Who is your enemy?

Middle Places Archive

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  Matthew 5:44 KJV

Who is your enemy?

When I was a child, I was sexually abused by an extended family member.  

I don’t know when it began. 

But I know when it ended – the day he died, when I was ten years old. 

I remember hearing the report that he had suffered a heart attack and was gone.  I went back out to play in the woods near my home, feeling nothing.  Suddenly the emotions welled up within me, and I sobbed until there were no more tears.  I got up, walked home, and for almost five years remembered nothing of the abuse.  

When I began dating, the memories came back in flashbacks and nightmares.  My mind had completely shut out the abuse and fused a string of normal, healthy times into a seemingly coherent set of happy childhood memories.  I was frightened and confused by the flashbacks, but as I began to accept them, they fractured my idealized childhood.

I was ashamed and alone. 

I knew I was the victim, but I was afraid of the reaction I would get if I told anyone in my family the truth.  My abuser had threatened me and lied to protect himself, and I now believed those lies.  I convinced myself that he was dead, and it was in the past.  I buried the pain.

But as a result, every area of my life suffered.  I rebelled against everything and broke all the rules.  In time I hit rock bottom and my world fell apart.  I wanted to die, and I cried out desperately to God.  

God met me there.

In that moment, the Holy Spirit descended and wrapped me like a blanket.  Nothing had changed in my circumstances, and I was faced with the consequences of my actions.  But from that day forward I would never doubt or question the peace that surpasses understanding because I experienced it, the night God met me in my pain.

Eventually I told the truth to my family.  Just as I expected, everyone around me was wounded by the emotional debris. 

Some were angry, others afraid.  Some just could not cope with the truth.  One cousin felt guilty… I was not the only one. She had offered to babysit but was too afraid to tell my parents the truth about who he really was. I’m not sure anyone would have believed her anyway.

I was more fortunate than most and my mother, deeply grieved by the abuse, set her pain aside to help me to get the counseling that I needed. 

Telling the truth was terrifying. 

But when I did, I learned the power of salt and light to clean and disinfect a wounded heart.  I learned that forgiveness is not a onetime event, but a continuous process and even a benchmark of a healthy life.  Forgiveness was difficult because the object of my rage and hurt was already dead.  I couldn’t confront him to experience healing.

Instead, I was given a very helpful coping exercise.  I was asked to visualize my abuser.  This was a very difficult step because facing him even in my heart and mind was frightening.   I was then asked to choose between two buttons. 

The first button would simply incinerate him.  Before my eyes he would cease to exist.  My personal rage begged for this choice but it was not assuaged. 

The second button would cause him to be spiritually broken, to truly realize his sin, repent and be forgiven by my SAVIOR, Jesus.  

It took me a long time and much prayer before I could press the second button even once. 

I would later learn that once was never enough.  I still face emotional repercussions of that abuse.  The rage returns. 

Each time, I must go back through the exercise until I am able to press the second button. 

Each time I am asked by the LORD to forgive, to love my enemy. 

Not for his benefit, but for mine.

My abuser was not my only enemy. 

My fear and insecurities were also enemies which I must daily hand back over to my SAVIOR, Jesus.  

The emotional armor I created to protect myself was also an enemy.  It had two parts.  An anesthetic shield and a sword of rage.  

They both had to be removed so that the wounds could drain and be healed. 

It is tempting to take up again that comfortable shield that numbed the pain.  It slips on easily and fits like a glove.  It clings tightly to my heart and mind, but it tears the flesh and reopens wounds when I try to remove it in times of peace… when I attempt to feel again.  

Pink Floyd expressed it very well in “Comfortably Numb” but that is another post…

Suppression of my anxiety, hurt and anger created a well of personal rage, raw unprocessed emotion.  Nurturing these emotions I often allowed them to boil over and scald those I perceived as a threat.  Too often innocent bystanders were wounded in the overflow.  

Refusing to release this emotional armor was poisoning me.

I despaired of ever moving on with my life.  Sometimes, I still do but have learned that I must daily exchange my anesthetic for a Shield of Faith and my rage for a Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  

My personal rage is different than the righteous anger related to the crime of my abuse.  Writing this post, sharing my story, this is righteous anger over something that angers God.  The abuse of the innocent.  It brings healing to me and hopefully to you, the reader.

Part of the happy childhood that co-existed with the abuse included my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior.   

But the abuse did not end when Jesus came into my heart.   

I see and hear pain that others overlook because I have been there.  

While I was still an enemy of God…

HE had mercy on me…

through the death of his own Son…

HE made not only my forgiveness possible but HE chose me as His own child.

