All posts by Diane Hagni

Are You Offended? (Part 2)

Forgiveness is that noble-sounding thing that we know we are supposed to do, but is so contrary to our human nature that we feel that it is impossible.

It’s helpful to find out what forgiveness is and is not before we dive further into it. There is a lot of baggage around the word and more than a few misconceptions.

WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT
Forgiveness is not minimizing the offense that was done against you, pushing it under the rug or saying it really didn’t hurt me. What the other person said or did was not OK.

It’s easier to understand this if we look at God’s forgiveness of our sins.  God didn’t decide one day that our offenses against Him really didn’t matter or didn’t offend Him after all. He was just going to forget about it and pretend it didn’t happen. If that was the case, Jesus would not have had to die.

There was real offense and it caused the death of God’s Son, and because of that, He can offer us forgiveness of our sins. He can cancel the debt that we owed him.

Secondly, forgiveness is not necessarily reconciling with the other person, although it’s absolutely true that you have to have forgiveness before there can be any reconciliation.

Again, we can look at God’s example for help to understand this. God has forgiven all sins in Christ — the sins of the whole world. But that is only one part of the equation. Each individual has to accept the forgiveness offered and be reconciled to God. It takes two parties for there to be reconciliation, but only one party for there to be forgiveness.

To sum up, there can be forgiveness without reconciliation (or a restoration of the relationship); but there is no such thing as reconciliation without forgiveness.

It only takes you to forgive.

What is forgiveness? It’s a gift we give as a choice to someone who doesn’t deserve it (in our opinion) to free them from any debt we feel they owe us. We are saying: the debt is forgiven. You don’t owe me anything anymore.

I can hear your flesh screaming at the injustice of that, but consider what the world would look like if more people practiced this … even more followers of Jesus Christ. What would happen if we actually did what Jesus us told us to do?

The relatives of nine people slain inside the Charleston, South Carolina, historic African American church were able to confront the accused gunman Dylann Roof Friday at his first court appearance, only a few days after the June 17, 2015, shooting. “One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul.

“‘I forgive you,’ Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. ‘You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.’

“’We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms,’ said Felicia Sanders, her voice trembling. ‘Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. …. May God have mercy on you.'”

“I forgive you; may God forgive you.” “Give your life to Christ, so you can change your ways.” “Hate won’t win.” These were comments made by relatives of the deceased. (excerpts taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e26Eysq22Yg)

The minister at the church the following Sunday service said: “Lot of folk expected us to break out in a riot. They just don’t know us. We are a people of faith.”

“I’ve never seen the multitude of victims as forgiving as this,” Naomi Broughton, major in the Charleston police force, said“But there was a lot of angry people. I was angry. I don’t know if I would have been as gracious as those family members were.” 

I don’t know if I would have been as gracious either — when someone shot my loved one in cold blood, totally unprovoked, simply because of the color of their skin?

These people followed what Jesus said to do and allowed love rather than hate to rule;  their forgiveness shocked the entire world. More than that, it totally put a stop to the enemy’s plans to bring about more racial violence and hate and strife. Instead, the churches in that region experienced unity and the love of Christ was magnified. That’s how offense is stopped and we escape the enemy’s trap.

EMOTIONAL PAIN
I hope none of us will ever have to forgive something so heinous as these people did. Maybe we should start with something smaller, like a spouse who spoke harsh words to us, or the person who cuts us off in traffic.

Even those seemingly small injustices cause us emotional pain, the feeling that we are owed something, that something has been taken away from us that was rightfully ours. That pain is real, just as real as when we throw out our back by picking up something too heavy for us.

What do we do when we have pain? We try to get rid of it! What we want to find out, then, is how to get rid of the emotional pain that comes from offense.

Next time: Dissecting offense to find the cure.

Are You Offended? (part 1)

This probably isn’t the most contentious time in American history, but it certainly is easy to be offended with everything that is happening in our world.

There is polarizing division, not only politically but racially, ethnically, between men and women, and in virtually all institutions of our society.

We live in a fallen world and we are all broken people who can cause offense, many times unintentionally. I’ve offended others without meaning to — I’ve actually have been pretty good at it. How about you?

We all get offended as well. It’s how we react when we feel as though our sense of justice has been violated, either toward us or someone we love. 

So what can we do? When we look at things on a large scale, it’s easy to feel hopeless because the issue is so widespread and seemingly out of control. The only people we can change is ourselves, so we are going to talk about what we can do on a personal level, the main place we have influence.

We can learn how to deal with offense, learn to be less offensive ourselves, and become apt to forgive and receive forgiveness in the midst of this chaos. Then we can pray that it spread to others.

WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT OFFENSES
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!” (Luke 17:1)

Jesus said that offenses will come your way. He did not say, however, that we had to be offended. Here is the flipside: Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing shall offend them. (Psalm 119:165).

