Category Archives: Searching in Suffering

Embrace

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Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; 
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. Ps.27:3.

The Lord showed Himself mighty this week.

Have you ever experienced conflict?  Deep gashing conflict, conflict that carves grooves in a soul?  We have.

Have you ever betrayed someone?  Have you flung the full weight of your fallenness on another soul and then watched it crumble under the blow?  I have.

Have you ever felt the sword of another’s betrayal?  Have you ever trusted someone with your darkest stories and believed that they would truly SEE you underneath, only to watch them, (slow motion, over and over), turn the trust into a weapon to flatten you? I have.

Conflict is sometimes ugly and always hard.  We were made in the Image of God. Therefore, we were made for Love.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Cor.13:4-8. All of the conflict embedded in my lifetime has oozed from a failure to Love, on my part or others.

This week, four people (who broke each other) sat in a living room with apple cider (or decaf) and pumpkin bars, looked each other’s depravity full in the face, and…

forgave.

A time to embrace.  Ecc.3:5.

The gates of hell shudder under the holy weight of Forgiveness, which is the most unnatural and therefore most divine of sacred offerings.  There is nothing on heaven or on earth that shines God’s favor like the full extent of true forgiveness.  To unshackle someone who is bound to you by a debt they can never repay?  To be released from the manacles of guilt and condemnation?  To finally shed the chains? Sweetness unlike any other.

Forgiveness is the final form of love. Reinhold Niebuhr.

A few months ago I told someone, We are in a conflict with (Names) and we are not going to be able to work it out.  The relationship is over, likely forever.  

God in His mercy and power showed us a better way. Four people who love the Lord more than our own pain and our own self-justification chose to walk in it.

Have you given up on a relationship lately? Have you refused to offer grace?  Have you lived condemned and afraid?

Me too.

And there I would remain still, if not for the kindness and severity of a deeper mercy.

As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col.3:12-14.

Do not grow weary in doing good.  For in due time you will reap if you do not grow weary. Gal.6:9.

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Cocoon

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It is finished. John 19:30

My journal has a hard-cover, which I do not like.  I prefer spiral bound, so I can fold the cover around itself to open up each white blank page.  This journal cost me $24.95 at Barnes & Noble, which is silly, because I can buy journals at the grocery store for about $4.99 – paper-covered, spiral bound, fat journals just the perfect size to carry with my Bible.  But this one is special.  I bought it because of the quote etched on the front, which brought me to tears when I read it for the first time.  And many times after that.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.

That journal holds a record of my world-overness.  The world breaks every one, and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.  Ernest Hemingway.  This fallen place broke me in pieces and it is all recorded, raw and tear-stained, under the shelter of the caterpillar promise.

I thumbed through that journal recently, aching all over again as I remembered.  All that was broken, all that was lost, all that we tried to hold onto as the Lord allowed it to scatter away.  All the self-righteous poison I poured out on those pages, vomiting my vindictive rage on the battleground of an empty page instead of spewing words to God’s Image-bearers that I could never take back. Thank you for holding me in, Lord, for gathering me in strong arms and listening to my voice.  All the prayers and Scriptures that I clung to as tears fell, blurring my vision, distorting the written words with bubbled droplets of a broken heart. All the epiphanies, the healings, the explosions of piercing Truth from the tender heart of God, the violent collisions of faith and fallenness, the million moments of transforming grace.  Manna.  It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need.’ Exodus 16:15-16.  The journal holds the record of my long, dark cocoon years, when the Lord lifted me out of the life I thought I wanted and wrapped me in a deep grace, an infinite healing, a safe and holy transformation.

Another One, long ago, dwelled voluntarily in a dark cocoon called Death.  His body twisted and bloody, his skin pierced and ragged, His head bowed under the full weight of the madness of this spinning, savage planet. God, wrapped in flesh, was crucified.  He hung ingloriously on a cross.  A cross is a spiritual symbol to us, but to the Roman culture it was ugly and rough, like an electric chair or a hangman’s noose.  God became a curse.  A life of dust, a death in agony.  Then they buried Him in the same dirt out of which He created our race of image-bearers.  The end of God.  All of hell howls in triumph, gibbering in dark victory.