Because of HIS Grace I can forgive my own enemies, too.

The forgiveness God requires of me is yet another gift to me.

It frees me from the chains of the past and allowed me to experience the abundant life promised in His Word.

Who is your enemy?

In the Middle of a Game Changer

Middle Places Archive

Originally published May 19, 2013 on Middleplaces.com

Have you ever thought you knew just how things should proceed and then theLORD just rocked your world?

Gamechangers come in many shapes and forms. 

Marriage…

Divorce…

Job offer…

Transfer…

Job loss…

Pregnancy…

Diagnoses of …

Church growth…

Church revitalization…

Church split…

Empty Nest…

Death of a loved one…

What they have in common is that they turn everything upside down.  The story of Pentecost may be familiar (if not, read about it in Acts 2but have you ever stopped to really think about what happened? 

 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Acts 2:4  

The disciples had gathered to celebrate the Jewish feast of Shovaut, known in the Greek as Pentecost.   We have already discussed the relation of Pentecost to the Passover 

CHRIST had died, risen again and taught them for forty days but they were still going about through the same motions, celebrating, hanging out with friends, attending to responsibilities.

CHRIST had given them the commission to go into all the world and preach the Good News but HE told them to wait.  

What do you do when the LORD reveals a promise for the future but says, “Not yet.”  I’m sure some were planners, others worriers and a few were just excited to get on with the adventure.  As they gathered, perhaps, they discussed dreams and possibilities, goals and vision for the future.  We do not know what happened before that moment when the violent wind and tongues of fire filled the room but nothing would ever be the same afterward. 

Suddenly they were divided, unable to communicate with their friends, alone and misunderstood… seeking out others who could understand them…   

That is often the after effect of a “Game Changer” 

The question for them was… what now?  

It is the same for us.  What will we do when the fire and the wind comes and offers to make or break our opportunity to make a difference for the KINGDOM? 

Peter was ready. 

He knew the Scripture and was ready to give an explanation for something so miraculous.  The others went out and began to communicate with people who shared their language.  Perhaps they moved into their neighborhoods, or journeyed back to their respective countries.

The point is that they took action.

They did not insist on remaining together, trying to overcome their language barrier.  They did not try to “fix it” or change it back the way it was before.

Believers in Christ, today, share the Great Commission Call.

How many times has the LORD sent a “Gamechanger” into your life?

How did you respond? 

What did you do right? 

How could you have improved your response? 

How can you prepare for your next opportunity?

Because of Pentecost, we do not even have to wait for a “Gamechanger” to occur.  As believers in Jesus Christ we are uniquely equipped in a way that the disciples, before that moment, were not. 

We have the Holy Spirit ready and available to us.  We do not have to wait but are able to go forward with confidence that the Holy Spirit desires that we follow after Christ.  We must be plugged in, committed and ready to go forth at the urging of the Holy Spirit.

Examine your heart today as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. 

Do you feel a peace within your heart and mind that inexplicably comforts and yet prompts you to action?

If not, perhaps you need to ask the LORD for guidance. 

If you feel that motivation; what are you going to do about it? 

Pray that the LORD will guide you toward those to whom you are intended to minister and give you the words to say that will draw them unto HIM. 

In the Middle of becoming a Prayer Warrior

Middle Places Archive

Originally published on May 12, 2013 on Middleplaces.com.

I have a special place in my heart for the Prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah.

I have always considered her as a prayer role model because she poured out her anguish to GOD, with such raw honesty.

A friend knows of my affinity for Hannah and mentioned her surprise to find Hannah identifying the “LORD of Armies” in her address recorded in the first chapter of 1 Samuel.  Some translations use the term “host” which is often associated with militaristic organization.  My friend expected such language from Joshua or David but was perplexed by Hannah’s choice.  

Hannah would not know until eternity that her prayer to the “LORD of Armies” would create an important link between two of the LORD’s greatest warriors; Joshua and David.  I think it is interesting to note that Hannah was actually the first person recorded addressing the LORD with that particular name.  

Joshua, before his victory at Jericho,  was confronted by ONE who called Himself, “the CAPTAIN of the ARMIES of the LORD.” (Joshua 5:14)  After subduing the land; the “house of the LORD” was set up by Joshua at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). 

The people paid tribute, at Shiloh, to the LORD of Armies who brought them out of Egypt and allowed them to conquer the Promised Land.   As time passed the people of Israel became complacent.  The Bible recounts a series of “Judges” who would rise up and lead the people back to the LORD but time after time they would turn their back again and the last verse of the book of Judges recounts, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The story of Hannah proves that not everyone had forgotten who brought Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.   I Samuel 1:3 relates that Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, took his family up to Shiloh for the sacrifice to the “LORD of Armies” every year.  The people of Israel no longer controlled the land.  It had been a very long time since they had been victorious.  

