Broken

“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench” Isaiah 42:3

Ever had a time in your life when you were so far down the tubes you weren’t sure you would ever see the light of day again? Defeated? Worn out from the struggle? I’ve been there. It’s ok to admit you’re not superhuman, ok to want to roll over and play dead, or hope you just don’t wake up in the morning. God understands; He truly does.

During one of those moments in my life I happened to be reading an article in a Christian publication and Isaiah 42:3 jumped off the page at me. I sat there and thought about the words; thought about the imagery. The words comforted me; God understood how I felt.

Even though in every church I have ever attended there is a call for people to come forward to be prayed for if they find themselves in situations that have overwhelmed, often there has also been the underlying sense that being knocked down by life is a sign of weakness, perhaps sin that is unresolved.

I have been a part of a few “name it, claim it” churches, too. To admit your fallibility as a human and susceptibility to life’s harsh side is akin to being an unbeliever. That could be an overstatement, but you get the idea. Speak into existence what you want to happen, think positive thoughts, rebuke the devil, put on the full armor of God, stand strong in the face of adversity; there is nothing inherently wrong with these statements, it just ignores the reality….and the subsequent suffering.

Sometimes life hurts. We need someone to come alongside us and understand our pain. Too often there are well-meaning words of advice that rarely help. Trite quotations of scripture from the Bible. But in the face of adversity the words are empty, devoid of comfort.
In the midst of adversity or overwhelming circumstances we need to know we are loved, valuable, worthy of another’s time and effort. We need to know that God is on our side. The tenderness we need is reflected in the scripture from Isaiah. He sees the bruised reed, broken, bent by life’s troubles and He is not going to tread over it breaking it further. Sometimes we are like the smoking flax, our light very nearly extinguished and He promises not to quench what is left of the flame. Instead God will breath life into that smoking flax, steadily, gently reigniting the flame inside us.

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The Passion

The Passion, the ultimate story of redemption. I was watching a modern rendition of the Passion of Jesus the other night on television, totally caught up in the gut wrenching emotion of Yeshua’s last days on earth. I loved every minute, truly. Few things are done as creatively and well as that production.

In the past couple of months I have been studying the historical Jesus vs the Biblical Jesus. They are not one and the same; the two barely resemble one another. Historical Jesus is likely closer to the reality than what we read in the Bible, but I don’t totally discount the Biblical Jesus either. Somewhere in the middle is the person, the man known as Jesus.

So why the discrepancy? The “church” is largely responsible for creating the “Jesus” we are most familiar with for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to put the “church” and its leaders firmly in control of this new religion. Agree or disagree with me, the evidence can be easily found in the volumes of historical writings on the life of this most amazing man. His life split time as we know it. Who else can we say that about?

Back to The Passion. Watching the modern day account of the age old story of redemption, I was caught up in the emotion of the masterful retelling of the days leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Tears welled up in my eyes thinking of the price paid for my sins, for the sins of all of mankind. For God so loved the world……… He did then and He does now. And yet there is little historical fact in the beloved Easter story. So why is it so captivating, so meaningful?

I can only speak for myself, but The Passion, the Easter story, is a story of hope, a love story from God to His creation. I can examine my heart, my motivations, actions and life in relation to God’s mercy. Easter’s promise of redemption assures me that my life will have counted for something and that I played a part in the bigger picture. It’s hope of renewal affords me the opportunity to get it right today and in the future despite my flaws and past failures. I am humbled by the sacrifice to forgive my sins so that I can in turn forgive others when they have wronged me.

In the end it really doesn’t matter to me that the Biblical Jesus bears little resemblance to the historical Jesus; that the Easter story contains little historical fact. The peace that passes all understanding whispers to me from the cross that I am not alone for He is with me always…….even to the end of time.

Receiving…..it can be a challenge!

I don’t receive well…do you?? I don’t receive much of anything well. I don’t know what to do with compliments, can get downright resentful of anything if I perceive it to be a handout, and I’m not real fond of getting gifts, whether birthday, Christmas, or just because. It’s just one of my many “weirdities”!

I have spent a minute or two psychoanalyzing myself to come up with a plausible reason, but the greater question has now become how does this affect my relationship with God?

God blesses us; He gives us gifts. The Bible tells us He does, and I have been blessed by God. I have been blessed with 3 beautiful children, a wonderful husband, 3 great step children, a loving family, fabulous friends, a great job, sweet fur babies, shelter, clothing, a full tummy, wisdom (some would argue that!), etc. The blessings, or gifts, we receive from God are freely given. James 1:17 says, “Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father who made the heavenly lights” (The Complete Jewish Bible).

