Fighting Godzilla

fighting godzilla

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy.  Ack!  What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable.   I started feeling listless and unmotivated.  I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.

It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change.  And in a way, that’s true.  But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.

Jesus said something radical in the passage above.  He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks.  What matters is what is in our heart.  Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another.  It will affect us and others.

I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago.  Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband.  (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?)  But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.

If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear.  I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all.  The problem was my fear.  I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.

And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life.  I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another.  Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain.  I hate that feeling. (I know,  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I keep grappling with it.)

So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.

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I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in.  I work very hard at making sure everything goes right.  I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.

But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.

It’s like a Godzilla Fear!

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It’s like a Terminator Emotion.   Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?

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That is what my fear can be like.

Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities  — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.

And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves.  But how?  It seems impossible!

Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful.  (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)

Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.

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Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape!  The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.

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The same thing is true with our heart.  We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that.   In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant.  So is digging through our emotional baggage.   But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.

There are effective tools in helping us with this.  I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.

Look for the shoots.  In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart.  It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively.  It propagates more sin

There are weeds in my yard that have a root system.  I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.

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The two sprigs in front are connected weeds.  I’ve tried to get rid of these things a thousand times!

In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE.  Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out.  It’s up to ME.

So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding!  Is there hope?  I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good.  In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control.  Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off.  (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)

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So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:

A more total dependence on God!

I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.

It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War.  He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down:  “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“

It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear.  When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do:  have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”

In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns.  We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt.  Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  John 6:29

Having faith takes work.

Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling.  It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.

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She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time.   She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”

Wow.  I want that kind of faith.  But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.

So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.”  Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe.   Here are a few of the truths I repeat:

  1. God loves me incredibly.  Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
  2. God is merciful and compassionate.  Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
  3. God is a provider.  Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
  4. God is good.  I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
  5. God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
  6. God is my father.  Matt. 6:9
  7. God is faithful.  II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
  8. God will fight for me.  Ex 14:14
  9. God will mature me.  Phil. 1:6
  10. God wants to give me good gifts, and all things.  Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
  11. That I can approach the throne with confidence.  Heb 4:16
  12. That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
  13. That there is hope. Rom 5:5
  14. That Jesus is willing.  Matt. 8:3
  15. That my prayers will be answered.  Mark 11:24

This is just a starting point.  Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.

I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions.  But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart.  They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.”  I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.

All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling.  My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.

And faith feels good.  It is purifying and healing my heart.  And that is the goal.

 

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But I’m Trying So Hard!

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 

He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’  . . .  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  Mark 7:1-2, 5-7, 9

I’m the “Pharisee” in our family.   I feel like you have to go by the rules.  For example, when I bike, I always wear a helmet and stop at the stop signs.

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Biking in Albuquerque

When Ken and I bike around Auburn, there’s this one place where you are not supposed to make a left turn, but instead make a long detour.  That might be fine if you’re in a car, but it’s a drag when you’re riding a bike.  I’ve seen bicyclists make the left turn anyway.  But I’m so legalistic, I have to stop, and walk my bike across the intersection to make sure I’m not disobeying the sign.

What were the real Pharisees like? They were the party of Jews who ministered to the common people.  Their thing was keeping a set of oral laws in addition to keeping the written laws.  They believed that Moses gave oral laws that told people how to apply the written law.  These oral laws were handed down from generation to generation, and were just as binding as the laws of the Old Testament.

And one of the oral laws was that you had to wash your hands in a prescribed way before you ate.  According to my research, if you were going to eat the ceremonial offering, you were supposed to wash your hands all the way up to your elbow.  If you ate with an individual, you would wash your fingers.

This went much further than the written law, which only listed one short verse about the washing of hands: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  (Lev. 15:11)

But it does seem like a good idea.  Modern science tells us that it is certainly hygienic.  And the Pharisees were trying to be zealous.  They were trying to ensure that everyone would be sure to be obedient to the scriptures.  You would think God would like people to expend all this effort to try and please him.

