Thursday, February 19, 2015

When Disappointment Crushes Your Will to Live

One minute little six-year-old Julio was counting yellow cars as he looked out the window of his mother’s hatchback. The next, he was caught in a nightmare that threatened to take his life. A 7.0 earthquake had hit the Bay Area where he lived, collapsing bridges, buckling roads, and flipping cars high into the air. 

People Magazine reported that rescuers found him a short time later pinned under a highway abutment, the mangled concrete bearing its full weight upon the small boy. His extraction was lengthy and complicated, and as a result little Julio lost a leg. But he lived. And his story proves that survival is possible under the most unlikely, crushing circumstances.

Life can deliver spontaneous, unexpected changes that strike disappointment in our hearts like a concrete abutment pinning us to the ground. 

The loss of a loved one, the failure of a life dream, the wounds caused by people we loved and trusted, all can cause disappointment so devastating we lose the will to live. 

We breathe raggedly, waiting for death. We look around fearfully, wondering how we got here. And we can’t seem to lift the burden ourselves; it looks and feels impossibly heavy.

But there is a specific disappointment on my heart today. One that hides, one that is private and ashamed. It is the crushing disappointment in self, when perfectionism fails us and life grinds us low. 

And there is one group of people that have a particular penchant for self-disappointment. I walk among them every day. We are the ones who have determined to overcome the sins of past generations, the overcomers who have vowed that the damaging patterns will. stop. with. me. 

Overcomers have set their goals high. Having a lack of honorable goals modeled during our youth we searched the earth, seeking the highest and best. Where others collected sports trophies or unicorn figurines, we collected good standards. Shiny, lovely, perfect ones, which we would do our best to emulate when the time came. 

Well, the time surely came, as we left home, married, had children, entered the workforce, chose ministry, faced crises. And we strove to be the best. The best student, the best parent, the best spouse, the best… fill in your blank. The -est whatever.

It all looked lovely for awhile. Praise and admiration made us work harder, and we began to believe we had achieved what we dreamed. We were better. We had defeated the past.

Then, one awful day, perhaps in one awful moment or a series of moments all bundled and accumulated over many days, we failed. And in that moment of failure, we looked like the past.

It was then that the concrete came tumbling through the air, forcing its entire weight upon us, pinning us to where we sat. Fear crept into the crevices of our prison and whispered the fatal words, “You are just like…,” “Nothing has changed…,” “You can’t escape it.” Even the fighters succumb to this occasionally. 

The loudest, shouting overcomer will have dark days where the lies seem like truth, and the will to live can slip away. 

I am the problem, the Lie murmurs. Just let me die.

But allow me to return to little Julio. On the day of that famous ’89 Quake in the San Francisco Bay Area, forces much greater than a little boy were churning, broiling, and gathering strength. He could never have controlled them, stopped them, or held off that flying piece of highway that ultimately cost him a limb. 

In his critical state of entrapment, he had no power to save himself. He was truly overcome.

How ridiculous it would have been for him to suddenly begin shouting, “It’s all my fault! I am the problem!”

His rescue required the help of others. In fact, it was outside help that saved his life.

An imperfect illustration, granted. But bear with me for the nuggets of truth we can apply to our own disappointment and the pain that threatens to crush our will to go on.

There is indeed a greater force at work in our lives, churning, broiling. But the difference between it and an earthquake is that it seeks to destroy us. 

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

As we overcomers seek to live for Christ, breaking the patterns and curses of the past, we are a target for God’s enemy; he in fact becomes our enemy as well. Also known as the father of lies, he can make a lie look and feel just like truth.

Like Julio, we require a rescuer beyond ourselves. 

Our efforts, our good standards and goals, our highest achievements, cannot move the stone that holds us down to our failures. For we are mere humans, fragile flesh and bone, tender hearts. (Even the loudest, shouting, tough, never-give-up overcomers. And the always-looking-like-they-have-it-all-together ones too.)

We all need a rescuer. 

Our Rescuer is Jesus. He was the One promised to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, release from darkness the prisoners, comfort all who mourn, replace ashes with beauty, despair with praise. He did it all to make you and me overcomers, that the world may see a display of his splendor.

They (the overcomers- my own insertion) will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. -Isaiah 61:3a-4

You may lose a limb in the process (let’s be real about pain). But you will live, disappointed one.

Your Rescuer is here. Wait for Him as he works. Trust His gentle hands. Let the ones He sends help you, too. You can't do this alone. Be still and wait. Help is here.

