Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Grace for those who Blow It

I get so much encouragement from the story of King David—up till the very end of his life. The fact that God called him a man after his own heart is what I find most encouraging. David blew it again and again. In 1 Kings chapter 1 we find that his parenting left something to be desired, but God still delivered him out of every trouble. This is not to say there were not consequences for his mistakes, but it is to say that God is gracious beyond what we deserve. He even takes delight in his flawed children. David continually turned towards the Lord for help when he messed up. Check out these passages below. David’s son Adonijah had set himself up as king against David’s wishes. He had the backing of Joab the commander of the army, and the priest Zadok. In his weakened state, it may have seemed impossible for David to overcome those odds, but he called on the One who had delivered him from every trouble!

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. His father had never rebuked him by asking, “Why do you behave as you do?” …

The king then took an oath: “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel…” (1 Ki. 1:5-6, 29-30a)

From David’s life I get the feeling that the Lord would prefer an honest, repentant heart who messes up a lot than a proud, hypocritical and judgmental heart. David is my hero, because I can relate so much to him. He ran from an abuser for years, and learned to cling to God. Perhaps his personality was a lot like mine in that he didn’t like to confront anyone—we do tend to be the ones who are targeted by abusers. We are also the ones who might fail to rebuke our children like we should, or allow fear of what people might do control us occasionally.

Still, our troubles send us to our knees, and we know where our help comes from. If you’ve ever found yourself in a position of complete desperation with no place to turn (except to God) you can understand David. When every human resource fails us, we have an amazing opportunity to prove Him faithful. In his early years, David’s brothers scorned him, his father-in-law the king tried to kill him, and he lost his wife. Yet, in Psalms we get a beautiful picture of how these trials drove him to God. In Psalm 42 he  compared his desire for God to an unquenchable thirst. Once we drink deeply from the goodness of God, we can never doubt him again– not even when we blow it. Hallelujah!

Lord, we are so grateful for your amazing grace that could even call someone who messed up a lot a man after your own heart. We pray that regardless of our flaws and mistakes we will be people after your heart. We pray for grace and mercy to cover the mistakes we have made. Father, redeem it all, so at the end of our lives we can say you “delivered [us] from all [our] troubles.” We love you Lord. Amen. 

When Praying Makes Things… Worse?

Have you ever prayed fervently for a situation to change, only to find matters getting worse? I know I have. I have seen it many times in my years of working with victims of domestic violence. In these situations, things often escalate to unbearable in spite of ardent prayers and abundant effort. It sometimes seems as if God doesn’t see or care about our struggles. After all, if He was on our side, wouldn’t circumstances improve? However, if scripture is to be our guide, we need to look at how He worked with His people there to see if that expectation is valid.

This morning as I was reading in Exodus, I found the story of the Israelites’ plight after Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh to let the people go and worship. According this passage, God had heard the cries of the Israelites, and sent Moses to plead on their behalf. However, instead of helping the situation, it hurt! Pharaoh severely cut the supplies needed for their work. The situation seemed hopeless all around, and even Moses became discouraged.

The Israelite overseers realized they were in trouble when they were told, “You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day.” When they left Pharaoh, they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, “May the LORD look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (Ex. 5:19-23-emphasis added.)

The story could’ve have ended right there, but Moses took his confusion and complaints to the Lord. Even more significant, he continued to obey God in spite of negative circumstances. Moses was full of doubt about his own abilities, and he was discouraged about the Israelites anger towards him, but he still continued to follow God’s path. We all know the outcome. God used his obedience to bring about a miraculous deliverance—just when things seemed impossible. In the end, terrible oppression made liberation seem even more incredible.

When I think of my own story of escaping abuse, I can see His hand in every painful experience. All I knew to do was cling to Him, because everything else had failed me— from the courts to the church. Even people who loved me and wanted to help had no clue how to do it. In the long run, the overwhelmingly impossible nature of the situation made me desperate for Him. I spent long hours in prayer and scripture, and even came up with a database of passages that were particularly helpful.[1] I made a decision to believe His promises, because nothing else was working. All I could do was hold on to Him for dear life, and He was faithful. Circumstances did not improve in the beginning. In fact, they became worse, but in the end my faith in Him became stronger than it had ever been and He delivered me. I often tell people that even though I would have never chosen to suffer like I did, I am grateful for it, because it drove me to Him. My relationship with Him became my anchor, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

If you think that circumstances are a measure of God’s care, or lack thereof, you are missing a beautiful opportunity to allow Him to redeem your story. God is not a magic genie who snaps His fingers and makes everything suddenly all right. He also will not force anyone to follow His ways, but He will use your pain for good. Please understand, I am not saying you should stay in a harmful situation. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people fleeing danger. Instead, I am saying, cling to the One who loves you most, and you will not be disappointed. He will use your trials to grow you and your faith. I’ve worked with survivors of domestic abuse for over 20 years, and those who have held onto Him have simply amazed me. I have never met more amazing people than those who have proven Him faithful in the midst of great suffering.

