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Man Plans While God Laughs

Published November 25, 2018 by Dawn

The Christmas tree went up last night. It’s beautiful chaos, and putting it up was beautiful chaos too. I don’t usually describe chaos like that. I don’t really like chaos … It gives me anxiety.

I know we all consider ourselves to be creatures of habit. I don’t know if anyone is as married to their habits as I am. After all, humanity glorifies marriage and I’m still single, so I think it’s probable that my habits are a surrogate. Let me explain:

My life is full of routine. There’s a system to my morning: wake up, potty break, shower (there’s a system for the shower too), lotion, dress, wake up the kids, hair, brush teeth, make-up, hot tea, walk out the door. Dishes have a system: Plates first, then silverware and cups, glass bowls, plastic bowls, pots and pan, and then anything else that sits on the counter (which is usually nothing). My life is a well-oiled machine until you throw people into the system and then I have to micromanage their existence so that it doesn’t mess up my systems … living with me sounds amazing, right? My kids think so too …

We always put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, but this year, we had to wait until the weekend because my daughter is now a working woman. She missed Thanksgiving (I’m now an advocate for Black Friday starting on Friday), and had to work during the nuttiness of Black Friday, so we had to put our traditions off until the weekend. I made a full Thanksgiving dinner, invited the fam and recreated Thanksgiving for her yesterday. Not to put off the tree any longer, we meshed Thanksgiving with the beginning of the Christmas season in our house and dubbed Saturday “Thanksmas.” After gorging ourselves and cleaning up, we prepared to put up the tree.

I had a plan for last night, wouldn’t you know … we always go to the store and each pick out a new ornament for the tree. Then we come home, turn on a Pandora Christmas station, get out the stuff, do the tree, drink hot chocolate, and watch a funny Christmas movie (yes, it’s almost always one of three: Home Alone, A Christmas Story, or Christmas in Wonderland). Last night, we did things a little different… By “we,” I mean mostly me. That was not part of the plan.

My kids are teenagers, so music, facetime and hanging out trumps tradition. While I brought the many boxes of Christmas up from the basement, they hung out in my son’s room and ate chips and dip. While I painstakingly added volume to each individual branch and put it in its place, they played Country and Rap to drown out Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. While I untangled the lights, fussed with the fuses and went to the store for replacements, they played basketball under the streetlights. Every once in a while a kid would pop in to see how things were going or lend a hand, but I had to talk myself out of a few pity parties as I lamented the ways things have changed this year. So many changes and none of them were a part of the plan.

When they did finally join me, it was only to hijack my phone charger and fill the living room with 90’s pop music. I must admit, I raised some eyebrows as I busted out my 90’s dance moves and sang all the lyrics at the top of my lungs. My son was unimpressed but my daughter decided to learn Vanilla Ice verbatim. They did help me put the decorations on after the lights were strung, but things are a little different than usual. Our angelic tree topper has a large green alien sitting on her shoulder … so different than I envisioned. But so like my son, who was pleased I left it.

I shared all of this because “Man plans while God laughs.” There is so much truth to this. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Similarly, chapter 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the purposes of the Lord prevail.” For a planner like myself, this is a little cringy. Situations that require me to just sit back and watch God do His thing are so hard. I know God is awesome and has great plans for us. I’ve read Jeremiah 29:11, and a slew of other verses that inspire me to trust God. And when I’m lost in adoration and worship, I can trust God with such fidelity. But in the drudgery, as Oswald Chambers liked to call it, the everydayness when life happens and there’s not an acute sense of God’s nearness, I go back to my meticulous planning and create order in the chaos as much as I can.

Last night taught me that strictly following my own plans robs me of the bliss in life. There’s not a ton of it, after all. If I had demanded they come into the living room and help, I would have had very sullen teenagers resisting every proposal or directive I made. If I had insisted on Christmas music, I would have missed belting Britney Spears, Spice Girls and the Soundtrack to Grease with my sixteen-year-old. Moments with my kids are slipping away faster and faster. Do I really want to miss out just because the alien clearly does not belong atop the angel atop the tree? I might have!

