Biopsies, Bandages and Sin

This week I had to have a biopsy done on an area that was of concern to my doctor. I was going in for a routine check-up and to ask about something in particular. This biopsy popped up out of no where once she did her check and it was a little startling. Biopsies are routine obviously as I have chatted with a couple of people about them since then, but let me tell you, I was not prepared for the slicing out of part of myself to then be looked at to determine if it was cancerous.

Nope. Not in the least.

I have a sheet of instructions for the next week or so to care for the area that was sliced, and let me tell you, it still hurts.

As I was re-bandaging the place this morning it got me to thinking about the unrealized areas of ourselves that often need to be sliced and put under a magnifying glass for review. Areas we weren’t expecting to get addressed but are brought to our attention rather suddenly and often hurt to have even a small amount removed for further examination.

We can be deceptively content with the comfort we find ourselves in-settled in the routines of life, only to be jarred with the painful revelation that all is not fine within us, whether it is our attitude, our words, our thoughts, our job, our relationships, our home, our hearts. So quickly it needs to be dug into, magnified and dissected to see if there’s a cancerous piece infecting it. It can be small and unassuming but when sin wiggles it’s way into those areas, it will spread and eat away from within.

So we allow God to reveal the deep down root of the sin in these areas, and then begin to apply healing to them. Slowly and deliberately, taking great care to see the cause of it in our lives and setting about through Him to remove it. Not just the spot, but the deep-seeded root of it. Then we seek out the balm and healing that only He can fully cover us in. It won’t be immediate, there will be waiting and echoes of the pain still there. But there will be lasting healing, there will be a space that once was eating away at us that is now filled with Him, His grace, His love, His forgiveness…with Him alone.

So maybe today we sit with our bandages, from where we have allowed Him to dig out the sin within, where we have examined what was within us and brought it to Him to dispose of. Bandages are not to be embarassments, they are proof of healing, proof of our weakness and inability to do it ourselves. Bandages show we are dependent upon something greater for healing, for restoration, for refuge. We wear them, not in shame but as evidence of His work in us.

Busted Tails and Lame Men

Last week I busted my tail bone. Flat out busted it, purple bruise, couldn’t sit straight for days. Let me tell y’all, it was not fun in the least. Almost a week later and it’s still hard to sit directly on it. I do not recommend busting it, ever.

If you are anything like me, when you are busted up or sick you really don’t want anyone around you or to ask for help. Yo don’t want to be seen as in need. Maybe it is just me, trying to remain independent and not be seen as helpless or in need of anyone but myself.

32926-support-illness-1200.1200w.tnBut what happens when we reach out for help? When we seek healing in the form of others’ assistance? We remind ourselves that we cannot do this alone and we are a dependent being.

In Acts 3 we see Peter coming off the sermon in the temple. The same Peter who weeks before had denied knowing Christ is now the Peter preaching His salvation and our need for Him. I love that…another beautiful picture of redemption. As Peter and John go into prayers at the temple they come across a man at the gate begging for money, unable to walk and dependent upon others to carry him there and others to give money either as they entered the gates or as they left. (The man was smart about where he put himself to ask for money due to his inability to walk)

Peter and John engaged him as they walked by, they wanted him to look them in the eye. Something that he probably thought odd since at that time a disability was a way to not look at someone, to not see them as human-often how many are seen even now. He wasn’t seeking healing but was merely seeking to settle for what had been his lot in life.  But Peter and John recognized the deeper healing that was needed, the healing of his heart, a renewal of his body in the strength of Christ and not money, or men. So not in their own power or authority but fully in Christ’s they tell him to get up, and he does.

I find that in my own times of desperate need I don’t ask for what it truly is I do need because I am blinded by the tangible in front of me. I am praying about this thing when He’s pointing to the deeper root of healing. He’s sending people in His power in my path to point me to the healing I need but I often am so focused on this thing that I miss it. What if this guy had missed it with Peter and John, focusing only on obtaining money from them to exist rather than to receive full restoration for the real hurt to be healed?

What if instead of walking past those hurting we fully see a hurt that we can speak healing into through Christ’s strength and power? Instead of denying others that privilege of helping us heal we allow ourselves the ability to share about our hurts, our wounds, our lame legs and weak hearts? What if we stopped trying to hide our wounds, our hurts and we started living into full healing that comes through Christ and His people?

 

Love, Silence and Refugees

Almost four months ago I sat at a small table in a refurbished warehouse/gym on the outskirts of Bologna, Italy. I was a foreigner in a land I didn’t speak the language, but was welcomed with open arms by a community as I sought to get to know them and how they served. At this table sat several members of our team, along with an Italian citizen and two refugees from Ethiopia.

That night we were assisting the home church with a fellowship time for the refugees, as they were in temporary housing adjacent to the church. Bologna had turned into a holding place for many refugees seeking asylum and assistance from Ethiopia mainly, and were seeking to work and provide in order to bring their families into the safe haven as well.

