Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bitter Women

Some women get accused of bitterness unjustly. I’ve spoken in the past about the inappropriate conclusions some draw from the curse of Genesis 3:16 and the ways that gets projected onto women. But today I want to deal with the fact that some women ARE truly bitter (men too, but honestly I haven’t experienced it with men the way I have with women, so someone else can deal with men.) And that true bitterness that I’ve witnessed with friends and family that I love does indeed spoil everything it touches, just as Scripture predicts.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled

Bitterness in this context is resentful or cynical antagonism or hostility toward someone. I haven’t personally struggled with bitterness as a besetting issue (which is not to say I have never been bitter and had to repent of it). However, my sister has struggled with it deeply. I have mentioned before that my biological sister is also my spiritual sister. She and I have talked a great deal about this issue, and she has shared much hard-earned wisdom with me on the topic. I have asked her to write a series for this blog, but life has not yet given her the time and place to do that. Until then, I want to share some things we have learned walking this together.

We all have hours or days we struggle with bitterness. But Scripture also talks of a root of bitterness that springs up. It’s a bitterness that sits so long in a heart that it starts to take root, sprout, grow, and take over, and when that level of bitterness becomes ingrown in your heart, you get into a whole new level of problem. It may have started in its early years aimed at one person, but ingrown bitterness sprouts and branches out so that it colors our reactions to more and more people until it consumes us and our reactions to others in every aspect of our lives.

After years of struggling with bitterness, my sister’s clarifying moment came when she had 3 different people in a few short days each tell her off – and all 3 people were from completely different places in her life. None knew each other. She couldn’t pretend they were aspiring together against her, because they didn’t have anything in common or even know each other to talk to each other. It was clear that SHE had the problem. It was the last straw, and she fell on her face before God, crying out, “Help me!” Beth Moore’s Breaking Free Bible study was especially helpful to her (which is one reason you won’t hear me criticizing Beth Moore on this blog though I don’t resonate personally with her other studies the way some have). I appreciated Breaking Free, which explores the Christ-less coping mechanisms we have all learned that actually bind us to rather than free us from the very things we are trying to overcome.

Do you have multiple people from different aspects of your life (family, church, work) with whom you are angry? Do you keep one person in your favor to have conversations about these various other people? In my experience, bitter people try to keep one or two people in their good graces. They talk with them about the people with whom they are angry – they need a place to vent the anger that wells up in them continually. Bitter people also don’t respond well to apologies. The apologizer didn’t word it correctly, didn’t seem sorry enough, or maybe actually tried to explain something they felt you misunderstood. Though they tried to apologize, in the bitter person’s mind, it was not enough.

If you have ingrown bitterness, a lot of people don’t like you right now. And you don’t like even more people than don’t like you. And it is MISERABLE for you. If any of this sounds familiar, as someone who has loved bitter people and seen the joy of watching them freed from it, I implore you to face the truth of your bitterness head on.

When my sister finally cried out to God for help, she says she had to open her hands and physically let go of her right to anger and bitterness. At least half the people with whom she was angry actually HAD sinned against her. Yet, even so, her anger and bitterness toward them was defiling HER. It bothered them. But it tainted, polluted, and debased her. When she opened her hands and let go of her right to anger and retribution, it FREED her. She tells me of the weight off her back. She literally felt like she could stand up straight again.

In Christ, you too have the key to unlock the chains that bind your actions and reactions to others.

Luke 4
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

You are a prisoner, a puppet on a string constantly controlled by others. Perhaps you didn’t like feeling like they yanked your chain, but your Christ-less coping mechanisms for dealing with that pain have actually bound you even more tightly to what they say. In fact, you likely have arguments with them in the mirror at home when no one else is around. They control you that much because your bitterness and anger hasn’t FREED you from them, it’s only bound you tighter. Christ has come to give sight to the blind, to proclaim freedom to prisoners, and to set the oppressed free. Bitter friend, you are oppressed and imprisoned! But you CAN be free. And it's an incredible, profoundly satisfying freedom. I can’t describe the joy of watching my sister’s transformation, fully by Christ alone, from bitter woman to beautiful adopted daughter of God--FREE to breath deeply, return love for scorn, and minister grace to the next person. She has become my go-to person for spiritual counsel and encouragement, a trophy of God’s awesome grace in every sense of that phrase.

Hebrews 12 sets the root of bitterness in contrast with the grace of God. It’s not the goodness of others that will free you from bitterness. Because they aren’t that good. I acknowledge that many of the things that make you bitter reflect thoughtless or even outright malicious actions against you. No, only the grace of GOD will free you from the coping mechanism you’ve adopted to deal with people’s sins and failures. And hear me when I say the coping mechanisms you are using right now are not working! They are making things worse. They are hurting you. And they are hurting others around you.

If this resonates with you, I hope you will fall down before God, and ask Him to open your eyes to His grace toward you. Pray that you would recognize and press into the power at work in you (the same power that rose Christ from the dead according to Ephesians 1) and that it would equip you to put off your old ways of dealing with annoyances, slights, and even outright maliciousness and put on new ways of letting go of your rights and loving the unlovely as Christ has modeled for you. He has come to bring freedom to the oppressed! If you are oppressed by bitterness, dear sister, Christ’s death on the cross has purchased your freedom. Wrestle with Him now over how this breaks into your very struggles this day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oblivious Gratitude

Guest post by Natalie Brand

She walked quickly, her body taut with emotion. She must see him again, she thought. Her fingers grasped the cool delicate jar in her hand as she marvelled at his message earlier and the peace that had filled her. She stepped into the light of the room and saw his face. Emotion rose uncontrollably within her. She knew he was the promised one. With tears streaming down her cheeks she stood above his feet, which still bore the dust of the road. As her tears landed she saw the dust clear. Instinctively she bent down and wiped it off with her hair. Her heart filled with adoration and she kissed his feet. This was her Savior! Then, overwhelmed with love and gratitude, she broke the jar’s long neck and poured the costly perfume over his feet.

The love that the woman in Luke 7:36-50 displays for Christ is evidence of her faith in him and the work of forgiveness in her life. This woman is so preoccupied with the beauty of Jesus that she is oblivious of everyone else and their judgemental frowns. Her heart, mind and soul are so fixed on him that she is unaware of her lack of decorum, her cracked tear-stained face, or the shame of kissing someone else’s feet, not to mention the amount of money she is pouring away. This woman, guilty of her own impurity and rebellion, experienced the miraculous, extravagant grace of God. So in reckless abandon and inexpressible gratitude she empties a whole bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet. Her worship is literally a sweet smelling aroma to God (Phil. 4:18). This is the type of reckless gratitude that the grace of Jesus Christ can provoke in the sinner. How amazing that a selfish, dirty and stubborn woman can be led by the wild self-sacrificial love of God to such self-forgetfulness and worship!

This woman’s adoration of Jesus stands in stark contrast to that of his host, Simon the Pharisee. Simon watched this woman’s worship of Christ with distaste. His judgement really is of Jesus more than the woman herself, saying to himself basically that if Jesus is anything more than a religious teacher then he would know that it is a dirty hooker who is touching him (v. 39). Yet Jesus is more than a rabbi or a prophet - he is God Eternal, able to forgive sins (v. 48). Because Simon misses who Christ is he also misses the gospel and shows no affection for him. “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet” (vv. 44-46). Simon’s lack of manners reflects his lack of belief.

Then Jesus teaches Simon the difference between a grateful heart and a cold one by way of a parable (Luke 7:42-43). He explains that this woman has great love because she feels immense gratitude for the cancellation of her sin. Note that the measure of debt or sin in the parable is not in relation to what God sees, “for all have sinned and fall short” (Rom. 3:23), but how Simon and this woman see themselves. The woman is not saved because she has much love or much sin, for the Bible does not teach that you are forgiven much because you loved much. It is only by faith in Christ that this woman is saved (v. 50). Instead, Jesus teaches that deep gratitude stems from a broken repentant heart. Without this we remain untouched by Christ, like Simon.

The alabaster jar reflects the worship of its owner. Like the jar, this woman is broken before God. As the perfume is poured out and surrendered in worship, she also surrenders herself to God. We too need to be broken in worship, with a radical gratitude that is oblivious of others, reputation, self, and material possession. We too need to be poured out completely to the King of kings, not withholding any beloved dregs from him.

This woman’s worship reeks of an indebted love for Christ and remains a powerful Biblical challenge for us as contemporary women. The flask, like that belonging to Mary of Bethany (John 12:1-8), was probably worth a good year’s wages. Little did she know as she poured its contents over Jesus’ feet that soon those beloved feet would have huge nails hammered into them, securing them to a cross in order to secure her peace with God (v. 50).

Spiritual gratitude is both a fruit of God’s work in us and a spiritual discipline. It can be cultivated and gives vitality to our spiritual lives. A practical way we can cultivate gratitude is by honouring God with our possessions. By this woman’s material offering of thanksgiving, we see that idolatry of her material possessions is clearly not her struggle. She breaks the empty stuff of this world, counting it as ‘rubbish’ in order to worship Christ (Phil. 3:8). Her gratitude does not add to her salvation but fruitfully sings of it to the glory of God. May we reflect such fruit of gratitude to the glory of God by our own alabaster worship as well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pariahs

I’ve had interesting talks in the last two weeks with two godly friends who have both found themselves, one in the past and one in the present, in very difficult family circumstances. The husband of the first left her years ago when they worked together in ministry and had 2 young daughters. The second’s husband moved out a few months ago after distancing himself from her at every level (financially, spiritually, emotionally, and physically). Both have recounted how uncomfortable it seems to make others in the church. A young widowed friend had a similar experience. She wanted to say, “Um, it’s not catching!” When asked how she was doing at church, another was honest about her situation and pain. The response she got? “Wow. That makes me uncomfortable.” At least the responder was honest, putting into words what everyone else who heard her story seemed to feel based on their nonverbal response.

I thought about writing this article long ago as I contemplated my own godly sister. I am fortunate to have a biological sister who is also my spiritual sister. I can always count on her to give me strong, Biblical encouragement no matter my struggle. Her husband left her for another woman 5 or so years ago. It was TOUGH. She wasn’t perfect and would do much differently now. Yet she loved the Lord, volunteered in prison ministry, sang on her praise team, had her children in church every week, prayed diligently, and studied the Word regularly. Even so, it all fell apart.

It hasn’t been easy for her being a single mom. But if ever there was a phoenix rising from the ashes, it is she. I sat in her small Sunday school class last year and was awed by her teaching. And was struck--she has so much to say, she says it so well, and what she says is right and true, taught in Scripture and confirmed by her life testimony. Yet, I know of so many in Christianity that would have no natural desire to listen to her, much preferring the woman who saved her marriage and children through faith and obedience over the one who lost it despite her best attempts.

Therein lies the point of the title of this article. Pariahs are outcasts who are generally avoided. The term comes from the caste system of India. Our Christian culture has its own caste system, and it is out of line with Scripture’s presentation of sin and redemption. There is no caste system in Scripture. ALL have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. And God loved ALL and gave His precious Son for us. There was a group of alienated strangers (Ephesians 2), and we were all in it. But now in Christ Jesus, everything has changed. And that HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING when a believing woman’s world falls apart, be it ancient Ruth or modern day Alice.

I think it is personal fear that feeds this unspoken but real Christian reaction to such things. I understand the fear well. Watching my sister’s marriage fall apart shook me. I loved my brother in law. I LIKED him too. And when it happened to them, I knew it could happen to anyone. It could happen to me! And I so much do not want it to happen to me. I overcompensate looking for all the ways my marriage isn’t like theirs. All the things I’ve done right that they didn’t do. I run from the fact that her prayers and dreams are the same as mine, and hers seemed utterly ignored by God. Facing it calls me to examine hard things. How strongly do I believe in the goodness of God? In the sovereignty of God? In the TRUSTWORTHINESS of God? It’s easier to believe that my sister didn’t pray well than to believe that a good God didn’t answer to save her marriage. But I know her prayer life. I’ve seen her prayer journal. I know her weekly fasting schedule. The Christian woman whose life falls apart challenges our IF/THEN view of Biblical blessings. We don’t know what to do with such devastating unanswered prayer.

I’ve spoken before of the prosperity gospel of conservative evangelicals. It’s a tightrope to walk since Scripture does speak of blessings that follow obedience.

Proverbs 22
4 The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life. 5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul will keep far from them. 6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. … 9 Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. … 11 He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.

We know that proverbs are different from promises per se. But can’t we take away anything tangible from a straightforward reading of these verses? Neither of my friends from the opening of this article have riches. Instead of honor, they received betrayal from their husbands. They each have children who have rejected God. Yet for all of their shortcomings, they are humble women who fear the Lord.

We get the timing of the IF part of God’s promises. I know that such obedience, humility, and fear of the Lord is for me to do in this very moment. It’s the timing of the THEN part that’s always been our stumbling block. It’s easier to think of our friends as missing the IF in the first place. Surely they dropped the ball somewhere. (They did by the way, just not measurably more than you did. That’s why it’s called grace.)

What we really need is an eternal perspective of the THEN. You likely have a good friend (if not you yourself) who is watching her life fall apart according to her earthly hopes and expectations. God does have an answer for this. Wait. Endure. Hope. Live strong and confidently for the long term EVEN IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES. Because more than a life that seems outwardly blessed, a woman that is planted toward God long term in her painful loss, much like Job, brings great glory to His name, especially in the heavenly realm. Her THEN will be beautiful even if it is not NOW. It’s those women who get books of the Bible named after them. Young Christian women naively want to be like Ruth because they think Boaz is all that. But Ruth has a book named after her because, when society viewed her as an outcast, God called her to look to Him with outstretched hands though (even because) her life had completely fallen apart. She did, and He did. The THEN of God’s promises is coming for you too, woman who fears the Lord even in your circumstantial misery. He is trustworthy with His promises, and He is trustworthy with His proverbs. He didn’t drop the ball when He chose you to endure these things. And though His timetable is obviously not yours, your prayers are not cursed. The blessing IS coming, to the praise of His glorious grace! Rest there today, dear sister.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cultiness

Dictionary.com defines a cult as a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. It’s a loaded term when it gets used with Christians. Scripture indicates that God is doing something in His people that gives true children of God different values and practices from much of those who reject Him. So in some sense, all believers can expect to be viewed as culty (a word I just made up) by the world. But there ARE Christian groups who have earned the right to be called a cult with every negative connotation of the word. The Branch Davidians are obvious. The trajectory of other Christian groups toward cultish behavior is a bit subtler. They are often oblivious of all the ways their current practices put them much more in line with cults than with the historic church. Here are some warning signs that you should not ignore.

1) Your church or ministry thinks it’s doing something particularly unusual or unique from other churches. They celebrate that uniqueness and protect it as core to their ministry.

The truth is that God has been effectively building His church and discipling His children for 1000’s of years. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). If you think you’ve stumbled upon something new, unique, and utterly distinct from what’s going on in the Body of Christ outside of your particular church or ministry, be warned. You are adopting an unbiblical view of the Church of God. That separatist view is a strong indicator of a pride that will lead to many unhealthy, unbiblical responses to those who leave your church or ministry, to family who are outside your church or ministry, or to other churches or ministry that don’t fawn over your church or ministry. If you have Christian family that is concerned by your involvement in your church or ministry (maybe you can’t even bring it up with them anymore in conversation), think hard about why that may be.

2) Your church acts like a business. All churches need good, ethical business practices. But when your church adopts business practices to govern and minister to its people, start thinking hard. When the pastor see himself as a CEO rather than an undershepherd of God, um … that’s bad!

And the opposite is bad too -- when your ministry business or nonprofit that is not a church starts trying to exercise church discipline style control over its people. God’s plan for community, discipleship, and accountability is through the elder/deacon authority structure of a local church. You get into troubled water quickly when people who are not under the authority structure of a church try to exercise spiritual authority over you. They can encourage you, support you, point you to Christ, and so forth. But they cannot discipline you. And if they try, be very wary.

3) Your church or ministry over claims one or more of these ideas to justify itself against its critics. “God spoke to me about this (or about you).” “I have discernment on this issue that you don’t have.” “I’m an apostle with a special word from God.” “This is demonic oppression to stop the work of God.”

These ideas (special words from God) easily become justification for not obeying God’s clearly expressed will in His Word. If Pastor A thinks he’s an apostle of God being oppressed by Satan in a certain conflict, he feels instantly justified in using harsh words, unloving statements, and ungracious actions to fight off Satan. When a leader’s experience in a particular circumstance trumps God’s clear instructions on how to handle conflict as laid down in Scripture, be VERY wary.

4) Your church or ministry becomes your identity. This is pretty important because it zooms in on not the cultiness of the overall ministry but the dangerous idolatry of our own heart. Do you push down your concerns with the ministry because to exam them closely makes your heart constrict in fear as you contemplate possibly getting out? I’ve been there. Twice. I couldn’t consider the truth of the church’s/ministry’s problems because I felt so threatened by the idea of moving out of their safety and security. They had become my protectors, and I wasn’t confident that God alone could assume that role adequately for me. I thought no one else could minister to me or meet my needs the way they did. That is idolatry, friends. All my relationships were in the group. My finances were tied to it. My IDENTITY was tied to it. The truth is that there is godly Christian community throughout the world. I am continually awed at the healthy Christian community I find in the shadows of unhealthy ones.

Such idolatry can happen with healthy ministries. It becomes an indication of cultiness when the church/ministry FOSTERS that kind of dependence. They WANT you to find your identity in them. They want all of your resources to flow into them and all of your ministry work to flow out of them. They want you to be proud of them and feel that what they are doing is superior to other groups.

5) Your church or ministry uses the Lord’s name in vain. When “Jesus” and His “glory” are cited for enduring attacks, bearing long with someone, or confessing your sins, that’s healthy. In contrast, when you justify firing someone “for Jesus’ name” or to preserve “the glory of God”, um, you’re traveling at light speed down the trajectory of cultiness. Jesus name is high and mighty. It’s to be used with precision and care. If your church or ministry uses Jesus’ name to justify actions that have NO OTHER REAL BIBLICAL JUSTIFCATION for them, that’s a big time problem.

6) Your church or ministry protects its authority at all costs. It is not safe to say certain things. And truth is no excuse for saying them. In contrast, according to Scripture, GOD sets up authorities (Romans 13). He sets up those in our government, and He sets up those in our churches. And it’s God’s job to preserve those authorities. God’s authority can handle questions. God’s authority doesn’t need to circle the wagons to protect itself.

If these things ring true in your heart yet you FEAR leaving, let that be the final indicator that you are in an unhealthy place. God says it best in I John 4, and it’s a good word to end these thoughts.

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Evangelism for Ordinary People

This Sunday's sermon from I Peter 3:8-18 ministered grace to me. As a veteran of a number of high powered, guilt driven presentations on our obligation to tell others about Christ, I needed to hear this message and be reminded of the instructions the Bible actually gives on sharing our hope in Christ. I Peter 3 presents a method of evangelism that really isn't a method at all--which is pretty much the core value. But if you want to call it a method, then the method is reactive, not proactive. God is doing the initiating in people's hearts, not me. And His initiation is evidenced by that person having a spark of interest. They ASK a reason for my hope. The context of such evangelism is a life that is already faithfully present in the life of unbelievers. They won't ask if they don't know you. And the character of such evangelism is rooted in gentleness and respect. There is no room for harshness in BIBLICAL evangelism according to I Peter 3. If you have 30 minutes, listen to the full sermon here.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Hear My Prayer, O Lord

In his book, Adopted for Life, which I hope to review in the future, Russell Moore tells of a haunting image in a Russian orphanage. He recounts the unexpected silence as he entered a room full of infants. Instead of crying, they just rocked themselves silently in their cribs. They had long since learned that no one came when they cried, so they didn’t try anymore.

As disturbing as the reality of that situation in the orphanage is to me, even more disturbing was how it resounded with my own prayer life with my Father in heaven. Satan tempted me to identify with it. I have many long unanswered prayers. Satan says, “Nobody is coming to help you. Why do you bother? Just shut up and rock silently as an orphan in your misery.”

It is work to fight off that image, to believe in faith that “the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV). So I was thankful for this prayer that we recited together in church last week.

All-patient Father, Gracious Spirit, Merciful Son, it is hard to wait:
to wait for things which seem to be good and right and glorifying to you;
to wait for wants and to wait for needs.
Sometimes it seems that You are silent.

Teach us, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer,
to trust that when You seem silent, You are not inactive;
that when you seem silent, we are still a part of Your wonderful plan of redemption;
that when You seem silent, we can still trust You over and above everything else.
Deepen our trust in You.
Give us calm assurance in You.
Give us rest in You.
Prompt us to be more jubilant in hope,
and more patient in times of trouble, worry, and want.
Urge us—even burden us—
with a desire to go to You always in prayer with the confidence, persistence and hope of a beloved child.

Teach us, Lord, to wait with faith and expectancy.
And by this, grow us, fulfill, us change us, encourage us, and challenge us.
Give us this grace,
so that we might trust in and follow You alone.
We pray this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My circumstances tell me that I’m an abandoned orphan who might as well rock silently in my misery, for no one is coming to help me. But the Word of God tells me something altogether different. I am God’s adopted child. Though one week of unanswered prayers seems like a hundred to me, a thousand years is like one day to God (2 Peter 3:8). What seems like excruciating delay in my view of time is still swift on God’s timetable. And though my prayers seem to be weak and ineffective, God says they are powerful and effective (James 5:16). They accomplish much! Waiting seems of little value to me. It’s drudgery. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to the kingdom to accomplish this stuff and get moving on to the next thing? God says in His Word that waiting is good and promises blessing on those who wait on Him. But even more than that, He gives me Psalms 69 to aid me in the struggle to wait. He equips me to stay engaged with Him by giving me this prayer of David’s.

1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
14 Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Hide not your face from your servant;
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies!

29 But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, set me on high!
30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the LORD more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
36 the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.

I love the model in this lament. David’s cry to God is raw in its pain. Yet he ends with praise. My pastor pointed out in this Sunday’s sermon that lament is not a destination. God welcomes it, even encourages it. Yet it is not to be the place we park. It’s a gateway to trust and praise. And David models it well for us in Psalms 69.

Instead of seeing myself as the abandoned orphan crying out to no one, God reminds me that I am His precious child. Just as my children’s sense of time differs greatly from my own, so does mine from my Father in heaven. He may wait to provide, but He will provide. As I lament in my waiting, may I always end parked on trust in Him.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Pressed to the Father in Suffering

I was rereading the first posts I wrote for this blog. I came across one on Miscarriage and the Father that begged to be updated and reposted.

A friend called me after she went to the doctor for an ultrasound to find out the sex of her baby and instead was informed that her baby had died. She needed to decide if she should have a D & C or wait on a natural miscarriage. There were emotional and physical pros and cons of each. While I have miscarried and could identify with her at one level, I have never had a D & C and didn’t have much wisdom to offer one way or the other on that.

But we talked about God the Father. She already knew the truth of God’s character, but it was helpful to us both to talk through it again.

God the Father is sovereign—in laymen’s terms, He’s in control.

God the Father is wise—He knows what He’s doing.

God the Father is compassionate—He loves His children.

Another friend shared with me that after working through her long term infertility and even adopting a child, she is facing the same emotions and struggles all over again after their attempts to adopt a second child fell through. These circumstances cloud our ability to see our sovereign wise, and compassionate Father. Suddenly, we wonder if He really does know what He's doing? And if He does, maybe He's not in control after all. But most often, we think that while He is in control, He couldn't possibly love us and still allow this kind of suffering in our lives. The cloud of our circumstances obscures His love and compassion for His children.

And here is the crossroads. Do I let my circumstances inform how I view my Father? Or do I let Scripture's truth of my Father inform how I view my circumstances? That is where we must wrestle in these moments. Thanks to Mrs. Kissam, my 8th grade Latin teacher, I know that the term compassion is from the root Latin words for suffering together (com—with or together, and pati—to suffer). Meditating on the root of this term opened my eyes to something about my Father. If Scripture is to be believed, then He doesn’t just generally feel sorry for me or love me with a standoffish type of concern. He enters into my suffering. He suffers WITH me.

Exodus 34:6 (NIV) And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,

Understanding the term compassion, that God accompanies us in our suffering, leads me to wonder about this verse on Paul’s desire to enter into Jesus’ suffering.

Philippians 3:10 (NIV) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I can’t say I fully understand either one—God entering into my suffering or the possibility of fellowship with Christ in His. But as I go through my own suffering, it changes my perspective significantly to think that my Sovereign Father is walking intimately with me through it. Suffering can separate us from God. I've had moments where I was so mad and frustrated with God that I couldn't even turn my face toward my Bible and avoided prayer because I didn't want to put into words how disappointed I was with Him. But suffering can also bind us to God. It often takes extended suffering to do this--where you've held yourself aloof from Him until you are exhausted. You fall into His arms because you have nowhere else to fall, and you rest in Him. It's the cycle of suffering -- those first days where you have a naive, almost giddy hope in God doing something big, which then dulls over time into numbness and/or anger. Then you hit complete exhaustion before being pressed so closely to Him that you finally understand the phrase "fellowship of suffering."

In those moments when the cloud of your circumstances hinder your view of your Father, preach the truth of His character to yourself. And when you are exhausted from it all, fall. It's ok. Your wise Father who is in control of all things is WITH you in your suffering. He will catch you.