Monday, May 22, 2017

We can Trust God's Faithfulness

On August 22nd, I sat in a hospital bed wondering what was happening to me.  I woke up at 3:30 AM with chest pains, panicked that I might be suffering a heart attack, and drove myself to the hospital (in hind sight... if I were actually suffering a heart attack, this was probably a bad idea.).  The ten days prior I couldn't sleep, flashbacks continued to invade my mind as we moved back in to our home.  While our house, and our once-torched kitchen, looked like new, it couldn't erase the memories.     Details continued to pile up, between getting the house organized, starting a new semester, connecting with our team, I felt trapped.  And as I sat in that hospital bed, even though the doctors reassured me that I was ok, I knew something was wrong.  I felt like I was in real danger.

When we think of God's faithfulness, we tend to think of how He has helped us.  He brings resolution.  For three months, I saw God's faithfulness.  I saw it in four families offering their homes to our family.  I saw it in my mom and dad, grandparents, friends, and even the Red Cross offering us financial gifts.  I saw it in our premium insurance coverage which, when first purchased, I had to be talked into buying.  We were brought meals, we got all new furniture and our kitchen looks better than ever.  We traded in amateur paint jobs for professional ones, new carpeting and appliances that we didn't have to pay for to upgrade. 

It was clear through all the blessing, God was faithful to us. 

But what about when things don't resolve?  What do you do when everything seems covered, but your soul is downcast?  What about when it's fractured? 

Before our first large group meeting (when we lead students in a time of worship and preaching of God's Word) I was printing outlines for the students, and the printer wouldn't work, and something in me snapped, and I wept for nearly 15 minutes straight.  This was after my episode in the ER.

"What is wrong with me?" I thought.  "God... where are you?" 

Was God unfaithful by leaving me in a spiritual desert?  Or was He faithful to bring me there?

"And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'  The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan..."  (Mark 1:11-13a)

This passage is about Jesus.  Jesus, who was confirmed to be God's beloved Son, is propelled into the wilderness one verse later.  He's there for forty days, tempted by Satan.  Now, in other gospel accounts, we know that part of the reason He's there is to be the better Israel.   

But there's still a reaction to how these verses go.  On one hand, he's called beloved and Son.  The other, He's propelled out.  What?  If God is faithful, how could He do that to His own Son?  How is that faithfulness?  Isn't faithfulness about protection and safety?

Later in Mark we see that's not the case, as Jesus is unjustly tried, and then crucified.  How was God faithful there?

The obvious answer is the resurrection.  The salvation of humanity from sin and eternal damnation by grace through faith in Christ.  And God is glorified through it. 

How is God faithful in bringing us in the desert?  By making us see Him as more beautiful.  More precious than gold, greater than any treasure we think we have. 

Consider Job.  He lost his wealth, health, possessions, and children.  His wife told him to abandon God, his friends falsely told him that his calamity was his fault.  And as Job demands an answer from God, God responds not by answering his plea, but reminding him who He is.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,

when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
(Job 38:4-7)

Now, before we forget, God loved Job.  Job was a righteous man in God's sight.  And He let Satan take everything from him to prove he wouldn't renounce God!  In other words, Job was a faithful, righteous man.  And God knew that!  That's why he was selected for torment.  And as Job cries out for 37 chapters, God comes and responds, and He doesn't say, "wow, Satan put you through a lot.  Maybe that was harsh."  No!  He challenges Job.  He asks him, "where were you...?"  The point obviously being "Job, you weren't there when I created the world, when I created its very foundation, when I put the stars in the sky, but I most assuredly was, because I was the one who did it."

The miracle of Job is not that Job's fortunes are restored.  It's that Job's sight is elevated to see the grace and mercy of God in that He would take away everything so that He might hold fast to the greatest treasure, God Himself.

"Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ 
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you; 
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” 
(Job 42:1-6)

Look at Job's response.  It's one of awe, awe of God's character, His wisdom, and His holiness.  And in v. 6, we see the beauty of what God does.  If you have a bible, there's a footnote over the word repent.  And the word could be also translated as "am comforted."  While he despises himself, he is comforted.  Why?  It's because he has seen God, convicted of his narrow-sighted view, and now sees God more appropriately.  He's no longer concerned with what he's lost, but with his view of the God of the universe.  

This is why God was so faithful to put me through this journey.

"God, what about my home?"  

"God, what about my reputation?"

"God, what about my ministry?"  

"God, what about my friends that I seem to be losing?"

"God, what about my family, are they disappointed?"

"God, what about my emotions, my sleep, my comfort?"  

"God, why won't you answer me and deliver me?!"  

