Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What If Your Wounds Help Set Others Free?

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What if your scars point to a greater glory? — Jennie Allen
Again, Jacob/Israel was foolish — this time he sent Joseph out to brothers who despised him.
When you look back on the landscape of your life, how much of the suffering you’ve endured can be directly traced to foolishness (yours or someone else’s)?
In Genesis 37:18 we learn that Joseph’s brothers’ rage of jealousy (because he was the favorite and because he bragged to them about his dreams from God) led them to murderous intent. His big brother, Reuben, was the only one with a conscience. “Come on, guys. Let’s not kill him. Let’s just throw him in this water tank.”
Imagine them sitting there eating dinner listening to him call out to be released.
What kind of hard-hearted hatred does it take to listen to your brother cry out from the bottom of a cistern and keep on casually eating fish and matzah?
Then Judah suggested they sell him instead of kill him because “after all he is our brother”. (How very menschy of him!). So, they killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s famous multi-colored robe in the blood and took it to their dad, Israel, who grieved so deeply he thought he might die.
Have you ever grieved so passionately that you thought you might actually die from the weight of anguish?.. I have.
(We are skipping the story of Judah and Tamar but it isn’t because this part isn’t important. It’s actually because a key to understanding how God changed Judah between the time Joseph was sold and when they finally meet again years later and the tables have radically turned {Check out Genesis 42}. For more in-depth study, Max Lucado has a fabulous teaching on Judah and Tamar.)
Joseph was sold to Potiphar who “happened” to be one of Pharaoh’s head honchos (Genesis 39). God positioned him exactly where He wanted him. There Joseph served faithfully and God blessed the entire household because of him. He was a righteous man. He was also a handsome, well-built man. The problem? Potiphar’s wife was a cougar. After harassing him repeatedly with seductive advances, she finally grabbed him by his robe and insisted he go to bed with her and Joseph literally ran right out of that coat away from temptation and sin! Way to go, Joe!
After being rebuffed so severely by him, the woman scorned accused him of attempted rape and Joseph went to prison.
Prison!
But the Lord was with him! Even wrongfully jailed, Joseph was faithful to God and gained favor until, other than the warden, he was in charge of everything.

What are your favorite stories?

The richest, most powerful stories are ones of redemption in the face of severe trial, aren’t they? The Count of Monte Cristo, The Joy Luck Club, The Kite Runner, Shawshank Redemption, Cinderella Man, Life Is Beautiful just to name a few… There’s an endless list of stories, both ancient and modern, about inexplicable beauty, surprising grace, leadership, victory, redemption, and gorgeous service of others born out of the worst of possible, most suffering-laden circumstances.
God is in the business of redemption. 
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. — Helen Keller
We all suffer. We all have painful stories. There’s no way to escape being terribly wounded on this shattered planet. But, the worst kind of suffering is the kind that isn’t allowed to be used by God for good. It’s hidden. Buried. Wasted. Purposeless suffering breeds hopelessness.
I don’t want to life to end without every single scrippy-scrap of pain in my life fully redeemed, totally submitted to God to use in whatever ways He sees fit. I don’t want to keep any of it in my own hands, covered up in shame, or grief, or bitterness. Lord, please use every bit of my pain for Your purposes. 
… And the grossest stuff becomes the richest, most fertile soil. — Jennie Allen 

What if your scars point to a greater glory?

