Saturday, December 19, 2020

nuts in the family tree

 Most families have a few names they would prefer be left out of the family tree. You know the ones--the relatives who aren't really talked about without a knowing look and a slight disapproving shake of the head. When you talk about your ancestors, the people who have made your family what it is, these are the people you leave out of the story--the scoundrels, the trouble makers, the ones people aren't proud of.

But God.

There's a family tree in Matthew that doesn't look like we would expect it to. It's easy to skip over all the "begat"s in the Scriptures, but they're in there for a reason. In this case, the genealogy of Yeshua shows us a lot about God.

Lots of the names are ones you would expect in the lineage of the Jewish Messiah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David. Some of them, though, are the names of people most of us would leave out when telling about our ancestors.

  • Tamar dressed up as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into getting her pregnant
  • Rahab was an actual prostitute in Jericho. She doesn't just show up here in Matthew, though. She is also mentioned in Hebrews in the "Faith Hall of Fame" for the faith she showed when she hid the spies, an action that saved her family when Jericho fell.
  • Ruth was a Moabite, the people group that started out of the incest between Lot and his oldest daughter. She was from a pagan family and was a widow in a strange land.
  • Solomon was a great king of Israel, but he had some messy ancestry of his own. He was the son of David and Bathsheba. He was their second son; their first had been born out of a one night stand between the king and the beautiful woman he had decided he wanted, despite the fact that she was already married. David had Bathsheba's husband killed when his plan to cover up the pregnancy didn't work, and their first son died.
  • Amon of Judah was a king who was most remembered for his idolatry, a man who "did evil in the eyes of the Lord" and was assassinated after just 2 years on the throne. He was replaced by his 8-year-old son.
  • Jeconiah was the king who lost the kingdom of Israel to Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzer, which led to Israel's captivity.

So often, we think that God only uses the perfect. We focus on the stories of the mighty men in the Bible, looking at the amazing feats they accomplished, the great faith they demonstrated. I think this lineage is here to remind us of something different--God uses people and situations we as humans think are worthless and impossible. He works through even our worst experiences to further His kingdom. He works through the repentant prostitute or the humbled king. He works through those seen as untouchable or those held in high esteem. His hand is over everything, and what the world means for evil He can change for good.


 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

waiting for a savior

 Israel was in a dark place. They were 1,000 years removed from King David. They had seen their kingdom divided, then absolutely crushed by the Assyrians. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom had been scattered and sent out as exiles. Almost 600 years had passed since they saw Jerusalem captured and Solomon's Temple destroyed by Babylon. They had seen their best and brightest carried off to Babylon to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.

They had been promised a savior, but instead they had seen one conqueror after another come in and crush Jerusalem under his heel. They had been mistreated and scattered. It had been centuries since they had been sent a prophet of God, and their last prophets--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel...--hadn't had a whole lot of happy news for them.

Through it all, though, they had Isaiah's words to cling to. It was a message of a Savior, the One who would be called Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace. They were promised One who would rule a kingdom that would never end.

But He hadn't come.

For so long they had been waiting for someone to come and free them from oppression, someone to reestablish the throne of David in the land God had promised them. Instead, they found themselves in the dark, under Roman rule, with God silent. They found themselves questioning God's plan, wondering if He had forgotten His promises.

They were stuck in the waiting, lost in between the stories of a blessed nation in the past and the never-ending kingdom of the future.

But God...

Sometimes, I think God works most in the waiting. It's during the dark, hard times that He draws people to Himself, that He shows us just how much we need Him, just how little we can do on our own.

"Adonai, I call to you from the depths;
hear my cry, Adonai!
Let your ears pay attention
to the sound of my pleading.

Yah, if you kept a record of sins,
who, Adonai, could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,

so that you will be feared.

I wait longingly for Adonai;
I put my hope in his word.
Everything in me waits for Adonai

more than guards on watch wait for morning,
more than guards on watch wait for morning.