In light of this sobering reality, I reflected on life in the larger sense and I must admit that there may have been times I missed out on things that would have deepened my connections with others or added to my joy because I was so stuck on the preplanned things in my mind. I don’t think that’s how God operates. He’s the creator of  spontaneity, after all. His plans seem to thrive in an atmosphere of bewilderment and joy. He hardly ever follows logic, and there is no rhyme or reason to the way God works. Clearly, we cannot stick to our plans so religiously and expect to walk in the perfect will of God. All of our preconceived notions make God laugh because we’re dreadfully simple and He’s extravagant and wild. I want that. I want whatever God is doing. That crazy, zany, impractical thing I can’t imagine because I like symmetry and He loves coloring outside the lines. Father, teach me to love what you are doing and the spontaneity of it. Teach me to sit back and enjoy what you are doing instead of trying to make everything make sense and have a semblance of order. Help me to hear your will and follow your directions into whatever it is you have planned for my life. I don’t want to control and contain what is clearly bigger than me and better than I can create in my own imagination. Have your way. Let’s have fun in this together.

“ … as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—” (1 Cor. 2:9).

 

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Jesus Loved Judas

Published March 1, 2018 by Dawn

It’s comforting to think that Judas was alienated from the others. He was the only disciple willing to betray Jesus, and the Bible records him as a thief who protested the exorbitant and flagrant misuse of money, that Jesus otherwise saw as an act of worship. One would imagine Judas was left on the fringe of their ministry, distrusted because he was stealing. One would assume that, like us, Jesus was wary of Judas and often suspicious.

Perhaps these thoughts are comforting, but I think we might be absolutely wrong.

The Bible says Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are, but was without sin.” As I stood at the counter of my local bank waiting for my new debit card to be printed, I realized that Jesus loved Judas. This was perhaps one of the most hurtful events in Jesus’ life. This was the moment someone caused Jesus the most pain, did one of the most unforgiveable things that led to deadly consequences, and gave Jesus an opportunity to know what it is like for a man to be betrayed by his closest friend. He had to understand our pain, right?

I stood there with my eyes closed, listening to the worship music playing overhead. It was weird, really, to publicly worship along to the lyrics, “For I am crucified with Christ, and yet I live. Not I but Christ who lives within me. His cross will never ask for more than I can give. For it’s not my grace, but His. There’s no greater sacrifice.”  Or it would have been weird if I cared. I was so hurt, I was willing to stand there soaking in the sweet reminder of the Holy Spirit, that all of the painful things in life give me an opportunity to die to my own reactions.

Someone hijacked my debit card and helped themselves on Amazon with my paycheck. Amazon has amazing records … you can give them your card number and they can tell you who’s account used it. My heart might have hardened a little toward a stranger. But it wasn’t. It was a friend. Someone I love dearly. I was heartbroken. Angry, yes, but mostly hurt.

When I prayed about how to approach the subject, my heart was flooded with peace and the knowledge that this was another opportunity to add to my 70×7. This person has transgressed many times, always seeking forgiveness but never following through with repentant behavior. Given unconditional trust and being very undeserving. Given mercy upon mercy and not caring a lick. Just taking.

I know Judas loved Jesus, because when the magnitude of what he’d betrayed Jesus to hit him, he was so overcome with grief, he committed self-murder. If he hadn’t loved Jesus, he wouldn’t have cared so much. He just obviously loved himself a lot too. His self-love betrayed him, I would say. I think the same thing happened in my situation. An abundance of self-love stole this person’s vision until they were short-sighted and foolish. The act discovered and addressed led to genuine remorse. I do not doubt the sincere cry for forgiveness. I cannot deny the plea, because I am responsible to God to forgive as He has forgiven me. My love didn’t diminish in the least and although I am aware of the potential going forward, I cannot live in relation to this person with suspicion leading me, because it’s not loving.

None of this is my natural reaction, and that’s how I know Jesus loved Judas. I think it’s comforting knowing that the depth of our sin toward God cannot diminish His love, or His willingness to forgive us and walk with us as if we had never transgressed after we’ve been forgiven. I love that His mercies are new every morning. I am grateful for His grace, that instead of being demanding, is so beautiful that my right relationship with God isn’t because I am intimidated by His sovereignty, but because I am so very thankful. What a wonderful, amazing God we serve.

The Ministry of Jesus – God’s Will for You

Published February 8, 2018 by Dawn

It’s amazing the things God uses sometimes to teach us. The way He works into the fabric of our day, the little things He needs to show us to mold us and make us more and more like Christ. The other day, my schedule was upended two days in a row, and I found myself in a situation at work in which I had to shadow a student at her job sight: a nursing home.