We get to decide if we are going to be offended or not.

The word “offense” that Jesus used is skandalon in the Greek, where we get the word “scandal” in English. Originally, the word meant a movable stick or trigger of a trap; any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall.

Here’s the point Jesus was making: Offense is deadly if not dealt with correctly. It’s a trap! An offense comes to get you to stumble, to get you to fall, to capture you in the net of the hunter. And we know what the hunter does with his prey. He comes in for the kill.

So, if you don’t want to be caught in the trap of the evil one (and Jesus said offenses are unavoidable), then there has to be a way to deal with offense that is healthy and keeps us from falling.

ARE YOU OFFENDED?
You may have offense right now against a parent, another relative, a former friend, an employer, a co-worker, a pastor or a church, your ex-spouse — anybody you feel has done you wrong. You might even be offended with someone you don’t know personally but you don’t like what they stand for or the agenda they are trying to advance.

You can be offended at God! You can still go to church, but your life is poisoned, and your poison is leaking out in what you say and do. Even if you aren’t aware of it, other people are.

What is God’s way to deal with offense? (Warning: This is hard. You are not going to like it!)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

That’s Jesus again. Was He irrelevant? Did He really not understand what we are going through? 

This is the very first teaching Jesus gives on prayer. He says:  Pray for those who persecute you. That means to pray for someone who treats you cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs. How do we react to someone who treats us cruelly or unfairly? I know what we want to do. We want to treat them cruelly and unfairly back. But if we do, we become TRAPPED! We fall into the snare. We took the bait. Now we are easy pickings for the enemy.

That is the very great danger for our nation. So many people are offended, even Christians, that we are in a trap and are largely powerless.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for  those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28 

Jesus is speaking to us again. He didn’t say start a riot, write a nasty blog, get some ugly rumors going  in retaliation.

Jesus said, “Here’s the plan, guys, to keep you out of the enemy’s trap for your life. Love, do good. bless and pray for.” It’s the exact opposite of what your enemy is doing and the exact opposite of what you feel like doing, but it’s the only thing that works.

What comes naturally — vengeance, retaliation, division — isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to take His advice.

WHAT IS MISSING IN OUR CULTURE TODAY?
Forgiveness of offense is almost unknown in our culture. It is the most difficult thing, and the most healing thing. The thing that is the most like God and the least like our fallen nature. What we cannot do in our human strength on our own.

C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer, said, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea … until they have something to forgive…”

Lewis made that remark in a radio address after World War II when there was so much hatred against Germany throughout Europe, especially as news was coming out about the concentration camps. In theory, forgiveness is a lovely idea. Doing it is entirely different.

It seems impossible, and yet some have done it.

Next time: How do we do this impossible thing called forgiveness?

 

What Do You Do When You Are Overwhelmed?

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Overeat? Watch too much TV? Try to run away? Take out your frustrations on others?

When we feel overwhelmed, we are especially vulnerable to making bad decisions and causing further chaos in our lives.

Overwhelmed feels like “I’m out of control!” which is one of our greatest fears. We can be living on the edge of “overwhelmed” in many areas of our lives. That puts us in a place where we are just one incident away from having a bad attitude, making poor decisions and hurting other people. It’s not the life we want to live.

When I feel overwhelmed, my default is to look for somebody to blame. Unfortunately, that is often the people closest to me. If they wouldn’t do this (or would do that), my life would be more manageable. Blaming others, though, doesn’t fix the fear in my heart and damages precious relationships.

How does God want us to react when we feel overwhelmed?

“From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:2, NKJV)

No matter how far away God may seem (even at the other end of the earth!) when we feel out of control and unstable, God wants to bring stability to our worried lives. By hiding ourselves in His strength, in the Rock, Jesus Christ, we can exchange our measly attempts at control for the power of God’s peace and presence.

I wonder what the disciples felt like when Jesus sent them out two by two to preach the gospel, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers and raise the dead? Do you think they felt competent, or overwhelmed? I’m certain it was the latter.

What were their options? Run away? Start mistreating one another? Drink too much wine to medicate the scary feelings?

Instead, they chose to trust and obey the Rock. They went forward at the Master’s words, even if it was with fear and trembling. As it turns out, they had tremendous success! “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” (Luke 10:17, NKJV)

What started out as an overwhelming and daunting task became a great victory as they relied on Christ’s name and His power instead of their own strength. By giving into God and not into their flesh when they felt overwhelmed and afraid, they saw the impossible come  to pass.

God can do that in our lives. He can take our feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate and turn the situation into a tremendous victory. When we are overwhelmed, there is a Rock to go to, who will make our scary world stable with His presence. In that place of safety, we can hear His direction and obey by faith. Then He will answer with everything we need to do His will.

Identity

“I won’t really know my identity until I hear the Father tell me who I am to Him, and who He is to me.”

