Monday, April 19, 2010

Needs? What Needs?

"Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." 
Matthew 6:8

Today I want to share with you a significant lesson I have learned within the past few years: I have needs.

This simple lesson was oh so very hard for me to swallow. I have always been a little on the independent side. I have always just done it myself. It seemed so much easier than burdening anyone else. And if I can do it, why should I ask you anyway? I feel pretty confident that I have never been described by anyone who knows me as "needy."

Yes, I needed Christ. But, even that involved a long hard run at trying to do the church/religious thing without coming to Him. It failed, of course. BUT the point is I tried! How foolish is that?

No one wants to be described as needy! It sends the message of weakness and desperation. And what happens when I see a person who is described as needy? Well, I run the other way! I'm not up to filling some black hole of emotional needs. And it is draining to try.

Jeff VanVonderen taught me this: we all have the same emotional needs. It's just that some of us got those needs met growing up and some of us did not. We still have emotional needs today, but if my childhood needs for love, security, empathy, nurturing, etc. were met, then I am coming from a healthy place. I am more able to trust that I will get what I need from those around me (friends, spouse, family).

As an aside, let me say "Thanks, Mom and Dad!"

If, however, I was not well cared for in those areas of childhood need, then I am in an unhealthy place. I will wonder constantly if my needs will be met. And my searching and reaching and making poor choices makes me look more needy than others. But, we all have the same emotional needs.

God created us with needs. It is not an "after the fall" thing. In the perfection of the Garden, in the very beginning, when Adam already had the complete and unbroken fellowship with the Father, God looked on Adam and said, "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Here is the Lord of the Universe observing His unblemished and perfect creation in the perfect environment and He says man needs someone else to relate to and share his life with besides God alone. God designed us for relationship: relationship with Him and relationship with others.

One of my counselors opened my eyes to my own need for help and day to day support, when she asked me one simple question. "Karen, I want you to finish this sentence: I need _____." Immediately tears starting running down my face. Here was someone who recognized that I had a need. I hadn't really been sure that having needs was okay. If all my needs are met in Christ Jesus, why would I have any needs left? Couldn't I now conquer the world or at the very least provide all that my family might need? (Notice that I was not to have needs, but my family could.)

"Help" was the word that filled in the blank. I needed help. I couldn't do it all anymore. I was exhausted and overwhelmed from trying. It was time for me to let go of some of my responsibilities. It was time to share the load.

My friend, Melissa Haas, put it this way: "Me and Jesus are not enough. God gave us each other (the Body of Christ) to help, encourage and support one another. We are not meant to go it alone. There are no Lone Ranger Christians." (And even he had Tonto!)

I still have a tendency to do things myself. I still have a tendency to not ask for help. However, now I am aware that those tendencies are there and that they are not healthy. I am growing and moving towards becoming interdependent with my family, with the Body, and with my friends. I do not just take, take, take. I do not just give, give, give. I give and take. I am a human being and I have needs.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The City of Refuge

"Greater love has no one than this, the he lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13

Today I am thinking over the most powerful lessons I learned while in the City of Refuge (hereafter referred to as COR) at First Baptist Woodstock.

For those of you not familiar with this ministry, it is a place for hurting, broken, or fallen pastors and their families. COR was born in the heart of my pastor, Johnny Hunt, when a fellow pastor friend of his was in need.

Pastor Johnny couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to do more for this wounded friend than just recommend him to another church. This pastor needed more than another place of ministry, he needed a place of refuge, healing, and love. He needed a place where he could be reminded that the grace of God is real and it's not just for the sheep, but the shepherds as well. So, Pastor Johnny invited this family to relocate to Woodstock, to be cared for and loved on by the family of First Baptist Woodstock.

Thirteen years and many pastors and families later the ministry continues to bless, heal, and restore broken-hearted and hurting pastors. Our family was one of these, and it is a fearful thing to think where we would be without the love and grace poured into us by the First Baptist Woodstock family. Our lives have been radically changed.

Of the too numerous to count lesson I learned in COR, one of the greatest is this: As God's child, God accepts me just like I am.

