to bless us if we only “ask” in faith. BULL-HONKEY! The “name it and claim it, blab it and grab it, confess it and possess it” crowd are merely practicing greed while hiding behind the veneer of religion. They forget that the Lord warned us that there would be a high cost to following Him and largely ignore the daily sacrifice of our desires and wishes in exchange for God’s will.

Let’s look at a most often quoted verse in its entirety:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (I John 5:14, emphasis added)

John teaches us to ask according the God’s will to know that our prayers are heard. In order to know the Lord’s will, we need to strive to know Him by reading His Word, through prayer, and by fellowship with other believers. Jesus wants us to seek His face first, not the works of His hands. (Aren’t we the same? I want to be loved for who I am, not for what we can do!)

Make no mistake, though! Papa God is generous. He loves to bless His children. One of my all-time stand-alone favorite verses is:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:7)

What a glorious picture! I wish I were a great artist in the likes of Rembrandt so that I could somehow create a work of art that would echo this light while silently speaking of the yearning to be reunited with Father. Oh the hope I carry with me because I know that one day I will look up into God’s face and see that light in person! I can’t wait to thank Him face-to-face for all He has done in heaven, on earth, and in me. I. Simply. Cannot. Wait.

I’ve intentionally stayed writing about God’s provision in my life until now. While I am moved and blessed by the Lord’s gifts, I am more moved by His love for me. That love changed my life! What I have found, though, is that when Jesus gives generously, He is usually trying to teach me something. Jehovah Jireh (My God Provides) wants me to know that He is Able, that He loves me, and that He is interested in the minutest details of my life. With that in mind, I will simply list out several times God has shown Himself as my Heavenly Husband providing for my every need (while saying a silent prayer asking God to bring them to remembrance):

• I applied for and got a job working as an unlicensed nurse assistant at a local hospital in 2008. About a week before I was to start the job, I knew I needed at least 3 pair of scrubs. I could only afford to buy one pair (we were broke and it wasn’t a joke!). I don’t remember praying specifically for scrubs, but I do remember worrying about not having them! However, as always, I possessed an undercurrent of unspoken faith that assured me God would take care of me. Jesus said:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

One day during the week before I was to start the new nursing assistant job, I got a call from my friend, Mindy, asking for help with a move. I knew Jesus wanted me to go and assist, but if I were honest at the time, I would have had to admit that I selfishly did not want to go. However, the Lord whispered in my ear that day, “There will be a reward for your obedience.” Begrudgingly, I obeyed and promised Mindy that I would be there to help. When I got to her apartment, I brought lasagna and packed up the last of the remaining stuff that was still there after a day of moving. Just as I was about to leave, she pointed to a big black trash bag and said, “Do you want any of that? If not, I am going to donate it to Goodwill.” I opened the bag and, to my utter shock, discovered that it was full of scrubs. The most remarkable thing was that they were in my curvaceous size. In one swoop, I got enough colorful adorable scrubs to clothe me at work for two weeks without doing a load of laundry!

• I was taking a class at a local community college a few years ago. While the tuition was covered by my employer, I was still responsible for purchasing the textbook. It cost $98 that I did not have. I prayed about it and waited for God’s answer. Only days later and before the start of the class, I opened my mailbox and found a check for $100 with a note from my wonderful friend Valerie in Oklahoma saying, “The Lord asked me to send this to you.” I hadn’t told a soul about my need- just Jesus. As always, He provided.

• In 2009, I quit the job at the hospital because working nights and being a joyful wife and mother were incompatible. I was grumpy and hated the sleep deprivation. (I don’t know how folks work nights for decades. My hats off to this industrious group!) It showed great lack of wisdom and impulsivity to quit without finding a replacement job first, and I quickly learned the foolishness of my decision. After only a few weeks of unemployment, we once again found ourselves in dire straits financially. So, I asked for grace and vowed never to be so stupid again!

One sunny summer day as I drove my children to the pool, I sorrowfully informed them that we were only weeks away from needing to sell our house because we could no longer make payments without a second income. I asked them to pray right there in the back seat for God to give me the job that I had interviewed for about a month before. I had waited for weeks for a response and had not heard a word from the employer even after follow up emails and calls.

