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?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Learning healthier ways of coping

The next day Moses sat to judge the people. And the people stood around Moses from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you do for the people? Why do you sit alone and judge and all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” 

Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to learn God’s will. When they argue, they come to me. And I judge between a man and his neighbor. I teach them the Laws of God.” 

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will become tired and weak. For the work is too much for you. You cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will tell you what you should do, and God be with you. You speak for the people before God. Bring the troubles to God. Then teach them the Laws. Make them know the way they must walk and the work they must do. Also, you should choose from the people able men who fear God, men of truth who hate to get things by doing wrong. Have these men rule over the people, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times. Have all the big troubles brought to you. But have them judge the small troubles. So it will be easier for you. They will share the work with you. If you do this and God tells you to do it, then you will be able to keep your strength. And all these people will go to their place in peace.”  Ex 18:13-23

When faced with difficulties, we often tend to cope with them by using strategies or unhealthy emotional coping mechanisms that we know rather than using new, healthier methods to deal with situations. I found that out recently when faced with a sudden onset of chest pain.

MP900337308Yep, I should have gone directly to the ER but fear caused me to deal with it the way I always had in the past - I waited  out the pain  in silence, alone, unable to open my mouth to talk about  what was going on in my body.

With a lot of prayer and introspection, I finally realized that I dealt with my current circumstance much like I had dealt with the childhood abuse I faced - by pretending it wasn't there. If I didn't acknowledge the chest pain, then it wouldn't be real and I'd be ok. Not!

When I walked through the healing process for the childhood abuse years ago,   I learned that silence and pretending were not healthy ways to deal with frightening life experiences.
Rather, I had to break the silence and chains of the hurtful secrets I kept by talking about those hurts with safe, supportive people. Those caring friends and counselors helped me to recognize and confront those lies of the enemy.

But sometimes as we uproot those damaging lies, a few pieces of the root are left in the ground and years later we find a new aspect of the old problem to deal with as I did with my chest pain.

Thankfully, things turned out all right - I lived to tell about the chest pain and to examine my reaction to figure out why I froze, unable to do what I needed to do to be safe. God sent several wonderful friends to encourage me through this time - all of whom were willing to read me the riot act about going to the ER.

In this wilderness journey story, Moses has reverted to an unhealthy way of coping with Israel's neediness. He was ruling the people alone, as if he had all the answers and there was no one else qualified to help them. In a sense, he was trying to be God to the people, just like the pharaoh had been.  

But the people had too many needs; too much emotional brokenness.  It proved to be too much for one man  to handle. Eventually Moses would have burned out and the people would have become co-dependent on him. Thankfully, God sent Moses' father-in-law - a trusted ally, to confront Moses. Jethro basically read him the riot act about trying to do things alone, using the faulty ways of coping he had learned. Then he modeled a healthier way which spread the responsibility out among Israel's clan leaders. There were people among them with leadership gifts who had learned the lessons God was teaching them on the journey. They needed to prove their leadership abilities and Moses needed to let them!

God's goal was to raise up a strong, independent people who would worship him and become a beacon to all surrounding nations of the glory and power of God.

What unhealthy ways of coping has God confronted in your life? How has he used others to confront you when you  used these methods? How did you react to their prodding?

Father, open our eyes to the ways our old nature still affects our lives. Use those trusted friends who are willing to read us the riot act and help us choose new, healthy ways of coping. Amen.