Isra’el, put your hope in Adonai!
For grace is found with Adonai,
and with him is unlimited redemption.
He will redeem Isra’el

from all their wrongdoings."
Psalm 130 (Complete Jewish Bible)

 

Monday, December 7, 2020

cherry cheesecake

 Grief is such a crazy, unexpected thing. It hit me Saturday while I was driving, headed into town. I was thinking of what I needed to pick up, wondering if I needed to take anything to church the next day for our annual Christmas decorating day. We stay after the service, put up decorations, and spend time hanging out together and eating. All of a sudden I realized what the date was--December 5th.

That meant the next day was the 6th, which meant it was my brother's birthday.

Not just any birthday, either. This year marked 40 years since the day my parents welcomed their first child into this world, a long and skinny baby boy.

In that moment, I realized that it was the day I should have been able to call my big brother and make fun of him for being "old" and turning 40. It was the day I should have been planning to make sure he got all sorts of "over the hill" memorabilia, the day I should have been poking fun at the fact that I still have a whopping 4 years before I hit that milestone myself.

Instead, the tears welled up so quickly in my eyes that I was afraid I might wreck.

I was almost to the cemetery, so I made the quick decision to stop. That's a really hard thing for me to do, and honestly I've only done it a handful of times in the 16 and a half years since Michael's been gone. My sister-in-law and I didn't see eye to eye on things, and seeing the headstone she chose stirs up a lot of stuff for me. It did this time, too, but I ignored the headstone and instead went to the foot of the grave, where the military stone is placed. I busied myself cleaning away the grass and leaves, trying to pull myself together, looking at his name and service record--oh, so short for the guy who was born to be a soldier--carved into the stone.

And then, I went to the grocery store and picked up the stuff to make a cheesecake to take to church the next day for dessert. I even picked up a can of that nasty goopy cherry stuff for people to put on top (not for me, though--can't do it), because that's always the dessert Michael asked for growing up.

It's okay for the tears to come. It's okay to grieve and mourn, even when it happens out of the blue almost 17 years later. But don't forget to remember the good stuff, too (like cheesecake, even with the nasty goopy cherry stuff), and live life.



Saturday, November 14, 2020

mom enough?

 Sometimes, being a mom is amazing. Other times, it's a hard, lonely, miserable mess. All the time, it's a jumble of emotions all tangled together, each one fighting for dominance. It's humbling and heartbreaking and awe inspiring and incredible.

There are days when I think I'm doing a good job, days when the laundry is caught up, everybody likes what's for supper (with 7 of us, that's quite a thing), and people are smiling and laughing and having fun together. Those days make me feel like I know what I'm doing, which is nice since I'm 14 years into this "mom" thing. The good ones are the ones when I get glimpses of who my kids are growing up to be, when I think that maybe I'm not doing too bad at this whole motherhood business.

Other days, there are piles of laundry overflowing the baskets or a load that gets forgotten in the washing machine and somehow smells like a wet dog. Those days are usually the ones when the brothers are fighting and threatening each other within an inch of their lives. They are somehow also the ones when the girls decide I can't possibly know anything I'm talking about because I'm obviously out of touch with everything and gosh, there's no way I was ever a teenage girl. Those are the days when nobody wants to eat what's been cooked (it, of course, is somebody's least favorite food even though they ate it without complaint the last time). They're typically the days when reminding my kids that they need clean underwear after taking a shower is obviously the worst thing I can possibly do.

Sometimes, all I want to do is hide away. I feel like I'm failing at everything important, like I'm letting my kids down and I'll never have the wisdom or strength or patience to get my kids grown up.

What gets to me the most, though, is the thought that I'm letting God down. After all, these kids are His. They belong to Him, and I'm just borrowing them for a while. I feel utterly inadequate to raise them to be who He wants them to be, so ill-equipped to be their mom, like maybe God should have chosen someone else so that I couldn't mess them up. Because my goodness, there are days when I think I've messed them up beyond repair.

It's in those hard times, though, in the middle of my gut-wrenching cries to God for His help, when I'm on my knees with tears brimming, telling Him that I'm not enough and I can't possibly do this and He must have made some mistake because these kids He gave me need someone better, someone with more patience and better homemaking skills and who loves cuddling and who never loses her ever-loving mind... it's in those times that I hear Him say,

“My grace is enough to cover and sustain you.
My power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

I'm not enough--I never will be. I don't have what it takes to get myself through this life, let alone the kids who have been entrusted to my care. But that's the amazing thing about being a servant of the Most High. "For He understands how we are made, He remembers that we are dust." (Psalm 103:14) He knows I can't do the things He's asked of me on my own. If I could, I wouldn't need Him.