Those are the words I woke up to this morning, whispered in my heart.

All of us who have had our identity rooted in something that can change — our looks, our possessions, our job, our children, our marriage, our ministry — know how devastating it can be when that in which we trust is taken away. The only thing that never changes is God and His love for us. It makes sense that that is the only safe thing to put our identity in.

I thought that I could grasp my identity by studying what the Bible has to say about it. And that is a crucial part — finding out who I have been made to be in Christ. Those truths are so good and so rich, that I would never believe them unless it was written down in the Bible!

But that’s not enough apparently. I have to ask the Father, “Who are you to me?” And then, “Who am I to you?” I have to believe He will speak. I have to listen and accept what He says.

It’s not more information I need at this point. It’s an encounter with the Living God speaking to me personally. That’s what changes my paradigms about myself. That, in turn, will change my future.

Perhaps you would like to experiment with me today. Ask throughout the day: “Father, who are you to me? Who am I to you?” Then listen. Believe that the thoughts that rise up in your heart and that are filled with love are the Father speaking to you personally. Accept what He has to say … and find your true identity.

Don’t Forget to Eat!

During a time when my children were still living at home, an older couple down the street asked us to feed and water their two beloved dogs while they were out of town. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but somehow the week that the couple was to be out of town got written down wrong on our calendar.

The neighbors lived beyond another crossing road in our subdivision so that we did not pass their home on our daily excursions. You can imagine how distraught the couple was to come home and find out their dogs had not been cared for during the week. The animals had found some water on their own, but had not been fed for several days and were weak and emaciated. Of course, our family felt horrible and apologized profusely. We were relieved beyond belief when the dogs made a full recovery after some tender loving care by their owners.

You can’t neglect a pet if you want it to be healthy; in a somewhat rough analogy, it’s also true that you can’t leave your faith alone if you want it to thrive. Faith has to be fed and watered to be robust. We hear of people who have “lost their faith,” but it is not so much a case of something missing as much as something that has been neglected. Starvation causes any living thing to wither and and die.

Robust faith requires healthy meals — Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20, NIV)

We spend time with Jesus through taking in God’s word regularly and through talking to Him about whatever is going on in our lives and listening to His responses. It also comes through being in fellowship with other believers who encourage and strengthen us in our faith.

Notice that the responsibility is with us to take the initiative. “If you seek Me you will find Me, if you search for Me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29:13, NASB).  We may not know how to even begin seeking God, but if we have a desire to find Him, we can admit our ignorance and ask Him to help us.

The good news about our neighbors’ dogs is that they fully recovered their strength. If your faith is weak or has seemingly disappeared, it also can be recovered and made stronger than ever through some tender love care and attention. We would never knowingly leave an animal to fend for itself. Let’s not leave our faith to fend for itself either. Let’s feed and nourish it, and enjoy a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

Wrestling With God

In one of the more unique and fascinating stories of the Old Testament – and there are plenty of those to choose from – there is a wrestling match that takes place between a man named Jacob and God Himself roughly 4,000 years ago.

On the face of it, such a wrestling match seems impossible. Wrestling has to do with two fairly matched opponents trying to get the superior position over the other. There would be no contest if one had an unfair advantage in weight, size or strength. And yet, in this case, an all-powerful Creator and a mere man are locked into an intense struggle that goes on all night. This struggle, if we dig a little deeper into it, can tell us a lot about God and also ourselves.

When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He said to His followers: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:38) The people he was talking to became extremely offended by his words, and challenged him by saying that they were already free and had never been slaves to anyone.

They, like us, don’t always have accurate information about ourselves. We don’t know whether we are slaves or not — to bad habits, to wrong attitudes, to getting our own way, to being in control. And if we don’t know we are enslaved, we won’t ever get free, because it is first knowing the truth about ourselves that is the beginning of freedom.

In the story of the ancient biblical wrestling match, we find a man who has never really been completely honest with himself. But he comes to a place in his life that he is so desperate that he faces his own weaknesses and failings, as much as he doesn’t want to. And when he gets honest with himself, he finds out who he really is and what God is really like. It turns out, it is much different than he supposed.

The Back Story
To talk about Jacob, we need to talk about his father and his grandfather first, because they are really important to who he is, just as our parents and grandparents are really important to who we are as people.

Abraham was Jacob’s grandfather, and he was the beginning of the race of Hebrews or Jews. God made an agreement or covenant with him and his family that followed after him, that He would bless Abraham and his descendants. It was through obedience that Abraham would be able to enjoy God’s provision, and then the whole world would see what a good God that Abraham served. (Abraham’s story begins in Genesis 12).

Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had an extremely difficult time getting pregnant, but they finally did have a son in their old age whom they named Isaac. When Isaac was grown, he married Rebekah and they had a difficult time getting pregnant as well. But Isaac prayed for his wife, and God blessed them with not one but two babies — twins!