Instead, Jesus let us know that God was highly displeased.  Something had gone way wrong.  His people had gotten to the point where their focus was on following on their traditions instead of following the commands of God.

Isn’t this what can happen with all of us, that our focus gets off of God and onto man?

We think we are serving God in a better way, but our gaze subtly changes to our own efforts and plans.

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Ultimately, we can get so wrapped up in seeking to DO things for God that we don’t seek to KNOW God.

Last weekend I hosted my daughter and a young woman who was one of her best friends while she was growing up.

 

It was a wonderful visit.  We shared a lot of memories, and it reminded me of the highs and lows of raising children.

You know, I thought I could do all of the right things and my kids would make the right choices.   I came up with all of these plans and implemented them.

But in their teen years, things still went south.

I confess, I was angry and discouraged.  I had tried so hard to do the right things.  Why didn’t that work?

But then I felt like the Spirit taught me that God didn’t want me to rely on my plans, even though they included many good things. If I did, I would think that success was due to following the plans.  God wanted me to, instead, completely rely on him, and know that success would only come from that.

God wanted me to seek to KNOW him.  And that is what I started doing.  I stopped thinking that I knew what I should be doing, and instead, like a desperate beggar, prayed, each day, that he would give me the wisdom and insight to know what I should do that day.   I lived by the verse, “Your grace is sufficient.

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And every day his grace was sufficient.  He supplied what I needed to raise my teens.  (By the way, my kids are awesome!)  I’m still learning to apply this today.

What is a Pharisee?  Let me tell you about something scatterbrained I did last week.  I vacuumed the whole house, and I was so intent on watching where the vacuum needed to go that I didn’t notice that the canister was missing.  I hadn’t replaced it after I emptied it.  I vacuumed everything, but all the dust went right back into the air!

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That’s what being a Pharisee is like.  We get so intent on doing things for God that we forget the component that makes it all work.

That component is understanding God.  It’s learning, day by day, to have his heart.

We’re trying so hard!  Let’s make sure our efforts are taking us closer to God, and not further away.

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  Jer 9:23-24

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Moments That Are Much More

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.  Mark 6:53-56

So many people.  So many needs. It got to the point where the only interaction Jesus had with many was when they touched the hem of his garment.

It must have been hard for Jesus to have limitations that he didn’t have in heaven.  In the spiritual realm, somehow God is able to pay attention to millions of people simultaneously.  Jesus could only deal with one person at a time.  Surely his heart was pulled to connect with each precious soul as he saw their face. Surely he longed for more time with each one.

Over the past few days at the wedding and on vacation, one thing that made my heart sad is that I didn’t have time to have a good talk with all my old friends and my family members.  I saw them, they were right there in front of me, but the clock ran out.

At the wedding we called for everyone who had been a part of our church to gather and pose for a picture.

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I got a HUGE lump in my throat.  So many individuals who are dear to me!  It was like my insides weren’t big enough to contain all the emotions I was feeling.

The same was true when I gathered with my family members who I don’t see very often.

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And then, as if my heart hadn’t been strained enough,  five of my good friends recently moved away.   You would think that as I get older, it would get easier to deal  with this.  But, I tell you, it gets harder!

I so much want to connect and make moments.  And when I am able to connect and make moments, I so much long to hold onto them.

It’s like this verse:  “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end [of time].”  Eccl 3:11, NIV, God’s Word Translation

We feel the beauty, even the sanctity, of the moments God gives us.  But we are melancholy because we realize that it is only for a time that we have the beauty.  Somehow we know we are made for lasting happiness, but can’t experience it here on this earth.

Our hearts hurt!  Yet there is good news.  Jesus heals, just as he did when he was on earth.

I think part of his healing is giving us a myriad of good gifts, gifts that fall on us like rain on parched ground.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had many healing times.

