God Loves You in Your Sorrow

Grief and hardship come to us all.

The heartache you and I face helps put comparatively minor circumstances into perspective. I have friends and relatives who are suffering, those who now have an empty place in their lives due to the loss of a spouse or loved one. There are others who are waiting—waiting for a job, waiting for news concerning their health, or waiting for a son, daughter, spouse, or sibling to return safely to them.

Grief is something all of us will face at some point or another. While nobody in my family has passed on this year, I have experienced some losses and have been reminded of the shortness of life. A few months ago, I lost a dear friend to cancer. She used to tell people that I was her special friend. Not only did we attend church together, we seemed to understand each other. We laughed at many of the same things, enjoyed coffee together, and her sweet spirit helped sustain me through some rough spots. But now she is in the arms of Jesus. I imagine she is happy in the extreme to be with the One she loves so dearly. Three more friends have also left this earth since then, all of them Christ-followers, all of them showing evidence of that fact. I am happy for them, but I grieve also—mainly for their spouses, children, and other family they left behind.

Two other friends face serious health issues. One has had a stroke and at a rather young age (I consider late fifties “young”). She made it to church after 8 months of absence. Another was awaiting a heart transplant when I originally wrote this. Just a few days ago, he got the call, and has successfully received a lung. He is doing well, but has a long road of recovery ahead.

Yet another friend surprised me when I saw him at church one Sunday morning, and he told me he had resigned his pastorate. He has no prospects right now, but made this decision, he told me because “it was time to leave.” I sensed his hurt even though he knows he is following God’s direction.

Hardships and struggle come to us all. This is an imperfect world, and we will face tragedy, loss of jobs, health issues, and a myriad of other disappointments.

Does this mean we have done something to displease God? Does it mean He is punishing us or is mad at us? Perhaps we even question if He still loves us.

I do not believe God is mad at you or that you have displeased Him. Yes, we can be disobedient but as a Christian, Christ has done all that is needed to please the Father and He is not punishing you. Realize that Christ suffered the punishment for our sins. Disciplining? Perhaps. Remember that discipline can just be redirecting, giving a different perspective, or leading you to repentance, but realize that He continues to love you.

If you are suffering or grieving or struggling or fighting an impossible battle, realize you may be doing just as God wants. Don’t believe me? Allow me to point to Job who God said  was a righteous man (Job 1:1). As a result of his righteousness, he suffered terrible losses. God also told Job’s friends they were wrong in their criticism of him. He told them to ask Job to pray for them and He would accept Job’s prayer (Job 42:8).

While I cannot answer your big questions in time of heartache or tragedy, I will suggest what God may want from you. He may just want to draw you close as He invites you to sit with Him. (He has a HUGE lap.)He may want to take your worries, exhaustion, and nightmarish circumstances upon Himself. Perhaps He just wants to love on and comfort you. The Bible says that He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1) who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we in turn can comfort others.

Take a moment today to ask God for His comfort, for His direction in whatever situation you face. And do not isolate yourself from others who want to comfort you.

When God comforts you, try to find someone who needs comfort, and pass what God has give you onto them. It may take time to be able to do this, but eventually, through your own sorrow, through your own tears, you will be able to see the needs of another.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

 

 

 

Remembering

In case you don’t realize it, this can be a busy season! In all the rush we may feel a little lost and wonder what happened to the “true meaning” of Christmas. Many have found ways to keep Christ in Christmas such as celebrating advent, attending a Christmas Eve service, reading the Christmas story with family or friends, and I’m sure many of you have your own traditions.

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Well, guess what. I want to help you out too. Because I believe this is of utmost importance to our joy: remembering what God has done for us and becoming a thankful person. We can always, anytime, no matter what is going on, thank and praise God. Take time during this season to sit down and read a psalm aloud to Him (yes read to Him) such as Psalm 30, Psalm 27, or Psalm 100. Spend time just being with your Lord.

I know this season can also be a sorrowful time for many. While it is a popular misconception that suicide rates go up around Christmastime, a significant number of people do face the “holiday blues.” So as we get our preparations underway, let’s be aware that the people around us may be lonely or have horrible memories of Christmases past or may have experienced a tragedy in recent days.  Perhaps we can reach out to someone who seems a little down and of course, we can do the most powerful thing possible and pray for them.

I am praying that you, my reader, will experience the joy this season can bring, along with the excitement and the wonder of it. Because no matter what we have been through in the past, what we are facing right now, or how lonely we may feel, we can still experience joy—a deep-rooted joy that can remain with us all year.