The first one to come out was named was Esau and the second one’s name was Jacob, our hero. When Jacob was coming out of the womb, he grabbed his brother’s foot like he was trying to take the first place, and so he got the name “Jacob,” which means supplanter, or somebody who tries to cheat someone else by taking their place. Not exactly the best start in life.

Esau liked to hunt, but Jacob liked to stay around the house and we glean he was rather a “momma’s boy.” But Dad was partial to Esau. Since Esau was born first, he was going to get the blessing of the firstborn son. But Rebekah wanted Jacob to have that blessing, so she and Jacob concocted a plan to trick Isaac, whose eyesight was failing in his old age.

The plan worked and Jacob tricked his dad into giving him the firstborn blessing, cheating Esau out of his firstborn right. Esau was so furious, he was ready to kill his brother. So Jacob had to run for his life and live with relatives far away. He never saw his mom and dad alive again.

A mess going somewhere to happen
Jacob starts life over again, far from his home with some of his mother’s relatives. He marries — twice — and has a football team of boys. He works for his father-in-law, who doesn’t treat him very well at all.

Added to that, his two wives were actually sisters and they fought all the time, so there was a lot of strife at home. Work is tough and home is tough. Despite all that, Jacob is prospering financially, because earlier, when he was on the run, he had made a promise to God that he would give God back a tithe, or a tenth, of his income if God would bless him. And it worked!

But that’s the only part of his life that is working, and now his father-in-law and brothers-in-law are getting envious of Jacob’s wealth, and it looks like that his wealth is ultimately going to cause further family division and heartache.

Then he gets a word from God, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3)

What did you say, God? Return to whom? His mother and father are both dead, and the only person who is left is Esau, his twin brother, who was trying to murder him 20 years ago.

This had to be a difficult decision for Jacob to make. Not only is his own life going to be on the line, but the many people he is now responsible for.

Maybe most of us would have written Jacob off as a mess going somewhere to happen. Maybe that’s what you think about your life. But God loves redeeming messes, just like ours.

Jacob obeys the word of the Lord and heads home on a 300-mile journey , but like most of us, when he gets some bad news, he panics and forgets God’s promise to him. He hears that his brother is coming with 400 men to meet him.

You might panic too! A party of 400 men sounds to Jacob like a small army,  and he  is defenseless. Most of his entourage are women, children and servants. Not surprisingly, he forgets God’s word that he will be with him and concocts his own plan of self-preservation.

He divides up his possessions and family members into two locations, so that in case Esau attacked one, the other could escape. He also sent servants with large gifts of livestock to meet Esau spaced apart in intervals to appease his brother.

Now we come to the famous wrestling match. Let’s pick up the biblical narrative in Genesis 32.

22 And he (Jacob) arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”

But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

27 So He said to him, “What is your name?”

He said, “Jacob.”

28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”

And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

Each part of the account is significant:

24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.

What happens when everything is stripped away, and it is just you and God? Jacob is desperate. Sometimes we have to get desperate to get real with God. There are so many distractions. How desperate are you to change? Nothing is going to happen until you get to that place of acknowledging your need, and you will never get to that place if you continue to be distracted with everything that appeals to your senses.

If you are unhappy, find out why you are unhappy. You might be tempted to say that it is someone else’s fault that you are unhappy, or it’s your job or another situation in life. But it’s the truth about ourselves that sets us free from unhappiness. If I am unhappy, ultimately it’s about what I am thinking and how I am reacting. But I can change. I have to get to the point where I point the finger right back at myself and say, this is where change starts.

Who is this Man that Jacob is wrestling with?
Jacob acknowledges that he believes this is God. Most Bible scholars recognize this Man as the pre-incarnate Christ, the One who has always existed, and who appeared at times in the Old Testament in the form of a man.

While none of us have probably experienced a physical wrestling with God, each of us can likely relate to an intense struggle to maintain control over a situation that we are supposed to relinquish. We wrestle with things that want to capture our hearts, our emotions, our wills.

Have you ever spent a sleepless night wrestling over something? Has God ever asked you to give up something to Him and you had to pry your fingers open to let go? When we don’t know the future and God asks us to trust Him, we are in for a tussle.

Maybe you wrestling with God right now. It’s OK to wrestle with God, but in the end, you want to let Him win because that’s the only way to victory. In other words, like Jacob, we find out that when we “lose,” that’s when we really win.

In this wrestling match, they went all night. This is a person who is very strong in their own self-will, their own strength. God can’t do much through our lives when we are strong in ourselves.

Jacob is like many of us in that he has given some of his life to God, but not all of it. There are some parts he wants to hold back, such as taking care of himself and his family with his own smarts, manipulating people and circumstances to his advantage. When we go through things in life where we feel out of control, it’s easy to develop ways to manipulate to protect yourself. We are not trying to be control freaks, we are just trying to survive!

