Silencing Alexander and Experiencing His New Mercies


Yesterday I had a bit of a verbal meltdown about my “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” By the end of my musings, I had begun to be reminded by the Holy Spirit of God’s mercy and grace to transform that day through transforming my mind and my perspective of that day.

So I prayed about it. Not in my legalistic, perfectionistic sort of way, but in a desperate, “Help!” sort of way. And this morning I woke up with the new mercies of a new perspective.

During devotion time with my students this morning, I had “story time”; and I read them my post. WAY vulnerable for this perfectionistic teacher who would love nothing more than for her kids to think I have it all together. Half way through, when they realized I was talking about them laughing at me in my sock monkey hat, they realized I had written the post. And they thought it was AWESOME that I had shared a bad day with them.

Perfectionism has set up for our kids this horrific deception that to be a “good Christian” is to never struggle. Therefore, they reason, if you struggle, if you doubt, if you question, then you’re a bad Christian (or not a Christian at all), so why bother? A defeated Christian is a sad sight, but a defeated young Christian is heart breaking and angers me because I believe, as adults, we can work to help them overcome that deception.

But it takes transparency. It takes sharing our good days and our bad. It takes apologizing specifically for the bad. It takes messy work and time and investment and commitment. And it takes heart change and transformation.

So in the same spirit of yesterday’s post, I wanted to share, like Jeremiah, about the faithfulness of God’s mercy that He pours out fresh upon us each morning. So, here is my Alexander day, 2.0, through the transformed perspective of the prophet Jeremiah and his new mercy.

In the last two days:

I had lunch with a student who I have come to love dearly over the last two and half years. I have watched her struggle with her faith, ask hard questions, take hard stands, stumble, fall, get back up, and keep walking with her Jesus. We got to talk about faith and life and Jesus and how sometimes we just want to sin and how amazing it is that He knows all that and loves us any way. I treasure those talks.

I got to go to our Run For God “big run” last night. Eight weeks ago, a group of us started on a journey together, many struggling to run for one minute at a time. Last night, ten of us ran for 20 minutes straight. I saw people encourage one another, pray for one another, push one another toward the prize of perseverance and accomplishment.

Afterward, I got to watch a woman I once counseled lead a group of women in prayer and discipleship after their own run time. I saw with my own eyes a life completely transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, a life now ministering alongside me as a friend. Nothing short of miraculous.

Then I went to my parents’ house and got to play with my nephew for a while. God has seen fit that, for this season of my life at least, I can serve him most effectively single. But he has also ensured that my brothers and their amazing wives share their babies with me, pretty much whenever I want to see them. And in the spring, there are going to be twice as many of them to love, and I can’t wait. I don’t think I realized what love really felt like til I held my niece for the first time, and I know I didn’t realize the depth of love I have from my family until I experienced the depth of love I feel for Arwen and Jake. And I can’t even comprehend what it will be like if God ever blesses me with kids of my own. And that has helped me understand just a small fraction of the fierce love God has for me, and it is stunning.

Today I had AMAZING devotion and quiet times with my classes and we meditated on being still and knowing He is God. I have a job in which I get to take the lessons God is teaching me and pass them along to my students. I spend more time with them each day than their parents, and I get to pour my heart into them (for better or for worse) and I get to watch the Holy Spirit literally transform them before my eyes as we open the Word and walk through it together, not shying away from the tough stuff and asking good questions of God together.

Tonight I had dinner with a friend and co-worker, and we spent two hours at Chick-fil-a talking about work and faith and family and relationships and endless other things and I was reminded that I have a job unlike any other. I go to work every day with people who I get to pray with and pray for. We laugh together, cry together, call one another out when needed, hold one another accountable. We use words like family, fiercely loyal, trusted, committed, safe, friend to describe our relationships. I get paid to live in unity and community within the body of Christ, discipling and being discipled. Unbelievable.

God promises that when we seek Him, we will find him. Today I asked Him to show Himself to me, and I was humbled and overwhelmed to see how a simple change in perspective could make so much difference in how I could view the exact same day.

Our minds can be renewed. Our lives can be transformed. His mercies are new every morning to accomplish that feat.

