It was Sunday afternoon. I was in “my” room. The living room. Looking out the window that spans nearly an entire wall, hypnotically watching a baby squirrel chowing down on the suet in the birdfeeder. I call it “my” room because it’s lined with a 12 foot wide by 7 foot high wall of 12×12 cubby shelves filled with books about God. Theology. Spiritual Growth. Prayer. Suffering. blah. blah. blah.
84 square feet. My own personal little library. That’s a lot of books. A lot of words. I’ve learned a lot from those books. With endless more still to learn.
My husband was chilling out in the adjacent room. Even though we’re visually separated by the wall of books, we never have to raise our voice to hear each other.
The clock ticks.
Me, softly: “I miss the old me.”
FirstHusband: “What do you mean?”
Me: “You don’t notice a difference?”
He knows what I’m talking about.
The clock ticks.
Me: “I miss optimism.”
silence. He’s not ignoring me. He’s waiting. He knows me. I’m not done talking. I’m not done thinking.
(I know, I know. I’m NEVER done thinking.)
The clock ticks.
Me: “I hate that the gate is so narrow.”
FirstHusband: “I know.”
A few years ago, when I experienced the deafening silence and pitch black darkness and seeming cavernous distance from all that I had come to recognize and understand and depend on as the presence of God, I couldn’t understand why He was allowing such intense pain. I wondered then if the separation was temporary or permanent. If it was temporary, I wondered if the other side would prove to be a pruning that led to a more fruitful bounce back to what I had come to know as “normal” or if this season was a “refined by fire” step leading to an altogether new and different relationship with God.
I’m still not sure.
I’m not sure I’m completely done with that season, so it very well may be that it’s premature to be contemplating the “lessons learned” of it all.
“that I have great sorrow and
unceasing anguish in my heart.
For I could wish
that I myself were accursed
and cut off from Christ
for the sake of my brothers,
my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Romans 9: 2-3 ESV
Paul is saying, “I genuinely grieve for those who don’t know Christ. I would give up eternity with Him, if it meant that they could know Him.”
And just to be clear, me saying I understand Paul better, does NOT mean I share his sentiments about sacrificing my relationship with God so that somebody else could know Him.
I know me. I’m much. much. too selfish for that.
The pain I experienced during my recent separation from Him here on earth is more than enough to tell me that eternal separation would be…
unbearable doesn’t begin to describe it.
But I do understand what Paul is saying.
And the raw truth of it is suppressing optimism. It’s sabotaging Hope.
Not that I don’t know Satan will be defeated in the end, because I know he will. It’s just that the evidence that the earth is Satan’s domain seems to be everywhere I look.
I can’t not see it.
Back in December of 2013, I wrote about asking God to “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Here’s an excerpt from that post:
“The next morning, I woke up…brokenhearted. Seriously. It’s the only word that fits. I was literally grieving over how many people HATE God. or even the idea of Him.
Immeasurable grace. Unconditional love the likes of which I will never fully comprehend.
and so often – much too often – the response is arrogant and caustic rejection. vehement acrimonious derision. revulsion. hate.
and then there’s indifference.
God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can experience abundant life in Him.
and so many people respond with “meh.” So many people don’t respond at all.
I’m brokenhearted. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
this is new. and not from me. On my own, I’m incapable of this kind of intuitive compassion.“
Some read those words and thought I was being arrogant. condescending. sanctimonious. I can’t stop them from thinking that. Haters gonna hate.
Some might read them and think I’m an emotionally driven drama queen. Those people obviously don’t know me very well.
The fact is, it’s much easier to live with the knowledge that so many people hate God when you only process the information intellectually. It’s their choice. And the choice has consequences: current and eternal separation from the God who loves them unconditionally. End of story.
But when you genuinely care about someone, and you know they’ve mistaken religion for a restored relationship with God through Jesus, you grieve for their loss.
Again. I can’t stop people from thinking that.
I believe that God, through the ultimate expression of love, sacrificed Himself on the cross so that ANYone can be restored to uninhibited relationship with Him and experience abundant life through Christ, not only for eternity but also now – here on earth. And so. many. people say He doesn’t even exist. So. many people blame Him for Satan’s handiwork. They want Him to intervene and stop “bad” people from hurting “good” people, not thinking through the implications that would have in their own lives if God intervened and stopped them from ever doing anything rebellious.
My acute awareness of how many people live separated from God brings with it the broken heart I prayed for. Not just for people I know and love, but for people I’ve never met.