Those are the things God wants to get at so we can experience true life and peace.

25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him (Jacob), He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.

How can it be that God did not prevail against Jacob? God is so powerful that he can do anything, anytime, anywhere that He wants to. This is really no contest.

But is it?

God will never overpower our wills. He will not make us surrender to him. He will show us our own weakness, if we allow him to. He will show us the truth about ourselves if we let him. He will show us that we really need Him, but he won’t make us submit.

He will allow us to wrestle with him and come to the end of our own strength. He does it in love and mercy and kindness. He honors us with a free will, although he knows that his will is the best thing for our lives.

There’s so much here that teaches us about God’s character. He is not a dictator. He will not coerce us to do anything. But he is always out for our best interest. It was time for Jacob to change. It was time for him to stop leaning on his own strength and trusting in his own cunning and trickery to get him somewhere.

Are you a manipulator? Are you trying to micro-manage your life and others’ to keep yourself from being hurt, or to make sure you are taken care of? Are you always managing your reputation so that you can be sure people will like and accept you because no one wants to be rejected? You will never find true life that way.

No more stalemate
Jesus said if you try to keep your life, you’re going to lose it, and that is the greatest tragedy that can happen.

If Jacob was going to make progress, he needed to change, and it is very difficult for us to change. We need an encounter with the living God !

What is the point of the wrestling match? God wants us to give up in our own strength and rely on HIs strength. He wants to show us where we are struggling and striving and not getting anywhere. This match was a stalemate for long while. That is what our lives are like when we keep resisting Christ’s lordship in our lives.

Jacob wrestles all night and still won’t give up. If nothing else, you’ve got to admire his tenacity. Finally, God touches his hip and puts it out of socket. That isn’t God cheating, that’s Him showing Jacob his weakness compared to God’s strength. All it takes is one little touch on the hip and Jacob is paralyzed. God wants him to see that it is futile to trust in his own strength.

It’s horribly painful to have a hip out of joint, so you think that would be the end of the match. But Jacob isn’t through yet.

 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he (Jacob) said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

How interesting that Jacob would ask for a blessing, when he had connived to get the blessing from his father many years earlier, and all he had gotten was one problem after another in his life. What he had struggled on his own to try to get had eluded him, and now it looks like he is going to lose everything he worked so hard for. That’s what happens when we try to take care of ourselves instead of putting our lives in God’s hands.

When we want answers, God very often asks us questions.

27 So He said to him, “What is your name?” 

What an interesting response to Jacob’s request for a blessing, but we find out it is a vital question for Jacob to answer. God says to him, “What do you call yourself? How do you see yourself?”

In the Old Testament, a person’s name was their identity, so essentially God is asking Jacob, “What is your identity?” If God were to ask that of you, what would you say?

Failure? … Shame? … Not good enough? … Hiding? … Fearful? … Don’t measure up? … Sick? … Poor? … Anxious? … Unfulfilled? … Abused?  What is your name?

If we tell God the truth, we will hear Truth.

So Jacob confessed: “I am Jacob … a swindler, a supplanter”.

God is not trying to embarrass Jacob, and He isn’t trying to expose us so He can cut us down to size. He wants to help us. But we’ve got to open our lives to Him and come clean. When He asks us this question, it’s not time to put on our game face. It’s time to get real.  It’s time to bare our soul. It’s time to admit our failure at running our own life. It’s time to say, “This is where I hurt God. This is where I’m really angry. This is what I’m struggling with. This is where I feel like I just can’t keep going.”

We prevail when we surrender. It’s exactly opposite of the way we think things should be. God’s kingdom is upside down from this world. When we open up to God, admit our own weaknesses and imperfections, and allow Him to accept us and bless us, that’s when we come out on top.

When we say we can’t do it is when we begin to change.

One of the writers of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the people of Corinth: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Paul got that revelation after struggling with God about things in his life that wouldn’t change, even after he had prayed about them. He surrendered them when he heard God say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

We don’t like weakness, do we? We recoil from it in our flesh. We want to hide our weaknesses from ourselves, from others and from God. But we have to get comfortable with admitting our own weakness in ourselves, so that the power of Christ will rest on us.

When I admit I’m a mess, when my life is a wreck and I can’t overcome my problems,  when I let go of my ego, my reputation, my pride, and give it all to God, that’s when change begins. That’s the truth that sets me free.

28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

How has Jacob prevailed?

He gets a new identity! God tells him he is a prince, not a swindler. In being face to face with God, Jacob finds out who he really is, and it’s different than what he thought. At Jacob’s weakest point, when it looks like everything that he has amassed is going to be destroyed and his physical weakness is apparent to everyone, that’s when God says He is a winner and an overcomer. His grace fills up all of our weak places and gives us a strength we never knew we could have.

