His Mercy is More and Ours Should be Too

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2

I have been the one!

The one who interrupted the scene with judgmental thoughts. When I have encountered someone who goes against the flow of what I’ve always thought, I have been the one who abruptly thought or said: that’s just dumb. My initial reaction has been to dismiss the person and to disregard their history that may have influenced their way of thinking/acting. That attitude was a reflection of my own heart. It became a stubborn way of living that is not based on the totality of God’s love. I thought I was living lovingly since I knew that biblical love “finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth”. But this kind of love is lacking the characteristics of what completes it. I was not bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. (I Cor 13)

I have been the one who judges the validity of someone based on what I see/perceive. I have been in circumstances way too often in which I assessed people and situations quickly and harshly, with very little consideration of what had occurred before that moment. I have given opinions that I considered righteous (and maybe they were), but my heart was filled with attitudes of moral superiority. I have assumed that the more I knew, the more it would only confirm my suspicions about a lack of credibility or innocence. So I have refused to look beyond the encounter, to understand the why.

I have been the one to object to the misdemeanors of life. As a rule keeper (generally), I tend to criticize the law breakers – or benders.
I have gloated when the one who sped past me on the highway is now sitting on the side of the road in front of a car with blue lights.
I have cheered when a cheating team loses.
I have assumed that the one trying to break in the line of a long string of traffic (that has all moved over and waited in the correct lane) is a spoiled entitled brat.
I have defended the gate-keepers who make the rules, define the rules, adjust the rules, and maintain the rules.

Yes, I am the one who has dismissed and excused my own feelings of disdain toward others because I have qualified the feelings as “justified or righteous indignation.”

But God!
His mercy has chased me all the days of my life. The gospel has been as effective in growing me daily as it was in saving me initially. Thankfully, in the more recent years of my life, I’ve prayed for God’s grace to permeate my heart with the kind of love that sees beyond what is right in front of me. The kind that reminds me that there’s much more to the story than I possibly know. The kind that seeks to understand, not just to be understood. In this process, I’ve wrestled with thoughts about how scripture speaks to my sinful Pharisaical attitude toward those who are not like me. Some of those have other opinions. Some have grown up in a very difficult environment. And some are a different color than I am, and have experienced life from a perspective quite unlike mine.
I finally begin to choose to wait. And listen. And learn.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life thinking that my truth-telling, rule-keeping kind of Christianity is essential for society to function well. And though these aren’t evil characteristics, apart from love they can hinder the witness of the person who desires to walk the Jesus Way. Leaving little or no room for mercy can lead to frustration and cynicism, which is actually a detriment to society. It’s simply another form of entitlement. Some feel entitled because of their economic status. Or age. Or race. Or nationality. Or position of authority. OR … their law-abiding, hard-working, self-motivated, minding-your-own-business philosophy. Yep , I can feel entitled to be the judge of people that appear entitled! 🙂
It’s interesting that the book of the Bible that would speak so much about joyful living contains the following thoughts: “But in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2)
The joy that I’ve discovered as I consider others before myself has far outweighed the satisfaction I may have felt when the lawbreaker “got their’s”. I have found that peace has come from seeking to enter another’s injury and really hear their pain.
There is definitely a place and time for judgment, but that’s not to be my initial or personal heart response. And there has been so much freedom that comes in releasing myself from the mission to always speak up in defense of my version of fairness! Because it’s just possible that what a person has experienced explains a great deal about their actions. And I want to extend a merciful disposition and listening ear to their stories.

How shall we know when to do justice and how to show mercy?
By getting as close to Jesus as you possibly can. I know of no hard and fast rules in Scripture to dictate for every situation. And I don’t think this is an accident. The aim of Scripture is to produce a certain kind of person, not provide and exhaustive list of rules for every situation.
The beatitude says, “Blessed are the merciful,” not, “Blessed are those who know exactly when and how to show mercy in all circumstances.” We must be merciful people even when we act with severity in the service of justice. That is, we must be:
poor in spirit,
sorrowful for our own sin,
meekly free from defensiveness and self-exaltation,
hungering and thirsting for all that is right to be done,
perceptive of a person’s distress and misery,
feeling pity for his pain,
and making every effort to see the greatest good done for the greatest number.
You will often support the claims of justice and recompense a person the way he deserves, in order to bear witness to the truth of God’s justice and to accomplish a greater good for greater numbers of people.
But if you are a merciful person, then even the way you spank a child or prosecute a criminal or dismiss an employee will be different. The mercy will show. The parent may cry. The attorney may visit the criminal and his family. The employer may pay for remedial training.
The heart of mercy will show.
(John Piper)

More and more I have come to realize that Jesus’ scales of measuring are so different than mine. In my human nature (void of the Spirit), I measure circumstances and people by the standards of justice that I’ve personally created. I want “those bad people” to be punished immediately, and I want the punishment to be administered my way. It should happen quickly and must also meet my standard of fairness. That standard includes known scripture as well as the laws of the land. Mostly, the standard has been determined through years of personal experiences and how those experiences relate to the known commandments or laws.