We walked in and immediately jumped in line with a lady rushing here and there, all over the facility, passing out clean linens. She had no time to talk, no time to teach, and the student and I simply followed her, stayed out of her way and watched everything she did. At one point, though, I glanced into a room and noticed a lady in a dark blue shirt sitting bedside to an elderly man, slowly putting a full spoon of soft mush into his mouth and speaking quietly to him while he ate. She turned and looked at me as I stared, lost in this intimate moment. Her face was not soft. It was hard and she never smiled at me, though I smiled at her in a friendly manner. She turned back and scraped up another spoonful of food while I shamelessly watched, in awe. You see, though she didn’t smile at me or even seem remotely softened by my own smile, I looked at her and recognized Christ.

It dawned on me in that moment that I have spent so much time trying to figure out the will of God, trying to see what big plans He has in store for me. Fighting with life because I feel like there are many things hindering me from being all that God wants me to be. But what if God just wants me to be like Jesus in any circumstance? Willing to feed the elderly, or sit with the broken, or minister to a child’s heart simply by hugging him or her? What if God’s big ministry opportunities are really just the small things of daily life? That woman, in that moment, was more Christ-like than I, because my relationship with God is sometimes just a pursuit of the next big thing and a lot of anger and frustration in the between times. Sitting in a church pew wishing God would use the Word I’ve faithfully planted inside me. Wishing He’d give me a platform and an audience so I can minister truth because it’s like fire shut up in my bones. But could it be that I am missing all the daily things God could be offering to use me in? What does it mean to be Christ-like, anyway? Jesus didn’t base his idea of success in ministry on the number of people who showed up. Sometimes he ministered to the masses, and sometimes, he ministered to a lonely woman at a well or a desperate group of lepers. He didn’t really even set the world on fire. That fire started after His earthly ministry was complete. What if, ultimately, some of our greatest victories for the kingdom are seeds planted now that we won’t even see bear fruit because it happens long after we’re gone?

I swallowed my fear when that woman walked past me several minutes later. I ignored her hardened, smile-less face and spoke to her heart. “Thank you so much for what you did. For feeding him.” She said, without a smile, “Well, he had to eat.” I just started weeping. I know, it’s so unprofessional, but I couldn’t help myself. I had seen Jesus in her actions and I realized in that moment that what she was doing is more “ministry” than I do as a youth leader. As a teacher. What might have been humiliating to her, and often devalued by the world because of how degrading it seems, is exactly what Jesus would be doing. Helping the helpless. Loving in actions and not just words. Touching people instead of just speaking to them. I don’t think we’re doing it right if all we ever do is show up to church and sing songs and listen to a preacher preach. Even if we crack our Bibles open every morning and hit our knees every night. If we don’t have a relationship with people, putting our faith into actions such as these, our lives will amount to nothing, eternally speaking.

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:21-22) Jesus confronted the ministry-minded here in these verses. In essence, what he wanted to make very clear is that these things might have a place in the work God gives us to do, but they aren’t “the work.” Micah 6:8 says that God wants us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with him. James 1:27 says that God’s idea of religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Then there’s the parable in Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In this parable, reaching out to those around them was literally their ticket into the Kingdom of God. Why have we focused on the platform – the recognition and busyness of teaching people what we know – and forsaken the real work of the kingdom? There are more churches than morgues, but the morgues are fuller than the churches could ever be, and they are full of people who needed to see Jesus but didn’t because the body of Christ (the “church”) is so inwardly focused. Narcissistic. Distracted by false prophecies about big ministries. We Christians spend so much time trying to find out God’s big plan and purpose for us, because we’re convinced we’re all so incredibly awesome and equipped for big things. Have we forgotten that Jesus said even he didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and give his life for many? Give his life. Live every day for others and not himself. Christ showed us what selfless love was. If we cannot live a life of service in obscurity, we cannot consider ourselves Christ-like. We have to wonder if God is pleased with us as we devote so much of our time daily seeking our own advancements, serving others with impure motives, so that we might be somebody in our own eyes.