And that's one thing being a mom has shown me--how much I desperately need Him.



Thursday, November 12, 2020

in the storm

 We've been pretty familiar with storms in our household lately. I don't mean the thunder and lightning, wind and rain types of storms (though here in the Arkansas Ozarks, those are pretty common, too). I mean the types of storms that come from doing this whole "life" thing with a group of little people who are in that hard place of turning into big people while learning the hard lessons of what it means to be family, to grow up, and to just be human. Lately we've had some mornings that have made me want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers up over my head.

They haven't been big storms, as far as storms go. They aren't the kind of storms that have us hanging on for dear life, thinking we're about to go under. They are just the ones that seem to last so much longer than you ever thought possible, storms that drag on for so long that you start thinking you're going to give out, that even though the pressure isn't that intense you just can't hold up against it being so unrelenting.

When the disciples set out that night on the Sea of Galilee, I think that's the kind of storm they were facing. We're told that they had been rowing all night and yet still hadn't made it to the other side. Now, it's not that enormous of a body of water-- it's 8 miles wide, which definitely wouldn't be a walk in the park (can you say that about rowing?) for someone like me. For a bunch of fishermen who had spent their entire lives on the water, though... I'm sure the storm had to be unrelenting for them to only be half way across after rowing all night.

I've been in that place more times than I would like to admit. You know, the place where the storm has been going on for so long that you're starting to think it won't ever end. You've been straining to get through to the other side, but you aren't actually making any progress. You're stressed and tired and defeated and scared, and it feels like you're all alone in the middle of the storm.

We all know what happens next--we've heard the story of Jesus walking on the water and we know that the storm stopped when He stepped into the boat. But there's a promise tucked in there that I hadn't noticed before:

"Not long after, He sent His disciples out onto their boat to sail to Bethsaida on the other shore, and He sent the crowd away. After everyone had gone, He slipped away to pray on a mountain overlooking the sea. When evening came, the boat was out on the sea and He was alone on the land. He saw that the disciples were making little progress because they were rowing against a stiff wind."
~Mark 6:45-48a

Do you see it? It's easy for us to overlook (God's promises sometimes are), but look again at that last sentence:

"He saw that the disciples..."

The disciples were out in the middle of the storm, but Jesus saw them.

They weren't forgotten. They weren't abandoned to face the storm alone, even though they felt like they were.

So many times when I'm in the middle of a storm I feel like I'm facing it all on my own. I feel like I've been left to fend for myself, to fight a battle I'm not strong enough to fight. The thing is, though, Jesus doesn't abandon us. He's there, watching, waiting for the perfect time to step in and calm the storm.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

what you want and what you get

 They wanted a Messiah. They wanted him to come as a mighty conqueror, one who would drive everyone else out of Israel. They wanted a warrior to come in and wipe out the enemy, the mighty "Lion of Judah" who would have the whole world trembling at his roar. They wanted someone to step in and stake his claim as King over the whole world, someone who would intimidate most and defeat anyone who dared stand against Israel. They wanted the one who would usher in the end of the world as we know it, the one who would raise Israel up above all other nations. They wanted a Messiah who would come in as a strong political and military leader, someone who would subdue the entire earth under his heel. They wanted a Messiah they could rule alongside of, someone who would make them powerful by association.

We want a very different Messiah today. We want him to come in as someone who is all warm and fuzzy, someone who just loves us no matter what and doesn't demand any changes. We want him to approve anything and everything, to tell us that as long as it makes us feel good he's good with it. We want someone who will make sure we get all the good things, someone who wants us to be "healthy, wealthy, and wise." We want a friend who will be there when we need one, but not one who will speak up when we need to reevaluate our words or actions. We want to be told that "right" and "true" are words that don't really mean anything, that truth is relative and the Bible is just a bunch of stories. We want someone to make us feel good about ourselves, one who says our whole goal and purpose in life is to make other people feel good about themselves, too. We want someone who only cares about our intentions, not our actions, so that as long as we are well meaning and are good people, it doesn't matter what we actually believe.

