Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The invitation to intimacy with God

God said to Moses, “Climb higher up the mountain and wait there for me; I’ll give you tablets of stone, the teachings and commandments that I’ve written to instruct them.” So
Bald Eagle in FlightMoses got up, accompanied by Joshua his aide. And Moses climbed up the mountain of God.   Ex 24;12-13  The Message

It seems I've tried to live healthier most of my adult life. I've gone through spurts of dieting,  exercising to improve my physical health, and  spurts of intense daily Bible study/Prayer to improve my spiritual health.  Usually, I've been able to keep up with these regimens with for a while.  But ultimately, I get frustrated or busy and end up quitting.  Then I have to get motivated again before plunging back into the battle for my spiritual and physical health.

During the winter of 1996-1997, we lived in northern NY where the winters seemed especially long and gloomy. When we moved there, I left my counselor and emotional support system behind that had sustained me during the beginning of my healing journey. After the move, I felt lost, like I was floundering and I wasn't sure what to do to regain my spiritual equilibrium.

That January, I prayed about making resolutions for the year.  Of course, my spiritual life and physical health topped the list. I committed to a daily regimen of praying and scripture reading,  but because of the snow and extreme chill weather-wise, I really couldn't walk outdoors to take care of my physical body. As I prayed, I felt a nudging by God's Spirit to walk indoors - after all, the church we pastored was right next door and the sanctuary was large enough to easily walk a mile by going around inside several times. It was a perfect place to commit to both the physical and spiritual regimen I needed.

So I got up early in the morning, went next door,  put on some worship music and walked. It didn't take long to realize that as I walked and praised the Lord, he was right there walking with me. I found I could talk to the Lord about anything, honestly and openly. And he would answer me.
For me it had become an invitation to intimacy, to "climb higher up the mountain," as I walked and talked with the Lord each day.  The hour spent walking, praying and praising each day soon became my favorite time of day.

I wish I could say that those lifestyle changes became a permanent part of my life. But like Moses, I eventually returned down the mountain to "real life." As spring rolled around, life got busier and  more things claimed my time and attention each day. Physical exercise took on a different form as it moved outdoors to include gardening and walking the dog. My spiritual exercise became a shorter morning devotional reading and prayer time. 

But the lessons I learned about worship and  intimacy with God during that wintertime walk stayed with me.  It was there in the quiet sanctuary, walking and talking with him that I heard the beating of God's heart. He became more real than  he had ever been and I learned to know his ways like Moses, rather than just knowing him for his acts like the people of Israel did. I am so thankful for his intimate healing touch in my heart. 

Committing ourselves to obedience, allowing God to do what he needs to do for us in this healing process ultimately leads to an invitation to intimacy - an invitation to "come up higher" where we can know God for who he is, not just what he does.

I'd love to hear how you have experienced this in your healing process.
Have a blessed day!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Committing to the healing and growth process

Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the case laws. All the people answered in unison, “Everything that the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down all the Lord’s words. He got up early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain. He set up twelve sacred stone pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He appointed certain young Israelite men to offer entirely burned offerings and slaughter oxen as well-being sacrifices to the Lord.  Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls. The other half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the covenant scroll and read it out loud for the people to hear. They responded, “Everything that the Lord has said we will do, and we will obey.”
 Moses then took the blood and threw it over the people. Moses said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you on the basis of all these words.” Exodus 24:3-8 CEB

Quick, get the Germ - X ® hand sanitizer!   I thought to myself as I saw two boys making a "spit promise." Though it totally grossed me out as an adult, I knew they were dead serious about the pact they just made. While it remained to be seen whether or not they could actually keep that pact, their intent was to fulfill their promise to each other.

When we think of the word, "covenant", however, it carries far more weight than these boyhood promises. It is generally a contract or legally binding agreement, initiated by God. It may be between  between God and man (or a group of people such as the nation of Israel)  or made by God as a promise of how he will act toward man.

In this case, God had already shown the Israelites his power of protection and provision in the miracles he had performed in the early days of their journey. Moses had written down an account of all these things along with answers God gave him  to the many difficult disputes which had arisen among the people (chapters 21-23). He also included the promises of God to be with them as long as they obeyed God's words. Now, he challenged the people:  "You've already seen what God can do. Will you trust him and continue to walk with him?"

It was time for the people of Israel to make a decision and commit themselves to it. Would they respect and obey the things God said; the laws he gave them? Had they learned to trust him enough to commit to the process of healing and growth?

