The dream lied buried deep in their hearts. For they held onto it…year after year.
Praying. Hoping. Believing.
Surely, the gift of life does not seem too much to ask. Does it?
And then it happens. God announces that the dream has been freed from it’s deeply burrowed place. “The Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.” Then he said to him, “That’s how many children will be born into your family.” Abram believed the Lord. The Lord was pleased with Abram because he believed. So Abram’s faith made him right with the Lord. “(Genesis 15:5-6)
The vision emerges. Expectation is birthed.
Waiting ensues. Frustration takes root in the place the dreams had burrowed. God promised to provide. How long do you wait?
The longing for fulfillment of a dream lingers. The vision was cast. The lips tasted the words of thanksgiving. The seduction for immediate gratification lures. Earthly wisdom speaks into the heart.
The dream becomes idolotry-worthy of attaining at any cost.
And the consequences commence.
Jealousy. Abuse of power. Confusion. Broken Relationship. God promised to provide. In His timing and in His way.
If only they could have waited. If only we learn to wait. “When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him. He said, “I am the Mighty God. Walk faithfully with me. Live in a way that pleases me. 2 I will now act on my covenant between me and you. I will greatly increase the number of your children after you.” (Genesis 17:1-2)
Human nature hasn’t changed. We see ourselves in the lives of those who have came before us.
God hasn’t changed. We see God’s character through the lives of those who came before us.
Though God blessed Ishmael, we are reminded of the consequences when we don’t surrender our dreams to the One who gave them to us.
God’s question wasn’t directed only to Abraham and Sarah :
“Is anything too hard for me?” (Genesis 18:14)
What are you afraid to surrender?
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For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all these things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.(Hebrews 4:15-16).
Satan is well aware of those windows of opportunity by which we are most vulnerable to the reaching of his grip.
A few months ago, in what appeared to be a stable season of my life, I found myself in battle. For one day, I felt a force threatening to keep my mind, body, and soul from grasping onto hope. It was the peak of a descent into a darkness of which I had never before experienced. I literally felt a heaviness that kept pressing down on me; making the transition from laying in my bed to standing up nearly impossible. Yet, in the midst, I pulled out my armor and fought.
The point of evil’s intrusion occurred as I was struggling with an unexpected mood change. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a several years. Not surprisingly, the seasons of stability have given way here and there to brief phases of losing my footing. Those moments challenged me but I always found the ability to arise and keep walking forward.
I refused to let Satan draw me back from finding the place where God was leading me. I recognized the tactics of discouragement, unrestrained anger and hopelessness. (Read about another battle here: http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/08/31/if-god-can-raise-a-man-from-the-dead-why-cant-he-keep-my-crockpot-from-falling-2/) When I found my spirit listening to voices which beckoned to surrender hope, I cried out to Jesus to help me claim victory over them.
Struggles of the mind and body are not indications of a weak faith or losing “favor” with God. They are consequences of the broken realities of the world in which we reside. This place points to the complete restoration which is possible in our Heavenly home but may not be experienced in it’s complete form here.
However, we are offered wholeness in our spirit through the grace of Jesus. He not only triumphed over the power but wrestled with it himself. Until the end of his life. “…yet without sin.” What is the significance of these three small words in reference to the act of being a high priest?
Being a high priest brought with it a significant amount of responsibility. He acted as God’s representative to proclaim that the offering for sin had been redeemed. Reconciliation to God had been achieved.
These individuals were specifically chosen based on character and knowledge of the Jewish law. But, their humanity still existed. Very possibly, they had committed the same sins as those who came to them seeking forgiveness.
Only Jesus could wear the title of “high priest” and yet also become the offering at the same time. By doing so, he removed the “curtain” that separated the humanly appointed righteous from the humanly designated unrighteous.
In addition, his humanity left him vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh. But did he really experience the same temptations as we do? We could spend hours analyzing his life; searching for specific examples of weaknesses of the flesh. Does it matter? Jesus experienced the suffering that accompanies our spirit and possibly our minds and bodies when evil powers try to lure us away from where God has placed us.
For each of us, those temptations make look different. The consequences of refusing to follow those voices may result in remaining in a place of discomfort. Or they may not.
Regardless, we look to Jesus’ strategy in keeping his feet planted: calling out to his Father. We share the same one.
He relied on God’s word to root him when his feet were tempted to move. And it’s no different for us.