What is your story of living through disappointment? Share it with those trapped today.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Embarrassment of Worship

I will celebrate before the Lord

“I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” 2 Samuel 6:21-22

Those words were spoken by King David, after dancing with all his might in his undergarments before the Lord in the streets. 

People were shouting, trumpets were sounding, his wife was watching with embarrassment, but David was in deep worship before God. 

Deep worship touches the secret places of the soul. It disrobes the private thoughts of the heart, the hidden motives which drive us to do what we do and feel what we feel. Worship before our God is a naked, vulnerable experience in which darkness flees and light floods. 

Uncomfortable, unappealing, isn’t it?
The little black dress of perfectionism

We spend so much effort dressing our souls in fine apparel. 

My personal suggestions for a fine soul wardrobe are the little black dress of perfectionism, a nice pair of people-pleasing skinny jeans, and don’t forget those wonderful high heels just the right color of overachiever. A basic jacket made of good deeds will ensure you are ready to face the crowds.

The thought of facing anyone, let alone God, without being properly dressed is embarrassing.

What if they see me raise my hands? I bet they are wondering why I’m crying. They might think I don’t really have it all together. I can’t sing, anyway! And this darn dress is out of style already.

King David wasn’t concerned about embarrassment. He laid aside his royal adornments and his reputation to worship the Lord with all his might. He understood that his worship was before the Lord, not before people.  

Worship before people is devoid of glory to God.  

This truth hits me where it hurts. For I am a worshipper. I, like you and every other person, was created to worship. So I worship. But I worship me, most of the time. My soul adornments reveal the object of my worship. Sadly, that object is most often myself, and not my Lord.

You see, we are all worshiping before people in some way.  

Striving after our reputations, striving after comfort, after good looks and success, striving after pleasing those around us, striving after money, striving after the perfect children, the perfect family, the perfect life, fill in the blank of your own efforts. Whatever it is, people are watching and we know it.

But God is calling us to embarrass ourselves, the selves that would follow after anyone or anything but Him. He is inviting us to disrobe our souls of anything other than the righteousness woven and custom-made for us by Jesus Christ. There is no need to dress ourselves up to worship. 

No one else’s opinion of our soul matters but God's. 

And He sees it more clearly than we see it ourselves. He requires of you and of me that we worship before Him alone. And, like King David, we do that by focusing solely upon Him, no matter the distractions around us.

I find it intriguing that just after King David makes his declaration of worship to his disapproving wife Michal, the next passage reads, …the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him… (7:1) 

This whispers treasure in a secret place to me. The secret place of worshiping before the Lord; the treasure of being settled, rested. The treasure of rest from our enemies all around.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 1 Peter 5:10

I long to be settled. Settled in my soul, deep down. Suffering comes in myriad forms, relentlessly at times. It is very much like being surrounded by enemies. We thirst for rest from the assailants of life.

Rest can be found in the secret place of worship. 

Pent up and exhausted
Recently I had the privilege of attending a Bethel Worship Night (see I arrived pent up, wound up, bound up and exhausted. 

Life had me in its vice-grip and I could not even mean the words I sang in the first moments of the concert. Jesus you are all I need, all I want…these words were crowded out by my own needs and wants and I felt distant from God.

But as I persevered, as I waited, as I willed my soul to leave the presence of my own needs and wants, my own suffering, my own life pressures, and enter into the presence of God, I began to unwind. My heart began to soften. My soul began to groan, and something broke free deep down in me. 

I forgot about the crowds of people around me. I stopped listening to how my croaking voice sounded among the others’. I stopped paying attention to who raised their hands in front of me and what they were wearing. Embarrassment, discomfort gave way to relief, to comfort, to revelation of His great love for me exactly as I am.

My own soul adornments had made me uncomfortable in His presence. They had to be laid aside, one by one, before I could sing those words with sincerity and open my hard-edged heart to the refreshment of His Spirit.

I want to become comfortable worshiping him again. Past the embarrassment, past the awkwardness of my own righteousness, I want to celebrate before the Lord, no matter what.

Won’t you join me? It will take perseverance. And it takes time. Fifteen minutes on Sunday morning singing two or three songs is not enough to unfetter the chains of today’s break-neck life. I think this just might be a life-changer, worthy of pursuit in all the moments of the day.

Let’s help each other. And we’ll find rest for our weary souls. Share your story of worship with me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Waiting in Hope

…we wait for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:13-14

Maybe I should have named her Hope. But the joy on her face, shining forth like the force of the sun through brilliant clouds, compelled me to call her Joy. Joy was, after all, the grand result of her hope fulfilled.

But let me take you to the beginning. The place where the hope was born.

As a young girl, Mwaka tended the goats and cultivated her father’s corn fields. She was shy and quiet, and the time alone suited her just fine.  

One day, her father discovered that someone had been stealing land, planting their own crops on a far edge of his garden. Enraged, he sought justice. And justice in Aduruma culture meant seeking the power of the mutsai, or witch doctor.  

There are two kinds of witch doctors; the muganga, who is the healer of the sick, and the mustai, who is the conjurer of curses and death upon enemies. 

Mwaka’s father travelled for more than a day by foot to find the strongest mutsai around. It was rumored that this mutsai’s magic was from the north, near Masai-land. Masai warriors had been seen traveling to procure his services more than once.

The famous witch doctor, Mataza, was willing and able to solve the problem of the garden thief. But his price was more goats than Mwaka’s father owned, so they struck a deal. Mwaka would be given instead; a new, young, able-bodied wife for the elderly Mataza. 

So it happened that at age fourteen Mwaka became wed to the strongest witch doctor within 100 miles.

I met her several years later, on a dark night when even the moon refused to shine. We were preparing for sleep when the small voice came to the door. 

"Hodi," it said.  "Hodi!" this time with more urgency, a note of panic. I grabbed my wrap and bundled it around my pajamas as I scrambled to light my small kerosene lantern. I opened the door into the inky blackness.  

Standing there trembling was Mwaka, but I did not know her name yet. In her arms she carried a small child, her daughter. They were both weeping as she begged me, "Please, you must help us."  

I ushered them inside as she told me in a torrent of words what had happened. She was cooking the evening meal over a small open fire in the floor of their hut when her two-year-old tumbled backwards and fell onto the flames.  

The child was severely burned, her dark skin melted away to reveal pink rawness and pain. The hospital was hours away and we served as the best second option with our generous stash of medical supplies and basic knowledge of first aid. I gathered my bandages, scissors, medicine, and ointment and began to treat her wounds.  

As I gently applied the cooling balm I began to explain to her that I was doing it in Jesus' name. I told her that He had been wounded, too. That He was wounded for her sins and for mine. That He has healed us and that He would surely heal little Rehema, her precious daughter.  

Suddenly she gasped, and looked up at me with eyes filled with joy. "So that is His name? Jesus? He said you would come one day and tell me His name.

...I have been waiting in hope.”

Confused, I asked, "What do you mean?" She then began to tell me her incredible story. 

Shortly after her marriage to Mataza, she had a dream one night. 

She described it to me like this, "A man dressed in light came to me and told me the words you just said. He showed me wounds on His hands and feet, but they were healed. He told me that He is God and promised to save me. He said one day someone would come and tell me His name. I have been patiently waiting for you. Now I know His name! Jesus! Jesus!"  

Looking at little Rehema, she said, "Did you hear that, child? His name is Jesus! The one we've been waiting on!”

Suddenly the room of darkness and pain seemed filled with light. The suffering which brought her to my door was replaced, overcome, by pure joy.  

In that moment I felt that hope was something I could actually grab with my hands, touch it, feel it, put it in my pocket and carry around with me. It was a promise that God surely fulfills.

This dear, humble woman had been waiting in hope.

Some would say she had little or no reason to hope at all. Mwaka would say that she had His words of promise, and that had been enough.

On the day of her baptism in a river that looked like chocolate milk, we named her Mwaka Joy. Her wait was over. Hope had given birth to sheer joy.

Within two years after our first meeting that dark night, her husband Mataza died. The little mud hut where the deal was struck for her life so long ago became a place where Christians gather to worship, doing their business with God through His Son Jesus.

The same place that formally received visitors from miles away, seeking spiritual curses, is now hosting regional prayer and praise meetings, where believers in Jesus come to seek spiritual blessings.

Hope is a promise. And it will come true.

Waiting is the hard part, the it-feels-impossible-I-need-it-now part. But the one Who promises also promises to do the impossible for us (Luke 18:27). And it helps to wait with others. Hearing another person say out loud, "You will get through this," somehow puts handles on our hope and we are able to grab it, holding on tighter. 

I would like to hear your story of hope. Won’t you share it with me? Let's help each other wait in hope.