Until….

The cocoon twitches, then rumbles, then…….splits open.  Resurrection.  Death could not hold Life in.  Life surrenders to death, only to defeat it.  That is the cycle of the Redeemed.  We all die every day, sinking into the fallenness of this place, then He finds us, reminds us of the Cross and of the Empty Tomb, and it strengthens us, empowers us. We rise up.  We remember who we are.  We are the Remnant, the Chosen Ones, the Covenant Bearers, those who open our arms to Grace.  We are the saints of God.

The hidden transformation of the cocoon is a process for us.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror. 1 Cor. 13:12.  We live out our own reflection of the resurrection story, perhaps over and over, in our lifetimes.  We bleed our own stories, distorted and unfinished, so very different from what we wanted them to be.  Who of us can see the earthquake coming? Who notices the tiny cracks and foresees the fault lines of what will be?  None of us.  But…

It is finished.  John 19:30.

Take heart, for (unlike this particular saint) the Cross is a finished work.  All is ours, whether in heaven or on earth, for we are among those covered by the caterpillar promise, the resurrection covenant.  Jesus Christ died, was buried, and burst through the gates of hell.  He redeemed our tattered stories and knit them into the tapestry of grace. We do not bear the weight of unfinished sin, but the weight of heavenly glory.  All was resolved at the Cross.  All is grace.

Live in grace.  Record your story under the promise.  Set your face on the Cross.  Live under this shelter:

It is finished.

The Resurrection Promise


Stasis

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Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield.  Ps.33:20.

Have you ever seen a hummingbird be still?

Stillness

Hummingbirds beat their wings between 40-80 times per second.  They hover in mid-air, poised, seemingly motionless.  They are streamlined flawlessly for that active immobility.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.  Ps.27:13-14.

It takes enormous strength and stamina to be still.

God taught me to be a hummingbird.  When I first hung in stasis half a decade ago, I lived terrified.  I was disillusioned by conflict and damage in ministry. Our family was devastated by recurrent miscarriages. Losses piled up.  We were hemorrhaging, spilling out.

Read the rest of my post today on here on (in)courage               

Gusts

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What does anyone gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?  Eccl. 1:3

Lucy, sick and feverish for days, coughs so violently that she vomits on the floor. Jack complains (again) about dinner.  I choke back frustration, massaging my temples, sure that his constant high pitched whining has drilled a permanent hole in my brain.  Scott, home for two fleeting days before a plane whisks him away again, spends the evening on a conference call between cleaning up Lucy’s upchucked dinner and parenting Jack through the whine-vortex.  My shoulders slump.  I sweep up crumbs I swept yesterday and the day before.  I wipe the counters, load the dishwasher, soothe my daughter as she cries over the mess she made.  She tries to wipe it up herself with a piece of toilet paper because the family rule is “we do not make messes for other people to clean up.”  My eyes fill with tears at the sad sweetness of her vomit-slimed hands trying to obey a rule that does not apply to sick little ones.  How would she know that?

I type the paragraph above as I sip a steaming mug of tea, relief in sight.  I have been looking forward to this moment all day.  I hear Jack coughing, coughing, coughing.  Jack?  I check on him, find him crying at the top of the stairs.  “Mommy, I threw up on my bed.”  Guilt sours my stomach.  Tears fill my eyes (again). I hold him as Scott cleans up.  I pray over him, rub oil on his chest, tell him to run to me if he feels sick again.  I come downstairs to lukewarm tea.

I am bone weary.

when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.  Eccl 2:11.