There was healing as I saw dreams come true in the wedding of Devonte and LaJasmine.

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There was healing through every interaction I did have time to have.

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There was healing in being surrounded by love with my family.

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There was healing as I took in many scenes of nature’s beauty.

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There was healing in visiting my mother’s memorial.

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There was healing in being with my grandchildren.

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There was healing in having a “date day” with my husband.

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I could go on and on.

I use this verse a lot, but it’s so true: “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  (Hebrews 6:7)  God showers us with blessings, but we have to recognize them, we have to drink them in!  We can’t be so caught up in what is going wrong and what we don’t have that we miss being nourished by what we do have.  We can’t be so shut off to pain that we’re shut to the healing. 

We are to be “overflowing with thanksgiving.”  (Col 2:7)   Gratitude is a fountain that we can drink from time and time again.  We can make lists, take pictures, treasure things in our hearts.  These will help us remember, be thankful, and be renewed.  

And something uncanny happens as we do so.  Being thankful makes our little transitory moments last.  In a sense, we are holding onto them.  We are putting time in a bottle.  We see that the moments we wished could be more ARE more.

Going back to the story one more time, it would have been tempting for Jesus to minimize the importance of a person simply touching his cloak.

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He didn’t have time to love them, or build a relationship with them, or teach them.  But it was still big for them.  In their world of brokenness, they had a healing moment.  And I have to believe that although Jesus didn’t have time for more, God took what Jesus did and used it to keep on working in their lives.

It’s also tempting for us to underestimate the impact of our fleeting interactions with others.  But I see it like the loaves and the fishes.  God can take little and make it into much more.  He can create a positive ripple effect in our moments.  Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Cor 15:5)

We will always live with limitations on this earth, having not enough time or strength.  But Jesus offers us refreshment in the face of frustration.  He offers us power in the face of impotency.

And one day, in heaven, our hearts will be truly satisfied.

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Faith Like a Snowplow

Travel anxiety

Travel anxiety

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and [Jesus] was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.  Mark 6:47-50a

Okay, here is a passage about fear.  The disciples were alone in the dark, getting blasted by wind.  Then they thought they saw a ghost and totally freaked out.

How easily we give into fear.  I found myself experiencing a lot of anxiety when I went on my trip. With the fatigue, the scramble of being in different places, and carrying a backpack instead of a purse,  I was so afraid I would lose something.  I constantly checked to be sure I had my wallet, phone, camera and meds.  I’d wake up in the morning and not see my thyroid pills and worry that I left them at the last hotel.  I’d sit in the car and feel my mood plunge because I couldn’t remember packing my camera.  I actually did leave my phone at my dad’s motel, but we were able to retrieve it.

Here are some places I went.

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Also, on my trip, I was also afraid of not feeling well.  I felt uneasy because my root canal was still achy and my toe was hurting.  Would they get worse?  What about other maladies I suffer from?  Would they act up?  I packed my backpack with every kind of cure for physical ailments — teas, pills and even my Nettie Pot!

Can you relate?  What makes you fearful or anxious? What are your props to keep you feeling secure?

Of course, it’s not wrong for me to keep up with my stuff, or to make sure I’m prepared.  But it is wrong to be ruled by my insecurities.  Let’s keep reading:

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  Mark 6:50b-52

Fear comes from having a hard heart.  We don’t understand about the “loaves,” the ways God has provided for us in the midst of scarcity.  And so we gather our own “loaves” and clutch them tightly.

On Sunday, we visited our sister church in Albuquerque and two of the campus guys did a lesson on Matthew 6.  One talked about verse 25, where Jesus told his disciples not to worry.  The campus guy’s point was, “The mind wanders to what the heart wants.”  In other words, our worries reveal what’s most important to us.

Yikes! That means that what’s important to me is feeling in control, having everything in place.

Instead, what should be important is focusing on God.  If I could just realize that he is what I really need to keep with me, much more than my phone or my emergency kit!

