Sunday, October 18, 2015

True Love Isn't Conditional

At church, we've been studying the book of Exodus.  Today, we focused on Moses' response to God calling him (from the burning bush, if you remember the story) to go convince the Egyptian king to free the millions of Israelite slaves.

God tells Moses to go AND follows up his command with promises and encouragement:

  • I will lead you.
  • The elders will accept your message.
  • I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians.
  • He (the king) will let you go.

Moses's response?  "What if they don't believe me?"

God has just said, "The elders will accept your message."  Obviously, Moses doesn't think God is telling the truth.

So God preforms THREE miracles to encourage Moses.  Each miracle proves that nothing is more powerful than God.  No fear, no seemingly-unbeatable enemy, no national superpower. (Read the story in Exodus chapters 3 and 4.)

Moses' response? "Lord, I'm not good with words. I've never been. My words get all messed up."

Does God strike Moses dead for his doubt?  His pride-disguised-as-humility?  His blatant defiance? No.  He keeps encouraging Moses and reminding Moses who HE (God) is and Who is doing the work here.
"Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides who will speak and who won't? Who will hear and who won't? Who will see and who won't?  It's me! Go!   I'll be with you as you speak and I'll tell you what to say."

Surely now, Moses will say, "Okay, God. I got it! Sorry I was slow on the uptake."  Nope.  Moses pleaded, "Lord, please! Send anyone else."

Other places in scripture say God is slow to anger.  (Not "He doesn't get angry"...it's just slow-coming.)  This time, The LORD becomes angry with Moses.  Strike-with-lightning time, right?!  Moses pulled the last straw!  No.  While God is angry, he encourages Moses yet again and even gives him tools to help him obey.  "Okay, your brother Aaron.  He's good at speaking. He's coming this way.  You still have to go talk, but I'll let you tell Aaron what to say and he can be the spokesman."

Why retell this story?  Because it's the perfect picture of grace.  A picture of the Gospel.  A foreshadowing of the Grace we receive through Christ and the Grace we must be offering others.  Notice, in Moses stubborn refusal, God doesn't make a sign that says, "God hates doubters," then goes and waves it in Moses' face. He didn't say, "Whelp, you're not obeying me, so down to hell you go."  He didn't sit back and post on facebook about how messed up Moses was.  He was patient.  He allowed Moses to experience the feelings he was having, even if those feelings were a direct affront to God.  Sinful.  Look back at the story. Moses is basically telling God, "I don't believe You can do anything you just promised me."  Blasphemy!  He's saying God's a liar!  He's arguing with Holy God, right there as physically close as anyone has been to God thus far.

Why is this story SO relevant to my life today?  This Grace supernaturally led me to offer Grace over the past 2 years.  It will sustain me in the future when I want to just follow my anger, my apathy, my pride.

My oldest child came to me with a lot of hurtful statements over the past couple of years.  She shared a lot of scary feelings.  She had a lot of dark thoughts.  She engaged in dangerous behaviors.  She wanted her life to be over.  She saw no reason to live.  She didn't feel loved or worthy.  She didn't want to follow God.  She thought He was a jerk.  She wanted to live life her own way.

Parents, I can encourage you with what I learned over this trial.  And I know I will need to follow my own advice again in the future.  I don't know how people do this without the strength of the Holy Spirit, because none of the "good" things I did were naturally from me.  I messed up a lot!  I said a lot of wrong things.  But I kept remembering God's mercy and grace He gave me when I was running far from Him, living completely contrary to His will AND trying to cover it all up.  Sinning hypocrite.  But He showed me Grace.  He loved me.  He didn't give up on me.  He didn't let me go.

What I learned as a Christian mom with an angry child who engaged in some risky behaviors and felt like she hated God?

