Welcome!

So much of life is waiting. . .

As a Christian, I am waiting for a lot--for God to do His refining work in me, for Jesus to return, for me to GET how much God loves me and for me to see what He is doing . . .

What to do in the meantime? I have learned much about what the Lord is trying to teach me, tell me and show me through the discipline of daily time spent reading the Bible. So often we make this time harder than it has to be.

This blog was born out of wanting to share what God is showing me and wanting to be an example that daily time with God is not a deep or mysterious thing (well, every once in a while it can be), but simply a time to read scripture and note what jumps out at you that day. We don't have to be scholars or super-holy or ministry leaders to do this. Some days I hit the jackpot and others I come up empty--but only by persevering do I give God the space in which to speak and myself the stillness in which to hear and obey.

As of June of 2017, I've now decided to include parts of our adoption journey, which is, so far, yet another chapter of waiting.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Vacuum Visions

One thing I find interesting about Jesus is that He used pictures and examples of everyday things to reveal deeper truths.  To the farmers and fishermen that followed Him, He talked of seeds and wheat and nets and waves.  I was reminded recently of an everyday item that the Lord used to teach me something.  Nothing so romantic or even natural as waves or seeds, but rather a typical household appliance:  A vacuum cleaner.  The Lord has actually used this humble tool not once, but twice to help me see how His Holy Spirit works, and this is the tale of the second lesson.

I am on the cleaning team at my church, which, unsurprisingly, involves vacuuming.  We have a nice, self-propelled vacuum which usually works easily and effectively.  You turn it on, push it around, and it picks up dirt and debris from the carpet.  A few weeks ago I was vacuuming and noticing that it didn't seem to be working all that well.  I checked the bag; fine.  Over the years of being on the cleaning team, I have learned that vacuums get clogged (the first Holy Spirit lesson, for another day), and unclogging them involves nasty dirt and hair and mess.  I'm not fond of nasty dirt, hair, or mess.  So, I just kept vacuuming, persuading myself that it was just me and the vacuum was fine.

I vacuumed my area, and then I was ready to move on to mopping.  My cleaning partner took the vacuum to finish another area.  She remarked that it wasn't working very well.  I said, "Yeah, you're right, I think maybe it's clogged.  We should probably take it outside and look at it.  I do know how to unhook things so we can check."  So, we did, it was, and after I pulled the nasty dirt, hair, and mess out of the hose, viola, vacuum cleaner worked as intended.  It took all of five minutes to accomplish the change.

Sometimes my life is like a clogged vacuum cleaner.  I notice that I'm not doing very well at staying peaceful, or having faith, or serving cheerfully.  "Hmm," I think, "maybe there is something in between God and me."  And there probably is.  But taking time to sit down with the Lord and pray it through and figure it out and allow the Holy Spirit to clean out the nasty hurt, unforgiveness, or other mess is not something I enjoy.  At all.  So I just reason to myself that it's nothing and I'm really fine.  Until finally one of my partners in the Christian life or the Lord Himself clearly points out that my current approach isn't working.   

So, I overcome my dread and sit myself down on the couch to open up my heart to God to unclog whatever junk has come between us.  It's not always a five minute fix, but it is never as horrible as I have imagined before I get started, and I'm always glad that I did it.  Every single time I tell myself that I should let God deal with me before it gets to that point, and yet. . . I still avoid it.  Hopefully this recent reminder will spur me on to be more timely in allowing the Lord to clean out my clogs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whispers

Oops. Once again a long blog silence. Sorry! It's been that kind of. . . couple of months? Christianity, or at least my journey of knowing Christ, seems to be kind of like that: Periods of closeness to the Lord mixed in with seasons of feeling far away and wondering when I will hear His voice clearly again. I'm thankful at least to recognize this so that I'm no longer panicked when it happens, though it can be discouraging.

I heard a whisper this week. I'm reading Daniel (right in the middle of the end-of-the-year slog through the prophets) and was struck by how far I need to come to approach his level of righteousness. Daniel is in Babylon, and Darius is now king. He likes Daniel a lot and puts him in charge of significant things. The other leaders don't much care for this, so they try to find fault with Daniel. Chapter six (verses four and five) states that:
Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God."

Ouch. Why? Because I instantly compare myself and my life to Daniel and know (not just wonder) that those words could not be said of me. Just today I was insensitive and somewhat rude to a co-worker. Many times a day I'm not as patient or kind to my students as I should be. If someone wanted to come and "find a complaint" against me, they would have ample examples.

Two opposite convictions come from these verses: First, I am reprimanded that I need to be conscious always of my speech and actions and not settle for letting my irritation and emotion rule my words and choices. Secondly, I am reminded, again, of my need for Jesus to save me from my sin. None of us, no matter the good deeds we have done, can ever save ourselves and make ourselves holy. Only Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and my reliance on it achieves that goal. I need to remember that I need the Gospel everyday, and I need to thank God for His grace in providing a way for me to know Him. Apparently the "whisper" was a little louder than I thought.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

All I Need is a Miracle

Yikes! Over a month since my last post! Thankfully not an indication of whether God is at work in my life. . . Just an indication of school being in full swing and life getting a little bit crazy.

I've been thinking a little bit about miracles lately. I was talking to a friend about how I would, just once, like to see a "real" miracle. "Real" being defined as: earth-shattering, mind-boggling, Red Sea-parting, Lazarus rising-from-the-dead OFFICIAL miracle. Because. . . wouldn't that grow my faith? Wouldn't that inspire my passion? Wouldn't that increase my belief? Wouldn't it??

Since the Lord often delights in creating relationships between people who approach ideas from opposite sides of the fence, my friend was not buying into my premise. "I don't think you're thinking this through (knowing me, probably not)," he said. "Oh, don't THINK so hard, just imagine how cool it would be to see a REAL miracle. The Israelites got to see LOTS of miracles (not that it helped their faith all that much). I just want to see one," I said. "Do you really want to be in the position of the Israelites? They weren't out for a walk. The Egyptian soldiers were going to kill them if they didn't cross the Red Sea. The other side was just desert." Oh. Yeah. True enough. And that manna that fell from heaven. . . they had nothing else to eat. The alternative was starvation. And the day the sun stopped, well, slaughter was the other choice. Hmm.

Drat. Why is there always someone wise to make me think? Most of the miracles that leap to my mind from the Bible are a result of God acting when there was no alternative. All avenues and choices were exhausted. Then and only then God moved.