There's this habit God has, though, of not doing things the way we think He should. He didn't send Jesus to be the Messiah the Jews thought He should be. In the same way, He didn't send His Son to be the "everything goes" Messiah we think He should be today.

Instead, He sent a Messiah who would rub people the wrong way. He sent a King who would be born in a feed trough, who would grow up seen as a Nazarene in a culture that said, "Nothing good comes from Nazareth." He sent a Messiah who would humble Himself instead of lifting Himself up, One who would call on His disciples to deny themselves in order to follow Him. He sent a Messiah who came as a servant instead of a conqueror, One who touched the untouchable and ate with tax collectors. He sent One who would stand up to the Sadducees and Pharisees, who reached out to Samaritans, who became friends with a quick-tempered and hot-headed fisherman. He sent a Messiah who came, in His own words: 

"Do not imagine that I have come to bring peace to the earth.
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
I have come to turn men against their fathers,
daughters against their mothers,
and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law.
You will find you have enemies even in your own household.
If you love your father or mother more than you love Me,
then you are not worthy of Me.
If you love your son or daughter more than you love Me,
then you are not worthy of Me
 
If you refuse to take up your cross and follow Me on the narrow road,
then you are not worthy of Me
 
To find your life, you must lose your life—
and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

~Matthew 10:34-39

 He sent a Messiah who warned His followers that their lives wouldn't be easy. He sent a Messiah who refused to throw the first stone but also called the woman caught in adultery to repent, to "go and sin no more." He sent a Messiah who was tempted in every way we are, yet never sinned. He sent a Messiah through whom all of the universe was created, yet who chose to let Himself be beaten, whipped, mocked, spit on, and crucified because God's will and God's plan meant more than His earthly life.

Monday, November 2, 2020

A prayer...

 Dear God,

We're told in Romans, "We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words." (8:26) Right now, that's where I am. I think it's where so many of us here in the United States are, because right now our country is anything but "United." The division and hatred is wounding so many hearts and causing so many rifts. The most horrific part of it all, though, is not the fact that our country is divided--that's something that has been coming for a long time. The worst part is how those of us who call ourselves Your children are divided.

God, You are holy and just and perfect in Your love. You know we are weak--after all, You created the dust from which You created us. You know our lives here are nothing more than a breath, and You know how much we mess up. Despite it all, You love us. Somehow, for some awesome reason I can't wrap my mind around, You love us. You watch us fail You time and time again, and You love us.

Your mercy is unbelievable and Your patience is unimaginable, but when it comes down to it, Your love for us means that You also discipline us. Just like my mom always told us, "I love you too much to let you act that way," sometimes that's what You say to us.

Father, this nation was founded on Your word. It was started by men and women who called out to You and based their decisions on Your will. Instead of honoring them--but more importantly, honoring You--we've decided that our country doesn't need You. We've pushed You aside and, like petulant children, said that we can do it ourselves. We've pushed You out of everything--our homes, our schools, our courts, even many of our churches. We've grabbed hold of the idea of feelings over facts, of the idea that it doesn't matter what You said, all that matters is what makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. We've decided that you are nothing more than an old man to be placated, shaking our heads with a knowing smirk as we listen to stories of how things used to be.

For so long, we've tried to take control. We've tried to say that we know better than You, that we're better at this "life" thing, that Your word is outdated and irrelevant. We took all the gifts You gave us and threw them away, demanding something bigger and better and shinier and more modern. Demanding that You let us have our way, that You just leave us alone and let us take control and do things the way we want.

And now, God, I'm afraid that You've decided to do just that. I'm afraid that You are doing like you did when Israel demanded a king--You warned them, then You gave them what they thought they wanted. You stepped back and they found out what it meant to get their own way.

Father, forgive us.

Despite our demands, despite our petulance, I know Your will will be done. You are in control, though sometimes that control means our discipline. Please, remember Your children. Through the coming turmoil, remind us that You love us, and that even when we are in the pit You are close enough to whisper.

Psalm 31

"You are my shelter, O Eternal One—my soul’s sanctuary!
    Shield me from shame;
    rescue me by Your righteousness.
Hear me, Lord! Turn Your ear in my direction.
    Come quick! Save me!
Be my rock, my shelter,
    my fortress of salvation!