I am still in the process of uncovering these subtle and hidden sins of assumption and pride. I continue to pray for and pursue a heart that listens out of sincere love for others – believing the best about them and hoping the best for them. So, these days when I turn on the news or read the most recent social media debate (some would say debacle) it’s best to turn to prayerful consideration of how Jesus lived and taught. His was a life of perfect paradox: He personally submitted to authority because He possessed a high view of righteousness and justice, but He publicly spoke against accusation and retaliation because He possessed a high view of mercy. (Luke 23)
The law-abiding religious leaders needed lessons in humility. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God would include mercy for the Samaritans, for women, for children, for the poor, for the leper, for the prostitute, for the thief (on the cross) …
and for ME!

What love could remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore,
our sins they are many,
His mercy is more!

What patience would wait as we constantly roam?
What Father, so tender, is calling us home?
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor!
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more.

What riches of kindness he lavished on us.
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost.
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford.
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more!

Praise the Lord!
His mercy is more!
Stronger than darkness, new every morn!
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more!!

My Hope: An Answer, not an Argument

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My heart is leaning on the Word, the written Word of God.
Salvation by my Savior’s name, salvation through His blood.
I need no other argument, I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.

My faith looks up … and in … and beyond. Faith provides the lens through which I see everything.

The leadership development company I work for teaches principles that encourage people to assess their own potential for leadership – in their jobs, their families, their communities and even within themselves. The philosophy of the company is rooted in the foundational belief that everyone possesses a worldview in which they see everything. That worldview shapes how we live, why we live, what we appreciate, what we reject, what we love and what we hate.
My worldview has at its foundation a faith in Jesus Christ – the One in whom I’ve placed my trust.

I’ve been thinking lately about where my faith rests. Although a quick word study will most often produce information about “faith” in religious terms, it’s interesting to note that one definition of faith is “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” At first glance, that bothered me a little. No proof?!? Then I realized that the bible says basically the same thing!
In a particular verse of scripture that I’d probably cite to define what kind of faith I have, the different versions include these words: assurance, conviction, certainty, evidence, confidence and proof. Good, solid words. What’s a little unusual is that all these words are linked with the phrase “what is not seen/what is unseen“. So, in essence, my faith does indeed rest in a firm (certain and confident) belief in something (Someone) for which there is no present proof (unseen).  And this kind of faith has led me to a specific Faith.  A Christian Faith. [For clarity purposes, I’m going to distinguish my specific Faith – that is, Christ-based- by making it a proper noun.] In other words, this hopeful certainty in what I can’t yet see has produced in me a “firm belief in God and in the doctrines of the Christian (Jesus Christ-based) religion, based on intellectual assent and spiritual trust, which result in commitment and obedience to the One who provided my salvation.” (James 2)

One of my favorite things in life is listening to people share inspiring testimonies about how they came to Faith. I have heard testimonies of people who had been so destroyed by their personal choices that it sent them into a dark and downward spiral. Others have shared their stories of growing up with very little knowledge of God or the Bible, but hoping deep within their souls that surely there was more to life. I have been especially intrigued by the testimonies of a couple of friends who, after much research and great academic achievement, began to conclude that it was very unlikely there was a God at all.  As I listen to these, I am fascinated at the way God uses all kinds of means to bring unlikely people to Himself.
There are also those like me, who grew up with sincere Christian influences that taught them what the Bible says about Christ. These influences possessed a strong belief in the authority and reliability of scripture that had led them to a conclusion that Jesus was/is the only Way to eternal life.
Although the people in these stories have had different starting places, they all ended up at the same resting place. Eventually, each one was brought to a gospel understanding that led to belief that led to trust and faith in the Person of Jesus Christ for their salvation. Rooted in soulful consideration (mind and spirit), they all made a faith decision to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator God. A relationship made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son.

Calling the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” Mark 8:34

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. Rom 10:17

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. Heb 11:6

Listening to people tell their faith stories brings me deep peace and joy.
But, in an attempt to understand others, I also like to observe and engage people who do not consider themselves people of Faith. It’s not always simple to converse with people who have strong opposing beliefs. The main thing I have noticed is that this Faith (grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) can often stir up angst, anger and frustration within those who believe it to be ignorant or arrogant. The reality is that all too often the kind of faith that has convinced us of an unseen surety is not the kind that can be communicated by argument alone. Peter encourages us to never shy away from sharing the reason we have this hope within us (1 Peter 3), but he does so with a warning that we should maintain respect and gentleness. I think this implies that our faith may be met with skeptical questions and doubt. Even so, we share and live out our faith consistently and continually with graceful dispositions.

The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God. The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith.
Edward T Ramsdell

Sharing our faith shouldn’t be rooted in a desire to convince someone of their wrong lifestyle or their wrong beliefs. If our kind of faith is rooted in the specific Faith I have mentioned, then we will understand that apart from the Spirit’s work, it will be impossible to convince someone that they need Jesus to save them. But if we are of The Faith, we will also never stop building relationships with people who are far from God, because we believe that coming near to Him is the only way to live forever. This belief should produce in us a deep longing for people to know the Jesus we know – the One who claimed to be The Way, the Truth and The Life (Jn 14). So even though people may push against our beliefs that to them seem foolish, if we are convinced the convictions are true, we can do nothing less than continue to make known our desire for them to build their life on this Faith.
If this Faith is indeed foundational to me, I simply can’t NOT talk about my faith. Because with my commitment to this Faith comes a mission to share it. Based on Christ’s teaching, they are inseparable. (Mt 5:16, Mt 28:19-20)

We will most certainly be met with skepticism and criticism. We will be challenged and condemned. We will be considered as fools and as foes. Even so, this should not shake our faith in our Faith. We won’t have an answer for every person with an argument against our beliefs. We may feel unprepared for those who wish to discredit what we cannot prove. Even so, do not lose our hope. We are ready again and again to share the reasons we have such hope. After all, God IS knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), even though we must stay mindful that He is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33–36). God CAN BE known, but He cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29).

Thankfully, in the midst of the frenzy of disbelief and disrespect, I’ve found a hopeful resting place:
“Everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our Faith.” 1 Jn 5

Who stands fast? 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.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Christian faith is incarnational. God became man; God with us.
But without the clarity of a well-informed, robust, scripturally-based Christian worldview, our engagement with the culture will be flawed. In Scripture, we are given the stable truths that must undergird our work in the world. The “imago dei” is the grounding for all of our interactions with others, including those on the other side of critical issues. The fall and its consequences for both individuals and communities clarify what is at the root of all of the world’s brokenness. And, the obedient work of Christ stands at the center of history, promising the restoration of all things and compelling us to make the invisible kingdom visible.
John Stonestreet

THE One Thing: Gaze on the Lord

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While I was conversing with friends recently, I mentioned to them some of the thoughts that had been rolling around in my head/heart. One of them laughed at the intensity and layers of the subject, and then acknowledged that it gave her something to ponder since most days she merely had marbles rolling around inside her mind. 🙂
That gave me a chuckle, but I confessed to her – again – that my overthinking is not pretty.
I overthink by pondering more than praying … I overthink by considering opinions of all the people more than the Word/words of God … I overthink by leaving too much space for doubt in my mind instead of submitting to a God who has declared that His “thoughts are not [my] thoughts, and ways are not [my] ways” … I overthink by being distracted by what’s in front of me, rather than dwelling on the One Who resides with/in me … I overthink by adopting the microwave mindset about deep things that can only be processed in the crockpot of eternity. Oh my goodness. “What a wretched woman I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Thankfully, the conversation with them made me face the reality that my overthinking has been in overdrive lately. (That’s a double negative in mindset language!) My mind is a whirlwind of thoughts as I take in lots of information at once. Yep, just like a plate of spaghetti noodles. The thoughts tend to be twisted around one another, stuck together but separate. They are thoughts with loose ends that can’t be tied up neatly. They appear in one place – that is, my mind – but they aren’t connected enough to bring me resolution or satisfaction.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a shelf within my reach that contains tidy boxes providing all the answers to life’s questions. We may live in the Information Age, but still I do not have the indisputable evidence I sometimes crave. You know, that one final answer that will settle it for all inquiring and doubtful minds. It truly pains me to read one of those agonizing conversations on social media. The ones in which no one can produce even one plausible explanation that would deflect the suspicions and cynicism of the critics. And there are so many layers to all.the.thoughts. New discoveries are being made in science, medicine, archaeology and more. With these discoveries, viewpoints take shape in brilliant minds. For some, previous impressions and beliefs are modified, adapted to make room for a new way of thinking based on the discovery.
Again, all.the.thoughts.