I survey my clean house and my sleeping children, my husband emptying his black hole inbox as he carries what feels like an endless series of heavy burdens, and I am terrified.  Steve Jobs died today.  It hits me like a punch in the gut.  A man who changed the world leaves it without long enough to soak in his legacy. A chasing after the wind. 

The gusts of the empty day leave me breathless.  

Restore our fortunes, Lord, 
   like streams in the desert. 
Those who sow with tears 
   will reap with songs of joy. 
Those who go out weeping, 
   carrying seed to sow, 
will return with songs of joy, 
   carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126:4-6

Nothing is wasted.  All is grace.  This is an opportunity to believe, to cling, to that.

Pilgrimage

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Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  Ps.84:5.

We chose almost five years ago to stay at our church where I did this.  The aftermath was a beautiful and a terrible shattering.  I lived frightened as I watched a life scatter away when the sinews of my strongholds were laid bare.

I tried to hold them all, but my hands are weak against the gusting of hot winds.     There is a kernal of dying in me – an ambivalence that calls to fragile escapes.  

God engulfed me in mercy during my season of sifting.  He stooped down to rescue me when I shook with fear that I might be broken beyond fixing.  He saved me, healed me, spoke tenderly to me.  He invited me to be brave, to live in the Light.  Foremost of all, He covered me with an everlasting atonement long long ago, on a Golgotha cross, long before a scarlet L exposed two opposing futures:  grace vs. performance.  

Grace or performance?  Nothing divides the two like facing what grace really means.  When Jesus bore the ugliness of my sin, His heavenly father turned away in sickened disgust.  As Jesus hung on the Cross, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Mark 15:33-34.  That should be my darkness. Those should be my words, my shuddering loss as God forsakes me in my sin.  Have you ever lived the ripping agony of really looking at your lost soul? God, literally, could not for the life of Him leave us in that aching void without reaching for us.  He paid the wages of our sin so that we would never feel what He felt in those three hours of darkness.  

In Old Testament times, the temple was the dwelling place of God.  I have chosen and

The temple in Jerusalem

consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. 2 Chron.7:16.  In those days, God’s beloved had to journey to the temple to be in the His Presence.  Pilgrims would walk a treacherous journey to seek shelter under the holy covering of the temple.  They offered costly sacrifices and desperate prayers from needy hearts.  They knelt at the altar in the outer courts, soaking in the intimate Presence of God for those precious moments.  Their sacrifices, of course, did not wholly redeem their sin.  They were merely symbols of a Sacrifice yet-to-come, foreshadows of the Cross. Those pilgrims did not come to the temple to buy salvation, but to throw themselves on God’s mercy.  They were on a pilgrimage of grace.

Blessed are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. Ps.84:5.

Today the temple is no longer a building, but a spiritual presence.  For we are the temple of the living God. 2 Cor.6:16.  

I am on that same pilgrimage.  I do not journey to a temple made with human hands, but to a sanctuary within my own heart.  I have firmly decided to live out my days under the shelter of grace.  Will you be a fellow pilgrim?  As we come out of our seasons of sifting into vistas of peace, there will still be those who appeal to us to prove ourselves, to demonstrate that we deserve a second chance.  We could respond with increased effort, but it would be chasing after wind.  Simply put, we do not deserve a second chance.  I deserved the depths of hell long before my sin was exposed, and I deserve it still. Striving means nothing in the beating heart of Grace.

All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.  Frederick Buechner. 

The beauty of grace is that it transforms.  If we walk a pilgrimage of grace, it will change us.  We will become more holy, more loving, more courageous, more deeply steeped in the intimate Presence of God.  We will develop a face set like flint on our mission and eyes that see only the One who Sees Us.  My steps forward in grace have been the safest and holiest I have ever taken.  It is the adventure of a lifetime.

Will you walk a pilgrimage of grace with me?  

Alabaster

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There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven – a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing, a time to search and a time to give up as lost.  from Eccl.3.

