Category Archives: restoration

when Christians fight

Standard

believe me, it happens.  I’ve seen it from all sides.  churches that unraveled.  families that split.  folks that haven’t spoken in decades.  I hate it every time.  It can get dirty.  And it always hurts.

In fact, seeing unresolved conflicts from those who claim the name of Christ was part of the reason that I walked away from God 10 years ago.  I figured if God wasn’t big enough to keep his people in line, He wasn’t a God that I wanted to worship.  I wanted a big God, and that didn’t seem “big” to me.  Some of the conflicts have hit very close to home for me.  Growing up, my family left several churches over “unresolvable” issues.  I have close family members that have not spoken to each other in years…and in some instances, even decades.  I’ve had to forgive folks who have severely hurt me.  The hurts are real.  The pain is deep.  There’s not an easy answer.  And it’s easy to see the depth of hurt and pain and to lose hope.

But I forget God is at work behind the scenes, even in situations that seem to not be improving at all.  I forget that my perspective is limited and He knows the beginning from the end.  I forget that in spite of sin, He can be glorified.  And this past week, I’ve been pushed again to pray for reconciliation in my family like never before.

Part of that “pushing” came through the public announcement that CJ Mahaney, President of Sovereign Grace Ministries was stepping down.  It seems that it came to a head over the past year or so as Brent Detwiler, a former pastor within Sovereign Grace, sent documents to CJ asking for a public apology for certain sin patterns Brent observed.  This is one of the issues that has hit close to home for me.  I came to know Christ through Sovereign Grace Ministries, which was founded by CJ, and many of CJ’s sermons over the past 7 years have been used by God to teach me how to truly live out what I believe.  But Brent preached the sermon that God used to arrest my heart and save me 7 1/2 years ago, and has been pivotal in several specific areas of my life.  I have great respect for both of these men.  God has used both greatly, not only in my life, but in thousands of Christians around the world.  I’ve spent the past week reading the story from both sides and praying for not only these two, but all parties involved in the reconciliation process.

My heart is heavy but excited.  I hate conflict.  But I believe that both CJ and Brent love God.  Both of them seem to be seeking true reconciliation with each other and that is very exciting.  God is at work.  God is doing something.  He is big enough to resolve unresolved issues.  I’ve seen it before.  When folks look at Christians, i think it is honestly more of an impact for them to see genuine, honest people, instead of the appearance of perfection.  Christians fight and disagree at times, but how they resolve issues is the important matter… Christ has changed our hearts, and that changes our actions.

I look forward to the example of these two men as I observe this from a distance.  He can be glorified by how they walk through this.  But more importantly for me, He can be glorified for how I walk through this.  Its easy for my heart to want to pick sides.  Its easy to become so wrapped up in every e-mail, every announcement, every detail that I miss the bigger picture…  God is doing something great here… through difficult circumstances.  And I like seeing God at work.

a look back

Standard

thanks for your patience with me as i’ve been noticeably absent the last month or so.  i hate that my blog has taken a back seat so drastically, because if for no other reason, it is always encouraging for me to go back and look over what God has done in my life.  I was especially encouraged a few weeks ago to look back and see an overview of what God did in the past few years.

So, keeping up with the tradition, here is a brief overview of 2009…

The year started off on a very low note – with me working through some very difficult issues from my past and having to face some personal heartache that I would have much rather left buried.  Thanks to the help of Matt and Julie and many others from my church, I continued to learn what forgiveness looked like, but not without many tears.

That struggle began several months of discouragement and at times hopelessness.  Looking back now, I am so grateful for my friends who stuck with me, upheld me, and encouraged me each step of the way… and at times, did everything necessary to turn my gaze off myself and back to the hope found in the cross.

I learned through that time, that my safety and comfort must be found in Jesus alone.  That though others disappoint, and at times cause severe hurt and pain, that Jesus never fails.  I learned that like Eustace, in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that at times God strips away ourselves, but it is always done with a hand of love and mercy.

2009 also was a year in which I started to see my health improve.  This year brought for the first time in years the first consistent season of sleeping normally and the first period of weeks with no migraines.  I’m grateful to God for the help of the doctors and others, but ultimately, for His hand guiding my health and my life.

then began a season of questions… should i remain at my job? where should I live? should I pursue moving to another state?  if so, where?  i began pursuing a long-standing desire… to move to the Washington DC area… for months, I investigated, prayed and talked with people.  By late spring, I felt a peace about pursuing it and by mid summer I was convinced I was moving… as soon as God provided a job.  I spent 10 days in the DC area on a fact finding mission, found a place to live, spent hours driving in traffic and was excited about the pending change.  Then God closed the door.  It was clear to me that the door was closed tight and that I was not to pursue any further.  Yet it was also abundantly clear that this change was for my good and was given to me by a God who knows what is best for me.  So, my roots are in Greenville.  But my hope in God grew through that time, and though the “move” was unsuccessful, the lessons learned were well worth the months of questioning.