You may be saying, "Well, of course, how simplistic can you get?" Or you may be thinking, "Really? But, I just blew it with my kids! I was yelling and screaming and not showing any compassion at all. Does God really accept me right now?" It is the same truth that we preach to the lost: God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. However, once we are in the family we often begin to believe something else: God loves me when I am good and breaks fellowship with me when I am bad. How ironic that we extend grace to the lost sheep, but not to the sheep in the fold and especially not to our leaders and pastors.

God does not break fellowship with me! Just as I don't break fellowship with my own children when they make mistakes or sin against me. I still speak to them. I still entreat them. I still prepare their meals and pray for them. I may give them some space until they are ready to talk. I may even arrange that space for them. But there is no broken fellowship on my end. I love them and want the best for them always. If I do break fellowship and give a cold shoulder, that is about my brokenness, not their sin.

If you are not fellowshipping with God, it is not because He has broken fellowship with you! He is still there waiting and drawing you and declaring His love for you, you just have to stop running or trying to fix it or make it look better, and turn your face to Him. He is not rolling His eyes or looking angrily at you. His compassion for you is great and He longs to enter in and hold you and help you.

1 John 4:10 says, "This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." What Jesus did on the cross shows His love for you, not only when you are lost, but even when you are saved. My need for His grace hasn't changed. And God didn't move me from grace to works. I am still 100% under His grace. And let me tell you, I am swimming in it!

Having a different view of my heavenly Father has changed me. I have a peace and a rest that I didn't have before. I knew I was saved and I was confident of my eternal destiny, but it seemed day to day was up and down with God. I was never really sure I was doing enough or even doing exactly what He wanted me to do at a given moment. Now I feel like I can breathe: God accepts me just like I am.

This lesson did not come in one moment, but it was more like a slow and continual dawning of light. I am so very thankful to my First Baptist Woodstock family and to my pastor and to those who serve in the COR ministry. To borrow a line from Ray Boltz, I am a life that was changed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Would The Real God Please Show Up?

Lamentations 3: 16-18 says, "He (the Lord) has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord."

Have you ever been there? More than down and out, more than financial problems, more than you could possibly bear; more than likely it is a relationship or the death of one. People break our hearts much more deeply than inconvenient circumstances. You cry out to God day and night with tears and a broken heart and it seems as if He cannot hear you.

Lamentations 3:8 reads, "Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer." There is nowhere to go, no one to turn to. And the pain, the incredibly deep pain, just grows and grows and grows. There is no end in sight. You are in the dust, deprived of peace and God is pushing your face in the gravel so that your mouth is filled with dirt. He is rubbing your face in it. Ever been there?

Maybe you are there now. The distress is tearing your heart into pieces and you still have to show up for work and church too. Tell me, what is it that is keeping you going? How are you making it? Is it all the great verses people are quoting to you? Those awesome principles of the faith are really seeming terribly empty at the moment. How many more times can you bear to hear Romans 8:28? Not that it isn't true; but it's just not speaking to you right now! You already know that "All things work together for good for those who love the Lord...blah, blah, blah." Somehow that is not what you need. Somehow that is not enough.

I've been there and the principles and the promises didn't minister to me. When I was choking on all that gravel and dust, those words, even though they are true, felt void of meaning. They sounded only like words.

I needed more, so much more. I needed my Savior. I needed a real relationship with the Father. I needed a Friend like no other. I needed my God to tenderly hold me, love me, and pour out his grace and mercies upon me. I needed to be able to pour out my pain, my hurt, my hatred, my sin, and all of my heart on the only One big enough to handle it. He was all I had. So I cried out to Him.

He heard it all and He drew near. Lamentations 3:57 says, "You came near when I called you and you said, 'Do not fear.' O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.

I cannot explain this. I only know I have experienced God. I only know that when I was at my lowest of lows, there was Jesus, holding me and caring for me. I only know that my brokenness brought me to another depth of His immeasurable grace. I only know that He truly does love me and He will show up when I am waiting on Him. I only know that at the time of the trial, He didn't change the problem for me. He didn't fix things like I so wanted them to be fixed. I only know that He was enough.

But don't go on my word or the principle of the thing....test Him, prove Him, find Him for yourself.