Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Issues of the Heart

When the events in Charleston happened, it seemed like my brain turned to mush. I am a Christian, a churchgoer, and I cannot fathom how one can be sitting in church, praying and studying the Bible and in the next hour be shot by the person sitting next to you. It's unfathomable to me that the person you welcomed, could turn around and kill you. (I've seen strange things happen in church, but until Charleston nothing like this.)

After this atrocity occurred and the perpetrator caught, the victims' families and the shooter were in court together. Some of the victims families chose immediately to forgive and this action in and of itself made many wonder.

I don't have a problem with forgiveness.
I don't have a problem reading about victims forgiving criminal perpetrators. When you bring race in to the equation, I don't have a problem reading about Black victims forgiving white criminal offenders.

Under normal circumstances, reading about forgiveness is heartwarming, gut wrenching, and sometimes seems as if it's something only others can do.

True forgiveness is an act of the will that can only be done if the heart is right. The public forgiveness of the victims' families to the perpetrator brought these questions to mind:

How do we change our hearts so that we can forgive? This may be the hardest thing to do. When we hurt, it cuts deep and it seems to take a while to heal from the hurt. Being hurt is like a cut, which eventually over time heals. It speaks to the resilience of the human heart the amount of pain - both physical and emotional that we can endure. Yet when we ultimately choose to forgive, it's as if we speed up the healing process. Joseph was sold in to slavery by his brothers; if anyone had reason to be unforgiving, he did. He could have stayed angry and hurt over all the years thinking of what his brothers did to him. But Joseph forgave his brothers and if you read the story in Genesis, it would seem he did this long before he met up with them many years later. But the brothers did not know the condition of Joseph's heart. Many years later, they regretted their actions. Now after the "great reveal", and their father's death, they are now afraid that Joseph won't forgive them. In Genesis 50:16, 17 Jacob - their father, before he died, commanded that the brothers ask Joseph for forgiveness; so out of fear they are now doing so.  Joseph, the wronged party responded:  “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them. Speaking kindly to them was one evidence of Joseph's changed heart.

Is there a timeline for forgiveness?  I thought initially that the only timeline is yours - the offended party. But if you are never able to forgive, or won't, where does that leave you?  Protracted disagreement leads to resentment which if not tended to can snowball into unforgiveness. Matthew 5:21-26 speaks of reconciliation and sacrifice. Verse 25 says -  “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly." The context is regarding legal matters but the overriding concept is one of forgiveness. "Agree with thine adversary quickly" indicates that as soon as you have opportunity for restoration, follow through and seek forgiveness.  There may not be a definitive timeline in terms of hours or days, but you were never meant to carry unforgiveness to the grave. Allow your heart to heal and to change so that you can forgive, whether seeking or receiving. You can forgive as soon as you recognize that holding on to the hurt won't help you; then it's one less burden for you to carry. When we consider the importance of reconciliation, and the uncertainty of life, it becomes necessary to seek peace with God and with each other, without delay.

Does forgiveness change a societal double standard? In the short term - it would appear not. But the reality is, if all of us were willing to have heart transplants and forgive as often as we hold a grudge it would make a difference; it would go a long way to influencing a change here in our country where this country's sin of slavery of Black people, still leaves its mark. It doesn't indicate a weakness of Black people, but on the contrary a strength.  To react in kind when wronged - anyone can do that. But to react counter to what is expected, that strengthens you while it confounds and confuses the offender.

Is forgiveness really that hard? Forgiveness may be hard but it's not impossible. Think about how you felt when someone forgave you - on your part you were probably relieved and vowed never to do whatever caused the situation in the first place. You were the benefactor of grace and mercy. You may have been awestruck that someone would do something like this for you.  And then someone wrongs you - you now know about forgiveness because someone forgave you. You have a choice now - forgive or hold on to the offence? This scenario played out in Matthew 18:23-35.
Let's say you've never had to seek forgiveness from another human being (I'd like to meet you); because we are not perfect, the Ultimate Forgiver, forgave us all. Since he forgives us for any and everything, it's incumbent on us to try and do the same for others.

The Lord's Prayer may be the most quoted prayer from the Bible; in the middle of this prayer are these words: and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
Forgiveness is part of the Christian life, it's what we are called to do. It's not empty words or something to be done when we get around to it. It's necessary for harmonious living.

Forgiveness and reconciliation - that's the goal.

Can you forgive? 
I started this post a couple of days after the Charleston incident, but I was confounded on how to present the issue of forgiveness. At the time it felt too raw to write about forgiveness. Then my Time subscription came and the article provided a perfect segue in to my thoughts. This recent Time magazine article provides in-depth insight on forgiveness and what it means as it relates to Charleston victims and their families.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Restoration and Renewal

Job, a righteous man, has been on some roller coaster ride: first he had a lot - he was wealthy with a good family; then he had nothing -  he lost all of his possessions, his children and his health. His friends comforted him initially, which was good, but they ended up rebuking him as they "comforted" him. A fourth friend shows up - Elihu, who offered more palatable advice and then disappeared. Then God showed up out of the whirlwind and questioned Job.