Typically, western culture regards an open-minded person to be more humble, generous and kind. It is a characteristic that is equated with positivity and growth. And even though most people will acknowledge that having a completely open mind isn’t beneficial, I have found that the majority of people who consider themselves intellectuals/thinkers regard people as ignorant who maintain concrete beliefs.

“If you have never changed your mind about some fundamental tenet of your belief, if you have never questioned the basics, and if you have no wish to do so, then you are likely ignorant. Before it is too late, go out there and find someone who, in your opinion, believes, assumes, or considers certain things very strongly and very differently from you, and just have a basic honest conversation. It will do both of you good.” Vera Nazarian

Hmmm. Wow!
Though I completely disagree, maybe it was essential for me to acknowledge my “need to know” for what it really is. It is insecurity, steeped in fear and pride. I am way too concerned that someone else may have considered and discovered something I haven’t. And if they have, maybe that will prove that I am ignorant. At the very least, I will look ignorant. So I read and I wonder and I fret.
But is all this thinking and pondering and doubting and questioning good for my soul? Should it consume me, night and day? My answer to myself is a resounding no. There is no amount of contemplating that will fully satiate my craving for complete understanding of everything. I am beginning to relate more and more with the feelings Solomon had when he wrote about the vanity of life in Ecclesiastes. After all my musing, I’m often left with even more uncertainty. That is, until …

Until I am still.
And remember the one thing.
“When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless … until I entered God’s sanctuary.” (Pm 73)

We all deal with a certain amount of busyness. For some (like me) it’s a busy mind. For some, it’s busy days. Some are always busy with work. And some are plain ol’ busybodies.
Being still before the Lord doesn’t mean laziness. It doesn’t mean we are spiritual or physical or mental sloths. It means that we pursue and maintain a peaceful heart and mind and soul in the midst of our questions. Like Mary, we are to choose the best thing. Like the Psalmist, we choose the one thing. They both knew the importance of gazing on the Lord. There was a confidence in His presence. They wouldn’t suddenly receive answers to everything. No, it was much better. They would receive the presence of God Himself. At the end of all his fretting, Solomon even agreed with their conclusion.

In addition to the Teacher being a wise man, he constantly taught the people knowledge; he weighed, explored, and arranged many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find delightful sayings and write words of truth accurately.
But beyond these, be warned: There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
Ecclesiastes 12

So, I think I’ll stick with Solomon’s conclusion rather than Nazarian’s. I resolutely refuse to open my mind for the purpose of changing the fundamental tenets of my belief just because someone will think I’m ignorant. I realize I can’t answer every critical thinker who wishes to unravel the threads of faith woven through scripture (and Christian history). Nor will I be able to reconcile every perceived contradiction that the skeptics argue. And I am most certainly incapable of producing undeniable evidence for all the doubters who ask for a sign.

What I am able to do is to rest my soul in Christ. Because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me UNTIL THAT DAY.

Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, and yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. For who has known the Lord’s mind, that  he may instruct Him?
But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2

The Myth of Wisdom and Aging

 

“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

 

I agree with Oscar Wilde. I don’t think experience always gives us more wisdom. It just give us more experience. 🙂 In defending himself to his friends, Job said “Wisdom is found with the elderly, and understanding comes with long life.”
At first reading (aka, skimming), it may seem that Job is making a statement. But in its context, this verse may be a continuation of his frustration toward his friends. He’s possibly questioning their wisdom with sarcasm: You guys are old, so shouldn’t you be wiser by now?

Yikes. This gives me great pause when I consider passing on advice . Because I think it’s easy to convince ourselves that if we’ve come through certain seasons of life, we are automatically in the category of “older and wiser.” Since Job goes on to say that “wisdom and strength belong to God; counsel and understanding are His [God’s],” I think it’s crucial to understand that wisdom isn’t some sort of inevitable rite of passage occurring as we age. While experience may help us relate to someone else, we don’t attain wisdom just by living. We attain wisdom by asking for it. And though there is insight that comes through years of observation, unless we allow that insight to be filtered through God’s word, our strategies for good money management, parenting success or marriage health is limited. It’s possibly even distorted and damaging.

From our reading of God’s answer to Solomon, we can conclude that the young leader had the right heart when he first asked God for wisdom (when he could have asked for riches or power). He humbly recognized his need for help as a young man in such a powerful position. (i Kings 3:10, 2 Chronicles 1:11-12). What is sad is that as he aged, it seems he grew cynical. He began to view life from a skewed perspective by trying to find meaning in temporary, human things (Ecclesiastes).
At the end of it all, his conclusions steer us to believe that he realized that faith in God was the only way to find personal meaning. Riches, power, and even knowledge through experiences only led to temporary happiness and eventually to emptiness. It’s fairly easy for us to recognize from Solomon’s life that wisdom comes from God, not aging.