I wonder if there would be less broken people in the world if the church got a little uncomfortable. A little less cliquish. A little more involved in the world outside the sanctuary doors. A little less worried about having a bright sign and a steeple. A little more like Jesus. Revival isn’t a well-planned sermon in a good location with a bunch of big names. Revival is dead things coming to life. And it has to start with the church. The body of Christ has been lethargic for so long. We need to reach out as the hands and feet of Christ, with his precious lifeblood coursing through us, ministering to the world like Jesus desires us to. First Corinthians 4:20 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” Our meetings are good and beneficial to the body, but they aren’t everything. Let them serve as rest stops, and there will be some who find their calling there, but most of us will be obscure instruments who will be last here. Forgotten. Forsaken. Used. Despised. Rejected. Scorned. Broken and belittled. God, help us to endure to the end (Matt. 24:13). In whatever way God chooses to use you, in whatever situation He daily places you, be faithful, friend. One day, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt. 20:16).

Strength When the Struggle is Real

Published January 25, 2018 by Dawn

I sat here last night and wrote two or three sentences over and over, going back and erasing, writing something else. Nothing flowed because I didn’t even know where to start. A regular reader will have noticed a marked decrease in my blogging over the past two months, and I finally have a word that adequately defines why: stunned.

Like a deer hit with a high beam, I’ve felt taken off-guard. Hit hard and fast with an overwhelming barrage of things, and for a while, I didn’t want to talk about any of it because it would have been complaining and I am currently breaking up with self-pity. I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to share from a place of security and wholeness. So, let’s talk.

A little over two months ago, we took in a little boy who needed a safe place to stay for a bit. He’s six, adorable and more of a handful than I wanted to deal with. It was a God-thing, but it didn’t feel good. First lesson: our comfort is not God’s ultimate aim in life. We have to stop worshipping our comfort and refusing to do God’s will because it doesn’t feel good. Let’s just say this wisdom didn’t come immediately, but more of a chastisement. I was wallowing in my own self-pity and self-centered bitterness. Then, the Word said, “Whoever welcomes a little child in my name, welcomes me,” and immediately I was faced with this dilemma: who’s right? Me or God? I was hurting, but not right.

It’s hard to accept, with gratitude, a child who causes angst in your own children and purposefully annoys them to get their attention. A child who pees in the floor when he’s mad or upset. A child who moves like a sloth through his morning when you have to be taxi to three different schools before you head to work. A child who doesn’t do what you ask unless you watch him like a hawk, repeatedly disobeys, and is one more person not picking up after himself in a house full of people you were already frustrated with for the same reason.

This child has good qualities too, but I was so frustrated with the depth of sacrifice, I couldn’t take my eyes off the things that were causing me to choke, to give him any credit. Not only was my attitude unChrist-like, it was downright sickening. And I knew it.

Then, we added a third into what is now known as “the boys’ room,” (another thing grating on my already-hurting son), when I had to take in a short-term exchange student because they are my responsibility while they are here and this teen’s placement didn’t work out. He’s not a problem at all, but there were more sacrifices: Earlier mornings, shorter showers, less laundry days, putting on make-up in bad lighting and not having time to do my hair. Having one more person to pick up and drive all over every day. One more person eating meals and hanging the door open. My electric bill roiled my stomach!

On top of this – or maybe beneath it is how they feel – are my own two precious kids struggling with hormones, an absent father, pressure from school, pressure from teachers, pressure from friends, and needing me to console and love on them while inside, I’m kind of freaking out. When my daughter hit me with an “I miss my dad” at bedtime the other day, and all I could do was cry with her, the magnitude of how powerless I am in my life hit me hard.

Lesson two: hardships bring us closer to God, and that was why Paul gloried in them. I went to my room and prostrated myself on the stained carpet that desperately needs TLC. Inhaling dust and God-knows-what, I cried out to God because I do know that, although things seem out of control, He is absolutely still in control. I felt held.  I felt listened to as I poured out my soul. Then, I felt taught as the Holy Spirit reminded me that God’s aim in our suffering is to teach us obedience, perseverance, and all the strengthening words we need to help others in their suffering. Paul talked about being offered up on the sacrifice and service of other believers’ faith – he was talking about enduring trials so that the faith of others may be built up. His comfort, his desires, were the sacrifice. All so that others might come to really know God and His power at work on their behalf. This is such a beautiful thing.

I was also reminded that when you tell God you are ready to be used, you don’t get to pick the circumstances and it’s foolish to complain because God is answering your heart cry to be used. It just might not look like you want it to look. And it certainly never feels like you hope it will feel. God orchestrates our lives because we are His. While we are looking for miraculous and amazing things, God is in the people and places of ordinary, everyday life. So many of us will miss our moments to be used for His kingdom waiting on a stage and lights. If I refuse to be Jesus to this little boy, or this Chilean student, because they take up time that I could be holed up reading my Bible or writing, I’ve missed a divine appointment that I’ve prayed for simply because it’s not the way I envisioned my service to the Lord working out. But that’s not the will of God; it’s the will of Dawn. I set myself up as an idol.