Building a beautiful, loving, life-long marriage partnership and raising a family has always been the most important thing to me. My husband and I had a girl first and then a boy and decided to stop at two because I was seriously terrible at being pregnant. I had hyper-emesis from about 20 minutes after sex until just after the baby popped out which means I have vomited everywhere. In my car. The kitchen. Parking lots. Nordstrom. Costco. At the movies. In the ocean. On the side of the road. Restaurants. The grocery store. All over Southern California. Maui. Arizona. Into Ziplock baggies. Onto my own lap. You name the place, and I’ve probably barfed there. Oh, I’ve even thrown up at the Sistine Chapel!.. Holy hurl.
After that God said “adopt” which led us to Gwennie & Gabbie. Very long, painful story for another day, their adoption got interrupted by a law suit and we lost them after 3 ½ months. I was beyond devastated. But, out of that pain came great joy. A young woman in church watched all of this unfold, and when she discovered she was pregnant and unable to care for the baby, she decided she wanted me to be the mother of her precious little one. That’s beauty from ashes!
Several years (and many, many chunks blown) later, we had another daughter by birth and then adopted our youngest from Ethiopia.
Being a wife and mama has been my entire life. My whole heart. My full purpose. Homeschooling. Field trips. Family days. Studying the Bible together. There were years of envisioning five graduations, five weddings, oodles of grandbabies, Christmases, vacations, good years and bad years, growing old and gray together, and ministering together. Even though our marriage was hard. Really, really hard.
I thought, Maybe we’ll write a book about a difficult marriage made gorgeous by God? Maybe we’ll write about raising kids in a difficult marriage, through challenging and lonely years, but finding that the Lord got us through?
But, years ago, I’ve not really been able to pinpoint when exactly, my marriage started unraveling faster than I could hold the ragged ends together. (I’m skipping huge blocks of ugly details here. Because, really, it’s just gross, and awful, and sad, and messy, and scary, and it’s stomach-squeezing to talk about especially since I’m still in the thick of it.)
Suffice it to say, finally it became hostile and dangerous and our marriage and family broke. Specifically, I broke it.
I remember after we lost the girls wondering, “Why is everyone just driving their cars, going out to lunch, and picking up the dry cleaning? What are they doing?! Why are they all acting normal?!”
This kind of world-rocking grief feels like everything should come to a screeching halt… but it doesn’t. Life continues and it feels like an additional assault upon a heart that’s already cracked wide open.
I couldn’t see straight, or think straight, or know what to do with myself. I was both numb and on fire, both in shock and collapsing from the weight of grief. Walking into walls unable to cope. I needed babysitters, people who would be with me and tell me what to do. I needed Post-It notes that said things like:
  • Get out of bed.
  • Get in the Word.
  • Take a shower.
  • Eat real food.
  • Exercise.
  • Do something for someone else.
  • Laugh.
  • Go to bed at a decent hour.
What’s additionally painful is that I can look back and see the potential redemption that was right there in it. It could have been healed! It just wasn’t.
People who are separated or divorced may joke (or bitterly comment) that they just married badly. I don’t feel like that. I think I married very well. We just did marriage very badly. There were more unresolved arguments than peace and that didn’t have to be the case. More lies and hiding than truth. More fear than trust. More shaky seasons than secure ones. More bitter loneliness than lovemaking. And more sheer agony than the growing-in-togetherness-glory that marriage is supposed to be. I wifed poorly. He husbanded poorly. There were years that I just begged God to show me how to wife him because I couldn’t find a way that worked. Either that or let me die, God, because this is shredding me.
At some point, we crossed the invisible threshold from “difficult” marriage to “destructive” marriage.
I cried oceans.  Many, many hours were spent prostrate in an empty chapel just thrashed, shell-shocked, grieving, unrecognizable even to myself.
But, I have no doubt that my husband and I were supposed to be married until death parted us. Simply put — the enemy won.
Something about losing everything you love pushes us right up into the Face of God. — Jennie Allen
God changes us through the suffering He allows or even ordains in our lives. He met me in the ashes of the destruction of my marriage and family. The Lord showed me my black-heartedness and He spoke words of love and forgiveness over me. He chased me and He changed me.
He is changing me.
Trials, hardship, pain, suffering — They shape us and mold our character. Out in that painful wilderness we come face to Face with God Almighty. And we are brought to our knees. Shown our wickedness. Called to repentance. Forgiven. Anointed. Given a vision for the future. Given direction. Changed from the inside out. Breathed into. And our stories get repurposed for His glory!
God redeems. It’s part of His character. — Jennie Allen
I want God to use it ALL — every moment, every story, every teardrop. Only He knows what that looks like yet, but I do know God has luscious, gorgeous, redemption built right into the desert, the wasteland of suffering, for the purposes of bringing Himself glory and setting other broken hearts free… both in my life and in yours!
He will redeem your wounds, your saddest stories, your brokenness and sin and bring glory out of all of it. He will!

Prayer

Oh, Holy Spirit, help us. Help us courageously face our stories of suffering. Meet us in the wilderness of our pain and change us from the inside out. Let our stories be redeemed into something beautiful for Your glory and for the purpose of helping others. Give us compassionate hearts for the hurting around us and the strength and courage to share our stories with those who need to hear that You are the Redeemer! We love you with everything that is in us! We are so grateful for Your presence, Your forgiveness, and Your hand of grace on our lives. Thank You, Abba, for loving us so dearly that You never forsake or abandon us. You chase us. You seek us out. You love us. We are so grateful. Amen.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Live Restless Bible Study — Week 3

There's nothing like starting Bible study with an OOPS and a bad case of the giggles!

(I need to have a little chat with my friend, David, who keeps choosing a title image that's awful of me. Jaime's is pretty classic in this one, too. Cracking me up!)

Monday, February 17, 2014

What Are Your Gifts?

Jennie’s right. This is hard.
I’ve avoided writing about this week’s Restless study lesson for three days.
They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud. — John Flavel
I don’t want to talk about gifts.
Because, the thing is, I know myself fairly well. And, honey, it isn’t pretty. My focus for the last several years has been to grow in my relationship with Jesus and to ask God dig into my heart and heal brokenness as the Holy Spirit has convicted me over and over again of the things that needed to change. Repenting my way through journals and journals. Asking Him to reveal Himself to me, to gift me with a greater longing and inloveness for Him, and to plant in me a convictable heart. Asking the Holy Spirit to shine the light on all the places where I hide, or lie, or try to camouflage with a fig leaf and a winning smile. Seeking friendships with women who depend upon the Word and who press into deepening relationships with God. Asking those trusted ones to speak into my life and going hard after being changed by grace. Asking Him to burn away whatever is dead and useless. Asking the Lord to redeem my brokenness and use every bit of it for His glory. It’s been a season of seeking God and repenting, and seeking God more and repenting more.
So, gifts have gone by the wayside. Ignored. They’ve gotten dusty to the point that they feel sort of… pathetic, weak, and fruitless. Like they were last used a lifetime ago. That’s embarrassing.
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I think I’m afraid to talk about gifts partly because not only have I not been very fruitful for several years, but also because at some point I stopped believing I had any left to offer. It also has to do with the fear of appearing arrogant as Jennie and I discussed on our Author Live-Chat, and partly because of plain old fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of not being wanted, fear of inability or inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of the mocking voices that would say, You can’t do that! Who do you think you are? You don’t belong! And I’ve feared opposition, making a fool of myself, disappointing God and disappointing others.
I don’t know what your fears are, but I know if they aren’t from God they are from the enemy, and they need to be taken apart. — Jennie Allen
It helps me so much that at the beginning of the story of young Joseph (Genesis 37:1-11), we meet him as a spoiled brat tattle-tale! He’s the puffed up braggart bringing Dad (Jacob, the manipulative “tripper” or “deceiver” who wrestled with God in Genesis 32 and whom God renamed Israel) bad reports of his half-brothers… but, whom God uses anyway! That is good news, friends! The Bible is filled with stories of sinful, flawed, broken, normal people that the Lord radically and beautifully transforms for His purposes.
(Next week we’re going to talk about what God did in Joseph’s life in order to transform him, prepare him, and position him and let me just say ahead of time that it’s also good news, but it won’t feel like it because it involves suffering and loss, mistreatment and pain.)
Some of Joseph’s issues stem from Jacob/Israel, that’s true. He was loved more than any of his half-brothers. He was treated better than them. He got better gifts. (Which reminds us parents: favoritism doesn’t do kids any favors!) It was pretty much a given that his brothers would hate him. Why wouldn’t they?
But, not all of it was Daddy’s fault. Joseph made matters worse for sure. Totally aside from the human mess, though, Joseph was ordained with the supernatural gift of dreaming spiritual dreams and being able to interpret them. That part was ALL GOD!
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In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul teaches about spiritual gifts and that we, the Church, are to operate in unity since we are one Body. We are to celebrate one another’s gifts! We are to deeply value and honor one another. We are to use our gifts for the benefit of everyone else. They’re not meant to beat others up with, or to feel proud or ashamed about, or like we are above or below others in significance.
Our gifts’ primary purpose is for building up others. — Jennie Allen
I love how Jennie points out that right after Paul teaches about gifts and the unity of the Body of Christ, he goes straight into teaching about love. That without love we are just noise, noise, and more noise. We are nothing. And, we gain nothing.
And, yet I still struggled through this week’s lesson. If something could possibly distract me, it did. Out of frustration, this was my Facebook status:
Why is it that whenever I sit down with my Bible to study and write, the phone buzzes like mad with calls, emails, and texts, and my dogs bark relentlessly? Why does my brain think of everything on my To Do List? The laundry is done. My room and desk are clean. I’ve prepared today’s meals. I have cleaned out drawers, emptied the trash, wiped down countertops, made a phone call, and written a thank you note. I’ve prayed and meditated, showered and dressed, and decided I don’t need a manicure.
Good grief, woman! Just write!
Talking about gifts is hard. Asking others what your gifts are is hard. Writing about gifts is hard!
I can ask my friends what my faults are, my sins, my blind spots, areas where I need to stretch, grow, and mature in any day of the week and twice on Sundays. But, asking “what are my gifts”? That feels selfish, self-centered, praise-seeking, and yucky.
So, I don’t want to talk about my gifts. It’s weird and uncomfortable and I feel squirmy. But, here I go anyway…
James 1:17
What if the things you love to do actually converge with God’s will? - Jennie Allen

Continue reading here.
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Prayer

God, we love You so much! Thank You for endowing us with particular, supernatural gifts and talents. Thank You for getting under the hood with us as we explore what You have for us to do and be for the purpose of bringing You glory. Open our eyes to see how we may love and serve You more. Expand the boundaries and knock down walls. Help us to be brave and help us to always be humble. Teach us to celebrate one another’s gifts and to cooperate together as one Body. We want to give you all the glory, Abba! We adore You! Amen.

Live Restless Bible Study — Week 2

Monday, February 10, 2014

God Chases Us!

This week I had the privilege of being a part of something absolutely miraculous and gorgeous. Messy, painful, broken, agonizing, and so, so beautiful.
Along the way, I discovered that you can actually grieve and giggle at the same time.
An agnostic Muslim friend I’ve not seen in 26 years shared her heartbreak with me. A brutal, shattered story. One of long-term destructive circumstances. One of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual abuse.  One of trying, and trying, and trying, and trying, and never being able to make it be better, never being able to find peace, safety, and sanity in her home and family. One of exhaustion, and depression, and desperation. We wept together as she shared how she sees strength in me and wants to be strong, too, and how she sees that I have God and she needs God in her life, too.
And I got to tell her I’m just a messy, broken person who knows and loves Jesus. He is the only reason I’m doing OK and even have JOY even though a lot about my circumstances stinks and my heart is still broken.
It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, what your history is, what mistakes you’ve made, what you know about God, or don’t know about Him. It doesn’t matter. He just wants YOU. He wants you to not be lost anymore. He’s everything you need. For real.
I got to share with her the words of one of my pastors,
“The world will say that because you’ve been abandoned that you have no value and nobody wants you. You are worthless in their sight. But that is a lie. The truth is that you have a loving Heavenly Father who will never leave you or forsake you. Who loves you so much and considers you so precious that He came to earth and He died for you. He sacrificed Himself so that you would know His love. And not only that, but He has given you a future of HOPE and of purpose!” — Laurie Beshore, Mariners Church
I got to pray for her, buy her a Bible and a copy of Streams in the Desert (an excellent devotional for seasons of trial), and invite her to church with me this weekend. Seriously, I feel like watching this redemptive, beautiful rescue unfold will go down in God’s Big Book of His Relentless Love as one of the most eternity-impacting moments of my life. See? Weeping and giggling at the same time!
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God is so astounding! I saw Him reach down and grab this beautiful, crushed woman He’s clearly been wooing (with heartbreak, as He so often does) for decades and draw her to Himself because He loves her so much. He wove all the mess together, crafting it all into just the right circumstances, at just the right moment, and just the right place because He loves her!
God has been with her and chasing her all this time!
Just as He has been with you in your story and with me in my story and chasing you and me all this time!
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How GREAT is our God?!
How incredible that He let me be a witness to her rescue! To the beginning of her learning who Jesus is and her soon-to-be salvation because she is craving Him!
We are all born craving Him. We just don’t know it.
Instead, we fill that God-void — with relationships, with ugly glorification of ourselves or of others, with position, or power, or money, or success, or food, or activities, or addictions, or some kind of identity for ourselves, sex, pleasure, shopping, TV. If it exists, we can make an idol of it. But, idols and substitutes will never, ever satisfy!
Nothing but Jesus Christ Himself, living in daily relationship with Him, relying on Him, being led and loved by Him, surrendering to His direction, and enjoying Him will ever satisfy that craving.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men. — Ecclesiastes 3:11
“Something deep down inside us is made to live for a story bigger than ourselves — the story of the One who made us. Any other version of this story will consistently feel shallow and empty.” — Jennie Allen
This is what it’s all about! We were created for the purpose of giving Him glory! It’s not about me. It’s about God! My story is to be set inside His Great Story!
It’s so easy for it to turn into a story about ME, though, because we’re all basically Me-Monsters, aren’t we? Our study this week touched on this issue that we have to consistently fight — Arrogance (or the fear of appearing arrogant) — in order to be used for God’s purposes. Jennie and I also touched on arrogance and fear of appearing arrogant in our live-chat because it’s a handicap for all of us.
Man was made to rely on God and give Him glory. Instead man chose to rely on himself and seek his own glory — to make a name for himself. — John Piper
Which resonates with you? I think I struggle with both. I’m stained with sinful arrogance and also so stomach-turningly repulsed by pride that makes me fear appearing prideful. It’s both.
As Jennie wrote, “So we fight the desire to build our own towers. When we do the great things He prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), but we do them in and through and for the Name and glory of God.”
Our hearts must be completely His (2 Chronicles 16:9) before we can start to dream. — Jennie Allen

Read the rest of this post here on FaithGateway.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Live Restless Bible Study — Week 1

Here's week one, friends! If you've not yet dived into Jennie Allen's Restless  Bible study, please do! Sign up here and join us.

Next week will be our first week with guests from our FaithGateway community!