HERspecitve Part 3 – The Drama and Trauma (Hagar)

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“God wants you to be delivered from what you have done and from what has been done to you – Both are equally important to Him.” 

Joyce Meyer

(Hagar and Ishmael – painted by Alan Jones)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

 

In Part 2, we began to look beyond the drama between Sarah and Hagar, and instead, to focus on the trauma. It is so natural for us to focus on the men in a Biblical story, but it can be powerful to read from the perspective of the women. Honestly, when was the last time you heard a sermon on Sarah or Hagar? Sarah’s story is a rough one and, as we’ll see in Hagar’s story, hurt people…hurt people. In Sarah’s story, we get to the point where she is so devastated from an inability to get pregnant, that she tells her husband to sleep with someone else. This is the first time in the story that we meet this someone else.

Genesis 16: 1-2 – Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

If you weren’t quite sure of Hagar’s status, notice Sarah’s words. She doesn’t even use Hagar’s name. She simply says “go sleep with my slave.”

And Abraham agrees. 

There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Does she so willingly give her slave as a sexual object to Abraham because she was so willingly given as a sex object by her husband to the Pharaoh? But this story is about Hagar.

The story does not try to flower up the language here. We read that Sarah TOOK Hagar, GAVE her to Abraham, he WENT IN TO HER, and she conceived.

Let’s call this what it is. This is a rape. There is no consent. There is no love. There is no dignity or value of humanity. TOOK…GAVE…WENT IN.

It crushes me to know that so many women have had a similar experience. 

How was Hagar taken? Did she try to fight it? At what point was she forced to accept the inevitable? Was she terrified? Did she shut down? How many times did this have to happen to her before she finally conceived? What could she possibly do? She was a slave. Completely powerless, even over her own body. 

It’s no surprise that this story takes us right back to the very beginning. When was the last time we heard that someone TOOK and GAVE to her husband? Human brokenness is on full display here.

If it isn’t bad enough that Hagar is impregnated by her rape, Sarah decides that, now that Hagar is pregnant, (something Sarah has not been able to do for her husband) she wants the slave gone. 

Surely Abraham will step in. We have to believe that Abraham will be a man and protect this pregnant woman (pregnant with his child by the way), who has no status as a slave, and no ability to make it on her own.

Genesis 16:6 – “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” 

Abraham is completely passive. It’s like we’ve heard this story before. When was the last time a man had the ability to step up and protect, yet stood by and said/did nothing? Oh yeah…Adam.

So Sarah lets loose on Hagar. The story simply says “Sarah mistreated her.” That is a gross underrepresentation of what that Hebrew word means. The Hebrew word used here implies physical and psychological abuse. It’s so bad, that Hagar runs away. She would rather be on her own in the desert, than to stay in her current situation.

At this point, Hagar has been enslaved, raped, abused, and is now on her own. What must she have been feeling? While she is in the desert, the angel of the Lord appears to her and says, “Hagar…

Did you catch that? If you read through chapter 16, the narrator uses Hagar’s name, but Sarah and Abraham never do. They only call her slave. But in her trauma, brokenness, and loneliness, God moves toward Hagar and speaks her name out loud for the first time. How must that have felt? Not only that, but this is the first time in the Bible that God sends his angel to someone. At her lowest point, which is by no fault of her own by the way, God moves toward Hagar and comforts her. God then gives her strength and tells her what I imagine must have been really hard to hear. 

Genesis 16: 9 – “Go back to your mistress”

Hagar must face her trauma head on…and she does. This is a brave woman! She returns, and gives birth to a son, Ishmael.

We don’t hear of Hagar again until Genesis 21. Sarah has finally given birth in her old age. Now that she has a child of her own, she wants nothing to do with Hagar and her son.

There are no justifications for Sarah’s actions here, but is it possible her trauma influences this? Maybe she is desperate for Abraham to show her the love and attention she needs. Maybe she secretly hoped he would never have agreed to her proposal to sleep with Hagar in the first place. Whatever the reason, she approaches Abraham and says,

Genesis 21:10 – “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Notice, she still won’t say Hagar’s name. 

