July 24, 2010

Proud of the Pigpen I’m Splashing In

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by Tamara

Have you noticed how cool it’s become to talk about what failures we are?  Hypocrisy is bad, and honesty is good.  But I’m starting to think we’ve gone a little too far.  Too often we’re like pigs in the muck, happily splashing and saying “Look at me!  I’m sinning left and right!  I’m a total mess!  It’s okay, I’m no better than you, so you don’t have to be offended by me.  Come try this Christianity thing!  The muck’s great!”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Popular Christian attitudes seem to swing like pendulums.  It’s very hard to find the middle–something I know very well, being extremely drawn to the black and white.  I think this pendulum swing has come from our reaction against a mask-like Christianity that acts like we have everything together, and once you become a Christian, everything will be hunky dory for you, too!  Of course, this hypocrisy is not only harmful but ridiculous.  So we realized, rightly, that it was time to add some more honesty to our Christian dialogue.  After all, how could people see the healing, transforming, redeeming power of our Redeemer if we never admitted there was anything for Him to heal?  We also realized that one function of the body should be accountability–we need to admit our failures so we can help each other out of them.  This are good goals and beautiful results of true humility.  But, our enemy is smart, and of course he hates true humility.  So he twists it.

We’ve maintained, mostly, the part where we talk about our sins and failures.  But somehow we’ve forgotten the POINT of that.  When we talk about our struggles, it’s too often not because we’re broken-hearted over sin, it’s because it feels good to admit we’re sinning and have everyone else just nod sympathetically.  It takes a burden off our shoulders, makes us feel like maybe this sin isn’t so bad after all!  But true confession is not about just telling the story of our failure (and being proud that we’re humble enough to admit it).  Confession means agreeing with God that what we did was wrong, and that our sin is something deadly that He takes very seriously.  When I say “I’m really struggling with______,” that’s a good time for me to examine whether I’m really STRUGGLING against that issue, or just passively floating in the shark pool.

And why has it become “cooler” to talk about personal failure than to express faith and hope that God is powerful enough to help us out of any situation?  Eric Ludy says in his book The Bravehearted Gospel, “Oddly enough, the only people whom we trust any more in Christianity—the only people whom we consider to be real, honest Christians—are those who come right out and testify not of the power of Christ transforming their lives, but of their own sinful indulgences, lusts, and indiscretions, and their complete inability to cease from a single one” (p. 137, emphasis mine).  When did we forget the power of our God?  When did we forget that the point of a Redeemer is that He redeems?  Why do we act like there are some issues that are just too big for Christ’s blood to cleanse, so we may as well just sit around and tell each other “It’s okay, don’t worry about it?”  And why should anyone want to join us in the Christian life if we ourselves have no hope of change, healing, and life?

My challenge to myself:

  1. If I’m admitting my failure, I’d better make sure that I realize how serious that sin is, that I’m broken-hearted over it, and that I’m consciously telling God, “I agree with you that this is sin, please help me!”  If I can’t say any of that, I probably need to stop talking and start praying that God will help me see my sin the way He does, otherwise I run the risk of just encouraging someone else that the sin isn’t that big of a deal after all.
  2. When someone else admits to me that they’re struggling, I need to not only tell them “I understand, and I have the same struggle,” but also tell them “There’s hope!  God is strong!  He cares about this, and He’s given us the life of Christ so we can conquer this.  We don’t have to be defeated!”

July 18, 2010

Human/Sex Trafficking

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 11:19 pm by Tamara

I’ve started doing research lately on human and sex trafficking.  The knowledge that children are forced into slavery and prostitution not only around the world, but in the UNITED STATES, shocks and infuriates me.  In fact, Atlanta, Georgia, just a few hours from here, is one of the top three cities for sex trafficking in the world.  Statistics show that there are more people in slavery today than ever in history, and yet we act like this ended with the Civil War.

I don’t know yet what I’m supposed to do about this, but I know I’m supposed to do something.  We’re commanded to “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17), and that command is just as real today as when it was first spoken.  So for now I’m researching, praying, and planning to speak out what I learn–and praying for courage to do whatever God tells me to do next.

“ Tolerate not evil against humanity.  And when thee is powerless to do anything else, speak with vigor.  Protest!”

—Daniel Anthony, father of Susan B. Anthony

October 20, 2009

Hosanna

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 9:10 pm by Tamara

In the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” there’s a bitter, disillusioned quote by Joaquin Phoenix’s character, a journalist, who says that even if Westerners do hear about the atrocities happening in Rwanda, all they’ll do is say “That’s so awful!” and then go back to eating their dinners. That piercing challenge and condemnation is my favorite part of the movie.

Today I heard about how soldiers in Guinea, Africa, stormed a stadium of protesters and then murdered and gang-raped a still unknown number of women. They reportedly stripped them and then raped them in broad daylight, shoving guns into some of the women’s vag—s and then shooting (I’d be more graphic, but I’m pretty sure our internet filter would block me from my blog). Guinea is a primarily Muslim country, and one woman interviewed reported being told that “Women belong at home, and if you want a political protest, we’ll give you one.” They said this as they beat and repeatedly raped her. It’s feared that many of the women victimized are too afraid to come forward and seek medical attention because of the cultural and emotional shame.

I wondered if I should give a warning before this post. But WHY? Shouldn’t we know? Shouldn’t we care? Shouldn’t we DO something? And WHAT?!? What can I do?

As I sat down to write an update, my brain was schizophrenically bouncing between the mundane details of my life and the things I’ve been researching about human rights, refugees, immigration, etc. I decided the other day that I need a new topic to dig into and gnaw on. Islam has been my “topic” for years now. I’ve read everything I could get my hands on, talked with countless people about it, done presentations, befriended converts from Islam, gone to Islamic countries…. But I’ve been noticing lately that all the new books I pull off the shelf about Islam sound…like something I’ve already read. I know I’m not even close to knowing all there is to know about Islam, but it’s all starting to blur. So, I started praying, “what should I plunge into now?” And *bam!* up came refugee issues. Now where should I go with this? Human rights issues? Effects of war on third-world countries? Immigration and asylum policy? I think I’ll research them all. If my stomach and soul can handle it.

Oh, God’s grace is so deep. Why doesn’t He destroy us all? How can He stand to watch us do the hideously evil things we do? After just a few days of reading about these issues, I feel sick. And then yesterday I read Ephesians 2:4-7 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Why, Lord? How can your grace and love be so deep? And how can I have such a shallow understanding of them?

I don’t think we “go back to our dinners” because we don’t care; I think comes from a feeling of helplessness. I know I feel helpless. I’m outraged and horrified and broken over what just happened in Guinea, and what’s happening in countless other countries. But what can I do? I don’t know. But I’m determined to find out. You can probably expect to hear more about this in the months to come. At least I sure hope you can. I don’t want to go back to my dinner. God, help us to defend the helpless in your name. Hosanna, Lord! Deliver us!

July 20, 2009

Three Chances to Murder

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , at 4:51 pm by Tamara

He didn’t kill him. I wonder how long he crouched in the cool, damp air, watching the man who was pursuing him with irrational hatred sleep soundly in the center of his camp. He’d had countless other opportunities to kill him, like that day in the dark depths of the cave when he was no more than a hand’s breath away from him—and hadn’t. Instead of accepting the allegiance of the people who adored him and would no doubt fight to see this insane enemy of his displaced, he’d chosen to leave his home and live in desolate mountain places with a band of miserable thugs. Now here he stood watching him sleep while the warrior beside him begged him to let him go and take vengeance at last. Did he think of how unjust it all was? Did he resent that he’d done nothing to deserve this life of running and fighting and nearly starving? But he said no.

“God has chosen him,” he whispered, “And God-forbid that I’d do anything to hurt God’s anointed. God will deal with him, but we couldn’t hurt him and be guiltless.”

And so once again he showed breathtaking nobility and walked away, his faith utterly in God to justify him. He knew that he was blameless before God, knew he hadn’t done any of the things he was being accused of. He resisted the temptation to murder, not once, but twice. And could it even be considered murder? God had chosen him to be king and delivered the evil king who pursued him right into his hands, twice. But he put his beliefs to action and left it up to God. He was not a murderer. He was the farthest thing from it.

I wonder if he rested securely in that, knowing that murder was a temptation he knew how to resist. Did he revel in the joy of facing a great temptation and passing the test? Did he praise God for helping him to do what was right? Did he think that, whatever happened, at least he knew he would never be a murderer?

And then, suddenly, it is years later, and he has been given everything he’s dreamed. God has lavishly rewarded him for the way he has followed Him and striven after His heart. He’s walked intimately with God, heard countless people tell him what an example he’s been to them, how much he’s encouraged them to walk rightly and resist temptation. But now Nathan the prophet is standing in front of him in his rough robes, his eyes full of disappointment and anger and disbelief, and in four words everything shatters to pieces: “Thou art the man.”

