Monday, September 26, 2016

Determined Faith

Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore.

Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him.

A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding.

She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.

She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe.

For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”

Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

But he kept on looking around to see who had done it.

Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done.

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

Mark 5:21-34 NLT

There are many different ways to read scripture, but one of my favorite ways is to put myself into the story to see and hear what is going on. Musician and Bible teacher Michael Card calls it "holy imagination."

It's like being in an episode of Dr. Who where you get into his Tardis (a British phone booth that is really a time travel machine) and go to a past or future time and place.

So just imagine with me that we have landed the Tardis just a few yards away from the crowd surrounding Jesus. The excitement among the people is as palpable as a group of fans at a celebrity meet-and-greet.

We quickly make our way into the middle of the crowd to get closer to the action, past some smelly fishermen and a few somber, pompous guys decked out in clergy robes and prayer shawls. "Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me," I say as we push further in to get closer to Jesus. 

That's when we notice a woman frantically moving through the crowd until she was right behind Jesus, close enough to touch him. Without making eye contact with anyone, she kept her head bowed low as if she was trying not to be noticed. 

Have you ever attended church or a Christian event when you were carrying a heavy burden of shame or guilt or pain, and you didn't want anyone to know how badly you were hurting? You kept your head low, avoided eye contact, smiled that fake smile and said "fine" when anyone asked how you were. But you were hoping, no, you were desperate, to encounter the presence of Jesus there because He was your last hope. I wonder if that's how this woman felt?

Curiously, she bent down and touched the fringe of his robe instead of speaking to him. I don't blame her for keeping quiet. Her problem was too private and shameful to share within earshot of this crowd. Then all of a sudden she stood back up, straightened her back, held up her head with confidence, and tried her best to blend back into the crowd. 

But Jesus stopped, turned around, scanned the crowd and asked who had touched him. 

Does that seem odd to you? He was God, after all--the all-knowing, all-seeing, omnipotent God who can see into the hearts of mortal men. Did Jesus really not know who touched him? I think he did, but for her sake he wanted her to come out of the shadows, out of her shame, and say "It was me. I did it." He stopped what he was doing (on his way to see a dying girl!) to meet the needs of a women whom society deemed unclean, an outcast. Can you imagine how frightened she must have been when he called her out? What would you have done--remained quiet hoping no one could identify you, or come clean and admit what you had done?

Jesus' disciples seemed a bit irritable as they tried to rush Jesus along. Their response to his question, "Who touched me?" was a bit sarcastic and brusque. The look on their faces said, "We've got more important places to go and more important people to see than to be interrupted by anyone in this crowd.

It didn't take long for the woman to come out from behind a couple of villagers and approach Jesus. She fell at his feet, trembling, and spoke in a low whisper as she told him her story. What Jesus did afterward will be etched in my mind forever. He didn't call his bodyguards to escort her out, and he didn't scandalize her or exploit her by repeating her story to the crowd. He didn't look at her with contempt or use her brokenness to teach his followers a lesson. He didn't scold her for interrupting his important mission to save the life of a little girl.

With the most tender eyes and compassionate voice I've ever heard, he validatd her faith and affectionately called her "Daughter"--giving her the same status as a beloved family member. And then . . . "Your suffering is over" he said. You could tell from the look on her face that his love had healed her body and soul.

"In that moment, Jesus did not expose her weakness and shame. He exposed her faith. He wanted her faith visible so that everyone who carries a secret shame—which is every one of us—might have hope. Jesus, the Great Physician, has the power to heal us from every sin, every weakness, every failure, every illness, and every evil ever committed against us. And he promises this healing to everyone who believes in him."  (Jon Bloom, Things Not Seen)

Three things from this story resonate deeply with my heart, although there are plenty more nuggets of gold to mine in a deeper Bible study: 

1. No matter how insignificant and alone you feel, Jesus has time for you. You are never a burden to him. Your thoughts are precious to him and he enjoys spending time with you. In his presence you will never be alone again.

2. Regardless of how you may have been mistreated by religious people or church communities or family, and even though you may have been ostracized and shamed by people who don't understand you, Jesus offers you a seat at his table and bestows on you the privileges of family. He knows you from the inside out, yet he loves you passionately and is working for your good.