Fortunately, our high priest will always be advocating for us. He liberated us from evil and knows of its force firsthand. Furthermore, he has assumed his position as king. “Therefore, LET US draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.”
Charles Spurgeon writes, “It is a throne of grace where no ordinary monarch presides, but where one is sitting who is infinite and
all sufficient, one who can bestow upon us more than we ask, or ever think of asking, and yet not
impoverish Himself in the slightest degree! Always remember, beloved, in coming to the mercy seat,
that you are coming to a King and to one who gives like a King! Always open your mouth wide and ask
great things of the King who is so ready to bestow them upon you!”
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment, but at some mile marker along the road, I realized life is hard.
It did not resonate with my childhood expectations. I had not yet developed a full vision of the life that lay before me or an expanded worldview of the lives of others beyond my neighborhood. Despite the painful experiences that led me to my epiphany, I find blessings peeking through them.
My story is part of a bigger road map. God’s hand in my life really began long ago. Understanding that my life connects to those who came before me, those with whom I breathe the same air now and those who will come after me when I have exhaled for the last time shapes my identity.
Though we are individually created (Psalm 139:13-14), we are bound to one another. Our lives connect us. Literally.
Author Ann VosKamp refers to this joining together as “breaking into” each other. In her book, The Broken Way, she writes, “Koinonia is the breaking in, the willing participation, the fellowship of all things-and indwelling can’t help but weave its way through all the atoms of the world. The whole Earth is full of His indwelling. The broken way illumniates the whole material world, everything breaking into everything else. This is what love means: we live within each other, we inhabit each other…” Life is hard-for everyone. Through all, times and all places. That reality doesn’t give me a free pass to shirk “breaking into” another. Actually, our own identities in this world are shaped as we live into other’s stories.The breadth of God’s character is revealed as we are illuminated by His work in each other.
We can even be broken into by those who came before us. It happens because we are all broken and we share the same Creator. Life has always been hard but hope has always been peeking through. As I’ve navigated through various seasons, I am amazed at the different walking partners from scripture who have joined my side. Hannah encouraged me as I waited on God for a child. Every month of a negative pregnancy test brought grief. Does God hear my prayers? Jealousy enveloped my heart as friends announced their happy news. Don’t they understand my longing to join their “club?” I pondered why my God and my body had betrayed me. Hannah understood me. She longed for a child; enduring public judgement along the way. Privately, she mourned. Yet, hope poked through those clouds overhead. She recognized God held her hope and her identity .
Who would have thought Esther could relate to my circumstances? Besides the fact that she may not have actually lived, the pinnacle of her story takes place in a castle? (That alone would appear to separates us). How could being thrust into the position of a Queen compare to a calling as a stocker at Target? We were both placed by God for “such a time as this.”
There are many others who came alongside and whose steps broke into mine…Mary, Sarah, Ruth…Currently, Peter is my companion. My gaze lifts. I no longer focus on the steps left until my own designated finish line. Instead, my eyes focus on Jesus whose presence leads me to where I need to be. The author of Hebrews exhorts us with these words of encouragement, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, LET US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and LET US run with endurance the race that is set before us,2 [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Feel alone? Ashamed? Imperfect? Find comfort in the legacies of those with whom we are connected. Plunge yourself into the narratives of Hebrews 11.
Because of their faith, we find hope peeking through in the hard. Hope that propels us forward in such a way that we can run (not walk). Hope that motivates us to cast aside anything keeping us from reaching our destinations. LET US run with endurance the race set before us.
With whom are you running?
Amy Simpson’s article, “Supporting Families Living With Mental Illness” resonated deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence; one with which I am all too familiar. I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church but currently am not serving in a pastoral position. However, I do have a ministry. It is through my own family’s journey with our child, who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder, that my eyes were opened up to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.
Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.
Educate: Become aware of organizations that supply information about the condition. For ministry staff, the questions that arise may include: How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual (and family members)? Since the symptoms fall on a large spectrum, the individuals have different needs. Some churches have a sunday school class that particularly caters to children with special concerns. We give practical suggestions to teachers when cues such as frustration or anger are presented.
Understand the impact on the entire family:As Simpson notes, “…behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted-perhaps even devastated-by that illness.” Time, energy and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected. One idea that has been welcoming to us is the inviting of our other children to play at other families’ homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they are special too. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family.
A note on a theology of suffering: Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches “that life should be easy and happy.” While I agree with her, I would also admonish against a belief that medication/treatment provides a diversion from acknowledging the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they believe that the illness is a “cross to bear.”