This time we read that Abraham is concerned about Sarah’s request but, in a strange turn of events, God tells Abraham to do what she says. Why? The story doesn’t say but, maybe God wanted Hagar to get out of this traumatic relationship.

So we read that Abraham TOOK some bread and water, GAVE them to Hagar, and sent Hagar and Ishmael off. There are those words again.

Hagar and Ishmael are completely alone, traveling through the desert, and the little bit of food and water Abraham sends them with run out. She puts her child under a bush so she doesn’t have to watch him die.

Then the most heartbreaking verse …

Genesis 21: 16 – And as she sat there, she began to sob.

What was running through her mind? Had she completely given up? And then…

Genesis 21: 17 – God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? 

Her name is spoken again.

God promises to be with Hagar and her child. God says that Ishmael will be blessed and would become a great nation. Then Hagar opens her eyes and sees a well in front of her. God provides. As Hagar’s story ends, we read that God remained with them as the boy grew up.

There are many women in my life who have experienced some severe trauma. I don’t know why this happens. I wish it didn’t. Like Hagar and Sarah, much of it happens at the hands of men. Most do not choose their trauma. Here’s what I do know. God moves toward you in your trauma and sits with you in the desert. God calls you by name. You may have to face your trauma head on in order to heal. You may have to remove yourself to heal. Throughout Scripture, water is a symbol of life. Hagar opens her eyes to see a well of water provided for her. I don’t know what your experience is, or where you may be in the healing process, but God promises to be with you and I know that in any situation, He can give life. 

 

HERspective Part 1 – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Mary-Eve-Sr-Grace-Remington-OCSOThis picture is titled “Mary and Eve.” It’s a crayon and pencil drawing created by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. I often see it shared around Christmas time. The image portrays Eve holding the fruit, the shame of her sin clearly seen on her face, while the serpent is wrapped around her ankle. Lifting up her head is Mary, carrying the Messiah inside her womb, while crushing the head of the serpent. This piece of art is stunning, and the message rings loud and clear.

However, every time I see it, I can’t help but notice that something very important is missing. Did you spot it as well?

 

Where is Adam?

 

One little line from Genesis 3:6 is often overlooked, but it is extremely important. 

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you catch that? The whole time the serpent was talking to Eve, Adam was present, and did nothing. Yet, the message that has often been proclaimed is that “this is all Eve’s fault.” One only has to look at a long history of Jewish and Christian interpretation to see this is the case. And of course, when Adam and Eve get busted, what is the first thing out of Adam’s mouth?

Genesis 3:12 – “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

So let me get this straight… The man stands passively aside and does nothing while the serpent speaks to Eve. He takes no ownership whatsoever, completely throws Eve under the bus, and then he lets her take the full blame for thousands of years?

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 Unfortunately, this way of acting (or better said, NOT acting) continued. I could point to many examples, but an obvious one would be the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. In this story, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law drag a woman out in front of Jesus and say “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t adultery take two people to commit? And if this woman was caught mid-act, wouldn’t the man have had to be present? Yet, only the woman gets dragged out. Only the woman is blamed. Sound familiar?

Now back to Eve. Nevermind that Paul, in Romans 5, places the sin completely on Adam, Eve still gets the reputation as the one who ruined it for all of us, even in the painting above. This view has drastically impacted the ways in which the Church, and men in general, view women. 

I love this painting. I think the message is life changing. I just wish it showed the whole picture. Maybe someone who is much better at drawing than I am can take a crack at it.

So why a series on women? When it comes to women in the Bible, I mostly see people do one of two things happen. Either they completely ignore the women in Scripture, or they make them the antagonist of every story. I think it’s time to reclaim the ways in which the Bible speaks to females. You might call it a “HERspective”.

 

Next week, we’ll talk about Drama and Trauma

 

HERspective Part 2 – The Drama and Trauma (Sarah)

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There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds” – Laurell K. Hamilton

(Sarai and Hagar – painted by Cody F. Miller)

Read Part 1 here

 

When I ask women their common struggles, one word seems to come up all the time: Drama. I’ve been told that it’s impossible to have a group of girlfriends without also having drama. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. 

There’s another word that also seems to come up all the time. Trauma. Whether it’s abuse, harassment, abandonment, neglect…trauma seems to be a shared experience among women as well.