In our healing journey,  we will most likely pass through a similar wilderness experience. There God will show us his provision and protection in some mighty ways. We should get into the habit of journaling about the things God does and how he leads us one step at a time through the lives of those he sends to help us and by the miracles he performs.  And we need to reread the journaling about those events often to help us remember what he's doing when the things get a little rough.

Ultimately though, there will come a time when we must stop and make a solid commitment to the journey. You see, unless a person wants to grow and heal from the effects of abuse, unless they commit to move forward after a great loss, they won't cooperate with the work God needs to do to bring about that healing. A spiritual and emotional healing involves hard work and a deliberate commitment to the process.

Moses built an altar and stood before the people to read all of things he wrote down on this "covenant scroll."  When the people agreed to  live by God's laws, the promise was sealed with a mass sacrifice.  Moses poured some of the blood on the altar to sanctify the altar and sacrificial gifts before God, and reserved the rest to sprinkle on the people to seal the deal. Not only had God committed to helping them, they had agreed to let him do the necessary work.

Will you commit your life to God and let him take control of this healing process? It won't be easy as we shall see in the lives of the Israelites in the chapters to come. But the emotional health and spiritual rewards we gain by letting God control the process are well worth it! And one thing is for sure, when God makes a covenant promise to heal and guide, there is no doubt whatsoever that he will keep his end of the bargain.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Overcoming our fear of the Father

All the people, experiencing the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blast and the smoking mountain, were afraid—they pulled back and stood at a distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we’ll listen, but don’t have God speak to us or we’ll die.”

Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. God has come to test you and instill a deep and reverent awe within you so that you won’t sin.”

 The people kept their distance while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. Exodus 20:18-21

Child developmental psychologists tell us that a
young  child  learns who he is through
???????????family interactions. By the time he's 4, he has formed a fairly concrete image of himself through relationship with his parents. If his parents have done the best they could in meeting that child's physical and emotional needs, he will usually have a pretty stable self-image as well as a sound sense of family.

But if a parent has neglected, physically or emotionally abused that child, the building blocks for future problems have already been stacked against him, including the development of his God-concept which happens between 6-8 years of age.

When I was a young child, I got mixed messages in my relationship with my father. He said he loved me as he showered me with  improper affections. But in the next breath, he threatened me saying  bad things would happen and I would be to blame if I ever told anyone what he did to me in the guise of that love. Because of my fear of his words, I kept silent well into adulthood. I stuffed my fear down deep inside and put on the happy face of a child in a model family.

As I grew up in Sunday School, I learned that God loved me too, but I had difficulty shaking the idea that his love was conditional, based on my performance. I always felt like I was hanging onto a string, suspended over hell's fires. If I messed up, God might just decide to let go of that string. Just like I feared my earthly father, I had a deep-seated, almost unshakeable fear of my heavenly Father. I strove to be the best Christian I could, putting on my Martha personality mask while secretly worrying that I wasn't doing enough.

I was much like the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai here in this passage.   From the time they were infants in Egypt, they learned that their parents couldn't protect them from the heartache, death and pain of slavery. Displays of power by their captors were generally followed by death and an increase of hardship as their enemies attempted to create fear and compliance in the hearts of the Israelites. 

This kind of emotional brow-beating had been going on for 400 years, spanning many generations.
In the wilderness God had showered them with love. He protected them and provided for them. But they had been conditioned through the centuries to believe that their God couldn't or wouldn't help them. In fact, they believed this display of  God's power in the wilderness was sure to be followed by an increase of death and hardship, just like it always had with their enemies. No matter how many times God  performed miracles to teach them that he was there for them, it was difficult to overcome their  sense of fear. It's no wonder they hung back and wanted Moses to deal with God for them. If they dared to seek after God themselves, who knew what God would do to them?

As we approach Father's Day this month, consider your relationship with your father and your heavenly Father. If you were hurt by your earthly father in the past, it may be difficult to trust your heavenly Father now. God's displays of might and power toward you, designed to encourage your faith and  "instill a deep and reverent awe within you," can easily be misinterpreted to be harsh or intimidating. Maybe you're waiting for the other shoe to drop in your relationship with Him.

Ask God, your heavenly Father,  to help you break those cement blocks of fear which were laid in your formative years so that you may receive his love and encouragement. He wants and deserves your worship, your praise and your deepest respect and awe. But it's not his intent that you should cower in fear before him. Or that you should keep your distance from him, waiting for others to tell you what he wants.