We have been asking questions about broken relationship.  How do we know when to throw open our arms to a hard-fought embrace and when to drop them in acceptance? When to hold on to a lost treasure and when to let it go with a benediction?  It is easier for one of us to search, and for one of us to give up as lost. Which is the way of the Cross?

Definition:  Forgive:  to give before or ahead of.

Wounds heal or fester.  When my children cry from their little bodily injuries, I pour oil on their hurts and tell them, Be brave.  It will get better.  God made our bodies to heal. When we break and are broken, I hear Him whisper over me:  Be brave.  Give before and ahead of.  I made your heart to heal.

Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.  Nelson Mandela.

Fear is the enemy of forgiveness.  Fooled me once, shame on you.  Fooled me twice, shame on me.  Right?  To let go quietly, behind closed doors, in a cocoon of self-protection, that is one thing. But to reconcile in the Light, to joyfully restore, that is something else entirely.  It is a breathtaking risk, because there is always the possibility that wounds will lacerate us again.  Trust, forgiveness, fear, danger, restoration.

Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time—just like it does for you and me. Sara Paddison.

I have taken my wounds and sealed them in a jar.  Perhaps we all have.  Now what do we do with the jar?  Some broken treasures cannot be salvaged this side of eternity, and that is the deep sadness of this fallen space.  Sometimes we need to greet and acknowledge that reality.  Sometimes moving on is the greater grace.  A time to give up as lost.  Other times we are called to put the full weight of trust on restoration. We may choose, each of us, to give before and ahead of, to gamble our hearts in order to gain them back.  A time to embrace.

Which time is this?

Forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past.  Unknown.

There once was another woman who held a sealed jar.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  Luke 7:37-18.  This broken woman offered the wages of her sin to the One who considered her alabaster offering a precious gift instead of a symbol of her wicked life.  She broke open her pain at His feet, gave it to the One who forgave her, who gave before.  

I am that woman.  I have broken others and been broken in return.  I deserve rejection but desire grace.

I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. Luke 7:47.

What happens before and after forgiveness?

Love.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

With her broken offering, she reflected His Divine Love. It is not trite to proclaim that Love is always the answer.  Love is the banner He has hung over us.  Love is the triumph of the strong saints.

Love is also the dividing line of wisdom.  As we all circle our important questions, we should ask, Is it more loving to embrace or to shun embracing? To search or to give up as lost?  To do this or to do that?  That is very hard. The way of the Cross is sparsely populated because it is a bloodbath of Self. 

But that is not the end of the story. Love cannot stay buried.  Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:7.

I do not know the resolution of your story, and I am still seeking mine.  But I have learned that if I seek a resurrection of something I have lost, I must first seek Love.  Love will either redeem it or give us something better.  Love will lift up our faces as we break open our alabaster offerings, and declare, your many sins are forgiven because I gave before and ahead of your story, because you desire and receive my Love, because you love me more than your flawed treasures. Now go in peace and continue to Love and Forgive Much.

 

Offering

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Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Ps.62:8

Here is what the Bible says about King Hezekiah:  Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.  And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. 2 Kings 18:5-7.

Sennacherib

During Hezekiah’s reign, the King of Assyria was a man named Sennacherib.  You probably studied about him in ancient history, because he was a superstar, ancient-history-wise.  He was rich, powerful and brilliant.  And extraordinarily evil.  The Assyrians were known for flaying their victims, which means peeling their skin off, then immersing them, screaming and flailing, in boiling water. Assyria was an endless black hole of suffering and destruction.  Throughout the Old Testament, Sennacherib and his Assyrian kingdom were symbols of ultimate evil.

Sennacherib threatened the kingdom of Judah.  His vast armies swarmed over Judah’s territories like dark locusts, decimating its fortified cities.  The conquering Assyrians reached Jerusalem’s walls, breathing the foul stench of violence and evil over God’s holy city.  He sent a message to King Hezekiah:  Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them?  Is.37:10-12.

The Bible says that Hezekiah tore his robes and put on sackcloth, the clothes of grief.

He knew that Assyria had defeated every obstacle in its path to world domination.  He

Assyrian Warriors

knew that the Assyrian army had left a trail of defeat and horror in its bloody wake.

He knew what Sennacherib’s fierce armies had already done to his people in the surrounding cities.  He knew that the suffering in Judah was a black pit, deep and dark. He knew that his tiny, broken nation could not win against such a mighty force.

He also knew that Egypt hated Assyria.  He knew that Egypt was powerful, and it sought an alliance with Judah.  He knew that the Egyptian Pharoah would rise up to defend Judah. Who besides the Lord do we call upon in our most desperate hours?

This is what King Hezekiah did with the message from Sennacherib.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.  And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord. Is.37:14-15.

I can see him in my spirit.  The faithful king, his soul wracked with sorrow over his people’s suffering, his heart twisted in fear of his nation’s annihilation, clothed in the ragged sackcloth of mourning and woe.  I see him bowed under the weight of his leadership, laying prostrate in the Holy Place, face in the dust where priests and kings have cried out to God.  Like his ancestor, King David, he clung to the not-so-secret access key to the heart of God:  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Ps.51:16-17.  

Am I Hezekiah?  Do I turn my suffering into offerings?  When the armies of darkness invade my fortified territory, do I spread their diabolical lies at the altar of my God and cry out to Him?

Or do I turn to Egypt?  Do I crumple to dust under the pressure of external attack? Do I hide in a house of cards? Do I forfeit trust in the face of opposition?

I confess that the answer is: both.  My history is a dizzying strata of triumph and failure. It is perhaps something like yours.  (Without forgiveness and grace, we are all undone.)  As the Lord expands my heart with a longing for holiness, I also confess that that is no longer enough for me.  I want to be like Hezekiah, of whom God’s Word says, there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him. 2 Kings 18:5.  

It is a legacy that takes my breath away.

I want to reject Egypt’s empty refuge, to shake my fist at Assyria’s obscene mastery, to grieve every ounce of evil that corrupts those I love, to transform every moment of suffering into an offering to my heavenly King.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Ps.62:1-2.

Devour

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The accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony.  Rev.12:10-11.

Just a few years ago, someone spoke this over me:  I used to think that you were brave, but now I think that you are ruled by fear.  This was poison uttered deep to my battered soul that was already sinking, sinking under the weight of condemnation.  Those words echoed through my years of healing, my bravest years.

Many years ago, in college, I called to share a struggle with an adult I wanted to trust. After listening to my college-girl dilemmas for awhile, she said in annoyance, You just eat your emotions for breakfast, lunch and dinner, don’t you?  That gagged my mouth from vulnerability for many years, years I should have spent draining regrets.

Last year, a conflict with friends exploded through gossip into a nuclear wasteland, leaving smoking debris and embedded shrapnel in open wounds everywhere.  It was a holocaust of rumor, accusation, suspicion and loss.  We sort through the wreckage, dazed, wondering what in the world just happened?  Can it be undone?  Is forgiveness strong enough to overcome so much misunderstanding?

My husband carries the weight every day of personal and professional attack in his business.  We will not stop until (name) and (name) and their families have lost everything.  Scott and other leaders stand tirelessly in the gap.  He walks in integrity, leads in strength, fights with all of his might to build something great. But the opposition is relentless, grinding.

Accusation.  The Bible says that Satan accuses us before God day and night.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8. Why are we so eager to pick at Satan’s leftovers?  Why does God’s beloved church reject His invitation to restore? How can the people of grace be so void of grace?

If you bite and devour each other, take care lest you be consumed by each other. Gal.5:15.

Are you bowed under the weight of accusation?  Have you turned your face from the Light because of your shame?  Are you coated with the grime of condemnation?

“The hurling of veiled insults and unsubstantiated charges is a favorite tactic of Satan’s.  If he can stir up clouds of guilt in our minds and unsettle us with nebulous worries, then the Devil is in his element.  Whenever we find ourselves plagued by an obscure, uneasy sense of condemnation – a free-floating anxiety unattached to any clear course of remedial action – then the chances are that this is the work of the Devil.  It is the voice of accusation, not conviction.”  Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job

That is an anthem of freedom.  When that vague haze of torment settles over me, I seize the truth in that paragraph.

The conviction of the Holy Spirit is always precise: He identifies root causes of sin, and He moves the heart to specific acts of repentance and obedience.  All who trust God sufficiently to desire to obey Him will find unfailingly that He gives clear guidance.”  ibid.

Therefore now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1.

I grieve at God-opportunities lost when I ingested the accusations alongside the conviction.  I wish I had chosen to spit out the condemnation while drinking the conviction to the dregs.  Accusation poisons; conviction nourishes.  This people-pleaser swallowed the shame, walked through many years with its weight in my belly. Now I perceive the dividing line between the two and I weep at the goodness of a God who convicts but does not condemn.

O taste and see that the Lord is good!  How blessed is she who takes refuge in him! Ps.34:8.

Read here how my Savior shed the final weights.

In John 8, the Pharisees capture a woman entangled in an adulterous affair.  They drag her, stained with her sin, vulnerable, into the town square to hurl stones at her so she will die, crushed and bloodied.  No man stands with her; she is alone in her shame. I imagine her huddled and weeping, trembling with shame and fear. Jesus steps into this den of condemnation with quiet but undeniable authority, uttering his famous Pharisee-squasher, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.”  To their credit, the Pharisees slowly file away, convicted, in spite of their self-righteousness, by the Presence of Grace in action.  (Do not forget that Grace woos the legalists and the hypocrites alongside the tender-hearted.)  In my minds eye, I imagine the Lord of Hosts wrapped in the skin of a man, His heart tumbling over itself to Love this broken sinner in a way she can finally understand.  I picture Him kneeling, perhaps shielding her with a cloak, perhaps lifting her chin to be the first man to look in her eyes with compassion instead of desire.  The first man to nourish her instead of devour her.  The first to see her.  He speaks:

Woman, where are your accusers?  Does no one condemn you?

No one, Lord.

Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin.  John 8:10-11. 

That, friends, is conviction instead of condemnation.  That is Love poured out into the dust of this fallen world.  That is a reckoning of grace.

It does not matter if the accusations from the past are true or false.  We are a fallen race, and our souls are sick with sin.  We are contaminated with this world’s brokenness, and we have failed as big as the ocean.  The enemy may speak lies (or even twisted truths) over us, but we will fix our eyes on Jesus, whose bloody Love is sufficient to annihilate every shred of condemnation.  Beloved, pursue holiness in confidence, because in the eyes of Jesus, we are whole, undevoured.

Rescue

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Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all. Ex.5:22-23.

A long time ago, when I was helpless and small, darkness swallowed me up.  A series of terrifying events pierced me with confusion and pain.  I was a tiny person with a big broken heart.

As I grew up, I inhaled and exhaled the shadows into ugly strongholds of dysfunction and sin.  The Enemy clawed his way in to sow dark seeds in the fertile soil of my needy heart.  Yes, I knew and loved the Lord.  Yes, Life lived in me. I did not even know I was twisted and bent, gnarled like an infested tree that is eaten alive inside yet still spreads strong branch arms of green-veined leaves over roots that reach hungrily for sustenance.  I thought the roots and leaves were enough; I did not acknowledge the disease feasting me into dust.

When the infestation finally overflowed and crawled its way like a swarm of tiny insects into every corner of my life, I thought they would devour me forever.

This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. Ecc.9:3.

