When my two oldest children were in elementary school, they sidled up to my recliner and asked if they could cuss. I formed a dreadful, serious look on my face. Set my coffee cup down.
“Sure.” I turned back to the newspaper.
They were speechless. Stood staring.
“They’re just words,” I said, cutting the tension. “Words only carry the power we give them. If you call someone a hotdog and you mean it as demeaning, it will be. Hotdog will become a curse word.”
Ah—father psychology! My son informed me later he was so disappointed in me giving him permission to cuss he never did. Still doesn’t much.
But I was wrong. Words carry more than the power we invest in them. Sometimes they tote intrinsic weight. And when words are God-breathed! They live, their meaning not static but layered and complex and powerful! And as the Hebrew writer says, God-breathed words cut us like a surgeon, meat from gristle, truth from pretext.
This is the story of one such God-breathed word. A word that is God’s best tool for spiritual formation and life transformation.
A Decision Gone Bad
In 1990 The Redheaded-Wildflower and I made a catastrophic decision. I was a freshly minted seminary grad. She a young mother of two recently minted humans. I had accepted a position as associate pastor in a Presbyterian church in Illinois. With hope soaring we moved from heaven—close family, life-long friends, and a great church in Colorado—to hell.
About two months in, I learned something everyone else in the church was well aware of: the senior pastor was a serial adulterer. He not only used his massive small town pastoral power to seduce women, he used it to control, manipulate, and abuse anyone who threatened him.
Everyone feared him. Even the local newspaper.
The wounds from the abuse we endured in those endless two years are like a purple bruises on our souls. The unanswered questions myriad.
[box] Why did God not stop us from moving?
We prayed for wisdom before agreeing to move.
Why did God and the church allow the pastor to prosper in his sin? Why did God bathe us in mercy but withhold his vengeance?[/box]
For years I have wondered what life would have been like had God spoken and we turned that job down.
Is there an event or decision that has scarred your life and since festered?
We often wished we had made a wiser decision, or we’ve tried to forget those years and linger in other, better memories, or we’ve plastered over the memory and pretended it never happened.
But no matter our strategy, like an inflated beach ball held underwater, the regret has exploded to the surface and swamped us emotionally.
As with Job, God’s answer has been slow in coming and hard to fathom. But the answer has come.
God Answers Not With Regret, Nor Retribution, Nor Restoration but Redemption!
What is redemption, though, but a fancy theological word? In the Old Testament God is often called Redeemer.
“My Redeemer lives,” Job declares in his moment of desperate hope. Technically redeemer is one who buys another out of slavery and into freedom. But as a God-breathed word, redemption has sliced into me deeper than a dictionary can.
The name Redeemer is also often combined with Almighty, God’s sovereign name of power. This is strange. Redeemer is a relational name picturing a God coming along side the oppressed. To me that seemed not powerful. Maybe even wimpy, a bespectacled do-gooder hanging out in the hood.
But the two names combined describe a God who is a muscle-bound friend. God can flex his guns. Yet, despite God’s powerful physique, as a Redeemer God seldom uses his unlimited power to stop or fix pain or evil. God rareley busts the chops of the bully kicking sand.
This was hard for me to hear. I want a God who controls evil with an iron fist, who, like Superman, wins all battles. But that is not how God has operated in my life, nor the rest of the world.
But redemption also means evil does not have a free hand nor the last word. Instead God uses his omnipotent power relationally to transform pain and evil into beauty and holiness.
As Anne Lamott says, “Grace bats last.”
Expanding Lamont’s baseball metaphor, Grace comes to bat last in the final inning and redeems the game by slamming a walk-off home run. Redemption does not taunt the other team, nor erase the third inning error that could have cost the game. Redemption incorporates the error!
This is what has happened for us in the thirty years after our really bad decision. God wove our pain and disappointment into a new truth. God is not a controller but someone far better, a Redeemer.
The Purpose of PainOur pain does not have a purpose; God gives our pain purpose.
We fled from Illinois to Tulsa, where our youngest daughter was born in 1993. There also my oldest daughter met her future husband and now we have five glorious grandchildren. I cannot see how any of that could have come about without traveling the rocky, potholed road through Illinois with a God who can redeem suffering.
But it’s more than that.
God transformed me into a different kind of pastor, a different man. Not better. Not perfect. Less dependent on my own faulty wisdom. More open to mystery and faith. Ready to listen for God’s voice in pain.
We became a family yearning for grace and truth. We had other problems but we knew God was with us and was working whether everything looked and felt good. These things are intangible. But none the less true.
I’ve also learned life is not rusted antique truck God is going to restore to what it looked like the day it rolled off the line. This would have meant the pain we went through being remedied or righted. That never happened. Even when the pastor was finally defrocked for yet another affair. Something far more powerful happened however: redemption. Redemption painted pain into the landscape of our health and spiritual formation.