My daughter, frightened of being vacated from her house, closed her eyes tightly and led a fervent yet simple prayer. Not two minutes after she ended her petition with an “amen”, my cell phone rang. I answered and was elated to be offered the job. After hanging up, my children erupted into applause and cheers. We all learned a very valuable lesson about God’s provision that day.

Later as I sat sunning myself by the pool (with a stupidly broad smile on my face I might add), I reflected on the stunning timing of the phone call. God had waited until my faith had almost completely run out to stretch and exercise my faith “muscle”. Just when I was about to fail to believe that He would do as promised and provide, Jesus swooped in as the mighty trainer/teacher He is with might and joy. Hallelujah!

That evening, I drove to church sans kids and knelt down in a little chapel to pray a special prayer of thanksgiving. Inside the quiet room, I found a rock. Clutching it into my hand, I knew I could use it as a “marker” in time so I wouldn’t forget what God had just done for me and my family. I chose to write one word on the rock with a Sharpie: PROVISION. That rock still sits on the dash of my car to remind me that my God is Jehovah Jireh. He will supply all my needs according to His riches and glory (Philippians 4:19).

• About a year ago, our dryer began to do bad stuff to our laundry. We pulled out shirts that were burned or snagged every time it ran. Ruining clothing was expensive, and I was convinced that using the failing machine was a fire hazard. As usual, I prayed for help but said nothing to no one about our need. God heard my prayer. A few weeks later, a lovely couple offered to give us their dryer because they were moving and did not want to take it with them. Instead of being stunned or surprised this time, I was simply grateful. I know my Daddy’s character enough by now to expect His help. He is THERE and will be faithful.

• This summer, my brother, Scott, moved to the Alabama coast. I wanted to go south when he moved for two reasons. One, I desired to help Scott and my aging parents unload the truck and lug boxes up a flight of stairs in 90 degree weather. Two, I really wanted to see where Scott lived for my mothering self and say an official goodbye. I calculated the mileage and the gas needed to get there and back and figured out that I would need about $300 to make the trip. This was a tough goal to reach because….

My hubby recently took a 50% pay cut to take a much prayed for job at the school where we both now work. It was a step of faith for us. We then took another step of faith when Jason chose to take a week of unpaid vacation this summer so he could serve as a camp counselor at my son’s church camp. I encouraged Jason to volunteer because I just knew Jesus would see his work and our collective sacrifice and repay accordingly.

After scrimping and scraping for a couple of months, I managed to save just enough to get to the Gulf and back. However, just four days before I was set to leave, an unexpected $200 check arrived. Smile! What a joy to know that I could breathe as I traveled and not worry about “unexpected” expenditures that I clearly could not have otherwise afforded.

Because we had given of our time, talents, and income, God gave back as He promises to do in His Word. He says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38)

• I was recently surprised by a word from Jesus that came out of the blue and scared me to death: God was going to bring a level of prosperity to my family. After testing the spirits and asking for confirmation, I became convinced that I heard Jesus correctly. Sheesh was that scary.

I am content with a little. I’ve grown accustomed to the dependency this post describes. My fear is that when the Lord changes our financial situation as I believe He has promised, I will be unfaithful with “much” and begin to trust in my own strength again. God forbid!

However, I have also prayed many times that one day I would be in a position to bless others for “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 23:35). For so long, I have been on the receiving end learning what it means to have childlike faith. What a wonderful thing to be able to help others as I have been helped so many times. Stay tuned for future stories of provision, Dear Reader, and pray that I would be found faithful in the bigger things (Luke 16:10).

I could go on and on with these miraculous stories of provision. Really and truly I could. If you aren’t convinced by what I say and what the Bible says about God’s generosity at this point though, more numerous examples aren’t going to win your heart and mind to this truth. Instead, I will end by saying that the greatest and most thrilling provision I’ve ever received from God is this: GRACE. Father’s grace showers down forgiveness when I deserve nothing but His anger. His grace draws me to His side. His grace, His magnificent, glorious, unstoppable, sparkling grace makes me more like His Son, Jesus. That, my friends, is enough to make rocks cry out, to make the lame dance, and to make this Indiana girl throw her head back and sigh with the deepest gratitude mere words cannot convey.

All I need is Jesus. HE is more than enough.

Submission: The Other “S” Word

two-become-one2

My son absolutely loves to play basketball. He’s good at it.  One of the highlights of dreary Januarys and Februarys the last couple of years has been Noah’s Saturday morning games.  I praise God for making Noah’s strong body and for creating his sharp mind whenever my son is on the court.  It’s a joy to watch him play. 