Back to the subject. If someone gives, another receives; that just makes sense! But what if we have trouble receiving? Is it because of ingratitude? I can only answer for myself and the answer is “no”. I truly do appreciate being given gifts. And gifts come in all forms.

Sometimes we are given gifts for our birthday, or Christmas. At other times we are given something from the abundance of another during our time of lack. Like when we lose a job, or another unexpected event occurs and we can’t pay our rent, or light bills, or are in need of groceries, maybe even clothing. Ever been there? I have at different times in my life; as a child and as an adult.

All of our experiences in life teach us lessons about life, ourselves, and about God if we are open to those lessons. How we perceive those lessons, in part, determines our reactions in the future. When most people give of themselves, or their resources, they get warm fuzzy feelings; the act is a positive experience. Agreed? Receiving is a little different, at least in my opinion.

Receiving has a lot to do with our self worth; how we feel about ourselves. In general, do you feel worthy of the attention of others, gifts, help? If not, receiving from others is going to be difficult.

Self worth, how we feel about ourselves and our value as a human being, is formed in childhood. Not to dog on the birth family, but self worth begins at birth, and some say, even before birth. Feelings are communicated, often without any words involved. Sometimes how we interpret those feelings we get from others is flawed, sometimes not.

In any case, self worth is formed by our experiences with people. Our experiences in school are responsible for much of our feelings about ourselves; more than you might realize. If you were part of the “in” crowd, the “cool” kids, you probably don’t have any idea what I am talking about. I was not part of the “in” crowd or the “cool” kids, so I picked up early in life that I wasn’t as “worthy” as others. Those perceptions of ourselves are then internalized and many of our decisions are based on those internalized perceptions and feelings. (I’m no psychiatrist, but I have spent a great deal of my life studying the human condition and analyzing myself!) Our ability to “receive” well is affected by all of the above.

Understanding ourselves and reactions to events or situations is the beginning of changing reactions that we are at odds. with. If we have difficulty receiving, that attitude may transfer to receiving from God, and if God is the perfect “Giver” I don’t want to be ungrateful.
God often gives from His abundance, and out of His love for us through people. It’s not going to be a “supernatural” experience in most cases, the “gift” will come through others. I am reminded of the story of the man who prayed for God to rescue him from the rising floodwaters. God had warned him, sent a car, a canoe, a motorboat and finally a helicopter, but the man turned them down saying that he would wait for God to save him. Finally the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned. As he stood before God the man asked God why He hadn’t saved him. God answered with the ways He had sent help, and then asked the man what he had wanted instead.

I don’t want to be like the man in the story and miss God’s blessings, His provision when He gives. We miss the blessings and provision if we look for the “supernatural” because more often than not the blessings and provision will come from the hand of another. But that makes it harder to receive, at least for me it does, and that’s part of the lesson, too: to receive from God thru the hands of others. People are God’s hands and feet many times, and we need to learn to receive from others, understanding God is doing the giving.

Do I think God can’t or won’t give to us “supernaturally”? Not at all, I know He can. To receive from another, however, requires us to be humble, to be vulnerable before another, to leave our pride at the door.
Another lesson for another day…..

It is Better to Give……..

Ever gone to church and the plate was passed to receive the “tithe”? Ever been a member of a church and had the elders, or pastor, or other designated person pay you a visit, or ask that you give a “tithe” (a tenth of your earnings) to the church? I know of people who have left a church because they were asked, one might even say badgered, to “give of their firstfruits”. Ever listened to a televangelist who promised that if you gave a tenth of your income to their ministry God would reward you in kind?

Did you know that “tithing” isn’t required? Do you know it’s origins? The Levitical law required that farmers and ranchers contribute a tenth of their harvest and livestock to the priests to support them as well as be distributed to the needy. But only farmers and ranchers; not everyone. If you were a carpenter you were not obligated. And in terms of the New Testament; it is not even mentioned except when Yeshua criticized the Pharisees for tithing to the leaf of their herb gardens, and yet neglecting the important matters of justice, mercy and faith.

We are, however, asked to give to others. There is a big difference between tithing and giving. Tithing was measured, required; giving is voluntary and the amount left up to you. There is a Biblical principal that the more generous one is, the more one will reap in return for their generosity. The “reaping and sowing” principal. This whole “tithing” thing is one more example of some misusing the Bible for their own purposes. The Pharisees misused the practice in Yeshua’s (Jesus) day, and many still misuse it today, whether intentional or not.