And I can’t not see it. I can’t not know it.
And so I find myself wrestling with the paradox of personally experiencing the joy of abundant life in Christ and grieving because so many people seem to hate God. And anyone who loves Him.
I wouldn’t change the seeing. or the knowing. It’s good to know.
And a little bit not…
As I tentatively become more active again, one of my new facebook practices is to select “I don’t want to see this” whenever I read a post declaring that something somebody said or wrote or tweeted “destroyed” something another person said, wrote or stood for. (or similar language)
These kind of smack-down statements are usually only true if you completely ignore or rule out every other aspect of a complex issue other than the one the destroyer targets.
“Destroyed” (and words like it) is the kind of inflammatory language that triggers pointless, unresolvable bickering. It doesn’t invite or facilitate open dialog. Rather, it takes the potential for conversation that might lead divisive people to discover common ground and crops it to a trite soundbite that ends in a period or an exclamation point, or worse yet – “BAM!”
If divisive issues were truly simple, there wouldn’t be so much controversy over them. #edify
“It is the mark of an educated mind
to be able to entertain a thought
without accepting it.” Aristotle
“…faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s believing and acting alongside your doubts…
…faith wouldn’t even exist if doubt were not also present, because the essence of faith was the leap taken in the face of uncertainty. Faith wasn’t a set of beliefs, or an ability to hold onto those beliefs without wavering. Faith was action – action taken right in the middle of your doubts.
If there were no uncertainty at all, a leap of faith wouldn’t even be necessary. You could just keep on walking.
from O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling
by Jason Boyett
I used to think that doubt was evidence of a lack of faith.
Not so much anymore.
These days, I’d probably say I’m a bit of a “doubt snob.” By that, I mean that when I hear a Christian say they’ve never doubted God, I would wonder if:
1) they are lying. (let’s just get that one right out of the way)
2) they have forgotten. (kinda like childbirth. The memory of that kinda pain fades with time)
3) they haven’t actually thought things through. (see what I mean? “doubt snob”)
I’ve spent my life trying to figure things out. If God ever gave me a new name, it probably would have been “Madua” (in Hebrew, it means “why”…what is the reason…what is the cause). I’ll pull and follow a “why” thread as far as I possibly can go.
In all the question asking and thread following and reading and learning and studying I’ve done so far in my life, the one fact I know for sure:
Not everything can be known for sure.
What do I do with that?
Do I only take action if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the action will result in success?
Do I only believe in God if I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that He exists?
No one can prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, that God exists. I can’t prove that God answered a prayer. Or led me to a decision. Or provided an opportunity. Or equipped me for one of those opportunities.
So, again. What do I do with that?
In the absence of certainty, I choose to act or not act.
Personally, I choose faith in God. I can have some faith in myself or in “the system” or in other people, but at some point, they’ve all let me down. I can have some faith in reason and science, but when you drill down to their root, neither can be employed to prove their own foundational claims without some core assumptions as their bedrock.
Assumption is a synonym for faith.
We all have faith in something. And we all act on our faith, in spite of our doubt.
“And who knows
but that you have come
to your royal position
for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14b (NIV)
I posted only the second part of this verse because these are the words that resonated and stuck with me the instant I read them. I didn’t even try to memorize them. They just took immediate residence in my head. My paraphrase is:
Who knows if you were put here in this particular place, NOW, for a reason?
In Biblical context, the message is specific to Esther. But the first few words are also relevant to us today. Here’s the entire verse:
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Here’s my paraphrase again:
If God has sovereignly placed me in a particular place at a particular time to accomplish something for Him and I remain silent – if I do nothing – He WILL send someone else to accomplish His will.
And I will forfeit the blessing that would come from being obedient. And by blessing, I don’t mean some sort of thank you gift or prosperity tit-for-tat. I’m talking about God’s definition of blessing. I don’t always know what that is. Sometimes, it’s the “You’re NOT gonna beLIEVE what God did!!!!” story I get to share after He does something phenomenal that can’t be explained away or dismissed as coincidence.
This verse and these thoughts came to mind last week after I heard someone say they were “ready to check out.” Discouragement had become too much. Looking from the outside, you’d never guess. They look strong and confident. They are friendly and are genuinely enjoyable company. It was another reminder and confirmation that we are all #justadifferentkindofbroken and that we need to strive to #seepeople. Thankfully, in the pit of discouragement, this person had reached out to someone. Risked vulnerability and rejection. And the friend they reached out to is a Christ-centered believer and immediately responded in full on “Esther” mode.