On one of those Saturday mornings this past winter, my husband was helping out by keeping time and running the score board. Jason was positioned between both competitors’ benches. He did his volunteer job well, encouraged the players, and helped out the coaches however he could during timeouts and halftime as he was often called to do even in their absence.  I sat across the court watching the game with my daughter and the rest of Noah’s supportive family. 

Unfortunately, my son and his team, who were largely a successful winning team, had a bad day. As the game got away from them, my son got more and more frustrated.  He wasn’t used to losing and missing shots, and his little nine-year-old body showed more and more signs of stress with each run of the court. 

During a timeout towards the end of the game, Noah went to his father in tears. I could see Jason trying but failing to console him.  A few seconds later, Noah was told to sit down on the bench and pass a colored armband he was wearing to a teammate so that that person could enter the game in Noah’s stead.  Instead of handing the armband to his teammate graciously, Noah threw it to the ground with great flourish and a frustrated grunt.

I watched the whole scene unfold quietly until Noah was disrespectful to his teammate. I have zero tolerance for that kind of behavior.  Knowing that the outcome of the game had already been decided (Noah’s team was down at least 10 points with less than 2 minutes remaining), I made a quick decision to pull my son from the game to teach him to never act that way again.  I knew it would be a tough lesson, but I preferred to address unsportsmanlike conduct while Noah was still little. If left unchecked he would morph into a rude teenage ballplayer.

I rose from my seat and began to march determinedly around the perimeter of the court to get Noah while the coaches and players continued to discuss strategy during the timeout. However, when my feet began to make the final turn to approach Noah’s bench, Jason’s gaze stopped me in my tracks.  He lifted a palm and mouthed, “Stop!”

Before reacting in any way, two thoughts went through my mind almost instantaneously. One, I was just sure that Jason hadn’t seen Noah throw his armband, so I was also certain he had no idea why I was approaching the bench. Two, Jason’s mortified expression told me that my approach was embarrassing him.

Instead of pulling Noah out, I chose to obey my husband’s plea to “stop”. I turned on my heels, gritted my teeth, and went back to my seat still determined to address Noah’s behavior at the end of the game.

A few minutes later, the ending buzzer sounded. As players and family started to mingle in the center of the court, Jason approached me and said with a tone of finality, “Do me a favor.  Don’t ever do that again.”

I was nonplussed and angry. When I tried to explain that Noah had thrown an armband and been unkind to his teammate, Jason wanted to hear none of it.  My reasons for trying to pull Noah out didn’t matter. 

“Just don’t do it again,” he repeated firmly.

I intuitively knew the subtext of what he was communicating without ever hearing the words. I understood that Jason felt emasculated when I publically encroached on his territory as he parented and volunteered. Although the thought never crossed my mind, Jason felt I was saying to him and to the world watching that I didn’t trust him to do a good job- that I didn’t believe in him.

A war began to rage inside me. As I attempted to bite my tongue, my mind whirled with thoughts that went something like:

“I’m Noah’s mother! I have every right to make parenting decisions!”

And

 “How pathetic that he is so insecure! Why does he feel the need to impress spectators… strangers really?” (I’m just being honest here.)

But mostly, my will reared up and quietly raged:

“HE CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

A still small Voice tried to pour water on the flames threatening to burn a hole through my body and incinerate my self-control.  

“Love is patient… love is kind…”

After honoring Jason’s initial wish for me to sit back down, I felt I had compromised and been considerate of Jason’s feelings. So, when he dismissed my explanation after the game, I had no patience left.  I also didn’t feel particularly kind. 

As I quietly fumed about not feeling truly heard, the Spirit whispered Ephesians 5:22:

 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

I inwardly balked at the instruction. By the time Jason and I made it to the car, I chose to squash God’s wisdom in favor of the whip that was my tongue.  I laid into my husband with the full force of my selfish will while ignoring God’s.  I said something about his pride being ridiculous (ignoring the pang of guilt when I felt the hypocrisy of my words).  The conversation quickly degenerated to a shouting match as we fought harder than we had in years.  The worst part was that I disrespected my husband in front of my children.

In short, I failed the test God had given me. Sigh.

Today I want to talk about the very volatile subject of submission. It’s such a difficult topic that I have tried multiple times to begin this entry but have been too spooked and overwhelmed to continue after typing only a few sentences.  The main reason tackling the subject has been so hard is because I know I haven’t even come close to mastering the command in Ephesians 5:22.  My doubts surface and say, “How could I possibly teach on submission without being hypocritical?” 

After praying for guidance, the Lord showed me where to begin: with the above story that demonstrates my failure. Ha! Of course!  Jesus requires my naked transparency and commands me to “first take the log out of my own eye [which I am currently working on], and then I will see clearly to take the speck out of my brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

I could spend time writing about what Jason did wrong in Noah’s game day scenario, but I won’t.  I am only responsible for my own actions/reactions.  Jesus asks me to work on ME and my plank, which brings me to my first piece of advice to wives.  In order for you to learn Biblical submission:

Work on you and you alone

Don’t be tempted to waste time asking God to change your man. Don’t spend your days making “helpful” suggestions on ways he could improve.  Your need to fix your hubby will only push him away because he’ll probably just hear your suggestions as critical nagging.   Solomon, who knew more about women than most said, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” (Proverbs 21:9) Again the wise king warns, “A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike…” (Proverbs 27:15) Yipes!  I certainly don’t want my lover to view my words as a constant dripping faucet! 

Instead of trying to play the role of the Holy Spirit in our husbands’ lives, we need to learn self-control and trust the Lord to deal with our mates in His time and in His way.   Our job is to try our hardest to let the Spirit change us and lead us to righteous behavior while encouraging our men and championing their strengths!  Oh how many marriages could be saved if we ladies could just follow this simple advice?! To put it most succinctly, a selfish woman dwells on the faults and failures of her partner and whines to Jesus for Him to change her husband.  A godly woman bravely asks, “Jesus, change me!”

It is in the spirit of that righteous “change me” prayer that I plunge into the controversial topic of submission with full steam and great faith.   The word submission can make even the godliest of women bristle, and with good reason.  Since the fall of man, men have used their strength and power to subdue and lord over us. For millennia and with few exceptions, women were seen as second class citizens, given no real right to participate in government or leadership, and granted no voice to speak out against cultural practices that continued to propagate our weaker status.  Women were used as pawns or property in political jockeying for power and control.  We couldn’t own property.  We couldn’t vote. We couldn’t drive.  Even today women around the world are mutilated, beaten, forced to hide behind veils, and enslaved.  Just last week, Nigerian Islamists stormed a schoolhouse where girls were taking exams because the militants thought it wrong to educate women.  Jewish men still pray the Talmudic prayer, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has not made me a woman.”   

Jesus never intended women to have this “less than” status. In fact, He was always elevating the role of women during His earthly ministry.  There are so many examples I can’t list them all, but here are a few:

  • In a culture where it was forbidden to teach women Scripture, Jesus did so boldly.
  • It was forbidden for a man to speak to women in public.  Jesus did so many times and expected women to demonstrate the same faith as men.  Jesus even spoke with the Samaritan woman and revealed to her that He was the Messiah.
  • Jesus gave the woman caught in adultery grace and treated her with dignity unlike her accusers who simply saw her as disposable property. 
  • Christ commanded Mary Magdalene to go and tell others that He had risen.  Mary was the first to take part in the Great Commission.

The rest of the New Testament is in agreement with the Gospels on the role of women. With one sweep of his pen, Paul gave women equal status with men when the apostle wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Even though God has demonstrated that He loves women and assigns the greatest of value to us, we have an enemy that seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. Because Satan hates God, he also hates women who are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) Therefore, the war against women rages on. Therefore, when I begin to speak to wives on submission to their husbands, many women fear that I am asking them to take a step backward and voluntarily agree to shackled wrists and feet.  I can assure you, Dear Reader, that this is not what I am asking!

(*I wish I didn’t even have to write this, but I feel compelled to pause here to address the devastating and always critical circumstance of spousal abuse lest someone misunderstand what I am trying to say. Please do not misconstrue my meaning here. I would never in a million years think it is okay for any man to abuse a woman. In fact, if a husband mistreats his wife, he has made the gravest of error and completely disregarded the Ephesians 5 mandate for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. A battered woman should escape a dangerous situation, and God is faithful to provide that way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13)).

To continue, what I am requiring is that we Christian women trust God and His wisdom over our own. For Yahweh declares, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) God has demonstrated that we can trust Him time after time.  Take a step of faith with me and trust Him at His Word. 

So what does God say about submission? Let’s read Ephesians 5:22 in context to get a better idea of what the Lord is asking of us wives.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,  that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-32)

OK. Taking a deep breath and starting with the most difficult command:

“Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” Ladies, I’m sorry to say there is no wiggle room here.  God made it clear He was serious when He led Paul to write that last part: as to the Lord.  We are to submit to our husbands as we submit to Jesus.  Ouch!

When I first was confronted with “as to the Lord”, my stomach fell to the floor and fear rose up to choke me like a noose. I cried out, “How can you ask this of me, Jesus? I can easily submit to You because I trust You completely.  You are GOD!  But submit to Jason like I submit to You?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Asking me to trust Jason with my LIFE when He has hurt me, failed me, and proved that he is all too human many times is terrifying!  This is too much!!!”

After my initial freak out, though, I began to reflect on the results of disobeying the command to submit to my husband on an individual level. For years I wished for a husband that was more involved.  I was frustrated with Jason’s lack of leadership in my home.  Instead of stepping up to lead, Jason took the road of passivity.  I was unbearably alone in training up our kids in God’s ways.  I walked around with a huge invisible weight on my back and resented the fact that Jason never seemed to want to help carry the load.  However, I had to admit to God and to myself that on the rare occasion when Jason did try to jump in and assist, I would criticize his efforts.  “Fold the clothes this way,” I’d say. “Don’t park there… park over THERE!”  Jason withdrew more and more preferring a comfy chair and the remote over a conversation with me.  And no wonder! Watching a game or hanging out with the guys spoke more to his heart and provided more validation than he usually got from his own wife.  

Then I wondered what the results of lack of submission in marriages were on a national level. Just a cursory glance told me that it was not good.  The divorce rate in America had risen 80% since 1970.  It is not a coincidence that radical feminists’ ideals took root in the hearts and minds of our daughters during this same period of time.  In 1960, only 11% of children lived apart from their fathers.  In 2010, that number had risen to almost 30%. I discovered that I was not alone in my frustration with Jason’s lack of interest in spiritual matters.  A typical congregation was 61% female and 38% male meaning that on any given Sunday there were 13 million more women in church than men.  

While feminists fought and won many battles for women’s rights, I observed that their once noble quest for equality had morphed into a movement that trampled boys. A few statistics that show this disturbing trend:

  • Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two.
  • Boys are 30% more likely to drop out of school than girls, and girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of academia.
  • Boys are more likely to commit suicide and/or struggle with depression than girls.

While society has spent the last few decades empowering its girls, we have largely ignored the heart cry of boys who grow up to be disillusioned unmotivated men. There is an epidemic of prolonged adolescence in America.  A Failure to Launch is not just a movie title, it is a way of life for millions for 20 to 30 something men who still live at home.  Studies show, for example, that men ages 18-27 spend more time playing video games than 12-17 year-old boys!  While the guys flounder, teenage girls and young women encourage each other with chants of, “You go girl!” and sing songs with a united theme that says “I am woman, hear me roar!”  What’s worse, if ladies were honest, many would have to admit that they silently believe that men are bumbling characters not as capable of “doing it all” as the feminine sex (just watch your average American sitcom to see men scoffed at and marginalized). 

But can women do it all?  The stats above and current trends say that even if we try to hold down the fort alone, there is a tremendous cost for our stubborn need for independence.  While it is increasingly acceptable for a woman to begin and raise families alone because of the “who needs a man anyway?” mindset,  a woman’s need to have a husband and a child’s need to have a father cannot be erased even by the most militant of feminists. United Families International writes, “As men who would fulfill [husband and father] roles no longer take their place, women increasingly turn to government for support. They [radical feminists] are the greatest supporters of government subsidies and are angered when the taxpayer isn’t eager to give enough support to daycare, government health care, even school lunches. In short, they choose to have the government become their husband. What radical feminists seem not to realize is that by exploding the family, they are destroying the very institution that has protected and provided for women over most of human history.”

The irony of the postmodern “enlightened” feminist is that she is not modern at all. She is simply living out the curse God pronounced on humanity after the fall.  For the Lord said to Eve after she had disobeyed God by eating stolen fruit,

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;

In pain you shall bring forth children;

Your desire shall be for your husband,

And he shall rule over you.”