That night the refugee crisis came right up to me, not just on a tv screen or a story shared in social media. That night among the 11 men who were there only 2 spoke English, the other nine speaking French…but none speaking Italian. They had no means of supporting themselves while they waited for the paperwork and government red tape to clear them, they were simply there. And the church was seeking to honor them, their humanity and our love for our neighbors by opening up their doors and hearing their stories, giving them a place to be and feel like a human once more.

As I sat at that table, I wanted to run and do something else, be somewhere else because the stories were hard, they were real, and they were sitting right in front of me. One 17 years old, without family, sent out to escape to a better life outside of war and poverty, telling us about his favorite thing to eat-a stew his mother makes. I thought of my nephew, just four years younger, and how I pray he never knows that life but these do. The other man was 30, years of running and war were very apparent in how he talked and in his eyes.

For almost four months now I have thought back countless times to that cold night in Italy, sitting in that room with those men, and hearing their laughter as we played musical chairs…simply to take their mind off of the hard and into enjoyment for a time. I think about their feet, in flip flops that didn’t fit as Italy was heading into fall, and clothes that were a couple of sizes too big but all that they had. I think back to the smiles and frowns, the heartache and unsaid words of worry and despair.

I sit here this weekend and grieve for my country. A country of privilege that has decided to turn their hearts towards hate and doubt, to throw up arms and walls rather than choose to work through the fear-mongering to the root of the problem. A country that no longer sees the refugee as a person but something to hate and despise. That is not me, nor is it the God I love. When I love my neighbor as myself, I don’t get to define that neighbor nor how to love them. It does mean I welcome them, even when it hurts, even when I don’t want to do it and it means that I love instead of judge.

I am thankful that I live in a country which provides such profound freedoms, but I now begin to see that the things we have sat silent on, thinking that they’ll right themselves, have instead turned to ugliness and hate, to rhetoric and headlines. When you give refuge to the least of these, you are giving it to God Himself…regardless of belief or religion. We are called to love as He loves, to love those who don’t look like us, to love those that seek harm. Love doesn’t give boundaries or policies, it simply does.

Love means sitting in the hard and putting a face, a name, humanity to crisis. Love means standing when those around you call you to sit. It means stepping up for those who cannot, those who have been told to keep quiet. Love means filling the gap between it all to show His love for them, for us, for all.

For me, to hear the refugee and shrink back means that I am disobedient to the call to love that Christ Himself has given Himself for. The call to redeem the downtrodden, the outcast and the forgotten isn’t done through me but through Him, but when He calls me to love He calls me to be His love to them, for them. It means not being silent, not allowing the ugly to win and fear to see victory. To go beyond quoting the Scripture but living it out for those who do not know it, who need to see it as living Truth and for obedience to the One who first showed us how to love.

Maybe not. 

I applied for the job. I interviewed and felt really great about it. I had the balance of experience and education, along with willingness to learn and grow in the position. I honestly felt like I was the perfect candidate. But several weeks later, after an enthusiastic email to check how the committee was doing on the search I got the pat email from the lead. They’d gone another direction and hired from within. 

Ouch. 

And I wondered why I had even gone through all that to be disappointed and let down. I felt like God had specifically been leading me to this position, and that this was exactly what He had been working on me for. I wasn’t crushed but I certainly felt like God and I were on different tracks. 

I have friends talk about their job disappointment, loneliness, hard situations where they’ve felt like God has left them or forgotten them, or that it’s a sort of punishment. While I don’t think God punishes (only disciplines) His children, we sometimes a lot of times juxtapose our feelings and desires upon God’s will. I’ve even been in these same situations of hurt, loneliness, forgottenness and toxic jobs asking God why He’s left me. 

Recently I was thinking and praying for a friend’s situation, and their heart, when I found that maybe I’ve had this all wrong. Maybe in this God isn’t wishing I’d pray more about changing the situation, but that I’d listen and change my own heart perspective. That my focus inward had allowed me to be consumed with my will and way to fix it instead of waiting, listening and being open to His direction. 

“Look as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My Hand…” Jeremiah 18:6(b)

You see I’m the clay, He’s the potter. I don’t get to tell Him what to make me into….I can try but I’ll be left a messy heap on the wheel. He’ll continue to work me over with His hands and I’ll be a stubborn clay needing more water added as I grow dry. The potter isn’t so concerned with how the clay wants to be worked as He is the need He knows for it and it’s usage. 

I may think this job isn’t what I am supposed to be doing, but He’s got a plan to use me in it for His time and His good. I may see this place I’m in, whether physical location or mental state as not what I can be best used in and He knows the plan for His kingdom is being worked out in me days, weeks, months down the road right there. 

Maybe He’s called me to walk loneliness, hurt, exile or a difficult job out with Him. To bear out His image in those instances, those hard days and weeks, simply so that it brings another into the fold, it advances His kingdom and His will. Maybe it’s about letting the potter decide the use of the clay over and over again, and being formed into His image for His work and not what I think is His work. Maybe it’s about drawing in close to Him and not to my own feelings and will. 

Maybe it really is all about Him and not about me at all. 

Punishment for good?