3. When you encounter Jesus, things will be different. You may find physical healing, emotional wholeness, or spiritual renewal, maybe all three. Yet you may still face struggles and hardship, perhaps even persecution for your faith. But the real treasure is found in getting to know him, the source of life, and in return finding the person he created you to be in his image. You have a purpose and a place that no one can take away. He will be with you in the struggles and the victories.

May God give us fresh eyes to read the stories of Jesus in scripture. May his Spirit stoke the fires of our passion to know and love him more.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hutchmoot 2013 -- A Time to be Playful

In 2012, my 62-year journey to find "home" was finally over when I walked through the doors of Redeemer Church to attend Hutchmoot. I found true family there.

This year as I returned to Redeemer Church, it was a grand homecoming. The year since Hutchmoot 2012 was spent nurturing friendships and welcoming new ones. It was a year of sharing struggles and successes, seeking and giving forgiveness, digging into good books, listening to great music, and falling deeper in love with my Hutchmoot family.

It was no surprise that I would partake generously of the hug fest awaiting. Living alone creates a famine of affectionate hugs, so even though I arrived empty my heart was filled to overflowing by the time I left on my journey back home to Kentucky.

It's been over a month since Hutchmoot and I'm still glowing from the warmth of love and affirmation. Hutchmoot 2013 was one of the memorable times in my life when I've felt so completely and deeply loved.

The big surprise came on Sunday afternoon during Art Moot. When the event was announced, I almost convinced myself not to go because I have never been able to draw anything freehand, not even simple stick figures. But I was good at coloring inside the lines so I thought perhaps I could contribute something.

One of the first instructions was "Do not just color." Oops!

I had almost finished drawing on my tile when the realization of what it feels like to be a child washed over me like a gentle wave. For the very first time in my life, I discovered freedom in the midst of love to create something without hearing "You can't do that!" or "You're not good enough." No one made fun of each other; everyone had fun, including me.

It was the first time I've felt that level of freedom to be exactly who I am without holding back, without feeling like I'm either too much or not good enough, without hearing negative messages (internally and externally) that create fear and doubt.

I found:
Freedom to love and be loved.
Freedom to laugh and play.
Freedom to cry and grieve.
Freedom to fail and thrive.
Freedom to be a child in the Kingdom.

Thank you. I am so very grateful!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hutchmoot 2012 . . . Home!

"I'm running away from home to find home." That's my story.

 As a young girl, my dream was to marry a preacher or a farmer and have a home full of love and acceptance. When I left my parents' home to get married, that dream didn't even survive the ceremony. My narcissistic groom was so fixated on his own appearance, he could not see the beauty of his bride. Twenty years of abuse later, I ran away from home again, this time to protect and provide a safe home for my son. 

Although I was financially destitute, God provided for us through the generosity of his people. He gave me words to write in articles and books that defined the horrific reality of domestic violence, and I developed a heart attuned to hurting people.

 Thirteen years later, after pouring myself and everything I owned into a ministry I loved, my ministry partners chose to stake a legal claim to the home donated by my family, the home where I lived and provided a shelter for broken women. They sold it for 30 pieces of silver, or so it felt to me. Once again, I was destitute and homeless, disabled, and forced to move back into a mouse-infested trailer on my parents' farm, where I still live today. But God has provided for my needs through the generosity of his people.

I grew up in a Christian home with loving parents and two younger brothers whom I love. After returning home to Kentucky from living in Illinois for 25 years, I envisioned sharing with my brothers the same happy times we had as children. But reality took a really big bite out of my heart when both of my brothers expressed contempt through their words and actions for my beliefs and my appearance. Around them I often feel alone, dismissed, invisible. However, God has provided by bringing loving people into my life, most of whom live elsewhere, who have become brothers and sisters to me.

I still have a deep longing for home and community. When my friend, Todd Agnew, told me about his experience at Hutchmoot 2011, it sounded like the voice of a familiar friend welcoming me home. I just had to go and find out if it was true, if people really cared for each other enough to engage in deep conversations about God and their own stories of redemption without being judgmental or elitist. So here I go again, leaving home to find home. And this time I did!