The two clearly go together to some extent. How can trauma not impact relationships? But we often give the most attention to the drama, and little to no attention to the trauma. 

The story of Sarah and Hagar is one of some major drama between two women. This love triangle between Abraham and the two women could easily read as a reality tv script. But I’m less concerned with the drama, and more concerned with the trauma. How did they experience their world?

Let’s start with Sarah

The first time we meet Sarah (at this time called Sarai) we find out that she

“was unable to become pregnant and had no children” – Genesis 11:30

Maybe you know someone who has this same struggle. Maybe you’ve had this struggle in the past. Maybe you are going through this struggle right now. A woman unable to bear children in this time period would have been looked at as virtually worthless within the structure of Ancient Near Eastern society. Maybe you can relate to feelings of shame, hopelessness, or the feelings of worthlessness that I’ve heard many women communicate experiencing during fertility struggles. 

Immediately after we meet Sarai, her husband Abraham gets a call to uproot his entire family and go to the land God will show him. Sarai must leave everything and everyone she has known. But her husband was called by God! What else is she supposed to do?

If this isn’t enough to deal with, famine strikes and Abraham is forced to take his family to Egypt. What does he tell his wife?

Genesis 12: 11-12 – Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ 13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

Wait! What?! Abraham is convinced that if they go to Egypt, the Egyptians will kill him and take his wife, so he comes up with this plan. Let’s just say you are my sister. They will still take you, but at least I’ll be ok! What choice does Sarai have in the matter? 

So that’s exactly what Abraham does. He tells the Egyptians that Sarai is his sister, and  Pharaoh gives Abraham a bunch of gifts in exchange for taking Sarai to his palace as a wife.

The story does not tell us how much time passes. How long did Sarai live with the Pharaoh? Was she forced to have sex with him? How terrifying must it have been to be handed over by your husband and forced to sleep with a stranger? How would it feel to know you were exchanged for some sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys?

Eventually, Pharoah finds out what Abraham has done thanks to some plagues, and he sends Sarai and Abraham on their way. The next time we hear of Sarai again, she is completely devastated by not being able to have children. She makes a suggestion to her husband,

Genesis 16: 2 – “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.”

Sarai is hurting. Think of all she has been through. Think of the pain of her barrenness. Think of her husband who gave her away to another man to save his own skin. In her hopelessness, she tells her husband that he should sleep with someone else. Maybe that way he can have a child.

Men, here’s some advice. If you and your wife are struggling to have kids and she says “maybe you should just go be with someone else.” Don’t take her up on that offer! That would be a terrible move. Surely Abraham is smart enough to take this advice as well right?

Genesis 16:2 – “And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal.”

How must Sarai have felt when her husband agreed?

To make things worse, the woman her husband has sex with….gets pregnant. 

Fast forward. Sarai has now had her name changed to Sarah. God has promised her that she will conceive, but she is old, and it still hasn’t happened. Abraham decides to move again. When they arrive, what’s the first thing Abraham does?

Genesis 20: 2 – Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, “She is my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace.

Are you kidding me?!!!

This time, God has apparently had enough too. He comes to the king in a dream and lets him in on what’s happening. The story makes sure to let us know the king did not sleep with Sarah yet. As if that is supposed to make it all better. How must Sarah have felt being handed over by her husband…again? Was she terrified sleeping in the palace that first night wondering how long it would last this time?

After this, a miracle happens. Sarah does give birth in her old age. It’s a son. She names him Isaac. He is her pride and joy. It lasts for all of one page…

God tests Abraham’s faith by telling him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. So Abraham says, ok. There’s much to be said about that, but this story is about Sarah.

The next day, we read that Abraham got up really early, took Isaac with him, and set out. Why did he wake up so early? The story doesn’t say, but I have a hunch. Who would probably still be sleeping? That’s right. Sarah. Nowhere in the story does Abraham tell her what he is going to do.

How did Sarah feel waking up and seeing her husband and son gone? Was she panicked? Was she completely unaware? How would she have responded if Abraham had told her? 

Most people know the rest of the story. Abraham takes Isaac to the place he is to be sacrificed and, at the last minute, God intervenes. Abraham does not sacrifice Isaac. But few people know the end of the story. After this incident, we read,

Genesis 22:19 – Then they (Abraham and Isaac) returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.

There’s just one problem. Abraham doesn’t live in Beersheba. Abraham lives in Hebron. Why doesn’t Abraham go back home? Why does he decide to live in a completely different town? Is it possible he does not want to face his wife and tell her where he went? By my count, this is now the third time he has abandoned her. He gave her away to the Pharaoh. He gave her away to Abimelech. Now he just isn’t going to come home. How long does he decide to wait it out? Turn the page and…

Genesis 23:1-2 – Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.

Abraham left her alone until she died. Abraham was not even there for her in the final days. He waits until she dies, and only then does he travel back to Hebron to “mourn” for her.

This is the story of Sarai/Sarah

She was forced to move around. She was abandoned by men in her life. She was treated as a possession. She was forced to have sex with strange men. Her husband took her son without telling her, and then left her alone. How must she have experienced her world? I imagine she experienced it in much the same way that many of my female friends, family members, and my adopted daughter have. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what to do with Sarah. I don’t know what to do for Sarah. I don’t know how to respond to her trauma. All I can do is sit with her story. Likewise, I don’t know what to do with and for the trauma so many of the women I care about have experienced. Sometimes all we can do is sit with their stories. 

 

A Spiritual Practice To Begin 2019

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In the Spring of 2016, I went to visit what has now become one of my favorite places in the Houston area, The Villa de Matel. This is a convent on a large area of land downtown that specializes in spiritual retreat. My mind was feeling very cluttered and I needed some time for silence and reflection. I started off by meeting with the spiritual advisor, and she handed me several pieces of paper with some different exercises and practices that she thought may be helpful for me. As I walked around, I found a rocking chair on a balcony overlooking the prayer garden and sat down. I wasn’t really sure how to start. I had so many goals for what I wanted to get out of this experience. I picked up my stack of papers and selected one at random. It was an examen, called saving F.A.C.E. (Fears, Attachments, Control, Entitlement)

If you’re not familiar, examen is a very old Christian practice that comes from the Latin word meaning “review.” We get so caught up in the rush of life, that we forget to be present and to sense that God is present. This exercise is meant to review our day (or a recent time period) and notice the ways God was moving and speaking. We ask God to give us clarity, we begin to reflect on ourselves and our day, we see the thoughts and feelings that arise in us, we talk to God about those, and we end by looking toward the future.

This particular examen, saving FACE, is a challenging one. It forces us to recognize the areas in which we have been trying to save face. This phrase, saving face, refers to the strategies that we all employ as humans to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to preserve our reputation at all costs. This is why the exercise is so hard. It forces us to confront the things we have been avoiding.

When it comes to saving FACE, most people fall into one of two traps. Either they deny that they have anything to confront, or they have already condemned themselves so much that they refuse to accept the love and grace Christ has for them.

Here’s how the exercise works:

First, find somewhere comfortable and distraction free. Relax. Slow down. Take deep breaths. Ask God to make his presence known around you. Feel this presence and just be.

Now, we examine ourselves

Fears: Ask God to show you what fears are dominant in your heart. Don’t stop at the surface level answer. Our truest fears are often hidden beneath. Once you are able to name the fear, take note of it.

Attachments: What have you been clinging to lately? You could be overly attached to a person, an idea, a result, or a behavior. Especially pay attention to emotional attachments. Once you’ve identified attachments, take note of them.

Control: In what areas are you trying too hard to have control? Are you trying to control people? Situations? Your future? It’s difficult for us to admit that we are controlling, so ask God for the courage to be honest. Once you identify spaces where you are seeking control, ask yourself why you feel the need for control in this area. Once you’ve recognized these, simply acknowledge them.

Entitlement: Where did you see entitlement recently? “I worked hard today, I deserve to…” “I’m an important person, I should not have to…” “Well, did you see what they did to me? I had the right to…” Where you find a false sense of entitlement, name it before God.

Trying to save FACE is exhausting. I know. I do it all the time. That’s why, ever since first learning this exercise, I go back to it regularly. Once you take the time to name your Fears, Attachments, Controls, and Entitlement, look toward the future. Here is a powerful question.