What in the world does the Alexander part of me, fleshly and complaining, possibly have to say in light of that?

Advertisements

An Alexander Sort of Day and Recognizing Your Own Sin


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was one of my favorite books growing up. Looking back, it’s probably because I can be incredibly self-absorbed (like Alexander) and I’m an expert complainer (also like Alexander), so I think I just related to Alexander a lot.

Today was an Alexander sort of day for me. I spent the weekend at an incredible, Gospel-soaked conference put on by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, so it would make sense that today would be a “coming off the mountaintop” sort of experience.

Or maybe just spending time soaked in the Gospel made me more keenly aware of my own sinfulness and need for a Savior.

So, for the sake of transparency, and because I need to be reminded to laugh at my own ridiculousness, I thought I’d share my day.

I overslept, so I didn’t have time to shave. Normally not a big deal (and probably TMI), but tonight was our Run for God “big group” run and so I’d need to be in shorts. So hairy legs were a problem.

It’s my carline day, so oversleeping messed up the whole routine. I didn’t get to make my coffee before I left for carline. So it wasn’t ready for first period like I like for it to be. I like routine.

Or I have a control issue.

I wore my new sock monkey hat to stay warm, but it messed up my hair. My 9th graders laughed at me. I may be 32, but I still don’t like to be laughed at.

I’m prideful, and don’t like people judging me. Even 15 year old girls.

Let’s just say that the messed up beginning of the routine threw off my thought process and it was a less than stellar teaching day. I could say that I strive for excellence and it was an off day, but I’m really a perfectionist and I failed to meet my own standard.

My lunch bag fell off my filing cabinet and my favorite soup mug shattered. I’d had that mug since college and have eaten countless bowls of Ramen noodles (or Thai rice noodles in recent gluten-free history) and soup, and I loved that mug. And I broke it.

I love things. Silly things like soup mugs. I’m a materialist. Though I claim with false humility that I’d give it all up to go live somewhere with nothing for the sake of the Gospel, a broken mug made me mad.

I received less-than-complete information about an ASAP meeting of the High School faculty, and instead of asking for more information, I made up a story in my head that ended with a dear friend and colleague, who had left earlier in the day with a migraine, having suffered a brain aneurism.

Turns out, we get to go to a high school playoff football game on Friday.

I don’t like being in the dark. I crave knowledge, and I make it up when I don’t have it.

So, back to the no shaving and running thing; I got home to change and couldn’t find any of my running tights, so I had to run in pants.

I have a “winter gear” box that I keep in the back of my car, but it wasn’t there, so I didn’t have my ear warmers.

I left my Ironman watch in the car so I couldn’t keep my time.

I stepped in dog poop and smelled icky the rest of the run.

At this point, I attempted to self-correct my equally icky attitude by reminding myself of people who have had a SO MUCH worse day than me: my mamas in Uganda, those along the East Coast who are digging out from under the rubble of Hurricane Sandy.

Behavior adjustment because I’m a legalist. Bad attitudes are bad. Change it.

But it didn’t work. In fact, my attitude got worse. Which made me mad.

Because I’m a perfectionist.

In my own head, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

In my head.

Where I have control of my thoughts.

Where I can take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ.

His mercies are new every morning. Tomorrow is a new day, with new grace for a new attitude.

Because, after all, some days are like this. Even in Australia.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

But I wouldn’t mind going there myself, just to be sure. 🙂

Shame Before Jesus, CCEF Session One


I. We have all been humiliated by the shame of either our sins or the sins of others.

Shame requires us to seek out covering, inclusion, cleansing. These are things we can only receive from Christ. We are drawn to the Holy One, we reach out, touch Him, and He touches us back.

Shame matures. The longer we allow shame to exist in our lives, the more it grows. We are forgiven, we know in our heads that we are, but over the years, shame of our sin (or sin committed against us) actually grows.

There are some sins we all “get.” We talk about them and everyone nods their heads in understanding. But some sins are not understood by the majority. We are shocked by them, and those people are shamed, even after being forgiven. They are identified by their sin, isolated, rejected, often for years after the events have ended.

Example: Naomi. She is shamed in every way possible in her society. Widowed, childless, landless, poor, sojourner. But by the end of the story, “Jesus is lying in her lap.” She is in the line of Christ, elevated to honor by the Holy One.

Those dealing with shame are the ones God is looking for. He seeks them out. The healing of shame requires inclusion, and Christ includes us, brings us in.

The Characteristics of Shame:
1. You are Different. Isolated.
2. You are a Failure. You don’t measure up, either to your own standards or to the standards of others.
3. You are a Fraud. Especially in the successful. “If I am found out…”
4. You are Rejected. People avoid “those people” as if we still function under the law of clean and unclean.
5. You are Violated. Someone has committed a shameful act against you and you take on that shame, internalizing it.

This is the American experience/identity. We are individuals, alone, setting out to prove ourselves, rejected when we don’t measure up to the standards of the society around us.

II. How does God reach into shame?
1. The Exposed are Covered.
God covers them with animal skins. Yes, a sacrifice. Perhaps, “If you want to behave like animals, dress like them.” Consequence of sin is shame needing to be covered, and sometimes the covering we end up with is just as shameful as the initial event.

BUT…
Exodus 28: The priests are exquisitely closed n garments of dignity and honor. They wore a turban with the phrase “Holy to the Lord” inscribed on the front.

The priests represent the people, and the people know that. THEY are clothed in dignity and honor. THEY are holy to the Lord. They are slaves, freed from bondage, clothed with dignity.

2. The Outcast is Accepted.
Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden, but the are pursued by God. This pattern permeates all of Scripture.
God pursues the shamed.

God pursues exiled people.
Hosea 10: To a disgraced, exiled people, God says, “Call me ‘MY God’.”

Hosea 2:16 “My husband.” An exclusive, accepted, chosen relationship. PERSONAL pronoun.
Anyone can call your spouse by his or her name, but you are the only one who can call them “my husband” or “my wife.” There is a special love and intimacy related to personal possessive terms.

Isaiah 55: To share a meal is an intimate experience. To a shamed people, God says, “Come.

3. The Contaminated are Cleansed.

Isaiah 6: An unclean man, shamed by his sin, falls before the Lord. “And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Through a seraph, an intermediator, something holy, something of God, touches Isaiah and he is made clean. The shamed man goes from “Woe is me,” to “Here am I! Send me!”

III. Guilty and Shamed by Association
In the Garden, to be associated with the serpent is to the separated from God.

Isaiah 54: What does God say to His people about shame and association? He claims the culturally shamed, a barren, single woman. God says, “Do not fear, you will not be shamed, for your Maker will be your husband.”
We are associated with God, you take on His reputation. Shame has no longer has a place in us.

IV. Conclusion

1. Guilt and Shame are paralyzers. We cannot grow and mature in Christ with guilt and shame in our lives.
2. Feel dirty, shamed, rejected? Every page of Scripture is about you. God pursues you. You belong. POSSESS HIM: “My God.”
3. For the shamed to be allowed to take on the name of an honored person is shocking. God turns to us, gives us His favor, places His name on us, calls us His own.

Musings on Guilt, Shame, and Redemption, CCEF Session Four


Notes from Ed Welch’s plenary session at the CCEF National Conference.

Shame is THE human problem. Shame for what we do. Shame for things done to us. BUT the lowly are raised up as they are associated w/ Christ.

The consequences of the cross on shame. Jesus took the humiliation and rejection of shame on the cross. FOR US. For our sin. For the consequences of the sins of others on us.

Paul gave musings on shame in his writings… “I thought I had overcome shame. Pharisee of Pharisees, but Jesus accepted ‘them’.” Jesus took the shame of “those people” and my shame was still present.

The cross was the height of shame. He wasn’t just murdered, but crucified. The royal identifies with us, and crossed boundaries into the cesspool of shame so we can identify w/ Him.

Faith is essentially saying “Help.” My life is now bound up in another.

Paul heaped shame on himself, like Christ, to relate to the shamed. When the right person absorbs shame, it loses power.

Paul expected shame from his enemies. But he received shame from his own church (2 Cor). In ministry, we can be shamed by our own. But that is also sharing in the shame of Christ who was rejected by His own.

Corinthians say, “Prove yourself.” Paul says, “I love you. Love me in return.” Unheard of apart from Christ.

