Remembering Who We Are

When someone asks who you are, what do you say?Woman_love_question.svg

I’m guessing it’s some version of “I’m a … mom, wife, aunt, grandma, teacher, graphic designer, lawyer, church volunteer….”

This kind of answer tells a lot about what you do and how you relate to people. But does it really tell who you are? What happens if you lose one of these things—for good reasons or not so good ones. You choose to stay home with kids so are no longer defined by your career—or you lose a job. Your kids head off to college, your grandkids outgrow you, or you lose a spouse to death or divorce. So who are you then?

When I answer the “who am I” question, I often tell people that I direct Take Heart or work in women’s ministry leadership at my church. But recently, I started looking for a job. It meant, potentially, that the volunteer activities I let define me would take a back seat. It wasn’t a complete separation from those activities, but I couldn’t commit to things I loved to do, like leading a weekly Bible Study. I felt kind of lost and purposeless. Who was I?

In the midst of my floundering, I wanted God to quickly show me what the new me would look like, so I could settle into my new identity. Instead, God reminded me that who I am has nothing to do with what I do. Rather, who I am has everything to do with who God is and what He has done for me.

Did you get that?

Who I am has nothing to do with what I do. Rather, who I am has everything to do with who God is and what He has done for me.

God began to take me to passages like Ephesians 1: 3-13, challenging me to personalize them. Check it out:

  • God has blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven.
  • God chose me in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world.
  • God destined me to be his adopted child through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to me freely through the Son whom he loves.
  • I have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and I have forgiveness for my failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over me with wisdom and understanding.
  • I have also received an inheritance in Christ.
  • I was destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design.
  • I was sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because I believed in Christ.

It’s a pretty impressive resume, isn’t it?

It would be a lie to say that I’m all-of-the-sudden secure in who I am apart from what I do. But I’m beginning to think differently about my identity, to look to God for my answers, and to trust that God’s truth will make the journey from my head to my heart!

Image by Sunset_02459.jpg: Nevit Dilmen Do_you_love_me.svg via Wikimedia Commons

I Really Want to be Like Jesus…

I really want to be like Jesus…

Instead, I disappoint my friends, speak harsh words, and let the dumbest things get me off track.

It was one of those days. By lunchtime I was in tears over the ways I had failed. I flopped on the couch at our Take Heart office, totally discouraged.

Then my eyes drifted up to a picture on our wall, one of the framed pieces we’d used in our prayer chapel:

enterhisrest Enter His rest. Be still in His silence. Be renewed in His quiet.

As I read these calming words, I began to feel the peace of Christ wash over me, reminding me of the forgiveness that is available to all who ask.

I was reminded that God called us to Himself “while we were yet sinners.”(Romans 5:8) When Jesus said “come to me all you who are weary and burdened,” he didn’t say we had to get it right before we came.

In fact, he was calling to the discouraged. To people like me who start the day by the Spirit and too easily slip into the habits of the flesh.

I closed the office door, eased back down into the couch, and the tears that fell became tears of gratitude for the love of a Good Father. One whose arms are always open. One who calls us to be renewed in His Presence. One who readies us to go out again, to work out our salvation, learning to be like Jesus one moment at a time.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt:11:28-30

Fighting Fair with God

madwomanShe was mad. Mad at her husband. Mad at her boss. Mad at the world. And mad at God. She ranted about how badly life had treated her. And how she couldn’t understand why God didn’t fix things for her.

My heart reached out to her. She had really been through a lot. Some of her struggles were truly not her fault. But other problems were, at least in part, the result of her own bad choices.

To blame God for not rescuing her from her own poor choices—well, that just wasn’t fighting fair.

But—in fairness—while my friend’s rantings made her error more obvious, one look at the mirror told me that she wasn’t the only one who sometimes blames God for problems she walks into all by herself!

Scripture gives plenty of examples of people struggling with God, pleading with God, pouring out their troubles and asking for rescue. And I absolutely believe God would have us fight things through with Him rather than walk away from Him.

But, as I look at the Scriptures, I see certain principles of fair fighting, certain truths that can turn our rantings at God to a growing trust in God.

  1. Remember who God is.

I think of Job, who truly didn’t deserve his hard times, but was still chastened for questioning God. God’s reply to his complaint:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.” (Job 38:4) and

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?” Job 40:2a

When we pridefully challenge God, we dishonor Him by forgetting that God is Creator and that we are created. We fail to acknowledge how little we understand about His purposes for the world and for us.

David also had plenty of troubles. And he very openly poured out his anguish and complaints to God, saying things like:

“My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3)

“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)

“My God, my god, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1)

But even as David questioned God’s presence and provision, he never forgot who God is. Look at these verses from the same three psalms:

In Psalm 6, David calls on God to save him, “because of [his] unfailing love” (v 4 ) affirming that because “the Lord accepts my prayer,” “all my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed.” (v 9 and 10).