We don’t have to hide our weaknesses and failings from God. We take them to God and he overcomes them with his strength, and even uses them for his glory. We can actually relish problems, difficulties and issues because they pull us into a deeper dependence on Him

I have always thought my goal in life was to be “right,” to be “fixed,” to be “healed,” to have “the answers.” But I’m learning something different. The goal is to be one with God in my experience and let His strength fill up all my weak places.

What happens after Jacob gets this revelation? The blessing sticks this time. When he meets Esau, his brother embraces him and cries on his neck with affection, and none of Jacob’s worst fears are realized. What an amazing picture of God’s undeserved grace to Jacob!

More importantly, Jacob has a new personal relationship with God that is his alone. Before this time, whenever Jacob talked about God, it was the God of his grandfather and father, the God of Abraham and Isaac. Now, he begins referring to this Being that he has wrestled with and prevailed as the God of Israel, his very own God.

The blessing Jacob received — and that we can receive — was intimacy with God. When we go through struggles, if we will not run away, if we will face the truth about  ourselves and how messed up we are and how much God loves us no matter how broken we are, if we will stick with it, we will get the blessing.

If you let God see who you really are, you will get to see God like you have never seen Him before. You will know that He is for you and with you and will never leave you. You never have to fear making it on your own again.

He will be your God.

Remember That?

Everyone has had the experience of a smell or sound bringing an unexpected and long forgotten memory  to the surface of your mind. “Where did that come from?” you wonder.
 
If it’s a good memory, you smile fondly, trying to savor the last drop of happiness possible. If it’s a negative memory, you quickly try to push it down and suppress the emotions that go with it.
 
We would all prefer to have selective memory, but it doesn’t work that way. We get the good with the bad. Neuroscience tells us that there are two parts to memory: The first part is an actual recording of the event, which occurs in one area of your brain, and the second part is the emotional reactions that go with that recording, happening in a nearby, but separate, area.

 

All memories have emotions attached to them. Sometimes memories have such strong emotions that they can have physiological reactions, for instance, your heart beating faster or sweaty palms when you recall something that has made you anxious.

 

As is true with most of life, the negative seems to affect us much more than the positive, and it takes no effort for emotions such as anger, shame, guilt, anxiety and bitterness to rise to the surface unbidden. Interestingly, these emotions can be as strong or stronger at a later time as were when the event happened, nearly taking on an entire existence of their own.

 

How memories affect us today
Can a memory of something that happened 25 years ago still affect a person’s life dramatically? Recently I watched a television show out of Great Britain where a number of people who had experienced negative pasts talked about how memories were still affecting them. One person was an emergency responder, one was a police officer and another retired military from the Iraq war. One woman had been in a car wreck more than a decade ago which caused the death of another person, and another young woman had been sexually abused as a child.

 

So many of them were still experiencing debilitating emotions that affected their day-to-day lives in varying degrees. Their vacant expressions and lack of joy were evidence that something from long ago was still deeply affecting their here and now.

 

It would be easy to say, “Just get over it! Put it behind you,” but we can’t turn our emotions on and off, and memories aren’t something we can erase.

 

God must have an answer for this dilemma because He tells us not to be dejected and sad, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10, TLB) A sense of guilt and shame will always make us feel “less than”and keep us out of the presence of God, a place where there is fullness of joy.

 

An unforgettable night
All four gospel stories record an event about one of Jesus’ closest followers, which took place after Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Simon Peter, who was one of the inner circle, follows at a distance into the High Priest’s courtyard where Jesus is being questioned in a sham trial. A servant girl, then others, begin recognizing him as a follower of Jesus, but he denies it, not once but three times. He gets desperate and begins to swear that he never knew Jesus — the one who had changed his life and shown him only love, grace and mercy.

 

Earlier when Jesus was predicting his arrest and death, Peter blurted out, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33) Jesus knows better, however, and tells him that before the rooster crows twice, he will deny Jesus three times. In Luke’s account of the story, Jesus turns and looks at Peter with the words of betrayal still in his mouth as the rooster is crowing, and Peter goes out and weeps bitter tears.

 

We may not have denied Jesus to His face, but we all can feel something of what Peter felt at that moment — letting God down, self-loathing for trying to save our own skin at the expense of someone else, despair about the future. We can well imagine the guilt and condemnation he is feeling — hating what we have done, hating ourselves and trying to find a way to mask those feelings that seem unbearable to live with.

 

When Jesus is executed, Peter’s despair must have gotten even deeper. When he hears that three days later Jesus had risen from the dead, any hope about Jesus’ resurrection power must have been tinged with trepidation about how the Master would view him. Would Jesus consider him an unreliable traitor and despise him?

 

It’s no wonder that people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol or do other damaging things to escape the memories and emotions that we hate. This isn’t how we were made us to live. God has a way for Peter to recover from negative experience and become a person that changes history, and He has that for each one of us, too.