When there are only 2 categories, clean & unclean, the clean can be touched by the unclean and the unclean always wins. But w/ Christ, there’s a 3rd category– HOLY. When the Holy touches the unclean, Holy wins.

Philippi was a culture of reputation. So Paul tells them of a king who empties Himself (Phil 2). Paul also emptied self (3:7). He challenges us to do the same. Become people of no reputation.

The shamed know their neediness, but usually turn inward and isolate, to cover, to hide. In Christ we can turn to Him and say “help.” He becomes our covering.

Our biography is no longer our own reputation, but our association with Christ. This is how we are to see other believers, through the glory and holiness of Christ.

As a holy one, touch the shamed, bring them in. Love them as Christ. Invite them to dinner. Hug them if needed. Be people of hope.

What about Peter? Denied Christ, knower of shame. What does he say of those in Christ? 1 Peter 2:9-10.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Be blessed, chosen ones.

God, All-Sufficient


From The Valley of Vision, pg. 214:
King of Glory, Divine Majesty,

Every perfection adorns thy nature and sustains thy throne;

The heavens and earth are thine,

The world is thine and thy fullness.

Thy power created the universe from nothing;

Thy wisdom has managed all its multiple concerns, presiding over nations, families, individuals.

Thy goodness is boundless; all creatures wait on thee

                                                                         are supplied by thee,

                                                                         are satisfied in thee.

How precious are the thoughts of thy mercy and grace!

How excellent thy lovingkindness that draws men to thee!

Teach us to place our happiness in thee, the blessed God, never seeking life among the dead things of earth,

or asking for that which satifies the deluded;

But may we prize the light of thy salvation,

                       implore the joy of thy salvation,

                       find our heaven in thee.

Thou hast attended to our happiness more than we can do;

Though we are fallen creatures thou hast not neglected us.

In love and pity thou hast provided us a Saviour;

Apply His redemption to our hearts,

by justifying our persons,

and sanctifying our natures.

We confess our transgressions, have mercy on us.

We are weary, give us rest,

              ignorant, make us wise unto salvation,

             helpless, let thy strength be made perfect in our weakness,

             poor and needy, bless us with Christ’s unsearchable riches,

             perplexed and tempted, let us travel on, unchecked, undismayed,

             knowing thou hast said,

“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Blessed be thy name!

20121016-065610.jpg

Sincere, Hypothetical Question for my Pro-choice friends


20121012-000700.jpg

The abortion debate seems to have been boiled down to the talking points of a woman’s right to choose how to treat her body vs. an unborn child’s right to life.

I still hold to the belief that an unborn child is dependent upon a woman’s body, but not a part of it.

With that in mind, here is my sincere, sci-fi hypothetical question for my pro-choice friends: if a procedure, as equally invasive as abortion, were created to remove the fetus so it could be implanted into a woman desiring a child, would you then support making abortion illegal?

In other words, if “adoptive transplantation” were possible, would you then support legislation making abortion illegal?

Why or why not?

REMINDER: This is an emotionally charged subject on both sides. Comments that are attacking, abusive, condescending, or otherwise disrespectful will be deleted. Honest dialogue only occurs in safe places; let’s keep this site one of those places. Thanks!

Weary Grief and Desolate Healing


He [Herod] sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. ~Matthew 14:10-14

If you ever want to see the combination of Jesus’ deity and humanity, it is in this account.

His cousin, his partner in ministry, no doubt one of his dearest friends, had been beheaded. The voice that made straight the way in the wilderness had been silenced by a drunk, prideful man. It makes sense that Jesus would want to withdraw, be alone and grieve.

Yet, in the midst of his human grief, His divine compassion overruled and He healed their sick and eventually fed the 5,000.

The last couple of years I have experienced some things that made me want to withdraw and go to a desolate place, and I have looked at this passage several times to try to understand how Jesus dealt with hurt and exhaustion and grief in ministry.

But to really see that Jesus was dealing with more than just the loss of His cousin in this passage, take a moment and put this event in the context of the previous chapters in Matthew.