In Psalm 10, David says that “the Lord is King for ever and ever,” the God who hears “the desire of the afflicted.” (v 16 and 17).

In Psalm 22, immediately after asking God why He has seemingly ignored David, David says “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them (vss 3-4).

Taking time to remember who God is gives us an important perspective check. God is good. God loves us. But God is sovereign and does not answer to us.

  1. Remember who we are.

 When my friend and I blame God for our circumstances, so often we forget

  • Our own limited perspective
  • Our personal responsibility

After hearing God’s answer to his railings, Job replied, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5)

When we remember who God is as Creator and who we are as the created, we realize the arrogance of our arguments, and come before him humbly.

And, as Paul reminds us in Romans 3, that humble place is not only because we are created. It is because we are fallen:

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

When I bring my complaints before God recognizing my sin, I am less likely to blame God for things that are my own fault. Instead, I am humbled to ask God to forgive me, to transform me, and to help me. And I am reminded that it is God’s grace that works to redeem my messes for my good and His glory. 

  1. Remember that God has the best plan.

When I rant at God, it’s often because I know what I want. I think I know best, and I’m not getting it!

Yet when I think about requests God has said “no” to in the past, it’s very often with a sense of gratitude. Because looking back, I catch glimpses of the work God was doing that I couldn’t see at the time—character building, preparing me for even greater blessing.

I believe God is pleased when we bring Him our hurts and even our frustrations with His apparent lack of help. And sometimes we have to wrestle with God about intense feelings of hurt and disappointment. Like barren Hannah, we can pray “out of great anguish and grief” (1 Samuel 1:16) But as we fight fair, remembering who God is, and who we are in relation to him, we can also leave the fight with faces like Hannah’s that are “no longer downcast” (v 18) because of a restored trust in our good, loving God. 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, at FreeDigitalPhoto.net.

 

Trust…?

I listened as two friends fretted about sending their children to overnight camp for the first time. No calls home. No daily reports. Five days without knowing how their children were.

Their kids were with loving, responsible church members, but it was still hard to let them go. asburyhills

It’s funny how much we think we trust someone until it really matters.

Even God.

I say I trust God. But the proof of our trust in God comes in our actions.

I say I trust God to watch over my kids, but will I reject worry while they’re away at camp (or kindergarten, or college)?

I say that I trust God to love people through me, but will I stick with the hard relationships while He does? 

I say that I trust God to provide for my needs, but will I live generously and joyfully, even when times are lean?

Truly trusting God is hard, but it’s a crucial part of our faith. Author Brennan Manning says “The stakes here are enormous, for I have not said in my heart, ‘God exists,’ until I have said, ‘I trust you.’” 1 Trust is the action that confirms our belief.

James 2:17 tells us that faith without works is dead. Perhaps trust is the first and most important of those works, those proofs of our faith.

It was hard for my friends to leave their kids at camp. But they did, because ultimately they knew the adults supervising them were trustworthy.

The more we know that God is trustworthy, the more we act in trust. We learn of God’s trustworthiness through His Word, as we pray, and through the faith of those around us. Then, as we act in trust ourselves, we allow God to prove his faithfulness in very personal ways.

 

1Manning, Brennan (2010-10-12). Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God (Kindle Location 145). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The Dead End View

bikeshadowIt was a sunny vacation morning. I hopped on my bike, looking forward to a worry-free time exploring beachside streets. But as often happens, my worries hopped on board.

I began to think about the series of blog posts I had planned to write this summer. The ones (about what it means to be blessed) that still aren’t written.

I started the series in the spring, but all my efforts to add more installments ended in frustration. I hit dead end after dead end.deadend1

I couldn’t move forward with my plan, so I didn’t move forward at all. I felt like a failure.

I wondered and worried, what does a writer do when she can’t work past a dead end?

deadend2And as I rode and wondered, I realized I was riding past dead end sign after dead end sign.

So I began exploring these dead end streets.

Some simply ended.roadfade

Others faded into footpaths and unexplored territory.

And still others ended with a breathtaking view.view1

Then it hit me.

Sometimes in life, our plans don’t work out. Whether in writing or relationships, careers or creative projects, we come to dead ends.

We may need to turn around.

We may decide to hack our way through overgrown paths.

Or sometimes, we need to let go of unfinished plans, park our bikes, and enjoy the view.

Ironically, as I took in the amazing dead end view, I felt truly blessed.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Blessed? Part 2: Hopeless

Aside

Imagine this:

A good friend calls to say “I wanted to let you know how blessed I am. Yep. I’m in a womanonphonereally good place. Happy even!”

“Why?” you ask. “What happened?” You know she’s been struggling financially, as well as with some serious family problems. You wonder if she’s won the lottery, or received some other out-of-the-ordinary help.

“Because I’m hopeless! I have no answers for any of my problems!” she responds enthusiastically.

Do you drop the phone? Suggest your friend might be feverish? Call for the men in white coats?

