God in the darkness

Another guest post by Angel Davis, my friend and collaborator in ministry. In this blog she shares how a friend (whose story is told with permission) experienced the grace of God in a desperate season:

“Why? How could this happen?”

This was the broken-hearted cry of a woman sitting on my couch. Her heart literally felt like it was breaking and for very good reason. Her decade-long marriage which had begun centered around Christ had now dissolved, and not by her choice. She had entered into marriage believing it was a covenant with God that was not to be broken. Despite the years of subtle abuse and unloving treatment, she desperately prayed her marriage would be saved. She wanted her children to grow up in an intact family. She wanted to honor and keep the vows she had made to God.

And yes, she still loved her husband.

She had spent a solid year seeking counseling and receiving inner healing. She allowed God to heal the wounds of her heart and help her forgive. She prayed and asked others to pray — fervently — that the marriage would be saved. She prayed right up to the last minute, but her husband’s heart never softened. They divorced, and now the custody of their children hung in the balance.

And now she sat in great distress, true agony; the judge had ruled in favor of the father. Her children’s father, now her ex — this man who had treated her badly, who had lied, who had broken some of the separation agreement guidelines — this man would get “favor” financially from the judge and “favor” regarding the custody of their children.

“How could God allow this to happen?”

“Where is He?”

“Does He not even care?

“I just don’t see Him working.”

“It’s not fair!” 

My friend was devastated, not to mention legitimately concerned for her children’s well-being. She was desperate now to realize she wouldn’t be able to mother them daily. She’d miss out on developmental milestones. She’d be separated from them at such tender ages. The pain was beyond words.

Fast-forward several months. The ache was still there and depression had settled in around the sadness of having to split time with her kids with their father. There was still hurt over the unfairness of the settlement … but the pain was lessening. She was more ready now to process her situation through healing prayer.

As we prayed into her pain and concerns, what can only be humanly described as feeling like a lightning bolt from heaven, came down — first downloaded into my brain, and then into her heart. A flash of understanding: “God had to allow the ‘unjust’ settlement in order to soothe the anger of your ex-husband!”

I have to say that humanly, this didn’t settle well. It seemed … well … unjust. And it was, by any earthly standard. I can say with certainty that God didn’t cause this man’s hard heart, nor did God cause the divorce. But as I searched within for some scriptural anchor for this word about how God used the circumstances of fallen people, I saw it.

It was the unjust cross of Jesus Christ. 

He who committed no sin was slain and buried for three dark, bleak days. He who did not deserve that penalty became the very sacrifice that freed us from the penalty of sin. His willingness to do a very unfair thing allowed us to finally see the darkness for what it is. That unjust settlement bought us new life and paid for our sins while it negated the power of the enemy’s weapons against us.

Think about the death of Lazarus (Luke 11). When they brought news to Jesus, Lazarus was already arguably dead, but Jesus waited three days after he was pronounced dead to visit. Nothing seemed to be accomplished in that waiting, as far as Lazarus’ loved ones were concerned, except they got mad with Jesus. After all, Martha had asked him to come, and he waited … almost like he didn’t care. But when he finally did show up, he entered into their suffering and then did the impossible. He called forth life from a dead man, out of a tomb where unfair death resided. The effect? The witnesses to this miracle saw God in ways they couldn’t or hadn’t before. The glory of God was exposed.

The waiting time, where “nothing” was happening, became the soil for the greater revelation. 

And my friend? After this unexpected revelation from God, she started seeing … really seeing. She saw God do the impossible as He provided tangibly for her in ways that were totally unexpected — money for a car, down-payment on a house, extra days of visitation — exceedingly and abundantly more then she thought could happen (Ephesians 3:20). She began to get it that justice wasn’t dependent on “fair” or “unfair” treatment. Justice was dependent solely on God and His promises.

If you are waiting for Jesus to show up in an unfair situation, take heart, my friend. God is working in the darkness. The “nothing” days, the “unfair” treatment, the waiting time … in God’s care it all becomes a breeding ground for slaying the enemy, raising up redemption and exposing in His glory.

Take heart and hold on …

Angel H. Davis is a Christ follower who lives in Athens, Georgia and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in healing prayer. Read more from Angel in her book, The Perfecting Storm: Experiencing God’s Best Through the Trials of Marriage. This is an exceptional resource for those who want to see transformation in their marriage.

Read More

The resurrection is reason enough (or, why ministry is still worth it).

A friend of mine who edits a website wrote this post some time ago and it still resonates. On this Monday after Easter, I appreciate being reminded that we all need to learn how to sit with one another in our graves — not because death is good, but because resurrection is possible.

I also appreciate being reminded of the grace I’ve received on this journey. I am not among those good and faithful pastors who somewhere along the way had the honesty to acknowledge that vocational ministry wasn’t for them (since my teenage years I’ve believed this is where I belong), but I definitely respect their journey. I get it. I’ve been in far too many dark, dark places in these nineteen years of full-time church life to pretend that I might not have ended up in their company.

Maybe I just don’t know how to quit. Maybe it is the mercy of being married to a man who won’t let me quit.