People facing other illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. do not usually see their conditions from that perspective. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision by throwing a misguided theology of suffering on them is not helpful. I believe that God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore “normal” processes of the brain and give those affected a better quality of life.
The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together. We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other. My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks. When she was younger, she placed the communion cups in the trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café’ which follows our Sunday worship service. Children, in general crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. . The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian. We are responsible for our response to people in need.”
As I watched my youngest graduate from Junior High School, my heart was torn. It was not for the reasons you might assume. While I felt joy in the celebration of these kids (many of whom I have known since preschool), I wrestled with the sadness coming from witnessing behaviors minutes before which have become the norm rather than the exception. And not from the kids.
My husband, my older son, my daughter and I came together to celebrate with my son. I realize that this was Jr. High graduation and some areas of the country do not even consider that event worthy of a ceremony (I didn’t experience it and don’t feel I’m less the person for it.) However, last night was about celebrating a milestone in a child’s life. As with most milestones, families play an integral part in the support given to reach it and desire to celebrate it together.
Finding four seats together became a daunting task. Although everyone needed a ticket, not everyone’s “party” arrived together. I understand the desire to include extended ticketed family with your group. However, when saved seats have morphed into rows, we need to ask ourselves what’s really at play here. We found seats: I sat alone, my husband and daughter sat several rows back and my son sat in the back row by himself. Meanwhile, the two “saved” seats in back of me never filled.
As I sat alone, I mourned. First, for the immediate grief of not sitting together with my family. We’ve been through a lot these past few years. My son has encountered the typical Jr. High social challenges, confronted the academic rigors that come with maturity, and dealt with many difficult situations experienced by our whole family. In many ways, we’ve been stretched to our limits for a decade. Last night, it would have been nice to be woven together in our celebration. I also mourned the small rips into humanity I witnessed earlier in the day in my own community. Two different adults looked at me and continued to cut me off in a parking lot. “Just because you can does not mean you should” has become a well known mantra in our home. My kids have learned that this world is not “all about them.” Sometimes, we sacrifice for the sake of someone else. It may involve a big act-maybe even their life. Yet, many times, the humility involves the routine moments of asking what can be done to make life better for someone else. When we cannot even give up an extra minute, who have we become?
How easy it is to explain away those behaviors. We are all stressed. Some days, we wonder how the lists for our days will be accomplished within the 24 hours we are given. Our minds are constantly multitasking; hoping that fulfillment will be found in reaching our expectations. Whatever the cost. But maybe, we need to evaluate what it is we expect: out of our days and out of our lives.Whoinforms your identity? How does that influence your daily expectations?
Two years ago, I lamented the division in our nation through my post. http://stephaniejthompson.com/2016/11/14/the-hard-work-of-being-neighbors/ Since then, has anything really changed? The trespasses against our neighbors continue-some with loud fanfare; others in a more quiet “sin of omission” manner.
Everyday we have an opportunity to shine a collective light in the moments we have with others. treating waitstaff (despite your frustration) responding to the annoying neighbor kid (who ironically is perceived as a “trespasser”) listening to a person who holds a different political view (without unfriending them or tuning them out) tempted to financially gain from someone else’s loss (just because you can, does it mean you should?) driving or standing in line (Is your time really more important than someone else’s)
Our natural selves will find it difficult but our transformed selves can embrace the hard. Did we not invite Jesus in to do just that? Paul exhorts us in this way: “…Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.”(1 Peter 3:8)
I know we can do better. Jesus made it so.
“I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Words uttered by a dying Jesus to a man who is actually guilty of his crime.
Who does he think he is? This man; the recipient of Jesus’ promise of joining him in His Kingdom. He is , after all, a self professed criminal. A thief; indicating a desperate desire to seek security in things of this earth. This man is one of two criminals who hung alongside Jesus. All three facing the same sentence. We know nothing else of this man’s life except this glimpse into his last moments.
The attitudes, behavior, and goods upon which these men built their lives may have given them security in life but are unable to save them in death. Both men are left to endure their own slow torturous deaths while observing the display of horror aimed at the man, who hung between them. A drama that they not only observed but one in which they actively participated. According to Matthew and Mark’s accounts, both joined the crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. For these men, there would seem to be no peace on earth and no peace in death.