 

Changing memories
There have been some interesting new findings into how our brain processes memories. Scientists are learning that every time you bring back a memory to your conscious mind, you can either strengthen it or modify it. It can be 30 years after the event occurred, but science is discovering how the emotional part of the memory can be changed. That is good news!

 

If we ask God to get involved in that negative memory, to modify the emotions that are involved in it, how could that change our present circumstances?

 

I read a story of a young man who was going to school full time and driving a school bus to support his family. He was not on his regular route one day, but was a substitute drive for someone else, and although he made the correct stops according to the map, it was different than what the regular driver did. Much to his surprise, the kids began verbally assaulting him and calling him the worst sorts of names. He felt totally humiliated and shaken up, so much so that he wanted to quit his job when he got finished.

 

Many years later, that memory with all of the pain came up to him while he was in prayer. He asked a simple question to God: “Lord where were You when this happened to me?” That is the right question to ask because even though we may not have known God when bad things happened in our lives, He knew us. And when we acknowledge His presence with us, we will begin to see how He has been at work, even when we didn’t know Him!

 

After this question, the young man saw in his imagination the same scene as the original incident with him in the driver’s seat but, instead of being alone, he saw Jesus Christ standing behind him, taking the barbs and the foul language for him like fiery darts in his back. Jesus took the pain and the sting of the experience for him. When he saw this picture in his imagination, it immediately set him free from the hurt and anger he felt. He could release the pain and no longer have a negative emotional experience, even when he remembered it later.

 

Peter needed to have a personal encounter with the risen Christ in order to get past his past. Jesus gave him a chance to rewrite that horrific chapter in his life by associating different emotions with it.

 

This story is found in John 21 starting in verse 15. Jesus is having a one-on-one with Peter and asks him a point-blank and relevant question: Peter, do you love me? The word for “love” that Jesus uses is the Greek word agapao, meaning the unconditional love of God. Peter answers, “Yes, I love you,” but he uses a different Greek word for love, phileo, which means brotherly affection. It is likely that he is still smarting from his failure to love Jesus a few days earlier, and he doesn’t think he can live up to the high standard that Jesus offers.

 

Jesus doesn’t correct him. Instead, He commissions him and affirms him. He tells him to feed his lambs, that is, God’s precious people. Jesus apparently is not holding any resentment against Peter. He gives him forgiveness and entrusts him with God’s mission. Jesus not only wanted to replace Peter’s negative emotions, but he wanted to give him positive emotions of love, affirmation and confidence.

 

He then asks him again using the same word of undeniable commitment and Peter gives the same response. Jesus again commissions him for ministry. He says, you’re OK. I accept you. I trust you. I am going to have you feed my sheep.

 

The third time Jesus asks, the Scripture says that Peter was grieved. The three-fold ask of Jesus no doubt brings up the memory of his three-fold denial. He doesn’t want to face that memory, but Jesus wants him to no longer fear it but have different thoughts associated with a dark chapter of his past. Jesus wants to take the shame and condemnation out of it, otherwise, Peter is going to be stuck emotionally and not going to be able to fulfill God’s plan for his life.

 

On this third question, Jesus changes His choice of words and asks, do you phileo me? He comes down to meet Peter on his level and identifies with him. Jesus loves him so much and restores him to dignity and a place of no shame.

 

Jesus then predicts that Peter will die a martyr’s death for his Lord, and will ultimately demonstrate the unconditional for Jesus that Peter didn’t believe himself capable of. Truly, Jesus knows Peter much better than he knows himself and believes in his potential!

 

Peter went on to have a tremendously fruitful ministry, establishing the early church and writing part of the New Testament. And he does die a death of unconditional love and commitment for God. Because of Jesus bringing love and healing into a bitter memory, Peter is restored and commissioned to serve.

 

Healing from negative emotions
God wants to do that with each of us. He wants to bring us to a place of no shame and no unworthiness, a place of affirmation, a place of wholeness.  It is not God’s will for you to live with negative emotions from past memories. There is healing for you! We don’t have to live as victims of the past, whether of our own doing or because of things that have been done to us. We don’t have to resign ourselves to live crippled lives emotionally and consider it normal. There is victory for us over shame, guilt, anger, bitterness and self-hatred.

 

We can bring our damaging memories before God, inviting Him to come into these experiences and show us His truth. Many times negative experiences have lied to us and told us God did not love us or that we are not worth being loved or taken care of. We need God to show us the truth and replace negative emotions with His peace, love and joy. After all, God is the master of changing memories!
For I will be merciful and gracious toward their sins and I will remember their deeds of unrighteousness no more. (Hebrews 8:12, Amplified)

 

God has changed His memories about us!  He is the only one capable of forgetting our sins, and He wants to come into our lives to restore what has been stolen to us through negative experiences. We can invite Him to do that today.

