Love is a Battlefield

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On Black Friday, my children, husband and I sat underneath a string of colored lights in a Mexican restaurant enjoying an unhurried lunch. Happy conversation drifted effortlessly from one topic to another until it landed on family lineage. I remarked that our son, Noah, was the sole person to have any hope of carrying the Hamner name into the next generation.

At this point, my comprehending daughter piped up, “Noah, if your wife doesn’t give birth to a son, you should adopt a boy!”

My husband, Jason, responded, “Yes, but that’s not the same.”

My fork stopped midair, and I gaped at him in shock. Didn’t he remember that I was adopted? How could he be so uncomprehending? Trying to stop him from saying something even more hurtful, I asked, “Are you really saying these words?”

Ignoring the warning in my question and facial expression, Jason blazed onward with an explanation. “The child wouldn’t be a blood relative, so it’s not the same.”

Time slowed down. I turned my face away from the table and stopped breathing. So many ominous gray thoughts began to prickle and congeal, but before I could form a coherent word or react any further, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Adopted into the beloved…”

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Father God, using His Word as a sword, zoomed in to tear down the lie that threatened to take root in my heart right there in the restaurant. This lie was the same falsehood I had worked my whole life to fight. It was the lie that told me I was not accepted, that I was not loved, that I “was not the same” as other children. I thought that I had won this war when I had settled contentedly into the truth of God’s love for me years before. I was wrong.

That was because this time I was hearing the lie come out my husband’s mouth. I was stunned. Slowly panic began to hit, and then I could feel that panic try to give birth to something more crushing: shame. I recoiled.

NO. This was not happening. I could not let this happen!

Before saying another word, I got up from the table, walked to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and howled. All my shell-shocked spirit could do was pray for help. In complete desperation I pled, “Jesus!” over and over. I had faith that Father God would fight the fiery arrow trying to burrow its way into my mind just as He had always done.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:16)

He would keep his promise that nothing could separate me from His love. If He didn’t, I would be ruined.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

After a few minutes of ugly tears, I found the strength to imagine grasping the fiery lie and the crippling shame with both hands, gathering it together to create a tight ball, and throwing the ugly mass to the eternal throne where my King continually sits interceding on my behalf.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Slowly…slowly with each breath I took, the hurt and panic ebbed away. Calm and peace took their place. God’s Word was stronger than the lie and my riotous reactions. Satan had no power over me.

Steeling myself with another silent heavenward plea, I exited the stall and washed my hands and face. Then I left the quietness of the bathroom for the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. The Mexican décor no longer had a joyous effect, but instead the colors and blaring foreign music left me dizzy and off balance. I wanted to escape- to take cleansing shower in a dark room without any other stimulus to push on my already overwhelmed body.

But I had to rejoin my family. They were probably worried about me, and I didn’t want to ruin their lunch entirely.

Jason held out his hand to take mine as I sat down at the table. As he stumbled through a sincere apology, I looked into Jason’s agonized blue eyes and realized I wasn’t even angry with him. There was nothing to forgive. By the grace of God, I understood that the whole experience was a spiritual attack to which Jason was only a bystander. God would not waste the opportunity to point me to higher understanding.

It is January now, a couple of months removed from the rawness of that day. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this little incident will serve as a marker in time. A war was waged, and I won. And you know what? It really wasn’t a fair contest.

I will win all battles, both big and small, when I apply the truth of God’s Word.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

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
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or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
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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:
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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.

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.