You are my rock and my fortress—my soul’s sanctuary!
    Therefore, for the sake of Your reputation, be my leader, my guide, my navigator, my commander.
Save me from the snare that has been secretly set out for me,
    for You are my protection.
I entrust my spirit into Your hands.[a]
    You have redeemed me, O Eternal, God of faithfulness and truth.

I despise the people who pay respect to breathless idols,
    and I trust only in You, Eternal One.
I will gladly rejoice because of Your gracious love
    because You recognized the sadness of my affliction.
    You felt deep compassion when You saw the pains of my soul.
You did not hand me over to the enemy,
    but instead, You liberated me
    and made me secure in a good and spacious land.

Show me Your grace, Eternal One, for I am in a tight spot.
    My eyes are aching with grief;
    my body and soul are withering with miseries.
10 My life is devoured by sorrow,
    and my years are haunted with mourning.
My sin has sapped me of all my strength;
    my body withers under the weight of this suffering.

11 To all my enemies I am an object of scorn.
    My neighbors especially are ashamed of me.
My friends are afraid to be seen with me.
    When I walk down the street, people go out of their way to avoid me.
12 I am as good as dead to them. Forgotten!
    Like a shattered clay pot, I am easily discarded and gladly replaced.
13 For I hear their whispered plans;
    terror is everywhere!
They conspire together,
    planning, plotting, scheming to take my life.

14 But I pour my trust into You, Eternal One.
    I’m glad to say, “You are my God!”
15 I give the moments of my life over to You, Eternal One.
    Rescue me from those who hate me and who hound me with their threats.
16 Look toward me, and let Your face shine down upon Your servant.
    Because of Your gracious love, save me!
17 Spare me shame, O Eternal One,
    for I turn and call to You.
Instead, let those who hate me be shamed;
    let death’s silence claim them.
18 Seal their lying lips forever,
    for with pride and contempt boiling in their hearts,
    they speak boldly against the righteous and persecute those who poured their trust into You.

19 Your overflowing goodness
    You have kept for those who live in awe of You,
And You share Your goodness with those who make You their sanctuary.
20 You hide them, You shelter them in Your presence,
    safe from the conspiracies of sinful men.
You keep them in Your tent,
    safe from the slander of accusing tongues.

21 Bless the Eternal!
    For He has revealed His gracious love to me
    when I was trapped like a city under siege.
22 I began to panic so I yelled out,
    “I’m cut off. You no longer see me!”
But You heard my cry for help that day
    when I called out to You.

23 Love the Eternal, all of you, His faithful people!
    He protects those who are true to Him,
    but He pays back the proud in kind.
24 Be strong, and live courageously,
    all of you who set your hope in the Eternal!"

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Vote

 I've put this post off for a long time, mostly because I'm having a hard time figuring out just what to say. Partly, though, it's because I don't like confrontation and I don't like upsetting people. To be honest, I may have waited too long seeing as how election day is on Tuesday... and I'm writing this on Saturday.

For some reason it's become taboo to say, but I truly believe we live in a great nation. Well, we inherited one, at least. Those who founded the United States did so by declaring their independence from any other country while simultaneously declaring their full dependence on God, the One they referred to when they wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

Right now, we are facing an election that will determine the future of our nation. I have to admit, what I've been seeing lately has me pretty well convinced that we will be living in a different world no matter who wins. A friend put it this way: "If Trump wins, we're looking at social chaos. If Biden wins, we're looking at economic chaos." I think that's putting things mildly.

I've never seen so much division and hatred in our country. The 2016 election made me say that (I wrote about the state of the nation then), but it pales in comparison to what we're seeing now. People spew hatred with no consideration of anyone else, while at the same time preaching love and acceptance and "honoring their experience." We are being told that the Left is the bastion of peace and prosperity, that if we will just step back and let the government take care of us everything will be better... while we watch cities burn and stores get looted in the name of social justice. We are told that women should have access to abortion on demand because "it's her body," but that we should wear a mask because "it might save just one person." Never mind what the data says. How many "just one"s could be saved if abortion was seen for what it is, the taking of an innocent life for the sake of convenience?