Story time!! I had gone to a concert at a church several years back to hear a singer/musician I liked. The church taught the “prosperity” message that was evident from the parking lot to the sanctuary. The pastor gave a mini teaching on giving-to get before the concert began. I clearly remember his point that once we got the giving “pipeline” going, God could take a “coffee break” (seriously, those were his words!) and the monetary blessings would flood our lives. Kind of like the divine slot machine in the heavenlies!! If I hadn’t been so offended I might have thought it was funny; I didn’t. Sadly, teachings like his are commonplace in many churches today.

What we decide to give and how much is a matter of the heart, and God is most interested in the condition of our hearts. If we “give to get” as is often the case with the teachings of some televangelists and churches, our motivations become suspect. But if we give with purity of heart, to genuinely help another in need, we are doing God’s work.

Giving isn’t always about money. We can give of our time, be a listening ear to someone who is hurting, help others in whatever way is needed, pay for someone else’s coffee in the Starbucks line, the list is truly endless. The point is we reach outside of ourselves and touch another’s life.

God uses people to bless other people. When we give to others in need we are sensitive to God’s voice and leading, and in the process we find ourselves drawing closer to God. It’s a win-win really.

Paying it forward has become a buzz phrase, but the principal is Biblical. It has been said we can’t out give God…..give it a try!

In God We Trust

The Bible talks a lot about trust. Trusting others, being trustworthy, trusting God. It talks about faith a lot too. They are not exactly the same thing. I don’t plan to argue the finer points of how faith and trust are different; suffice it to say that they are. Think of it this way; faith is something we have, and trust is something we do.

Do you have faith in God? The Bible says that we only need faith the size of a mustard seed for God to work with, and mustard seeds are pretty small. Sometimes I have more faith than at other times, but for the most part I think my faith is bigger than a mustard seed.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with trust. Trusting others and trusting God. In part, our ability to trust begins at birth. The experiences that we have throughout life add to our ability or inability to trust. In the end, trusting God is a choice, however.

Sometimes the whole faith and trust thing is misused by people in the church. Our relationship with God is a journey, and everyone is at a different place in their journey. Faith and trust need to be developed, and God allows circumstances and situations in our lives to hone and refine faith and trust.

My first experience as an adult in a church was in a “faith based” church. Apparently not all churches are “faith based” as it turns out! It was encouraged and expected that everyone would have the kind of faith that would move mountains, but in reality not all people do. It’s a journey thing. Getting the “opportunity” – their word, not mine – to put my faith into action proved difficult at best, and the response I got when I reached out was, “you don’t have enough faith!” I interpreted that to mean I had failed.

Ever had to trust God for something really big; something beyond your control? For me, at least, it can feel so uncertain, dark almost, my footing unstable. It’s not that I don’t think God is capable, or even willing to meet my need; it’s just that I sometimes let the circumstance overwhelm me. My focus is wrong. I tend to see the circumstances separate from my faith.

Having to trust God gives us the “opportunity” to exercise our faith. That sounds so spiritual!! Oh Lord, I’m using that word now! But seriously, if we didn’t have those times in our lives when the chips were down, medicine didn’t have answers for our health problems, or our lives seemed to be crumbling in front of our eyes, there would be no need to learn trust; to experience God’s power. Faith basically hangs out with us until trust needs to be kicked into high gear, but when we need to trust, our faith needs to be sure. We can’t just give lip service to faith and trust. We need to know exactly what we believe and Who is in control of the circumstances.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my foot and light on my path” (The Complete Jewish Bible). Faith is the lamp and the light it casts ahead of us. Ever been camping and had to find the bathhouse in the middle of the night in the pitch dark? We grab the flashlight, right? When we turn the flashlight on it casts a beam only a few inches in front of our feet; everything else remains hidden in the dark. We don’t know that there isn’t a bear lurking in the shadows just beyond the beam, do we? And yet we trust that the beam of light will illuminate the path in front of us so that we get to the bathhouse safely. Faith and trust at work.

God’s handle on our troubling circumstances is so much more sure than the flashlight we depend upon to lead us safely along a dark path. That’s a crazy thought, but in our defense the flashlight is a tangible object, something we can get a grip on. God, not so much. But the cool thing I have learned about God is that He uses the tangible things in our lives to teach us about Himself.

When troubling circumstances occur and we are overwhelmed by the seeming darkness threatening to overtake us, we need only to turn on our spiritual flashlight and illuminate the path. And the lesson in the beam of light is that it illuminates the few feet just in front of us; not the whole path. We don’t need the whole path lit. We need just enough light so that we don’t stumble or trip. In God’s perfect time the result of our trust will be revealed.

Faith and trust are not meant to be easy. They are meant to move us closer to God, to strengthen our relationship and dependence on Him, and to move us outside of ourselves. Do I still struggle? Yes, I do. Quite truthfully I believe everyone struggles to one degree or another, and that’s perfectly ok. We are all on a journey……