If you are doubting the the point of you. If you are feeling small. If you are feeling helpless. Unloved and unworthy and irreleveant. I have a message of encouragement for you:
Right where you are.
With what you’ve got.
And all that you lack.
Under yet another spiritual attack of doubt and fear by the ultimate perpetuator of lies.
In defiance of satan with a lower case “s.”
Wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit to equip you in your weakness.
Speak truth in love, not about what others lack, but as a witness to what you’ve FOUND through a living and intimate relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.
You are where you are through God’s providence. Wherever that is, you are in a unique position to see someone who is unseen. To look them in the eye and listen to them. To let them know they are seen and genuinely heard.
You are in a unique position to be a WITNESS (that’s a noun, not a verb) to the grace and unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
“I don’t know that Lucifer’s sin was rebellion in the full sense of the word. He did not seek to replace God or overthrow God. He simply sought to act independent of God…
the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” (emphasis added)
by Steve Fry
I don’t use the word “sin” much.
Not that I don’t believe it exists and that I’m prone to it.
I believe it does and I know that I am.
It’s just one of those words that has too many interpretations to be used effectively in casual conversation.
(I don’t use the word “Christian” so much either. Way, WAY too many interpretations of THAT word.)
In certain company, if I were to utter the word sin, I would find myself standing all alone holding my own personal (Jesus) Freak Flag, listening to crickets.
Because not many people want to talk about the word sin. But when you don’t talk about something, meaning begins to take on more and more personal connotations. Definitions aren’t globally understood and accepted when they’re formed and sequestered inside a vacuum of individual history and experience.
“Sin” can mean different things to different people. But my thought is that before the word sin means something to me, it means something.
When I think about the multitude of sins in my life, at the core of each and every one of those sins, I recognize a desire to choose for myself what is right and wrong rather than look to God and submit to His authority. That’s why Steve Fry’s statement: “the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” hit home with me.
Regardless of the actual behavior, the choosing to decide for myself – to act independently of God – is rebellion.
Rebellion against God. It’s the heart of the nature of sin.
It’s not my actions alone which constitute sin and separate me from God. My actions are an expression of the state of my heart and my mind. And the state of my heart and mind are a reflection of the state of my relationship with Christ.
I can admit my dependence on God, live under His authority and experience abundant life in Christ.
Or I can act independent of God, choosing to rebel against His authority and separating myself from Him.
“A person cannot receive
even one thing
it is given him
John 3:27 (ESV)
I have nothing unless it is given to me from Heaven.
First and foremost,
that means grace.
John 6:44 tells me: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
I hate the hard truth of this, but I know that if left completely to myself, I would not choose God. If I drill down to the core of each and every sin, I recognize a desire to act independently of God. That desire to choose for myself what is right or wrong, rather than submitting to God’s authority, is sin.
And sin separates me from God.
It’s by grace that my intimate, living, dependent relationship with God is restored through Christ’s sacrifice. Grace that is given to me from heaven.
Secondly, it means everything else:
Of course there’s all the tangible “stuff” like a home, a car, the food in my pantry and fridge, the computer I’m typing on…
but so. much. more. is “given to me from heaven.”
– My husband. My children.
– My health, my strength, the fact that I don’t live with chronic pain and have never faced a life-threatening illness.
– Success in any endeavor, whether it be work, ministry or anything else.
– Financial security.
– My talents. Not only knowledge, but my ability to read and understand and learn.
– My imagination. Any idea I ever come up with.
– My awareness of God’s presence and movement in my life.
– The courage and motivation I find to be obedient when the Holy Spirit prompts me to act or speak.
– The indwelling of the Holy Spirit which equips me beyond my own abilities. Romans 8:9-11
– The confident that is grounded in fact that He is “with me wherever I go.” Joshua 1:9
– The peace that comes from a relentless awareness of his sovereign providence. Job 42:2
– And then there are the harder things that His Word promises He will work for “good” and are meant to “conform me” to the image of Christ.
The trials I don’t understand.
The seasons when He is silent.
The fact that I struggle to submit to His authority. Daily. Sometimes hourly.
I have NOTHING unless it is given me from heaven.
The breath I just took.
I can’t take credit for any of it and I’m not in control of any of it.
