Monday, December 20, 2010

The Proven Offer

“THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound,

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [the year of His favor] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,

To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion--to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit--that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

This recording from the Amplified Bible in Isaiah sixty-one is fulfilled by Jesus in Luke chapter four. Simply put, the reason Jesus came was because we were held hostage by an enemy bent on our destruction and by our own sin. It is the mission of the Christmas story. Though probably not the one you’ve traditionally heard of, or thought.

We picture cute little figurines portraying a peaceful Mary and Joseph, with quiet onlookers, gift-bearers, and a few animals. The weight of the moment is a bit lost in our “safe” little world. Much more is going on than meets the eye. Just why was this little baby sent to us? Read the passage from Isaiah again.

If you have lived a few years on this earth, you are well aware that life here includes affliction of every kind, broken hearts, various forms of captivity, mourning, and dreams that have crumbled to ashes. No one escapes unscathed in this world. We have all sustained injuries.

And our God is angry. Huh? Look at verse two in the second paragraph: He has come for vengeance! To destroy our enemies and make right what has been wrong!

Back to the sweet little manger scenes we have sitting on our coffee tables or see in front yards. Jesus wasn't found in a warm, cozy house, or even in a busy hotel. He came in a cattle stall! Dirty. Smelly. Cold and dark. Sometimes our lives are like that cattle stall. And we still find Jesus in those most unexpected places...

We began exploring the topic of healing and freedom in the past couple of weeks. You need to know up front, this is not “12 Steps to a Better You.” Jesus is not aiming to make you better (that would be only sin-management). He wants to make you whole.

But first, we need to know that we are broken in order to see our need for healing; and to accept God’s healing. In order to accept His healing, we need to know and trust the God who longs to give it. Believe me, He wants to give it more than you want to receive it. The series on “God’s Love,” beginning in the August archive, unveils the mystery, adventure, and rescue of the story that God is telling and we are now living. It gives a clear picture of who this God is, and promises to captivate our hearts.

If you haven’t read it or would like a refresher, do so over the next couple weeks. It will prepare your heart and awaken your God-given desires. Both of which are needed before we move forward.

I am taking a break from writing over the holidays, and will return to the blog the first week of January. Then we will gently begin to venture into deeper territories to see what it might look like to experience the healing we secretly long for. Jesus is the only proven offer. He comes to where we are, even if it is dark, ashy, or smelly. And He must have seen that we are worth coming for.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What Band-Aids Won't Heal

Dictionaries and definitions aren’t usually a wow factor in the beginning of an article or blog post, but that is precisely where we begin our topic today. Some things just need to be defined up front. So, what is “healing,” or what does it mean to “heal”?

Heal—1 to make or become well or healthy again 2 to cure (a disease) or mend, as a wound. (Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus)

By definition, there must be something wrong to need healing. Something has become unhealthy, or has been wounded. We’re not discussing scraped knees and paper cuts here, but wounds of the most deadly kind…wounds of the heart. Possibly the most misunderstood and overlooked. Psychology has made it only about the mind, scientists have reasoned it away, and sadly much of the church has misunderstood the role of the heart itself.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us the very wellspring of life flows from the heart, and for that reason, we need to protect it more than anything else! The physical heart is central to our ability to live and thrive as it pumps life-giving blood to every organ and every inch of our bodies. When it is wounded, life is threatened. It is the same in spiritual terms with our hearts.

But what might be a “wound” to our spiritual heart? Any time a person does not love us, treat us, or respond to us in the ways God intended, whether intentional or not, we are wounded. It can be as simple as a distracted parent, or as complex as sexual abuse (as I shared in my story in the last post). The death of a key person in our life. Other examples could be the cruel taunting by kids on a playground, or the betrayal of a friend or group of people. And yes, wounds can be self-inflicted through sin.

The aforementioned are barely scratching the surface, but such wounds bruise, hurt, and cause trouble, upset, and pain. We are broken, sometimes shattered into a million pieces, and the flow of life within us is greatly hindered. Without even realizing it, we find ways to self-protect out of survival when we are young. It appears we have adapted, or found ways to cope. Yet often we’ve made deadly vows to keep our hearts from being hurt again, and the life-giving wellspring is cut off—unable to flow in or out.

If you don’t believe me, think about your own responses and knee-jerk reactions to life. All things are not so easily chalked up to personality alone. “That’s just the way I am.” “I’ll never to that again!” (Fill in “that.”)Take time to ask yourself (and God) why you are a perfectionist (I’m in recovery!), or painfully timid. Maybe you’re the life of the party and in constant need to be the center of attention. Do you hide (or hide your past)? Drink or eat too much? Too little?

Make no mistake, our enemy—also God’s enemy—is behind it all. His ploy is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a), and he’ll use humans to run his errands for him (that’s the wounding). He’ll steal our innocence, joy, security, you name it. The very image of God written on our hearts is destroyed and marred by our sin and afflictions.