They needed the LORD of Armies.  Hannah needed the LORD of Armies and she sought HIM persistently.  This is a warrior’s quality.

Verses 5 and 6 state and repeat, “the LORD had closed her womb.”  This is a hard passage which supports a difficult truth about the LORD.  HE is sovereign over our circumstances.

Mother’s Day is tough for many who have lost their mother, lost a child or have not had children of their own.

Hannah was no different.

She struggled to reconcile her pain with faith in a GOD who had not granted the desire of her heart.

She struggled but did not give up.

Verse 7 reminds us that the taunts of her rival continued “year after year”.   We are not told how many years she sought HIS respite from her condition but this year was different.  Eli, the priest, is there and rebukes her for drunkenness.   We witness the boldness of a woman with nothing to lose.  Rather than being embarrassed or running away she stands up to the priest and admits not only her fears but her anger and frustration.  

This is what real prayer is about… being honest with the LORD, yourself and even others who challenge your faithfulness.  

She states clearly that she is not a “worthless woman”.  In the next chapter we will find that Eli’s own sons are described as “worthless men.”  Perhaps Eli recognized the difference as he answered her with respect rather than dismissal. 

Hannah finds herself expecting and gives birth to a son, Samuel.  The LORD remembered her and she remembered her promise.  After Samuel was weaned she took him back to the temple and presented him to Eli saying, “as long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.”  According to Hebrew tradition Samuel would be at least three or four years old by this time.  How she must have loved that little boy, a gift from YHWH.  

How difficult the trip back to Shiloh must have been for Hannah…

Scripture records Hannah’s beautiful prayer which would later be echoed in the words of Mary, the mother of Christ.  She presented Samuel as a living sacrifice even as Abraham presented Isaac, yet another foreshadowing of CHRIST, but Samuel did not go home with her.  

How many of us cry out to the LORD with the desires of our hearts.  We make promises of obedience, change, and repentance only to receive our request and then go about our own business without fulfilling our vows, without looking back.  

Not Hannah.  

She honored her vow with a grateful heart.   Hannah was blessed with other sons and daughters but Samuel emerged from the cry of her heart and opened her womb.  Each year she would bring Samuel a new robe which must have been crafted with great love as she marveled at his growth and ministry before the LORD.  How hard she must have prayed for his well being up in Shiloh.

She remained faithful to the LORD of Armies who appeared to Joshua.  The LORD used her prayer to redeem the priesthood defiled by “worthless men” and prepare the way for the anointing of David, another true representative of the LORD of Armies.

She was in the middle…

In the middle of a nation in chaos, a difficult living situation and a personal anguish, but she was also in the middle of becoming a prayer warrior. 

No one becomes a prayer warrior without facing a difficult and uncertain circumstances. 

She had no idea how far reaching her prayer would be…

On this Mother’s Day we are here in the middle…

Our world appears very much like the closing of Judges with everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.  

What difference can one woman make?  

The Apostle Paul uses battle analogies in Ephesians 6.  He called us to “be strong in the LORD, and in HIS mighty power…put on the whole armor of GOD…against spiritual forces of evil…”  

In the example of Hannah “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) to the LORD of Armies for the victory!  

One woman made a difference and so can you! 

In the middle of waiting for the Holy Spirit…

Middle Places Archive

Originally published May 5, 2013 on middleplaces.com

The Middle Places theme for May is Celebration!  We celebrated CHRIST’s Birth at Christmas and walked with HIM to the Cross at Easter.  We waited for HIM, rejoiced when HE arose! We cried with the disciples, “He is risen, indeed!” …now what?  Where do we go from here?

The Book of Acts records that CHRIST spent forty days with HIS disciples teaching them about the Kingdom of God. An important part of this time was the Great Commission, as Christ commanded them to go into all the world and preach the Good News…

but they were to wait…

for the HOLY SPIRIT to come…

How often we get a message for the LORD and we are ready to charge out the door…

but HE commands us to wait…

wait for the Power,

wait for the fullness of time,

wait for HIM!

The LORD created time and uses it at HIS WILL to signify and connect things for us. Most associate the term Pentecost with the coming of the HOLY SPIRIT described in the second chapter of Acts and this is correct but the richness of the time is so much deeper!