From the moment I stepped inside the door, I encountered smiles, greetings, and a warm welcome to join the family. I heard stories from other broken people who have walked through the darkest dark, yet found hope and light from God and his people. When Jason Gray said, "Pain is our mother. She helps us recognize each other," I knew I had found home.

All of the sessions I attended were excellent and thought-provoking, and the music was spectacular and brilliant, but it was the kindness of strangers-now-friends that spoke volumes to me. From the simple kindness of a young college student who had the heart of a servant to the amazing generosity of a young couple who provided for my lodging, each day brought new surprises of lovingkindness and compassion.

Andrew Peterson compared Hutchmoot to Christmas, or maybe even better than Christmas. That's exactly the way it was for me--unwrapping gifts of new friendships, receiving rides when I couldn't drive, sharing the gift of Sunday lunch with delightful artists of word and song and their beautiful families, and so much more. 

My new family, brothers and sisters, I am so in love with you! It's not as much about what you did for me, but the awareness that we share a passion for God and home, and recognition of the same heartbeat that has persevered through many dark nights of the soul, but has been strengthened and enlarged by love and grace.

I'm in awe of the manly men who wept often when telling their stories or when listening to mine, and encouraged by delightful, gracious women who are learning to love their families well.

There were amazing food and decoration wizards who worked their magic to create the atmosphere of a family feast with sumptuous foods of heavenly proportions. Each meal fed our souls as well as our bodies. 

The sense of unity was so strong among us that when we sang The Doxology together on the last day, there was no echo of "t-t-t-t's" when we got to the end of the line "Praise Him above ye heavenly host." From the back of the room, I heard just one "t" in total unity that came from the harmony of our hearts as well as our voices.

It was amazing to spend four days with "me too" people who were so accepting and accommodating, and I didn't want to leave this precious family. But we were reminded "Now to live the life God has given us in the places where he has placed us, and to spread the table of generous hospitality wherever we go." (Scott Richardson)

The very first person who greeted me warmly when I arrived was the same person who gave me a big bear hug when I left. Pete, you're amazing! Thank you for everything you and Jennifer did to make Hutchmoot a beautiful taste of heaven for all of us.

So now I'm back at home, still longing to run away to find what my heart craves, but realizing I will never be satisfied because even Hutchmoot is just a foretaste of what is to come.

In the meantime, we can open our hearts and tables to those around us, and encourage each other around the world through words and hugs and prayers . . . until we meet again, either here or Home.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Can you imagine your life without fear? That’s the question Max Lucado asks in his new book Fearless. My first response is “Not in this lifetime, Max!” It almost seems cruel and out of touch with reality to ask such a question to people who are suffering like never before in history. Yet, it echoes the voice of Jesus as he revealed the heart of a loving Father assuring us over and over again, “Do not be afraid. I am with you.”

Our ears are assaulted every day by the media and various fear-mongers who tell stories about real people suffering the loss of jobs, homes, relationships, and the lives of those they love. Fear about the economy, government control, natural disasters, increasing violence and terrorism, and death is no longer contained in an adult world—it has invaded the hearts of children at play.

That’s why this book is so timely. You will find yourself in its pages—your situation described, your fears exposed . . . even those you’ve hidden deep beneath the fa├žade of faith. Max warns that fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. He writes, “We begin to wonder if love lives in heaven. If God can sleep in our storms, if his eyes stay shut when our eyes grow wide, if he permits storms after we get on his boat, does he care?”

Max describes the collateral damage of fear:
• It turns us into control freaks who exclude God and try to make life work on our own terms.
• We forget how good God is and begin to doubt He has the power or desire to change things.
• It sucks the life out of our soul and safety becomes our god.
• We cannot love deeply or give generously.

Yes, you will discover yourself and your world described in this book, but you will also find God there—not simply standing on the sidelines or watching at a distance, but calling you to courage . . . challenging you to move from a state of fear to confident trust, promising to guide you through the storm if you’ll let go of your control and risk everything into His hands.

I want to be fearless. Don’t you? I want to be filled with faith, never wavering and never doubting. But the truth is, sometimes fear sneaks up from behind or breaks into my secure, comfortable world and scares the dickens out of me. Max provides great wisdom in these situations:

“Fear may fill our world, but it doesn’t have to fill our hearts. It will always knock on the door. Just don’t invite it in for dinner, and for heaven’s sake don’t offer it a bed for the night. The promise of Christ and the contention of this book are simple: we can fear less tomorrow than we do today.”

Fearless is not just another great book by Max Lucado; it is a lifeline that will keep you from drowning in fear and despair. It is a reminder that as we draw near to God in the midst of our life storms we find out His perfect love casts out our fear.

Brenda Branson

Monday, June 1, 2009

Patience is Not Passive

Patience is not Passive

“Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:8 ESV

What does it mean to be patient in the midst of suffering and injustice? Does James, the brother of Jesus, intend for us to take mistreatment and abuse as a Christian virtue? Let’s take a closer look at what the word “patience” means.

The Greek word for patience means to show self-restraint when you are provoked; to show mercy and long suffering; to refrain from retaliating.

According to author Jerry Bridges, patience is the “ability to suffer . . . under the mistreatment of others without growing resentful or bitter.”

This goes against the grain of human nature—to restrain from retaliating and hurting the person who has hurt you. But this restraint is the nature of Jesus who is our example. Peter writes about this in 1 Peter 2:21: For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example so that you might follow in his steps.”

Perhaps as a battered woman you are wondering how Jesus could understand what it feels like to be the object of someone’s angry words, suffocating control, and open handed or closed fist attacks? Actually, Jesus experienced many of the same abuses you may have suffered. He was betrayed by a friend, falsely accused, misunderstood by family and friends, stalked, set up by those who wanted to trap him, faced threats to his life, unprotected by the religious and legal system, spat upon, and suffered verbal and physical abuse. Yet, even though he had the power to do so, he did not retaliate by trash talking or threatening to get even to those who mistreated him.

What did Jesus do? “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23) Dr. David Jeremiah counsels, “Until Jesus comes and he rights all wrongs, the believer is to leave vengeance in the hands of God.”

"Trusting ourselves to the Father's hands doesn't mean we will not fall into other hands along the way. What it means is that behind all of those hands are His hands. It will be His hands that will one day bring those other hands to justice. That is what Jesus believed. And that is what gave him the strength, while being reviled on the cross, not to revile in return."¹

Entrusting yourself to God does not mean you should remain in an unsafe situation and meekly submit to verbal or physical abuse. God has given us great wisdom in the book of Proverbs that tells us how to respond to someone who is angry and abusive, or who misuses alcohol. Over and over again we are warned to flee the presence of those who seek to destroy us. Read the entire book and make a list of abusive characteristics until you have constructed the profile of a “fool” who believes he is always right, resists counsel, and acts as his own god. Sound familiar?

I recommend an excellent book based on the book of Proverbs called Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. It contains practical wisdom for those who are involved with a “fool.”

Remaining in an abusive situation is like hugging whirling fan blades—you will be destroyed. Instead of remaining a victim, you can exhibit godly patience by resisting any form of retaliation and allowing God to help you in two ways:

1. He has surrounded you with people who can help—if you will seek and accept their help. This includes secular agencies and the legal system as well as faith-based organizations and some churches. Contrary to what some women are told by their misguided church leaders, it is not a betrayal (or retaliation) to the abusive partner to get a restraining order and press charges for battery. Holding the abuser accountable is often the most loving thing you can do because it causes him to experience the consequences of his actions and gives an opportunity for him to seek help.

2. He will eventually make all things right when he comes (Revelation 22:12), so for now leave all vengeance and retaliation to him.

Patience is not passive. It may be considered actively waiting—waiting for God to work in the heart of an abuser while you seek safety, and in some cases permanent separation. The apostle James was right—we should be patient and entrust our hearts to God in the midst of suffering and injustice. Seeking revenge and allowing bitterness to take root in your heart will only destroy you. Entrusting your heart to God allows him to accomplish forgiveness and peace in your heart and life. Forgiveness may or may not bring reconciliation, but it will produce freedom in your own heart—freedom to love without bitterness and resentment, even if it has to be from a distance.

There’s hope in this message from James: “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Let this hope give you patience and courage in the midst of suffering—courage to act and take a stand against evil, and courage to surrender your need to retaliate.

¹ Gire, Ken "The Work of His Hands"

Copyright © 2009 Brenda Branson

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Following Jesus?

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in." Hungry not only for bread- but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing- but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a home of bricks- but homeless because of rejection.

(Mother Teresa )

As followers of Jesus, how do we represent Him in our personal lives to those who are hurting?

Is this the primary ministry of our churches and ministries or are we more concerned with building bigger buildings or raising more money?

If this is the standard that is required of us as Christ followers, why aren't we more concerned about the "least of these?"

Why do we spend our money on second homes when some people don't even have a place to live? Why do we lavish ourselves with designer clothes and shoes when destitute parents aren't able to provide adequate clothing for their children?

Why do we preach love and grace in our churches, but we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to those who are hurting and broken?

Why do we rip each other apart with hurtful words when we have been given mercy?

Why do we withhold love and respect from those who are different from us?

If these questions make us uncomfortable now, just imagine how we will feel when Jesus, who gave everything for us, asks us why we weren't willing to give to others.

As His hands and feet in this world, why are we presenting Him as a stingy, self-absorbed, angry God who doesn't care?

In the light of eternity, what will it matter if you are president of a charity when you steal the home, food, and clothing from people in need to build your own empire in the name of God? I wonder what you will say when He looks deep into your soul and reveals your greed and deception for everyone to see?

Perhaps we need to throw out all our religious strategies and traditions, and start to follow Jesus. But wait, if we go to that extreme, we may also be homeless and poor . . . or it may lead us to a cross.

Brenda Branson, Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 8, 2008

Invisible People

Invisible People

I recently attended a church where they were beginning a new evangelistic program called “Just Walk Across the Room.” It is a very good series developed by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church. The emphasis is on getting to know the people around you so you may have an opportunity to invite them to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

What could be wrong with that? Nothing . . . unless you think the end justifies the means. I wonder if our evangelistic strategies really please God, or if He is more interested in the motives of our hearts as we reach out to people around us.

When you decide to befriend someone, is it because you really care about them (as Jesus did) or because you feel better about yourself for inviting them to church? Are you motivated by the amount of money or status they have, or do you choose them the way you choose fresh produce—only the unblemished, most beautiful ones will do? How much time and energy would you put into a relationship if you knew that person would never be interested in knowing Jesus or attending your church?

When the goal has been met and your conquests have been enlisted, do you continue to nurture these relationships or do they quickly become invisible people as you move on to make other converts?

What does it mean to be invisible?

  • When the pastor leans across your seat to greet the person sitting next to you, but doesn’t even make eye contact or communicate with you, it may mean you are invisible.

  • When a clique of well-dressed church ladies walk right past you, making no eye contact or polite greeting, and spend the next half-hour talking among themselves in the same room while you sit quietly alone, it may mean you are invisible.

  • When your relatives who attend the same church walk past you without saying “hello” week after week, it may mean you are invisible.

  • When you’ve missed attending church for several weeks and no one calls to see if you are okay, it may mean you are invisible.

As I think about the invisible people in my own church, it grieves my heart that many of them have come and gone without notice and we have missed knowing some amazing people. When people are treated as objects or as a means to an end, they will be quickly discarded unless they have something special to offer such as status or money.

Here’s what it says in James 2 (The Message):

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir, this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind?

To our shame, we do treat people differently in our churches. People who are too fat, too deep, too loud, too quiet, too poor, too flashy, or too much of a misfit are often ignored and judged. Perhaps we need heavenly glasses to see all the invisible people, to see the value in those who have been deemed insignificant, and to see everyone the way God sees them.

For all the invisible people who feel discarded and ignored, God sees you! He sees the real you—the person deep down inside your skin that others have missed, the person with gifts and dreams and love to offer, the person He created you to be. Don’t spend too much time grieving the sting of insensitive people who claim to know God; instead, look up and celebrate the incredible life God has birthed inside you and ask Him to help you see others with the same delight He has when He thinks of you.

God, give me eyes to see those whom you love and ears to hear the cry of their heart even before they say a word so that no one remains invisible or insignificant.

Brenda Branson Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved