Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bittersweet Spring

I love the arrival of Spring! I love the colors after the drabness of winter. I love the warmth after the cold. I love the life after a season of frozen sleep. But it also has some hard.

My boys’ trees bloom so beautifully each year… a weeping cherry for Peter and a Kwanzan cherry for Andrew. So precious. So sweet. And yet hard because Mother’s Day is coming. It never gets easier folks.

So I am always looking, reading, training myself on suffering and hard and how to keep perspective.  Recently I read a chapter called “The Cry for a Reason for Suffering” in Ravi Zacharias’ book Cries of the Heart. He walks us through Job’s story, the Bible’s thesis on suffering. He describes four main conclusions Job learns throughout his experience. And as I read through them, I realized they were matched my four foundational lessons as well.

Knowing so many friends and family that are hurting and struggling right now, I thought we’d go through them one at a time. Maybe one will speak to you, if not all of them. Maybe they will just prepare you to comfort and journey with a friend…

Most people who teach on Job readily acknowledge that God never really answers Job’s main question of why. Instead He answers questions with questions. And everyone I’ve read or heard basically came to the same conclusion that God is bigger than us, beyond us, Sovereign, and we must simply trust His plan. But I will be honest and admit that I was unsatisfied with that in light of losing my boys. How could a loving God reply like that to my pain? No parent I know would answer their child in such a way.

Finally, RZ helped me grasp a fuller understanding of God’s response. He states,

Job has built his whole argument on the fact that he needed to know what was going on, because only on the basis of that knowledge could his confusion be dissipated. God reminded him, as a first step and only that, that there were a thousand and one things he did not fully understand but had just taken for granted.

And I understood that just as I had to trust God for the limits of the ocean, the rising of the sun, the happenings of everyday life I could not explain, I too had to trust God’s control with my boys’ lives and homecomings.

But RZ also explained this was only a first step. Did you see that? He continues,

Yes, God challenged Job to admit his limitation and to allow God to be God. God insists that those limitations do and must exist.

But God takes Job beyond just making him think it was all too vast for him. (PRAISE GOD!) What God wanted him to realize was that this same God who brought such pattern and beauty into a world He had fashioned out of nothing could also bring a pattern and beauty out of Job’s brokenness.

That, my friend, is the revelation I needed, the missing piece in this confrontation with Sovereignty. I cannot deny that this is still hard. It’s hard to accept. It’s hard to trust when the pain is so great, the struggle so long. But I can attest over these 15 years since Andrew’s been gone, the 5 years since Peter went home, this is truth. This is the redemption of God in action… working to turn evil into good, brokenness into wholeness, pain into joy, sorrow into praise. This is what keeps happening in my life.

I can say that now, so many years later. But I must remind myself of it often. And if you are in a place where you hear it but struggle to receive it, I get that. I needed more and RZ provides that, nicely summarizing major lessons I needed to understand to fully embrace today’s truth.

So join me on Friday, and again next week as we continue building this foundation- one strong enough on which to stand no matter the storm.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Without God...

Have you ever asked yourself what life would be like if you took God out of the equation?

I journaled about that thought recently and drew four significant conclusions.

1) Life without God results in simple and shallow pleasures.

A life without faith focuses solely on the here and now.  Yes, some people go deeper into family and relationships, but it’s often about proving one’s self, climbing the ladder, making more money so you can have more stuff, more fun, more pleasure. It’s about feeling good, enjoying things, being happy. That happiness tends to revolve around the circumstances in which you find yourself. Thus, it can be fleeting. And life becomes trying to outweigh the challenges, outweigh the bad, with more pleasure,  more enjoyment. Without God, where is there purpose beyond myself?

2)  Life without God brings impossible problems.

Without God, we are limited to the resources of humanity, the resources of creation. When cancer bites, economies crash, health fails, what do you do then? How do you get through? What is there to make sense of the world, of the brokenness, the pain, the trauma, the fear? Without God, we tend to escapes to get us through. We worship that which we think can rescue us…. Power, money, food, alcohol, drugs, sex… We live life in fear, fighting to control things we can’t. How do you stay sane like that?

3) Without God there is no regulation with others.

Without God as an authority, life becomes all about what feels good for me. There really is no basis, no foundation, for morality. The source for good becomes a concept relative to the individual. Thus what feels good for me is right for me. And eventually that ends up infringing on another. Yes, some groups band together and decide upon agreed rules and regulations, but as people come and go within those groups, as people and thus norms and expectations – culture – changes, so can those rules. Where is the security when there’s no foundation?

Finally, (and I think this scares me more than all the others…)

4) Without God there is no one to save me from myself.

Without the hope and rescue God provides, I am forever stuck in my sin. The selfishness, the pride, the anger, the fear that all so readily consume my life are there to stay. I have no hope of rising above them, of leaving them behind. Sure I can try hard, I can establish rigid discipline, I can even make some progress now and then. But I can never be truly free, never be made new. I will always be stuck, always have a past that haunts and present that fails.

I truly cannot fathom living life without God. A life with God gives me a purpose outside myself, a part to play in His story, an eternal story that truly matters. It makes sense of the broken and provides hope for the future.

A life with God gives me somewhere to turn… not to escape, not for a crutch, but to Someone who has the power to solve whatever I face. Nothing is impossible with God. He’ll either make a way through or provide a way around. A life with God means I’m not alone.

A life with God provides an authority for my life and my actions. It provides guidance and regulation for my actions with others. It establishes boundaries that offer security and fairness for all. It has a foundation for good that exists without not within, and thus works for everyone involved.

Finally, a life with God frees me from myself. It provides a means to become new, to become like Him. I don’t have to be a slave to sin and death, but to be free to choose life and blessing. I have the chance to become, the chance to grow.

Oh to make this clear to others! How do help them see what they are missing? How do you reveal there’s more than what they know? How do you help them see?

Father, only you can make the blind see. Remove the scales from their eyes and let them see their need for you. Draw those I love who do not know your name closely to yourself. Fill them with an insatiable hunger that can only be quenched with you. Raise up resources, voices, opportunities in their lives that they can know the truth. Show me how to be a part of that revelation. Use me. Teach me. Show me: That someday we can bow in worship and praise your name together. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Into the Darkness

This weekend I watched the movie Taken. I know it’s an older film. We tend to watch movies at home through Netflix rather than frequent a theater. In one sense, the story line was a beautiful picture of the depths of a Father’s love for his daughter- the lengths he will go to for rescue, to keep her safe, to bring her home.

But by the end of the movie, I really felt sick. Sick because of the context for which the daughter had been taken - kidnapped and sold, trafficked for sex. It was just a movie right? I knew that was far from true.

I know sex trafficking exists. It has surfaced through headlines the past several years.  But seeing it in the film, seeing the girls sold as merchandise, witnessing as one character states in the movie as “just business. It’s nothing personal.”, my heart broke. This is real, girls sold like cattle.

And this is wrong!

This is the culmination of pornography and selfishness, the distortion of sex for one’s own pleasure, where no relationship exists because there’s no “person” but an object. 

This is the result of self-gratification at any and all costs. This is the result of a money worshiping culture. It’s the result of greed and power seeking financial gain. This is the result of everything evil within us.

The timing of witnessing this movie fed into my reaction. Because as I’ve been learning about this assault on women, I have learned that this is not simply an international issue. This is not something that exists far away in another time, another place. I found out recently that the horrors of what I saw in the movie take place right around my corner… in Baltimore, and in Washington DC.

Our church recently hosted the showing of a documentary called In Plain Sight. You can watch the trailer about the film here.

I hated to see both Baltimore and DC on the list of major hubs in the US. Oh, how our country has fallen! How can we allow such heinous acts of perversion and violence to take place here, in our own home?

I share all of this simply to raise awareness, as a call to action- a call to pray. God has laid this burden on my heart to pray. Prayer is a main way for how He works in this world. There are girls, children, women out there who need me, who need you, who need us to pray.

Pray that God raises up people to fight this battle. Pray God raises up the resources and opens the doors to stop these circles of crime. Pray that God interrupts and frustrates the plans of those hunting down these girls. Pray God manifests Himself in very real and tangible ways to those broken and crying for rescue. Pray God brings rescue and then healing to those that are freed.

The depth and gravity and depravity of these crimes is more than I can wrap my brain around. But it’s not bigger than God. He has a plan. He has a way. Let’s be His hands and feet and voice and bring light into this darkness. May the truth of John 1:5 reign true…

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

For more information visit  In Plain Sight

Friday, April 17, 2015

Intentional Service- Part 3

If you have taken the time to dig into Nehemiah as a result of my reflections, you’ll notice in Nehemiah 5 that things change just a bit. Nehemiah is still working to protect the people, still working to build the wall, but this time the opposition is not coming from outside the community. Now he deals with opposition from within. Remember those piles of rubble that needed to be cleared? While those mentioned in Nehemiah were actual physical piles, I think this chapter shows there were some spiritual ones as well. I know this because God really challenged me here. Let’s take a look.

In the first 5 verses, some of the Jews came to Nehemiah with complaints about how they struggled to provide for their needs because of how the Jewish nobles were offering support. In verse 7 Nehemiah drives home the main point:

After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, “You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!”

The problem was, in offering help, they only created more debt for their own people. Those needing help could never climb out of the pit that simply grew deeper. But the bigger problem was this practice was in direct contrast to God’s laws. He specified in Leviticus 25 how Israelites were to support each other. Specifically, there were not to charge interest when lending to a fellow Jew, they were never to make a fellow Israelite a slave but rather treat them as a hired servant, and in the Year of Jubilee, all was to be restored. These were the very complaints the people brought to Nehemiah.

But God applied this scenario to me in a slightly different sense. He used the same words “You are hurting your own relatives(spouse) by charging interest…” but not when borrowing money, but when I give.

God pointed out my tendency to expect a reward for those times I serve my husband. I do this, I do that, I helped here, I sacrificed there….so he should do _______________ for me! These were the thoughts that dominated my actions at the time. They created this expectation within me that often was NEVER communicated to my husband. Then when they were left unmet, I got mad, got resentful, and piles of rubble started cluttering our relationship! And my poor husband often had no clue whatsoever what he had supposedly done wrong.

Talk about a mess!

I still have to fight this tendency and not just with my spouse. But God says we are to serve, to give, unto Him. Thus, I have no right to expect a “return” on my investment – at least not from the person. If God is who I’m serving, He is the one to do the rewarding. Obviously, I was serving myself more than my spouse or God… just like the Israelite nobles and officials.

Since then, I’ve repented as did the nobles and officials, and I continue to keep this lesson before me. As we reviewed this passage in my women’s group, I celebrated that there had been progress these past 5 years. Not perfection mind you, but progress. J

I hope these glimpses into Nehemiah have offered you some perspective, perhaps some challenge, and some guidance on how you can make a good marriage great. Be intentional with your construction: recognize it takes work to make a good relationship and persevere with it! Be intentional to protect your marriage as well: pray diligently, partnering with God to do the work, and create boundaries, physically, emotionally and spiritually, to remove temptations and resist distractions-both verbal and physical. And within that desire to protect your marriage, ask God to show you your own internal oppositions. Surrender to His ways of doing things and you will love both the freedom and the results.

Thank you Father for your insights into your Word. Help those of us who walk through the daily challenges of marriage to do so with the intent to honor and serve you and no one else. Show us what steps we can take to make our relationship stronger and what our specific weak places are on which to focus. Help us recognize the external temptations and challenges that are working against our relationship and guide us in how best to protect our relationship. Holy Spirit rise up within us, challenging us, reminding us, to pray diligently and regularly for our spouses, for ourselves, and for our relationship. We recognize we cannot do this alone. Finally, convict us of those places we are hurting ourselves. Gently show us and then lead us to the answers in your Word so that we can do this thing called marriage rightly before you. Thank you that you care about my marriage and you share my desire to make a good relationship great. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Intentional Protection - Part 2

So first of all, I must offer a correction. Mom and Dad’s anniversary was actually Saturday the 11th, not Friday the 10th! My mistake J But it was on Friday that Mom went down to visit Dad in his facility and she loved on him, and they shared a meal, and all was well. So maybe I wasn’t really off by a day! Ha

Regardless, back to our discussion on marriage. Last time we started to make connection between rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem as lead by Nehemiah and building or rebuilding a marriage. You can read about how to focus on intentional construction by clicking here. But as I pointed out last post, Nehemiah 4:17 states that the laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon.

At the same time we have to be intentional to build and tend to our marriage, we also have to be just as diligent to protect our marriage. God made it very clear to me that I should expect opposition toward my healthy marriage. Culture fights against it. My own selfish nature fights against it. Marriage isn’t easy. So I need to be intentional to guard it.

For me, it was very important just to recognize that opposition will come. One of the biggest things I see in Nehemiah is how he diligently prepared for whatever lay ahead.  If I am to be prepared, I have to know what to expect. So for me, that involved understanding temptations, distractions, and challenges are the norm, not the exception. Thus, my husband and I need to have safe guards in place ahead of time. 

Else, it can be too late.

I had to recognize that just like in Nehemiah, sometimes that opposition comes verbally. It can come from others outside as they share complaints about their spouse which tempts me to complain about mine. When others speak disrespectfully, I have to choose whether I will also participate or abstain. Will I verbally build my husband up and speak blessings or will I speak discouragement and negativity?

Nehemiah also points out internal opposition – and in my marriage I can have internal verbal assault as well. I can be tempted to think negatively and receive wrong thoughts and assumptions about my spouse. This is another place I must safe guard and protect… from temptations and challenges externally and internally.

But the best way to do that, to protect your marriage and your commitment and your feelings, is the same way Nehemiah handled everything in building the wall. He prayed constantly and he prayed over everything! Have to talk to the king? He spent 4 months in prayer. While talking to the king, he pauses and says a brief prayer right in the middle. Opposition from neighboring regions arises against them, he prays and asks for God’s protection and intervention and justice. He prays all the time! That’s his default response.

And that challenges me.

Troubles arise and what do I do? Complain or talk to a friend.

Something happens where my expectations are unmet, I’m disappointed or let down… do I pray or complain or even attack in my frustration?

God wants to partner with me.

Nehemiah reminds the Israelites repeatedly that God is fighting for them. They should take courage and stand strong and not fear. God is working on their behalf. (Neh. 4:14, 20) God is doing the same thing for me. He wants my marriage to be healthy and strong. He wants to protect my marriage that it can flourish!

I need to pray diligently for God to partner with me. When I struggle with distractions, with assumptions, with unmet expectations, I can go to Him for comfort, for counsel, for direction and to find the strength to extend grace and forgiveness. I need to pray over everything! I need to pray for my husband. I need to pray for me. I need to pray for protection. I need to pray for good communication. I need to pray for resources and godly voices to feed us both. I need to pray for anything and everything connected to our relationship. Nehemiah handles everything through prayer and so must I!

What are you doing to protect your marriage? Are you diligently praying for it? Are you diligently praying for your spouse? Are you setting up safeguards to eliminate temptations and distractions? Are you diligently resisting and rejecting wrong thoughts, assumptions and negative voices? Are you making choices that feed your marriage and build up your spouse?

Be like the builders in Nehemiah! Build with one hand while guarding with the other!

Next post: Are you charging your spouse interest? (Come back on Friday!)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Intentional Construction - Part 1

My Women’s group is currently in a study on Nehemiah. It’s an outstanding book on leadership and God’s teaching me so much through it. But I keep having flashbacks. Because the first time I really read through Nehemiah was 5 years ago. Unbeknownst to me it was Peter’s final year. But what I did recognize was how much my husband and I were struggling under the strain of long term medical crisis and care giving.

Two main themes stood out to me in applying the lessons of Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild the wall to marriage. First were the lessons surrounding the wall itself.

Nehemiah 2:11 tells of his initial nightly inspection. His very first step was to inspect the situation. He found broken walls, burned gates and piles of rubble. As I looked at my own marriage that year, it wasn’t all it was supposed to be either. We were two broken people, not communicating well, and there was certainly much baggage and piles of rubble surrounding us.

But what made the rebuilding of the wall back then extra interesting was the opposition. All of the leading officials in the surrounding areas did not want to see Jerusalem restored. Similarly God impressed upon me that in this life more happened and existed to oppose a strong marriage than to support one.  Just like Nehemiah, I had to be intentional in two areas.

Nehemiah 4:17 states The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon.

When tending a marriage, you have to intentionally build it, but you also have to intentionally protect it. I realize now, looking back, that in my fixed mindset I just expected marriage to work. If we both loved each other and were committed to the relationship, it should just kinda be. But reality proves otherwise J It takes work. It takes effort. It takes intention. And that’s not because of any fault anywhere, that’s just the way it is.

As I read through Nehemiah’s endeavors to get the wall rebuilt, two activities stood out. Nehemiah 3 goes through section by section, piece by piece, of how they put the wall back together. First, the dedicated it – they intentionally built the wall to honor God and his purposes. That’s the best place to start with a marriage too. Who will it honor? If we both focus on our relationship as an act of worship to God rather than serving ourselves, that automatically clears up a whole lot of issues. Even if only one of the two involved takes this approach, it’s amazing how smoother things become.

Then they went through piece by piece… the laid the beams, set up the doors, installed the bolts and bars. We have to attend to all of the pieces and parts of our relationship. What are the aspects that provide support and structure to your marriage? Doors speak to me about communication, connecting with another. What bolts hold your marriage together? What bars keep you and your spouse secure? Intentionally pray through and work on the many aspects of a good relationship. Reading a good marriage book can help a lot if you’re unsure of where to start.

The other part of the rebuilding was dealing with the rubble. You can’t build a solid wall on rubble. That all had to be cleared. Neh. 2:14 describes the scene that at places the rubble was so bad, Nehemiah’s donkey couldn’t even get through and he had to detour out away from the wall to get around.

What baggage exists in your life? In your spouse’s life? And even in your relationship? We have to be intentional about clearing the rubble. We can’t let old wounds fester. We can’t let unresolved issues keep interfering. We need to be intentional to communicate, to forgive, and to not keep bringing up past issues when dealing with current problems. I had to deal with the weak places in my own life if I wanted to help make a strong connection with my spouse. This isn’t fun. We want to ignore it. We want to deny it. We want to work on the other person instead of ourselves. But none of those approaches makes for strong construction.

Finally, as you focus on the building aspects of your marriage, make your goal that of Nehemiah’s. All throughout this book we see a servant leader whose only goal was to bring God glory. In chapter 6 verse 16, we see the wall completed in just 52 days. And it states that when the surrounding nations heard of its completion, They realized this work had been done with the help of our God.

Who does your marriage honor? In your marriage, who do you want served? It’s not even about serving your spouse. Are your actions and intentions about serving God or you?

So much to ponder. So much richness and depth to apply.

I’ve seen this myself. Today my inlaws celebrate their anniversary. To be honest I’m unsure if it’s year 51 or 52. But through many trials and storms, through moves, living away from family, losing grandchildren and losing their connection through Alzheimer’s, their marriage stands as strong as ever. They have intentionally built and rebuilt. They have dealt with rubble. They have protected their work and served each other as an offering to God. So I dedicate this little marriage series to them, Marjorie and Ray, in love and appreciation for the model they have provided my husband and I. I love you both. Thank you for glorifying God in your marriage.

Come back on Tuesday for another post where I’ll continue these themes – Intentional Construction of a great marriage as seen through the rebuilding of a wall.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

If it Feels Good....

God’s been talking to me a lot lately about feelings. They tend to rule in today’s world. If something feels good, it must be OK. If something feels bad, it must be bad. But yet when we look around and apply this, we can see it fail time and time again. Exercise doesn’t feel good at times but everyone knows it is good for you. Sleeping all day might feel good at the time, but when you consistently don’t show up to work or come in late over and over, it’s only a matter of time before your boss tells you good-bye.

So often we want to apply this principle to our walk with God as well. If I don’t feel God, He must not be close. Some think He’s abandoned them while others fear what they’ve done to push Him away. There’s also the belief that I must be missing God’s will if I’m going through something hard. It doesn’t feel good and God wants me to be happy right?

But the Bible challenges us to life by faith – what we know to be true based on God’s Word and the personal revelation of Jesus. Not by what we see – the physical manifestation of things which includes feelings. 

This hit home to me so strongly recently as I was reading a text by Ravi Zacharias. In his book, Cries of the Heart, he spoke on this topic of wanting to feel God. He commented how people like Moses, Ezekiel, Hosea and Jonah certainly didn’t feel like doing what God wanted them to do. It reminded me of people who want to feel God to find the motivation to obey God. RZ spoke of Moses’ demand for proof that God had indeed called him. In Exodus 3:12 God offers Moses proof as he requests “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” RZ points out “The proof of God’s call was after the obedience, not before.” (pg. 52) So often we want to base our walk on what we feel, on experiences, rather than on the truth of God’s promises, on scripture.

When I’m struggling with something, a strained relationship, financial hardships, or searching for the will to persevere, what I feel can create all kinds of doubts, fears, and wrong thoughts. It’s easy to let them take over. But we have a choice to make. Will I live by what I feel or by what scripture says is true?

I feel like my situation is hopeless, but God promises nothing is impossible for those who believe.

I feel like I won’t have what I need, but God promises he’ll provide for my every need.

I feel like God’s abandoned me and I’m totally alone, but God promises to never leave me or forsake me.

I have a choice. Will I be respond out of what I feel or from truth?

Will you join me in standing on truth? As we leave this Easter week where we’ve reflected on the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is there any better time to recommit to living by what we know to be TRUE? Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything. Let’s go out and live like it is true!