During that long season of drowning in shades, I lived bewildered, groping for the Lord, begging Him to throw me a lifeline of Light.  I sought counsel and comfort.  I placed my fragility into the capable hands of strong helpers.  They guided me, comforted me, instructed me with insight and love.  But they could not heal me (only a Healer can do that). Walking by faith because my sight was clouded with shadows, I lifted up the pieces of my broken heart with shaking hands as a living sacrifice to the Author and Finisher of my faith, believing, in spite of the waves of darkness, that He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it. Phil.1:6. At church, I laid my soul bare in worship.  Those few moments a week of singing truth back to the Lord were water to my cracking soul. We regularly sang a song of rescue, called Came to My Rescue, by Hillsong.

I called, You answered, and You came to my rescue, and I want to be where you are.

I hated that song.

The haunting strains of this beautiful song would fill the sanctuary, inviting us to the throne room of worship, and I would shake with rage.  You did not rescue me, Lord.  You could have, but You didn’t.  And now I’m supposed to act like that is Ok?  No thanks. Maybe you can rescue me now, but nothing will ever change the reality that you did not rescue me then.  I could not even respectfully force the words out of my mouth.  I would ball up, clenched, until the song was over.

We have not sung that song for awhile.  During that time, the Healer taught me about redemption. Sometimes Terrible Things happen to helpless people, people who cannot escape. That is part of the legacy of the Fall.  The Enemy knows that if he can breathe his foul black lung lies into a child, he just might lock his greedy arms around him or her for life.

But those of us who have lived in fragments are not beyond hope. But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Ps.10:14.

When the Lord judged Israel for defying his covenant, he did it for one reason: idol worship. Israel had succumbed to a culture of pagan idolatry.  Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Deut.6:14.

Child sacrifice to Molech

In our day, judgment offends.  We talk about the “old testament god of judgment” and the “new testament god of grace.”  But the Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Heb.13:8.  Because of my childhood, it is simpler for me to understand. In the days of Israel’s judgment, pagan worship consisted of Terrible Things: child sacrifice and temple prostitution, often child prostitution.  We complain about a God who judges, but He did it for this: They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing. Jer.32:35. 

God is the defender of the helpless and the oppressed. When his people murdered and prostituted their children to indulge in pagan revelry, He disciplined them swiftly and thoroughly. I wish I knew the stories of those children – children like me, maybe like you, helpless and suffering.  God was moved with compassion for those little ones.  He defended them, fought so that they could be safe.  In His mysterious grace, He did not stop their oppression, but He rescued them nonetheless.  I wonder if He did not intervene in their lives (my life) because He was confident that He would heal them wholly whenever they called upon His Name.  The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he waits on high to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. blessed are all who wait for him! People of God, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Is.30:18-19. He knew that their story, though unravelled by Terrible Things, would be knit back together when they lifted up the trailing threads of their tangled lives.  He is the Healer.  He weaves stories of suffering and redemption, gleaming within the larger Story of extravagant Love, eternal Rescue.

The Lord had compassion on me.  He Shone into the graves inside of me and raised what was buried into abundant life. He rescued me now, and the Healing has ricocheted back with brilliant power to obliterate the shadows.  Light overcomes darkness. All is grace.

Today we sang Came to My Rescue and I worshipped with my whole being, tears of grace streaming.  Those tears are bottled in heaven next to the old tears that I will never cry again.

In my life, be lifted high.  In my world, be lifted high.  In my love, be lifted high.

I worship my Rescuer.

Grace

Standard

If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be condemned!  Gal.1:9.

This year I am reading through the Bible with a group of rock star ladies from Vanguard Church.  We are the Journey Girls, a little band of women who made a mutual commitment to read the greatest love story ever told in 356 days.  (We have a facebook page, so we are legit AND connected.) Many of the women are reading straight through, but Dreamy Scott and I (he is not a Journey Girl, but he’s allowed to read the Bible too, we decided) are on a different plan.  We, being iChristians, put One Year Bibles on our e-readers.  We read a bit of the Old Testament, a bit of the New Testament, a Psalm and a Proverb or two together every night before bed.  Its a splendid system and we might just do it again every year.  Thank you, iNation.