 

Secret Place

He who dwells in the secret place … (Psalm 91:1)

Did you have a secret place growing up? A place that, in your child’s mind, you were sure that no one else knew about and where you could be alone with your imagination? There is something about secrets that are delicious and intriguing.

As a pre-teen, I would go outside of our walk-out basement of our ranch home in the suburbs and sit on the concrete slab in the darkness. No one knew I was there. I would listen to the loud crickets and the breeze rustling the tree tops, smell the night air, and think about Someone I didn’t really know, but I could sense that He was with me. I knew He had made everything that was. I loved that secret place.

The back of our home faced a small creek, which then was flanked by a tree nursery, so there were no other human voices or activity at that time of night to spoil my rendezvous.

When we go into God’s secret place — which is a spiritual location more than a geographical spot — no voices of anxiety, fear or hatred are allowed in. Those thoughts might clamor at the door, but they cannot enter. There is only tranquility, peace and comfort in that secret place because the Prince of Peace and the Comforter abide there.

What does God’s secret place look like? It could be different, depending upon what kind of place you feel most comfortable in. Maybe it is woods or gardens, or a lovely room or a verandah with a view? It doesn’t matter what it looks like as much as how you feel when you get there.

Jesus said it is where you go to be alone with the Father (Matthew 6:6). Moses said the One in the secret place is the Most High — there is nobody greater or more important that you will meet (Psalm 91:1). In the secret place, you have gone all the way to the top and have the ear of the most influential One in the universe.

We have a standing invitation to to dwell, to remain, to live in that secret place. Don’t disregard your invitation.

 

The God Zone

The great thing about prayer is that it helps us access the “God Zone.”

The God Zone is a place where we see by the eyes of faith, instead of our natural vision. Things look a lot better that way. That’s not a denial of present circumstances as much as it is an ability to see things from a heavenly perspective.

Even if our personal circumstances are looking rosy, the condition of the world, observed from our natural senses, is pretty depressing.

We are afforded heaven’s perspective because “we are seated with Him in the heavenly realms – all because we are one with Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). Our seating with Christ is a fact 24/7, but we become more aware of it as we take a break from the information coming from our natural senses and “see” what God is saying about our lives and our world.

The God Zone also is a place of rest and security. We can let go of anxiety there, if we focus on God’s greatness and His ability to take care of us. (If He is really as great as the Bible says He is, and loves me like the Bible says He does, then what do I have to be worried about? ) When anxiety and insecurity go, joy and peace flood in. I am a lot nicer person once I’ve spent time in the God Zone – just ask my husband or kids!

We can access the God Zone any time we want to, wherever we are, although I’ve found that a regular place and time of prayer is very useful to be purposeful about entering the God Zone. The key ingredient is being transparent with Jesus about what is going on in my heart and not trying to act like everything is cool when it’s not. Only gut-level honest seekers get into the God Zone, because there is nothing phony about God or His kingdom.

The great news is that God wants each of His children to enter there all the time and be refreshed and encouraged by His presence.

 

Let God Be God

When I was a new believer in Jesus 30 years ago, it seemed like I tried more often than not to tell God how He ought to answer my prayers.

I was roughly six months along in my pregnancy with my first child, when my daughter decided to flip around and was in the wrong positon for the birth. Unless she was returned to the correct position, and quickly, I would be facing a cesarean section.

The doctor gave me exercises to try to get her to turn on her own, which I did diligently, but to no avail.

The doctor then scheduled an external version, where the medical personnel would move the baby around to the correct position by pushing on my belly, while I lay on the bed with my back uncomfortably arched. There was no guarantee that this procedure would be successful, but it would be somewhat painful. I remember asking my small group at church to pray. In my mind, I wanted the baby to turn before the external version would be necessary.

The procedure was scheduled, and all the while I hoped for a miraculous change in her position so I wouldn’t have to go through the procedure. The date for the external version came, and still my daughter was laying the wrong way. Reluctantly I submitted to it – thinking at the time that it was painful, but having no idea about the pain of childbirth that I was soon going to experience! The external version worked, and the nurses afterward told me that they had never seen such a procedure happen so quickly or easily.

You would think I would have been thrilled. I was able to deliver my child naturally a few months later, and God had answered my prayers. In my naïve pride, though, I was disappointed. I wanted God to supernaturally turn the baby without any medical help. I had my terms, and God did not meet them, even though the outcome was ultimately good.

It’s been many years since then and I now look back with embarrassment on my immature faith. How audacious for me to think I could tell God how He should answer my request and what it should look like in order to qualify as an answered prayer in my book.

That’s one reason we want to make sure that when we put our expectation in God, we leave it wide open to Him as to how He wants to deliver our miracle or provide help. Our expectation is not in a prescriptive answer or method. Our expectation is in God’s ultimate goodness, working out His benevolent plan in our lives. We can expect Him to be good to us.