Sifted as Wheat: When we Fail

April 25th, 2014

Wheat

This has been quite a week.

Sunday–Resurrection Sunday–I found myself overwhelmed by the joy of my risen Savior.  Overcome by gratitude in remembrance of my Easter baptism several years ago, and the picture of grace baptism is.

But I am so spiritually immature.  And foolish.

For on Monday morning, not even 24 hours after celebrating what God had done through the death and resurrection of His son, I found myself swallowed up in very real despair.  And, a rarity for me, actually, very real anger.  Seething anger.

The circumstances do not matter.  The sin does.  And because real anger is not often in my sin repertoire (don’t take that wrong, my repertoire of sins is enormous–it’s just that anger is one of the less experienced ones), I was shocked by the power of it.  And the difficulty of shaking it.  Even today, the tenaciousness of it wants to grab a hold of my soul and I am having to still fight it back actively.

Yes, once again I have failed, and failed hard.

And, once again in failing miserably, my soul wells up with old familiar refrains:  “You are a failure.  Only a failure.  You cannot be forgiven.  You don’t deserve God’s love.”  And the despair grows deeper.

But this week, through some reading I have done, I accidentally came across a verse.  A verse that I’ve read before, but have never considered before.  And definitely have never seen myself in it.  But there it was, just as if it had been highlighted with one of my big, fat Yellow Highlighters that I love so much:

Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus is speaking to Peter here.  Stubborn, arrogant, foot-in-the-mouth Peter.  Who seems to make so many blundering mistakes that it is almost comical, if it wasn’t so sad.  Or–and I’m presuming this–so frustrating to Peter himself.  He doesn’t want to be a failure–this is the guy who assured Jesus he would never deny Him!  This is the guy that wants so badly to “get it right”.  To not mess up!  Yeah.  This is me.  Maybe it’s you, as well.

But in these two simple sentences from Jesus, there is hope for Peter.  And hope for me, who fails daily.

This verse assures me that Jesus knows.  He knows I’m going to fail.  To fall.  To mess up.  Often.  This is not a surprise to Jesus.

Good grief, it seems as if I have been sifted like wheat this week.  Yep, yep, yep.  And many weeks.  Many days.

But where is the hope??

It’s right there.  It’s right there in the following things:

  • Jesus prayed for Peter.  How amazing is this?  “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”.  Jesus is our intercessor.  He prays for us.  Whew.  I know I don’t deserve that.  And neither do you.  But it is truth, He prays for us, that our faith will not fail.  I was certain–CERTAIN–at the beginning of this week that my faith was going to fail me.  Was failing me.  In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday that I saw glimpses of faith.  No, it hadn’t gone away.  It wasn’t “lost”.  It was, however, temporarily overshadowed by my sin.  And by extreme despair.  But in mercy yesterday, God brought me to these words in scripture.  And the shadows began to dissipate some, the cloud of despair began to lift some, and I began to glimpse fragments of my faith–which I am clinging to tightly right now, even as I right, even as I continue to fight the remnants of sin and despair.
  • “And when you have turned again,”  Wow.  Six words..only six words, but full of such hope.  Jesus is saying to Peter, with absolute confidence “Peter, you will turn back to your faith.  You will fail.  You will sin.  But you will return to me.  To grace.  Often, when I fail and hope seems to flee, I become convinced that God will give up on me.  Why shouldn’t He?  Why shouldn’t He?  But He is faithful.  He is faithful to lead me back to repentance.  To lead me to my knees seeking His forgiveness and a return to faith and my only hope of survival–Him.  Only Him.
  • But it doesn’t end there.  No, there is a comma, and then after that comma there is a command.  A command for Peter to strengthen his brothers.  Why is this hopeful?  Why is a command hopeful?  Because there is much hope in knowing that God has work for you to do.  People for you to minister to.  At one point I thought that door would be closed to me forever, due to my sinful nature.  Due to my ex-husband’s incarceration.  Due to my failure.  But a verse was recently shared with me that gave me tremendous hope that God does have work for me to do.  It’s found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

God has mercifully granted me–and my crew–tremendous comfort in ALL of our affliction.  Affliction that has been, hurtfully, very public.  And also, affliction that is extremely private.   Tremendous comfort, through His grace.  But this comfort is not just for the my sake…just so that I will be comforted.  No, it is because this statement in 2 Corinthians is like Paul’s statement to Peter:  there is work to be done.  And so, with the comfort that I have been granted, I–this woefully sinful and failure of a person–am to comfort others who are in ay affliction–using the comfort that God has given me.

Do you see?  Do you see what tremendous hope lies in that command?  In that gift?  It’s nearly too much to take in.

So, today, I will continue to fight sin.  And despair.  I will continue to find myself, once again, in need of real grace and repentance.  Embarrassingly so, because I wonder “Will I ever get it right?  Am I destined to be Peter all of my life?”  And I know I will fail again. And again.  And again.

But I will also be grateful, because of the hope that Jesus gave to Peter (and me) in Luke 22.  And in the tremendous hope that He gives me in 2nd Corinthians 1.

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Come to the Waters

April 21st, 2014

baptism

It’s been an amazing Resurrection Sunday.