God Never Wastes PainWithout God, without redemption, our suffering is wasted.
Otherwise the past pain—and glory—of our lives is wasted. God didn’t waste our pain; he turned it into hope and faith and grace and help for others. There must be shades of the past and present in the coming world or this life is of no purpose.
Many of us have rightly questioned why God allowed corona virus to scour the world, to take lives and livelihoods. But no matter how sad, how hard, the answer is the same. Because God’s name is Redeemer not Controller. (Read more about the myth of control here.) Control leaves life static. Redemption transforms it!
God is asking us to trust that he will take this fearsome virus and form something entirely new, something previously unimagined (by us) out of it. None of us want to return to normal after this pandemic. We want God to transform normal into something unimaginably beautiful. And only God can do this. Like the artists who heal broken Japanese pottery, through what’s called Kintsugi, an art form where an artist mends broken pots with gold as the glue. In so doing the cracks are transformed from faults to tellers of the story of a redeemed creation.
God too heals the cracks, fissures, and flaws of our lives. Not by eliminating them but by glueing them together with grace and thus transfiguring them.
The final demonstration of redemption comes in the Crucifixion. The Cross of Christ is no longer a torture device, but a symbol of life not death, faith not fear, hope not despair. By Christ’s sacrifice, the cross was transformed into a work of salvation art.
This transformation is all the work of one God-breathed word: Redemption! Sidle up to the Father and ask if you can use it!
[box] Your Turn.
In the comments or in your own journal, tell a story of yours God is waiting to redeem?
Or one God has.
Or one you are praying and waiting for.
What kind of transformation are you praying for in this pandemic?[/box]
18 thoughts on “One Word That Will Spiritually Transform Your Life”
Maybe someone had to see that an adulterous pastor is not the norm ☺. Rev 15:4 .. one day we will know.and kneel in awe
Yes, one day we will. And maybe now too.
Well said! I wondered why the circumstance in Illinois Didn’t teach my own father anything. God has done something amazing in my heart from the circumstances in my family. I’ve learned about grace and how to forgive someone even though they’ve never asked. I don’t do it for him, I do it for me. It frees me. God does something in the middle of the pain and even though it’s hard to go through at the moment god uses your pain for a purpose and I’ve come to know that it’s becoming a stronger Christian that we extend grace to those who don’t deserve it but as Christians that’s what we are called to do. God has freed my heart and soul from this situation and that it’s on his terms to come to us at this point. There’s been so much pain and hurt and I pray everyday that he would find freedom in Jesus and truly know Jesus and be intentional. That Jesus would fill his spirit with joy and love again. Then I leave it with Jesus. I loved reading the blog. Craig Groeschel at Lifechurch preached a similar sermon last weekend.
On a better note:
I have two job opportunities that I am looking at.
One is at Oneok which is a big oil and gas utility company here. I’m working through a staffing agency and they said everyone they’ve put at oneok becomes an employee of Oneok it’s a really good opportunity and good benefits etc.
The other job doesn’t seem as good but I thought I would at least talk with them. Doesn’t seem like s whole lot of growth would happen here it’s s small company which is what I came from.
Please pray for direction that we get the right opportunity.
I’m ready for this quarantine to be over even though there’s so many opinions saying it’s not safe. I just keep thinking can’t live in fear. Faith over fear.
Thanks for being there for me.
Rachel: Thank you for your vulnerable and honest reply. I am praying for you.