I've read post after post on social media that have told me how I'm a horrible person if I vote for President Trump. Many go so far as to say that I can't possibly be a Christian if that's how I cast my vote. Because, they say, don't you see how terrible and sinful he is? Oh, but it's okay to ignore the sins of the other side.

Wait--that's not how that's supposed to work?

This election, though, isn't supposed to be a popularity contest. It's supposed to be a decision based on who will best lead our country, and our decision should be based on the policies that will be enacted when the next President sits in the White House.

On one side, we have someone who has strengthened our economy, who supports law and order, and who doesn't back down and give in. We have someone who has brokered peace deals on behalf of Israel, deals others said were impossible. We have someone who has spoken plainly (though crassly) about the underhanded things that happen in politics and with the media. We have someone who was the first acting President to attend the March for Life, someone who donates his paycheck and does an incredibly demanding job for no pay. We have someone who believes the people of this country are worth protecting and worth fighting for. We have someone who has worked with those who are on the front lines defending the borders of our nation. We have someone who has honored and listened to people from all backgrounds, hosting them at the White House to have conversations and try to move forward. We have someone who believes in our rights, including freedom of speech and the freedom of religion (it's not freedom from religion, like so many seem to think), and thinks we have the right to be able to protect those rights as is laid out in the 2nd Amendment.

Just for clarification, the 2nd Amendment wasn't written so we could hunt. It was written so the American people could protect ourselves from a tyrannical government. Seeing as how they now have guns and missiles, we're already starting off at a disadvantage.

On the other side, we have a movement (not a man; I truly believe Joe Biden is just a puppet) that has admitted to wanting to "fundamentally change" this nation. We have a movement that is trying to take away the rights that have made us great as a nation. We have a movement that is saying babies are only a clump of cells up until the moment they are born, which is a massive slap in the face to any woman who has gone through the pain of losing a baby in her womb. We have a movement that is trying to put the government in charge of every aspect of our daily life--what we can say, where we can go, what we are allowed to do, who can work where. It is a movement that has declared that our country is inherently evil, that everyone born with the "white" box checked on their birth certificate is automatically racist despite their own words or actions. We have a movement saying the police are out hunting black men, a bold faced lie that has been disproved without a doubt by the data. We have a movement that is doing everything it can to create hatred and division, because that plays into their plan to create a ruling elite that can use the rest of us as pawns.

We are facing an election that will very likely change everything. Please, pray and vote. Don't waste the rights others have fought and died to give you. Don't waste their sacrifice.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

wounds from a friend

 I've never been a people person, but I've always been a people pleaser. I don't like not being liked, which is probably the biggest reason it's hard for me every time I click the "Publish" button and put my writing out there to be judged. My writing feels like so much a part of me that if anyone has anything negative to say about it, I feel like that is a blow to me. When I released my first book, the review that stands out in my mind said, "too long winded and boring." There were good reviews, but those words are seared in my brain and come back to mind almost every time I try to put pen to paper.

Here's the crazy thing, though--the people who mean the most to me, the ones I have the most respect for? They don't hold back when they talk to me. They call me on the things I'm doing wrong, they tell me when I've messed up, and they don't let me just gloss over the bad parts. When I think about them, though, it's not the harsh words that I remember. Instead, it's the fact that they love me enough to tell me the truth.


"Wounds inflicted by the correction of a friend prove he is faithful;
    the abundant kisses of an enemy show his lies."
~Proverbs 27:6

We are in a world right now where people would much rather have the "kisses of an enemy" than the wounds of a friend. We want people to make us feel good; we don't want to be corrected for... well, just about anything. We do our best not to step on anybody's toes. We hear messages from the pulpit that give the idea that there's no real right or wrong and that a loving God will accept everyone no matter what.

My mom has always said something that seems fitting here: "I love you too much to let you act like that."