As I age, I understand more than ever how tempting it is to trust in my own perceptions about life. In my experience as a mom, I have formed all kinds of opinions and ideas about parenting/motherhood. As a long-time ministry partner, I have had plenty of opportunities that provide me with subject matter to fill a book with direction to those just starting out. Truthfully, I usually have advice on the tip of my tongue at all times. But this isn’t always helpful. In fact, it can be hurtful. Although my experiences can give me an opportunity to empathize with a young mom, sometimes sharing my conclusions from those experiences brings despair rather than hope. Even though I’ve been in some extremely difficult seasons of ministry, I don’t know the perfect solution for every wife struggling with the circumstances that surround their husband’s calling.

James reminds us that wisdom is first of all pure. That means that my advice should be filtered through a humble mindset and righteous motives. I know this because of the rest of the description given by James regarding heavenly wisdom. He uses words like peaceful, considerate, merciful, impartial and sincere. If my experience through the years doesn’t come with a growing desire for God’s insight and for Christlike maturity, then I don’t gain wisdom. I only have observations. And observations alone eventually lead to skepticism and negativity, as we detect they did in Solomon’s life.
While Julius Ceasar’s proverb may have merit, experience is the teacher of all things only if we are pursuing God’s perspective (through His Word) through the learning process. Getting older doesn’t ensure that we are attaining wisdom. Too many older adults voice their opinions from a place of pride and assumption. It is not acting in wisdom to approach this season of life with a belief that I know it all just because I’ve “been there, done that.”

Last week in our Life Group, we heard an amazing testimony from the youngest person who attends. She spoke with wisdom and passion. It was from a heart that is seeking God and was uplifting to all of us who were there listening. I sometimes hear talk of “that generation” behind us. It’s usually spoken by a person who has concluded that their experiences have brought them much more insight and common sense than the younger crowd. This mindset is often accompanied by an attitude of superiority and arrogance. Neither of these characteristics are found associated with the wisdom of which James speaks. If my observations and advice aren’t good for building up others, then it’s possible that they aren’t coming from a heart of godly wisdom.

Gray hair is a glorious crown only when it is found in the ways of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31) Wisdom is a treasure and a gift only when it’s gained through prayer and study of God’s word. I think that what the wisdom literature reveals is that it’s better to hear from a passionate young person speaking from a humble heart than it is an older person speaking from a heart filled with pride.
That’s a challenge!
In this my 55th year of life, I am praying that I’ll never stop mining for wisdom from above (Job 28).

Brothers and sisters, consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world​—what is viewed as nothing-​to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. It is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us ​— ​our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 1

Say When : WHEN!

Recently, my mind has been in a million directions (even more than usual) with thoughts about a woman’s place/role/voice in society and in the church. Those who have been around longer than I have may tell a different story, but I believe that we find ourselves in an unprecedented time in regard to women – young and old. In just the past few months, not only have I been faced with these matters, I have been bombarded! It’s hard to even process it all. As a mom of three daughters, I can’t help but agonize over the horrific stories of those who have been the target of a master manipulator … a predator … an abuser. Because our family has personally been way too close to this kind of evil, my heart is fragile and sensitive about the way society, and specifically people of faith, responds.

For months, I have been listening to, reading and considering the accounts of all kinds of women who have experienced some sort of mistreatment at the hands of someone who misused and abused their power. This power has been exhibited through sheer strength as well as through persuasive, well-calculated and intimidating words that result in some sort of self-gratification for the abuser. It has often occurred at the hands of men who have positions of influence and authority, while appearing to be quality leaders. Trusted coaches, teachers, doctors and politicians – and sadly, even fathers and brothers and uncles – have maneuvered their way into the lives of vulnerable or unsuspecting women and preyed upon them in unthinkable ways. I have been especially sickened when the perpetrator or protector of such wickedness is actively involved in a faith-based community. Because one of the tenets of faith (universally) is character/integrity, it is excruciating when this kind of hypocrisy is exposed.

As more and more testimonies of abuse arise, we are faced with the magnitude of the impact of our response! The people of faith have an important role in this process. I believe we must be the first responders. Not the last. But how are we to respond?

Certainly there have been false accusations brought against men in powerful positions. Especially those in the public eye. And I have no doubt that the enemy of Christ and of His church would enjoy nothing more than destroying the character of a godly man who is being mightily used in pushing back the darkness. I understand that this is a possibility … a frightful one.