Thankfully, our God will not sit idly by.

He sent Jesus “to heal the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4)

“’…all who devour you will be devoured; all your enemies will go into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered; all who make spoil of you I will despoil. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 30:16-17a)

There is much to uncover and much to explore on this subject, which we will do over the coming weeks. To restore is to give back something that was taken, lost, etc. (Webster’s). After all we have suffered, this seems utterly impossible; too good to be true. According to Jesus, “’with man this is impossible, but not for God; with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26).

This is what Jesus came to do. And that's the offer:  to heal and restore our hearts to their original glory. Let's explore the possibilities!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Slavery to...

Several years ago, exhaustion found me lying in a heap on the floor, crying out to God. These were the cries of misery coming from the depths of a wounded heart. Years of oppression had taken their toll. No longer in denial, I had become painfully aware of my condition. I was a slave to my past; and I wanted to be free.

My story is not much different from the Israelites who found themselves enslaved by the Egyptians long ago. They were the chosen and blessed people of God, multiplying by leaps and bounds.  Fearing potential threats to his reign, Pharoah, the king of Egypt, sapped their life away under the most ruthless and harsh conditions of slavery.

Oddly, the Israelites continued to multiply under Pharoah’s oppression. So he took drastic measures to reduce their potential by killing their baby boys. However, God saw their misery, heard the cries of their torment, and executed one of the most dramatic rescues of history. It was a rescue from slavery to freedom, emptiness to plenty, brokenness to wholeness.

God first rescued me through the work of Jesus Christ at the tender age of seven when I first realized I was bent toward sin, and in need of a savior. But I have since learned that we, like the Israelites, continue to need a rescue—not just from our sins but from a wounded past that haunts us! We have an enemy much like the king of Egypt, named Satan. He knows who we can become in Christ, and he fears us. Prideful, power hungry, and at war with God, he seeks to destroy and enslave us through whatever means possible.

Growing up in a Christian home and in church does not ensure a perfect and pain-free life. By the age of ten, I had suffered verbal abuse, along with the devastating effects of sexual abuse by three different persons. The enemy took his cue to pour salt in these wounds, enslaving me with his lies that I was the guilty one, bad, disgusting, and an utter disappointment.

Like the Israelites, I managed to grow in spite of the oppression, which I kept neatly tucked away and hidden. As the saying goes, kids are resilient (but only for so long). Growing in wisdom and boldness through adolescence, I shared my relationship with Jesus openly with peers and adults alike through mission trips and on the home front. Clearly my life was a threat to the enemy’s kingdom. So he sought to decrease my potential with what he hoped would be the final blow…

Though it appeared to others that his oppression had had no effect, we both knew I had believed his lies and tried hard to forget them. Knowing this weakness, he crafted an ultimate betrayal while I was still a teenager. An ongoing emotional, spiritual, and sexual assault by a pastor—a misrepresentation of God’s love and care.

For years afterward, it seemed the enemy’s plan had worked. I succumbed to the lie that I was a hopeless disappointment, and my life a travesty. Running from my past, shame and fear permeated every day of my existence. A once vibrant, passionate, Christian life had been reduced to an empty life of duty, perfectionism, and control.

Never wanting to be or feel out of control again led me to this style of living and relating with others. Unexplainable anger (to me at the time) erupted often in the privacy of our home like a volcano. All this affected my entire being, my marriage, and my children—oppressing us all—yet I continued to keep my world spinning on this axis of control for nearly a decade.

That is when exhaustion and frustration finally got the best of me, and I began crying out to God. The more I cried, the more I awakened to the depth of my condition. I was a slave. Chained and beaten by the enemy’s lies, pushed to the brink by self-preservation, my heart needed deep healing and restoration. I cried out for a rescue!

My cry came before Him, into His ears. The earth trembled and quaked because He was angry at my enemies. He parted the heavens and came down. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy; with great bolts of lightening He routed them. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He rescued me from my enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.
(Psalm 18, various verses NIV)

Unlocking my heart took three courageous years of perseverance and endurance, allowing Jesus to walk me through the recesses of a mangled past. First, He began stripping me of all the destructive ways of survival and self-protection. Going back to the point of each wound, He recovered what was lost, stolen, and given up there.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10 NIV)

Lovingly and patiently He tended my heart. He scattered the lies and renewed my mind with the light of His truth. When taking another step proved too painful, He just held me close.

There were days it seemed God was distant and victory impossible. In those times I had to believe Him to be who He says He is, the God who “is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV)

That season of intense healing brought a freedom I never knew was possible. The freedom of becoming—not just better—but whole.
Life was regained.
Trust was restored.
Hope was renewed.
God proved His grace truly is sufficient by relentlessly coming for me time and time again.

I have learned that wherever we are, God sees us, hears our cries, and is determined to rescue us. Will you let him free you, too?