He is a murderer.

http://restorationupdates.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/david-and-nathan.jpg

One of our elders spoke on Sunday about David and Bathsheba, and this struck me like it never had before. Up to this point, David was not a murderer. He was the farthest thing from it. He could have written a book on it: The Idiot’s Guide to Not Murdering Anyone, Even Your Worst Enemy. It would have been a best-seller; his blog would have been the top viewed site of the year; he would have received endless fan mail from it. He KNEW how to resist this temptation and had proven himself many times. And then, out of seemingly nowhere comes this hideous chain of events: his adultery with the wife of a man who is not only one of his loyal mighty men but also the son of one of his closest advisors, followed by ordering his murder. It’s a sick, jarring slash across the life of an incredible man of God. Every time I read it, his adultery reminds me that no one is ever above sin, even the best person. But this time Jim’s message made me think just a little deeper. I knew David had never committed adultery before, but I’d never thought about how he’d refused to murder his worst enemy, King Saul, TWICE, and then he murders Uriah, his friend and loyal warrior. What changed?

Was it easier to resist temptation when he knew he was blameless—easier to trust God to solve the mess when he hadn’t done anything to deserve the mess? He knew God was capable of saving his life and making him king of an entire nation, so he resisted murder. But did he think God wouldn’t help rescue him once he’d committed a horrible sin? What did he think would happen if he just admitted his sin with Bathsheba? Did he think God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, save him? Did he feel so guilty that he decided, rather than throwing himself on God’s mercy, that he had no choice but to try to solve this problem himself?

I see this cowering weakness in myself. It’s easy for me to run to God for help when I’m doing well. “My enemies pursue me without cause!” I cry to God, and fearlessly and gladly ask for His help against sin. But what about when the mess is my fault? What about when I go to God, not as a blameless shepherd, but as a horrible failure and adulterer? Is THAT when I start to take matters into my own hands?

Yes, it is. Maybe not to the extent of murdering anyone (unless we’re talking about murdering them in my heart, which is a whole different topic.) But I’m no different than David, and it could definitely go there. What if David had boldly approached the throne for mercy and help in his time of need before he tried to cover it up by murdering Uriah? Maybe he would have gone down in history—yes, as an adulterer, but not a murderer. And I know God would have helped him. He helped David even after he was both, when he cried out simply, “Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your unfailing love!”

Sin is a snare, not just because of its consequences, but because of how powerfully it tempts me to run from God and try to hide my shame. But He urges me over and over again to claim my life in Christ and accept that through faith in His son, I have boldness and confident access to Him no matter what (Eph. 3:12). And I need to use that access. He promises that when I timidly crack open the doors and enter His throne room He’ll welcome me with open arms, no matter how I’ve failed—whether it’s as small as a grumpy attitude or as gigantic as murder and adultery. He promises to come running to meet me and embrace me, even if I’m the prodigal daughter covered in reeking mud from the pigsty. I need to remember that. I need to burn that truth onto my heart and radiate that same grace to others. Like David, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” But what a wonderful, powerful grace it is.

Jude 1:24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

July 14, 2009

The Breakdown–Part 2

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Tamara

I don’t know why I’ve had such a hard time writing this post.  Maybe (probably) because I don’t fully get it yet.  There’s no “Ba-da-bing!  God fixed it!” ending yet.  But since I don’t feel like I can blog about anything else until I finish this, and since I’m afraid I’ve made some of you wonder if I’m on the brink of losing it completely (ha), I’d better finish it!

So, that said, “Good morning, class; today I’m giving you a pop quiz!  <deep, evil laugh of evilness>”  Question One:  Find the common denominator:  “What if I’m doing something wrong?  What if I’m sinning?  What if I’m not listening to Him?  What if this is my fault?  What if I’m being lazy?  What if I can’t do it?”

I spend a LOT of time trying to dissect those questions, or similar ones.  It was my brilliantly astute husband who once pointed out (during my tirade of similar fears), “There are a lot of ‘I’s’ in those questions.”  That hit me like a ton of bricks—I’d never thought about that before.  His point was that I’d been worrying so much about myself and my actions that I’d lost my focus on Christ.

I tend to be terrified of my own weaknesses and sin nature.  That kind of sounds like a spiritual thing, but it isn’t; not when I get so fixated on my own weaknesses that I stop being fixated on the Lord.  If the definition of an idol is anything I put before God, then I’m actually idolizing my sin nature by acting as if it’s more powerful than God’s ability to convict me, guide me, even rescue me.  If He wants me to walk rightly even more than I do—and I know He does—why would I worry that He’d give me the cold shoulder when I ask Him if I’m doing anything wrong?