If you think you don’t have what it takes to become an amazing example of His redemption, I encourage you to go to scripture. God specializes in using reluctant and under qualified people for His purposes. He not only wants to redeem your situation, but if you let Him, He will use you to help others who will face the same battles you’ve faced (2 Cor. 1:4). Take your doubts and struggles to Him, and determine to hold on to His promises. Just keep walking in His direction, and don’t let people or circumstances warp your view of Him. He will deliver you in due time, and in the process you will develop faith that is unshakeable.

[1] If you’d like a copy of this scriptural database, please email me at info@calledtopeace.org.

Lies Victims Believe

How Things Our Abusers Told Us Keep Us from Answering God’s Call

Working with people who have suffered domestic abuse can be the most rewarding and frustrating job in the world. It’s rewarding, because many of the survivors I work with develop a depth of faith that most Christians can’t even imagine. They face impossible situations and tremendous loss. Many lose nearly all their worldly possessions and face sudden financial ruin. They are often stalked and in imminent danger. Some even lose custody of their children, because their abusers are able to afford expensive attorneys, and they have no choice but to go to court without representation.

I could go on and on telling stories of injustice and intense suffering, but the point is that in extremely trying times, my dear friends learn to hold on to God in a way that is simply incredible. They probably don’t know it, but as I sit and listen to their stories in counseling sessions and support groups, I am in awe. I’m in awe of God’s faithfulness and their ability to rise above the pain, even when everything, and everyone on earth, has failed them. It is simply incredible to watch God turn ashes into beauty, and that’s what helps me maintain motivation to continue doing a work that can be exceptionally difficult.

I wish I could say that all the folks I work with “get it”—that they suddenly have an epiphany and learn to cling to God and prove Him faithful, but that’s simply not the case. Many let their pain become their identity, and they stay emotionally crippled for life. It’s so hard to watch these precious souls struggle. Sadly, they are alienated from the very One who can bring healing, because their image of Him has been warped by abusive people who portrayed Him as harsh and demanding, rather than gracious and merciful. All we can do is show them His love, and pray that someday they will come to realize the truth. However, many remain victims and never move on.

Believing lies about God can keep folks in the victim mode, but there are other lies that prevent them from reaching their full potential. Even some of my friends with extraordinary faith in God never seem to get past believing destructive lies about themselves. So many times when I reach out to survivors to help with our ministry I see an all-too-familiar hesitation to help. It’s not that they don’t want to, or that they don’t have the heart for it. It’s because they don’t think they’re worthy. They seem to think they’re too broken, and they need to get their own lives together before they can possibly think of helping others.

There’s a familiar pain in their expressions that tells me they’re still believing the lies their abusers told them. “There’s no way you could ever do this.” “Do you really think anyone cares to hear anything you have to say?” “You’ll make a fool of yourself when they find out who you really are.” Almost every time I see it, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you realize how incredible you are?! You’ve beaten all the odds, and come out shining like gold. You’re an amazing woman of faith! The world needs your voice.” But for these folks, it’s easier to believe truths about God than about themselves. Until they do they’re missing His best for their lives, and opportunities to bring Him glory.

Have you ever been told you have nothing to offer? Has someone made you doubt the incredible gifts God has given you? Is buried shame still controlling your decisions? If so, I implore you to reject the lies. Perhaps a flawed and insecure person has caused you to doubt your calling and your identity as His child, but the Perfect One is still calling. He still wants to use you, and He sees you as worthy (1 John 3:1, Eph. 2:4-7). He doesn’t want you to wait until you think you’ve got it all together, because if you do, you may never find His purpose for your life. He delights in using broken people for His purposes, but you have to choose to believe Him above the lies of a deceiver. The Truth will set you free, and when you receive it, you will be His instrument to help others find that same freedom.

Could God Ever Use Me?

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:13-15

I love that scripture is filled with weak and reluctant heroes of the faith. I love it, because I know how feeble and hesitant I am. People often tell me they think I am so strong for all I’ve endured, but without Him there’s no way I could even stand. He has been my strength when mine was depleted. Gideon’s story could have turned out much differently if he hadn’t expressed his doubts and weakness to God. He had seen God work miraculously when he consumed the meat and bread Gideon prepared with fire (Jdgs. 6:21), but that was not enough to overcome his doubts. Next he laid fleeces before the Lord to test him, although the second time he apologized for doing it.

Finally, Gideon became convinced that God would keep him promise to defeat the Midianites, but in an interesting turn of events, God turned the tables on Gideon and tested him. He reduced the number of troops to fight Midian from 32,000 to 300. The amazing thing is that this previously trembling man did not hesitate to obey God. God did give him another sign that he would bring victory, but somewhere in the process Gideon had changed.

Not many of us start out strong in faith. We all come to God with brokenness and doubts. Life experiences and hurts have shaped our thinking, and warped our faith. The biggest difference between those who become heroes for the kingdom, and those who continue to wallow in doubt is that the heroes come honestly before God and confess their doubts. Then, they choose to act on the little faith they do have. Gideon’s story would not have made it into scripture if he had failed to act.

In my years as a Christian, I have let fear and doubt paralyze me, and the result was catastrophic. Even after I broke free of years of abuse, anxiety continued to rule my heart until it almost destroyed me. One day in the midst of a crisis, it dawned on me that I was living by fear rather than faith, and I knew that was so wrong for a Believer. I made a decision that day to choose faith over fear, and since then when doubts come, I refuse to allow them to control my actions. Instead I act on His promises, and the outcome is usually amazing. He never ceases to amaze when I choose to act in faith (in spite of my doubts)! I don’t always get it right, but I’m learning and I know that the God who could use Gideon and 300 men, with cracked pots, to defeat and entire army can use even me. And he can use even YOU.

For the entire story of Gideon, see Judges 6-7.

Stumbling in the Darkness

Have you ever tried to walk around in the darkness? It’s not easy! Without some source of light, you are bound to stumble and fall. That’s exactly how scripture describes our lives without God. I know it’s how I felt before I came to know him. I felt lost and empty. Nothing made sense. I knew that God had created the world and me, but I had no idea why. It was only after his light shone into my darkness that life began to make sense. And while I still stumbled from time to time, his light was ever with me. I could depend on him. I had been rescued!


The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Pet. 2:9


I came across both of these passages this morning, and they reminded me of how wonderful it was to step into his light all those years ago. God did not leave us on the earth to stumble blindly through life. He revealed himself to us! The Prophet Isaiah spoke foretold of how God would reveal himself to those “walking in darkness.” In another passage, he proclaimed that a virgin would conceive and bear a child whose name would be Immanuel (which means God with us! -Is. 7:14).  Isaiah 9:6 predicted that a child would be born who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Over 700 years before Jesus came to earth, his birth was promised. God promised not to leave us in the darkness, and in him, there has always been hope.

Scripture says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3). The promise Abraham believed was that through his Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Around 2000 years later, that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. The Light came into the world, but many did not recognize it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:9-13

When I first became a Believer I remember my pastor telling my mom, it seemed like I had swallowed a light bulb. I also remember reading Colossians 1:12-14 and thinking that’s exactly how I felt. I had been rescued from the dominion of darkness.

“and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:12-14

Since, I stepped out of darkness into the light, I have longed to share the freedom and joy of walking with him with others, but I’ve found that many prefer the darkness.


 

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21


I know what it’s like to prefer the darkness. I had resisted Christianity, because the people who claimed his name were too flawed for my liking, but picking up a New Testament and reading about Jesus for myself changed all of that. I saw that he was nothing like the religious hypocrites I had seen all of my life, and I chose HIM. We all have a choice. Reaching God is not about following a bunch of rules, but rather about stepping out of darkness into his light. When the light replaces the darkness in your soul, your life will change automatically. You will not have to clean up your act, but suddenly you will shine. My prayer for you today is that you will see his light, and make the choice to receive it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Cows in the Church.

When Christians Honor Institutions Over People

Recently our ministry hosted a conference on domestic violence in the church. We promoted it to pastors and church counselors, but the majority of participants turned out to be former and current victims of abuse. As participants introuduced themselves, I heard an all to familiar story. Several mentioned surviving abuse only to find themselves being hurt again by their churches.

One dear lady said she left the church altogether after she reported the abuse and separated from her abuser. Her husband was in leadership at the church, and the other leaders believed his story over hers. Rather than finding help when she mustered up enough courage to reach out for help, she received blame. According to the church, she was desecrating the holy institution of marriage by separating from her husband, and there was no way she could convince them otherwise. Eventually, she chose freedom from bondage over the church, and she has been out of church ever since. She gets sermons online and on the radio, but she is afraid to trust Christians in a community setting again. There were other participants with similar stories, but most moved to other churches rather than leaving the church altogether.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this story over my years as an advocate of domestic violence victims. Why do churches so often seem to honor institutions over people? Apparently, it’s fairly common among religious people. Jesus regularly offended the religious leaders’ understanding of the Sabbath. In their eyes, he was constantly violating it, but Jesus responded with “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, when God ordains something, it is out of love for his people, but too often we get religious and elevate the institutions above the ones they are intended to bless. Even in ancient Israel this was a problem.

Say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. Ez. 24:21

It’s interesting to me that when God brought judgment on Israel, he even destroyed his own sanctuary. The thing he had set up as holy and valuable would become completely desecrated. As a parent, I know how difficult punishing my children could be—sometimes it hurt me as much as it did them. This had to be the case for God. He could no longer sit by and watch their self-destructive course, and the only remedy was severe consequences, because all the warnings in the world had not even fazed them.

They had turned his sacred sanctuary into an object of idolatry, and as a result he even allowed it to be destroyed. He cares far more about our devotion than any institution. The modern church certainly seems to have their own set of idols, and marriage seems to be at the top of the list. When we allow a good thing that was instituted by God become more important than those it was intended to bless, we miss his heart. It reminds me of the sacred cows in India. People die of starvation daily while they walk around unfettered and unused as a source of food.

In the modern church, marriage has become a “sacred cow.”  Yes, marriage is a wonderful thing, but when one partner chooses to break the covenant it can become a source of harm rather than blessing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to save failing marriages, but when that is not possible, we must never condemn someone for leaving a harmful situation. God cares more about people than institutions—even those he established. Legalism cares more about the institutions, even when people are perishing in the midst. My heart grieves for people like that dear lady who came Saturday. Since she was not honored above her marriage, she has walked away from another institution (the church) that should be speaking life into her wounded soul.

Lord,  awaken your church, and help us learn to love you and your people above anything else– even good things you have ordained. Amen

Sometimes Sleep Really is Overrated

Many mornings I struggle to rise and shine early enough to spend sufficient time in the Word before I begin my day. There have been seasons when I found it easy to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 and didn’t even feel tired, but other times it’s such a battle. My desire is to have uninterrupted God time before all the distractions of the day start chiming in, but it seems to come in waves. I have periods where I don’t seem to need as much sleep, and other times I can’t get enough. Nearly every night I ask God to awaken me naturally, because I know that setting an alarm doesn’t work. When I force myself to get up, I find myself so sleepy I can’t function. It seems like the only time an alarm clock is successful is when I stay up and moving. It definitely doesn’t work for quiet times, because sitting still is too conducive to dozing off.

Today, as I was reading in the book of Acts, I noticed in chapters 16 and 20 that Paul didn’t seem to get a lot of sleep. In chapter 16, we get the account of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi. They were praying and worshipping God around midnight when a great earthquake occurred. Paul was then able to share the gospel in the prison to the jailer and all the prisoners. After that, the jailer took them to his house, cleaned them up, and let them share the message with his family. The entire family was baptized in the middle of the night, and then Paul and Silas were back in jail by daylight. In chapter 20, Paul was preaching “on and on” till midnight (Ac.20:9) when young Eutychus fell out of the window and died. After Paul raised him to life, they broke bread, and he talked to them until daylight.

When I read the Gospels I see the same sort of pattern with Jesus. He would often withdraw to lonely places and pray all night, or rise way before daybreak (Lk. 6:12, Mk. 1:35). On the night of his betrayal he lamented that his disciples kept falling asleep, and told them “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). I find it interesting that Jesus told them to deny their bodies, and fervently seek God instead. Still, I can sure relate to those disciples. Some people might think that Jesus since was divine it was easier for him to go without sleep, but we know that on at least one occasion he was so exhausted he was able to sleep through a violent storm (Mk. 4:38).

God designed our bodies to need sleep, and even Jesus was not exempt from this need, but there seem to be times when his Spirit can enable us to deny that need. I have noticed that when I’ve gone on mission trips in the past, I have managed to thrive on much less sleep. Beyond that, I have had sporadic bouts of insomnia that I am sure were from God. As I determined to watch and pray through those nights, amazing things happened. I saw spiritual breakthroughs in my life, and on a few occasions received specific answers to prayers. Occasionally, very specific ideas would pop into my head about actions I should take to receive the answer to my prayer. When I later acted on those “ideas,” the outcome was simply amazing. I often tell people that those “middle of the night” times of communion with God are most powerful, because I am finally quiet and still enough to hear.

So, as I sit contemplating these patterns of sleeplessness in scripture (and there are more! Check out Gen. 32:24, 1 Sam. 15:11, Ps. 63:6, Lam. 2:19), I can’t help but think that sleep actually is overrated when it comes to our spiritual lives. Science has shown that some people are “short sleepers” who actually need less sleep, but clearly I’m not one of them. Chances are you aren’t either. However, I believe that having periods of missed sleep in order to seek him can be as effective to our spirits as fasting from food. There is something powerful about denying self, and seeking him wholeheartedly. I believe we just need to avail ourselves to his Spirit, and allow him to speak to us through the watches of the night.

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Ps. 119:147-148S