When we recite the story of Job, we talk about his suffering and his eventual restoration but we often overlook what happens before Job is restored.

After God confronted Job, he is humbled and expressed it in Job 42:2-6[NLT]:

I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job is humbled and acknowledged the sovereignty of God.  I think as humans we struggle with sovereignty - it's not a concept we are comfortable giving to other humans because we feel they are just like us. But God is not just like us - he is above us and defies human comprehension and is worthy of ascribing sovereignty. He can become like man and interact with us, but he is not only a man; He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.

Job also acknowledged his ignorance of God - surely I spoke of things I had no knowledge of. This may be the epitome of submission - recognizing that with all of your smarts, you will never be as knowledgeable of God.

He acknowledged that he had a spiritual encounter - not at all similar to what he had with his friends. His friends left him depressed and angry - God did not. As a matter of fact, Job was left in a better place emotionally and spiritually, though at this point in time his situation was still the same.

Job repented - "I despise myself." Job had an about face in his thoughts. Job knew he was a righteous man but after having an encounter with God, though righteous he despised himself. What a change in mindset.

Before Job was restored, God also rebuked Job's friends for the bad advice they gave him and for slandering God; they were wrong in their observations of how God works as it related to Job's life and in general. They did not provide an accurate representation of God's attributes; they totally overlooked God's grace, mercy and sovereignty. Therefore God instructed Job's friends to make a sacrifice and Job had to intercede or pray for them; at which point, God accepted Job's prayers on his friends behalf.

  • His fortunes were doubled
  • He had 10 more children - and his 3 daughters were considered especially beautiful
  • Friends came by to console him and to give donations
  • He went on to live to 140 and saw 4 generations of his children
  • He died an old man and full of years
We don't know how long Job's trials lasted, but he was never in them alone. God referred to Job as my servant, before the trials started and during the trials.

Sometimes, we wish to be restored and also have our latter greater than our beginning, without actually going through the trial and humbling ourselves. It's not just the going through, it's the changed mindset to one of submission that actually helps us to overcome.

Where are you right now? Are you encouraged by the story of Job? Do your trials make you stronger or bitter? In your trials are you momentarily angry with God or do you accept his sovereignty? Does knowing why you go through anything help you? If yes, how? If no, why not?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why? Because I Said So.

After Job went through all of his trials God showed up, but probably not in the way he expected.  All along Job had been questioning why all of these terrible things were happening to him. His friends showed up but then they started to speculate and pontificate, making the situation worse, yet Job still had no idea why he was suffering. He didn't realize that this was something that God ordained.

If you've ever had a toddler that kept asking you why, you might be able to relate to Job. When you as the mother or parent finally say, it's because I said so, in that moment you are exerting your parental rights and authority. All questions cease because you said so.

Well, God finally showed up and in a manner of speaking said to Job, it's because I said so.

In Job 38 and 39 God appears to Job out of a whirlwind and immediately sets the tone: God said, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"  I can imagine Job inwardly cringing and saying 'uh oh." God tells him he has to man up: "dress for action like a man, I will question you and you make it known to me.

God proceeds to give Job a dissertation on the universe in the form of questions that Job cannot answer or conceive the answers to:

  • Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
  • Have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place?
  • Who kept the sea inside its boundaries and said here your proud waves must stop?
  • Do you know where the gates of death are located?
  • Where does light come from and where does darkness go?
  • Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail?
  • Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
  • Who laid out the path for the lightning?
  • Can you direct the movement of the stars?
  • Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth?
  • Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? (Job 38:36 - my new favorite verse)
And then He goes to the animals in the universe:
  • Do you know when the wild goats give birth?
  • Have you watched as deer are born in the wild?
  • Who gives the wild donkey its freedom?
  • Will the wild ox consent to being tamed?
  • He mentions the ostrich who appears dumb but has great speed to protect her offspring.
  • Have you given the horse its strength or clothed its neck with a flowing mane?
  • Is it your wisdom that makes the hawk soar and spread its wings toward the south?
  • Is it at your command that the eagle rises to the heights to make its nest?
  • And finally - shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.
 Job is not the first person to think that he could get the answer he wanted from God. At the end of this questioning, Job recognized that even though he wanted answers from God all along, he could not answer God's questions. Job saw his limitations and recognized his weakness. Job was humbled. I want to be aligned with someone who is all powerful - not just a mere man.
In our trials, we are never alone. God is there and if we will just still our minds, we can hear what he is trying to tell us.

Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Job 38:36 [NLT]

Can you remember a time when God showed up? Was it during a tumultuous time? How do you feel about the sovereignty of God - i.e. because I said so?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Depression is Real

I'm a Christian; I came to this realization very early in life and have lived a life aligned with the Christian faith. Within Christianity there are common thoughts that persist even though they are untrue. One of those thoughts is that Christians don't get depressed; or depression is not real.

In reading the book of Job in the Bible, Job acknowledges that he was depressed. His troubles were weighing him down and he didn't understand why and so he suffered bouts of depression during his trials.
In Job 30:11,18-23  Job feels cut off and far away from God.
In Job 20:1-14  Job acknowledges that he's faded from prominence.
In Job 30:15-17; 24-31 Job mentions living in terror; he's poor depressed and sick.

Job had all of the conditions that were ripe for (situational) depression, and he expressed it to his friends and to God.

In addition to Job there are many other Biblical figures that dealt with depression:

David - Psalms 37-40 David reflecting on instances when he was wronged. How often the psalms comfort us when we are down.
Jonah - Jonah 4 Jonah felt sorry for himself because of what God decided.
Elijah - 1 Kings 19 Elijah experienced an emotional letdown after defeating false gods.
King Saul - 1 Samuel 16:14-23 - Saul was tormented in his spirit.

So it is foolhardy of Christians to act as if depression does not exist or to simply make light of our emotional state. Job was ill, lost his possessions and his children.  He reasoned with God, questioned God and yet he was still depressed and his situation remained the same. But Job had something many depressed people may not have - he had hope. He did not go in to a state of permanent despair, a place where many seem to be and can't seem to escape it. He knew God had the final answer and he would continue to trust God in spite of his circumstances and no matter how he felt.

Depression is an all encompassing word for when we're feeling down; however there are degrees of depression (Source):
  • Situational depression is, as the name implies, brought on by adverse situations.
  • Clinical depression is an ongoing condition that lasts every day for most of the day and for longer than two weeks.
  • Chronic depression is less intense than clinical depression, but can last much longer—two years at least. It's characterized by fatigue, sadness, and general malaise, and it can be punctuated by bouts of clinical depression.
In your depression you may be prone to losing hope. Even as a believer you may feel the debilitating consequences of depression; the sadness that overwhelms and makes you feel like you can't go on; the fatigue that drains and immobilizes; the fuzzy feeling that clouds your thinking; the inability to express emotions properly. When we are over tired, stressed, or anxious for long periods of time this may lead to depression. Or sometimes there can be a hormonal imbalance as is the case after giving birth.
The point of this post is that depression exists but it doesn't have to be permanent. You don't need to remain depressed forever.
I have been depressed at various points in life. Once I recognized it, I did everything I could to get past it. I researched remedies, went to my doctor, took more time for me, prayed more, and read my Bible more which led to amazing revelations for me that ultimately removed the depression. Like Job, even when I was depressed I never gave up hope. I chose to believe the truths of God's word vs. the lies of the devil. I shared with those closest to me and they were able to help, hold my hand and encourage me.
I've noticed that in marriage when one is up the other is down and vice versa - and it's good because we can be what the other needs at that point in time. In the rare or occasional moments when we're both down we talk it out, laugh it out or hug it out - sometimes nothing can be said.

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!

If you're depressed don't give up hope; seek help and trust God that this too will pass, if not in this life, in the next.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Miserable Comforters - Don't Be One

Job's three friends became miserable comforters.

"I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are!
Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air?
What makes you keep on talking?" Job 16:2[NLT]

Job's friends knew him, yet at the point of his greatest need in attempting to comfort him, their words became like swords that inflicted severe lacerations. After the first round when Job heard their arguments, but did not agree with them they became more vitriolic. It was almost as if they were upset that he still maintained his integrity - it was no longer about Job but about them.

First they wondered if he did something that would cause all of this calamity to fall on him. Remember Job was a righteous man - God and the Devil knew it, so the answer to their query was Job did nothing wrong. Job was not afraid to speak up in his defense; he knew he was a righteous man, but he questioned God because the degree of his suffering was incomprehensible to him.

Because Job never veered from his convictions - his friends went in harder. They called him names and accused him of many things (Job 15-21). They called him:

  • Wicked
  • A Windbag
  • Pious
  • Proud
  • Stupid
  • A sinner
  • A maggot
  • A worm

In spite of these harsh words Job continued to stand up for himself and was never cowed by his friend's words. A weaker person than Job may have taken some of these friends words to heart.

In chapter 16:2 he calls them miserable comforters and after the final round of speeches from his friends he wonders what has gotten in to them: "Where have you gotten all these wise sayings? Whose spirit speaks through you?" Job 26:4[NLT] (Go Job!!!)

All of Job's trials including the words of his friends were meant to make him turn his back on God, but Job was a man of integrity and stood his ground. In spite of his grief and his downed spirit he knew his friends were wrong, unkind and not very encouraging.

Sometimes when we are going through things, the very people that we think will comfort us with their words, don't. Sometimes pride gets in the way and the comforter can no longer empathize. Sometimes even without pride, it's hard to walk in another's shoes and really feel what they are feeling.  Sometimes we think our advice is so good we wonder why our hurting friend rejects it. Perhaps the time wasn't right - they just needed you to be there. They needed the gift of your presence, not the presence of your voice. Perhaps you were a miserable comforter to a hurting friend or you were the recipient of words that wounded more than helped. Let's learn from Job's friends - let's watch our words as we attempt to comfort our friends. Let's speak less and listen more. Let's be slow to rush to judgement.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. Proverbs 27:9 [NLT]

What can you learn from Job's friends during his greatest need?