Has it ever occurred to you that nothing occurs to God?
– Adrian Rogers
Has it ever occurred to you that nothing occurs to God?
– Adrian Rogers
Since love grows within you, so beauty grows.
For love is the beauty of the soul.
When you wake up in the middle of the night worried about how to cast a ballot you don’t have in a country you don’t live in you don’t have a problem; you have motivation to change.
There’s being a responsible citizen and there’s being an over-responsible citizen. As I child I felt like I carried responsibility for financial fiascos and relationship problems that were way out of my purview. I became hyper-vigilant – in other words fearful. I have been on a journey to freedom from being motivated by that kind of fear.
This week is a reminder that I have a way to go yet.
I see what’s happening here as people (like me) are desperate to have some sort of control over a situation that appears to be rapidly spiraling out of control. It reminds me of a loud argument between angry grown-ups going on in another room. The outcome of this argument could greatly affect the lives of everyone around them, but the grown-ups are not listening to anyone else. They are only reacting to each other.
It took a while but I have I learned that I am not helpless in situations like this. I can talk to God and know that even if people in positions of authority are not there for me, or even remember that I exist, He notices. He cares. He promises he will never stop loving. He says he will never leave or forsake me. He lets me rest on his lap and put my head on his chest and go to sleep in his arms with calm assurance that He is in charge.
The fear that comes in the night is not from him. He gives songs of joy in the night. He gives peace that is hard to understand because it is not subject to manipulation by people with agendas.
He’s not worried. Nations make their plans. God laughs.
You are wondering: What has provoked the nations to embrace anger and chaos?
Why are the people making plans to pursue their own vacant and empty greatness?
Leaders of nations stand united;
rulers put their heads together,
plotting against the Eternal One and His Anointed King, trying to figure out how they can throw off the gentle reign of God’s love,
step out from under the restrictions of His claims to advance their own schemes.
At first, the Power of heaven laughs at their silliness.
The Eternal mocks their ignorant selfishness.
But His laughter turns to rage, and He rebukes them.
As God displays His righteous anger, they begin to know the meaning of fear. He says,
“I am the One who appointed My king who reigns from Zion, My mount of holiness.
He is the one in charge.”
But blessings await all who trust in Him.
They will find God a gentle refuge. (from Psalm 2: 1-7 The Voice)
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Twice this week I heard this question: What makes you angry?
Both times the men posing the question suggested paying attention to the circumstances that raise a flood of righteous indignation.
“It could be a clue to your calling.”
I didn’t have to think long. What makes me angry? When the cries of the victims of injustice, when the wounds of the abused, when the silent tears of those imprisoned in mental anguish or in circumstances they cannot control are ignored or downplayed by people who have the capacity to help. When people who brag about leading a loving community misuse their power by exploiting their charges I am livid.
Recently I read a rant by a popular writer who can obviously relate to my anger. He blasted away at hypocrisy and corruption and cover up within the institutional church.
“Wow, Lord! This is good. I totally agree. This guy is absolutely right.”
God’s still small voice response shook me.
“So was Absalom.”
“Absalom? The son who rebelled against his father the king?” I asked.
“Beware the man who calls out to victims of injustice to follow him saying, ‘If I were in charge…’”
I re-read the story of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13 to 18.
Absalom was right about injustice and corruption being covered up within the kingdom. He had first-hand knowledge of this. The prophet Nathan exposed King David’s crime of taking what was not his – Bathsheba, the daughter of one of his valiant friends and the wife of Uriah, who was out fighting for him. It couldn’t have been easy for a faithful servant to tell the king that his decision to cover up his sin by committing a greater one, arranging Uriah’s murder, would have serious consequences in his family for a very long time.
Later David’s eldest son, Amnon, also abused his power when he took what was not his. He raped his half-sister, Tamar, Absalom’s full sister. David was very angry, but he did nothing that gave the appearance of justice being done on behalf of his daughter.
Some say David couldn’t act because Amnon and his cousin/adviser made sure there were no witnesses, and in those days, and often in these, a mere woman’s testimony was not enough. Some suggest David did not take action because he was still in the throes of depression over his own sin. Some pose that Amnon, as first-born, was in a position of privilege, and even though God continually broke the expectations of society by choosing a younger son for a task, David was still intimidated by primogeniture culture (the eldest son inherits everything) – and because Amnon was still his boy.
Maybe David hoped that if he ignored it someday the whole thing would just go away.
It didn’t go away. It became worse. Absalom took things into his own hands. He arranged for Amnon’s murder. Then he fled.
David mourned for two sons.
The story of David and Absalom’s uncomfortable estrangement and later reconciliation is told in 2 Samuel 14. By this time Absalom was a full-fledged manipulator. He used appearance, charm, popularity, intimidation – whatever it took to move himself toward a position of power. He sat at the gate and listened to people’s complaints of unjust treatment, something the king had apparently been failing to do. Injustice was piling up like garbage in the dark corners of Jerusalem. The failure of authorities to listen to the common people and deal with injustice is fuel for rebellion. How many times is this lesson repeated in history?
Absalom began to build an army of malcontents.
But wait? Didn’t David do the same after he fled from Saul? He did, but there was a difference. Although he wailed loud and long about unjust treatment, David never took justice into his own hands. He would not touch God’s anointed. He honoured the office, even when King Saul was reduced to a dangerously unbalanced giant wounded ego. David knew he was more popular. He could have made a bid for the hearts of the people to back him up in military take-over. But he waited for God to hand him the scepter. He honoured the king who was trying to kill him.
Absalom couldn’t wait. Absalom dishonoured the king who disappointed him. Absalom led a rebellion. Absalom publicly shamed the women in David’s household. Absalom died. He fell victim to his own symbol of beauty and by the hand of the man who once took up his cause.
I can relate to the popular writer who is dismayed by the lack of love or fairness and the willingness to hide corruption in churches. I haven’t been in a place where I felt unsafe in years but I know from the past what it is like to see women and children’s stories of abuse dismissed or “re-framed.”
I have seen a pastor badger a woman on staff of a Christian organization to confess her part in seducing the elder who raped her violently, even though she had been beaten. She lost her job. There were no serious consequences for the man.
I have hidden victims of incest in my home who were coerced to change their stories because they were told it would be their fault if the family broke up and the step-father was subject to ridicule or prosecution.
I have seen men falsely accused by bitter ex-wives who knew how to garner sympathy but neglected the children kept away from their daddies.
I have seen men on the verge of bankruptcy because another member of the congregation cheated them out of weeks of wages – and nothing happened to the thief.
I have seen teenagers thrown out of the house when they told a someone they were gay or that they had an abortion.
I have seen people become slaves to cult leaders with bad, bad, bad theology who prey on spiritual vulnerability and need for acceptance.
I know what it is to cry myself and not be heard, and I know what it is to be loved, healed and restored by people who cared.
But I’ve also known the horror of feeling I had to betray a friend’s confidence because she chose to protect her husband’s reputation over her child’s sexual safety. I know the utter agony and extreme pain of hearing someone I cared deeply about screaming that I had ruined her life as the police took him away. All these years later I cry just thinking about it.
As a teacher, foster mother, and friend I have heard stories that make me want to cover my ears and scream, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!! Shut up! Just shut up! Shut up because now I am obliged to do something about it and I know how this goes!” But I listen and I act. I understand how the prophet Nathan must have felt.
I know it is worse to leave the garbage festering where the next generations play than to deal with unpleasantness. Hidden corruption in the church is threatening our ability to live and breathe and unite in trust and love for each other. God is exposing it for a reason – love.
I can relate to the popular writer’s rants, and I can relate to the pastors and staff who don’t want to know because taking proper measures might cause years of building to crumble. In the end, as painful as it is, we must stand up to protect vulnerable lambs in the flock while still seeking rehabilitation and restitution for offenders.
I also know the sickly sweet voice of the enemy entreating, “Are you angry? I can help you with that.”
And I hear a warning from Abba, my heavenly Father, “There is a higher way. Do not take justice into your own hands. Do not join up with an army of angry, invalidated unheard victims as a force for reform. Unless you are part of the process of honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration you are not working for the kingdom. You are working for yourself. And that never ends well.”
The entire population of the earth, with one very small exception, is comprised of others.
– John Paul Jackson
This is crazy, but it’s true. You know it is. Sometimes the same people who demand that you change are the ones who erect fences around you when you try to change. With their mouths they say “Change!” but with their actions they say, “Change back!”
This is the biggest reason prophets are not welcome in their own towns.
Sometimes this is the reason young adults move to distant cities, why marriages break up when one partner replaces unhealthy habits with better choices, why promotions skip over the person who is actively trying to prove they are more diligent than they used to be, and why people who are are growing spiritually find they need to leave their old church before they can walk that out.
They are all surrounded by those who demand change but don’t make room for it.
Change is messy. Most people want order and predictability in their relationships. Say, for example, people are used to Molly showing up late, so they tell her the meeting starts at 7 o’clock. When Molly shows up at seven for an event that actually starts at eight, it’s embarrassingly inconvenient. How dare she change?
I did something like this to my husband. As long as I have known him he has ordered his steak well-done. Very well done. We have family jokes about burnt offerings and bovine charcoal on a plate. When we were at a friend’s house for a barbecue I told the grill master my man liked his steak on the edge of charred. I didn’t feel I needed to ask first; I had observed his taste for years ( although steak’s appearance on our menu is an increasingly rare event).
When the platter of steaks arrived at the table my husband said, “I would like the rare T-bone please.” The look of horror on the host’s face as he saw his rare steak land on another person’s plate broke my heart. The exchange of glances between the cook and I, when we realized one of us would have to take the black thing was almost a moment for tears. He felt like he just wasted an expensive cut and I felt betrayed and embarrassed.
The discussion in the car on the way home was the kind of loud one that occurs between couples on the brink of a course change. (I gave up the opinion-less “submissive wife” thing a decade before when I realized it nearly killed me – and our marriage.) His final point (which I did listen to) was, “I am trying to change, but you won’t let me. You think you know me so well and make jokes about my ways but when I try to change you want me to change back so you don’t have to adjust.”
Ouch. But he was right.
How we relate to teenagers is also a good test of how we make room for change. The primary job of adolescents is to discover who they are. Adolescents are frustratingly self-centered because they are supposed to be; they have a job to do – work on themselves. A conciliatory, conforming, unquestioning teenager is merely delaying the process. (I didn’t go through adolescent defining of myself until my thirties – at the same time as my kids. Awkward moments abounded.)
Since a teenager doesn’t yet know who they are they are constantly trying on new roles and personas to see what fits. The only thing they know for sure is that they are not their parents. If you are the parent of a teen in transition hold your most valuable ideals close to your chest because everything is subject to sifting in this process. More than one mother has heard herself say, “I don’t know who you are anymore!” Neither do they.
Our job in leading teens is to set safe, healthy boundaries while providing latitude and unlimited love at the same time -like God does. (No one said it was easy.)
A person growing into their identity in Christ is in a transition phase his or her whole life. Ideas developed in times of selfishness, or fear, or unempowered self-sacrifice, or zealous idealism based on faulty foundations need adjustment. Pride can get in the way of transformation, but, alas, so can the people who know you best. Friends, neighbours, colleagues, relatives, and bosses make their plans based on assumptions that some things, however annoying, are at least consistent .
When Jesus showed up in his home town after stepping into his full identity as the Son of God with demonstrations of power his former neighbours were shocked. Perhaps they also felt embarrassed or betrayed or even disoriented by his unexpected behaviour.
“He [Jesus] came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’
And they took offense at Him.
But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’
And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:53-58 NASB)
“Is this not the carpenter’s son?” Oh, the burden that one phrase carries.
Is this not the son of the guy who sued everyone in town?
Is this not the daughter of the young mother who dropped out of school at 15?
Is this not the one who is always late?
Is this not the quiet submissive wife who never speaks up?
Is this not the Sunday School teacher who bores everyone to death?
Is this not the crazy guy who lives for the weekend keg party?
Is this not the critical church elder who disapproves of everyone and everything?
Is this not the whining woman who always has something wrong with her?
Is this not the well-known TV evangelist with the iffy theology?
Is this not the son of our enemy?”
“Don’t mess with us! If you change we will have to change. Our opinions painstakingly formed over time will be invalid. Change back!”
If you are seeking to hear the Holy Spirit as he shows you the way the Father sees you, if you are changing as a result of allowing the way you think to be transformed to align with the mind of Christ, don’t be surprised if the folks who were once your greatest supporters are not thrilled at first. Change in you requires change in them. It’s uncomfortable.
If you are encouraging others to step into their destinies give them room to grow. Be flexible. Rejoice with them, especially if they surpass your own progress. They are the new agents of grace in your life and you are now subject to change.
“We must learn to live on the heavenly side and look at things from above, to contemplate all things as God sees them, as Christ beholds them, overcomes sin, defies Satan, dissolves perplexities, lifts us above trials, separates us from the world and conquers fear of death.”
– A.B. Simpson
It’s easy to see sin, satanic influence, perplexities, and trial after trial. It’s easy to listen to the voices pointing out that we are not taking threats seriously enough, that we need to listen to the world’s point of view and ramp up the fear motivation.
It’s easy to respond to suggestions with “The problem with that is...” It’s easy to look for escape routes and to distract ourselves with entertainment or bury ourselves in denial.
It’s easy when that’s the way we’ve always responded.
And how is that working for us?
What does God want to do instead?
Jesus lives to intercede for us. He never stops. How is he praying? What is his perspective? How can we join in his plans? How do we access the provision of joy he has set aside for us?
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
(Psalm 24:7,8 ESV)
It’s raining. Again.
This may be the coolest, wettest July I have experienced in years. Our grandchildren are here and we have not been able to hike or go to the beach even once. The sun comes out and by the time we get our act together it’s raining again.
Now when you live in the middle of thousands of hectares of fuel in the form of forest summer rains are usually welcome – except when you want to go to the beach with the kids. This is unseasonable. Different.
This morning I read about an explanation of the Greek words of a phrase in Romans 5:20 – “but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” The tense here means sin that is continually increasing. It also means grace that is continually increasing exponentially more.
Grace upon grace upon grace…
This has been a week where we have seen sin increase. Shootings, riots, the murder of innocents, the fall of trusted leaders, the exposure of faulty foundations, division, exploitation, panic…
It’s horrible actually. To all appearances sin is increasing and there is nothing we can do about it except (as some propose) to await for for evil to gain so much control over the world that God will zap his people off the planet and leave the rest to their own devices.
The good news is: grace is also increasing – faster and bigger. He has plans for our good. He is not defeated.
(And no. I do not define grace as license to sin so let’s just get that out of the way right now. Grace is the means by which we are changed to become fully who God intended us to be.)
I asked the Lord (trying not to use my pouty voice), “What’s with all this unseasonable rain? At the moment it is so loud on the roof it’s drowning out our conversation about how terrible the news is today.”
Then I hear a line from a song:
“Hallelujah! Grace like rain falling down on me…”
Thank you, Lord! Grace in abundance like showers that keep coming and coming and coming is available when sin in abundance keeps coming. But grace is greater. Greater than evil. Greater than despair. Greater than pain and loss. Grace that is greater than all our sin.
When we are tempted to return hate for hate grace enables us to return good for evil. The fruit of the Spirit has to be a supernatural response from heaven or it is merely more human effort. And seriously, how have our own efforts been working for us in this season?
It’s time to turn from our own methods, access the grace for change that flows from the throne of God. It’s time to see the salvation of our God. This is the season of abundant rain.
God has more for us than we can ask or even think.