Right now I am swimming in the depths of Job.  Have you read Job lately?  It is a wild storm story, wave upon heavy crashing wave of turmoil and chaos, swirling madly into a vortex with a center deep and still.  It is a book of ferocious mercy.  Some scholars believe that Job is an allegory, a parable about how to suffer righteously.  I remain unconvinced.  Job is too turbulent, too complex to be an allegory.  It is too raw.  Parables are straightforward, one-dimensional.  That is just fine, because parables exist to teach moral lessons.  Job has no moral lesson – except grace.  Grace is, at heart, the opposite of a moral lesson.  Grace is undeserved.  Job was a man who raged against the full power of earth and hell in order to plant his embattled feet on grace. Have you read Job lately?  Read Job if you are fighting to believe in grace.

The story of Job is this:  Satan presents himself to the Lord with a taunt:  There is none righteous.  None who seeks for God.  God replies, Have you considered my servant Job?  And thus begins the story of fathomless loss in a righteous man’s life.

Satan, with God’s permission, takes everything – Job’s livelihood, his reputation, his wealth, his glory, his family, his health.  He is left with a smoldering crater of a life, a body pocked with festering boils, a decimated wife who urges him to curse God and die.  And his friends.  They started well. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud…Then they sat on the ground with him for 7 days and 7 nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.  Job 2:12-13.

If they had stopped there, I might believe that Job is an allegory.  Just skip 38 chapters, land on Job 40 and tie it all up with a big red bow.  The end.  Job = good guy, bad life, God intervenes, God re-blesses because we have all learned a valuable lesson here.  Ta-DA!!

But instead, those three friends open their mouths and they spew out the same graceless razor-lies that the people of God speak over each other to this day.  This much suffering must have a cause.  A good and gracious god would not allow this unless there was a reason. There is no smoke without fire – let me help you trace the lines of sin in your life.  Then god will fix it all.  Let’s control and manage this suffering together, because, somehow, this is your own fault.  Has anyone flattened you with that before?  Worse, have you rolled over anyone with it?

Lies.  And Job, bleeding his shattered life, rejected their self-righteous vapor with the vigorous fist of a passionate faith.  Weeping in agony, Job railed against his suffering, against his friends, even, at times, against God.  He begged God to kill him, to vindicate him, anything to escape the teeth of loss and grief that were chewing him alive. Yet Job knew that God was not punishing him.  He rejected the cobweb lie that suffering = condemnation.  He held on to his integrity; he gripped the mercy of God with tentacles of trust.  When Eliphaz smugly oozed, AsI have observed, those who sow trouble reap it. Job 4:8, Job countered, He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the Almighty. Job 6:14.  Boo-ya.

Job’s friends clung with hooked claws to their cracked theology for 38 long chapters & 3 rounds of dialogue.  They believed that we earn either suffering or reward.  No room in the Inn. Paying customers only.  No room for undeserved suffering. Therefore, no room for undeserved mercy. No space for grace.

If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment. Job 19:28-29.

What brings the wrath of God?  Those who oppose grace.  If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be condemned!  Gal.1:9.  God’s ire flames against those who preach against a merciful salvation.

Do you have any of Job’s friends?  I do.  It hurts.  So I have a choice to sink into their expectations or stand, like Job, under the shadow of my Redeemer.  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold Him, and not another.  Job 19:25-27.

Beth Moore says, Some believers have the maturity to help free us from our grave clothes, and others just keep picking up everything we dare to shed and handing it back to us.  God Almighty has dressed us in dazzling white linen, bright and pure, which is the righteous acts of the saints (Rev.19:8).  Do not wear the clothes of the dead; stand in confidence, wearing the Redeemer’s living linen.  He has bought us back from the grave.  Stand, like Job, on living, breathing grace.