Who does your thinking?

I have this little post-it note sitting on my standing desk beneath my monitor, mainly so that I can see it front and center. Right now, it’s about as close as I am going to get to God hand-writing a note to me… but lately it’s something I have needed to remind myself of more than I’d like to admit.

In case you can’t read it, it says “Who does your thinking for you?”

Have you ever had a season in life where maybe you were in a rough spot, you were working through things, and eventually you get to a place where you are feeling ok, and then something happens and your mind gets thrown out of whack?

Yeah.. I just caught myself in that place this past weekend. You see, I would like to think I am a pretty positive person, always looking on the bright side of things. Even when life gets hard. I dig in, trust God will get me through, and keep plugging. I guess you could say my default thinking kind of runs like this:

  • Default: I’m doing well!
  • Default + hard stuff = I’m doing ok, keeping my head up and believing for the best
  • Default + hard stuff + outside voices = well maybe I shouldn’t be ok? Am I missing something here?

It’s this last part that I want to talk about today. Somehow I have this weird guilt feeling that I shouldn’t be doing so well when things get hard because everyone expects certain types of reactions from us when we hit hard things in life. Sure, sometimes we DO feel the “expected reaction” – like if you lose someone you love, you are going to go through some serious loss and grief that only others who have been there get the depth of. Or if you are betrayed by a friend, or you lose a job or house, or you are diagnosed with an illness of some kind. Anger, denial, numbness, hopelessness, disillusionment…. you name it, any of those would be considered “normal” in cases like this, right? So you work through them. You process with people, with counselors, with God.

Eventually you start to see rays of hope, pieces of joy that seemed just a bit too far at the start. Then maybe you start to feel better – like really better!

At some point, voices will surfaces that will lend their thoughts, wanted or unwanted: people who didn’t know what was going on, social media rants or blog posts, books or articles or songs that speak to whatever hard thing you are dealing with. Now, sometimes voices can sometimes be good and help you along – challenging you with hope, kindness, patience, forgiveness….. or they might give you permission to feel something you were afraid to feel.

Then there are the times that these voices might make you question how well you are doing. You sure you are ok? You’re not just hiding/avoiding/ignoring? (Which sometimes is totally ok, don’t get me wrong!)

The reality is that when you serve a living God, whose very breath fills your lungs and spirit lives inside of you… there is something that is net different as you walk through difficult seasons.

A few weeks ago I was reading again in Isaiah and ran across this verse, which I had not read in a while:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….”. (Isa 41:10)

And I sat and thought about that for a minute. This doesn’t have a qualifier on it like “I’m with you only in the big stuff”, or “ I’m with you when you don’t know what to do”.

Iam with you, so do not fear, God says. Period.

What about God being with us should make us not afraid? The easy answer is that, well, he’s big and he’s God so … there. But the reality is that we have to dig pretty deep to be aware of that presence and let it change our experience, don’t we?

Just knowing this in our heads doesn’t necessarily crowd out the voices that tell us we should be afraid, or make us recall the past, or that what others think makes more sense, or even a zillion other things that our mind might concoct to instill fear….. because to just tell ourselves “don’t listen to that voice” is like saying don’t look at the elephant in the room. Sometimes it makes us think about it more!

We have to move beyond head knowledge alone to more of a deep knowledge in our soul, one that is born of His Spirit, reminding us of God’s actual presence and power with us to get us through.

As I have been studying the Old Testament, the very presence of God is one thing that we keep coming back to. Every battle, every hard thing – God always reminded them “I’ve got this”. It didn’t mean they didn’t have to fight or chase the enemy to keep or capture land. But God being with them was huge. His presence was the deciding factor on whether they won or lost the battle. For us today, our battles are different. Often we don’t know the outcome, and what we want isn’t always what happens – but God’s presence with us SHOULD change how we experience whatever we’re going through. It’s time to stop thinking just “yep, I know God’s with me BUT…. “

No. “God IS with ME”. Not just the world, not just everyone when they are together in church. Me. You. Personally. Right there as you walk through whatever you walk through.

Are we still going to go through seasons and have hard times? Of course. Jesus says we will have trouble, but that his peace is real for us in the midst (John 14:27) of whatever we face.

Dear ones, this active knowledge of God with us takes practice. We don’t always get it right, but we have to start somewhere. I challenge you today, to ask the Holy Spirit to make you more aware of the truth that God is with you, so that His presence changes how you experience what you are going through.

After all, if he can hold the world together, don’t you think he can hold you together too?

An early Easter observation

(Quilt photo taken from the Houston Quilt show 2016)

Ok, I’ll admit it: I have never really been one for walking through the church calendar years and observing all the days. I get why they are there. I understand the point of Ash Wednesday and Lent, and there have been years where I have really tried to enter into the season more than others. In a world that seems so void of hope and so very broken, for someone who always tries to look on the bright side of things, it’s difficult to let myself”enter in” to the depth of the my sin and the sin of the world, and lament. It’s much easier to focus on the breakthrough of Resurrection Sunday and the hope it brings – not in a happy-clappy sort of way though. I’d like to think I have learned (and am still learning) how to experience the full depth of life it brings.