I’m sure some of you have already seen this video (link below), but in case you haven’t, I hope you will watch and remember all that Christ has done for you. He loves you so very much.

Peace in Him.

 

Brought to Him in Shame

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Have you ever been publicly embarrassed either by your own actions or the actions of others? Ever been ridiculed? Ever wanted to defend yourself from accusations that may or may not have been true? If you have, you may understand the feelings of the woman I want to talk about today—the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11)

As we slip onto the dusty streets of Jerusalem, we see her surrounded by a group of men. They seem very smug, and her eyes are on the ground. I try to imagine how she feels as the Pharisees and teachers of the law force her to come with them. Perhaps they give her a shove, watch her stumble, and roughly pull her back to her feet. She is completely vulnerable to their whims. It’s hard to tell from our vantage point, but did they even allow her to get dressed before they hauled her out into the streets? They will tell Jesus she was caught “in the very act” so it seems likely that she may not even be clothed. Can you sense her fear, her trepidation, or perhaps the anger as she takes one step closer to more humiliation? It must seem like a long walk especially in the midst of these men who—probably unknown to her—only want to use her to entrap the teacher Jesus.

They at last bring her to a halt. She looks up from the ground and sees she is at the Temple.  And there is the teacher Jesus. A man who has caused all kinds of furor surrounded by a crowd. Not a small crowd either, not by any means, and they force her to stand in front of them.

The Bible does not say anything about the woman’s emotional reaction but at this point, her heart must be pounding. She can probably hear the blood as it pulses in her ears.

The men approach Jesus as he teaches. They ask Him what to do with this woman, inform him of what she was caught doing. He doesn’t answer right away, but starts writing in the dirt. So they keep questioning him. He finally stands, gives them an answer which they probably don’t quite comprehend at first, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus then bends down to write in the dirt again. The woman waits. Does she think about his words “let he who is without sin…”? Does Jesus somehow know that many of these men have sinned with her or with other women she knows? Does he know that the man with whom she was “caught in the very act” is among these accusers? As His words begin to sink in, she hears a solid thump as something heavy falls to the earth, hears more, a steady rain as the older men leave. The younger stay longer, grow uneasy. But one by one they leave. All of them. When she glances up, she sees stones scattered around her where the men once stood.

And he sees them too—the stones lying impotent on the ground with no one to cast them. He then asks her two questions. “Woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Lord.”

And He answers, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

We like to think this passage depicts Jesus as a completely nonjudgmental person who does away with the old Levitical law, and gives the woman a “get out of jail free” card. You broke the law, but hey everyone sins so those men, they just need to go easy on you. “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of thing. Well, not quite. While this is indeed a sweet story of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy, there were a few things going on that we might not see with a surface reading. The following may seem a tad technical but I ask you to keep reading.

First of all, the Levitical law stated that both the man and woman were to be brought forward. So where was the man? It is truly not inconceivable that the man whom she had been caught with was among the accusers (as I alluded to above). And others of them were not just guilty of sin in general, but were probably guilty of the same ongoing sin, the sin of adultery. And Jesus knew it. This pricked their guilty consciences, and they left with the tables turned on them, “intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their sexual indiscretions.”

Secondly, when Jesus saw that her accusers were gone, He asked her what could be considered a legal question. The Law of Moses stated there had to be at least two witnesses to the offense so he verified their absence by asking “woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?” and she confirmed “no one, Lord.” She therefore, under the Law could not be punished for her sin. No witnesses, no execution.

Third lesson: we often gloss over the statement in which Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you…” Oh good, Jesus doesn’t condemn me for a-n-y-thing! I can live as I want and Jesus will still love me. Well, yes, He will still love you, but the next part of that statement puts her actions as well as ours in a different light. He tells her “go and sin no more.” In today’s vernacular, He might be saying something like, “Stay away from that mess. It will only get you in more trouble.” Jesus showed His love to this woman in two ways: by not condemning her, and by telling her to stop sinning. Jesus does not want us to stay in our sin. It is not good for us. It is not harmless. It is not something we can “handle”. He loves us too much to let us bear its weight alone.

And while we need to be careful about not “casting the first stone”, Christ did not mean we should not confront another when they are in a continued pattern of sinful behavior. He often confronted the Pharisees and other religious leaders, calling them some pretty unflattering names. He also gave us permission to help pull the speck out of our brother’s eye, once we had removed the log from our own eye (Matthew 7:5), and Galatians 6:1 teaches that the spiritual believer is to help restore those who have wandered from the faith.

While I’m glad this story is popular, it is an example of how the Bible can be misconstrued. God forgives, He does not wish to condemn. But (and this is a big but) He does not want us to keep on sinning.

Please hear me. God loves us enough to accept us and love us as we are. But He also loves us enough to help us out of the mess we are in.

My prayer is that we would learn to accept the gentle (and maybe not so gentle) rebukes from the Holy Spirit and from God’s word when we have strayed.  I also pray that we would learn how to restore other believers when they are caught up in sin. Of course, we need to be careful in the manner we do this. The Pharisees and teachers of the law give us a good example of how not to handle this responsibility. They seemed to enjoy lording the woman’s sin over her. To not only take her through the streets, but also to make her stand in front of the huge crowd gathering around Jesus must have taken a patent heartlessness (John 8:3). Let us not be like them in our actions or in our minds, but rather restore with a gentle spirit as the Bible teaches, “keeping a watch on ourselves.” (Galatians 6:1 ESV)

Quotations as well as background information are from:  http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1277

A Path to True Love

Shame cast a deathlike shadow over the young girl. Not only because of the abuse that had happened so long ago, but her shame arrived almost daily as a result of others’ mocking cruelty and learning that whatever she did somehow fell short of expectations. This shadow clung to her even as she grew into a young woman. Perhaps she could at least try to do things better, couldn’t she? Then others would be pleased and like her more. If those around her were pleased with her surely she would feel better, feel that she was more valuable.

But that did not work.

No matter how hard she tried, it seemed as though she was never pleasing to most people, never made those around her happy, and the anger she often drew from them became overwhelming. And her own anger for which she also felt great shame became secretly entombed. At least for a time.

So she became more reclusive.

Surely if she just kept quiet, no one would be displeased with her. Perhaps they would not even notice her. Even if they ignored her at least they would not hate her, would not become so easily angered with her. And maybe that would be okay.

But that did not work either.

If anything people seemed to become even angrier, more displeased. So she found it easier and easier to lie, to be deceitful about things she had done, to keep secrets, and to do all she could to avoid the blame others wanted to pin on her. Her own anger had a way of working its way to the surface at odd times. Rage turned outward, but also turned inward.

Can you identify with this young woman’s shame and guilt? While this is not the story of my life I certainly can identify.

Have you ever felt overwhelming fear of others and their anger, maybe even a fear of your own anger? I have.

Shame, guilt, fear. A deadly combination. Perhaps not to the body, but certainly to the heart. While it is never wise to blame our past for our deep hurts, we need to recognize it for the horrible thing it may have been. But there is something else we can do. Realize there is hope.

Let’s go back in time and watch as Jesus interacts with a particular woman—a woman who, according to the cultural standards of His day should have been left to wallow in shame and guilt and yes, fear of others.

The Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 had been married five times and was now living with a man. She went to the well to draw water at noon, when the sun was at its zenith and “beats with its greatest vehemence” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/john-4-6.html). And when other women would probably not be there. And Jesus spoke to her. We see the woman’s surprise because first of all “the Jews have no dealing with the Samaritans”, and secondly because men did not usually address women in public. When she admitted that she was not married, Jesus acknowledged her honesty, not just once but twice. I believe he was complimenting her. Yes, he acknowledged her sin but he had already given her a way out of the shame by offering living water, and later telling her about true worship which involved worshiping God in Spirit and in truth. Somehow I don’t think she ever had a problem with the truth part.

She became a believer, and took the news to others.

There are many other examples of Jesus interacting with women. The little I have given you here will hopefully whet your appetite to learn more on your own. There are other women in the Bible who just can’t wait to tell us their stories, women who do not always begin well, but who Jesus more loves than we can imagine. Just as he loves you and me.

Guilt and shame can create a huge barrier in learning to accept God’s love. But if you are in a relationship with Him through Christ, He sees you as blessed, adopted, chosen, and blameless in his sight (Colossians 1). He does not see you as others may. He sees your heart. And I’ll bet if you are taking time to read this article in order to learn more about Christ, you already have a good heart. Seeking Him above all else is what we need to do, but any step we take in that direction is, to say the least, pleasing to Him.

Thank you for taking time to read my page. I hope you will return as we examine study, and explore the love God has for us and the many ways He expresses it.