When I thought I couldn’t possibly do another thing in surrender, God asked something else of me: I was asked to move our teen meetings at church to Sunday mornings so that the larger group of teens that attend on Sunday morning will participate in a service. I was reluctant, but I did it upon the advice and excitement of others and the peace I received in prayer. But as eleven bustling, energetic teens followed me up to our new classroom Sunday morning during the interim between worship sets, I faced my own fear: losing “my time.” Sunday morning is my time of truly pressing in to God. I mean, I have a prayer-life outside of church and my Bible and I are besties, but Sunday mornings fill me to overflowing like no other time of my week. It’s a time of release and abandon and submission. And when I close my eyes during worship, I feel alone with God and it is glorious.

I walked away from “my time” to teach a group of teens that sometimes, I feel, just want to mess around until the bell rings without really digging into the treasures God lays before us each week. Again, self-pity and bitterness sidled up next to me and cooed in my ears in patient understanding of my plight.

When I got home, I went to my room and laid my face on the dingy carpet again and told the Lord how I felt. Again, God comforted me and then reminded me of Jesus, climbing up a mountainside to pray and being followed by a couple thousand people. Or being chased by a boatload of them across the Sea of Galilee when all he wanted to do was mourn over his cousin, John. Jesus, who, of all people needed a break, stealing away for moments with God whenever the opportunity arose, but never insisting that a time be set aside specifically for him to pray. He made time of the moments in between, instead of making a god out his OCDs. Lesson four: It’s important to be filled, but God does not want you to make a god out of your set times to be with Him. He wants you to be available to minister whenever and wherever, and He promises to meet you in the in-between moments to strengthen and encourage you.

If all of this has taught me nothing else, I have learned lesson five, which is that people will drain us quickly. So many need Jesus, but they will come to us first and they will fill up on Christ through me and you. We are the first image of Jesus people see, and they will earnestly desire Him and seek Him out through us and we will pour ourselves out until there’s nothing left in the bottom of the cup. But emptiness is not God’s will in ministry. Fullness is. Springs of living water bubbling up inside of us. David said, “All my fountains are in you” (Psalms 87:7). We have to be with God in stillness and be filled. He is our source of replenishment. We need Him in order to be the hands and feet of Christ. If even Jesus needed him, how much more will we?

I can honestly say that circumstances have become so much easier, having heard these blessed truths. I can now look down into the freckled face of this six-year-old boy and see Jesus and my duty to Him. I can smile at this child without feeling the weight of the burden I thought he was. I can endure a host of students hanging out in my kitchen at eleven at night, eating my lemon meringue and stealing moments with a Chilean teen who will be leaving in a week. I can smile through the murkiness of mothering children who are experiencing inner turmoil. I can smile at God knowing that while I didn’t ask for any of this specifically, I did ask to be used and this is what it looks and feels like. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

 

My Defender

Published January 11, 2018 by Dawn

I was standing outside my office chatting with a coworker today when a loud, angry voice cut into our conversation.

“Who do you think you are?”

We both froze. Her eyes got wide and she looked anxiously over my shoulder. I turned slowly to see what she was looking at, afraid to see what was going on behind me. The voice continued to loudly, sternly explain itself to an unknown offender we neither could see. Neither of us recognized the voice, but we stood there, shamefully listening, trying to figure out who was behind the tirade less than twenty feet from us but hidden behind a wall. Finally, we identified the speaker by what he was protesting. He angrily continued, “You may talk bad about myself or my wife behind our backs and we would never know, but you will not sit in my class and talk bad about anyone in my family.”

Right after I recognized his voice, the reality of what was happening hit me so powerfully: the quietest man I know, the calmest and most level-headed man I know suddenly became one of the fiercest. He was defending his wife against an attack she most likely knew nothing about in that moment, and he had put the accusing student in his place in such a powerful way, it sent shockwaves down the hallway that affected anyone within hearing distance. It was startling and wild and beautiful.