DO I really want to be in that place? The place in the battle of lacking any victory except for the Lord working? The spot at the feet of the crowd reaching for the hem of Jesus' garment to be healed? The seat outside the tomb when someone I love is dead? No doubt I will be brought to those places one way or another sooner than I wish, and I will see the Lord work, either in outward miracle or inward growth and acceptance, but maybe I shouldn't be so eager to "see a miracle" just because I think it would be cool.

In that crazy way the Lord has of bringing things up all at once, the chapter that I just read in "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan also mentions miracles--how God does them to make Himself and His glory know, and how we don't recognize the ones that are all around us.

At the end of the conversation with my friend, the Holy Spirit convicted me (what I like to refer to as a "kick in the behind") that I HAVE seen miracles. I have seen the Lord take my heart, which was hard, hard, HARD, and soften it with His love and grace. When I first began this walk of faith, I was frantic to have a real relationship with Jesus. I despaired of ever reaching that place. Yet, here I am. Not a wow-everyone-look-at-that parting of the waters, but a genuine work of God nonetheless. Those miracles I do want to recognize whenever I see them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

He Can if He Wants To

Wow, this is my 100th blog post! Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read it!

I recently finished reading the book of Job. I have read it several times, and even went through Chuck Swindoll's Bible study several years ago with a group of women. The whole story of Job is disturbing. A righteous man (God said so) and God gives Satan permission to take away everything but his life. Children dead, animals dead, boils all over his body, bad friends with bad advice, and, worst of all, silence from the Lord.

Chapter 38, when God answers Job out of the whirlwind, is where it came together a little bit for me this time around. All through the tremendous trials, Job has been talking to God. He has complained with brutal honesty (Job 10:1-2):
I loathe my life;I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
let me know why you contend against me.
However, he never stops taking his pain and anger and hurt to God. Finally, the Lord replies to him through chapters 38-40. Rather than the apology or explanation that I kind of want to hear from God, He simply tells Job that He, the Lord, Yahweh, Creator of Heaven and Earth, is in charge and can do what He wants. I sometimes think that, if I were Job, I would STILL be upset with the Lord and still want Him to answer my questions--why did you do this to me? How is this fair? But that's not what Job does. Job's response is recorded in Job 40:3-5:
Then Job answered the LORD and said:
"Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further."
Job backs down. He stops questioning. He accepts what the Lord has done without any more arguing. Hmm. Why? I think it's because Job has heard the voice of God. Directly heard the Lord speak--not through scripture, not through a pastor, not even through the whispers of the Holy Spirit, but has HEARD THE VOICE OF GOD. And that is enough.

Though I try and try to enlarge my picture of God, I still see Him too small. He made it all. Everything. As he said to Job (Job 38:4-7):
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Sometimes (and please step away before the lightening strikes), I dare to think that God owes me an explanation for the hard and seemingly unfair things in my life: No marriage. No children. Bottom line: The Lord can do what He wants because He is the Creator of everything. I'm only alive because of His breath in me. I am only saved because of His tremendous grace given through Jesus. He doesn't have to explain Himself to me ever. That sounds harsh, I know. Yet Job, who suffered unfathomable grief even though righteous, became silent when confronted with the majesty and power of the Lord. How can I do less?

P.S. Even after the complaining and honestly, this is what the Lord said of Job (Job 42:7):
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
It's a topic for another post, but God wants us to come to Him with even the worst of our feelings.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Safe

Yikes! It's been a little while since I posted--can you tell school just started last week? Reading in Psalm 37, these verses popped out at me: The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. (Psalm 37: 23-24) The word that I noticed was "headlong". All of my life I have been pretty clumsy. I have cast myself (flung might be a better word)headlong (down stairs, over curbs, into car doors)more times than I care to remember, usually in front of a crowd of people. I am quite familiar with the feeling of suddenly losing my balance and landing ungracefully on the ground.

I am comforted to know that the Lord will not allow me, in the spiritual sense, to be cast headlong--to fall suddenly and violently beyond the remedy of grace and forgiveness. God has me by the hand. I'm going to stumble, whether by my own clumsiness and sin or by someone else's, but I will never be alone, on my face, sprawled out on the ground and expected to get up without help.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Grace Like Rain

Over and over in the Bible, God uses images from the world around us. However, many of these nature, farming, and pottery images can be hard to relate to for those of us living in suburbia. Today,on my mundane trip home from cleaning the church, God used the St. Louis weather to remind me of His work in my life.

One of my favorite songs is ‪Grace Like Rain‬‏ - YouTube (well, just "Grace Like Rain" without the You Tube, but, hey, I wanted you to hear it if you didn't know it, even though I couldn't find the version I wanted). We sing this song at church, and it always encourages me. So, when I was driving home in a rainstorm this morning, I thought of this song, trying to think about what it really means.

The St. Louis area has not been as dry as many, many areas of the nation, but we have had no rain for several weeks, and blisteringly hot temperatures. When I saw the rain clouds, I was excited. When I heard the first raindrops, I was happy because we so need the water. Soon, however, I noticed that the rain was just running off the streets and not really sinking in because the ground was so dry and the rain was coming down so hard. All this water, but the ground was unable to soak it up at first because it was so hard.

Lightbulb moment! God's grace is like rain. Ephesians 1:7-8a says this:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us. . .
Like the rain that falls from the sky, God's grace has been lavished upon us. However, there are times when my heart has been like the dry, hard ground. All I have wanted is to experience God's grace, but yet when it is poured out again and again on me, my heart has been too closed to receive it, at least at first. Eventually the water soaks in to bring life to the plants and trees. Eventually God's grace penetrates the dryness of my heart.

Sometimes I just have to wait patiently for the Lord's love and grace to soften my heart. Sometimes I have to pray and go to God's Word and obey what it says to keep my heart soft and ready for the rain of His grace.

I'm thankful to the Lord for reminding me that He still speaks through nature and everyday experiences like rain showers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Foundations

I have been mulling over this idea for about two weeks and just now made myself sit down to blog (why be hasty?). I was priveleged to sit in on one session of Beth Moore's revised "Breaking Free" study at The Urban Refuge two Sundays ago while in Minneapolis visiting friends. Two of the Bible verses that she shared really made me think. They were from Judges 6, which begins the story of Gideon. The Midianites are oppressing Israel, and the Lord has called Gideon to defend his people. Gideon receives this call while hiding in a winepress beating out wheat. Gideon's family were Baal worshipers. After Gideon receives his call and accepts it (well, sort of), the Lord gives Gideon these instructions (Judges 6:25-26):
That night the LORD said to him, "Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order..."