So this trip I started aggressively using my shield of faith.  I would picture myself wielding it, pushing forward in hope and pushing away all of my fears, worries and uneasy feelings.

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But after awhile, I decided I needed a bigger shield.  I needed something more like the snowplow of faith!

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The snowplow of faith is the knowledge that God is a loving faithful father who is with us, even when we can’t see it.

It’s the acceptance that we may have to go through that thing we fear, but when we do, God’s grace is sufficient and he will provide at the right time.

It’s crucifying the temptation to worry, be afraid or give into dejection. (Gal 2:20, 5:24)

How easily we give into fear.  The disciples in the boat freaked out because they felt vulnerable and defenseless.  I feel the same way without my stuff. (Lol — first world problems. I do have bigger fears I struggle with too.)

But then I keep thinking of Joshua and Caleb.  They were the only ones who made it into the Promise Land because they were the only ones whose faith was bigger than their fears.  They had faith like a snowplow!

Let’s fight to have the same kind of faith to make it to the Promise Land as well.

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Rest for the Soul

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.  Mark 6:45-46

Sometimes you have to get away to recharge. Ken and I just returned from vacation in New Mexico.  Some of the vacation was busy and filled with relatives, so it wasn’t necessarily quiet.  But it was nourishing to be loved by so many, and it was peaceful to be on the vast prairie of my family’s ranch.

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When Ken asked what I wanted to do on the last weekend, I said that I would like to be somewhere beautiful where I could be quiet and reflect.  So Saturday afternoon Ken and I went to the top of the Sandia Mountains outside of Albuquerque.  There, we hiked to a place with an amazing view, and prayed out loud as we took in the majesty of God’s creation.   It was just what I needed to process the many things I’ve gone through in the past couple of weeks.

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The next morning I arose early, moved a chair to sit outside of our second story hotel room and had a long time with God while I watched the sun rise over the mountains.  I wrote down everything I was thankful for.  I connected with scriptures.  I could feel the tight places in my heart begin to relax.

It’s good to go on vacation and get away.  But we need more than that.  We need time in quiet places where we can be restored.    Jesus made this a priority.  I don’t know how he managed to stay up at night and pray when he must have been dog tired after teaching people and taking care of their needs all day.  But I guess he knew what he needed rest for his soul more than he needed physical rest.  Surely we are the same.

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How Do I Give When I’m Tired?

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The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. . .

(Then Jesus sees that they have no food)

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied,   Mark 6:30-34, 41-42

This passage challenges me!  It’s hard for me to imagine giving as Jesus did, when he was so tired and depleted.  Yet somehow he found the strength and inspiration to teach, and feed masses of people.

I think the key was that Jesus was accessing a deep well of compassion.  It was like he was pulling from God’s heart, and that gave him what he needed to give to others.

Sometimes we forget how big God’s heart is.  Look at how God describes himself:

And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”  Ex 34:6

God has this huge reservoir of tenderness, this innate concern for people.  God has empathy.

I’ve been learning about the power of empathy lately, and it has been one of the most profound, life changing lessons for me.  Check out this video by Brene’ Brown.

The message of the video is that if someone is in a pit, it’s much more helpful to them if you to get down in the pit with them, rather than if you just tell them how to get out of the pit or stress the positive side of being in the pit.

And that is what I think Jesus did with this crowd.  He got in the pit with them.  He was moved by their their helplessness and their hurts, so he made their desperate needs his own.  He confidently drew from God’s power to meet these needs, creating a feast from a snack, knowing that God also was moved to get in the pit with these people.

This thrills my heart!  And it is even more thrilling to think of the cross, where Jesus gets down in the pit with us in an epic way.

I love what Ann Voscamp wrote about the cross in The Broken Way:  “Over all of us is the image of the wounded God, the God who breaks open and bleeds with us.  How do you live with your one broken heart?  All I can think is — only the wounds of God can heal our wounds.”

This reminds me of Isaiah 53:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities . . .

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.  v. 4a, 5

Jesus saw our plight and our misery, and came and lifted the burden off of our shoulders and onto his own.  He saw the overwhelming mess we made for ourselves, and got in there and cleaned it up for us.   And that means he himself experienced the mess — the anguish, the depravity, the limitations of the flesh.

Sometimes, when I’m not doing well, it’s hard for me to go to God. I know he’s compassionate, but he seems so stern.

But I can go to Jesus on the cross.

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The cross is the place we can bring our hurts, our inadequacies, our despair over a world gone wrong.  The cross reflects everything that’s broken, so we don’t have to be ashamed of our own brokenness.  The cross is a place we can relate to, where hope seems lost, but then where we are lifted up because we know that Jesus experienced the worst and came out on the other side.

The cross is the place where his wounds will heal our wounds and his brokenness will heal ours.

And this doesn’t just happen with salvation.  There’s something immensely powerful that happens as we remember the cross.  It’s like we get down in the pit with Jesus, as he got in the pit with us, and there we are able to experience God’s deep well of compassion, his huge reservoir of tenderness.

Every time we do this, it gives us the strength and inspiration to go out and give to others.  We tap into the same source that Jesus had.

That’s what we need so much.  That’s what I need.  Because it’s easy for me to feel empathetic to someone’s plight.  It’s much harder to act empathetic,and stop whatever I’m doing to get in the pit with someone

Yesterday, I had a root canal.

dentist

Okay, it wasn’t as bad as this picture, but it was challenging.  It started with a crown that cracked two weeks ago, continued with a visit to the dentist a week ago that was supposed to fix the problem but left me in increasing pain, and ended (hopefully) with multiple shots of Novocaine, prolonged drilling of my tooth roots and bleary convalescence.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I was also experiencing stomach problems and some kind of respiratory virus.  Ugh.

But the best thing about all this was that it makes me more empathetic to those who are going through physical challenges.  It reminds me how lousy it feels to be down and out, and how nice it is when others remember you in prayer, text to asking how you’re feeling, offer to drive you to your appointment, or drop by some soup.

It totally motivates me to empathize more with others by doing something, and not just by sympathizing with them.

The cross is like this example, but on steroids multiplied by a gazillion.  It changed things for all time.  We have a real solid example of the vastness of God’s compassion.  We can never be the same.

Empathy becomes vital to how we practice our faith.

How do we give when we are depleted? We do as Jesus did. We tap into the compassion of God. 

But God knew it would be hard for us sometimes, so he gave us a conduit to make it easier for us to tap in.  He gave us the cross, that takes us straight into the huge heart of God.

And there we are healed. We are inspired.  We are empowered.

Our vision clears.  We see the person and the need, and we are moved.  And we find ourselves giving more than we ever thought we could.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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God, Why Did You Allow This?

wrestling with God

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”  Mark 6:14

Friends, I feel like I have been learning so much!  And this passage, that is next in my study of Mark, goes right along with what I am learning.

It’s horrible that John the Baptist was put to death in this way.  I mean, he did so many good things, he was totally focused on serving God, and his reward was to get his head chopped off!

Why does God allow such things to happen?

I’ve been thinking about this lately. Why does God allow us to go through tough situations?  On one level we know that life is hard, and there will be challenging times.  But on the other hand, we struggle when they happen to us.

On the cross, Jesus prayed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Jesus-Cross

And that is what we all ask when we go through trials, “God, why are you allowing me to suffer like this?  I thought you loved me.  Where are you?”

It’s funny, because I think I’m a good Christian.  I think I know how to have the right attitude in suffering.  I apply verses like I would take ibuprofen, and they dull the pain for awhile.  But deep down, I’m still angry.

And now I’m realizing that I’m still angry because I haven’t wrestled it through with God.  I haven’t been completely honest with him.  I tell myself that my struggle is due to situations or people.  But my struggle is really with God.

So last week, I got down on my knees and dug through my heart in prayer.

I uncovered layers of hidden thoughts and emotions, and bared them to God.   I realized what I was really feeling was, “God,  I’ve been trying so very hard to do all the right things.  Why do I have to deal with this?  It feels wrong.”  It wasn’t just that I didn’t like dealing with what was going on.  It was that I felt like I shouldn’t have to go through it because of my constant striving to be what I should be.

Once I saw that, I could feel the Spirit begin to respond to the question with the answer, “Because I am God.  I will do what I will do, and I don’t have to give a reason.  It is not your right to be free of this struggle.”

Ken and I just just took a little vacation trip down to Jacksonville to see his dad and stepmom.

With Dad

It gave us a good chance to talk in the car.  It was Father’s Day, and we were discussing how many people attribute their emotional angst to wounds they received from their relationship with their dad.  Ken said that while he knows his father wasn’t perfect and this has an affect on him, he sees much more that he, himself, made bad choices, and suffers the consequences of those choices.

I told him that the difference between me and him is that when I look at myself, I don’t see all the bad choices I’ve made (although I know there are there) as much as I see how hard I’ve tried hard to make a lot of good choices.  So it’s easy for me to get resentful or even blame someone when things go wrong.  Why would it be my fault?.  I was trying hard.  I was doing good.

What a Pharisee I am!!!  Pride in doing the right thing is every bit as destructive as it is to do the wrong thing.  It’s deceptive.  It keeps me from taking personal responsibility.  It makes me feel entitled.  It opens me up to become paralyzed by anger for long periods of my life.

“In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” Ps. 36:2

Pride keeps me from being able to deal with the worst.  I think I have my armor on.  I think I’m ready.  But Satan always manages to hit me with that one thing I didn’t anticipate, that one thing that strikes me where I am most vulnerable, that one thing that I’m sure God shouldn’t allow to happen.

And there’s that word that becomes a stumbling block for prideful people like me: “shouldn’t.”  As soon as I think God “shouldn’t” do something, I’m in trouble, because I start thinking I know better than God.

prideful

God is God.  It’s not for us to question or criticize. All through the Bible we see how he protected his people, but also sometimes allowed the worst to happen.  John the Baptist was beheaded.  Herod had all of the boys aged 2 and younger to be slaughtered.  James the apostle was executed by the sword.

“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.”  Hebrews 11:35-37

I’ve been reading church history.  It amazes me and appalls me how many people died over the course of history for their faith.  It didn’t just happen in the early church, with the Romans.  It didn’t just happen during the reformation, when Catholics killed Protestants, and vice versa.  There is a copious trail of blood ALL through the history of Christianity.  People of faith were always killing other people of faith who had different beliefs.  .

ISIS-Kills-Christians-660x330

Why would God allow his people to go through this?  We’re back to the question again.

One thing we do begin to see is that see that we’re not a special case.  If people all through ages endured this, how can we feel entitled to be exempt from suffering? Let’s face the fact that God sometimes allows bad stuff to happen to others, and to us, things that wound us, things that seem wrong and make us feel abandoned.

And when the bad stuff does happen, our job is to wrestle through it with God.

“Not one thing in your life is more important that figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”  (Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way)

We need to fight that battle in prayer to figure it out.  Figure out how to let our light shine when the world is dark and broken.  How to face hardship with integrity instead of bitterness, anger, avoidance or self medication.  How to live out the cross.

I’ve been fighting that battle, and I’m finding that the battle makes me dig deeper to find peace, joy and affirmation in HIM, and not in my efforts to do the right thing.

I really don’t understand why God allows us to go through tough situations.  I have verses I could quote that would be a partial answer.

But this much I do know: the more Satan tries to shut us down, the more we find regeneration in Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. . .

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  II Cor 4:7-10, 16-17

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