When I was a kid I had a habit of sassing. I didn’t get into too much trouble, except for my mouth. (That’s probably still true today) For punishment I’d get something taken away from me, most notably my bike or watching my favorite show (MacGyver y’all). I’d get sent to my room to cool off, and keep my mouth shut as well.

That was most often my mom’s form of punishment, although I did get popped on the behind a couple of times (and I turned out just fine thankyouverymuch). The taking away of stuff, of things that mattered. Sending me to my room. Confining me to myself, indoors, without the thing I loved so dearly-freedom. Choice. That amazing pink BMX Mongoose.

Because of actions that were within disciplining, I saw the removal of things I held as mine as punishment. It showed me that I wasn’t in control of those things, and they could be taken away if I wasn’t within the guidelines my mother had set forth on behavior. I think we all see when things are taken away from us that it’s a sort of punishment, an effect of our wrongdoing or misjudgement.

But I think we have it wrong. Or at least I do.

God loves you enough to strip anything from you that keeps you from Him.

Pete Wilson

Oof.

So when things that we perceive as being taken from us as punishment is really God loving us so much more than we deserve. He sees that they are what is keeping us from Him, what’s distracting and denying fellowship and communion with Him. He wants the absolute, flat-out best for us that He would strip it away so we can be free to run to Him. To close that gap on that dusty road as the prodigal, as the heartbroken stooped in picking up the pieces. He instead scoops us up and pulls us in. He tears down that wall we built, and yanks out that relationship that was not what He intended for us.

Y’all I firmly believe that He takes away all the things from us not as punishment but as goodness. As love. As deliverance. As redemption. Yes, we get disciplined, but that job you allowed to become identifiable by what you did not by Him? He needed to remind you of who you are to Him, not what you did. It wasn’t punishment, it was love.

So we lose some skin on this thought, on this punishment that is not in reality punishment at all, but God loving us more than we can understand. It’s Him being good when there’s not much good in us, and seeing our need for Him is far greater than our need for the thing or person that is stripped from us.

I don’t know about you but when I come to see this in how He loves me, it makes for an easier transition of my control to His love.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)

I am not sure there’s a verse that has been more studied or dug into in my life than that one above. I look at different versions, commentaries and pray over it practically daily.

The heart defines your life. It is your character, the overflow of what you are filling your life with. And yet, it can be easily broken, hurt and captured if you aren’t careful.

Diligence requires alertness, awareness, and steadfast watch. It means a constancy of guarding of this fragile heart, prone to wander, prone to idolize, prone to desire.

Oh this heart…you are the complete package of will, affections, mind and thought. You are the cause of actions in my life, and the lives of others. If we aren’t on watch, with a strict eye, sometimes things/people/satan slip in through an avenue undetected. We are caught unawares in the midst of hurt, pain, sin.

So we come back here. To the place where our heart first felt whole…to bring the broken to be mended, the wounded to be healed. We come back to the place where we find that we have another Guard, with our good in mind, His strength made available. We come not to ask but to give.

To leave this heart here for Him. To live in constancy of a heart that is full of Him and not us. A heart that desires after the things of Him and not our whims and affections. A heart diligent in the work set before it.

A heart guarded above all else to flow out with love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…a heart whole in Him.

Even When

What if God doesn’t give you what you prayed in earnest for? What if the job, the spouse, the child, the clean bill of health doesn’t come?

My heart, my flesh, want to tell me that He isn’t good. That He is withholding goodness from me. That I have sin in my life, I have done wrong and I am not worthy of answered prayers. The lie of value and worthiness come sweeping in and give me doubts of who God is and the truth He speaks.

More and more I am finding that it’s not God I need to question, but my faith and belief in Him. My choice to believe Him or believe the doubts of His goodness, the lies that are at the door waiting for the tired, weary, lonely to set in or the affirming truth that even in the midst I will sing of His praise.

I think that’s why Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians pull me back, again and again. We have heard them before if we have been in a Christian community for any time. I have oft joked about something being a thorn in my side. But this plagued a man of God who journeyed through faith in so much that he brings it up in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses it not as a source of doubt and agitation with God, questioning His goodness, but rejoicing in God’s power and reliance.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It’s not for us to dwell in our hardship (easier said than done, right?) or question a good Father because He gives out grace sufficient for us in it. He pours His power through us so that we are strong in our very own weakness.

Y’all for so many years this passage was flowery to me but more and more I find in the difficulties and hardships I would run to doubt and fear rather than delight. Now I see the immeasurable power and joy in these verses that Paul was trying to convey to Corinthians and to us. There is joy in the hard of life, there is praise worth giving because of Him-not because of us. Even when it hurts. Even when we don’t understand. Even when kids get sick and there’s no answer.

Even then I will praise Him for I get to see His power and love, grace and mercy at work where only a struggling, failing, weak flesh was before. Even when it doesn’t come as I had expected He is still good.


 

This song from Hillsong United, Even When It Hurts, has been the inspiration for further digging on God’s goodness in the face of unanswered prayer and hard times. I hope you take time to listen today and the days ahead in whatever you face.