But that should not be a deterrence to Jesus people being the most vocal advocates for legitimate victims. It should not lead us to justify our silence. It can not keep us from being a champion, a loud voice, for the many women who have been hushed and pushed aside just because of the embarrassment it may cause the church (leaders and members). There are too many scriptures about our responsibility to care for the marginalized – the oppressed, the weak, the vulnerable – that we would trivialize the stories of pain and shame which have been crippling a large part of our society. The wise King Solomon had much to say about how we should view and defend the vulnerable. The psalmists and the prophets also call us to protect, rescue and speak up for those who do not have a voice.

Consequently, as a woman of faith, my heart is broken. I’ve been grieving the lack of influential Christian male voices in this arena. Even worse, there appears to have been years of neglect and even cover-up in many instances where there was a legitimate complaint and substantial evidence of damaging behavior. Some have even gone to great lengths to keep their secrets from being exposed.
It.Is.Sickening.

Now, we find ourselves in this excruciating season of the unthinkable revelations of such horror. Maybe society isn’t more broken than we’ve ever been, but we certainly are more aware of just how broken we are. Though I don’t intend to delve into the complicated and controversial arena of gender identity, I do feel I must qualify my own views of womanhood as it relates to me personally. These views provide the filter in which I process all of it. My identity as a woman is linked to my roles as a wife, a mom, a grandma, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a ministry partner. As such, I have been especially affected by the stories of the women who have come forward in the last few years … and the stories behind the stories. As a woman, I consider myself to be an uncommon blend: I am an independent thinker; a theological conservative (i.e., inerrant and authoritative scriptures, firm belief in the deity of Christ, salvation comes through His death, there was a bodily resurrection); I’m more moderate in social issues; and I’m quite comfortable with women in most ministry roles, while I’m equally comfortable with my husband in a headship role in our family. I fully embrace my womanhood – meaning, I believe God created me distinctively Woman on purpose.
It is within this realm of womanhood that I speak. I believe my feminine voice is relevant and essential to the conversation.

This belief inevitably leads us to the difficult discussions surrounding a woman’s “place” in the church. How and where do we use our voice? How do we maintain a biblical perspective of womanhood (obviously this is subject to our own view of the authority and infallibility of the scriptures) while pursuing our calling as believers to speak up and speak out for the vulnerable.

“…. this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”

I have read this passage many times and still don’t have a grasp of all the implications of the text. We know that the scene(s) in Acts 2 & 4 demonstrate that God spoke through “common people”, not just the priests and scribes. This happened much to everyone’s amazement. But is Joel’s prophecy, referred to in Acts, meant for a time beyond what we see happening that day at Pentecost? If so, are we to disregard the teachings of Paul regarding the role of women in the church, believing him to be misguided or blinded by his culture? Do we forge ahead as women prophets – loud and proud and allowed? Or do we cover our heads and our mouths and our minds, sit silently by and keep our opinions to ourselves while misogynists abuse their power and treat us as property?

Although we do not find biblical guidance or answers to fully satisfy every single one of our concerns as seeking women, I choose to continually pursue the Truth and pray for wisdom. As I have sought answers and studied the scriptures, I have been unable to ignore the passages that give instruction to me as a woman of faith (within the church). And I am not comfortable with allowing culture to dictate my identity or roles simply because the verses seem outdated or unreasonable.
So I approach scripture as a student, recognizing that I am unable to fully comprehend or literally apply all the teachings found there. I also approach the scriptures as a woman, knowing that as I read and study I will be unable tocompletely detach my femininity from my humanity. Pleasantly, I have found that the opportunity to be distinctively Woman, learning from my Creator God, is an incredible gift. God created me as an indispensable part of His work and purpose.

It is in this discovery that I have found my place … in this world, in the church, in my community and my home. From the beginning, God strategically created women with unique potential for making a difference in this world, while at the same time magnifying Him. He gave us a voice. He gave us a perspective. He gave us a purpose. Male and female, He created us. He called it “good”. In fact, He called it “very good.”

Yes, in this season of sorrow, when we are made painfully aware of how far removed we are from the paradise of the Garden of Eden, I am thankful we have a God who sees. He sees and He cares. He repeats this message all throughout His Word to us. And He has equipped and empowered us, the women of faith, with all we need (2 Peter 1:3) to boldly speak against injustice and abuse. As a woman of faith, speaking on behalf of other women, I have the unique opportunity to bravely advocate for change. We can all use our voices, our writings, our platforms to share our perspective with everyone who will listen. We speak for our daughters and sisters and mothers and friends. We speak up for those who have been silenced and shamed. We call evil by its name and we plead our case before our Good Father who judges rightly and makes everything new.