When I got off work today, I checked the mail on my way in the house and found something there that shook me. I am susceptible to emotional tsunamis when crises hit, and my initial reaction was to run into my room, cry and call my mom for a freak-out session. I reacted like I normally do, but when I got off the phone, I immediately remembered listening to my coworker defend his wife and I realized that I, too, have a defender. I have a heavenly Husband who loves me and the Bible tells me that He confronts my enemies. He vindicates me. He destroys the work of the enemy and scatters them in all directions. I finally understand what it means for God to be our defender. You see, God is not just love. Love is an attribute of God. So is merciful, graceful, and many other wonderful things. But the Bible also says that God is just. He is jealous and He defends those who love Him.

I qualify.

The turbulent waters became immediately placid inside me. The tsunami didn’t happen this time. For the first time in forever. I finally know what it feels like to know that God is going to take what Satan purposes for evil and turn it around for my good. I know what the face of a defender looks like. I know what the voice of a defender sounds like. And I know that the enemy trembles when a Husband stands up for His bride. For the first time in my life, I feel secure leaving all of life’s triviality in God’s hands. I pray the Holy Spirit reveals this wisdom to you in such a powerful way, you come to truly understand what it means to be defended by our heavenly King.  He loves us fiercely, and defends us even more so.

 

For the Hopeless

Published December 20, 2017 by Dawn

“Jesus wept.”

His dusty feet were following the mournful cries of Lazarus’ family and friends along a winding path to the outskirts of town. He heard their accusing whispers. “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” His heart broke. For them, not for himself, because he knew what was to come. His heart broke for them, who saw every sign of ending and loss and watched every bit of hope be wrapped up in grave clothes and laid to rest days ago.

Mary and Martha had sent word, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus had seemed passive about it then. “This sickness will not end in death. It is for God’s glory, so that God may be glorified through it.” Yet here they stood, next to their crying Friend, overcome with grief that death had once again triumphed. Lazarus was gone.

I want you to understand something, friend. It wasn’t that God had failed them in that moment. Their perspective was limited to what they knew. They knew sickness led to death. They knew death was a finale, not an interim. They knew Lazarus had breathed his last, was in the grave and experience told them his body would stay there. They had never experienced an act of God so great, so logic-defying, that they could hope in something more in that moment.

Jesus cried because he saw their despair. Their utter hopelessness. Their devastation. They knew what he was capable of and in that moment, they were disappointed in him. Lazarus’ friends and families had all the faith in the world that Jesus could have saved him from death. In their hearts, Jesus had disappointed them.

Jesus knew death was not the final curtain. He knew Lazarus had an encore. He restrained his power so that God could bring Himself a greater glory out of the situation. He allowed his best friend to die. He understood their grief as they poured it out at his feet. He understood their unasked pleas: “Why weren’t you here, Lord? Why did you allow this? You are able to change this situation. We do not doubt your ability.”

But then death came, and like a massive earthquake, it shattered hope and toppled their faith. It shook everything that could be shaken and exposed the weaknesses of every structure that wasn’t built on the solid foundation of God. In the wake of such agony and inner destruction, Lazarus’ friends looked at Jesus and wondered that he could stand by without uttering a word, without panic or fear, with seeming indifference, while their hearts were torn from the loss.

“This sickness will not end in death.” But it had.

Until Jesus prayed.

He wept while he climbed the hill to the sepulcher. Then he stood there at the stone-covered entrance, gave one last look at the hopeless faces around him and raised his eyes Heavenward. He prayed, not for his own benefit, but so that those around him would know and understand the connection Jesus had to God. The immediate, powerful, life-changing connection of the Son talking to his Abba Daddy. “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

The sickness, the death and decay, the days of mourning, it all happened so that they might truly believe. Which means one thing: they didn’t yet.

Mary and Martha spoke to Jesus about their faith. They knew he could have healed Lazarus and they affirmed their belief in his ability to do so, but then death came and their faith seemed useless. They did not believe that Jesus’ ability to heal Lazarus transcended the grave. Not because their faith was weak, but because it was only so big. Their faith had grown naturally to include all that made sense based on their experience. But this new experience was beyond their ability to believe. No one had ever been raised from the dead, so how were they to know it could ever happen? It was a preposterous thought!

Until He spoke.

“Lazarus, come forth!”

When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave clothes but very much alive, those standing around watching in despair were raised to a new level in faith. As they walked home with Lazarus, laughing and rejoicing to have him back, they knew Jesus differently. They had hoped in him before, but now they KNEW him. There was nothing in life, not even death, that would cause them to distrust Christ again. Their faith was solidified. Rock solid on a foundation that cannot ever be destroyed. A little while later, as they watched him on the cross, this was the group that knew he could rise up. Knew that he would rise up. They had seen his power manifest in the impossible. Nothing could stop what God had ordained. Nothing.