In any case, I can say after nineteen Easters as a pastor that as I look at the big picture of it, the staying has been a mercy. I am grateful I’m still serving the Church of Jesus Christ — still broken for his people, still passionate about preaching the Word. While a lot of vocational ministry isn’t what you’d call “fun,” I have found the grand sweep of it to be so very rewarding.

Not always easy, but always rewarding … always worth it.

There is a depth and beauty to honest, authentic ministry. It isn’t “gungho cheerleading,” as Jennifer says in her post. As she rightly notes, that kind of thing will stifle a spirit pretty quickly. What seems to work best is clinging to the cross … finding a personal resolve to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. It is rooting one’s faith in truth, not emotion, because emotions will kill a calling faster than just about anything.

But clinging to the cross? That is worth spending a lifetime on. Knowing Christ and him crucified is worth every drop of us, even as he expressed on the cross that we are worth every drop of him.

The story is true: Jesus is worthy. The cross is glorious. The good news is worth believing. The Kingdom to come is an absolute assurance. The resurrection is proof.

Blessings on you, my pastor friends, as you live into the resurrection on this glorious Monday, having spent yourself all weekend for the cause of Christ.

(Jennifer Woodruff’s beautifully expressed post on the vocation of serving Christ is here.)

Read More

How to sit with someone in their grave (or, How to surrender your sexuality to God)

A friend of a friend works with men who have gone through sexual trauma and in a conversation about how healing happens for them, he says, “These men cannot make resurrection happen. The only person who can do that is Jesus. They don’t know when—or even if—it will ever happen. And we (the church) don’t know how to sit with them in their grave [until it does].

Most of us know something about graves. The very, very difficult reality is that we do all kinds of things that lead to death. We struggle with porn, have affairs, deny we’ve had affairs, drink to excess. We are slaves to our emotions and say hateful things and explode in anger. We lie to protect ourselves. None of us is above the sin line and that very fact should be cause for a deep sense of humility as we talk with those who sit in graves of their own making.

We are all fighting against fallen human nature, all battling manifestations of selfish desire. We all struggle against things that “feel natural” and we all need the grace of God to conquer those cravings. That’s why we need to learn to sit with one another in our graves. Not because death is good, but because resurrection is possible.

Earlier this year, our church spent five weeks developing a biblical theology of the body.¹ We ended that series with a conversation about how those truths intersect with grace. In the course of preparing for those conversations, I consulted with Phyllis Kiser, a therapist who practices therapy in the area of sexual brokenness.

I asked Phyllis to think with me about the kind of pastoral counsel she would share with someone ready to come out of sexual brokenness. I share these thoughts here for those who may have made a few mistakes in life, some of them around the use of your body and your own sexuality:

1) Surrender your sexuality to God. All of it. Your desires, attractions, behaviors, hormonal surges, history, future. All of it. Have the humility to submit yourself to your Creator.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:12), he gives them this sage advice: Don’t allow yourself to be dominated by anything.

We should all write that on a post-it note and put it on our bathroom mirror. I will not be dominated by anything but Jesus.

After Paul hands this advice to the Corinthians he immediately shifts to the subject of Jesus being raised from the dead, as if to say, “Jesus is more powerful than whatever you have been dominated by.” This is begin-again language. There is no mistake so far out there that it can’t be made right, no wound so deep that it can’t be healed.

God specializes in resurrections.

2) Don’t buy the sexual message this culture is selling. Be intentional and learn about God’s sexual economy. Examine your thoughts and expectations about sex. Develop a biblically based theology of sex.

Satan’s big win in the Garden was his ability to make the first humans see sin differently. The enemy got them to believe that life was designed to fulfill their own needs when in fact, life is designed to glorify God. Consequently, so much of our teaching on our created design is dead wrong.

The morality message plays off fear and shame. The message is, “It is bad. Don’t do it.” This is what we teach our kids. We use morality to scare them away from treasuring their own bodies.

The biology message focuses on physical and emotional feelings and attractions. The message is, “If it feels good, do it.” For teens, the message is, “Protect yourself.” This separates body from soul.

The theological message, however, teaches us that there is no shame in Christ, that the goal of this physical life is to be fruitful, to experience biblical joy through a covenantal relationship, to learn true intimacy rooted in trust — all with the intended end of pointing our lives toward God.

3) Invite the Holy Spirit to empower you to live a life that pleases God. We need the Holy Spirit to tell us who we really are. Andy Stanley says it well: “Focus on becoming someone, not finding someone.”  Because we live under the shadow of the cross, we are not orphans. We are children of the King.

The cross is our rescue from slavery. Through the cross, Jesus used a body to prove the point that bodies can connect us back to God. Our creator used a body to remind us that we are more than plumbing and wiring. We are redeemed people with bodies and stories and spiritual gifts, all designed to be in partnership with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

 

¹I am grateful to Dr. Timothy Tennent and those who lead Asbury Seminary’s chapel services. The messages Dr. Tennent delivered on the theology of the body at Asbury’s chapel last year deeply inspired and informed our conversations.

Read More