Father, help us to be fearless as we  come to you, to know you and to have a relationship with you. Help us to see for ourselves who we are in relationship with you so we can heal and grow into mature followers - true children of God! Amen.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Learning to rest during recovery

“Remember the Day of Rest, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you will do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Day of Rest to the Lord your God. You, your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, or the traveler who stays with you, must not do any work on this day. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea and all that is in them. And He rested on the seventh day. So the Lord gave honor to the Day of Rest and made it holy. Ex 20:8-11

Along the back roads in early spring in Northern New York I enjoyed seeing stands of maple trees

maple syrupall linked together with plastic tubing and buckets as my neighbors harvested  sap to make syrup. Just remembering those days makes my mouth water for the taste of that real maple syrup and maple candy.

Each fall, the sap drained back down to the base of the tree;  the leaves turned colors and fell off in preparation for the winter  season - a season of rest for the tree. Without that rest, the tree couldn't survive the long, harsh, northern winters. Then as the spring temperatures rose above freezing once again, the sap started running back up into the extremities of the tree, allowing the leaves to bud out.

This sap was the life-blood of the maple tree. Its sweetness made it worth the effort to collect and boil it down into syrup. But in order to make the purest and tastiest syrup, my farming neighbors knew they needed to collect the  sap when it first started running back up into the branches of the tree, before the leaves came out right after the season of rest for the tree.

Resting seems to be a necessary part of life to help us be at our best, just like the maple sap. Without proper rest, our bodies have difficulty healing from illness.  We have difficulty "de-stressing" and getting back on track emotionally or mentally. We burn out.

The Children of Israel  were burned out, drained emotionally and physically from their four centuries of brutal slave labor to the Egyptians. For their first few months in the wilderness, God gave them a season of rest, carefully working with them to restore their trust in him. But once the crisis period passed for them, they needed to get back to a more "normal" routine which included productive work to build up their self-esteem and their  identity as a nation.

During phase two of the healing process, God  incorporated a balanced regimen of work and rest into their lives. This weekly Sabbath rest was about more than just ceasing from their labors on the seventh day. It was about taking time to rediscover who their God was and who they were in relationship to him.

Not only did God want to heal their hearts from slavery, he wanted to prevent such physical and emotional captivity from ever happening again.  He made rest a mandatory part of their law, sandwiching it between the first commandments about loving him and the last ones about how to treat others. It was to be a day spent in his presence, to build relationship with him so they could know how to live with the others around them.

Think about it. When we're hurting badly inside, we often become "workaholics" to try to forget our grief and pain. While the hard work does dull the pain,  it also keeps us too busy to work through it. The work prevents us from  spending quality time with our Creator.  And it often causes us to neglect or even harm relationships with those around us.

Quite often we don't want to spend time with God  because he is a God of truth, He loves us too much to allow us to wallow in lies and pain. We don't want to face the pain or hard work of healing. We don't want to face the fact that once we've been hurt, we have the potential to pass that hurt on to others. It's easier to nurse a grudge than to forgive.  So we lose ourselves in our jobs or busy-work, or we wallow in self-pity.

When we stop and spend time with our Creator, he will mirror the content of our hearts back at us so he can cleanse and heal us. We need to stop fighting him tooth and nail because he has our best interests at heart.

Lord, help us to rest in you so you can bring out the best in us!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Advanced lessons in Trust

 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning. A cloud covered the mountain, and a very loud horn sounded. All the people among the tents shook with fear.   Then Moses brought the people from among the tents to meet God. They stood at the base of the mountain.   Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord came down upon it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a stove. And the whole mountain shook.   The sound of the horn became louder and louder. Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.   Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. The Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and he went up.   Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and tell the people not to break through to look at the Lord. For then many of them would be destroyed. Have the religious leaders who come near to the Lord set themselves apart to be holy. Or the Lord will go against them.”   Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. For You told us, ‘Set places around the mountain that must not be passed, and set it apart as holy.’”   Then the Lord said to him, “Go down, and then come up with Aaron. But do not let the religious leaders and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will go against them.”   So Moses went down to the people and told them. Ex 19:16-25

little boy cryingIt's no wonder the Bible often refers to the Hebrews as the "Children of Israel."