(Genesis 3:16)

I want to focus on the phrase “your desire shall be for your husband.” I used to think that this meant that women would have an insatiable craving for their husbands’ time and attention.  After closer examination of the original Hebrew, however, I now understand that the Lord was speaking of Eve’s desire to usurp her husband’s position of leadership. When the Lord said to Eve, “And he shall rule over you,” He declared that Adam’s sinful nature would cause him to overpower her with ungodly dominion.  Clearly with the fall in Genesis 3 we see the beginning of the battle of the sexes.  Women will always be clawing to supplant men’s God given role of authority in the husband/wife relationship, and man will, in his fallen state, abuse his natural strength and position of power.  Scripture reveals that it is therefore my sinful nature that seeks to be critical and control Jason.  The “I can do it better” attitude, the “my way or the highway” need to control, the subtle jabs, and vicious comments all can trace their roots to the curse. 

Beneath my desire to control and reign in my relationship with my spouse, however, is a softer beautifully feminine wish to be taken care of, fought for, desired, and loved. The untarnished paradise of the Garden calls out to that fiercely strong woman inside. This renewed Julie is brave because she is open, vulnerable, and willing to risk her heart by putting her life in God’s hands.        

The world sees those who submit to authority as inferior and views those who are in positions of leadership as greater. However, in God’s economy, the world’s view of what’s important has been flipped on its head.  “The first are last and the last are first.” (Matthew 20:16).  We can look to none other than Jesus for an example.  The Son submitted to His Father in everything, but in no way was Jesus inferior to His Daddy.  Christ said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) Jesus’s role was to submit to the Father’s will though He was in all ways equal.  Jesus submitted out of His great love for us.  Philippians 2:5-8, one of the most awe inspiring scriptures in the whole Bible says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

A woman is asked to submit because her role is to follow in the husband and wife relationship.  However, her value is still equal to that of a man as I’ve already demonstrated using scripture. This is a super important yet subtle concept to grasp! It takes more supernatural strength to trust and obey God in submission than it does to follow a deceived worldly heart and take control.  Submission requires us to open our hands in total surrender and trust in God’s promises. 

Instead of shrinking back from God’s command to submit to Jason as unto the Lord, God asks me to demonstrate great courage and strength by being the most vulnerable I have ever been.  Even my female body beautifully echoes the bold, selfless, openness the Lord planned in my marriage relationship.  With great trust and faith, I lower the shield around my heart and take a step out into an unknown world where Jason leads.  I am the steel in my husband’s spine because he knows I believe in him.  The Spirit whispers, “Be strong and courageous for the Lord will be with you wherever you go!” (Joshua 1:9)

What does God require of my husband in return for my trust in his leadership? Let’s look at [the best part] of Ephesians 5 again: J

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-32)

God asks Jason to love me as Christ loved the church. When I read this requirement, I know Jason got the tougher job!  Jesus’ love for the Church is perfect love.  Christ’s “love is patient, His love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. God’sLove does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-9)

Every girl dreams of being loved in such a way. I already am loved like this because Christ loved me and gave Himself up for me.  Because I am satisfied in God’s love, I can offer Jason grace when he fails, when he proves that he is human, and even when he isn’t obedient to love.

I began with a story of failure. I’ll end today’s entry with a tale of victory.  And true to the blog’s promise, it is the story of a miracle.

One day when I was first exploring what it looked like to submit to my husband on a day to day basis, Jason and I drove down a local road with Zoe and Noah in the backseat. We were ruminating over where to dine out for dinner.  He asked me, “What do you want for dinner?” Thinking this was a great opportunity to practice submission, I replied, “You pick!”  (For the record, I’m not saying that a woman can never pick a restaurant.  However, when a man hasn’t led much in a marriage relationship, it’s best to start out small.  Let your man try his hand at leading in a small matter.  He’ll gain confidence as you respond each time he leads with affirmation and encouragement.  Finally, your husband will have the courage to lead in the bigger more critical areas.)  As soon as Jason made a restaurant suggestion, I almost responded in a way that was borderline cliché by suggesting something else more to my liking even though I had just asked him to choose!  I am ashamed to confess the strength it took to not complain about his decision and instead say, “Okay, let’s go!”