This fall brought changes once again to my life.  September 13th was my first date with Ted Riley, a man whom I have since grown to love.  We met in August via e-harmony and i am grateful for how God (not merely 29 dimensions of compatibility) brought the two of us together.  I could not imagine a better fit for me and look forward to seeing what God does with our relationship.

The past 4 months have been times of continuing improved health (despite the doctors telling me in August that they thought I could have pancreatic cancer) and new areas of learning to trust God.  Contentment looks different in this season (not “is there even possibly a good guy out there who would like me?” but “when will I get married / when will I have kids / when does the next “season” start?”) but the struggle remains the same… so I keep learning that no matter the circumstance, that my confidence and hope must be in the only One who remains unchanging.

In October, I began writing weekly online devotionals for Devotional Christian.  It has been an encouraging and challenging step for me… in learning to be more thoughful about what I write and growing in being more theologically informed.

I’ve seen reconciliation in relationships this year.  I’ve seen improvement in health.  I’ve seen new changes.  But through it all, I’ve learned more of the faithfulness of our God.  Through every change, He has remained true to me.  And through every time I haven’t remained true to Him, He lovingly corrects and draws me back.

What a God we serve.  I look forward to the challenges and blessings of 2010, confident that through every step, He will be by my side.

Ezekiel 16

Standard

Abandoned straight from birth you were
Left alone to die
Hated and rejected no one
Listened your cries.
Your heritage and lineage is
From the unredeemed.
No one had compassion; you were
Helpless and unclean.

Then I passed by and saw you there
Writhing in your blood
No one washed or cared for you
Or dared your soul to love.
But my soul had compassion;
Wanted not to see you die
“Live” I said, “grow and be
I’ll make you now, child, mine.”

I made you flourish like a tree
You grew up proud and strong
But naked still you were, and had
No place where you belonged.
When I passed by again and saw,
I came and covered up
Your nakedness, and then declared
A covenant of love.

I bathed you, made you clean, and then
I covered up your shame;
Gave robes of silk and linen, and
Beauty became your fame.
You grew as royalty although
From birth you were so poor.
Favor was bestowed on you
Through God, your redeeming Lord.

But you trusted in your beauty and you
Chose to be a whore.
Though everything to you I gave
Your heart desired more.
You took the good gifts that I gave
Made idols out of them.
I fed you, but you hungered still
For approval and love from men.

Did you forget, my child, I found you
Wallowing in blood?
Did you forget your nakedness?
Did you forget my love?
In spite of all I’ve done, you left;
Rejected all my care
For that of men. My child, you must
Listen and beware.

This path you’re on will bring your death.
Destruction’s sure to come.
Woe to you, for you chose to turn
From the Redeeming One.
Through sin, you’ll find no joy or life
Your heart will always long
For more. It can’t be satisfied
Apart form Me, your God.

How sick your heart, your ways despised
For all that you’ve done wrong.
You’ve turned to lovers for payment
And rejected your true Lover’s song.
So, prostitute, now listen:
Your nakedness will be known.
Rejected by all you’ve chosen to love
You’ll find yourself alone.

I’ll judge you as the whore you are
And it will be severe.
My wrath and jealousy will come
And you’ll learn Me to fear.
Remember your heritage?  It’s what you’ve become.
You’re living as the unredeemed;
Forgotten that I am He who gave you life;
Forgotten my love, so it seems.

My child, please listen, and turn from your ways
Repent of the deeds you have done.
Forget not my mercy, forget not my grace,
Forget not the covenant of love.
See your actions for what they truly are
Injustice against the Holy God
Look to me, remember the great things I’ve done
Find merciful grace from my rod.

Do not forget, my child, I found you
Wallowing in blood.
Do not forget your nakedness.
Do not forget my love.
In spite of all you’ve done, I came,
Pursued you with my grace.
So, return to me, your Redeemer God
Return to your Lover’s embrace.

my hope

Standard

Here I am again
In this raging sea
On my knees again
Deep calls to deep
I feel I’m drowning
My arms are
Just too tired to swim
I feel like I’m sinking
On my knees again
In the roar of Your waterfall
In the storm of You
May You find me holding on
May You find me true

Chorus:
And I put my hope
And I put my trust
And I put myself in You
In You, Lord [2x]

Here I am again
In need of you
Broken, Beaten
Needing You
In the roar of Your waterfall
In the wonderful storm of You
May You find me holding on
May You find me true

(Chorus)

Bridge:
Wash me clean
Set me free
Hold me close
And cover me

(Chorus x4)

Here I am
Here I am…

David Crowder Band

she is ugly

Standard

Wonder, O heavens! and be astonished, O earth! that this most glorious Immanuel, the Prince of Peace, whom angels worship, and before whom the seraphim bow–should from all eternity engage to come and seek His Bride from this poor world, and claim her for His own!

Yet so it is!