The word that sparked my wonderings was the word "stronghold". The word simply means a refuge or a place of security and survival. The Lord often describes Himself as our stronghold (Psalm 9:9, Psalm 18:2, and Psalm 27:1). However, the word can also be used negatively to refer to something that we use as a refuge instead of God--drugs, alcohol, TV, friends, anything. In the context of the "Breaking Free" study, strongholds are usually a bad thing.

One attribute of God that I love and am grateful for is how He can redeem our sin. He directs Gideon to tear down the stronghold of idol worship in his family and then commands him to build an altar to the Lord on top of the very place where such grievous sin occurred. Possibly Gideon used the very wood of the Asherah pole to burn the sacrifice. Similarly, in Beth Moore's life, the stronghold of abuse/sin that was so harmful to her is now the very same platform from which she shares the amazing work of God in her life. On top of idolatry, God built an altar for His glory.

I think the Lord wants to do the same thing in my life and in the lives of all believers. Where we have built altars to self or pride or money or fear or ___________, He wants to demolish the sin and right on top of that shame and ugliness, display His beauty. Wow.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Flip Side

Today my morning was marked by a painful revelation. I've been using the Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling" devotional as part of my time with the Lord. This morning she was talking about how it's the Holy Spirit's job to convict and reveal sin, not ours. A verse she used in support of this was Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I have stood on that verse many times when I have felt condemned--after I have sinned, after I have said something stupid, after I have messed up AGAIN. Never have I applied it to my attitude toward someone else. Yes, there is no condemnation for me, but there is also no condemnation for any other believer. Sometimes I want to condemn the action of another Christian, especially if I disagree with it, or, more honestly, especially if it hurt me. Romans 8:1 does not give me that option. My brothers and sisters in Christ, just as I am, are free and clear from ALL condemnation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Look Up

Once again, a concept that I have heard roughly four gazillion times in my Christian walk suddenly becomes clear. This summer I'm doing Beth Moore's "Steppin' Up" study. On week two, day two (and don't panic if you're in the same study--I'm working ahead because I have vacation coming soon), we are looking at Psalm 123:
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

The very first verse of the psalm talks about lifting our eyes to the Lord. I've heard that so many times: "Keep your eyes on Jesus." "Look at God, not your circumstances." "Where is your focus?" Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I got it. Apparently I didn't.

Beth takes us to Acts 3, the account about the lame beggar (who was healed) that I blogged about a few weeks ago (gotta love God's continuity). The beggar is just hanging out at the gate when Peter and John show up. Acts 3:3 finds Peter telling the beggar to "Look at us", and then in verse five it says that the man "fixed his attention on them. . . ". Here is how Beth described what happened (p. 43 of the "Steppin' Up" study):
"Therefore, he looked, which caused him to more effectively listen, which in turn altered his feelings, manifesting in a change in his expectation. Needless to say, the beggar got far more than he expected, but until he 'Gave them his attention' he had no real expectation of anything out of the ordinary."
She also puts in a little diagram that looks (somewhat) like this:
Where I look----> What I hear ----> What I feel ----> What I expect
Using the diagram sparked my "aha" moment. I put in a circumstance from my own life, online dating (yes, the idea makes me want to run screaming most days, too. Trust me, the reality is sometimes even worse than you imagine.). The gist of the diagram: If I focus on online dating, what I hear is "This isn't working. No one is interested. You're too. . . (old, short, whatever)." What I feel is frustrated, rejected, and discouraged; and what I expect is nothing. However, if I go back and put the Lord in the first slot, well, it all looks SO much better: If I look to God, then what I hear is "I'm here, I'm in control, you belong to me, and I will take care of you." What I feel is secure, safe, and encouraged; and what I expect is that God will do the very best thing for me.

Once again, "Duh!!!!!"

As I was thinking about this further, I tried thinking through other circumstances. No matter what it was, if I take the problem/worry/concern out from in front of my eyes and put the Lord there instead, it helps me to stand in truth, to feel encouraged and hopeful, and to believe that the Lord will work it all for His good. Glad to know that, on the four gazillion and first hearing, I finally get it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Following Orders

Two posts in two days! The wonder of summer break. . .

Still reading in 1 Kings. Today was the account of a prophet of the Lord coming to warn Jeroboam of the destruction of the altar at Bethel, thus voicing His disapproval of Jeroboam's new alternative worship system that was not ordained by the Lord. Jeroboam isn't too happy about this, and invites the prophet to come home with him to try and sway his opinion/prophecy. At this juncture the prophet stays true to what the Lord told him (1 Kings 13:8-10)
And the man of God said to the king, "If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, for so was it commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.'" So he went another way and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel.

A little later, though, the prophet lets down his guard. Another, older, prophet hears of this younger prophet and invites him into his home. At first the young prophet declines, repeating what the Lord had told him. The older prophet lies to the younger one (verse 18):
And he said to him, "I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.'" But he lied to him.
I'm not sure what the younger prophet thought at this point. That this older (and therefore wiser?) man also heard from God, so he'd defer to him? That maybe the Lord was changing the rules but didn't tell him? That he could believe the other guy just because he invoked the Lord's name?

It was a reminder to me that we always, always, always need to stand on the Lord's promises and words to us (as long as they are in line with scripture) and not be swayed by what someone else says the Lord is telling us to do. Of course, we need to listen to counsel from others, and be teachable that God may indeed speak to us through them. There are times, however, when each of us KNOW that God is leading us a certain way, or has impressed upon our hearts what we are to do in a given situation. When we know what God has said (this prophet knew exactly what his directions were), we need to obey it no matter what other people tell us. The price for the young prophet's disobedience was severe: Death. Thankfully, because of Jesus, there is forgiveness and grace for our disobedience--though we may still pay a steep price.

Just a sobering reminder to take God's words seriously.

On my list of "Questions to ask God when I'm Dead", though, is why the old prophet, who lied, doesn't have any consequence that we see. These are the things that I wonder about. . .

Monday, June 13, 2011

Head vs. Heart

Sometimes I get tangled up considering the differences between our soul and spirit, will and desire, heart and head. I'm reading the account of Solomon right now. Solomon was the wisest man ever--he asked for wisdom from the Lord and it was granted to him. Royalty came for miles to inquire of him and listen to his wisdom. Much of the book of Proverbs was probably written by Solomon. Israel under his kingship was prosperous and at peace. However, Solomon's heart was seemingly divorced from Solomon's head. In 1 Kings 11: 1-3, we read about what Solomon was doing with his heart:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods." Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.
The verse I have been thinking about is where it says that Solomon "clung to [his women] in love" and that they "turned away his heart".