We pulled into the parking lot and walked inside the little Mom and Pop place. That’s when God began to show off.  From the moment we sat down at our table in the dimly lit restaurant, I was absolutely astounded by the reward Jesus gave because of my one teensy act of obedience.  The owner of the restaurant greeted us and spoke tenderly to my children as a grandfather would his grandchildren.  We knew within seconds that he was a Christian.  His well worn finger pointed to the dark brown walls that surrounded us directing our eyes to pictures of smiling kids.  He said with pride, “These are my children!”  The owner explained that he worked and ran the diner just so he could make money to visit these pictured orphans in South America and minister to them.  He then went to the kitchen and brought out gifts for my children.  My daughter got a beautiful bracelet made by one of the owner’s orphan girls, and my son got a hand crafted wooden toy made by a young boy.  The man then ended our experience with a free desert for both Zoe and Noah.  As we prepared to leave the restaurant, I stood behind my husband who was paying the bill.  A small whiteboard sign sat on the floor near my left foot.  It read something, “I work so I can give.” I stared at the back of Jason’s dark haired head fighting back tears and thought, “Lord Jesus, how have I limited this man that You love because of my pride? By Your grace, God, help me to never get in the way again.”

God says that our work is to believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ (John 6:29). Women, I call on you to do the hard work of believing that Jesus, the Word of God Who became flesh, is faithful to keep His promises.  Ladies, we work so we can give. By believing in God’s wisdom, we are empowered with the strength to submit and trust in our husband’s leadership.  In our obedience, we give to our husbands the most precious gift we could ever give them: the strength and encouragement to do the work God has prepared for them to do since the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10).  Our men will in turn give us the love we have always longed for and craved.  It is in this give and take that we become one.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery.” (Ephesians 5:31)

 

SOUCRES:

http://thisismarriage.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/the-failure-of-feminism/

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/04/opinion/bennett-men-in-trouble/

http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

http://www.livescience.com/5505-society-ignoring-boy-problems.html

Progression

I haven’t written in a while because it seems I am suffering from a bit of writer’s block. Even though I know what I am supposed to write about- everytime I start to type the next entry, I have a hard time getting past the first few sentences. I don’t want to explain why right now. Later.

I promise though- I haven’t forgotten this project or the finish line. Lord give me strength.

Until I manage to write another entry, I’ll attempt to keep my readers with a bit of poetry. There are five poems below. They tell the story of my life in loose chronological order. Please be forgiving and know they are all works in progress- especially the last and most recent.

Praise and honor to His Name.

RESTORATION
Smoking wicks
Want to burn
But need a little air
A crushed reed
Can grow strong
And see its own repair

Hope can come
In small boxes
And yummy ice cream cones
In sunny days
Pink wool sweaters
Talks on the telephone

Smoking wicks
Turn into flame
When love breathes around
Tender shoots
Mature in blankets
Made of pillowy down

We hold treasures
In jars of clay
They’re broken, maimed and marred
But that’s okay
We have a Father
That can heal our scars

Red hot fires
Are built slowly
Starting deep in the soul
Beautiful trees
Mature to give
Fruit that makes others whole

UNLIKELY QUEEN
A graceful fawn
Dances and leaps
In fields of green
A new day dawns

Batting lashes
Beckon a lover
She blindly leaps
Wild, unabashed

Decisive break
A doe is lost
Smashed and brittle
Without her mate

A tail goes white
Exposed, alone
Searing sun wilts
Green hearts to die

Tall and robust
10 points and strong
Knows there’s promise
Sitting in dust

Velvet brown eyes
Pour golden truth
Seeps in white spots
Her soul replies

Royalty sees
Beauty covered
Calls out in love
Crowns a fawn queen

SOWING DREAMS
I choose to drive far from the city
And into bucolic looming fields
I choose to turn away from the smoke
And cast down dusty crimson walls
I choose to find a way to yield
Even when my chest burns
I choose to climb from crushed white metal
To throw a sorrowful seed
I choose to watch the long kept kernel die
Because standing there in green rolling hills
I choose to believe in whispers
And dream new dreams of glass slippers
When I cannot perceive
I will see
I will hope
I will love
I choose.

THE STAND
Not a fist
Or a wall
But a golden bloom

Family sings
Nations call
Self pales like the moon

Sharpened swords
Truth beckons
Shimmering vast deep

Craven crushed
Gallant souls
Bow low and reap