While it is a difficult time to be alive, it’s also glorious. We were created and called for such a time as this. I desire to use my God-given voice for His glory.

“I cried for them, and with every tear that fell I wondered who is going to find these little girls, who is going to tell them how much they are worth, how valuable they are, how deserving of justice and protection?
Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected? And I could not do that ,but we are here now and today that message can be sent with the sentence you hand down you can communicate to all these little girls and to every predator to every little girl or young woman who is watching how much a little girl is worth. From a Christian worldview, she’s made in the image of God. She has eternal and immeasurable value.

That is why justice here on earth is always going to be incomplete: because there’s no way to bring full justice here on earth.
I trust in God’s justice and I release bitterness and anger and a desire for personal vengeance. It does not mean that I minimize or mitigate or excuse what he has done. It does not mean that I pursue justice on earth any less zealously. It simply means that I release personal vengeance against him, and I trust God’s justice, whether He chooses to mete that out purely, eternally, or both in heaven and on earth.

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need our protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church.
Jesus Christ does not need our protection; He needs our obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.
Obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.”
Rachael Denhollander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distant Replay

02F4232F-98B0-4E8B-803D-1674D72CBB6BInstant Replay

As I was “watching” the big game on Saturday (we played our football rivals) I was thinking about how much I depend on the replay. It’s usually because I get too anxious to watch when it’s happening, so I distract myself by walking away to entertain a grandkid or prepare a meal. My hubby doesn’t particularly enjoy this trait, but he accepts it. And because he’s kind, he’ll usually yell for me to come back … “Mel you gotta see this!”

I think I love photos for a similar reason. It’s not that I want to miss the live moment, it’s that I want to really see it. I want to remember it for as long as I can. A replay isn’t the same as seeing it live, but it captures the great live moment so I can relive it.

Distant Replay

Because I love photos, I have them all over my house. My photos of places and faces contain stories. I especially love candid ones because they usually capture a more accurate view of the story than a staged one. Either way, though, I love photos because of what they represent. And that’s why I usually share photos with words attached. (Oh, yeah. I love words too.) Photos and captions help me remember and rehearse those moments. They help prompt my memory.

To be honest, my memory is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it allows me to recall very vividly so many good things and great times. It’s a curse because I remember the hard/bad things too. In detail. When I see a photo, I’m immediately transported to the moment. I can usually remember if we were all happy or if everyone was actually frustrated with each other or with me for snapping it! 🙂
Whatever it is, it’s captured. And looking through photos provides me with the opportunity to “ponder all the things in my heart…”

In Psalm 103, the Psalmist rehearses his blessings. He reminds himself not to forget.
That’s what photos are for me. They remind me not to forget all the goodness in my life. And remembering the good, above the hard, is the way to maintain a thankful heart.

So, if you “follow” me on social media, you’ll get photos. It’s what I do to create a reminder of what a good Father I have.
And it’s a way to rehearse and be thankful.

Give thanks to the LORD! Call on His name! Make known His accomplishments among the nations!
Sing to Him! Make music to Him! Tell about all His miraculous deeds! Boast about His holy name!
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and the strength He gives! Seek His presence continually! Recall the miraculous deeds He performed, His mighty acts and the judgments He decreed.
Remember continually His covenantal decree, the promise He made to a thousand generations –
Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Announce every day how He delivers! Tell the nations about His splendor, tell all the nations about His miraculous deeds! For the LORD is great and certainly worthy of praise, He is more awesome than all gods.
Majestic splendor emanates from Him, He is the source of strength and joy. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the nations, ascribe to the LORD splendor and strength!

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good and His loyal love endures. We will give thanks to Your holy name, and boast about Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good and His loyal love endures. We will give thanks to Your holy name, and boast about Your praiseworthy deeds.
May the LORD God of Israel be praised, in the future and forevermore.”
‭‭1 Chronicles‬ ‭16

“I Thought to Myself”: Losing Life’s Meaning

life

I thought to myself,
‘I have become much wiser than any of my predecessors who ruled over Jerusalem; I have acquired much wisdom and knowledge.’
So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge over foolish behavior and ideas; however, I concluded that even this endeavor is like trying to chase the wind!
For with great wisdom comes great frustration; whoever increases his knowledge merely increases his heartache.
When I tried to gain wisdom and to observe the activity on earth – even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or night – then I discerned all that God has done: No one really comprehends what happens on earth.
Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it.
Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.

Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
Be warned, my son …
There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body.

King Solomon, Ecclesiastes

No one knows everything about everything. I would say that most know a little about some things, though there are a few who know more about many things.

I confess my own limited knowledge about most things. Even in my own family, I recognize this. For example, my son’s engineering mind goes beyond my comprehension. I don’t get most of what he’s talking about in his field of study. Honestly, I am not sure I ever could. But it doesn’t cause me anxiety that he knows and understands things I don’t. I am thankful that he will be able to accomplish what I never will. It was by design that we each have capacities for knowing things that others don’t.

The people who inhabit the world that God created are fearfully and wonderfully made. Mankind has been gifted the capacity to comprehend all kinds of things from anthropology to zoology. (There are studies – literally – from A-Z). It’s amazing! I appreciate that there are those who are considered experts in their fields. Many have used their minds, and their capacity to learn, to enhance our world.
But even with breakthroughs in science, and advancements in medicine, and discoveries through archaeology or geology, there’s much more to learn. And then there’s that bothersome occurrence of rediscovery. Sometimes we realize that what we thought was new was actually not. Oh, and THEN some of what we “learn” is revised or updated or totally invalidated by a new finding … well, until it’s validated again.

I confess that I sometimes feel angst when I read arguments by people who state their opinions in such a confident (I’d call it arrogant) way that it appears they pause at a certain point … you know, waiting for the mic drop.
It’s as if they have the final answer. And since no one steps forward with a suitable rebuttal at that moment, there’s the sense that they have provided the zinger.

And that’s when I must stop and pray. The World Wide Web has so distorted and short-circuited knowledge, that we now consider ourselves students of a subject when we’ve simply read someone’s position or opinion on a matter. Beyond that, many people share their thoughts as if they are the teachers – the experts.
I recently decided to take a deep breath and remember … that having answers isn’t indicative of all wisdom.
Solomon seemed to wrestle with this as he observed man. And people have wrestled with this before and since Solomon. Our downfall, as humans, has been that we’ve wanted to be the smartest since the very beginning (Gen 3, Roman 5). But we’ve looked for the answer in all the wrong places.

Paul made some observations of his own about people who were seeking in his day (Acts 17). Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul expressed that God created us to be seekers. Seekers of Himself!

From one man He made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.

For in Him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are His offspring.’
So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.

I have realized (with the help of my hubby’s prompting) that fretting over everyone’s questions is not my duty. People have questioned God and His ways since the very beginning. While some questions genuinely spring from a heart of wonder or lack of understanding, many questions arise because the tempter plants seeds of doubt about who God is and what He has said. And then he cunningly convinces us to actually reject truth that doesn’t sound right to us. (Genesis 3)
Possibly Solomon began to “believe his own press.” He began trusting in his wisdom rather than God’s, leading him to depression and a life of meaningless existence.

People make sudden shifts in their lives in an attempt to find joy. If we are not careful and wise, we can linger too long at the “Vanity Fair of Knowledge” only to miss out on the wisdom of God and on a life that is really worth living. This is another lesson for those who live life “under the sun.” Some of us have stayed too long at various Vanity Fairs in life (knowledge, power, sex, popularity, wealth); we have played the fool and given our lives to the wrong things.
Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. It is possible to be smart but not intelligent. It is possible to know a lot but not be wise. God’s design for our lives is not to make us smart sinners but godly saints!
By repenting from our vanity and turning in faith to Him, He redeems us and gives us a new and meaningful life. There is something “new under the sun” – those who are made new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

“When everything is said and done,” (Solomon) it is not the job of the Christian to give people moral or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world; someone else can do that . . . Most people have no one in the world to tell them about the supreme beauty and majesty of God, found in the glory of Jesus Christ, the “one Shepherd,” who is the very face of God.
Solomon says that at the end of it all is a twofold conclusion: (1) fear God and (2) keep His commands. Trust Him and then obey Him. The order is crucial. Fearing God means to put God in His proper place, us in our proper place, and all fears, hopes, dreams, and agendas in their proper place. The clear and consistent teaching and encouragement of the Word of God is essential if this is to take place. Keeping His commandments means obeying Him out of love and respect for who He is and what He has done. And it must be in this order: I am accepted; therefore, I obey! It is not, I obey so that I can be accepted. He loved me first! I now love and serve Him in grateful response!

(Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes, Dr. Daniel Akin)

I’m thankful for Solomon, the seeker. A very wise man with lots of questions. I am most thankful for his final conclusion that gives me abiding peace.
And soulful rest.
AND LIFE.

Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion:
Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.
For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Solomon, a wise King