“You could make this all go away!”– Emery

What do you do when you know that God can but you don’t know if God will?

Or where is God when good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?

If you look back through your life, I’m sure there are many shadows that defy a good, solid “Look at what God has done” proclamations. There sure are in mine.

Those are the moments that we kinda shuffle from our memories and avoid bringing up in conversations, particularly with unbelievers.

In fact, that is probably why we all dread that moment when darkness envelopes a friend, coworker, family member, or acquaintance with tragedy or depression.

Because we Christians, the ones who believe in a loving, all-powerful God are confronted through our friend’s grief with our own doubt: can God really be good if he allows these horrendous circumstances?

My life has been far from shiny. There are rusted, rotted, rank moments, days, weeks, even years where the easy answer that God is good rings just a bit hollow.

Many days I spend asking God why, if he loves me so much, he doesn’t get off his butt and help me.

In fact, this week has been another such moment where life, calling, and God’s character are not adding up. Then I read Isaiah 50.

In Isaiah 50, God’s prophet details his troubles. Abuse is a good word for the treatment Isaiah suffered at the hands of God’s own people (does that resonate with anyone else who has spent time around the Church and been burned, or is that just me?).

Here is a man who was the mouthpiece of God for years. That would have to be a pretty intimate relationship between God and Isaiah.

And yet Isaiah struggled with abuse, depression, death threats, and suicidal thoughts.

Why didn’t God take that away? Based on what he proclaimed and worked through Isaiah, it wasn’t an issue of impotence. But God didn’t take those things away.

Here’s what Isaiah says in the midst of abuse:

  • “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced,” (Isaiah 50:7, ESV),
  • “Behold, the Lord God helps me” (Isaiah 50:9, ESV), and finally,
  • “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10, ESV).

There are many other instances where Isaiah’s attitude was a bit more bleak. The comfort there is that we know that even a prophet of God can droop under the weight of divine purpose on a profane planet.

The book of Isaiah offers us an intimate view of God in the midst of darkness, both internal and external. It proclaims the faithfulness of God even when the circumstances don’t make sense.

We will never know all of what God is doing and all of who God is. If we could, what would be the point of faith?

But we can trust that no matter how dark our days get, the Lord our God is right there with us, watching our steps, picking us up when we fall, and beating back more enemies than we would be comfortable knowing are out there watching our steps.

There is no easy answer in our dark days. But there is a God who invites us to cry out, shake our fists, and ask the hard questions. He is not threatened by our confusion and doubt.

This week has been dark for me. But I’m choosing to believe that God is actively working in my favor, doing things on my behalf that would stagger me with the force of his love if only I knew.

I may never know the whys behind my dark days, but I can know the God who is bigger than the dark days.

Song credit goes to Emery’s “The Less You Say,” from You Were Never Alone.

The Eternal Bubble Bath: Sabbath

Yesterday, I practiced my first Sabbath.

This may seem silly since we all have Sundays, but I’m currently working my way through Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe with my women’s Bible study. Granted, we only started it last Wednesday, but it has been dovetailing perfectly with the promptings and yearnings in my own spirit for the last year.

Did you know that Sabbath actually means to experience “tranquility, serenity, peace and repose” (Ibid qtd. Shirer 15)?

And that when God rested on the seventh day and made it holy, He was expressing satisfaction (Shirer 15)?

Over the last year, God has patiently been walking me baby step by baby step towards Sabbath. It’s taken me a year to sort through many of my identity issues (not fix, mind you, but at least they’re labeled and organized).

Since writing this blog forced me to walk through some warfare and shifts in perspective on my context (the war zone we live in and the romance of Christ), I’ve begun to think differently. I’ve become uncomfortable, even discontent in my life of apathy, guilt, and insecurity.

In order to deal with some of this mess, God and I retreated last Fall. What did we discuss?

My home décor.

It sounds absurd, but God knew that what I had allowed into my house and the furniture and knick-knacks I arranged did not suit the home my husband and I wanted to share. It wasn’t the home God wanted us to invite people into. It was directly contrary to the purpose He has for us: deliberate, Christ-centered conversation.

Having in an unexpected rush moved into a new home several weeks ago, Fritz and I automatically saw it as an opportunity to rid ourselves of clutter and confusion. Our home now matches the purpose and style God showed me five months ago.

What does this have to do with Sabbath, you ask?

Well.

How many of you come across a new spiritual revelation and immediately start lists, schedules, and plans to implement that revelation and fail almost immediately? In case you didn’t notice, both my hands are up.

Sabbath is about rest.

Repose.

Tranquility.

That can’t be muscled into your life. And, if you’re anything like me, it can’t be thought into your life either because your brain is caught in a hamster wheel.

The beauty of this last year is that God, knowing that Sabbath would be a big part of my spring, began last summer to rewrite my thinking and identity so that instead of charging in and taking control of Sabbath (which defeats the purpose of tranquility), I’d ease into Sabbath like a warm bath.

Will there be relapses? That, friend, is what grace is for.

However, yesterday, I allowed God to set up my Sabbath and I’m celebrating by sharing what it was:

Sabbath is looking back through your life and seeing all the hundred thousand ways God has blessed you. All the dreams He fulfilled without you noticing. All the struggles you’ve overcome by His power. All the goals you’ve accomplished and never celebrated.

On my Sabbath, I looked and saw a God who loves me and blesses me without measure.

Shirer, Priscilla. Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. 2nd ed. LifeWay Press. 2014.

Sunshine Through the Darkness

Life is not very kind.

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Have you noticed that? I certainly have. Particularly lately. God has been walking me back through the scrapes, miseries, and heartaches in my life.

Some of the scrapes were my own sin bringing me to my knees, but much of it smacked me sideways when I felt most safe and secure. Not wanting to relive those memories, I asked God why I had to remember such heart-sore times. After a few more weeks of memories, this was my answer:

God is reminding me of His faithfulness to me.

Many people assume that Christianity is the “EASY” button. That Christ somehow makes everything easier and smoother as soon as you sign up. That certainly has not been my experience. The more I press into my relationship with Christ, the more difficult my life seems to get.

In fact, Jesus straight-up tells us “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33, ESV). Sounds like fun, right? Not only did Jesus tell us, he walked painful, blistered steps through temptation, deprivation, torture and death that most of us could not conceive.

The apostle Paul reinforces this theology of suffering like this:

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12) and “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

design-1162241_1280We daughters of the King were not called to luxury and ease in this lifetime. We were called to suffer. Why?

Phillip Keller answers that question this way:

“I know of nothing which so stimulates my faith in my Heavenly Father as to look back and reflect on His faithfulness to me in every crisis and every chilling circumstance of life” (80).

Let’s return to John 16:33. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV, emphasis mine).

Jesus came to walk through our suffering and temptations. He came to die. But make no mistake, the cross was not the end. Jesus came to die so that he could live.

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If Jesus had stayed dead, there would be no gospel. He would have succumbed to the ultimate consequence of sin: eternal separation from God with a side order of death.

Jesus came be resurrected. By coming back to life, Jesus defeated death and sin for all people who would call on his name. Because he came back to life, our suffering has purpose. It has meaning.

No matter how much you suffer, Jesus has suffered more in your place. He has himself borne the sting of death so we won’t have to.

Yes, we still suffer. Living in a fallen world, hostile to our Father, we should expect to experience suffering.

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But there is beauty in our suffering because of the goodness of our God. Our suffering can bring us into more intimate knowledge of our God than we could ever achieve without it.

Suffering allows you to see your all-powerful Creator God step into your suffering and walk through it carrying you, his Beloved.

Jesus experiences your torment with you. He shields you from the brunt of your suffering. He carries you when you’re too weak to walk.

What an intimate knowledge of our God! You and I get to experience the peace and presence of God. Our suffering provides the opportunity to proclaim with confidence that

“My God will hear me…. [W]hen I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:7-8).

How else will we be confident in God’s presence and peace until we have experienced it?

None of the suffering you experience has not been endured by Jesus. What’s more, no measure of suffering you experience do you experience alone.

Even in the bleakest darkness, our God is faithful.

Dangerous Reflections

Genesis 1:26-7 reveals that the Trinity’s intention in creating man and woman was to reflect His likeness. We are made in His image.

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I believe God gives us a little glimpse into what that means by giving us children and bloodlines. When I was 8, I couldn’t tell which school photograph was mine and which was my dad’s.

When I teach and a student says something demeaning of themselves, you can believe I sound like my mother. I even stand like her and use the same gestures.

I reflect my parents, some in looks and some in personality. My sisters, neices and nephews all very obviously belong in my family. We’re unique, but we reflect one another.

That is what I believe Genesis 1:26-27 is talking about. We are each unique, but if you look closely enough, you can tell we belong to the same Daddy.

And I believe that each sex has something unique that captures a different facet of God that the other is missing.

Most women seem to have three things in common: passion, relationships, and communication.

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I recognize that not all women are the same. I am as bizarre and oddly female as they come. Just ask my Bible study ladies. They have been wondering about me for some time now.

Regardless of the specifics, women long for relationship of some sort, be it romantic, soul-friends, or just acquaintences. We want to be known. And we go out of our way to communicate with others in order to achieve that “known-ness.”

Some of the women I know prefer online relationships and are silent in the face of another person. Other women want to be a couple inches away from your face as they communicate their depth.

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But here is what makes us unique from men: we want to communicate ourselves deeply and fully, sharing our experiences, joys, sorrows, and confusion with one another.

Maybe it’s just me, but men tend to share information. Women share life.

So how does that reflect God? Consider Genesis 1. God existed in perfect relationship with himself. He needed nothing, but He created the world, everything in it, and a man and a woman.

He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8). Why? Considering His track record, I’d expect He wanted relationship.

And then, when Adam and Eve chose themselves over Him, God sent His Son, who would be a sacrifice so pure, it would restore our relationship with God forever.

Our craving for relationship as women seems to stem directly from our Father who made us.

In addition to restoring a relationship with rebellious people instead of destroying them, God spent thousands of years and used dozens of authors to put His heart and soul into a 66 book love letter to us.

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Then He sent a part of himself (the Holy Spirit) to live in us and translate His word so we would understand the depth of love He put into that letter and the character of the One who crafted it.

I’d say the desire for communication seems pretty familiar as well.

You and I reflect the image of God. And if we truly grasped and experienced the depth of His extravagant love for us? If we explored the depth of His character and allowed Him to do the same with us?

That right there, friend, is what Satan is so afraid of. 

If we experienced the depth of relationship and love with the God of Time itself that He wants us to, there is no power in this universe that could keep us quiet. 

Because we as women have the capacity for passion, relationship, and communication that makes us dangerous to the kingdom of Hell.

A Soldier’s Choice

Being beloved by God can sustain you and me through more than I think we really understand. But it is not enough to know that he loves us.

We have to realize, accept, and live out the fact that we are in a battle and, make no mistake, there is no Switzerland.soldiers-1002_1280

Either you are the Enemy’s or you are Christ’s. If you don’t know where you fall, check out “Love me! Why?” and “Christian: A Murky Mirror” in my sidebar.

Being a warrior in the field for Christ comes down to one powerful thing: Obedience.

Sounds boring and chauvenistic, doesn’t it? It’s not. Obedience to Christ is crucial to survival.

We will not survive this war, much less win if we don’t listen to and follow our Commanding Officer’s orders.

God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere), and eternal (timeless– without beginning or end).

Looking at that list, I’d say he is more than qualified to call the shots on a war that has raged longer than anyone besides him can out-live or remember.

Obviously, a key part of obedience is knowing his commands. So dive into the word of God (the Bible) and see what he says. Then act on it.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

“Who stands fast?” he asked. “Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God— the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God” (qtd. Metaxas).

Obedience is rarely a simple agreement that what God says sounds good, makes sense, or suited “that” situation. Obedience to God is a single-minded devotion that, as Bonhoeffer states, “requires a body.”

The Bible states quite clearly that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV, emphasis mine), and “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV, emphasis mine).

God is telling us to act in obedience for our own safety and well-being.

Does that seem a bit controlling and narrow-minded to you? Consider it this way: if all the soldiers in an army did whatever they wanted, how many wars would they win?

How many lives would be wasted because the soldiers refused to listen to the commanding officer who knows the enemy and knows that the way that seems clear is actually an ambush waiting to happen?

We are soldiers in a war.

It is your choice as to whether you live in obedience to the Commander who values your safety and well-being as much as he values the outcome of the war or die on the battlefield because you want to do things your way.

Confused, Alone, and Discouraged

Once we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us,  we stumble through a little prayer, then are pronounced Christians.

A Bible is dropped in our laps, we’re told to go to church, and be “Christians.” And that is the extent of our education.

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But what about those of us who actually have a sense of humor or– God forbid– adventure? Or life is so busy we can barely breathe much less devote an hour to read and try to understand the Bible?

Or we fall asleep praying because, let’s face it, talking to the ceiling just ain’t what it’s cracked up to be? Or the unthinkable happens and God doesn’t answer our prayer? 

Everyone else seems to get it and look great but here you are drowning with a good Christian smile on your face?

Or you have a fantastic walk with the Lord but you’re alone, lonely, discouraged, and wondering what in the world is so unlovable about you?

I’ve been there.

And there is hope. Do you know why I’m sitting here writing this? Dragging my little black moleskin and Bic pen up mountains, into deserts, across state lines, to work, into my backyard, and to bed with me?

Because I’ve been there. And one thing that the church, bless its little heart, is doing wrong is allowing its women to drown in insecurity, anxiety, and despair.

We have not been equipped to be Christians. We have not be equipped to be warriors. And we certainly have not been equipped to be women.

That is why I’m writing this blog. I am done watching women like me drown in churches with smiles on their faces and broken hearts stuffed up their sleeves.

I am not an expert, but God has led me through more swamps and dark places than I care to remember most days. And he has taught me a few things.

I want to share what I’ve learned. Hopefully it will help you. And hopefully it will help you avoid some of the traps I’ve stumbled into.

For now, just know that God really does love you. He has never left you. And he never will.

 

Broken and Enslaved

I am no match for Satan and neither are you.

The power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is more than a match for Satan. So, again, how is it that I am a threat? Because God freely gave me that power (Eph. 1:19-20).

No, I’m not God’s super-secret, superhuman weapon dressed in black leather and armed with nasty little toys to take down the Enemy.

God gives all his believers power to defeat Satan. That’s part of the deal.

Then why aren’t all Christians attacked? They are. Look at our churches. At your neighbors. Our Christian brothers and sisters are asleep! It’s as though they stumbled onto the Island of the Lotus Eaters, ate the flowers, and forgotten their homes, identity, and mission.

So maybe I should say they’ve been captured and put in POW camps. From what I see, they are so used to it, they no longer want the sunshine.
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Most of us American Christians never knew that there was a battle raging for our minds and hearts. If we did know, we stopped using the power God gave us because

A) there are so many distractions in life, and

B) there are so many distractions in life.

In the Church in Nicaragua, however, warfare and Body maintenance are taken very seriously. To become a member of a local church, a person must successfully complete the two-year trial period!

What is the trial? Prioritizing the Body over everything else. That means that when a mission trip comes up, you are available. A person needs a place to stay, your home is theirs. If work conflicts with a church service, you go to church.

Can you imagine doing that? I can’t either. However, there is a woman there who so desires to be part of the church that she has gone through several jobs because the church takes precedence. And God has provided every time.

When I think of my life and my commitment to church, I think of a two hours on Sunday and three hours on Wednesday night. With occasional “vacation” from the rigors of church attendance.

Sure, I help out when someone needs a meal. If I have time and can juggle my schedule.

Church is not my number-one, prepare my heart all week, apply the message to my life, and fight for and serve the Body every day, no matter the consequences, focus of my life.

There are too many other shiny things that distract me– like snuggly, warm covers on a cold morning; grading that extra stack of papers; attempting to tame my jungle out back; going on a breakfast date with my husband; going to see a students’ football game; grocery shopping; or laundry.

None of these things are inherently bad (well, maybe laundry…). However, and here’s where the POW American Church comes in, when my to do list and hobbies become my priority over my God and his Body, I have just handed Satan my free will, stepped into the dungeon, and chained myself to a wall.

Suddenly, I am so anxious, harried, focused, exhausted, and driven that my heart and mind are no longer 100% surrendered to my Lord. In fact, most of the time we wander or rush through life not even hearing our Lord. To be perfectly blunt, most Christians look exactly like Non-Christians.

So maybe you’re right. Christians aren’t being attacked. They’ve been overcome. Maybe because they’re too busy being Americans to live like Christians. Or, maybe it’s because they aren’t actually Christians.

Becoming a Warrior

I’m starting to suspect that we women, especially if we have a relationship with the Creator and His Son and truly grasp that we are the crown of creation (Genesis 1 and 2) and Beloved, we are one of the biggest threats to the Enemy’s plans.

Women have an enormous capacity for passion and action. During times of struggle or terror, if you get a women invested in the cause, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.

I am not saying that the feminine is all-powerful. I am saying that God created women for a divine purpose. And it wasn’t just to shop and eat cookie dough and make doilies. Nor was it to dominate men.

When we women finally lay down our rights and trust in the God who made us– unique, fierce, intelligent, and beautiful– when we believe that He has only good for us and choose to walk in obedience, that is when we become a threat. 

I don’t want to be collateral damage. I want to be a warrior. I don’t want to be a victim anymore, but a soldier with a life that matters. With a purpose and a King to fight for.

The moment I truly decided to take strategic, defensive and offensive action in obedience to my God, the Enemy attacked.

I am not sitting at home, enjoying a nice cup of tea and writing something theoretical on this blog. I’m sitting in a corner, praying for my husband, and wondering what is going to happen in the next ten minutes.

I’m in the middle of a battle right now, fighting for my husband, my life, and my marriage. And I have been all summer. Why? Because, by the grace and power of my Lord Jesus Christ, I have joined the ranks of Christian soldiers who threaten Satan’s survival.

Wait…Who’s a Threat?

The Enemy does all he can to separate us from the Creator’s love and open arms. So, my question shifted from “what’s wrong with me” to “what’s threatening about me” when I realized that one-half of the Creator’s children (i.e. women/feminine) is so profoundly exhausted, harried, lost, unprotected, fearful, and hardened. In a word: war-torn.

If I’m considering taking someone or something out, I will attack on of three things: 1) the weakest point, 2) the most beloved, or 3) the biggest threat. It’s simple logic! I’m not going to attack the bigger, more capable enemy, I’m going to either remove the biggest tactical advantage or damage the most meaningful thing or person to my enemy. Countless movies and books are written and sold out based on this premise.

My worldview proclaims that as humans, we are vulnerable because of our separation from our Creator.

Automatically, as fallen human beings, we are weak and generally unaware that we’re being slavered over by a vicious, ruthless, unseen enemy. Satan can attack us with impunity because we don’t even know we need a defense, much less how to go about setting one up!

If, however, we enjoy the re-connection with our Creator, then we have access to secure, foolproof defense and devastating offensive weapons that allow us to live in confidence, peace, and bad-ass security.

How does that work? It comes back to the fact that you are loved. God is so passionately and dizzyingly in love with you, He made a way for you to move from defenseless and broken to defended and whole. No wonder the Enemy doesn’t want us reconnecting with God! It’s easy to win a battle against broken, hopeless, defenseless people who don’t know a battle is raging. But through God’s miraculous love, you and I become very dangerous.

What’s So Threatening?

I often wonder what would happen if I just became. If I stopped trying to be or act like any- and everyone else and truly accepted me. Of course when people ask what I’d change about myself, I say I’m pretty happy with myself. Which is true– isn’t it?

My husband once took 24 days to hike the Colorado Trail (approximately 500 miles, with all the variations on the trail that he threw in for himself) from Denver to Durango. By himself. Straight through. He talks about how those 24 days were a microcosm of life and all he had was himself— to enjoy, confront, wrestle, and embrace. As he starts the story I find myself nodding and dreaming of doing the same. The some hidden, dragonish speck of my brain whispers that it’s just me. Alone. With myself. And immediately, the rest of my brain scuttles into houses, closets, under beds, bolts the doors, shutters the windows and nary a curtain waves in the breeze.

What is so terrible about me?! Some– not all– people like me. Several even love me! My husband– poor soul– knew many of my flaws and still chose to be my life buddy. If he can choose me for (hopefully) 50+ years, why do I run from the thought of myself for 24 days?

But lately, my question has shifted from “what’s wrong with me” to “what is so threatening about me?” Why the shift? I believe that there is a battle raging in the universe– impacting even the most mundane grocery run– I believe that we have a Creator who made each person, mountain, stream, raindrop, frog, flower, bug, cat, dog, and– yes– woman with a purpose of glory, meaning, impact, and beauty.

The battle started when the Enemy– he’s not my personal archenemy but God’s– decided he wanted to be the Creator. He wanted to be as beautiful, holy, worshipped, necessary, omnipotent, good, and beloved as the Creator was.

Does this sound familiar, ladies? It should. I’m convinced our catty comparisons and jealousies are an echo of this supernatural quarrel. So you can guess that happened next. That’s right. The enemy carefully and oh so casually went to the Creator’s most beloved friends and started a rumor. And just like that, relationships and reality unraveled just as the Enemy intended.

You may be wondering how this fits in with womanhood, but stick with me. It’s coming up. The unseen(ish) war between Creator and Enemy is conducted in the lives and interactions of the Creator’s children. The Creator has never given up on us and has gone to Hell and back to restore us to Him. So, if we are the Creator’s beloved, what will the Enemy attack? The beloved.