An outburst comes from one of the criminals; a challenge rooted in curiosity and desperation. He wants off the cross; “If you are the Christ…”. It’s an attitude of what’s in this for me? His plea is for Jesus to do whatever it takes to end his earthly suffering. A vision focused on this world and this moment.
Instead of receiving his request, he is rebuked. But not by Jesus. By the other criminal. “Don’t you fear God? We all are receiving the same sentence. “ This man; who had previously participated in the mockery of Jesus now seems to have a change in heart. A profession that Jesus did nothing to deserve his death sentence. …In these last hours of unimaginable pain, of emotional intensity, of deafening noise, he has noticed a presence in Jesus that is not of anything he witnessed on this earth. A presence of hope in something bigger than this moment. A presence of divinity to forgive those orchestrating this earthly horror against him. Who on Earth could do that?
No one. Except the One who originates outside of this world. The Son of God.
This man waited until the last minute to cry out his trust in Jesus. Why should Jesus welcome him into paradise? Why should he get to follow Jesus to an eternal home of delight when he lived an earthly life following sin? He believed that Jesus was where security is found. His vision was beyond this world and this moment. In his simple understanding, he claimed it . “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The original text tells us that his cry to Jesus was not a one time plea but one that had been repeated. The same for the other criminal. He witnessed the same events and yet out of his lips poured repeated expressions of unbelief . Both at an hour of desperation; both at an hour of realization that nothing of this earth will bring hope or peace.
He who dies with the most toys, still dies. Whodoes he think heis?
Who do you think you are?
The answer to both is this: We are all sinful beings in need of a Savior.
I see myself in the face of this man. How about you?
At whatever place in life we receive that grace extended to us through Christ, whether it be years shortly after birth or minutes before death, Jesus’ promise stands: life eternal in His Kingdom.
In the words of an old spiritual, “You may have the world, give me Jesus.”
(This piece was originally presented as a spoken meditation on one of the Seven Last Words of Christ )
Every January, my husband and I ask each other the same question: “Why do we live here?”
The air stings. Grey skies hover without a slight peek at the sun. The trees bare their nakedness. Sometimes snow; despite it’s nuisance as it mounts, adds a texture of beauty to this somewhat drab palette. This is Winter in the midwest; Chicago to be specific.
Several years ago, my husband worked temporarily in San Diego. On a weekend whim, I flew out to visit. You can eat outside in January? Who Knew? And the scenery…..hello ocean and hills!
Though we considered the prospect of God perhaps moving us out there (ok wishing), it was apparent that Chicago is our home.
Scraping the ice off the windshield after the night temperatures have plunged below zero is not my favorite activity. It requires early preparation in the midst of a hectic school morning routine. Even with the defroster at work, the ice hardens and resists the effort of my chilled to the bone fingers.
In my rush and frustration, the temptation to simply scrape off enough ice to provide a small “window” of visibility seduces me. Yet despite the increasing windchill whipping my face, I know that taking the shortcut increases my chances of an accident. If the back window is not clear, I cannot see what’s approaching behind me. Despite my kids thinking that I do indeed possess eyes in the back of my head, it’s simply not true. If my rear vision is incomplete, my abilities to prevent certain collisions is impaired. If the side windows are still frosty, I may not see the car next to me as I attempt to change lanes. And even a small circle of transparency in the front windshield does not allow me to gauge the elements of all that lie in front of me.
How similar I find the act of scraping a windshield to approaching sinful areas of my life. What is blocking your view? Fear? At times, it floods the senses; resulting in anxiety as we take in the implications of the journey ahead. The heartbeat escalates, eyes grow big, and hands quiver. Is God really big enough to keep us on track despite detours, pot holes? Pride? The ever seducing voice in our head lulls us into a false reality. Our wisdom, though faulty and biased to self, rules the world. We know better. Especially when time constraints beckon. But as the sun bears it’s light onto the foggy windshield, we are blinded. As navigation continues, we find ourselves suddenly braking to prevent colliding with a car which was hidden by the glare. Why am I afraid to “trust in the Lord with all my heart? (prov. 3:5)” Discouragement? Perhaps staggering to the car, while feeling the sting of the air seems like the best you can do. Scraping off the windshield? The task seems too daunting. Confronting the dawn of a new day while deceitful voices whisper words devoid of hope keep us from preparing early. The defroster’s warmth cannot melt the iciness of the morning’s frost quickly. What thoughts can I surrender to God so that the warmth of His light thaws the frost surrounding it? How are you enlarging your “window” of visibility? Little Chisels at a time or engaging in the more arduous process of scraping the covering all at once?
Sin, when not scraped off immediately, becomes a harden base upon which more layers mount. The longer it sits, the more overwhelming the task becomes. The temptation, then, becomes avoiding the removal. Little chisels may provide brief glimpses of the road in front but we find ourselves impaired by the lack of visibility.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”
Or, In this case, “scrape off” everything that hinders.
Fear, pride, discouragement……….Satan wants nothing more than to block our view of the light going before us as we travel. With nothing impeding the view, we can aim clearly toward the destination.
What is hindering yours?
” Do you want to be made well?”
The question posed to the man in John 5:5-9 appears rhetorical. We do not know if he was born with a disability or his physical limitations are the result of an injury. Regardless, he is accustomed to his place near the pool of Bethesda. He has resided in that spot for 38 years! He knows the perceptions of how he got there. Surely his parents must have sinned greatly in order for God’s blessing to be withheld. Whispers and stares abound. He watches those whom wear the badge of “blessed” murmur as they pass his way daily. His life appears anything but abundant; however, it has become his norm.
And then he encounters Jesus although it wasn’t intentional. Yet, Jesus approaches the man.
Who, would not embrace the offer to be healed? After all, multitudes clamored to be healed through Jesus’ mysterious yet miraculous touch.
Simple Question, Complex Implications
Three years ago, my son became sick. Originally struggling with a chronic upset stomach, epilepsy presented suddenly. Our lives became caught up in a whirlwind of questioning, troubleshooting and despair. Thankfully, God’s mercies held us tight during that year. However, reeling out of that trauma, my son struggled with being made well. As I walked with him in that journey, I reflected on moments in my own life when I too feared “being well,” The voices spoken both audibly and echoing in our heads, appear to hold power and keep us from breaking free.
Restoration changes our perceived identity
Is it no wonder that the man in John 5 became accustomed to his socially appointed lot in life? We develop into creatures of habit-even if the routine subtly and deceptively keeps us from being restored-fully whole in communion with God..
My son’s visit to Mayo Clinic included a visit with a psychologist who only sees adolescents with chronic illnesses. Why? Because narrowing one’s identity to fit around the illness becomes tempting. Doctors exhorted my son to not let his epilepsy define him.
Our own identities may be informed by life changing parts of our narratives, illness, injury,sinful actions committed against us or sinful areas with which we struggle. Regardless, Jesus has promised us abundant life Healing may or may not happen here on Earth but restoration is always possible.
How would my son recognize his purpose now? What would it take for him to break through the perception that he is no longer dependent on others for basic needs? How would he establish autonomy?
Restoration Places Us Out of our Comfort Zones.
When he returned to high school for his Junior year, following the previous year of illness, I anticipated that he would welcome the fresh start. However, anxiety filled him as he began. I felt completely blindsided. Why would apprehension fill his heart? He had become accustomed to his lot. Sympathetic teachers. A force of people supporting him. Extra time at home.
As my writer friend Emily Conrad wrote in response to one of my posts, “I finally got something I’ve been longing for for years and now I find myself on the other side of a situation I had grown comfortable with. I had accepted it. And now that Jesus spoke and I’m moving on, I feel a little wobbly on these legs.” Transitioning to a posture of empowerment demands walking forward. Even if the ground feels shaky at first.
Restoration expands our view of God’s character.
Believe it or not, grasping who God is can cause one to feel a bit unsettled. Humanity has always yearned for the predictable. Comfort is found in explanation. Uncertainty sends our hearts and minds stirring. We simply find difficulty in grasping God’s words through Isaiah” “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8-9
Doesn’t it seem easier in a chronic situation to adapt and accept that God is not capable of Forgiveness? Mercy? Delivery? Healing?
“Do you want to be made well?”
Jesus heals the man in a way that the man never expected. Not in the pool but simply out of Jesus’ authoritative word: “Rise. take up your pallet and walk.” Later, Jesus finds the man to complete the process of restoration. “Go and sin no more.”
Suddenly, his daily rhythm of life changed. Walking forward demands trusting our sovereign God in our new steps. Acknowledging that we can balance on one leg as we move the other in front in order to stride toward the longed for but unfamiliar horizon.
It’s possible. because of Jesus
Jesus, who desires my wholeness so much to encounter me when I wasn’t looking for restoration.
Jesus, who believes that I am so much more than what I think of myself. Jesus.
What must you surrender to Jesus so that you might be “made well?”