Jesus’ celebration of Passover with his disciples is a traditional part of HOLY WEEK but most are unaware of the Old Testament significance of Pentecost and its relation to Passover. Pentecost is the literal Greek translation for “the fiftieth day” and the Jewish celebration of Shavuot or the “Festival of Weeks”.  Shavuot commemorates the day Moses came down Mount Sinai. This is often referred to as the conclusion of Passover because the purpose of the Passover was not just to free the Israelites physically from the Egyptians but to reunite them spiritually to YHWH as HIS Chosen People. The Giving of the Law signified this unique relationship and the completion of the Passover Purpose.

So for those of us counting and considering the significance of Sacred Time: Jesus died, arose and taught HIS disciples for forty days before ascending back to heaven.  He told them to wait for the HOLY SPIRIT. The Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the second day of Passover. Jesus taught his disciples for forty days so the celebration of Pentecost occurred about ten days after Jesus returned to heaven.

The disciples were assembled and celebrating Pentecost (the giving of the Law) when the HOLY SPIRIT came down and filled them.

There are significant similarities and differences between the two Pentecosts.  Both are evidences of the LORD coming down with a mighty rushing wind and fire but the second time was not upon a far off mountain where the people could not approach.  The SPIRIT filled their room and actually rested upon the worshipers within the walls of their celebration.  The first time there was One Voice from the mountain; the second time there were many voices and they spoke in multiple and diverse languages, confirming the command of the Great Commission to go and tell the Good News!

This year Pentecost falls on May 19, 2013.  For those of us counting the time, waiting for HIS RETURN let us be ready… Easter was not the end but only the beginning of this adventure… Are you still walking with HIM?  Are you still seeking HIM as you did in the days leading up to Christmas and then to Easter?  The gift of the Holy Spirit signified the beginning of the Great Commission and the opportunity for most of us (Gentiles) to be included in the covenant.

Walk with the HOLY SPIRIT during these days coming up to the celebration of Pentecost. Ask HIM to reveal to YOU the GRACE FULL balance of the Old and New Testaments and the significance of Sacred Time devoted and holy to HIM.  Continue with our celebration of May, the Good News and God’s love for you today!

Keep Walking

Middle Places Archive

Originally Published March 31, 2013 on Middleplaces.com

Jesus traveled the countryside
…walking toward His purpose and destiny…

Along the way He healed the lame and blind
…and He kept walking…

and crowds would gather to hear Him teach
…and He kept walking…

He taught many lessons along the dusty roads to HIS disciples…trying to help them understand
…and He kept walking…

And all the way, they were heading for that particular time and place outside the walls of Jerusalem
…and He kept walking…

The crowds waved and shouted Hosannas even then Jesus knew that their hearts were fickle and they would turn on Him…
…and He kept walking…

Jesus knew that every step He took was one step closer to His death.
…and He kept walking…

He knew as He discipled them that one of His companions on the road would betray Him unto death
…and He kept walking…

He knew that even as He washed their feet that they did not understand the service He was meant to perform
…and He kept walking…

As He broke the bread and drank the wine and heard their declarations of fidelity that even His closest confidants would scatter and hide.
…and He kept walking…

He knew that He would be falsely tried and convicted
…and He kept walking…

He knew the struggle was not against flesh and blood but against cosmic powers over this present darkness
…and He kept walking…

He knew that although it was a spiritual battle there was a requirement of blood to be spilled and flesh to be torn
…and He kept walking…

He knew that His mother would not understand… He knew that His friends would feel abandoned
…and He kept walking…

He knew that the excruciating pain of the cross would be light compared to the turning away of His Father
…and He kept walking…

He knew that the story did not end on Friday but Sunday was coming
…and He kept walking…

He knew that if He was faithful to the end, His joy would be complete and redemption would be made possible
…and He kept walking…

He knew that when all of it was through, He would return to the One from whom He came
…and He kept walking…

He knew that upon the appointed time He would return again…
…and He kept walking…

Matthew 30:25-30 “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

He invited me to walk with Him… to be “yoked” (coupled, paired, joined securely) to share the weight of the cross with Him
…and He kept walking…

He invited me knowing that at times He would have to carry me
…and He kept walking… am I willing to walk step by step with Him?

He invites me to care for the sick, the brokenhearted, the least of these
…and keep walking with Him…

He invites me to take the bread and the wine knowing that at times even my closest brothers & sisters will fail me
…and keep walking with Him…

He invites me to know that I will be mocked and despised for submitting to this yoke
…and keep walking with Him…

He invites you to walk with us… to accompany us through a lost and sin darkened world
…In the Spirit of Christ we will keep walking…

For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. For the joy of reconciling us to the Father, Jesus endured the cross.
…In the Spirit of Christ we will keep walking..

Inspired by a passage in Emilie Griffin’s book “Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey”