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Vanquishing the Doom Gloom

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Last week someone close to me hurt my feelings, and it sent me into this crazy downward spiral of emotions.  I thought I dealt with that, but then I had other ups and downs, and realized that I still had some kind of strong uneasiness going on.

I finally put my finger on it.  The incident had triggered the Doom Gloom in me.  Doom Gloom is to be distinguished from Doom and Gloom, which is being characterized by a glum disposition. Doom Gloom is a strong foreboding that something got broken, and is not going to work, and life is going to stink!

As I studied out the passage for this week’s blog, it gave me some insight into my Doom Gloom, and led me to a powerful way to deal with it.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.  Mark 8:11-13

These verses talk about how the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to show them his creds.

This bummed Jesus out.  Why?  I mean, it seems reasonable to ask him to prove who he was.  Others in the Bible were given signs.  Gideon asked for and received a sign with the fleece.  God gave Moses a sign through his staff.

moses staff

To understand this, we have to understand how God views “testing.”  Look at the time when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  The devil took him to a high place and told him to throw himself off the edge, because the scriptures said the angels would catch him when he did.  Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The scripture Jesus used refers to Exodus 17, when the Israelites were in the desert and came to a place where there wasn’t any water.   They freaked out and ganged up on Moses, telling him he had better come through with something to drink!  Moses told them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” (Ex 17:2)

So then we want to know how it was that they were putting God to the test in this situation.   The end of the story tells us, “they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7)

moses complaining

When the Israelites couldn’t see God, they couldn’t have faith.  The Lord had helped them in so many ways.  Yet when they lacked water, they started doubting that he was among them.  They had to have a sign, physical evidence.

The Pharisees were doing the same thing.  Really, as Jesus said, it wasn’t just the Pharisees.  It was the whole generation.  Everyone wanted to see immediate physical evidence, over and over again, that the Lord was with them in the person of Jesus.  Otherwise they couldn’t have faith.

And I want to make one more point here.  In the case of the Pharisees, asking for a sign was probably bogus.  They already had their minds made up that he wasn’t from God.  In Mark 3, Jesus had been doing miracles and the teachers of the law said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  They saw signs, but to them the signs meant that Jesus was working with the power of the devil.  Somehow all of their religious knowledge made them so wise in their own eyes that they couldn’t see the truth.

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And all this made Jesus sigh deeply.  He was sad that a generation which had a history of God being among them still couldn’t have faith.  He was sad that the religious leaders had closed the eyes and doors to their hearts.

The lesson for us, of course, is not to fall into either category.  We need to have steadfast faith and open hearts.

First, just like the Israelites, we need to steadfastly believe that God is with us because we, too, have a history of him being among us.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Acts 14:17
  • For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  Romans 1:20
  • “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  Job 12:8-10
  • Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. Isa 40:22

I know when I think over my life, I can see the mile markers of God taking care of me.  He orchestrated a way for me to know him and attend a wonderful church.  He provided a husband who would be my partner in faith, and made my marriage immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.  Over the years he’s given me a hope and purpose, an amazing job, success in raising my children, stronger mental health, and a mission that is a dream come true.  He’s worked in so many ways.  I could go on and on.

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A recent outing with my family. I am so blessed!

Yet when something goes wrong, I’m still like the Israelites, doubting that God’s going to take care of me.  I get the Doom Gloom.  I have to fight this!

Second, we need to constantly work on humility so that we won’t be so wise in our own eyes that we miss the truth.

“No!” we think.  “We’re not missing the truth.  We know it and we’re living by it.”  We think we’ve figured out God.

But God works in so many ways that we don’t expect.  And we have blind spots.  We still need to learn and grow.  We’re not there yet.

I certainly have grown in my convictions over the years.  I’ve found out that I need to stay humble and open.  I need to keep going back to the scriptures to gain deeper insights.  I need to pray for wisdom and ask God to show me the truth.  I need to realize that although I’m pretty sure I’m right, I might be wrong.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. Prov. 26:12

In the end, this passage about the Pharisees trying to test Jesus is changing my life.  I’m loving it! Why?  Because after I studied it out, I asked myself, “How would my day be different if I really believed that God is with me?”  I saw a lot of ways. It was convicting.

So I started remembering and believing that God is with me in the different things I do.  I found myself being less timid and more giving.   I believed God was with me when I checked out at the store, and I had a great chat with the clerk.  I believed God was with me when I got with someone who needed encouragement, and I found I had more to say. I believed God was with me when I was tired and emotional and wanted to hide, and I was able to push through.  I believed God is with me when I prayed, and I prayed for more impossible things.

me and yesenia

I am so thankful that God works in our times with friends!

Let me encourage you to do the same!  It is SO HARD when things go wrong and we get the Doom Gloom.  We so badly want to test God and have him show us that he is among us, instead of looking to ourselves to develop our faith muscle.

Let’s repeat over and over to ourselves, “God is with me.”

Satan wants us to freak out. Satan wants us to be blind in our own conceit.

But we can live with strength.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession. . . II Cor 2:14a

 

 

 

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When the Hurt Wins

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “My heart yearns over the multitude, because they have stayed with me now three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”

 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.  Mark 8:1-9 (mixture of translations)

To me, it’s pretty incredible that Jesus had compassion on this crowd.  It’s hard for me to have empathy for large groups of people.  It’s feels too overwhelming.  It seems to impossible to help them.

If ever there was a good time to read this Bible story about compassion, it’s now.  It’s CRAZY lately! We’re having hurricanes, wildfires, an earthquake.  My stepmother is very ill in the hospital.  A close friend just underwent a tragedy.  (Here’s Irma at my house.)

Yet I confess that I often don’t feel the compassion I should.  I was talking to my aunt earlier in the week.  She called to see if we were okay in the approaching storm.  As I listened to her, I could tell her heart was very heavy.   She was feeling really down about all the hurricanes and wildfires.  It was a heart check for me.  I need to be more like her.

The goal is always to have a soft heart.

And one thing I am learning is that, although some people have the gift of compassion, most of us need to work at softening our hearts.   For me, I tend to get intent on my life, and what I need to do.  I might even be intent on the way I need to serve others.  But when I do so, it’s like I have blinders on and I don’t see anything else.  The needs around me don’t make a great impression on me.blinders1

So how do we soften our hearts to be more like Jesus?  First, we need to try to see things from their perspective.  Jesus said, “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  

Jesus really looked at what it was like for them.  He saw they faced a long hungry journey home. In the same way, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “What are they going through?  What does it feel like?”

Second, we try to relate.  As I thought about those whose houses had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey, I remembered when my house was hit by an ice storm and we were without power for several days.  I had to made accommodations to live and sleep elsewhere.  I was homeless, just as they are.  This made me more motivated to help the hurricane victims.

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The fallout from the ice storm, many branches down in our yard.

What will help in relating is admitting just how needy we, ourselves, are, on a daily basis.  When we are in touch with our own desperation, we can connect to the desperation of others.  Our prayer time with God needs to be real.  We need to lower the barricades and and pour out our hearts to Him.

Third,  we need to put a face to it.  The news and social media are great for this.  When we see the individuals, we care more.

This week I’m reading a book that is in part about the boat people who fled Vietnam after the war there.  It was a terrible situation, and many lost their lives.

boat people4

One American man saw a picture in the paper of the face of one of the boat people.  Maybe something like this —

Boat people

That man happened to be the president of World Vision.  The face he saw motivated him so much that he put in a great deal of effort and fought for six months against many odds to expand World Vision to start caring for the boat people.  They were able to save many lives.

Will we look at the faces?  Will we see the person behind the face, and let it motivate us?

Because here’s the thing.  We’re all brothers.  That is why Jesus made the effort to help the crowd.

I love what Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Have we forgotten, or do we remember?  Do we remember that the second most important commandment is to love your brother as yourself?  Do we remember that, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it?”  (I Cor 12:26a)

Do we feel kinship, or do we feel apart from the rest, like they’re not our tribe, or like we’re better than them in some way?  In the book I mentioned in my last blog, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle wrote, “”Often we strike the high moral distance the separates ‘us’ from ‘them,’ and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us . . . Jesus was not a ‘man for others’; he was one with them.”

Jesus was one with others.  It is God’s dream come true that we live this out as well.

But now I’m back at the place I started.  I want to have a softer heart.  I’m working on it. But it’s still too overwhelming!  There are too many people, and too many needs.

Last night I watched a well done documentary about missionaries to New Guinea.

What really inspired me was what the missionaries in the field said were the qualifications  for being a missionary there.  It wasn’t being a Bible scholar or an eloquent speaker or having some special gift.  It was having a willingness to go and do what they could.

And that is what I see in the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000.  Jesus wasn’t paralyzed by the great number and the great need.  He was willing to do what he could.

Are we willing to do something, even if it seems like we only have a “few loaves and a few small fish?”

I guess the question is not, “Can God use me to meet this need?”  But it’s, “How can I not put myself out there to be used to meet this need?”

In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle tells the story of a mother who lost two of her grown children to gang violence.  It absolutely tore her up.  And then she had heart attack symptoms and found herself in an emergency room bed next to a rival gang member who had been shot.  The medical staff was frantically trying to save this guy, and as she looked over, she realized it was probably someone who had killed one of her sons.  At that point she had a battle going on inside.  She could wish he would die or pray for him to live.  She found herself crying as never before and fervently begging God to save his life.  Why?  Because she realized didn’t want his mother to go through what she went through.  “The hurt wins,” she explained.

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We have to find a way to let the hurt win.  We must soften our hearts enough so that the pain of the need motivates us more than the other things that pull at us.

That is having the heart of Jesus.  That is why we put ourselves out there even when it seems overwhelming.

And when we are moved to put ourselves out there with what little we can do, God takes over and does amazing things, just as he multiplied the loaves and the fish.  I believe it.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Compassion that Transforms

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!”(which means “Be opened!”).   At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  (Mark 7:31-37)

Can you imagine being locked away in your head, not able to hear, not able to articulate your thoughts?

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Deaf Chinese girl

It would be tough.   For most of us, it’s way outside of our realm of experience.

But there are other ways of feeling locked away.  I recently read a fictional story about a college age girl who had been in foster care all her life, and was finally adopted at 16.  Because of the deep scars from her past, when she gained a family she still found it almost impossible to engage with the world.  She couldn’t believe that she had worth, that people could really care about her.  She isolated herself and did everything alone.

The story isn’t about a real person, but it probably resonates with a lot of us. We also have had hard times in life that have caused us to withdraw.  And the irony is that although our circumstances might be the cause of our withdrawal, we ourselves choose to continue staying in confinement long after the circumstances have passed.

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I’m speaking from experience.  As I’ve been working on my character, I’ve come up against these walls I didn’t even know I had.  I hide behind them in fear.  I’m scared to step out and engage.

It’s interesting.  The passage above says that Jesus gave a deep sigh when he healed the deaf man.  The Greek word used here for sigh actually means to groan.  I think it was the sound Jesus made as he felt the man’s inner anguish and the magnitude of the task of healing.  Healing for Jesus wasn’t just a callous flick of miraculous power.   No, he was MOVED to his core to focus his whole efforts on helping that person.

That’s the kind of amazing compassion Jesus has for us.  Yet it’s hard to believe in.

In the story, the girl’s father sends her care packages while she is at college.  But she can’t bring herself to open them.  Finally, the day comes when she cautiously unwraps the most recent one.  She sees that her father has written her a note, “I know you’re not opening these, but I’m still going to send them.  Because that’s what fathers do.”

Doesn’t this remind of of God?  He gives to us, not because we deserve it, but because that is what he does.

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The question is, can we venture out of our internal refuge and unwrap the gifts God is giving us?  Can we engage more fully?  I want to.  But often I have this sense of dread and fear that holds me back.

Going back to the passage, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, he put his fingers in the man’s ears.  He touched his tongue.  That is another manifestation of the compassion of Jesus.  He doesn’t just tell us to get better.  He reaches out to us and puts his finger on the blockage, the source of our problem.

As I was praying this morning, I realized that the blockage for me is feeling like I am not enough.  I play over my recent interactions and think I should have done better.  I contemplate the day ahead and feel weight of expectation.

My problem is guilt and shame.

I’ve been reading another book lately, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” by Gregory Boyle.  (Warning:  this book contains rough language.)

It is written by a Catholic Jesuit who ministers to the inner city gangs in Los Angeles. Boyle writes that all of the gang members have one thing in common: shame.  “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know.  In a letter from prison, a gang member writes, ‘people see me like less.'”

So many of us feel like people see us like less, and we come to believe it is true.

We need the compassion of Jesus, that he would touch our shame.  We need the truth of it to penetrate our walls.

Here are verses that are penetrating my walls.  I’m learning to be kind and gentle with myself, as I see God’s kindness and gentleness.

  • He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Luke 6:36b
  • While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8b
  • He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45
  • If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matt 7:11
  • Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Cor 13:4,7
  • His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.  Lam. 3:22b-23a
  • As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.  Ps 103:13-14

In conclusion, when Jesus healed the deaf mute, Mark says the people were overwhelmed with amazement.  Why were they so amazed?  Hadn’t they seen or heard of other miracles Jesus performed?  This healing had to have been especially wonderful for them.  A man who had never uttered a word could not only hear, he could also hold a conversation.  When you think about it, it IS astounding.

It gives me faith as I work on my character.  I can change, with Jesus’ help.  He believes in me.  His compassion loosens the stuck places in my heart.  He gives me “gifts” that help me grow, if I will unwrap them.

Here is one gift I’ve been given.  We now have a mature women’s discipling group!  We call it WOW, “Woman of Wisdom.

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One of the greatest things about the WOW group is that I don’t have to feel shame with them.  We bare our souls and see that we all have similar weaknesses.  We have compassion on one another, and say, “you are enough.”

That is how God is.  He sees all our warts and failures and still is merciful.  He delights in us and tells us, “you are enough.”  That is what will melt our defenses and transform us.

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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.

foot of cross

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.

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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.

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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.  .

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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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God is My Safe Place

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Friends, I am excited to share with you something that has been one of the most helpful truths I’ve ever learned: God is my safe place.

This has clicked with me in a new way because I’ve been realizing that one of the things I crave most deeply is safety.  I try to control things around me.  I have this compulsion to create order.  I’m performance oriented, trying to be perfect.

Part of the reason I need safety is because I’m insecure by nature.  But I’ve also discovered that I can trace this need for safety back to the time when I was 16 and my mom got divorced from my stepfather.  It felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet, and everything was chaotic.  My mother was having a very hard time.  I felt powerless.  Life stunk, and I couldn’t do anything about it.  I was lost in depression.

So I developed protection mechanisms against my fears.  I would try to be perfect and control the world around me so I would not feel vulnerable.  Over the years I’ve grown and I can find much peace and security in God.  But there’s still this lurking fear of chaos, and this knee jerk reverting back to my protection mechanisms.

But now I’ve had this huge light bulb moment.  God is my safe place!  Only he can satisfy my deep craving for security.  Only he can calm my fears.  I can’t tell you how much this is changing my perspective, how much more relaxed I am.

The scripture that is thrilling my heart right now is Ps. 91:2,  “This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”  (NLT)

I am in a bubble of protection, where it’s like I’m in a peaceful field of flowers.

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Where is your safe place on earth?  For me, I think of watching the waves on the beach, or sitting on the wide prairie at my family ranch and listening to the wind blow.

This is what our safe place is like in God, only much, much more so!

Ps 91 goes on to describe how we have safety in God:

He will shelter you with his wings; you will find safety under his wings. His faithfulness is like a shield or a protective wall.  (v. 4, NET)

For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. (v. 11-12)

We are safe because God is our protector.

Just as a bird shelters its young, God’s warm loving “wings” form a barrier between us and harm.

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It is a true force field!  No evil can reach us unless the Lord allows it.  If you don’t believe this, read the book of Job and see how Satan had to petition God to be able to tempt Job.

God has a divine security system.  He guards what is most precious to him.  Immensely powerful angels are commanded to take care of us.  I don’t know how this works, but they are there.  God doesn’t leave his own vulnerable, at the mercy of evil.  He assigns assets from his incredible resources to take care of them.

We are safe because God is our rescuer!  We don’t have to fear falling prey to chaos.

For he will rescue you from every trap. (v. 3)

Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. (v. 5)

When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. (v. 15)

Here are some of my biggest fears — I fear feeling like things are out of control, I fear that something bad will happen that leads to more of a mess, I fear the downward spiral, I fear making mistakes, and I fear failure.

But it is becoming clear to me that God has my back.  His heart is for me, and when things go wrong, he’s there at my side, helping to work things work out.

More than this, though, I’m seeing that it is bigger than just me crying for help and the Lord answering.  It’s that God has a plan, and I am a part of that plan.  He saved me for a reason and he has a purpose for me. (Eph 2:10)  All through history, God has accomplished his plan, and nothing, I mean nothing, has been able to get in the way of what he intended to do.  The same is true when it comes to me.  I’m so scared, thinking something is going to go wrong, or I’m going to mess things up.  But I am a part of God is doing, and what God is doing is like a solid wall.

Philippians 1:6 says,  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  God is going to get me where I need to go, in spite of disaster, in spite of my weaknesses.  Yes, I need to do my best.  Yes, I must remain vigilant against evil.  But I can be peaceful and assured.

We are safe because we rely completely on him.

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. v. 9-10

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  v. 14

Isn’t it ironic that we want to be safe, but we keep putting our trust in things that really can’t keep us safe?  We cling to our deeds, our job, our possessions, our relationships, our bank account, our strength, our intellect, our routines.  And, of course, these things aren’t stable.  But when something goes downhill, we hold to them for dear life because they’re tangible and they’ve given us a temporary sense of security in the past.

Until it gets worse, and then we cry out to God, and God’s like, “I want to be your life preserver, but you have to let go of the sinking ship!”

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In order to be safe, we have to jump headlong into something we can’t see, something that feels unsafe.  We have to throw ourselves into God’s arms.

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If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. Luke 17:33

It’s a solid truth, repeated over and over in the Bible.  Life works when we trust completely in God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”  Prov. 3:5-6

“Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

So I’m developing new protection mechanisms: jumping into God’s arms, envisioning myself being in the tranquil oasis with God, holding to the promises that God will protect and rescue me.

And I feel free.  Free to be myself and work out God’s plan without constantly editing myself and the world around me.

But there’s one more thing.  Something in me protests, “But God doesn’t always keep us safe.  He sometimes allows terrible things to happen.”

That is true.  And my answer is I Corinthians 10:13 — “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In our hardship, there will always be something we can grasp onto that will help us get through.  It could be finding the perfect scripture, or gleaning an insight, or feeling comfort, or being strengthened, or having a prayer answered at just the right time.

God sometimes keeps us from the bad stuff, and sometimes he doesn’t.  But he will always help us when that bad stuff comes.  We will still be safe, because God is immeasurably faithful, and he has immeasurable resources to bring to bear on our behalf.

My fears are subsiding.  I’m fighting that voice that says, “Things are falling apart.  I hate myself.”

God has set me in a state of security IN HIM.  He is the answer to my deepest desires, and I am tearful with gratitude.

“There is no fear in love.”  I John 4:18b

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We All Need a Net

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Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent.  They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.  Mark 6:1–13

There are a couple of things that I want to discuss about this passage.

First, I am impressed by how much Jesus wanted everyone to have a chance to hear the gospel.  He knew that there would be some who would reject it.  But he wanted them to have the seed planted in their heart.

And the seed is powerful.  But we see here that the seed wasn’t just the spoken message.  It was also the evidence of God’s power, which was seen in healing and demons being cast out.

And today, people can still see the power.  I don’t believe that we generally have the miraculous gift of healing or casting out demons, as the apostles had.  I do believe that people can be healed miraculously through prayer.  But putting that aside for a moment, I want to stress that our lives show the power of God.  We have overcome sins that many others are entangled in.  We are joyful even when it doesn’t make sense.  We love the unlovable.  We serve instead of seeking our own comfort.  These things have a major impact.

You know, back in early February, a woman named Beverly found our church on the Internet.  She was searching for a church that was more than just attending a service and then everyone leaves.  So our web site piqued her interest and she came to visit our service.  She later told us what she was thinking when she saw our church for the first time.  She saw people really living the truth, really caring about one another.  She went out into the parking lot and called her sister, and told her, “I found it!”

For those who are seeking with open hearts, our life is a seed.  Sometimes the seed takes root right away.  Sometimes the seed is buried away, and when adversity comes and reality is exposed, the person remembers the little seed and starts to nurture it.

When we were first married, Ken and I were part of a church where people were wholeheartedly living out the Word.  Then for eight years we went to another church that had many good people, but wasn’t the same.  We became lukewarm.  We got to the point where we were so sad, and so sick of our lives.  We weren’t sharing our faith.  Our marriage was a mess.  We were lonely.  We were caught up in sin.

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Our wedding day

Then we remembered the seed, and  how much we wanted to be all out for God.  We moved to be a part of a church like the one we had been a part of years ago.  And our lives changed in incredible ways.

Being exposed to powerful lives made a huge difference in our lives.   And the point of all this is that Jesus wants everyone to be exposed to this.  He wants people to see others who are living out his word.

Because the second thing I want to discuss is how people are in the grip of Satan.  They may not be demon possessed in the sense that we see in the New Testament, but the devil has a hold on them.  Look at how Acts 10 words it:

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  Acts 10:37-38

I like the wording, “under the power of the devil,” because it’s more like what is happening today.

II Timothy 2:26 says, that people are in the “trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”  The devil has carefully lays a snare, and people are caught fast.  They find themselves doing things they never thought they’d do.  They want to be different, but they can’t break free.  Life becomes a downward spiral, and they feel mired and lost.

Do you know what is interesting about the Greek word used here for “take them captive?”  It’s the same word that is used in Luke 5 when Jesus tells Peter, “Don’t be afraid.  From now on you will be catching men.”  It’s like people can be caught by either Satan, or by us, as we tell them and show them the good news.

I went to our church’s Bible talk in Columbus this week.  A young woman who has been visiting talked about how she had recently been slacking on the disciplines like reading her Bible, praying, etc.  She confessed that her life had started going down the tubes.  It felt like Satan was hitting her on every side. She shared that she was so grateful that her friends at the Bible talk  had exhorted her to get back to doing what she needed to be doing.  She was feeling so much better, and she said they told her some hard things, but it was was she needed to hear.

The friends helped get this young woman out of the devil’s clutches.  And that’s what we need to be doing.  We need to help people to quit going after the wrong things.  We need to help them get sustenance, instead, from the word, prayer and fellowship.

And it will be all the more powerful if they can see us doing that, and not just hear us talking about it!

This week I found out that a young woman I studied the Bible with who became a Christian but later quit coming to church is going through some very tough challenges. It is very sad because if she had kept coming around, she almost surely could have avoided making the poor choices that caused these tough challenges.  It is heart breaking that her life has become a train wreck.

You see, life is full of challenges, but some messes can be avoided.  Look at what I Timothy 6:10 says:

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

This verse is talking about leaving God because of the love of money, but the result is the same regardless of why you leave.  Your defenses are gone.  You’re like a sitting duck in a shooting gallery.  And you get pierced with many griefs.

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In closing, I want to tell you a quick story of something I saw on Memorial Day.  Ken and I rode our hybrid bikes to an area at Chewacla State Park where there were large rocks and rapids.  A family was hiking, and their trajectory took them across this treacherous area.  They had four teen and preteen children.  They also had grandma, who looked to be in her mid-60’s, and the mom was holding grandma’s hand the whole way, so grandma wouldn’t stumble.

When the family came to a place where grandma would have to jump from rock to rock across some rushing water, the mom and oldest son took off their shoes, waded into the water, held their arms out and formed a safety net on either side of the passage, so that they would catch grandma if she fell.  The son in law stood on the other side, ready to pull her to safety.

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The rapids to the far right are the ones that grandma had to jump across.

I was very touched.  I thought, “This is what we should be for one another — a safety net.”

We all need a net.  We need our friends to be our safety net, keeping us from falling into Satan’s trap by encouraging us to keep up the spiritual disciplines.

Those in the world need a net.  They need to caught by Christ and not by Satan.  They need to hear the word, see us and our lives, and know that we care.

Jesus needs us to be his net.  I love that thought!  I want to keep people from being pierced by many griefs.  If I can help some to avoid this, it is so worthwhile.

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