Pray.
And when you can't pray, rely on the prayers of others.  My mom and dad prayed a LOT.  I needed to know they were, because honestly, there were days I agreed with my daughter and felt like God was playing some cruel trick on our family.  Days I doubted deeply.
Let me add, don't tell your suffering kid (or parents of suffering kids) to "just pray."  It's trite.  Christians know they are supposed to pray.  They probably are praying and still in the middle of severe suffering.  Prayer doesn't just magically solve everything, so don't speak to someone as if it does.  Instead of telling your kid to pray more,  YOU quietly pray more for them.  If God leads you, pray out loud for them.

Allow your child doubt.
God can handle it!  See the Moses story?  There are more stories like this throughout the Bible.  God doesn't hate doubters.  He embraces them.  Doubt leads to decisions. When your child tells you about their doubt or even unbelief, build your OWN faith by trusting that God will reveal Himself.  I only asked my child to keep questioning, keep telling God she didn't believe or didn't think she believed, or felt like He was mean.  I asked her to keep the dialogue open, to read the Bible for herself, not relying on what society thinks about God or how Christians behaved (which is sometimes heartbreakingly embarrassing), but on the actual Word of God.  I told her that her faith could not be her mom's faith.  It had to be hers.  With God, though, you have to decide.  Saying you're "agnostic" means you've made a decision to not believe.  If your kid is doubting, it means she is thinking.  That's a good thing.  To tell her it was okay to doubt, question, and even express her anger with God TO God, required trust on my part.

Trust the Holy Spirit
Ask the Holy Spirit to guide YOU.  Don't first ask God to change your kid. Ask Him to change YOU. To show you how He wants you to respond.  When He wants you to just be quiet. He will show you.  Do what He leads.  Follow His example from scripture.  Then of course, you can ask God to change her heart.  Just always keep in mind that you aren't God.  You aren't the Holy Spirit.  What you think is right for your kid might not be.  So when you pray for God to change your kid, include the acknowledgement that you want your child to follow God's plan, even if that veers off the path of what you think they should do.

Love your kid where she is, no matter her behaviors.
Are you cutting off love or affection to your kid?  Are you embarrassed by her behavior?  Worried about what others will think of you?  Yeah, that's God trying to teach you something about YOURSELF, not your kid.  LOVE your kid.  Show it, even when she's pushing it away, yelling in your face, refusing love, or even engaging in "embarrassing" behavior.  Keep showing it in whatever ways you can. Ask God to help you with your own pride.  If your child is being destructive to herself or others, there have to be consequences and boundaries, but never withdraw your love, affection, and time from her.

Focus on the heart, not outward behaviors, whether good or bad.
While my child had some severe outward behaviors going on, I could see her heart.  With her mouth (and hands...ASL), she was saying, "If this is who God is, then I hate Him."  In her heart, she was questioning.  Wondering why God allows such bad things to happen.  Don't we ALL do this?  The answer is yes.  With her behavior, she was hurting herself, hating herself.  In her heart, she was asking for help in her despair.  In the moment, it seems nearly impossible to look past the outward behavior, but I beg you just take a breath and think through it.  If you can't understand the motivation for your kids' behavior, seek out people who can help you.

Rely on others.
I had friends who had similar experiences speak into Hannah's life and into mine as her mom.  They helped me understand things that were completely foreign to me.  I had a friend who mentored Hannah, taking her out for coffee every week.  We relied on two weekly counselors, in-patient and out-patient therapies, youth pastors, friends, and school staff.  God made us to be in community.  Let others help you, then be there for others whenever you can.  Again, this requires laying down of pride.  It's worth it!

Today, my questioning, doubting daughter Hannah was baptized, publicly announcing her faith in God and the work Christ did on her behalf.  I have 100% confidence that her faith is her own.  I'm praying for my other 4 kids to develop their own faith.  God is worth it.

Maybe you don't believe in God.  Maybe you're not sure.  Maybe you feel like God is a jerk.  I would ask you to do what I asked Hannah.  Just wonder.  Even if you think you're talking to an empty sky, ask God if He's there.  Ask Him to show Himself to you.  Read some scripture.  Don't look to our American "Christian culture," media portrayal of Christianity, or even popular pastors.  You'll be gravely disappointed.  I'm sorry if you've been hurt by any of these groups in the past.  Read some of the actual Bible.  Maybe John or Philippians.  Question, read, seek.  God already knows your name.  He can handle your questioning.  And He's worth seeking.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

No Good Can Come From This

God is good.  All the time.