“good and evil”,… I don’t think that most of us are “born” knowing and understanding “good and evil”, even though we are capable of both and are surrounded by both “in life”,… I did not expect, even as a young adult, to be running into “evil” (up close and personal) in the ordinary things that life was made of ~ friends, acquaintances, events, places, even (and maybe especially) those we might “respect” (and maybe even “trust”?),… excuse me, while I interject a few “lol”s here,… I think this is called “being naive”,… “being naive” is probably part of the (so-called) “innocence” of children, which we are enjoined to not “offend”, certainly biblically, and usually culturally,… there certainly can be something very “innocent and even angelic” about very young children,…
but but but,… we soon encounter “very young children” being capable of rather obvious “meanness and selfishness”, some more so than others, and thus begins the process of many sincere attempts to ameliorate the (apparently embedded) instincts and tendencies that are “in there”, ready and waiting to emerge and influence the earthly “path” that will eventually become explored and taken ~ and yes, the “inspiration” for endless novels and movies, and the “life events” that most of us will actually encounter, while we were expecting and hoping for “other better things”,…
we would like “to be wise” (and maybe be able to escape some of these things!), but I think some of the deepest wisdom can only come with some of these unexpected brushes with “true and unapologetic evil”,… how will we know how evil it is?,… by the way it injures us ~ deeply, cruelly, shockingly, appallingly,…. but but but,… God can heal us,… and deliver us and redeem us,… which is, of course, the whole reason that God had to send Christ, to do something for us that we couldn’t (know and) do for ourselves,…
the Bible tells us that we/(humans) “see through a glass darkly”,… we have a “human/(naive and maybe also “pride-influenced”?)” sort of “hope and expectation” that “things should be what they seem”, and “work out well”, and especially “according to our (“prayed up”) expectations”,… so, we are shocked when/if they don’t,… but, in my own case, I wouldn’t say that I think that God didn’t try to guide me, even so,… I’m not sure that I was developed enough to really “know how to listen”,…
in a very dramatic “real life” example of this, after some very terrible episodes of violence toward me, that I had neither expected or knew how to handle (even though I was a believer and praying intensely), God finally had to “break through” to my dull (earth/senses-trusting) consciousness, with a vision of the Lord, who was smiling and invited me to “come on up” with Him (and His angel friends),… but what He also informed me of, was “news to me”,… He said, “Every time he hurts you, He hurts me”,… Eugene! ~ I never knew this!,… and I only “know it now” because He, the Lord Jesus, told me so directly, in a vision,… this was definitely “supernatural intervention”, and it began a process of “opening up my eyes”,…
of course, this is a brief version of this story, and (“for better or worse”) my challenges and awareness have grown, since that time,… but, as the Lord said to Thomas, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”,… to me, this is a picture of, not only our shared “human condition”, vis a vis understanding “the supernatural”, (i.e., “it isn’t easy or clear”), but also, God permits us to not see and know everything in advance (especially like the last book of the Bible, Revelation), and still calls us “Blessed”, if we just “believe”, (and trust in Him)…
really ~ who wants to “see the Evil One” directly?,… on earth, we will learn about his presence and influence, usually “little by (ugly) little”, and with God’s guidance and protection and redemption, we’ll be better able to make good judgments and better assessments, and focus on where He wants to lead us (into his “green pastures”),… and, remember, all the while, He calls us “Blessed”,… (-:
Hi, Georgie Ann: Thanks for digging in so deep. One day we need to have a voice-to-voice conversation. It would be delightful. I appreciate your point about seeing through a glass darkly. It’s a good reminder how naive we still are after all these years. How much we need God’s grace and wisdom. Yes, we are vulnerable, experiential learners. I think that is why God calls our lives with him a “walk.” He always needs to be there to protect us from the evil we have trouble believing in and the Evil One. Some call this whole process Ortho-praxis, learning God’s truth through experience. I know that’s what I do most. Take care.
Hi, Eugene,… I think we all do that, and there is no shame in it,… what we actually “learn” from God and his Word, are basically “principles”,… principles that can help guide us, and help us to understand the “mixed-bag” conditions of this “life” we are living in, and dealing with,…
my preference would be to avoid, or shun, evil,… but this is not always possible,… so, I have learned, through prayer, etc, how to handle many things,… I think that as we grow and become “stronger” in His Spirit, we will find more clear guidance, and we will have less fear,… learning how to deal with evil, can become an exciting walk,…
I would love to have a voice/phone conversation!,… with the “shelter-in-place” stuff going on, it seems like this might actually be a pretty much perfect time!,… how do we arrange this?,…
Exciting, ha! Yes. He is not a safe lion, but good!
Give me your email in your next comment. I won’t “approve” is so it won’t be published publicly. I’ll just throw the comment in the “trash” and I’ll then email you so we can schedule something.
btw,… I do find Him to be good and safe,… the safety comes from staying very very close to Him, and eschewing other things,… those who love Him, He calls “friends”,… being close to Him, protects us from many things,… from that vantage point, He can lead us further,… I’m finding I need Him in special ways, during this “isolation” time,…
Such a wonderful message, Eugene! I, too, have had experiences where I wondered why God didn’t stop me from moving forward with work that ended up causing me great emotional pain. And I’ve also learned that the experiences were necessary in order to be where I am now … doing what God may have been leading me to all along. It’s all such a wondrous mystery, but God’s grace is real.
Thank you, Eugene, for sharing your experiences and your wisdom.
You’re welcome. And thanks for reading and commenting, Tess. We want God to stop or prevent the very things he uses to transform us. Ah–children. I hope you are seeing his grace in these times as well.
We all desperately need God’s grace.
Hi, Hugh. Good to meet you. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, we do and grace comes in such unexpected packages. I am glad you are standing in God’s mercy and grace.
I think we’re all waiting to see what God’s silver lining will be in all of this. Pray on!
A little tardy in mentioning this request but would you be interested in having these blogs printed in book form? We would be among the first in line to buy them. And we would gladly give them to others that also need to hear what has been inspired by the Holy Spirit in your life. Thank you for being real and approachable. You bless.
Encouragement is never late but needed when it arrives! Thank you. Yes, I would! I have considered this idea several times and think it would be fun and meaningful. Do you have favorites that should be included?