Dependent upon the Holy Spirit to remind me, I need to be diligent about remembering all this and being grateful. When I’m mindful and grateful, I’m a better steward of all God blesses me with, and that includes the blessings in disguise.
“Whatever you do,
work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord,
not for men”
Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
The first word that jumps into my head when I read this verse is: competence.
I’m not sure when I first figured out that – as someone who professes faith in Christ – everything I do and say reflects on Jesus. There were probably multiple factors involved in coming to that realization:
~ I remember when I was young and first began working in the legal industry, there were multiple highly educated, wealthy people who belittled my faith and spoke condescendingly to me as they expressed that they perceived me to be idealistic and naive because I believed in God and “wasted my time” serving in church. If I listened to the root message under the messages, it was always grounded in the opinion that the only people who believed in God were less educated, less “successful” in the business world and, well…perpetually stuck in a lower socioeconomic class. Those people were sad and underprivileged and believing in God made them feel better. An “opium for the people” kind of a thing.
~ This is really going to date me, but I remember sitting in a hair salon and being simultaneously and intensely challenged by multiple women to defend Christianity in light of the sex scandal involving revivalist evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, a prostitute and a hotel room. It blew me away that, based on his bad behavior, not only was my faith suspect, but Christian faith overall was being attacked and rejected. I realized with much clarity at that moment that Christians were being watched like prey and sometimes attacked for sport.
~ When my kids were little, I remember telling them that no matter where they are or who they are with, when they wear their school uniform, they represent their school. Their words and actions are a reflection on their school. It was a short connection to realize that because the uniform was printed with the name of a Christian school, the kids were described by those watching as “those kids from the Christian school.” The tone of voice was telling as to whether the statement was an indication of approval or disapproval. When the comment expressed approval, it was often spoken with pleasant surprise, while the disapproving comments were more sarcastic and dripping in “it figures” and “what do you expect?”
I’m sure I could think of more examples, but you get the idea. Back then and today, despite the number of Christians with advanced degrees, well-paying careers and lives suffused with gracious words and actions, they are very, very often thought of as uneducated, unskilled, poor, illogical, ignorant, unreasonable, undependable…the list could go on…
Colossians 3:23 reminds me that it’s possible to challenge and even change those perceptions. It’s possible for someone who professes faith in and dependence on Jesus to be viewed as intelligent, competent and dependable. But to intentionally and consistently “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,”
I need to:
– as much as I am able,
– as consistently as I am able,
– grounded in an acute awareness of my dependence on the Holy Spirit
to equip me in mind, body and spirit, and
to bless me with determination and stamina and resilience
– regardless of whether the work is directly related to ministry or whether the work is within a secular field.
– by not spreading myself so thin that I can’t come close to a standard of excellence or even achieve “good enough” status in one of my commitments, much less all of them.
2. Choose to speak edifying words – affirming progress as an indication of success, encouraging hope and motivating other people to strive for excellence – instead of
– expending time and effort calling (repeated and/or extended) attention to someone else’s shortcomings and mistakes.
– tearing people down.
And in the process of that striving and choosing, I find that
~ I’m letting go of the white-knuckled grip I have on my right to choose and I’m allowing myself to be conformed (by the Holy Spirit – not only by my own efforts) into the image of the son of God, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29),
~ I’m being a good steward of the gifts and talents God has blessed me with, (Matthew 25:14-30) and
~ I’m tangibly expressing genuine gratitude to God, for the countless blessings in this abundant life I’m living with Him – regardless of my circumstances. (Colossians 3:17)
I know I’m not the only follower of Jesus who is striving for excellence, extending grace, being conformed, being a good steward and expressing gratitude. My prayer is that every time a Christian hunter, or even just a non-believer, encounters one of us Jesus Freaks, the “with all our hearts” serves as a strong, positive evidence for authentic faith in Jesus Christ.
“One bold message in the Book of Job is that
you can say anything to God.
Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt,
your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment
He can absorb them all.
As often as not,
spiritual giants of the Bible
are shown contending with God.
They prefer to go away limping,
rather than to shut God out.”
from Disappointment With God
by Philip Yancey
When these words first sunk in, they were liberating for me.
I was taught that we should always be reverent toward God because, well…He’s GOD.
We make requests – respectfully.
And we thank Him.
No yelling or complaining or whining or blaming – that would be DISrespectful.
But I’ve realized my holding back in prayer was the equivalent of holding my hands over my face like a little kid playing hide and seek who thinks nobody can see him because his face is covered up.