Indeed, they were much like infants when they first came out of Egypt following 400 years of slavery. They had to relearn how to live as free men and women. They also had to learn how to grow up spiritually. That's what makes their wilderness journey such a powerful model for anyone  going through a healing process from life's hurts or abuses.

During the first few months of their freedom, God worked almost exclusively on teaching them to trust him through his presence, provision and protection. He didn't punish them for their groaning, moaning or complaining. They were no different than hungry infants squalling because they didn't know any other way to let their needs be known.

But  at Mt. Sinai, things were about to change. Lesson two had to do with obedience - establishing boundaries and understanding the consequences of their actions.  They had seen the power of God. Now they needed to learn to respect him and his power - to learn to obey him,  in order to grow in their relationship with him.

We've all stood in line at the grocery store and watched toddlers testing their boundaries while a harried parent tries to keep them out of trouble. While we can understand and overlook the behavior of a two year old throwing a tantrum in the middle of Wal-Mart, it's not so amusing when the child is twelve!

God didn't want a nation of twelve-year-old tantrum-throwers so it was time to move forward in their healing process. He drew a boundary around the mountain and instructed the people through Moses that they were not to cross it. The Israelites weren't mature enough spiritually to come close to God because of his holiness.  His holy presence would be like a mirror, reflecting back their sin, faults and failures, even to the point of causing physical death if they came too close.

The boundaries were established for their protection and personal safety, but also to help them define themselves and God more clearly. They needed to get a clearer picture of who they were in relationship with God. As time progressed, these elementary lessons would help them learn who they were in relationship with others, to prevent all the childish bickering that had started to erupt among them.

In some ways the experience here at Mt Sinai, was an advanced lesson in trust,  helping them understand that their God wouldn't swallow them up or control them. He had offered them true freedom of will and choice - but their choices would have consequences.

Can you remember a time where God set boundaries for you? It might have been a time when he confronted you with something sinful or lacking in your life? These times remind us of who he is and how naked or vulnerable we are in his presence. They help define us as finite and faulty in the presence of the perfect and righteous God of the universe. They also help us choose to obey his will.

The beauty of these confrontations is that God always offers us a way through Christ to cross those lines into his presence through obedience, repentance and trust. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Obedience to God's boundaries is an important key to growing up spiritually;  to avoid becoming a twelve-year-old tantrum-thrower and to move forward in our healing process.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Knowing God in the healing process

Then God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house where you were servants.

  • “Have no gods other than Me.
  • “Do not make for yourselves a god to look like anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.
  • “Do not worship them or work for them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. I punish the children, even the great-grandchildren, for the sins of their fathers who hate Me. But I show loving-kindness to thousands of those who love Me and keep My Laws.
  • “Do not use the name of the Lord your God in a false way. For the Lord will punish the one who uses His name in a false way.
Ex 20: 1-7 NLV

For those who are hurting, victimized, lost and alone, healing begins with a glimpse of who God is. He is not like the ones who hurt us - but he is One who has our best interests at heart for survival, growth and thriving.

It may not seem that way here in this passage as we see the harsh "Do nots" of God's laws. But remember where Israel has been. They lived in Egypt where many cruel gods determined the everyday fate of the people. Everyone who camped around Mt Sinai grew up under their fickle thumbs. The people didn't really understand who this new God was, even though they had seen his miraculous works. Many of the people still thought of him as just another god, except more powerful, more able to crush them if he chose to.

In order to heal from their ordeal of slavery, the children of Israel needed to see God as distinct and separate from the gods of Egypt. They needed to build a relationship with him based on who he was rather than on their past experience. Here at the base of Mt. Sinai, God wanted to reveal himself to them as a distinct and unique God, not like the gods they've known.

So he laid out the rules of this new relationship for them - rules that are still applicable for us today as we heal:
  1. He calls us to seek him and worship him alone, above al others, because Jehovah God is all we need. Things don't need to be complicated. He can do it all - offering his presence, his provision and protection to his people.
  2. He is Spirit and Truth. Sometimes as human beings. we feel we need a "God with skin" that we can see, touch and hold to feel comforted - especially when things are at their worst. Yet, when we hold God in the palm of our hands, we limit who he is and what he can do for, in and through us. We take control of our own lives, rather than trusting in God. Letting go of that control and trusting the God who created the universe is a huge step for those of us who have been conditioned to fear because of the past abuse.
  3. The gods of Egypt controlled the people, preventing their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth both as a nation, and as individuals.. God doesn't control us - he provides challenges and opportunities for us to reach the fullest potential that he created in us.

    Sin cycles down through the generations bringing punishment and death. Did you know that a mother who was sexually abused as a child is more likely to set the stage for her daughters to suffer that same abuse without the Lord's intervention? But through a trusting relationship with Christ, those cycles can be broken, not only allowing us to experience true freedom to reach our full potential, but freedom for future generations as well!
  4. The fourth commandment places the burden of trust squarely on our shoulders. God cannot do anything for us unless and until we trust him with all our hearts. What is in our hearts will eventually make its way out of our mouths.

    The Israelites didn't know God - their complaints and grumbling erupted from the fear they still experienced. As we learn to know him and as we heal through this relationship, he will ease those fears. The joy. love and respect for our God will be the words that come out of our hearts because of our experiences. It doesn't happen overnight - it is a lifelong process that comes out of an ever evolving relationship.
It's easy to look at these commandments as rigid rules that choke our spirits. At the time they were given, God was confronting severe damage in the hearts of the people - damage and pain that was fresh in their hearts. They needed the strong words to force them to look at the God who had delivered them. Yet, there was love in the sternness as he gave them these words as guides for a relationship that would heal and rebuild the hearts of his people.
Today these are enriched by the visual picture of God's love through the gift of Jesus, sent to die for us to bring healing from the damage of sin and abuse. Jesus summed up these four important commands this way - we are to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and spirits.
When he fills our hearts, there is no room for fear, pain and sin because the relationship we need most fills us completely.

Monday, May 6, 2013

God is investing in your healing

In the third month after the people of Israel left Egypt, they came to the Sinai Desert on the same day. They had left Rephidim and had come to the Sinai Desert. There Israel set up their tents in front of the mountain. And Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Say this to the house of Jacob and tell the people of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will obey My voice and keep My agreement, you will belong to Me from among all nations. For all the earth is Mine. You will be to Me a nation of religious leaders, a holy nation. These are the words you will speak to the people of Israel.” Ex 19: 1-6

Sunlight Shining Through ForestIt was a sunny day, early in my healing journey from abuse. We were visiting at in-laws' home and I decided to take a walk into the woods in the back field. The memories and hurt of the childhood abuse hung heavy on my heart and I needed to pray about the overwhelming shame I felt in my heart. When I was almost 200 yards from the house, I turned into the woods , being careful to stay hidden under the trees, away from prying eyes, but not far enough into the woods to get lost. 

There was a large log lying on the ground, a perfect spot beckoning me to sit, meditate and pray.  My heart felt heavy at first as I began to whip my heart with self-condemnation. "Lord, I know you say you love me. But how is that possible with all this darkness and filth from the abuse inside me?"

I felt so sorry for myself as I prayed. All the unworthiness and uncleanness poured  out. When I reached the end of my woe-is-me prayer, an amazing thing happened. I noticed a beautiful flower nearby and began praising the Lord. My mood brightened. I examined my surroundings and my heart warmed to his wonder. I started humming, "This is my Father's World." He had come into that little wooded vale and sat down with me on that old log, inviting conversation.

Hanging my head, still feeling the weight of  shame I carried, I asked the Lord the question that was burning in my heart. "Lord, why are you bothering to heal me? I'm too broken and shameful to be worthy of your grace."

In the loving way only he can speak to a hurting heart, he answered me there. "It has nothing to do with your worthiness.  I do it because I choose to. To me, you are worth the time and energy I am investing in you. Even if you never do anything with the healing. Can you accept that?"

I didn't have to be whole to  be valuable to God. I didn't have to be healed already. He could use me if he chose, any time, anywhere, even while in the midst of the healing process. I was valuable to him, simply because my heart  belonged to him. All he asked was that I let him work in me.

The Children of Israel belonged to God too. At this point, they weren't healed from the hurts of their slavery. No! They hadn't even learned to trust him fully yet.  But as they camped at Sinai, God renewed his covenant with them. God was speaking to them with this same message. "I have chosen you - you are worth the time and energy I am investing in you, to heal you and make you a nation of religious leaders." The only thing he asked of them was that they allow him to work in their hearts and lives without pushing him away and to interact with him through the healing process. After all, a doctor can heal our bodies, but unless we cooperate,  and obey his instructions, the healing process will be hindered.

Perhaps, God is sending you a message today - you are worth the time and energy he is investing in you. Will you allow him to work in your life and cooperate with his healing program?