That also comes back to a misunderstanding of sin and fellowship.  I thought for a long time that my sin broke my fellowship with God—that He wouldn’t help or listen to me if I was in sin.  But that didn’t make sense to me, mainly because that would create an impossible cycle.  I can never get out of sin without His help, but if He won’t help me or fellowship with me until I’m not sinning, how can I stop?

Years ago one of my favorite teachers at the Bible school, Rick Barth, pointed out to me that what breaks our fellowship isn’t just sin, but our refusal to agree with God that we’re sinning (confess).  He convicts me and shines His light on my sin, and I either agree with Him and stay in the light, or I refuse to listen to Him and then, when the light becomes too uncomfortable, I, MYSELF step out of His light and fellowship.  It’s not that God will only tolerate me so far before He’ll shun me in order to punish me.  He’s always there to gently show me my sin and urge me to walk in the new life He’s given me—it’s ME who either listend or turns away.

This also touches on how deeply I feel like God’s acceptance of me and willingness to work with me is based on my performance.  I know in my head that it isn’t, that He views me in His son and has told me to boldly come to His throne of grace for help.  But I still want desperately to be “doing good,” and I’m afraid sometimes my view of Him is warped enough to think He’ll abandon me if I don’t keep doing well.  I forget He loved me while I was still an unsaved sinner, and worry that now that I’m a saved child who sins, He just might decide to stop loving me—at least until I get my act together.  Which also shows a warped view of myself.  As if Jesus’ death and life wasn’t QUITE enough, and I can somehow work hard enough to make Him love me more.

So what’s the bottom line on all this?  I need to stop pacing outside His throne room, examining every little thing I’ve done, terrified that I might have done something wrong and He’s behind those doors fuming, just waiting for me to come in so He can punish me.  Or ignore me.  Or any of the many things He could do, other what He’s promised TO do: give me grace, mercy, and help in my need.  I need to stop freaking out and get my eyes back on Him.  If I’m doing something wrong, He’ll show me, and He’ll help me.  And if I’m not, it’s okay to just wait and keep moving forward.  More scared analyzing of MYSELF and MY fears and MY failures isn’t going to get me nearly so far as just sitting at His feet and asking Him for HIS assessment and guidance.  And if He chooses not to say anything about me right now, then that’s fine—I can still look at HIM.  That’s plenty to fill my mind and heart.

July 12, 2009

The Breakdown, Part 1

Posted in Watermarks in Progress tagged , , , at 8:56 am by Tamara

Well, I had a mini-breakdown the other day. I called my mom (everyone needs their mommy) and bawled my little eyes out. Then Adam came home and I bawled. Poor man—I shouldn’t cry to him, it makes him so sad! But he’s a great comforter. Anyway. I’ve been trying to write this ever since, and having no success. The words just won’t arrange themselves to explain what I think God is trying to teach me. Hence the long absence of a post last week. Here goes try number four…. Make that five.

Let’s see—how did I get here? The transition from being in full-time discipleship ministry to being laid off and becoming an unemployed, married deadbeat has been pretty rough. I called my mom and summed my life up: “My life consists of cleaning the apartment, trying to convince worldly, pointless businesses to hire me, feeling guilty about not working, and being afraid that we won’t have enough money next semester because of it.” She, like many, tried to reassure me that God has my job situation under control, and I just have to wait until He gives me the right one. Sounds reasonable, but I just can’t seem to accept that. Why? Because I’m afraid I’M doing something wrong. Maybe the reason I don’t have a job isn’t because God hasn’t given me one yet, but because I’m being lazy about the job hunt. Maybe I’m being too picky (I haven’t applied at McDonalds yet, after all.) Maybe I have a wrong attitude. Maybe, maybe, maybe. All these maybes are scaring me to death, and contributed to me bawling on the phone to my mom.

Mom asked me if I’ve asked God about all those “maybes.” Yes, of course, but what is He saying? Nothing. Or, even worse than Him saying nothing, maybe He’s speaking and I’m not hearing. Maybe I’m sinning, so I’m ignoring Him, but since I’m not hearing Him, I don’t know I’m sinning, and since I don’t know I’m sinning, I don’t know I can’t hear Him, so I won’t figure out that I’m sinning, so He’ll punish me….

Ah. Vicious circle, isn’t it? Enter the terrifying, paralyzing fear of being silently abandoned. I think part of the reason I haven’t been able to write this is because I know it touches on so many areas of misunderstanding truth. This may have to be a two-parter. Or a ten-parter. Dun dun dun.

Part two to come: The Breakdown—(Accidentally) Idolizing My Sin Nature.