There’s probably something in your life that is dead or dying. A hope that is dim and fading fast. A hope that has been dead a while, or even a hope you intentionally buried to keep it from hurting you. You don’t know how to believe because you have cried out to God and it seems like He is indifferent. He’s quiet. He hasn’t shown up in your time of despair. It’s tempting to give in to it. I get it. I’m there too. I sat down to read my Bible and this story wouldn’t let go of me. Jesus disappointed his friends the same way God seems to be disappointing you and I right now. We’re crying out, “God, why?”

His glory.

If we hold on long enough, God will do something. It might be after all our natural understanding lies broken all around us. It might be well after we have abandoned all hope. It might be when absolutely nothing makes sense. That might just be the place God is taking us to. Our faith can’t grow if we are still only experiencing things we’ve experienced before. But it can grow. It just might hurt a little. Something might die. It might feel like its us. When you’re there, friend, crying out with what little strength you have left, and it sounds like you are screaming in an echo chamber because your prayers are coming back to you unanswered, I want you to hold on to two things: Jesus wept and Jesus prayed.

He understands our pain and suffering. He understands our despair and the inner turmoil we feel. He sees the restraint of God and he feels for us. He is our advocate and as he sits on the right hand of God, he looks down with love and weeps. We are His. He loves us. He didn’t die for nothing. He died for us. He prevailed over death, hell and the grave to have us. He loves us tremendously and we matter to him. So in our pain, he weeps with us.

If that isn’t comfort enough, know this: He’s speaking to the Father on our behalf. He sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Our cries reach his ears and he turns to the Creator of All Things and mentions them with a trembling voice and tears in his eyes. When God restrains himself, He is growing our faith. He is taking us to a new level, spiritually speaking. Our fleshly hope will be turned into a knowing that we know, because God will do something supernatural and beyond comprehension.

We have this hope and an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19).

 

Godly Parenting

Published November 13, 2017 by Dawn

My fifteen-year-old daughter is a parent’s dream. Yes, I’m bragging. I’m super proud of her in so many ways, not the least of which is the fact that she is a naturally responsible, obedient young woman. But this week, it happened. She finally found herself up against a rule I set for her many years ago. She is not allowed to date until she is sixteen.

Here’s the short of it: She’s fifteen and has a few crushes. She’s really nervous because she’s afraid that this one guy might ask her out before she’s sixteen and when she tells him she can’t date yet, he’ll move on! In utter turmoil, she came to me and asked me to modify the rules so she doesn’t miss this opportunity, should it arise. She was kind of frantic about it, insisting that I explain to her once again why we even have this rule, in hopes that she might be able to poke holes in my logic (she was born to be a lawyer).

I went through it all:

  • Dating is something you do to find someone to marry. Are you ready for marriage?
  • Do you know if he’s a Christian? Why waste time on something that God will not purpose in your life?
  • In the heat of emotion, it’s easy to make decisions based on feelings instead of obedience to God and even more so for people just starting out in their walk with the Lord.
  • Any good relationship is built on a friendship and you can’t even talk to him like a normal person!

These are just a few of the many things we discussed and even though she argued like a pro, there was no poking holes because I, too, was born to argue.

I got the cold shoulder for two days.

I went to my room early the second night to pray and seek God’s wisdom in the matter, because I felt very strongly that this was a good boundary for my kids, and as such, was not budging in it. In my prayer time, the Lord reminded me that the parent’s role in a child’s life is to mirror the relationship of God’s role in all of our lives. Parents love their children unconditionally, care for them, protect them, guide them, discipline them and all of this prepares kids for that day when they become accountable to God alone.

At some point in a person’s younger years, he or she realizes that rules can either be followed or broken. Before that pivotal moment, if his or her authority figure spoke, it was gospel and followed no matter what. Then, an awakening happens. The natural, rebellious self awakens to the temptation of self-will, and that kiddo will struggle against the obedience that is good in favor of whatever their young heart truly desires. So, in my daughter’s case, as in every person’s case at some point, it was bound to happen. Temptation entered the picture in the form of self-will, clouded with emotion and child-like (shortsighted) reasoning.