 As crazy as it sounds, our imaginary friend may have a thoroughly Biblical perspective on her situation.

Last week, I invited you to join me on a “blessed quest”—a search for understanding of what it means to walk in God’s blessings. I figured we’d start our quest with the words in red—what Jesus said about being blessed.

Most of what Jesus says about what it means to be blessed is contained in Matthew 5, in a 10-verse long section of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes, which means—drumroll please—the Blessings!

The Beatitudes are one of those parts of Scripture that many of us think we know, so I thought I’d check them out in a newer, less familiar translation. See how the Common English Bible translates the first of Jesus’s list of blessings, from Matthew 5:3:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

In case you don’t recognize this verse, the NIV translates Matthew 5:3 this way:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I’d read the NIV version before, but hadn’t thought much about what it means to be poor in spirit. I wondered: does it really mean “hopeless?”

When you look at the Greek text, “poor in spirit” is a pretty literal translation. One who is poor in spirit is one whose spirit is in absolute poverty—a beggar in spirit. It is one who has to plead for help from others because they have no resource on their own. In other words, one who is hopeless.

(So the scholars who translated the CEB version knew what they were talking about—imagine that. I’m sure they’re relieved to know I think so :)!)

But that still doesn’t help me understand what Jesus meant. How can being poor in spirit—hopeless—possibly be a blessing?

What do you think? (I’d seriously like to know!)

As I pondered what Jesus might have meant, an analogy came to mind:

We have one of those minivans that allows you remove and replace the seats with the push of one little lever. It’s totally easy IF you have the seat in the right position.

For some reason, it took me a long time to figure out what that position was. So I would wrestle for a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the seats out or put them back in. Often my son Morgan (who knew how to work the seats) would find me hunched over the seat, sweating and cranky.

There’s only room in the doorway for one person to mess with the seats, so Morgan would stand back and watch me struggle until I gave up and asked for help. Then he would step up to the car, position the seat properly, and Voila! It worked like magic.

As soon as I conceded my inability to fix the seat and moved, Morgan was able to solve the problem. But in my stubbornness, I wouldn’t get out of the way—until I had to admit I was totally hopeless.

Could it be that when we try to live life on our own we are actually blocking the blessings of God? Could it be that, when we hold stubbornly to the belief that we can handle challenges by ourselves, we are actually getting in God’s way?

Perhaps it’s only when we get to the end of our own ropes—when we are hopeless/poor in spirit—that we able to allow the grace and power of God to work in our lives.

Perhaps, as we admit our helplessness we open the door for God to rule in our lives, thus receiving the promised blessing, the kingdom of heaven.

Can you think of times in your life when, only as you gave up you were empowered, only as you lost hope, you found God’s provision?

Then, my friend, you have been poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, and Jesus calls you blessed.

Will you call someone and tell them?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about what it means to walk in God’s blessings. Please post your comments here or on the Women at the Well Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WomenAtTheWellbsumc.

 

Aside

Image

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

What does it really mean when we say “I’m blessed”?

One popular blogger says that “I’m blessed” is the one thing Christians should stop saying. He reasons that when we say “I’m blessed” because of material blessings (or I would add, things like good health), we are in danger of making God “some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.”1

I agree that we need to be careful about how we use the term “blessed.” A friend— the mom of a special needs child—recently related a conversation she had with an acquaintance. The acquaintance told her that her own family had been “so blessed” to have a healthy baby, after being told the baby might have a diagnosis similar to that of my friend’s child.

My hackles raised at the implication that my friend was somehow less blessed than this woman; her absolutely adorable child is indeed a blessing. Yet—like the acquaintance—I remember feeling relieved and blessed when each of my children were born in perfect health.

So, is it wrong to thank God for things we have that others don’t? Is it ok to feel blessed that your child got into his choice of college, even when his best friend didn’t? Should we consider a new job a blessing even when others are unemployed?

These questions have started me thinking—what does it mean to walk in God’s blessings? I do believe that all good things come from God. And I want to “praise God from whom all blessings flow” as the traditional Doxology exhorts us. But I’m not sure I have a good understand of what those good things are; maybe I’m not sure I have a Biblical understanding of what it means to be blessed.

So, I’m on a quest to understand better what it means to walk in God’s blessings, to be able to recognize “every good and perfect gift [that] is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”

The quest may take a while…the concept of blessing is all over Scripture. The New American Standard Bible uses some form of the word “bless” in 486 verses, translating a variety of Hebrew and Greek terms.

But if the idea of blessing is that common in the Bible, it must be important, and I’d like to get it right.

How about you? Would you like to join me on my journey?

In the weeks to come, I’ll share the insights I glean, and I would love to hear yours as well. Please post your comments, and perhaps–as we journey together–we will be truly blessed.

1Dannemiller, Scott, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.” Weblog post. The Accidental Missionary. 20 Feb. 2014. 5 May 2014 (http://theaccidentalmissionary.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-one-things-christians-should-stop-saying/).