That being said, I still make a point to read through the stories of Jesus being arrested, interrogated, flogged, and crucified. Why? Certainly not because I forget. I think each year I search for some new aspect that brings insight into what He experienced, how He walked it out, and what I can learn. This year is no different.

All my life I have heard stories of people who have been hurt by “the church”. The reasons are many: They didn’t feel cared for enough, they were shunned or judged for not being “holy enough”, they asked questions and doubted, they challenged church teachings that didn’t seem right, they were gossipped about or made decisions that others didn’t agree with. Some are stories of the church bringing shame or fear where it should bring freedom. There are worse things too, stories of spiritual abuse and calling evil good that I can’t even write about here. You know, because some of you have lived through them, or know people who have.

They are people who have been hurt who stop feeling that God, or his people are safe at all. People who have fled to take hold of the hope of Jesus, only to have Him get lost in the church machine to the point where it seems like business – not the life Jesus came to bring. People that have been hurt by ones they trusted.

My heart breaks every time I hear another story of someone giving up. Not because they can’t find God outside of church, but because too often they walk away from the richness that is theirs by right. Yes, we are imperfect at carrying the very life Jesus came to bring … but sometimes that imperfection is more hurtful than we realize.

This year, what I notice in the Easter story is that Jesus too, was the victim of “spiritual abuse”. Lies were told about him. No one wanted to hear his side of the story (not that he put up a fight, but his life said it all). All He ever wanted to do was show people what God was really like. Some got him. Most didn’t, and he paid for it. Every one of you reading has probably heard that Jesus’ death was in part, to show solidarity with the suffering. I don’t disagree. But this year my heart goes out to those who have been shunned, let down, deeply hurt, and even abandoned by the church.

I am so, so sorry. And because I, too, have gone through two very hurtful, spiritual abuse scenarios in my past, times when I was about to give up on church, I know in part where you have been. Sometimes it’s hell trying to recover, and you wonder if you can claw your way back to faith, or even if you want to. I get it.

This Easter, I hope in some quiet way you can see that Jesus gets it too. He knows. He feels your pain and knows the heartbreak of being misunderstood and treated wrongly. Somehow, in the mystery of God, my hope is that this Easter brings you to a place of resurrection in your own life. Not to the church (because for some of you it may feel like an abuser), but to the God who loves you, the Jesus who authors life and brings soul-healing in ways words cannot describe. My prayer is that you can step aside and take a moment to create some space where you can be whoever and however you need to be with Jesus, and let him help you carry that pain and disappointment, and exchange it for hope and something new.

Let him come find you, because you’re worth it! If I were with you right now, I’d sit and listen and cry with you, and then we’d somehow find our way back to life together.

Standing on the mountain

Don’t you just love it when you read a story in the bible that you have read over and over and you know by heart, yet when you look at it again, there is something you missed? I love when that happens. It always seems to bring new insight, and, most likely, speaks to where you are in life at that very moment, doesn’t it?

There is a story in Exodus I re-read recently, the one where the Israelites have crossed into the promise land, and they are about to go into battle against the Amalekites (Ex 17). Moses tells Joshua to gather his fighting men and then the next day, he would stand on the mountain holding up his staff. So, Moses does just that, and the story tells us that whenever his hands were up, the Israelites were successful, and when they were down, they started losing.

If you have ever heard this story – you know that at some point, Aaron and Hur come up and sit Moses on a rock and hold his hands up, thereby securing the victory for Israel. I have always heard this preached about how important it is to have people that can hold up your hands in a battle, or stand with you when you go through difficult times. I belive that to be true. We can all probably look back on times in our lives when we are walking through something that we never could have without people by our side.

Yet this time — this time I saw something I have never seen before.

It occurred to me that God didn’t tell Moses to go stand on the mountain. Countless other times, God tells people go here or there and I will speak, or do this and that and you will win the battle. That is NOT what we see here. God did not tell Moses that night that his battle plan was for Moses to go up on the mountain and hold the staff . Granted, yes back in Exodus 4 God gave Moses the staff and told him he would use it to perform signs – but there wasn’t any particular guideline that told Moses the Israelites would succeed just because he held up the staff.

In the face of impending battle, with their livelihood and their future at stake, Moses did something we can all learn from:

He stood on the mountain, arms raised….and waited to see what God would do. He trusted in God’s power and in His promise to them.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But we fret and worry, we spin our wheels trying to figure things out or try and understand all the possible outcomes or choices, because we know that to sit still feels like doing nothing. Sometimes its not even a battle we are fighting, it’s just life circumstances that are too overwhelming or we can’t see a way out.

God might not give a battle plan. He might not lay out the next steps.

Our act of faith is to go stand on the mountain and know our God is there… and then watch and see how He moves.

You might be surprised at what you find.