The Lord also reminded me of the two aspects of God’s will – the permissive will and the perfect will. God understands rebellion. It’s been breaking his heart for thousands of years. Thankfully, though, he knows how we were formed and remembers that we are just dust (Ps. 103:14). His perfect will is the life he envisioned for us when he lovingly crafted us in the secret place. All the wonderful gifts he planned for our enjoyment, the path he desired us to walk in life. The Eden we ruin with our self-will, more often than not. In that moment, we enter into the permissive will of God, in which he permits us to wallow in the mud we so desire, then works all things in conformity to his will. We make choices despite his wishes and our lives are marred and broken thereafter, but God lovingly picks up all the pieces and makes a new masterpiece, if we will let him.

One thing God never does, though, is move the boundary stones to appease our soulful desires. He has set standards before us and guides us through them if we let him, but when we disobey him, it is with an understanding that we have chosen something lesser to gratify our human nature and exchanged his perfect will for his permissive will. Beg as we might, God has already chosen what is good in his sight and he knows that, while we might not see it for the good that it is right now, if we persist in obedience to him, we will one day understand why he set those boundaries.

I explained all of this to her, knowing that in her heart, she has accepted God as her father. I explained that obedience and disobedience are acts of our will, but that God doesn’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, but provides a way out from under it so that we won’t fall (1 Cor. 10:13). That if we truly want his perfect will, there’s a cost we will pay and that cost includes instant gratification, ridicule, and losing opportunities that look good to us. But, I also reminded her, that “eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, the things God has prepared for those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (1 Cor. 2:9). Her father has crafted something precious, a treasure for her, that if she walks in obedience to him, she will experience in this life.

These two things, I firmly believe:

  1. We teach our kids how to obey God by teaching them how to obey us. When we move boundaries in response to their duress over them, we teach our children that they can haggle with God. But God doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t lower standards just because we find them impossible to accept or live with. He strengthens us in our weakness, but he doesn’t change in response to our angst.
  2. Our children will obey God the same way they obey us. Just as our relationship with them is an example of God’s love and devotion to them, their relationship with us is a reflection of their relationship with God. How they obey us is how they will obey him.

It is important for parents to make standards for their children, express them and be unmoving in their authority. It’s very counter-culture but that is what we Christians were called to be anyway. “Come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). Our homes should not be governed according to the latest Psychology trend, they should be governed by the Word of God. Our kids should know our standards and we, as parents, should be aware that at any given moment, our kids’ self-wills might dictate their decisions. But we don’t have to move boundary stones to appease them, because when we do, we subjugate our authority and our kids suddenly feel they are the rulers of the household. I work in a high school and I hear students laughing at their parents all the time because they have caved to tyranny.

Let your kids know that when they act in disobedience, they do so in defiance. Don’t change the rules just so they play nice. Remember the saying, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”? Your kids will not respect you for caving to their demands. They’ll just be more persistent in future demands.

I took my daughter to the Bible and read her two scriptures in Proverbs. Chapter 22, verse 28, says, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.” Why is this wisdom for parental discipline? Because we make rules based on our understanding of their age, the trouble they might get into, the trouble we got into and our knowledge of their childish tendencies. We also base our rules on the presumed actions and reactions of others. We use wisdom they don’t have yet because people do not become fully rational, reasoning human beings until they are 25, according to modern scientific research. I also read her Proverbs 23:10, which says, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless.”  I pointed out that sometimes, our disobedience to the will of God has consequences that encroach on the field of those around us. Consequences are far-reaching, like the ripples after a stone is thrown into a lake. You can’t stop the ripples. They die out on their own and you can never tell how far they might travel across the surface. If we walk in obedience to God, we are comforted knowing that he is working on something so complex that involves everyone around us, without hurting anyone. The pain comes because we disobey and hurt ourselves, and sometimes, people we dearly love.

In concluding, I would like to add one thought: if we are going to discipline our children in such a way as to prepare them for God’s boundaries and discipline, we must also show them love like God does. We must continuously forgive – graciously, and not with gritted teeth. We must discuss our actions and reactions with them – the why – so they will not be disheartened when obedience is a sacrifice. We must pray with and for them. Our kids have to feel secure enough in our love and affection for them, to fail our expectations and still be willing to climb up into our laps for comfort. This is perhaps one of the greatest aspects of God’s love and forbearance and as parents, we must guide them into that confidence. The hand that hurts is also the hand that heals, in our walks with the Lord. Let it also be true in our relationships with our kiddos.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).