There’s no authentic relationship when there’s holding back.
Telling God everything – expressing bitterness, revealing and exploring doubt and even angrily listing for Him all the reasons something isn’t fair – was strange at first.
I tell God everything I’m thinking and feeling. He can take it. Because He’s GOD. Besides, He already knows what I’m really thinking anyway. Sometimes even when I don’t. Sometimes I discover what I’m really thinking and feeling when I’m right in the middle of telling Him.
Re-written is one way to say it. But the word “re-written” tends to imply the Bible has been edited and re-interpreted multiple times over hundreds of years, resulting in an irretrievable loss of the original content. The implication of the word “re-written” is widespread error and intentional manipulation by the fallible humans who did the re-writing. The implication of error and manipulation is that in a cross-check, the manuscripts don’t match up.
After looking at the available facts instead of relying the assumptions, I believe a more accurate word is “copied.”
Hand copied isn’t the same as re-written.
What’s interesting to me about the assumption that hand copied scripture results in an untrustworthy source is that, in reality, the multitude of copies actually serves as proof for reliability of ancient manuscripts. And not just Biblical manuscripts. The “number of copies” criteria for reliability doesn’t originate with or even apply only to Christian writings.
It’s a history thing.
Historians who could give a flyin flip about proving or disproving Christianity believe that the number of copies and whether they cross check for accuracy in content is an important factor in determining whether ancient documents are reliable.
(To clarify. I’m not referring to the truth or meaning of the words in these manuscripts, just their historical authentication and accuracy.
Here’s some facts about the ancient documents we have:
There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament.
From what I can find, after the New Testament, the highest number of copies of ancient writings is:
643 copies for Homer’s Iliad,
49 copies of Aristotle’s writings,
10 copies for Caesar and
7 for Plato.
Meanwhile, in addition to the 5,686 Greek manuscripts for the New Testament, there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. Add non-Biblical manuscripts and the supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.”
Maybe I’m misinformed, but my understanding is that reliability of the writings of Plato, Caesar, Aristotle or Homer are not disputed.
In addition to the multitude of copies, another criteria historians look to in confirming the reliability of ancient manuscripts is the time between the original writing and the earliest copies known to be in existence. (Notice we don’t have originals of ANY of these documents.)
Sticking with the five examples given above, the approximate time between the original and the earliest copy we have is:
Plato’s writings – 1200 years (7 copies),
Caesar – 1000 years (10 copies),
Aristotle – 1400 years (49 copies) and
Homer – 500 years (643 copies).
New Testament – 70 years (5,686 copies in Greek alone)
So…just looking at the math.
If critics, doubters and naysayers of the reliability of Biblical manuscripts acknowledge the historicity and writings of Plato, Caesar, Aristotle and Homer, it seems logical that they should also acknowledge the historicity and writings of the New Testament authors.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)
One of my go-to questions when I meet with someone as a communication/life coach is:
“How do you receive and process negative feedback and constructive criticism?”
Sometimes, people know the answer. Sometimes I have to provide a few multiple choice options:
(1) Do you usually deny it? Assume it’s not true?
(2) Do you get depressed? Maybe shut down or give up?
(3) Do you get fired up? Determined to prove the criticizer wrong or to overcome whatever weakness the feedback and criticism points to?
(4) or do you get depressed, shut down and THEN get fired up and determined?
The most difficult to deal with are the two extremes of denying and shutting down.
I don’t know about you, but my knee jerk reaction is to deny. Way back in college, my favorite interpersonal communication professor, Dr. Grasty, assured me I wasn’t alone by confirming that:
“When we are criticized, our tendency is to be defensive.”
And then he gave us this sage advice:
“Don’t be a deluded wimp. Have the courage to look for any truth in the criticism. Strip away any acrimonious language, any selfish motivation or defensiveness of the criticizer and diligently search for even a nugget of truth in the accusation.”
This is one of those occasions where the words “the truth hurts” ring loud and true.
I’ve learned that in order to grow – personally, professionally, mentally, physically and most importantly, spiritually, I have to face the truth of where I am right now.
Praying for God to search my heart.
Asking Him to give me the courage to look at what He reveals.
Begging Him to comfort me when He shows me the ugly that’s hiding in there, layered in rationalizations and rainbows.
And praying for Him to equip me with the motivation and stamina needed to purge from my life the things that separate me from Him.