"Because I am the Lord, and I don't answer to anyone.  Your hope is in earthly things, I'll strip them away.  Your hope is in how great your ministry is, I'll make you see the crushing weight of it.  Your hope is in sleep, I won't let you.  Your hope is in what people think, I'll show you how futile it is.  Why?  Because I am the Lord, and I am what you need."  

Obviously, that isn't from the bible.  It's not a prophetic word that I received from God.  It's my application from the hard season.  God has been deeply faithful to me.  Why?  Because my joy has become far more rooted in knowing Him.  Knowing His wisdom, His glory, His beauty.  
It's why we can trust God's Faithfulness.  Even when our circumstances are in the tank.  Because God is always moving us to see Him as our greatest need.  Our greatest desire.  Our greatest hope.   And He's willing to do whatever it takes to get us there, even if it means putting us in the desert.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Six Lessons from a Hard Year

May 2nd, 2016, the day that sparked a whole slew of difficulty and hardship. The fire uncovered deeper issues of pride, anxiety, and shame, and moved me through really painful conflict with dear friends. Now, a full year later, there is much to rejoice over. Our home has been restored to us. We have a new perspective on a number of different areas of life and ministry. And our love for Christ is higher.

There were a number of lessons I learned, each one I will expound upon in future blog posts. This is more an overview of those lessons.

Here are six lessons I learned from a difficult season:

1. God is faithful, in both small and big parts of life: When the fire first hit, my neighbors were outside to bring fire extinguishers. Hours later, the red cross showed up with disposable toiletries, a $500 pre-loaded visa gift card, and two mickey mouse stuffed animals for my boys. My parents, grandparents, and friends gave us money, gift cards, and so many other things to care for us. Our insurance company was absurdly generous with us, giving us a dining stipend, paid for the replacement value of the house, and kept us in the loop the entire way. A number of families let us stay with them for the duration of the time we were out of the house, never leaving us without a bed, shelter, or food.

When I suffered from the anxiety and depression caused both by the trauma and underlying things that had gone unaddressed in my heart, God provided wise, compassionate, Christ-loving men and women to walk alongside our family.

2. The church is amazing: I don't mean this in terms of our local church (though, Winfield Baptist is pretty great). I was astounded to see the church universal surround us with love, mercy, and generosity. When we moved back into our home, so many people came to help. It was great.

What was greater was how, as I invested more in the church, my soul continued to stir with praise and joy. There were many times I didn't want to get out of bed and lead my family to go to church. I saw it as drudgery. A chore. An extension of work. As I immersed myself more into the community, God was faithful to remind me that I was there not only to be a blessing, but to be blessed by my eternal family, as we all worshipped the eternal God.

3. The scriptures are both our greatest counselor and our greatest comforter: I can't tell you how often the scriptures have come alive to me in this season more than any other. I read about feeling shame, and I was encouraged how Jesus has cared for MY shame. I saw how the psalmists cried out for relief, and I found myself crying out to God for my relief soon after. I routinely found myself weeping or finding joy and encouragement in ways I had not enjoyed before or as frequently.

4. God, not ministry, must be my primary joy: One of my reasons for anxiety this past year was the feeling of having to do everything. It crushed me. But, as I placed my hope and joy in Christ, the weight of my own expectations, and the perceived expectations of others, faded and gave way to the compelling pleasure of my Heavenly Father.

5. We must have grace for those who fail to love us well: This is so hard. But it's necessary. While the church was so great, I was often hurt by friendly fire. At times I was admonished when I needed encouragement. At times I needed a listening ear rather than an instructive tongue. At times, I needed someone who mourned with me, rather than a casual joke to artificially lift my spirits. Those were hard moments as I tried to move past deep pain and trauma. But, there needs to be grace. And as I loved, forgave, and believed the best, those hard moments became teaching moments for me and others, as well as an opportunity to remember that God is growing all of us to become more and more like Him.

6. Hobbies are necessary: It's so hard to believe that hobbies are ok, because of all the commands in scripture to be deliberate and intentional. Yet, I believe the scriptures hold those commands in line with our need to rest from work, and part of that rest is enjoying the creation that God has made! I still haven't found all of my restful hobbies, but I know that most Saturdays, my soul was rejuvenated by faithfully choosing to use my smoker to make pulled pork and watch football. My soul was rejuvenated as I traveled, and my soul has been rejuvenated as I have made time to spend with family and friends.

God uses hard seasons to draw us closer to Himself. And in the midst of this season, He has not only taught me to love Him more, but also that joy is to be found, even in the midst of hardship and chaos.