 

What would tomorrow look like if I didn’t allow these fears, attachments, need for control, and entitlements to rule me?

 

Then pray the sentence prayer that has been completely life changing for me…

 

“Lord, help me to live in the freedom of your mercy.”

 

We often get crushed by our tendencies to save FACE

Jesus says:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.

and

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”

That Spring day, in 2016, I came to the Villa with so many goals of what I needed to accomplish. Those got ditched after this exercise. Instead, I spent the time walking around, practicing what it means to live in the freedom of mercy.

You may have a lot of goals for 2019. That’s great! I have some goals too. But the truth is, we can’t do anything to move forward, if we don’t acknowledge where we are currently at. We can’t set the right goals, if we don’t realize where we are trying to save FACE. Chances are, many of us made goals out of fear, attachment, control, and entitlement.

Although this exercise is hard, it has been completely transformational for me. My prayer is that it will be transforming for you as well, and that 2019 will be a year that you experience the freedom of Christ’s mercy.

The Worst Week That Turned Out To Be The Best Week

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There’s an indie, sci-fi film that I love called Ink. It’s extremely artistic and oozing with gospel themes. If you’re interested, you can watch it on amazon prime here  (WARNING: It does contain some 4 letter words, especially in the opening scene)

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The movie takes place within multiple timelines that are all working together to reunite a father with his daughter in order to save her life. The plan? Get the father knocked out of his routine and set a chain reaction of events that will hopefully lead to a reunification. The method used to begin this chain reaction? A car crash.

Saturday, April 28, 2018, started off like any other day. My wife and I, along with the baby, got in the car to run an errand. As I was getting ready to turn left, I’m not really sure what happened. Did I not see it? Did I not look? Was I too distracted looking at the GPS? Either way, I went, looked up, and saw another car coming right at me. It was too late for either of us to react.

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Fast forward to an emergency room. My wife is told that she has 3 breaks in her hand. The good news? The ER doctor says that they will be able to heal fine on their own, no surgery needed. What a relief right? Because ER doctors are NEVER wrong…

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Endless calls. Car insurance. Collision Center. Health Insurance. Orthopedic doctors.

Our stress level was at its max. My wife was in lots of pain. I was trying to figure out how to balance a full time job, take care of an injured spouse, keep up the house, and do all the things for our baby that were impossible for my wife to do one handed.

Diaper changes. Bath times. Getting dressed. Feedings. Picking up.

Wednesday, May 2, four days after the car accident, we sat in the office of an orthopedic doctor. She walked into the room after looking at Natalie’s x-rays and said “You need surgery. There are four bones that hold your hand together and you broke three of them.”

Anesthesia. Surgery. Plates. Screws. Physical therapy. Multiple months of recovery.

My wife sobbed.

The. Worst. Week. EVER!

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017 started off like any other day, until there was a knock on our door. A shy 5-year-old girl walked into our home. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Does any first time parent? Natalie and I had finished our Foster care certification earlier that month and our first placement had arrived. Everything changed.

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Laughter. Tears. Exhaustion. Frustration. SO MUCH JOY.

A few months later we received an email. Yes, I typed that correctly…AN EMAIL. A relative had been found, they were moving her to a different home. We knew this was the most likely outcome. We knew this was only supposed to be temporary. But it happened so much sooner than we were anticipating. And just like that, this sweet little girl we had fallen in love with, that made us first time parents, brought so much joy and laughter into our home, and changed our lives forever, was gone.

Quiet. Stillness. Down time. Empty.

We lost contact. We thought of her often. We missed her. We got another foster placement…a newborn!

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Things changed again, but we didn’t forget. A year passed. My wife wrote a letter to “little miss” on the 1 year anniversary. (We call her that on social media because we can’t post names or pictures of her face). You can read it here. We cried as she read it to me.

Then, exactly 1 month after the one year date…CAR CRASH!

Back to Wednesday, May 2, 2018. This the day Natalie finds out she needs surgery. The capper to the worst week ever.

The phone rings. As I answer, I’m told that they are looking for a new place for little miss and want to know if we can take her. I call Natalie…she sobbed. Seriously, this is a lot to take in for one day. We can’t say yes fast enough.

June 7, 2018 there was another knock on the door. The same girl walked in. Now almost 7, and much less shy this time around. Just like that we became a family of 4.

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Chaos. Exhaustion. Frustration. Constant running around. Making it up as we go. Lots of laughter. SO MUCH JOY.

Life feeling complete, even if it’s only temporary.

Who knows…maybe there are unseen forces at work, existing in multiple timelines, all working together to reunite a father and his daughter. Maybe a chain of events that are impossible for any one person to see had to be started to accomplish this end goal. Maybe the method chosen to start this chain of events was a car crash. Maybe I just desperately want my life to be an indie sci-fi film and it’s all random coincidence.

Either way, all I know is that the worst week turned out to be the

Best. Week. EVER!

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A Tale of Two Preachers

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Once upon a time, there were two preachers. Each preacher had a church member, who was struggling with depression, come to them for counsel. [1] Preacher 1 told this person all the things that were wrong with being depressed. They told this person that one of the fruits of the spirit is joy and if they didn’t have joy then they must be doing something wrong. They told this person that they needed to repent of their sin of depression. They then gave them a long list of things to do to start not being depressed.

Preacher 2 told this person they were deeply loved. Preacher 2 spent time with this person helping them understand who they are in Jesus. This person was told all that Jesus has done and the life that he offers. Then preacher 2 prayed over this member.

Each preacher had a church member who was struggling with (insert any sin you would like here).

Preacher 1 read all the Bible verses to this person that said this act was a sin. He also made sure to read the ones that talk about the punishment of sin. He made sure this person knew that they needed to stop this sin less they face these punishments. Preacher 1 then gave this person a long list of things to do to stop this sin and start living the right way.

Preacher 2 told this person they were deeply loved. He spent time with this person helping them understand who they are in Jesus. This person was told all that Jesus has done and the life that he offers. He painted a picture for this person of what life looks like when we experience it the way it was meant to be. He retold this person’s story through the lens of Jesus. Then preacher 2 prayed over this person.

When preacher 1 preaches, he makes sure his sermons are about what things his church needs to STOP doing and what things they need to START doing. He often points out what will happen if they don’t stop and start doing those things. Oddly enough, preacher 1 has a small church of miserable, behaviorally modified members who don’t really understand who they are in Jesus.

When preacher 2 preaches, he preaches on who we are in Christ. He paints a beautiful picture of what the life he intended for us involves. He talks about what it could look like to bring heaven to earth. He preaches on the way that Jesus re-tells all of our stories. He realizes that what we do, flows out of who we are. Oddly enough, preacher 2 has a pretty large church that is healthy. None of the members are perfect, but they sure understand who they are in Jesus and that drastically impacts their behavior and the way they live. Oddly enough, preacher 2 doesn’t have to give long lists about what to do and what not to do. The people have begun to naturally do and not do those things because they now know who they are.

Preacher 1 often quotes John 1:14 to preacher 2. When he does, he really likes to emphasize the AND TRUTH part. Preacher 2 chuckles at the irony of his situation as he thinks about how most of the AND TRUTH from jesus was directed toward self righteous religious leaders. Preacher 1 also likes to bring up the story of the woman caught in adultery. When he does, he really like to emphasize the GO AND LEAVE YOUR LIFE OF SIN part.

At this point, preacher 2 would really like to give a list of things to start and stop doing to preacher 1, but he won’t. He recognizes that preacher 1 doesn’t fully realize who he is in Christ. Preacher 2 knows that if he did, he would realize that Jesus only says that to the woman after he says that he doesn’t condemn her. Oddly enough, the woman never repents, she never asks for forgiveness, she never even indicates a recognition that what she did was wrong or a desire to change. Jesus forgives her anyways. Without repentance. Preacher 1 cannot reconcile that. It’s why he has to emphazie the AND TRUTH part. If only he realized that the AND TRUTH part came after Jesus bathes this woman with an almost irresponsible amount of grace. It’s almost like Jesus knew that real changing power comes when you announce who people are, and you retell their story through the lens of Jesus. It’s almost like Jesus knew that this is what changes behavior, not sermons about behavior modification.

Good thing, this is just a “hypothetical story.”