Time with my God early this morning. Worship with my Seaford Baptist Church family. Lunch with (most) of my crew. True Sabbath rest this afternoon.

But the day is not over.

It’s 5:15 pm right now. And in just a little over an hour, will be the anniversary of my baptism. It took place on an Easter evening. No, there wasn’t a planned worship service that night. But out of God’s grace and mercy, that’s the night that God called me to the waters of baptism.

We were a small group of worshippers that gathered that night, to sing to our God, and then to stand beside me as I took this long-coming act of obedience. Jack, my now incarcerated ex-husband, was the one who baptized me. And I’ll be honest with you–since his incarceration, I’ve had a hard time with that. In recent years, that has cast a sort of shadow over the remembrance for me.

But not this year.

Not this year because God has placed in my soul a brand new assurance that, no matter who baptized me that night, the actual baptism was not only clearly a calling to obedience by Him, it was a picture of my death and resurrection into new life–and it doesn’t matter who baptized me. Or who was in attendance. What matters is that God so loved me, that He gave His son for me. For you. For us. And as we all worshipped that night around the piano–He was glorified.

You may have been there. You may remember.

It’s because this verse in Romans 6:4 is truth. Real truth:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Do you see? If you are a believer, and have been baptized—you, and I, we were buried with Jesus in death. Not literal death, of course, but as a picture of the death that He died for us. He died for us! And we participate in baptism so that–just like our Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too can demonstrate a picture of what Christ did for us, in raising us from the death of our sins through the glory of God. We are baptized because God calls us to be baptized.

How sweet that night was, the night I was baptized. That night that God ordained. That Easter night that seems so long ago and yet seems like it could have occurred today. Surrounded by my friends–by my family. Worshipping God. Eating ice cream after. I will be forever grateful for that night.

For before that night, how I wrestled with doubt and disbelief! How it had a grasp upon my soul! It clung to me like mud that I couldn’t shake free of, that I couldn’t cleanse away on my own. But on the Saturday before my baptism Easter, I read a story in scripture that I’d never really looked at before. It’s found in John 20. It’s about Thomas. Oh, I knew Thomas was known as “Doubting Thomas”, but I had never really read the story deeply. I had never really considered the meaning. I had never really believed it was truth. Until that Saturday. When I saw myself, in Thomas.

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I, too, stubbornly and sinfully had determined that I would not believe–not until I saw the evidence. I wanted to say, with Thomas, “Unless I have physical proof, unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, I will never believe!” But, on that Saturday, in a moment of intense anguish, I admitted this to God. I essentially told God “Look, see Thomas? That is me! That is me!”

And in the moments that followed, God answered. No, He didn’t audibly talk to me. No, there was no miracle, no lightening strike, no blast of thunder confirming His presence. No, instead, there was a calming of my very hurting soul, and an awakening in my mind that I was the evidence I was looking for. My changed life was the evidence I was seeking. For God had changed me. He had pursued me. He had proven Himself to me. That He is the God that sees and knows and cares, even in this world full of evil. I was changed. I was the evidence. And I could say, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

The night of my baptism, I asked a dear friend to read this passage from John 20 for us all. I wanted to hear the story again, before my baptism. She graciously read this scripture for all who were in attendance to hear.

Tonight, that same dear friend is at the funeral home, grieving, and receiving sweet condolences and love from our church family and the community, for the love of her life went home to be with Jesus just a couple of days ago. Tomorrow she will say “Goodbye for now”. There will be deep sadness. For my friend, for her family, for our community.

But she knows that it won’t be forever. This man came to know Jesus as His savior later in life, after being prayed for by her and by so many for so many years. And His love for God was sweet. Was real. Was truth. And today, on this Easter Sunday, He stands before our Father, whole and well, and able to say, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

I share that story with you because it illustrates the work that Christ did for us upon the cross, when He died for our sins. And it shows the hope we have of eternal life through the resurrection of our Savior on that glorious Easter morning. You, too, can know this hope. You, too, can experience the cleansing power of forgiveness of sins. You, too, can join with me in proclaiming “My Lord and my God” as we gaze upon the evidence of our changed lives–changed only through His grace and mercy.

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Saturday Silence

April 19th, 2014

sunday-is-coming_t_nv

We have something that the followers of Jesus did not have, the day after His death.

We know that Sunday is coming.

But they did not.  All they knew was that their beloved teacher, their friend, their master, the one that was going to change everything, had died.  Not only had he died, He had died a horrific death on the cross.  Peter had denied Him three times.  The brothers who fought over who would sit at Jesus’ right hand now knew no hope.  Thomas…..well, I think Thomas was at such a loss that he didn’t even want to be with the other apostles.  He wanted to be alone.  And they all mourned.  And were confused.  And frightened.   And………

When God is silent, and when hope is not on the horizon, what does one do?  What other choice is there but to wait?  When the silence is so profound, so palpable, so real, it is painful.  It is disturbing and frightening.  Even for those of us that know that Sunday is coming. That our Jesus rose from the dead.  That He is alive!!!  That the resurrection is truth!  Even we who live on this side of the resurrection experience moments of silence from God, and despair.  But we are not without hope, because we know that He who rose that Resurrection Sunday sees and knows even when the silence from heaven is deafening.

I once heard a sermon by John Ortburg that addressed this exact thing.  It had a huge impact on me, and I return to it periodically to remind myself that the wait is hard, but God is good and loves me even through the silence and waiting.  It’s simply titled “Saturday”, addressing the day between the death and the resurrection.  Powerful sermon, hope-giving words.  You can listen to it by clicking HERE.

I also came across this moving song and video tonight by Andrew Peterson.  It expresses much better some of what I am trying to say here on this Saturday before Easter Sunday.

May you go to bed tonight and sleep peacefully, with the hope and the knowledge that our Jesus did not stay in the grave, that Resurrection Sunday is coming!

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Certain Death

April 19th, 2014

GoodFriday

You know what?

I am losing track of time.  It’s a bit disorienting.

In speaking this week with my Pastor about the future, I found myself struggling to quantify how many years it has been since Jack’s arrest.

I came up with 4, a though honestly I’m not certain that is correct.  It’s not something I like to think about.  I don’t even know what day he went to prison–it is not a a day that I wish to commemorate.  I think the trauma of the last several years–not just Jack’s arrest but including a couple of years before his arrest–has created a thick fog in my brain.  And I sense that slowly that fog is starting to lift.  I am slowly beginning to see things a bit clearer now in hindsight, such as the enormous work God has wrought in my soul through adopting me as His child.  Such as the tremendous protection and provision He has provided for me and my crew in the past many months.

Today is Good Friday.  The day in which we remember our Savior’s death on the cross.  The day that we remember that He lay down His life, for us.  It is a somber day.  But it is a necessary day, because it is what allows for Resurrection Sunday.

I’ve not attended Good Friday services for several years now.  The pain surrounding them has been too great.  I have been too weak. But it has nothing at all to do with Jack’s imprisonment.

No, this is a story between me and my God.  And today, on this Good Friday, is the first day that I am strong enough to share it with you.

I believe it was two years before Jack’s arrest.  It could have been one, it could have been three.  I don’t know.  Like I said, my mind is so disoriented in trying to calculate how much time has passed.  All I know, is that it was Good Friday.

And I was a wreck.  A mess.

And while I don’t remember the time frame, I remember that Good Friday night as clear as if it were tonight.

I don’t remember who led the service.  I don’t remember what songs we sang.  I do remember that I sat alone–apart from all others.  I could not bear to sit with anyone that night.  I do remember being in the Family Life Center, with the Wooden Cross set up in the middle of the basketball court, surrounded by chairs.  I remember worshippers being directed to write down their sins on a piece of paper, and to nail it to the cross.

But all of those things are the “facts” of the evening.  The tangible events that the evening was comprised of.  What was taking place in my soul was much more sinister.  Much more ambiguous.  Much more painful.

I remember staring at that cross and the thought entering my head, as clear as day, that I was going to certainly die.  And that I was going to die without ever knowing, for sure, that the things we were teaching, the things that we were doing, the “stuff” of the Bible were true or not.

And I was terrified.

You see, I was on a road headed toward self-destruction.  I was not well.  The searing pain of my life had crescendoed to a point where the only thing I could do to assuage the pain was to self-medicate.  With alcohol.  Yes–me–a pastor’s wife.  I hurt so badly, and I was so full of cynicism and doubt, that I was spiraling out of control.

And sitting before the huge representation of the cross in the Family Life Center, I came to a conclusion.  I had to know.  I had to know if Jesus was real or not.  I had to know if there was a God or not.  I had to know if everything we were teaching was a farce-a crutch, or if it was truth.

At the time, I was betting on my doubts.  Strongly.  And I was going to die.

That night, so long ago and yet just yesterday, kicked off a journey that would forever change my life.  God placed in my soul the deepest, the most profound need to know the truth.  Whatever that truth was.  And at that moment, my God began to pursue me, with the pursuit of a lion.

There is not enough space here to share with you the details of that pursuit.  There are not enough words to adequately explain it.  But, oh, it was so very real.  And, quite frankly, very painful.  For the God of all creation set about to change me, through the giving of His son to death on the cross.  For me.  For you.

But a lot of learning had to take place.  A lot of arguing.  A lot of searching.  A lot of reading.  A lot of raw honesty.  And a real look at the problem of pain–the problem of evil in this world.  It was a process.  A process that was so tedious and painful that just as I was certain that I was going to die on that Good Friday, I was certain I was going to die during the process of being changed.  Of coming to the place of salvation.

C.S. Lewis explains this beautifully in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.  Eustace, a beastly, greedy bother of a boy, had been changed into a dragon as a result of his greed.  As a result of his sin.  At one point, he tried to peel the dragon skin away himself, and at first it seems to work.  However, the scaly stuff comes back.  There appears to be no hope, until Aslan arrives on the scene.  Here is the story from there:

The the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was do deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was Ias smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here.

This was me.  This was me!!  Covered in beastly scales–the scales of sin, of pride, of alcoholism, of disbelief.  And yet my God saw fit to undress me from those scales.

And yes–it hurt.  Oh, how it hurt, I can’t even describe the pain.  I, like Eustace, find His first tear to be “so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.”  This tear was the tear of raw honesty of deep rooted, long-term pain in my life.  Pain that I didn’t know where to go to with.  Pain that I had to learn to lay down at the feet of my Jesus.  Oh, and pride–His tearing away of the pride and arrogance in my life also went deep.  And everything else that accompanied it–even my sinful dependance upon alcohol to self-medicate the pain.  And to have the doubts that I clung to tenaciously one by one ripped out of my hands.  There was a sort of mourning in letting them go, because they had become my dearest friends, those doubts that insulated me from feeling anything deeply within my soul.  That insulated my entire world.

But, like Eustace, I found myself raw.  Tender.  My sins paid for and forgiven, at the foot of the cross.  Because of Jesus’ death for me.  And God dressed me in His righteousness.  His righteousness, that I deserved not.  And still do not.

Does this mean that I no longer sin?  Oh, how I wish!  No, I sin daily.  Daily.  And yet, because of what happened on Good Friday, the door of repentance is open to me.  The tremendous gulf has been breached.  And I believe.

So, for the first time in years–how many?  I do not know–but in years, I am finally strong enough to attend Good Friday services tonight.  Before this time, the idea of doing so was too tender, too raw.  The memories of that Good Friday service where I stared death face to face, was too painful to face–to be reminded of.  And honestly, I approach tonight with much trepidation.  Because I feel deeply now.  Even now, as I write this, the tears are flowing hotly down my cheeks in both shame and overwhelming gratitude.  Shame for the pain I caused Him.  Shame for my sins.  And gratitude that doesn’t even come close to doing justice for what was done for me on the cross.

Tonight we remember.  We gather as a community of believers to remember the tremendous weight of what was accomplished on our behalf on the cross.  We will never understand it.  Not fully.  We cannot.  But all the same, it is truth.  It is real.  It truly happened.  And as a result of what happened on that dark night so long ago, we can look forward to the joy of His resurrection.

I just realized something–right now.  It has escaped me before now.  You see, I was baptized on an Easter Sunday a year–maybe 2–after that awful Good Friday.  Whew.  I’ve not thought of this before this moment.  I faced death during that Good Friday Service.  And then, on a glorious Easter Sunday, I finally was able to say, with Thomas (in John 20) as He saw the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection….”My Lord and my God!”.  I’ll share more about my baptism on Sunday.  But for now, I am overwhelmed at the connection, at the mirroring of what my God did in my life with what He did over those days of Easter so long ago.

What about you?  Where does your hope lie?  Do you know true hope?  True joy?  Do you know why God sacrificed His son for our sins, so long ago?  I would love to share more with you, if you are uncertain.  If you struggle with doubt, like I do.  If your heart is full of pain and you don’t know where to turn.  I promise you, there is hope.  But you don’t have to believe there is hope simply because I tell you there is.  I know a God who loves you and will pursuit you–and is pursuing you–like He pursued me.  Let me introduce you to Him……only He can remove your scales of pain and sin and replace it with new clothing like He did for Eustace.  Like He did for me.

**Side note:  This is the first post that I’ve written in two weeks.  It’s because my last post had such a profound effect on me that I almost couldn’t bear to write again until this moment.  I urge you to go back and read it–not my words, but to follow the link that I included in the post to pictures and stories of forgiveness and reconciliation between perpetrators and survivors of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago.  It’s a picture of real forgiveness in the face of horrific sin.  It’s a picture–flawed, yes, because we are still human–but a picture of the place that forgiveness has in our lives because of the forgiveness of the one who was perfect and gave His life for us.  Unbelievable.  You won’t walk away from those testimonies and those pictures without being changed.  I guarantee that.  In the same way we cannot walk away from the cross tonight without our lives being forever changed, because of His forgiveness of us.

 

 

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Hotel Rwanda: Hotel Forgiveness

April 9th, 2014

forgiveness

What is forgiveness, anyway?

It’s such a strange, strange creature.  As believers, we are recipients of the ultimate forgiveness of our sins by the price God paid in the death of His Son on the cross.  For us.

We can’t even begin to understand that.

But we as fallen, sinful creatures in community and relationship with those around us, encounter either the need to forgive or be forgiven on a regular basis.  We sin against each other.  We hurt each other.  Even in our best intentions.  Even when we had no desire to cause harm, we sometimes cause harm.

Yesterday I stumbled across a portrait exhibition on forgiveness and reconciliation that absolute cut me to the core.

Many of you are familiar with the genocide that took place in Rwanda 20 years ago.  Has it really been that long?  Yes, it has.  That frozen time in history saw some of the most horrific tribal killings, lootings, and destruction of property that we’ve seen.  The story of the Hutu and Tutsi tribes was told in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”.  Not an easy film to watch.  But an important one.  I’ve shown it to my teenage children–I want them to be aware of the violence that can be perpetrated by the evil that is in this world.

Anyway, yesterday as I was working my way through some blogs I like to read, I came across an article and portrait exhibition dedicated to the memory of the Rwandan genocide.  I was unprepared for what I was about to see and read.

There is an ongoing national program of reconciliation and forgiveness in Rwanda, with the help of Association Modeste et Innocent, a non-profit organization.  Slowly and miraculously, forgiveness and reconciliation is taking place between these two tribes.  Only God could do such a thing.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

In AMI’s program, small groups of Hutus and Tutsis are counseled over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.

But what got me, were the pictures of perpetrators and survivors taken together, and their personal testimony of both why they asked for forgiveness, and why the survivor granted forgiveness.  It’s a must-read.  I wish there was some way I could get all of my friends and families to read this powerful article and see these images.

You can find the pictures and testimonies here:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?_r=1  I urge you, I implore you, to click through and read these stories and view the pictures.

That the survivors were able to forgive–with much difficulty, I’m sure–such tremendous atrocities shames me into thinking “Who do I need to seek forgiveness from?  For what do I need to go to God for honest repentance?  Who am I not forgiving in my life, that my God would have me forgive?”

Forgiveness and reconciliation does not come easy.  Asking for forgiveness sincerely and with repentance is some of the hardest soul work known to man.  Granting forgiveness and reconciliation to someone who has hurt us or that we are angry with is also some terrifically difficult work.  It takes true repentance on the side of the perpetrator.  Real repentance.  It takes humility on both sides of the issue or the act for forgiveness to take place.  And, above all, it takes God working in the hearts of each person to lead to scriptural repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

But when it happens, it is a beautiful thing.  When it happens, it is a God-given gift.  When it happens, it is good and right and Biblical.

We need to be honest with ourselves about our need to both repent and to forgive.  And I think we can gather some courage to do so from these Hutu and Tutsi tribe members.  Because it takes courage to ask for forgiveness and to seek reconciliation.  It takes courage to repent.  And it takes courage to accept someone’s plea for forgiveness.  It takes courage to forgive.  It takes courage to be reconciled.

The Bible says much about repentance and forgiveness.  I could list verse after verse here and probably still only scratch the surface of what our God has to say in His word about these subjects.  I’ll close with only one, but would suggest that you (and I) take time this week to really search out to see what scripture has to say about both repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

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Messages

April 7th, 2014

We all send messages–through the way we talk, the way we look, the way we behave, the way we are.

Every day, we send hundreds of tiny messages to those around us.  Just this morning, during the 30 minutes of worship team practice we had before worship service, we probably each sent each other a dozen or more messages—”Good to see you!” “How are you feeling this morning?” “What a game that was last night!” “Let’s watch our pitch on the end of that song.” “It is a privilege and an honor to get to get to worship our Savior together with you this morning.”

And as I sit here taking some time to write, I’m communicating with my crew–”Somebody eat that last piece of pizza!”  “Is anyone else cold?” “What’s going to happen to the Avengers now that S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone? (from Captain America)” and “Later we need to go to the grocery store.”

My crew doesn’t even have to say anything.  I can read their body language and know when they are tired.  When they are frustrated.  When they are hyper.  When they are excited.  When they are sad.

God has gifted us with this gift of communication.  It’s vitally important.  When communication is cut off, then how we know or see a person is severely limited.  God created us to live in community.  It’s no wonder that the word “community” and “communication” come from the same root word.

Today I met with a new friend who understands the importance of communication.  Her name is Carolyn LeCroy and she is the founder of The Messages Project and the author of the book A Parent’s Message.  Her passion-her work-is to connect children with their incarcerated parents in ways that are healthy and hopeful, in place of relationships that many times are tumultuous and raw.

She–and the volunteers in her foundation–do this through literature, which is a passion of my life.  They enter prisons, and allow inmates to choose a book as a gift to their child, no matter what the age.  They then will film the inmate as a DVD gift to go along with the book present.  The volunteers “coach” the inmates on how to talk to their child–maybe they will read some or all of the book to their child during their filming.  Or maybe they are illiterate themselves, and will instead talk to their child about the book and other things.  Or maybe they aren’t illiterate, but will use the DVD just to send a message of parental love–as best they can–to their child.

A child with an incarcerated parent lives in a world that is, at best, “missing” something.  Often, it can be a chaotic, confusion world.  Maybe they are living with Aunty or Grandma now.  Maybe they have never seen their parent sober, off of drugs, not angry at them.  Maybe they have had everything torn from their lives and they are fighting for some sense of normalcy.

The gift of a book and a DVD from a parent serving time in prison can become a priceless, cherished item.  I know that it did for my youngest daughter, when she received a book and cassette tape from a similar local program.  Carolyn told me the story of one incarcerated father who kept looking at the books offered, but kept saying “But my son is 18.”  When asked if he remembered the last time he had read to his son, his answer was that he never had.  He was convinced to pick out a book that he remembered as a child (The Night Before Christmas) and to just give the son a short message on how when he was a child he remembered that book and wanted his son to have a copy.  This book/DVD became precious to this son and opened doors of communication between father and son.

You see, messages matter.  Honest communication matters.  Not promises that can’t be kept.  Not platitudes and shallow words.  But honest and real messages.  “I miss you.” “I’m sorry.” “I love you.” “I wish you the best in this life.”

Yes, today has been about The Messages Project and the tremendous good they are doing in the lives of both children and inmates.  As a mother of 4 children with an incarcerated father, I know the importance of this “Messages” work.  The value of it.  And if you’d like to become involved either through giving or volunteering, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.  There are exciting opportunities on the horizon for this amazing project.

But today has also been a day of reminding me just how important communication is.  Just how important that the things I say, the way I behave, and the attitude I have are and the effect they have not only on my crew, but on my church family and those I come in contact with each and every day.  The cashier at the checkout counter.  My elderly neighbor.  The tired teacher at my kid’s school.

Jesus was a communicator.  He used words and actions to communicate to those he came in contact with His very real love and eternal hope.  The crowds watched Him.  His followers watched and listened to Him.  Even His enemies watched and listened to what He had to say.  And via Jesus’ death on the cross, God’s redemptive plan for the world was put into place.

So we must be cognizant of our words, our actions, our behavior.  I, personally, have so far to go–so much improvement to strive for in this area.  Our children are watching and listening.  Our neighbors and co-workers and friends are watching and listening.

Just like the inmates and their children in The Messages Project, those around us are looking for hope, for love, and for acceptance.  Let’s be light in a world where there is too much darkness.

 

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The Despondency of Fear: Psalm 41:10 and Sleepless Nights

April 4th, 2014

Sleep is not coming easily tonight.

No, my old foe of anxiety, worry–panic–has crept into my bedroom tonight and is robbing me of sleep.  Of peace.

It’s 12:31.  And even though my bedside lamp is on, I’m afraid of the dark.

I hate nights like this.  Nights where my mind won’t settle.  Nights when I am afraid to even try to sleep.  Nights when the panic leaves me shaky, sweaty, un-nerved.  Nights when the dark I am afraid of is the dark that is in my mind.

I’ve laid here trying to pray.  Listened to scripture.  Recited the familiar scriptures I have memorized about peace and resting in my God.  To no avail, my heart is still racing.

Some nights are just like this.

At least I know that.  At least I know, that nights like tonight come and go.  And by God’s mercy, they come less frequently than they have ever in the course of my life.

Tonight, the air is heavy.  The atmosphere is thick, surreal.  I am both rationally and irrationally afraid of choking.  This is what fear does to me.

Why is fear such an all-consuming thing?  Why does it hold such power over us as humans?  Why, when I know I am perfectly safe, when I know that God is real, when I know that even death has no reign in my life because I am a believer and a child of God’s–why does this fear grip me in such a choke-hold, cutting off my breath?  Literally.  Figuratively.

Why does fear of the worst consume my thoughts on nights such as tonight?  I don’t want to fall asleep, for fear of what awaits me there.

Isaiah 41:10 says this:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I have probably recited this verse a dozen times since crawling in bed tonight.  It’s not a magic formula.  It’s not a secret code.  But I do know that when I let the words do their work on my soul–turning them over and around in my mind–that I can better grasp the truth of what they are saying.  The truth of what God is saying here in Isaiah 41:10.

I don’t know why it is harder tonight; it just is.

There is a despondency in fear.  It is defeating.  We all want to be brave, courageous people.  We don’t want to be simpering, withering fearful beings.  At least, I don’t want to be.  Yet here I am, at 12:49.  Wide awake in fear.

It is a battle.  And, though I often don’t talk in these terms, it is a spiritual battle.

So.  So then.  What shall I do?

I will fight.  It seems strange to use that term with regards to sleep, but I will fight to sleep.  I will consciously make the decision to switch from fighting to stay awake to fighting to go to sleep.  I will do this the only way I know how, which is to write and to fight with scripture.

“Fear not, for I am with you…”  This is a command.  A command to me.  A command to you.  I know what I am afraid of.  I don’t know what you are afraid of, but I can almost guarantee that there is something in your life that causes real fear.  Maybe it’s fear of not being able to provide for your family.  Maybe it is fear of failure.  Fear for your children.  Maybe it’s fear of illness.  I know my sister was awake earlier because of an intense fear of storms that were passing through her area.  Fear grips us all.  It can control us.  It can keep us up at night.  It can create intense panic.

But our God says to Fear Not.  But He doesn’t leave it at that–He tells me, and you, why we should not fear.  We should not fear because He is with us.  Do I sense God’s presence right now?  I’d have to be honest with you and say that no, I don’t.  But that doesn’t make His presence with me any less real.  It’s taken me a long time to learn this.  I’m still learning it.  Scripture is truth.  He is with me.  He is with you.  Regardless of our “feelings” of whether or not we sense Him.

I am preaching to myself.

“Be not dismayed, for I am your God.”  The reason we are to not be dismayed is simple.  God is our God.  My soul; it doesn’t seem simple.  It doesn’t seem simple at all tonight.  But it is.  The God of the universe is not just some being that is beyond my comprehension–though it certainly seems that way at times.  No, He is a very personal God.  I used to not like that.  Not at all.  I didn’t want a personal God.  I was ok with a creator God, but not a God who loved me enough to sacrifice His Son for my sins.  But now?  Now I know I need a personal God.  I need God to be my God.  And you need God to be your God.  Oh, dear God, please come be near now!  I do need You.  We need You!

“I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  This is where it gets practical.  Where it gets real.  He doesn’t just say I am your God–do not fear, though He certainly has the right to end it at that point.  But He knows we are weak beings.  He knows we need assurances.  And because He loves us, He gives us those assurances as truth.  Practical truth.

And so tonight, regardless of how short this night is, my God will strengthen me.  He will help me.  He will uphold me with His righteous hand.  This night will pass.  There may not be a moment of sleep in it.  I’m praying that won’t be the case-as tomorrow is a busy work day followed by an important meeting in Norfolk.  But even if it is–even if I fight to sleep all night long as I have on many other nights, I know this scripture is truth.

God is with me.  He is my God.  He will strengthen me.  He will help me.  He will uphold me by His righteous right hand.

I am not alone in this sleepless night.

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It’s the Simple Things

April 2nd, 2014

I don’t know about you, but in light of the tragic loss of one of our community’s young people, I found myself lingering over prayer both last night and this morning for my children, for all of our children, and for the family that is experiencing tremendous grief.  Deep prayers–real prayers.  Prayers that contain words.  Prayers that contain words that can’t be found.

And today, I’ve been thinking about the world just a little bit differently.

Oh, it’s nothing profound.  It’s nothing earth-shattering.  But I think there is a slight deepening within my soul of appreciation for the simple things.

I, like you, like all of us, get so wrapped up in my own world.  The work projects I have due, the health insurance decisions that I should have made yesterday, the overwhelming to-do list, that upcoming parent-teacher conference.  I let the worries and the stresses of the day–and the days ahead– blind me to what is really going on right in front of me.

  • Like my elderly neighbor who just returned home from a lengthy hospital stay
  • Like my single parent friend, who is rejoicing because she successfully changed out a spark plug in her mower and the cables in their vehicle and deserves a pat on the back for that
  • Like my child who woke me up last night just to tell me that he loves me very much
  • Like the fact that God is awakening the earth from winter and the trees are budding and the breeze is flowing through my house
  • Like my friend whose home-study is today for adoption from Honduras

I am blessed by friends who have experienced much suffering.  Do I wish for their suffering?  Heaven forbid,  no!  Never!  Yet, they are blessings to me, because by watching them and their wrestling with God, they teach me about the nature of God.  I am also blessed with friends who have been blessed by God.  They teach me how to respond joyfully to the simple things in life.

And I, too am blessed both by the sufferings of my life and the blessings of my life.  For through both of them, God continues to pour off the dross (and there is a LOT of it!) of my life, teaching me more and more about the work He did for me on the cross.

I received a simple gift today.  I receive this same gift about once a month.  A couple in Hawaii know how much I love words.  Their gift to me is to send me a small stack of cards occasionally with uplifting scriptures and quotes on them.  Such a simple thing, yet such an encouragement to this word-loving girl.

What can we do, my friends, to celebrate the simple things together in community?  What can we do to reach out in simple gestures of real love to those that are hurting?

A friend of mine did what she could today, she wrote a letter to the grieving family I told you about at the beginning of this post and she delivered it.  A simple gesture of love and prayer.

I have a shoebox full of cards and notes from friends all over the world that arrived in the aftermath of Jack’s incarceration.  I still take that box out about once a month and read through each and every card of love and encouragement.  Most of them simply say “I am so sorry”, and “We are praying for you and the children.”  Just to read those words gives me the courage to take another step in this uncertain world.

So today I am trying to remember the simple things.  Today I am holding my crew close to my heart.  Today I am asking God what it is I need to be doing more of to touch lives, because the ideas and the thought to do so doesn’t come as readily to me as it does to so many of my friends who are gifted with the gift of acts of kindness.  I want to be more like them.

This is the Psalm that has been on my mind and my heart all day.  It reminds me of the grandeur of the simple things of God.  It reminds me to remember to ask “Who am I, that the God of all creation would care to see my worth?”

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

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When There Are No Words

April 1st, 2014

My heart is breaking apart today for a family I personally do not know.

They are experiencing some of the deepest grief known to man, that of the loss of a child.  I can’t even begin to imagine.

My daughter graduated with this young man.  Her boyfriend played football with this young man.

In times like these there are no words—none–that bring relief from the anguish and grief.  Every word, every platitude, even the beautiful true words of scripture can ring hollow in the waves of helplessness and hopelessness.  The questions of why??  The search for answers that are not to be found.

My friends, despair is a very real enemy.  The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10a)  Despair is a darkness with no light.  The words “If Only….” are meaningless when trapped in the darkness of despair.  I know this full well.

Who do you need to check on today?  Who needs to hear from you that you love and care for them?  Who needs to know today that you have not forgotten them, that they are not alone, that there is hope?  Who needs to know that you see, that you know, that you care?

Whew.

We are called to love each other.  With a love that this world does not understand.  With a love that is all-encompassing, that is strong, that is gentle, that is genuine, that is forgiving, that is real, that is not of ourselves but is of God.  I need to learn to love more like my Jesus.  I need to learn to love.

What can we do for this grief-stricken family in our community?  Seaford Baptist Church, what can we do as a church family to meet the needs of this family and our community in this time of deep sadness?

Yes, even the beautiful true words of Scripture can ring hollow at times like this.  But the circumstances of this imperfect and very fallen world do not make them any less true, and today, especially, may all that are grieving and mourning-wherever or whatever your circumstances may be-find some measure of comfort in Psalm 34:18:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

 

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Giving Up Hope

March 27th, 2014

I gave up hope this morning.

Aren’t we silly people sometimes?  We learn something, we think we have a grasp on it, only to go right back to our old way of thinking and behaving.  How we must make God sigh sometimes.

Just two–2!!–short days ago, I was filled with hope.  Filled with the encouragement that my God is a God of hope and that Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. — was truth for my life.  That out of the mess I have made of my life, God all along has been permitting the story line of my life and that He has a plan for this broken, chaotic life of mine.

I went to bed last night a bit goofed up, questioning the truth of Jeremiah 29:11, and I woke up under a thick fog of discouragement.  Where had my hope gone?

As I’ve mulled it over this morning during work, I came to a couple of conclusions:

1.  It’s not my hope.  It’s God’s.  His plans include giving me a future and a hope.  But the hope is not mine, it belongs to Him.  It looks very different from my hope.  My hope is wrapped up in the dreams and plans I have made for my own life–and I still, many times, selfishly expect God to fulfill them the way I would arrogantly demand Him to fill them.  I have to let go of those dreams–the man-made dreams of my mind and my heart.  For a very personal and hurtful example:  I don’t want to live alone the rest of my life.  I have prayed that God would send me someone that I could commit to in a godly, covenant marriage.  That God would send someone to fill the loneliness of my heart.  It has been my hope.  But it hasn’t happened yet, nor are there any good prospects on the horizon. :)  What if God is calling me to lay down my dreams (more than just for a husband–I have lots of dreams:  dreams to write a book, dreams to live an adventurous life) in order that He can fulfill His plans for me?  What if His plans for me mean never marrying again?  Oh, it hurts to lay down our dreams.  It hurts to surrender them over to God, especially when we can’t clearly see what plans He has for our future.  But that’s where trust comes in.  The hope he longs to give me and does give me is His hope.  The hope He longs to give you is His hope.  We must be willing to lay down our own dreams in order to make room for Jeremiah 29:11 to be truth in our lives.  From there, we will be given a hope that will not be shaken.

2.  Sometimes–and this is embarrassing, but I’m hoping that some of you can relate–sometimes God firmly places hope in my soul and I find myself purposefully dropping it.  Not holding on.  Part of this is a trust issue–do I, do you really trust God to give us a future and a hope?  Do we truly believe that He has plans for our lives?  Sometimes the idea is too wonderful, too overpowering that I let my default of doubt-which is sin-drop that line of hope.  I don’t want to be hurt again, therefore I’ll refuse to hope, especially if it is God’s hope that He has given me.  How ridiculous is that??  But wait, it gets worse.  Other times I drop the hope I have been given out of more nefarious reasons, such as self-pity, selfishness, pride, stubbornness–the list could go on.  Why do we do this?  I believe this is where I was at this morning when I woke up terribly discouraged.  I dropped the line of hope that had been given me for all these reasons and more, including the realization that I need to surrender my dreams to Him, realizing that they may never come true.  We watched Frozen last night–which, of course ended in the typical “Happy Ending”.  Well, God may have a “different” Happy Ending for me–am I going to accept that?  Are you?

I would like to say that I’m overflowing with hope this afternoon, but that’s not true.  However, maybe I’m not intended to, because sometimes that overflowing hope can be deceiving and disappear as quickly as it comes.  Instead, maybe God intends for us to have a steadily growing hope–which, as I look back over the past years, I have to admit I see it.  I see someone who has gone from life-ending despair, to having this ember of hope that is slowly but steadily growing into a fire of love for her Savior.  “Hesed” love–enduring love.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, I finished reading Paul Miller’s “A Loving Life”.  I would recommend it to anyone, especially to married couples or couples who are struggling.  As a divorcee where remarriage to my former spouse is not a possibility, it was a painful book to read.  But it was a hopeful book as well.  I’ll close this post with one last quote from Paul Miller:

Suffering is the crucible for love.  We don’t learn how to love anywhere else.  Don’t misunderstand; suffering doesn’t create love, but it is a hothouse where love can emerge.  Why is that?  The great barrier to love is ego, the life of the self.  In long-term suffering, if you don’t give in to self-pity, almost imperceptibly, self dies.  This death of self offers ideal growing conditions for love.  So, not surprisingly, this book on love, the book of Ruth, begins with the descent of Naomi’s family into a crucible of suffering.

I want self to die.  We need ourselves to die, so that love can grow.  Suffering truly is a crucible for love.  Read the book of Ruth.  Slowly.  See what God does.  Then be willing to lay down your dreams and allow His plan for your life to unfold.  This is what I’m trying to learn.

 

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