Just Be Held

The words to “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns are so powerful. You can find them here, and the official music video is here.

Lately, I’ve needed to just be held…life has certainly hit me out of nowhere. And I don’t know how not to hold on desperately to anything within my grasp. I am on my knees, and answers seem more than far away…they seem non-existent. What does it mean for God to be on the throne? What does it look like or feel like to be held, to have Him hold my heart? As I type this, I really don’t know.

I feel desperation, like the father of the boy who was demon possessed in Mark 9. And like that desperate father, I’m crying out to Jesus to help my unbelief. I am struggling with unbelief…not the kind that wonders if God loves me or if He is still on His throne, but the kind that wonders if this pain will ever stop…the kind that wonders if I will ever again see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). Because life doesn’t feel good right now, and “being held,” raising my hands, believing God is holding my heart…

none of those have made the pain go away.

When I was growing up, I thought Romans 8:28 meant that God would fix up my mix-ups and life would feel good. Then life collided with my beliefs and I discovered what a bad theologian and exegete I really was. God doesn’t promise to fix up my mix-ups and make life feel good. Jesus actually said that life would be hard, but we didn’t need to worry because He has everything under control (John 16:33).

So often, however, it feels like God is anything BUT in control. Life hurts. Bad things happen to good people. Good people do bad things. Bad people win. And the good guy finishes last.

How do we reconcile that with what we read in Scripture?

How do we come to terms with the fact that life doesn’t necessarily feel good?

Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that Scripture has much to say about suffering.

Psalm 34:18 says that God is near to the brokenhearted.

Psalm 147:3 says He heals the brokenhearted.

Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) says:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…”

This is Jesus. It is how He described Himself in Luke 4:18. The words are almost exactly the same.

What does it look like to let go? What does it feel like to really be held by Jesus…to truly trust Him to that degree? I don’t know…yet. But, I have a feeling that the God who came to earth to bind up the brokenhearted can show me.

I’m counting on it, actually.

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Guaranteed Outcomes?

I wish life had guaranteed outcomes. I really do.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I wish that it worked like a vending machine; you put a certain number of coins in, you make your selection, and tada…whatever you want comes out of the little slot.

 

 

 

Or you go to the coffee shop and give them money and they give you a cup of joy with foamy creaminess.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, life does not have guaranteed outcomes. You can invest your entire life in something, only to have it collapse into a heap before your eyes. You can invest your life’s savings into a “guaranteed” investment opportunity, and watch your future disappear in moments. You can make “all the right choices” and still deal with negative consequences, through no fault of your own.

That can be especially true in parenting.

Parenting, it turns out, is much like a crap shoot. You can make your choices, but you really don’t know what the outcome will be for a very long time. And even if you do all the things that “experts” recommend, you can’t guarantee outcomes, especially as children get older. It isn’t like when they are young and you can control all the details of their environment. In the end, control shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Having worked with college students professionally and raising a few of my own, over-controlled home environments leave children weak and unprepared for the real world when they leave home, and be assured…they will leave.

But, it still seems like we should have some guarantees…some sort assured return on our investment, especially when we try so hard to be faithful. And when you don’t get the outcome you expected, prayed for, worked towards, and invested in, it is very disappointing. Such has been my reality lately. God and I have had many a serious conversation on this issue, usually involving tears, and a great deal of meditation on what the Bible says about parenting.

And what the Bible says about parents.

Which led me to Daniel.

In the opening verses of Daniel, we find out that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all taken to Babylon after Judah fell.

What I find intriguing about Daniel and Co. is that in a generation so corrupt and disobedient that God sent them into captivity, these four young men were different…very different. They were so in love with the Law and the Law Giver that they resisted the peer pressure and indoctrination of the Babylonian Empire, remaining true to God and His ways through out their lives; Daniel for more than seventy years.

That didn’t happen by accident.

It happened because their parents did a fantastic job raising them

in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

We can tell by the outcome that these parents did a good job, in the midst of a perverse generation where so many others failed.

Judging by the results, these parents did everything right. And I am very confident watching their boys be carted away by the lawless, heathen Babylonians was not the outcome they’d expected. And they probably never knew what the real outcome was. If they were anything like me, they struggled with what God allowed to happen.

On further reflection, though, I’m struck with the reality that God loves our children more than we do. Indeed, Jeremiah 29:11 is just as true for them as it is for me…God knows the plans He has for my children, and His plans are for good, not harm…for them or for me.

Romans 8:28 & 29 talk about God’s plans as well. He promises to use everything in our lives to make us more like Jesus.

That is absolutely the outcome I desire for my children…what more could I want for them than to be more like Jesus.

I am beginning to learn, however, that it won’t look like I want it to; it won’t be the neat, tidy package all wrapped up with a bow like I planned. My children will experience heartache and disappointment. My children will make poor choices and suffer consequences…consequences I would try to protect them from. But, in my desire to protect them from pain, I might also prevent them from truly knowing God, from being able to find comfort in Him. After all, when do we get to know God the most intimately?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through pain.

We can’t get to know God as Healer until we need to be healed.

We can’t get to know God as our Strong Tower until we need some place to hide.

We can’t get to know God as Comforter until we need to be comforted.

It is in those moments, when we most need Him, that God helps us understand His love in a way ease and comfort never will.

Suffering can build intimacy and faith.

Suffering can develop trust and confidence.

This has been true in my life. And as painful as the process may be, it is what I pray will be true for my children…

intimacy with God…a deep abiding confidence in His character, regardless of circumstances.

As I walk a broken road with children whose hearts I can no longer protect, the One who has so faithfully carried me is proving that He can also carry them. It doesn’t get much better than that.

A Cord of Three Strands

I’m studying in Colorado right now, investing time in theological development classes for Cru. And I’m on my own; my family is still in Spokane. That is by design; it is easier to study and work on projects or assignments without the pitter-patter of little feet.

It is also the first time in my adult life that I’m on my own. Even before I got married, I lived with roommates or at home. I’ve never had space all to myself, even temporarily. It’s actually been very nice, too, for the most part. As the mother of many, I am surrounded by noise. It’s okay; noisy children are generally much healthier than quiet children…I’ll take the noise any day. But constant noise wears you down. Sometimes it is nice to sit in silence. It is also nice to be the only one making messes; it is so much easier to keep things tidy that way. Or to leave a mess out with no fear that it will be disturbed; very convenient when working on major projects over a period of several days. Cooking is easier, food lasts longer, laundry is quick and simple. In so many ways, living by myself is easier than living in a full house.

But, easier isn’t always better.

Since I’ve been in Colorado, I’ve been sick twice. Once wasn’t so bad; I kind of knew how to manage. The other was all sorts of awful. Fever, body aches, tummy troubles, exhaustion…the whole nine yards. And I was all alone…nobody was around refill my water cup or to re-wet the cool cloth I was putting on my head. Nobody to make me a smoothie or heat soup or wash the dishes while I was down. A whole day went by where I didn’t eat and hardly got out of bed. I was sick!

That experience drove home a lesson Solomon wrote about a long time ago. Ecclesiastes 4 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Generally I associate this with marriage. Indeed, that is the context in which I have heard it mentioned most often. And the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third part of the aforementioned cord is great for illustrating the strength available to Christian couples who rely on the Spirit in their relationship. But I think that oversimplifies and misses the point of what Solomon is saying, mostly because he isn’t talking about marriage in this passage. He is talking about community.

We use the word “community” quite loosely in our culture. We have community centers, we try to foster “community” while mourning its loss, both inside and outside the Church. We are more connected digitally connected

"Global Network Devices" Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Global Network Devices” Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

than ever in history, and more lonely than ever as well. I don’t think we are really experiencing the biblical idea of community, at least not as a general culture. And that is sad.

The reality is, we are all need community and fellowship. We are all on the verge of falling down or needing help to get back up, but in so many ways we’re traveling in isolation, afraid to let anyone know our weakness or potential for falling. And we are worse off because of it.

I don’t have any wonderful solutions. Just the realization that community is a good thing and I want more of it. I am also equally aware that community isn’t instant, easy, or problem-free. Sometimes the people in our community contribute to our falls. Sometimes we contribute to theirs. Community is messy. And often painful. It is the opposite of easy. But in the end, it is so worthwhile. And the fruit of walking with people, through brokenness and failure, through pushing and being pushed, through helping people back on their feet and being helped…the fruit of walking in humility and brokenness with others is the treasure of community…of being truly “known” and knowing others.

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

That is a treasure that can not be replaced by digital devices, meet ups, or sterile community centers. That treasure can only be found in the hard work and muck of walking through life together…falling down and getting back up…in true community.

What do you value about community?

What do you fear?

How do those realities affect your choices on a daily basis, and what do you want to do about it?

 

Not Job

The last few weeks have been some of the most painful in my entire life. Worse than when my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage…worse than when subsequent babies died…worse than when my sister died and we were abruptly reassigned. Pain I didn’t know could be experienced has overwhelmed my world. And new injuries are coming almost every day. It has been emotionally, mentally, spiritually, even physically exhausting.

In the process of seeking the Lord (because I absolutely can not cope with this on my own) Job has come to mind. But, perhaps, not for the reasons you may be thinking.

A cursory reading of Job will provide some powerful passages and examples on how to deal with adversity and grief. Yet, it is the opening chapter to which I want to draw your attention. After God gives Satan permission to “stretch out [his] hand and touch all that he has”, Satan does!

Verse thirteen says that Satan picked a day when Job’s children were having a great time partying at the oldest brother’s house. Who knows what the weather was like…the kids were partying, it probably wasn’t too bad…but Satan unleashed a storm of epic proportion. First, Sabeans took Job’s oxen and donkeys, killing all but one servant, who brought news to Job. Scripture says “while he was yet speaking” another servant brought more bad news; all of Job’s sheep and the servants tending them, save one, had been consumed by “fire from heaven”. “While he was yet speaking” another servant came and described how a Chaldean raiding party had come and stolen the camels, killing all those who cared for them except one. And while he was still speaking a servant came to deliver the final blow…his seven sons and three daughters were dead, killed in a freak wind storm that destroyed the home they were in.

Even with giving a generous twenty minutes for each servant to bear bad tidings, Job received news that his fortune and family were completely decimated in just over an hour?! And then, because of the man that he was, Scripture says Job “tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” Job 1:20-22 ESV

After Job’s entire life had been destroyed, he fell on the ground and worshiped. Wow. That is not the response I’ve had. When I’ve been driven to the ground, it has been in pain and grief…it has been to cry out in misery. It hasn’t been to worship. And while I wasn’t there and can’t speak to Job’s state of mind, I’m not thinking this was a “sacrifice” of praise, either. It sounds like his natural reaction was simply to praise God!! Wow.

I am not Job. I am so not Job. On one hand, that makes me very happy, because it doesn’t take very long to recognize that his life is not one I’d like to experience?! Yes, he had way more wealth than I can imagine, and God restored both his wealth and his family. But the journey he took, the abandonment by his friends, the rejection and blaming he experienced, even his own wife begged him to “curse God and die” because watching him suffer was so awful.

On the other, though, I recognize that God has never had a conversation with Satan about me this way, because I’m not Job. According to chapter one verse one, Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Job 1:1 ESV

I am not Job.

Through this process of experiencing more pain than I realized was possible, God has given me a sneak peek into my unregenerated heart. It is ugly! And Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned, even (or especially?) if that woman is a mama. Some of what I’ve seen in my heart is ugly ugly ugly!! Most people would probably think of me as a fairly good person, a good Christian, a good missionary. I don’t drink or smoke or chew or spend much time with those who do. But my home will never be on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens. Martha Stewart will never feature my home or ideas on her network. We’ll never have a reality show like the Duggers (though people have suggested it…but ours would be a tragic comedy along the lines of AFV meets Duck Dynasty, punctuated by screams or panic attacks or old fashioned tantrums…sometimes by Mommy, lol). In the end, though, however good somebody looks (or doesn’t look), God’s Word is true, in our flesh dwells no good thing.

Yet, in spite of what ugliness dwells in the deep recesses of our hearts, ugliness we ourselves may not recognize (we certainly won’t want to!!),

God’s love is bigger…

God’s love is stronger…

God’s love is better…

And He is enough…

Enough to care for Job in his grief and pain.

Enough to carry me in mine…

and you in yours,

especially because we don’t deserve it…

 

Connecting to the Heart of God

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 KJV

A simple truth, but so profound. God loves the world.

It is our privilege to help connect people in Spokane to the heart of God. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes God asks us to do big things, that are clearly beyond our own human capacity. And sometimes, if feels like it is all about me, my ability, my personality, my creativity, my popularity (or lack thereof), my performance. Since I’m a broken, imperfect person, I fail. Often. Depending on my ability results in epic failure. Repeatedly.

Recently, God challenged me to step out in faith and take on a new responsibility. It is scary. I don’t want to do it. I could fail.

In the process of seeking the Lord’s direction (because I’m much more concerned with my performance than with obedience), I called a dear friend who is also a spiritual mentor. Instead of telling me how crazy I was for even considering adding something else, she began asking probing questions. Difficult questions. Questions I neither wanted to consider nor answer.

But consider I did. And God revealed that I have some deep rooted fear; fear of failure. He also revealed something else. It’s not. about. me. Nothing in this life (or the next) is about me!

And, my obedience is more important than my performance. Regardless of how well I perform, my success is determined by my obedience.

Sometimes, God gives really strange instructions! He told Jeremiah to take his belt off and bury it. Then later, God instructed Jeremiah to go back and dig up that same belt, then to wear it to preach a message to the Children of Israel. He told Hosea to marry a prostitute! And, Hosea experienced great heartache as a result. Those are extreme examples, yes, but examples, all the same.

Honestly, if you think about it, instructing a man to marry a woman who was already pregnant, with Someone Else’s child, or using shepherds as messengers, or having old women carry babies, or sending His Son as a common man instead of a king – those are all pretty crazy, even outlandish things to do. But God has done them.

And God continues to do outlandish things. Things like adopting Gentiles, and opening His Kingdom to “publicans and sinners”. He so totally blew the Pharisees away (to the point that they wanted to kill Him) because He didn’t fit inside their carefully constructed facade. In their eyes; indeed, in the world’s eyes, Jesus wasn’t much of a success story. Even today, he wouldn’t have been a success, not by our usual metrics of numbers and impact. Jesus left a ragtag bunch of social misfits, and only a handful at that. He didn’t launch any new movements, He didn’t leave any beautiful buildings, He didn’t transform His culture overnight. He didn’t even chase the Romans out of Israel?! But He was completely successful…He was totally obedient and accomplished everything His Father gave Him to accomplish. As a result, He completely changed the world.

And because that ragtag bunch of social misfits took the Great Commission seriously, they went and made disciples, who made disciples, who made disciples, to the point that, after about three hundred years, the Roman Empire looked nothing like it had in Jesus’ day. And eventually, disciples of disciples went to the ends of the earth, and people in the Pacific Northwest (which is about as far from Israel as you can get) are followers of Jesus as a result.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 KJV

 Such a simple verse, but what a profound, life-changing, world-transforming concept…we can connect with the heart of God!

Thorns and crowns

We were blessed with tickets to WinterJam recently; what a crazy, amazing evening we had. Because you buy tickets at the door, people started lining up hours before the concert started. We were there pretty early (about four hours), making memories that will last a lifetime. And while I’m not a big concert fan (it is too loud, not because I’m too old but because I want to be able to hear when I am old, lol), it was a delightful evening.

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The experience was eye-opening in a way I didn’t expect, as well. WinterJam features ten different bands, from a variety of genres. Most are what I’m familiar with, artists I’ve heard of. A few, however, were completely unfamiliar to me…completely. The heavy metal, head-banging music didn’t attract me at all…I actually went to walk around the mezzanine during that one…

But one genre, equally unfamiliar, caught my attention. Trip Lee, a black rap/hip hop artist, shared a couple of “ballad raps” that were incredibly powerful. One in particular really spoke to my heart. The title is “Sweet Victory“. The words that caught my attention, though, were the beginning phrases and the chorus…”I feel thorns where my crown was…”.

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God seems to be taking me back to revisit the whole idea of keeping my crown on. For some reason (innocence?) I thought with such a powerful lesson, it would be “one and done”. I wouldn’t have to take another trip around Mt. Sinai with this one. But I do, and I am. The onion is smaller now…another whole layer peeled back (can there really be anything left?). But the concept is the same; my value is not based on my performance.

I’m struggling because as often as I repeat that statement, it still feels like my value is determined by my performance. And I hoped, beyond hope, that somehow I could guarantee an outcome by my performance?! That was wrong…totally wrong.

Outcomes are not determined by performance. David struggled with that in the Psalms. Our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters struggle with it on a different level today. To some degree almost anyone can identify. Performance…behavior…you can do your very best, and somebody is always going to be better, or at least appear that way on the outside. It is easy to focus on the circumstances and to accept the dunce cap (because that is so often what the world tries to squash down on our heads) instead of choosing to sit at Jesus’ feet, embracing the value we have from Him.

I am still struggling, honestly. Assumptions I made about cause and effect, and illusions I entertained about controlling outcomes, and the pain of coming to grips with the way life is compared to the way I thought life would be…I definitely feel those thorns…and they are sharp, and they hurt, and I don’t like them!! They don’t feel “good” in any sense of the word.

What is good, however, are the gentle words of Jesus…”I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NLT. Those words, taken to heart regardless of the circumstances change my perspective, and I can once again walk in confidence, a daughter of the King. Life is hard. Life hurts. But God is still good and He can still be trusted…even if I feel thorns where my crown was…

 

Disappointment and Success

My three oldest daughters applied to staff a leadership camp we’ve been involved with for the last six years.

They were turned down.

I’m disappointed.

But, as we’ve contemplated why they might have been turned down, I’ve been reminded again of what is true. Acceptance and success aren’t always based on character. Sometimes people are considered successful because they have a lot of money. Or because they have nice things. Or because they are friendly and popular. Or because they are friends with the right people. Sometimes, the gems get missed because they aren’t obvious to the casual observer.

God knows.

He knew what Israel would be looking for in a king. Someone who looked the part; tall, handsome, energetic, winsome (at least in some ways). He also knew what lay behind those good looks and winsome personality; a man without character. A man who would be led astray by the influence of popular opinion and who’s confidence was in himself rather than where it belonged. God knew, when He sent Samuel to anoint the king, what the journey would be. He knew.

God also knew what kind of king Israel really needed, even though that future king was only a shepherd, and a kind of scrawny one at that. God told Samuel, in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NASB.

God said David was a man after His own heart, and he proved to be a good king. Actually, he was one of Israel’s best. And God promised he would always have a descendent sitting on the throne of Israel.

Even Jesus wasn’t that impressive, as far as world leaders go. He never owned a home, never led an army. Before He died, He lost all of His followers! And if you want to talk about impressive, you won’t be listing any of His disciples in that bunch. A rag-tag bunch of social misfits, they were anything but impressive. Yet, Jesus knew what lay in their hearts; He knew their unrecognized, untapped potential. And He used them to change the world! He knew that what mattered wasn’t what people could see. What really mattered was what people couldn’t.

Obviously, I’m a little biased about my children, and I am so proud of the young women they are becoming. I think the organization that rejected them was wrong. I also know that if my girls had needed the experience of serving with this organization, God would have worked it out. They didn’t, so He didn’t.

Instead, God is giving my precious, beautiful, amazing daughters (like I said, I’m a little biased) an opportunity to learn about disappointment, in the comfort and security of a loving home. It is an opportunity for them to “keep their crowns on”  no matter what the world tries to do, and to begin learning the definition of true success.