[1] This is a hypothetical story. Depression is a serious medical issue and if this were a real story, unless preacher 1 and 2 have a master’s level or higher degree with the word counseling in it, they should refer.

God is Not a Control Freak

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God’s will… What do you think of when you hear that? Typically we think of what God wants, and this leads to the question everyone is always asking…”What is God’s will for my life?”

This question was never on the forefront of my mind more than it was as my high school career neared an end. Apparently at age 16 or 17 I am already supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life, and as a Christian, I better make sure that whatever I land on is exactly what God wants for me. That is a lot of pressure! What if I get it wrong? What if I spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years of my life studying something that God doesn’t have in the plan? What if I end up going my entire life against God’s will? These questions plagued me so I had to begin a journey in search of God’s will. I was praying, I was asking trusted mentors, I was reading my Bible, all trying to figure out what in the world God’s will for my life was and how I find it. Then things started to pile up. God has this planned out specific will for life, so the questions started rolling in. What college does God will for me to go to? Who does God will for me to marry? What job does God will for me to take? How many kids does God will for me to have? Which house does God will for me to buy? You can see where this is going. IT NEVER STOPS! What if I get one wrong? How do I find out what God wants from me? This is so frustrating…

But then something clicked. I had a major revelation. I was going about this all wrong. As I began really searching through the Bible, I began to realize this: For every one story that I read in the Bible where God gives someone an extremely specific directive, there are countless stories where there is no specific will.

But wait you tell me…doesn’t the Bible say somewhere that God knows the plans that he has. Plans to make me prosper and bring me hope and a future? Yes. So doesn’t that mean that God has my life all mapped out? No! I will save you the rant on that. You can read more about that here.

So why do I not think God has a specific detailed will for each of us? Because I don’t think God is a control freak. That is not how his character is displayed throughout scripture. What do we see? A God who very much works in the context of people making life decisions and following their passions.

I love this quote from Donald Miller. He says, “God gave us a heart filled with desire and longing. It’s as though God sets before us a big sheet of butcher paper and hands us a box of crayons and tells us to dream.”

But weren’t there people in the Bible God had a specific will for? Of course! According to Scripture, here are some ways you can know if God has a very specific will for your life:

  1. An angel shows up and tells you that you are going to be pregnant even though you’ve never had sex.
  2. A donkey talks to you
  3. A burning bush talks to you
  4. You hear God’s audible voice and he tells you to go to Nineveh.

Do you catch my drift? When God has this crazy specific will for you, YOU’LL KNOW with no doubt. Jonah knew absolutely he was going against God’s will when he got on that boat. There was no doubt in his mind what God wanted from him.

So what about the rest of us who feel like God has not made it 100% obvious that there is a specific will? How do we know if we are doing what God wants? It’s actually pretty simple. What does Jesus say in Scripture?

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment and he responds by saying, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives this commission “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded, and surely I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

So as you are asking yourselves this question during whatever season of life you are in…”what is God’s will for me and how do I know if I’m doing it?” let me ask you this…

Are you loving God with your whole self and loving people selflessly? Are you making disciples? Are you baptizing people and leading them to Christ? Are you teaching them how to live like Jesus?

If you answered yes to these, guess what…YOU ARE DOING GOD’S WILL!

Unless God has made something painfully obvious to you, he really doesn’t care if you are loving God, loving people, and advancing his kingdom as a pastor in Katy Texas, an actor in LA, an accountant in New York, or anything else. He doesn’t care if you have no kids or ten. He doesn’t care if you get married when you’re 22 or 92. As Donald Miller would say, take those crayons and dream!

Now, one final note. Just because God may not care if you go to school in state or across the country, or if you study business management or education, doesn’t mean there is not a better option. God knows you best and he can see all things. Even though he is not some puppet master planning out every aspect of your life does not mean that He cannot help reveal to you which spouse or which job will work the best for you and your future, so prayerfully seek Him in the big decisions. That being said, do not let this fear of “God’s will” paralyze you. If God is going to send you a burning bush, I promise, you won’t miss it. Until then get moving, loving God, loving people, and advancing his kingdom. If you are doing that, I can guarantee God will bless it no matter where you are doing it.