In Chapter 12, while Jesus was healing and teaching, he was repeatedly challenged and attacked by the Pharisees. He was helping people, and the “religious people” were working against him. I counsel people who deal with sexual brokenness, so I’ve been attacked by people who claim to speak for God. It’s painful, and it’s exhausting.

In Chapter 13, Jesus had been teaching some pretty intense things to his disciples. And they didn’t get it. Seven times he puts a parable before them in an attempt to explain the Kingdom of Heaven to them and, more times than not, He has to explain His explanation to them. And at the end of it all, they never got it. As a teacher, I know how frustrating and exhausting it can be to try to find a way to make something “click” with your students and nothing seems to work.

After all of this, He went home, to Nazareth. Surely, in His hometown, He would find rest and love and acceptance. Instead, it says his hometown folks were “astonished” and “offended” by His presence and teaching. Their unbelief literally drained him of his power and He could do no works in their presence.

This is the state of Jesus’ heart and mind when his disciples bring him the news about John. He experiences loss. In the last two years, I’ve witnessed and experienced loss. Literal, physical loss in the death of a student and, most recently, in the death of a dear friend and encourager in the ministry. I’ve watched families grieve loved ones and loss of homes after two series of devastating tornadoes. I’ve experienced the loss of relationships that have been near and dear to my heart that, from my current perspective, seem irreconcilably broken.

He is weary. And He wants to be alone. And so He withdraws to a desolate place.

I have been weary. I want to be alone, to withdraw to a desolate place.

But the needs follow Him.

And I feel like they follow me.

Don’t they always?

I think this is why those of us in ministry have such a hard time getting away and really resting in the Father. In the backs of our minds, we know there are always needs.

In my case, this is where the similarities with Jesus end. Same circumstances, different reactions.

When I am weary and I need to withdraw to be with the Father, I tell myself to get it together.

I keep my nose to the grindstone. And instead of having compassion on those who have needs, I begin to resent them. So now I am weary, frustrated, exhausted, hurt, grieving, and bitter.

What a servant.

I have read this passage so many times in the last three years and I’ve thought, “See, Jesus was tired, but He pressed through and He kept serving. Servants set aside their needs and help others.”

Oh, how the enemy deceived me with a sweet piece of Scripture, taken out of context and twisted to fit my prideful little Messiah complex.

Read the story in context with me. After Jesus feeds the 5,000, this is what comes next:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone… ~Mt 14:22-23

Immediately.

And notice that it doesn’t say “immediately the people realized how spent Jesus was, so they departed to let Him rest.”

He made them leave. He made His disciples leave first. Those with whom He worked.

Probably because they wanted Him to keep working.

Then He dismissed the people.

Then He went alone to be with the Father.

This is the lesson that the Father has been so patiently trying to teach me the last couple of years.

1. There are always going to be needs to meet.
2. As long as we say yes, people will continue to ask you to meet them.
3. If Jesus was weary, hurt and grieved to the point of withdrawing, why should I think I would be any different?
4. Only when we withdraw and allow the Father to heal us are we able to see His miracles in our lives. He cannot use a servant incapable of working.

Where do I see that fourth lesson? Check out what happens after Jesus spends that day alone with the Father.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” ~Mt 14:25-33

While it was undoubtedly cool to see their buddy Peter walking on water, and I can’t imagine what it was like to see the wind obey Jesus, I have to think that it was the culmination of all they had seen the previous few days that led to their declaration of Him being the Son of God.

To see Him respond with genuine human emotion to confusion, rejection, grief, and unceasing demands.

To watch Him display divine power in multiple miracles.

To witness His sovereign wisdom in saying “no” for a time in order to go be with the Father.

And then to see Him come to them, in a time of need, and begin serving again.

That is the example of our Savior.

That is an example that I have failed to see so often, and God has very recently and very literally reminded me that rest is necessary; for our hearts, our bodies, our minds.

And just like God did in the Old Testament, when He gave the land the 70 years of sabbath the Israelites had taken from it, when we don’t take that rest as He commands, He will often give it to us in humbling ways.

Learning to rest.

Learning to withdraw to desolate places.

Learning that it’s ok to take the time to grieve and to heal, just like Jesus did.

That’s what the Father is teaching me right now.

What is He teaching you?