There was this mom of three boys.  Just as her oldest was graduating high school and her youngest was beginning high school...when she could start carving out some real time for herself and her husband, she felt the lump.  Breast cancer.  Aggressive. Chemo.  Dense dosing.  Neuropathy?  Not good news for someone whose job relies on her hands.

There was this other mom of three boys. She loved them more than words.  At the same time, she prayed for a girl.  She felt strongly in her heart that her family included a little girl.  But it just never happened.  A few false alarms.  Miscarriages.  Maybe she was wrong about the girl.  After all, she's over 40 by now.

There was this teenage boy.  He had been orphaned and abused for years on end.  Finally adopted, he despised the people who cared for him and who showed him unconditional love.  "What's love, anyway? I don't even know what that means."  Trust no one. Get close to no one.  Look out for number one; isn't that what everyone else is doing?  Your so-called "love" must have a catch.

There was this teenage girl.  She hated herself.  She thought everyone else hated her, too.  She saw herself as a burden, not a joy.  She would hurt herself daily, leaving lasting scars as reminders.  She just wanted her life to be over and she made attempts to end it.  She hated God.  "Fine, 'God doesn't cause evil to happen, He just allows it.' Well, even if He's just allowing this, He's an asshole."

But God.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4–5)

This week, the first mom gets this news: "Your MRI indicates a complete resolution" of the tumor.

The second mom has not only become a mom to a precious girl through fostering,  but 7 days ago, gave birth to a (surprise!) baby girl.

The boy?  He's beginning to know and accept love.  His entire countenance has altered and his heart is softening.  Today, for the first time, he stood on the other side of the planet, face-to-face with the biological brother that, less than 5 months ago, he didn't even know he had. (They've talked twice a day every day since summer.  I wish you could see the photo of these brothers together.  I don't think I've ever seen a smile that genuine in my entire life.)

The girl is finding herself.  She's realizing her value.  She still struggles, but fights through it.  She has her family, true forever-friends, her amazing school,  her church family.  She's experiencing True Love.  And she's chosen to accept that Love.  Not only accept it, but proclaim it and follow Christ in baptism this coming Sunday.

The timeline of suffering in these examples ranges from 1 to 18 YEARS.  God certainly doesn't follow my preferred timeline or methods.  And I won't be so Pollyanna that I fail to mention that sometimes, the cancer kills, the child is never born or even dies, the orphan doesn't know love, and the girl ends her life.  Faith IS trusting when something is beyond understanding.   Faith is holding on to hope even in the darkness.

Each of these stories are from a small handful of people I consider my closest friends.  The girl, of course, is my own daughter.  Let me tell you, some of these stories include vile ugliness I won't even write about.  I can't adequately express the dark places we have been.  There have been times when it seems there is absolutely no light.  Hopelessness.  Despair.  Not everything in each of our lives has turned out the way we want.  Even today, there are still unanswered "whys."  We all still have major struggles, setbacks, and pain ahead of us.

But God.  But God.  But God offers an oasis in the desert.  He offers grace in the midst of us cursing Him. When I find myself running from Him or feeling like he's turned His back, all I have to do is stop and see he's right there.  Beside me.  In front of me.  Carrying me.  It reminds me of a song we sing/sign at church.  I can't get through the lyrics without tears because of the depth of Truth:

Behold the Man upon the cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
call out among the scoffers
It as my sin that held Him there 
until it was accomplished 
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

God, just like our Prayer Request page from the adoption, I want to use this week to remind me of Your faithfulness despite what seems to make no sense and even appears cruel at times.  Thank You for being patient with my doubt, my anger, my apathy. Thank You, God for such crazy-amazing reminders over the past 7 days.  It's truly been an incredible thing to witness.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  ...So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9; 16-18)