Wisdom is good. We are told to seek wisdom, to ask for it, to esteem it. Yet when I look at the people in the Bible, I see over and over again that their heart-choices were much more important than their wisdom or knowledge. Solomon's father, David, made many unwise choices--the biggest of which led to the birth of Solomon. David committed adultery and murder, and made a wreck of his family life. Yet David is called a "man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22). Time and time again the Israelites are punished not for stupidity or foolishness, but for idolatry and lack of whole-hearted devotion to the Lord.

The passage in 1 Kings goes on (verses 4-6):
For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.

Dare I say that wisdom and knowledge are easier for most of us--well, I WILL say that it's easier for me--than whole-hearted devotion to the Lord? I could recite many, many facts and verses from the Bible before I had committed my heart to believe. Knowledge is easier than wisdom, but wisdom is easier than love. It's simpler to apply Biblical principles to our life than to share our heart with God and whole-heartedly surrender our lives to Him. No matter how wise we are, the true test is what we cling to with our hearts. I do want to be a wise woman who knows the Bible and can apply it. I don't want to be deceived that wisdom is the goal. I want it to be said that I clung to and loved Jesus, and that I whole-heartedly followed the Lord.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Rest of the Story

Had I but continued reading in Acts 4 yesterday, I would have seen that God used the healed man for even more than the salvation of five thousand people. After Peter shares, he and John are arrested by the Sadducees and and brought before the priests. Peter then testifies of Jesus' power to the rulers of the people. The council was astonished by the eloquence of the uneducated fishermen, and, because of the circumstances of the healing of a man lame since birth, cannot deny that a miracle has happened (Acts 4:13-14):
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.

Because of the rock-solid proof of miraculous healing, Peter and John are let go. People in the city are praising God, and when the apostles return to the other believers, they also are strengthened in their faith. We also find out that the man at the gate was over forty years old (Acts 4:22). Forty years of being lame changed in an instant. Forty years of suffering turned into the glory of over five thousand people rescued from hell, Peter and John spared jail, and an entire community of believers emboldened. I want the faith to believe that God is even now orchestrating my life to give Him glory, just as he was this lame beggar's.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

At Just the Right Time

There are moments that I rue the inspiration which named this blog (what WAS I thinking?). It seems that the current theme of my life is waiting. This morning I read the following passage from Acts 3 (verses 1-12):
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: "Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?

This beggar had been lame since birth, and in an instant (when all he was expecting was alms) was healed. How many years had the man been lame? From the time he was born until he was a man, so at least probably 16, 17 years. Years of sitting by the gate, begging. I wonder how many times he had asked God to heal him. Did he still have hope? Or had he given up and accepted his lot in life?

One of the hard things about waiting, which I come back to again and again, is contained within the uncertainty of it. If we know the length of the wait, we can hold on. Or, as with a woman in labor, if we know the happiness that comes at the end of the wait (and that it for sure will end), we can endure not knowing exactly how long it will take. When we are waiting for something that is not guaranteed (a new job, a mate, a pregnancy, healing) and has no set end, well, that's when we doubt and wonder and want to give up. We lose faith that God is paying attention, that He sees us, that He is, indeed, working it all for good.

The man is just laying at the gate. His friends and the whole neighborhood have seen him there for years. They know him. They know that he was born lame and that he can't walk. So when Peter and John, through the power of the Holy Spirit, heal him, there is no doubt. Unlike when we watch some TV show with people throwing away crutches or leaping from wheelchairs and cynically wonder if they were planted in the audience, this Jewish audience had no doubt. They had seen a miracle. The Lord was at work. The people are hanging on the words of Peter. Later, in Acts 4:4, we read:
But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

FIVE THOUSAND people believed in Jesus after seeing this man healed and hearing the words of Peter. Five thousand. The man had to wait for years and years for healing so that the miracle could happen at just the right moment in time and would lead to an overwhelming number of people coming to know Jesus. If I believed that my waiting had a purpose, maybe a much bigger purpose than I can imagine, would I wait more patiently? More graciously? More easily? Once again, it all comes down to faith to believe God's promises to me, and to being brave enough to hope in His goodness. As I type this, I'm reminded of a song by Addison Road (one of my new favorites): YouTube - Addison road - Hope Now (w/ lyrics)

It always DOES come down to faith, and hope in the character and goodness of God.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Detours

Finished The Land Between, by Jeff Manion today. I recommend it highly. I got the book for Christmas but just "happened" to get it out a few weeks ago and finally start reading it. God's timing is perfect (which is another fact more easily seen in hindsight). The author was talking about detours in our lives, when the road that we thought we were going to follow or the road that we thought we were on suddenly changes. His example is my good buddy Joseph. Over and over in Joseph's experience in Egypt (including while he was in prison), the Bible states that God was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2), and that Joseph prospered. Here are some of Jeff Manion's thoughts (p. 182):
"The reality here can be unsettling. Often God chooses to meet us with his blessing in a place we do not choose to be. He will bless us on the detour. He will bless us in the Land Between. Often the place of blessing is not our place of preference."

I'm single. I've always been single. I never wanted to be single. My vision of my life when I was younger was probably a lot like most people's: Finish college, get married, have children. I remember walking through my college town and seeing the families in their houses and thinking "Someday that will be me." Someday still isn't here. Singleness has been an unplanned and very long detour. Yet, reflecting today, I have been blessed in so many ways: Opportunity, travel, some of the world's best friends. The blessings are deeper than that, however. On page 185, Manion writes:
"What if God desires to be present and faithful on your detour? What if he chooses to make his presence powerfully available when you are in the space you least desire to be--the Land Between?. . .Our longing [to prosper in the place of OUR choosing], however deep, may not change the reality. Sometimes we don't get to choose. But will we open our hearts to God? Will we open our lives to his work and his blessing while we are not where we want to be?"

Joseph never got to go home. God was with him, he prospered, and his family eventually was returned to him, but he never got to return to Canaan. The Israelites took his bones there, but that's the closest he came. I don't control very much of my life at all. I cannot conjure a husband and children out of the dust (I have tried. Doesn't work). It is a painful thing to know that some detours may be permanent. Yet, even with that pain, I can see that the Lord has used this season of singleness to deepen His relationship with me and to grow (slowly) my faith and trust in Him. The biggest blessing that I have in my life is my relationship with Jesus, and much of that was born from the seeking, crying, and wrestling which came about because of the trial of singleness. There are days when my flesh isn't sure that the trade off is worth it. I STILL don't want to be here. However, my choice remains: Will I work with God? Will I open my heart to receive blessings in a place that I never wanted to be? Will I relinquish my dreams and accept the ones the Lord has for me? Some days I choose the right choice, and others I don't. I am thankful that the Lord is patient with me, and that His will is perfect, even when I see it as a detour.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Walking in Confidence or Complaint?

Last summer I got to sit in on the second day of the Willowcreek Leadership Summit, and one of the speakers was Jeff Manion, pastor of Ada Bible Church, who spoke on "The Land Between." The "land between" refers to the time the Israelites spent in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. As a result of hearing Manion's message, I am now reading his book titled The Land Between. The subject of the book addresses why God allows the transitional in-between times in our lives and about how we should handle these times.

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God purposefully did not lead them home a direct way (Exodus 13:17-18):
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, "Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt." But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
I have had my own times of wilderness and of traveling the land between. Some journeys seem to take so much longer than I ever thought they would. I wonder a lot why God allows some trials to last for years.

One of Manion's premises in his book is that God was trying to teach the Israelites to trust Him. They needed water, He gave it to them. They needed food, He gave it to them. However, the people didn't learn to trust. Every new need was met not by asking the Lord to provide, but by complaints which assumed that the Lord was not going to meet their needs. There is a quote on p. 141 that I have been thinking about this morning: "Hardship intended to build trust results instead in contemptuous complaint."

Part of hardships, big or small, is to show me that God's love and provision can be trusted, and to beckon me to go to the Lord and ask for what I need. Like the Israelites, I often complain first, assuming that God will not help me. Sometimes I don't trust the Lord to meet the need, and sometimes I cravenly reject the provision the Lord gives, wanting something else instead, like the Israelites who grew sick of manna and asked for quail (which they received, and along with it a plague that killed many of them). When I react in such a way, I am rejecting the Lord--I am saying that my way is better, and that He is not enough.

The idea of trusting God in hardships sounds so holy, yet works itself out with much blood, sweat, and tears. I have to trust God when someone I love dies after I have begged and begged for healing? I have to go to God believing in His goodness when, yet again, the answer is "No."? I have to believe there is a purpose to the pain when my brothers and sisters in Christ sin and hurt me and I don't even know why? I think the Lord wants us to come to Him and cry out with our honest feelings. Moses did, Elijah did, Jesus did. He wants to give us what we need. My choice is believing that what God gives IS what I need, even when my heart disagrees, and believing that a trusting and loving relationship with Him is worth more than whatever good thing I want.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

You Can't Go Over It. . .

A story/song/chant that I used to do with my first grade students was "Going on a Bear Hunt". The premise is that you are looking for a bear, but you keep coming to obstacles. The recurring chant is: "Can't go over it. Can't go under it. Can't go around it. I guess I'll go through it."

Today in church, the speaker was talking about Joseph's life. When Joseph was a boy of seventeen, he had some dreams (Genesis 37:5-11):
Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, "Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf." His brothers said to him, "Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?" And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Long story short, Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery, Joseph ends up in Egypt, serving an important Egyptian official, Potiphar. Unfortunately, Potiphar's wife had set her sights upon Joseph as her conquest, but Joseph was too honorable. She accuses Joseph of rape and he ends up in prison for about two years. Finally, Joseph gets out of prison, successfully interprets the Pharoah's dreams (with the Lord's help) and becomes the second-in-command of all of Egypt, helping to save Egypt and Israel from famine.

Today I realized that Joseph started with a dream that was given to him by God. It was a good dream, a true dream, and an honorable dream. His brothers were jealous of the dream. Yet, like in the bear hunt, the only way that Joseph would end up in the position of command, leading as God's instrument of preservation, was to go THROUGH the trial of being sold, imprisoned, and neglected.

I'm beginning to see that there are many times in my life where I may have a good goal in mind, but there is no way to go over it, under it, or around it--I have to go THROUGH it to get there. The "it" that I must endure varies, but there is usually an element of risk, the possibility (or certainty) of hurt, and the frustration of waiting. Though I don't like it, there is a freedom that comes from ceasing to try to go over/under/around and just surrendering to the "through", and moving forward in faith.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Whose Hand?

Reading now about Gideon. Doubting, fearful Gideon. The Lord tells Gideon that he will deliver Israel from the Midianites, but reduces the force with Gideon from about 22,000 men to 300. The Lord's reason is found in Judges 7:2:
The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'"
This verse makes me think of times in my life where I was struggling with getting close to the Lord and was turning to everyone and everything to try to fix it, but nothing was working. The sources I was turning to weren't bad, just as Gideon's fighting men weren't bad. Some things I was trying were talking to wiser people, reading books, and listening to worship music. Those are all good tactics. However, as much I was seeking the right formula (note: NOT really seeking the Lord as much as a way to succeed at Christianity), none of those things were the magical answer to my problem.

Eventually (And that is a kind word. It took a very long time. Years' worth of time) I have become close to God. Annoyingly, it's so much easier to see clearly how from this side of the situation. As I reflect upon that frustrating time, when I felt like I was failing, that I wasn't doing this faith walk right, that I was missing something important, I can see that I was the problem. . . The Lord, I think, wanted me to be able to look back on that time and see that the Lord's hand and the Lord's hand alone is what "saved me"--what brought me close to Him and gave me any ability to seek Him, hear Him, or see His work. If I had gotten my answer by following some list of five steps, well, then, I could congratulate myself upon successful completion of a program. I could pat myself on the back for my faithful abilities. . . Instead, I marvel at some of the changes in my heart and know beyond any doubt that the Lord did that mysterious work, and it was NOT by my hand.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Just Follow the Directions

Yesterday was Easter. You'd think this would be a resurrection post. You would be wrong! Always out of step with the mainstream, I have been thinking about the days in between Good Friday and Easter Morning. In Luke 23, the end of verse 56 tells what the disciples and the women did after the crucifixion:
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Luke's account is the only one which directly states this (I looked). It's a little snippet of a verse, but with big implications.

Jesus' followers had just witnessed his agonizing death. Some had run away, some had betrayed him, all had forgotten His warning to them that this very thing would happen. They were probably some combination of dazed, hurt, despairing, numb, angry, frightened, and lost. What should they do? What could they do? What was even going on?

Many of us know those feelings. While I have never had a day as bad as that, I have had days of numbness, despair, sadness, helplessness. I have had days of not knowing what to do, or where to turn, or how to fix anything. My nature is to want to solve my problem--what steps are there to take, what verses are there to memorize, what counsel is there to seek? And there are times when all of those solutions are valid. However, there are also times when we can do nothing.

"On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." Good Jews, the disciples and Jesus' other followers had little choice about what to do. The Sabbath was designed for rest. They couldn't go to the tomb and finish preparing the body. They couldn't run around and make a plan. They could only obey the commandment that they knew, to keep the Sabbath.

