A Time For Discernment and Standing For What’s Right

We’re going through a pandemic right now, and it has given us the opportunity to ask ourselves some interesting and challenging questions. Take, for example, the issue of closing churches. Here in Ohio, churches are exempt from the order to limit public gatherings to 10 people or less. This is a right and proper application of the separation between church and state. Most churches here moved online, however, following the recommendation of medical and legal counsel. This was also right and proper, for the Bible tells us to respect governing authority (Rom. 13:1-2; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17) and quarantine the sick (Lev. 13:46; Num. 5:1-3). Just in the last couple weeks, some churches are starting to reopen with social distancing and other precautions in place.

Things didn’t go so well everywhere. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to permanently close churches and synagogues if they continued to hold any services. In Mississippi, attendees of a drive-in church services were ticketed $500 for sitting in their cars listening to the pastor on the radio (the DOJ has stepped in on behalf of the church). Some consider churches “essential services,” some do not. Some try to use the crisis to discriminate against religious institutes, others work alongside and defend them.

Jesus warned there will be those who persecute His church. There will be people who try to stop us from meeting, preaching and worshiping rightly. It has already happened throughout history in various places around the world. To be clear, I am not saying encouraging churches to temporarily suspend in-person services during a pandemic is persecution. But this does give us a reminder that we need to be watchful and exercise discernment. This is a good time to ask ourselves questions like, How would we respond if churches were asked to close for a different reason? Or ordered to stay closed, as threatened in New York? What if we were told we could no longer own Bibles, as has happened in other countries?

I don’t bring up these sorts of questions to panic us, but to prepare us. We are told to watch and be ready, and it’s hard to do that if you’re not thinking of things that might happen in the future. We are living in the end times (as humanity has been since the first century per 1 John 2:18). This is a time for discernment and preparedness, and the current crisis can serve as a wake-up call for any of us who may have been growing complacent in the safety and freedom we’ve enjoyed for so long. Read more

Trusting God When You’re Confused By Him: A Study of Lamentations 3

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the practice of lament. It’s something we rarely discuss in modern Christianity, but it makes up more than 1/3 of the psalms and you can find lament throughout the rest of scripture as well. Instead of hiding their pain, people who lament take it to God in prayer. They turn to Him, bring their complaint in an honest, heartfelt way, ask boldly for help and then, equally boldly, choose to trust in God. I ended that first post about learning how to lament with a quote from my favorite passage in Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:21-24, all quotes from WEB translation)

This passage is lovely and hopeful, but it’s not the whole story of Jeremiah’s lament. It’s not even his concluding thought for this particular poem. Lament isn’t about convincing yourself to be happy. It’s about trusting God even when you’re not sure you want to. It’s about inviting Him to help you deal with hurt, loss, confusion, anger, and other complex, painful emotions. Hope is part of it, a key part, but there’s a lot more going on as well.

Feeling as If God Is Failing You

The third poem of Lamentations (each of the 5 chapters in this book is a separate poem) begins with the words, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” Unlike other poems in Lamentations, Jeremiah doesn’t start by talking about all of the Lord’s people and how their sufferings affect them. This is about him and what God has done to him, personally. Jeremiah begins this poem talking about how it feels to believe that God is targeting him in particular for intense suffering. Read more

Learning How To Lament

Do you ever feel like maybe God isn’t living up to His promises? That He has abandoned you? Isn’t answering your prayers? Or that He should have done something to fix things and hasn’t?

Those are the sorts of thoughts we often feel guilty for thinking. After all, being a “good Christian” involves trusting God (which we often assume means not questioning Him) all the time no matter what, right? And so we try to ignore these kinds of thoughts and bury them deep where they won’t offend God or make us look bad to the other people in our church. But is that how God wants us to handle our painful questions?

There’s a Biblical practice called lament that models how to deal with anguish, pain, grief, and confusion. People of faith in scripture didn’t bottle up, hide, or ignore these feelings. They took them to God, turning questions we mistakenly think of as a lack of faith (or as a reason to give up on God) into a prayer. Over 1/3 of the Psalms are laments — “a prayer for help coming out of pain” (“Biblical Laments: Prayer Out of Pain” by Michael D. Guinan). There’s also a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations. Lament is found throughout scripture, from prophets, to psalmists, to Jesus. Lament is a good and godly practice and, if we learn how to do it, lament can help us hold on to trusting God even when we can’t figure out what He’s up to.

Praying through a sorrowful mood

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer; in the night season, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation)

The feeling of abandonment and despair is one that David felt, most of us can sympathize with, and Jesus echoed on the cross (Matt. 27:46). We know God does not leave or forsake His faithful ones, but that doesn’t stop us from sometimes feeling as if we’ve been forsaken. Last week, we talked about moods of faith in the Psalms, specifically a confident, celebratory mood in Psalm 91. Here in Psalm 22 we get another mood — one that is equally valid for Christians and no less worthy of taking to God in prayer. Read more

There’s Only One Sovereign, And It Isn’t Me

One of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve confronted and worked through my anxiety is that (for me at least) much of it is connected to control. I fear being controlled, losing control, and not having control. Not being able to predict, plan, and prepare for things can leave me shivering, sweating, and struggling to breathe.

I know part of this goes along with anxiety as a mental health condition. But there’s also a layer that’s something human beings — no matter how their brains function — have struggled with for years. We don’t want to accept “that control is an illusion. There is only one Sovereign … and it isn’t me” (What Does Your Soul Love?).

Now, by saying this I don’t mean for us to think, “Great, one more thing I need to ‘fix’ about myself. As if there wasn’t enough on the list already.” That kind of response is still trying to cling to our own control over the situation. Not only that, it leads to self-condemnation which (as a friend recently reminded me) is not a good place to be. Instead, the solution to grasping for control we can’t really have is to surrender everything to God and trust Him to be God.

Let Go, and Let God

I’ve been reading a new book, which will be out in September, called What Does Your Soul Love? by Alan and Gem Fadling. Chapter 8’s title is “Control: What Are You Clinging To?” Reading it has been a challenging, but it’s one that I’ve found both convicting and helpful.

“Much of the anxiety we carry is actually brought on by our own fear and a desire for control. We want to put our fears to rest, so we try to control people and situations …

“Letting go is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself … [It] is a process, and the loving arms of God are a good place to start” (What Does Your Soul Love?)

Of course, my first response to this was trying to come up with a plan for how I can get better at letting go. Then the book hit me with the line, “We want to get control of our transformation and cling to personal strategies of how to make it happen.” I do that. Even reading this book is another step in trying to get reliable, controllable strategies for fixing myself.

“Sometimes, my implicit prayer when it comes to change has ended up as something like, ‘Lord, change me … as long as I can be in control of how it happens.'” (What Does Your Soul Love?)

Ouch. I do that, too. The unknown is scary, but “I’m afraid” isn’t a good excuse for not putting yourself in God’s hands. Attempting to control things ourselves certainly isn’t safer than trusting the only all-powerful and all-loving Beings in the universe. The Father and Jesus are perfectly capable of handling anything we face and They want us to let Them help. Also, They’re not going to condemn us for struggling. God is love, and filling us with His love is how He transforms us. Read more

The Problem With Following People (Including Yourself)

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed people in the church don’t always act Christ-like. For many, the worst hurts they’ve suffered from another human being came from someone who called themselves “Christian.” Even if that’s not the case for you, I’m sure you’ve seen pettiness, hypocrisy, and other issues among God’s people.

Yet even though we know human beings aren’t perfect, there’s still a tendency to align ourselves with them. We’ve all known people who found a teacher they like so much they’ll follow him even if he contradicts the Bible. Maybe we’ve even been there ourselves, often without even realizing it. We might also have seen churches break into factions when leaders disagree over a point of doctrine, and then followed one of those leaders as the group splits apart.

When you go through something like that often enough, it’s easy to lose trust in other people. Maybe we stop relying on other Christians, or refuse to listen to the ministry, or become obsessively critical of others. We might decided we’re the only reliable authority on scripture and that it’s dangerous to listen to anyone else.

Wanting someone to follow as an authority, or rejecting others and their ideas to avoid getting hurt, are both natural human impulses. But that doesn’t make either of them a good thing. Whenever we trust a human being (including ourselves) more than God, we’re going to get into trouble. We need to find a balance that lets us live in unity with our brethren while following God first and foremost. Read more

How Full Is Your Marble Jar?

I have issues with trust. I knew this to a certain extent, but being in a relationship has brought it to the forefront of my attention. My boyfriend wants to build the kind of trust that I’ve always wanted in a relationship, which is fantastic. But it’s harder to get there than I was expecting and that’s frustrating for both of us. I probably feel safer with him than anyone else who I haven’t known a minimum of 10 years and yet I still feel nervous opening up to him and being “me” around him.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I love Brené Brown’s TED talks. Since writing that post, I’ve read her book The Gifts of Imperfection and I’m halfway through Daring Greatly. Since I’ve been confronting some deep-seated fear issues as well as this trust thing, they’ve been really good books for me. They’re tough, though. For example, she has a list of 10 things that “Wholehearted” people who believe in their worthiness do. I’ve only got one down pretty good and maybe half of two others. And that’s even though all 10 points on the list are things that, in theory, I agree are good and which I’ve considered worth pursuing for quite some time.

How Full Is Your Marble Jar? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: timlewisnm CC BY-SA via Flickr

The Anatomy Of Trust

Earlier this year, Brené Brown gave a talk called “The Anatomy of Trust.” In this talk, she tells a story that she also relates in Daring Greatly about her daughter experiencing a betrayal of trust at school. You can click here to read the full story or just watch the video below, but in short summary the situation got so bad that the teacher took marbles out of the Marble Jar (marbles go in when the kids are making good choices and come out if they’re breaking rules, acting out, etc.). Read more