But she is filthy and polluted! (Ezek. 16:6; Job 15:14-16; Isa. 64:6) Then His own precious veins shall pour forth the rich crimson flood to cleanse her, (Rev. 1:5) and His Spirit shall open the fountain to wash her from her sin and uncleanness. (Zech. 13:1)

But she is naked and bare! (Ezek. 16:22) Then He will cast His skirt over her, (Ezek. 16:8) and will for her, weave in the loom of the Law (Rom. 5:19) fine linen–clean and white–a robe in which she shall be fit to appear at His court!  Moreover the Spirit shall bring near the righteousness of Jesus, (Isa. 46:13) clothing her with “the garments of salvation,” and covering her with the “robe of righteousness,” “as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

But she is diseased! (Isa. 1:5, 6) She is a leper! (Ps. 51:5)  Yet will He bring her health and cure, for He says, “I am the Lord who heals you;” and He is actually made to be sin for her, (2 Cor. 5:21) that she might be made “the righteousness of God in Him.”  

But she has no personal charms—she is ugly!  Then He will put His loveliness upon her, and through it her beauty shall be perfect.

But she is poor! So He bestows Himself and His fullness upon her–and thus endows her with unsearchable riches!

But she is unwilling, and has no heart to the match, for she obeys a hostile prince! (Eph. 2:2,3) Her delights, too, are in the world and the flesh. A new heart will He give her, and a right spirit will He put within her. The Holy Spirit shall make her willing in the day of His power. “I will cause you to forget your images of Baal; even their names will no longer be spoken.” (Hosea 2:17) So that, prostrate at His feet, she shall say, “Lord, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone!”

And now that the Spirit has touched her heart, she feels she is diseased, and discovers her filthiness and nakedness, knows she is ugly and poor, and cannot think the Bridegroom’s heart is towards her, or that she can find favor in His eyes. And therefore she cries out, “I am black!” “Behold, I am vile! My loveliness has turned into corruption!” But He overwhelms her by responding, “You are all beautiful, my love, there is no spot in you!”

Then she exclaims, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death!” He replies, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!”

Now she ventures, with a captivated heart, to declare, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His! He is the chief among ten thousand! He is altogether lovely!”

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it!” Ephesians 3:19

(“The Marvelous Riches of Savoring Christ, The letters of Ruth Bryan” October 31, 1849)

the room

Standard

(by Joshua Harris)

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order.  But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Girls I Have Liked”. I opened it and began flipping  through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.

A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed”. The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read”, “Lies I Have Told”, “Comfort I Have Given”, “Jokes I Have Laughed At”. Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve Yelled at My Brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger”, “Things I Have muttered Under My Breath at My Parents”. I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my 16 years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature. When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To”, I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts”, I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it.

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With”.  The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused.  I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.  And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him.  Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally, He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me.  I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me.

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. “No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door.  There were still cards to be written.

grace… and your deepest darkest secret…

Standard

so last night at care group i was freshly reminded of grace… God’s grace to me, an undeserving sinner.

During worship, it seemed each song was a reminder of how faithful God is in the midst of our failures.  I had talked with my care group leader, Matt, a while ago about sharing a specific area of my life where God had been at work.  But its an area that has been well hidden.  its an area that is combined with much shame and fear on my part.  Yet, somehow, its an area of my life that God is working to redeem.  And though my own sinful desires would rather not share it, I knew last night that God was calling me to.  He was calling me to open up and share things I didn’t know how it would be received.  And He was calling me to do this and trust in Him to deliver me of fear and shame.

I’m honestly not sure what all I said.  What I remember is that after I shared, one of my friends asked if they could pray for me.  So, everyone gathered around and prayed that God would work as a result.  I was so encouraged, I can’t even begin to put it into words.  I am so grateful for the gift that God has given me through my friends at my church.  I pray that God would be at work in our group, in allowing us to grow together on a deep level, so that we know no matter what, that God is our hope.

After care group, I can’t tell you the number of people that came and thanked me.  So, God is already at work.  Somehow through my sin and lack of trust and failure over and over again, HE is receiving much glory.  And comforting my heart too.

I was reminded of an amazing passage yesterday… Psalm 78.  It talks about the Children of Israel, and just how many times they turned away.  But the focus isn’t just there…According to verses 1-7, the story is meant to be told so that people would set their hope in God, not forget His works and so that they would keep His commandments.  Its not a story of the Israelite’s failure as much as its a story of God’s faithfulness.

“They forgot His works and the wonders that he has shown them… He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.  He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Yet they sinned still more against Him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.  They tested God in their hearts by demanding food they craved.  They spoke against God saying “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?  He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.  Can He also give bread or provide meat for His people?”  Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath… because they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power.  Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven… he sent them food in abundance…and they ate and were well filled… but while the food was still in their mouths…despite the wonders, they did not believe…

their heart was not steadfast toward him, they were not faithful to his covenant.  YET HE, being compassionate atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.  He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again. How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert.  They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.  They did not remember his power or the day when He redeemed them from the foe…but He led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.  He led them in safety so that they were not afraid…Yet they tested and rebelled against the most High God and did not keep his testimonies…but He chose the tribe of Judah… which He loves.  He chose David his servant and took Him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people… With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with His skillful hand.”

I’m so glad my God is faithful.  I’m so glad my growth to become more like Him is not dependent on my effort alone. I fail every day. But I’m so glad that my God leads and guides me gently, provides for me in my need and comforts me in my weakness and despair.