There are times when I need to just take a breath, stop trying to solve my problems, and obey the commands I am sure of: Love the Lord your God with all your mind and strength and heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. Seek God. Help the poor. Listen for the Lord's voice. That's all. There will be time enough the next day to go to the tomb. Observing the Sabbath forced Jesus' followers to wait (yes, the dreaded "w" word) until the next day to make a battle plan, to enact a strategy, to pick up the pieces. The Lord was using that day to complete His awesome work of resurrection and salvation. Once the women were released to the tomb on Easter morning, God's glory was ready to be revealed. Everything had changed!

God uses those days in between crucifixion (of desires, of hopes, of dreams) and resurrection to ready us to see His glory and resurrection power. We need only walk in faith and follow the Lord's commands.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Halfway isn't Good Enough

I'm reading Joshua in the Old Testament right now, and it's chronicling the conquest of the land of Canaan. The Lord had previously commanded the Israelites regarding the promised land (Deuteronomy 20:16-18):
But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
The Lord clearly told the people that they were to drive out and destroy all of the people in the Promised Land.

However, we read in Joshua 17: 12-13:
Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.
Oops. I think the Israelites once again forgot what God told them to do. What I found interesting was that even after the Israelites grew strong enough to defeat the Canaanites, they didn't, but kept them as slaves, probably reasoning that forced labor was close enough to destruction, right? And far more useful. . .

The Lord also commands me to be holy and to not entertain the slightest bit of sin. Yet I think sometimes that I do the same thing the Israelites did. God tells me not to be anxious. Instead of ruthlessly confessing, praying, and turning to the Lord whenever I have an anxious thought, I reason that since the anxiety is not over the top, well, then it's not that big of a deal. Or maybe there are some fears I have or lies that I believe that I ignore--they are there, but I can usually stuff them down. My reasoning is that those sins or weaknesses are under my control (forced labor, if you will). However, like with the Promised Land, the Lord wants my heart to be free of both sin and influences which draw me away from Him. Only by working with the Lord to root out both sin and lies completely will I walk freely in the abundant life I have been given.

The Israelite's disobedience led to their exile and destruction. My disobedience could lead to my downfall as well. I am praying that the Lord will show me any areas where I am letting sin or lies hang around with the mistaken belief that they are serving me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Never the Easy Way

Reading through Luke right now. I have been pondering this section from Luke 11:37-41:
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you."
I never noticed the last part of this where Jesus tells the Pharisees to "give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you."

The Pharisees were masters of outer holiness--observing the letter of the law so that everyone could see. I can be a master of the easily seen part of Christianity as well (at least most of the time): I read my Bible, I pray, I go to church. I refrain from cursing, I don't steal, I sponsor a child in a developing nation, I go on mission trips. . . Yet all of these outer acts I can, and have, done while harboring jealousy, anxiety, anger, and disbelief.

What does Jesus want from me in those moments? He doesn't only want my outward obedience (which, though I am good at certain areas, is far from perfect as well). Jesus never lets me take the easy way. It is easier for me to grit my teeth and choose rightly than for me to open up my heart to Him and offer to Him my "alms" of ugliness. Yet He says that if I do that, if I ask Him to help me honestly examine my heart and ask Him to cleanse me of my unrighteousness, THEN I will be clean.

I often believe that Jesus doesn't want to see the real me, the yucky, icky, ugly parts of my heart. Yet, He died to save me from those parts, and to receive His grace fully, I need to be emptied of all of it, from the inside out. Seventh Day Slumber has a song related to this, which we sang at church today (God is always working, eh?):

YouTube - Seventh Day Slumber - from the inside out (lyrics)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Am I Awed?

Today's account in Luke told of Jesus first forgiving the paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof, and then, when the Pharisees objected, healing that same man to show God's power. What struck me today were the verses at the end of the story (Luke 5:26):
And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen extraordinary things today.

When was the last time that I was seized by amazement at God's power? How long since I have been filled with awe at seeing His hand move? What was the last occasion that I told someone of the extraordinary things that the Lord has done? I haven't personally seen a lame man walk, yet just a few weeks ago, I read testimony of the miraculous healing of a little baby from a mass in his lung that just disappeared (here is the link to the blog: Our Journey of Love: Another EXTRAordinary Miracle). Why was I not filled with awe? Is it too removed? Am I too much living in an age of skepticism? I have seen with my own eyes people pray to receive Christ, and seen the changes that have occurred. In rare instances, I have a glimpse of the amazing work that the Lord has done in me. . . Why do I not shout that from the rooftops?

This morning my first prayer was that God would open my eyes to the miraculous things that He is doing all around me and within me. My second was that I would be filled with amazement and awe, and that I would share with others these extraordinary things--that I would be so overflowing with excitement and awe that I could not keep silent.

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Like Mary

I always enjoy reading Luke's account of the Christmas story. It's most familiar to me, and contains the most human interest of the four gospels, in my opinion. First Elizabeth finds out that, after years of barrenness, she is pregnant with the prophet of the Lord. Months later, Mary accepts the call of the Lord to bear Jesus, and she hurries to visit her cousin Elizabeth. As soon as Mary walks into the room, Elizabeth's baby John "jumps" in her womb. Amazing! Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks words of encouragement to Mary, including these found in Luke 1:45:
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
Mary will be blessed because she believed the words of the Lord. I secretly delight in verses that contain feminine pronouns (and yes, I know that most of the "he's" do apply to me), because they instantly draw me closer to the text.

How does this apply to me? Obviously, no angel has appeared to me with a prophetic word. Yet Scripture is filled with promises to me, as a believer, from my Father:
I will never leave or forsake you.
I will provide for you.
I will complete the work I began in you.
In Me you will have fullness of joy.
I will accomplish what concerns you.
I will enable you to complete the good work that I have laid out for you.
I'm coming back.
And those are just what I can think of off the top of my head. Promise after promise of provision, power, and His presence fill the pages of my Bible. Like Mary (who was asked to do a far harder task than any I will probably face), I need to choose to believe what was spoken to me by the Lord.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lean on Me

Why do I believe so many lies about God? Reading in Psalm 50 today revealed yet another misconception that I hold about the Lord. Verses 14-15 say:
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
When faced with difficulties, I do tend to pray and ask the Lord for help--I am doing the right thing. However, in the back of my mind is the idea that He is frustrated, impatient, or even annoyed with me about all of the times that I call on Him. Surely I'm supposed to have figured this out by now. Surely this circumstance is not that big a deal to anyone else. Surely I can figure it out on my own.

However, verse fifteen tells me to call on the Lord so that He can deliver me and so that I may glorify Him. He wants me to call on Him. I'm supposed to be dependent on Him. It's part of the plan that I come to Him with everything, big and small. He may not swoop in and remove all of the obstacles--He may deliver me in small steps as I obey Him little by little--but my turning to Him glorifies Him. Glorifying the Lord is high on my list of what I want to do with my life, so I purpose to heed the psalmist and call on the Lord frequently and first, and without fear of His reaction.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Game-Changer

Reading in Leviticus now, all about law and diet and skin diseases. It's been hard to find the connection between my life and Scripture these past few days. Today I'm getting a glimmer of a truth which I think is very deep, a truth that I don't fully understand, and a truth that many wise theologians have no doubt explained much better. Today I was reading in Leviticus 13, about the permutations of skin diseases and baldness and leprosy. The priests of the time would have to inspect the sores and eruptions to decide whether the afflicted person was clean or unclean. The priest would also need to know how to sacrifice to restore the person to fellowship (if they could).

During my initial reading of this chapter, all I could think was, "Ick. Don't think I'd want the job of priest back then." However, I am also reading in the Gospel of Mark, and yesterday came across the story of Jesus healing the leper. My Bible pointed out that Jesus could touch the leper and make the leper clean, whereas anyone else who touched a leper would have become unclean. Jesus is more radical than I realize. . . Hebrews talks a lot about how Jesus is our new high priest, and how He is the best and perfect high priest. I am starting to understand just how different Jesus was from the religious leaders of the day.

The priests had laws and rules and systems of sacrifices to make to intercede for the people. They had to make sacrifices for themselves. They could not touch lepers or other unclean people. If they did, a sacrifice would have to be made. Then comes Jesus--touching lepers and healing them. Touching Gentiles and making them whole. Touching corpses and raising them from the dead. Yet He remains pure and unstained. He really is a miracle--His coming changed everything.

Jesus does the same thing with my sin. He came and touched my heart and, instead of being defiled by my sin and unholiness, He, through the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, makes me pure and holy. I don't have to list all of my sins and then do the appropriate sacrifice, over and over and over. Once for all, the atonement has been made. My mind cannot truly grasp Who Jesus is, but my heart is overflowing with thankfulness this morning that He loves me, saves me, and lives in me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We Won't Go Without Him

Still in Exodus, still surrounded by references to waiting. After the Israelites create the golden calf and try to worship it, the Lord tells Moses that He is not going to lead them to the Promised Land because they are so stiff-necked, and because He would consume them with His anger. Moses intercedes for the people, saying to the Lord, in Exodus 33: 15-16:
. . . "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?"
Moses tells the Lord, in essence, that he and the people will not go until the Lord goes with them. He is willing to wait for the Lord's presence rather than leave without it.

Am I willing to do that in my life? The Israelites knew that the Lord was calling them to go to Canaan, but Moses did not want to go without the Lord's presence among them. Sometimes I face decisions that are not always clear. Sometimes, especially if they are not specifically addressed in Scripture, I must just make the best decision that I can and listen/watch carefully for clues along the way as to if it is God's will. Other times, I think that God wants me to wait until He makes it clear--to delay my decision until I know that He goes before me.

The whole of the Israelites' journey was waiting, even before they were judged for their lack of faith. The end of Exodus (Exodus 40: 34-38) states:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
The people could not leave until the Lord moved. It might be one day, it might be two weeks. They simply had to wait for the cloud to depart. They couldn't hurry it up or delay it. Their focus was on waiting for the Lord and watching what He was doing. Thankfully, believers have the Holy Spirit within them to guide and direct. However, I know that many times I want to run ahead of the Holy Spirit's leading, or stay in a situation longer than I should because it's comfortable. Through all of these stories of waiting, I think I am starting to see that God is always wanting me to look toward Him, following Him when He leads, and staying put when He doesn't. I want my heart to say, like Moses, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring [me] up from here." In that waiting will God get glory and will the world see that I and my fellow believers are "distinct . . . from every other people on the earth".

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What is Our Problem?

The journey continues through Exodus. The Israelites are now free from Egypt and Moses is trying to lead them. The Lord speaks to Moses (Exodus 19:3-6):
The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel."

Moses tells the people these things, and then the Lord gives more direction to Moses (Exodus 19: 9):
And then the Lord speaks to the people:
And the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever."

Many times when I read about the Israelites, I wonder how they could see and hear and touch and feel the Lord's majesty and provision and yet turn to idols. Pride makes me imagine that I would surely not turn away if I saw such wonders from the Lord. . . Truth says otherwise, since I have seen wonders of salvation and grace and mercy and still disbelieve.

I'm still curious, though. WHY do we doubt the Lord so easily when we have seen His power? The people SAW the Lord part the Red Sea. Every day, food fell from heaven. Moses struck a rock and God gave them water. The Lord appeared to them in a cloud. Yet, within weeks, the people are demanding that Aaron make them another god to take care of them. WHY??

Exodus 32:1 records what the people said after Moses had been gone on the mountain to get the law from the Lord:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, "Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."

The people didn't know what was taking Moses so long. They could not wait.

If you have read this blog at all, even just the title, you know that waiting has been a theme of mine for a while. . . A theme of the Lord's, actually. Why did the Israelites turn to idols? Because they could not wait for Moses to come back. Why did they grumble against the Lord? Because they could not wait to take the land. Why do I lose heart and get discouraged? Because I can't wait for what the Lord is doing. Why do I try and get what I want by my own means? Because I feel I have waited long enough. A huge reason for our frustration and the resultant sin is the difficulty we have in waiting.

Yet, the Lord is showing me more and more that His very purpose in the waiting is to grow our faith. Since faith is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1), the absolute only way we will obtain faith is by believing the Lord for what we do not see. I will only believe God is working things together for good by waiting and trusting Him in the bad and then seeing the good. I will believe the Lord takes care of me by waiting for His provision and receiving it when I can't do it myself. I will believe in the grace of God by experiencing it when I walk through the pain. Much to my chagrin, I am finally understanding that there are no shortcuts to a relationship with the Lord or to genuine faith. There is no "easy button."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Matter of Timing

The book of Exodus is where I am reading now, and it is probably one of my favorites. Even more so than last year, 2011 seems to be shaping up as a year of waiting (or else I'm finally realizing that ALL of life is waiting), and that thread is evident throughout Exodus. In chapter three, when Moses hears the Lord speak out of the burning bush, deliverance appears imminent for Israel (Exodus 3:7-8):
Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Okay, got it, Moses will go to the Pharaoh and the people will be set free and they'll be in the Promised Land by nightfall. Moses does return to Egypt and share with the people the words that the Lord has spoken, and they respond positively(Exodus 4:31):
And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

So far, so good, but then. . . Pharaoh's heart is hard. The conditions of the Israelites goes from bad to worse. Plague after plague after plague rain down on Egypt. Even after the final plague, when Pharaoh finally releases Israel, he changes his mind and sends the army after them. The people's response now (Exodus 14:11-12)?
They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."

I can so identify with the Israelites. Hundreds of years of captivity, and finally, a deliverer. God has heard their cries, He has sent Moses, He SAYS He's going to rescue them. They are worshiping and rejoicing, ready to go. And then. . . it doesn't happen when they think it should. It doesn't happen how they think it should. It doesn't happen as easily as they think it should. They have been promised deliverance, and they want it NOW.

Looking back from the vantage point of thousands of years and having seen the end of the story, I can see some of what the Lord was doing. Moses couldn't see, at first (Exodus 5:22):
Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, "O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all."
The Lord's response (Exodus 6: 6-8):

Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'

Over and over again in Exodus the Lord proclaims that He will deliver the people in order to show both the people and Pharaoh and, indeed, the world, Who He is. He had a purpose in the waiting. He had a purpose in the process. The people had been enslaved for hundreds of years. Deliverance would not be instant. Even after they escaped Egypt, the Lord planned to lead them the long way around.

Why do things seem to take so long, even things that are promised? Noah built the boat for a long time with no rain in sight. Abraham and Sarah waited years for Isaac. The time between David was anointed king and proclaimed king was not short. I think that the Lord is showing me that the purpose now is the same as it was back then. He wants me to know Who He is. The only way that I will know God is by wrestling with Him (as did Moses) and by demonstrating my faith when I choose to believe the promises that haven't happened yet. I can look back at seasons in my life where I now see some of what the Lord was doing in the waiting. It always comes down to trusting God's character and walking in faith. The verse that I have been standing on during times of waiting is Psalm 25:3:

Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame...

I must trust His timing and trust His heart.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not Forgotten

Still happily reading in Genesis, in the middle of the account of Joseph. I know the story well, which can be a dangerous viewpoint from which to read Scripture. In chapter forty, we read about how an imprisoned Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of Pharoah's cupbearer and chief baker. Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him so that he can get out of prison. The cupbearer is restored to his position, but chapter forty closes with this verse:

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
No sugar-coating here, no excuses, and no reasons. The cupbearer forgot Joseph. Joseph may have pinned a great deal of hope onto the thought that the cupbearer would remember, but he didn't.

I have sometimes pinned a great deal of hope onto someone remembering me: Maybe someone will think to invite me to this event. Maybe someone will thank me for this service. Maybe someone will tell me how special I am. In both small and large ways, we all want to be remembered and thought of and made special. However, the reality is that people forget. People like the cupbearer to whom we did a significant service move on without a backward glance. People who promise to be faithful aren't always. People who love us hurt us.

Though this verse is a harsh one, it reminds me that the Lord is the only One Who will always remember me. In fact, during the "Believing God" study (Beth Moore) last summer, there was a lesson about that very thing. God "remembered" such people as Noah, Abraham, and Rachel. God's remembering usually involves action on our behalf. Two years after the cupbearer is freed from prison, Pharoah has a dream and Joseph is finally mentioned. At just the right time, Joseph emerges to help save much of the world from famine.

I wish the Bible had included an account of what Joseph was thinking during his years in prison. He must have had days if not weeks of discouragement and struggle. How do we continue to believe that God is faithful when every human person has forgotten, and when there is no evidence that even God has remembered? What encourages me in my own times when I feel forgotten or can't see God at work is that the dungeon wasn't the end of the story, but the middle. My challenge is to believe that God is remembering even when I feel forgotten:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ask for What You Want

I am continually amazed by how God will take a verse that I have heard or read many, many, times and reveal something new. I was praying about something this morning, feeling anxious about it, and the "go-to" verse about anxiety, Philippians 4:6-7 popped into my head:
. . . do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Like many of you, I have read/heard/memorized this verse over the years. This time I keyed into the word "request". Often when I ask God something, I try to figure out what He would want me to pray for in a given situation, or what I think is His will. My anxiety this morning wasn't really a black or white situation, just something that was bothering me.

During Beth Moore's "Believing God" study, which I did last summer, she talked about how we can ask God for anything. He may say "No", but we, as His children, may always ask. So, instead of qualifying what I wanted with "if it's Your will" or "if this would be best", I just simply, like the verse says, made my request to the Lord. I asked Him for what I wanted. I don't know if it's His will, and I don't know if it's best for me. It's a little scary to just tell God what my heart's desire is. I will be disappointed if He tells me "No." However, I will say, that, just as the verse says (imagine that), since praying, I do feel peaceful. I don't know the answer yet, and may not for a while, but I have made my request and am resting in His peace.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Original "No-Spin Zone"

Happy New Year! I am so happy to be starting over in the Bible with Genesis and Matthew. I know that all Scripture is God-breathed, but I have a hard time with the minor prophets and Revelation, which is where I've been reading for the past few weeks. The first chapter in Matthew begins with the genealogy of Christ. Now, sometimes (just SOMEtimes) I skip, or at least skim, the genealogies. In light of it being the first day of 2011, fresh with the possibility of being deliberate and thoughtful and purposeful in my reading (and because I'm on break still), I read it carefully. The second part of verse six is what I noticed:
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah
Really? The first chapter of the first book of the New Testament and we're airing that dirty laundry? Solomon is David's by Bathsheba, who is Uriah's wife? Did we need to tell that? Uriah was already dead by the time Solomon was conceived. Why share that information?

Maybe to show that God's plans will prevail no matter our sin? Maybe to remind us that God's grace is bigger than our mistakes (even BIG mistakes like adultery and murder)? Maybe to spotlight the Lord rather than His fallible leaders? Maybe to illustrate that the truth will set us free (John 8:32)?

I'm not sure why Matthew chose that phrase over something more positive or more neutral or more gracious. Sometimes I am frustrated by the pervasive attitude in many churches that negative or unsavory facts should be couched in a positive, skirting-the-real-issue sort of way. "David is the father of Solomon by his wife, Bathsheba" is what most of our church missives would have read. Yes, we need to be gracious about other people, not gossip, and choose to believe the best about others. But there are times when the truth and the facts need to be baldly stated so that all of us can see the glory of God as it contrasts with our sin and the sovereignty of the Lord as He accomplishes His purpose in spite of us.