Love isn't about letting someone say and do whatever they want. Love is about wanting the best for someone, and that often means telling them when what they are doing isn't the best. So many like to use the argument that since God is love, He forgives everything we do and won't ever punish us for anything.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

God is love, yes, but He is righteous love. "Righteous" is defined by Webster's as "acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin." Divine righteousness demands justice; a truly righteous God will not ignore sin. Because of His righteousness, He will correct those He loves. That's not just a conclusion I came to. It's written in Proverbs and then repeated by Paul in Hebrews:

"My son, do not ignore the Eternal’s instruction
    or lose heart when He steps in to correct you;
Because the Eternal proves His love by caring enough to discipline you,

    just as a father does his child, his pride and joy."
Proverbs 3:11-12, quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6

The people who love me the most? They're the ones who love me enough to step up and call me out when I'm headed down the wrong path. They are the ones who take the risk to tell me words that might hurt me now because they care more about me being who I'm supposed to be than me being happy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

big dreams?

 For a while, there was a group of bloggers who talked a lot about "God sized dreams." The idea was a good one--we serve a big God, so why shouldn't we have big dreams? It seemed like an obvious connection, especially to me. At the time, I was searching for what my future should be. I had started teaching, but I was drowning in my first year (an incredibly common thing, but that didn't make it any easier at the time). I was debating graduate school... then deeply entrenched in grad school... then changing programs... then teaching again...

The list could go on, as I'm sure it could for you. The main thing, though, was that I was absolutely convinced that if I believed in a big God, I needed to have a big dream. After all, as God's people we're called to live out His plan for our life, right? That same topic has come up again lately for me. I listen to Dr. David Jeremiah's radio show on my way to work in the mornings, and lately he's been talking about chasing dreams.

His words have been right along the same lines as those bloggers from so long ago, the ones that got me to start a blog. He talked about how we need to figure out what our dream is, our one big goal from God, so that we can pursue it wholeheartedly. He said that we should focus on the goal so that we don't fall into complacency. He talked about being willing to take a risk, bringing up one of my favorite people--Peter. He spoke of Peter stepping out of the boat, taking a risk by stepping out onto the waves. He said that we need to find out what task God is asking us to do so that we can pour ourselves into accomplishing it.

But that got me thinking--was Peter really focused on walking on the water? I'm sure you know the story. It was late (we're told it was the 4th watch of the night, which means the hours just before dawn) and the disciples had been sent on ahead of Jesus while He prayed. The boat was being tossed around, and suddenly the disciples saw a ghostly figure moving toward them on top of the water. When they called out in fear, Jesus spoke and told them they didn't have to be afraid, because it was Him.

Walking on Water – God In All Things

Then Peter spoke up. Love him or not, you have to admit that he had a talent for speaking up when nobody else would. Sometimes it got him into trouble because he also had a tendency to speak before he thought. Honestly, this is probably one of those times. Peter called out and said, "If it's really You, command me to come to you on the water."

Jesus's answer was one simple word: Come.

So here's the task: walking on the water.

But what's Peter's focus supposed to be?

Matthew 14:29 says that Peter stepped out of the boat and started walking on the water to meet Jesus. But then, we get some subtle information--Peter saw the wind and the water. He took his eyes off of Jesus, turned his focus to the task at hand, and started sinking.

I've spent a huge chunk of my life worrying about trying to figure out God's plan for my life. I've searched the Scriptures, cried out in prayers, written lots of pages, and talked to lots of people about it. Okay, so not "lots of people." There's probably only a handful of people who hear all my crazy. I keep looking for the next step, telling God that if He just shows me what He wants me to do I'll do it. I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what my "one thing" is, what "God-sized dream" I'm supposed to be chasing after.

Recently, though, I've had a realization.

I've been worrying about chasing after the plan instead of pursuing the Planner.

Micah 6:8 lays out what God wants from us--

"He has shown you, o man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To do justice,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God."

Yes, I fully believe that God has a plan and a purpose for my life. Ephesians 2:10 says,

"For we are the product of His hand,
heaven’s poetry etched on lives,
created in the Anointed, Jesus,
to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago."

I've spent a lot of time focusing on figuring out what God wants me to do instead of spending my time and energy on getting closer to Him. I need to stop looking at the task--the waves and wind that are affecting my walk--and keep my eyes focused on the One who called me. 


**If you're like me and you find yourself identifying with Peter, the hot-headed and out-spoken apostle, you might like my devotional. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here!


Monday, September 28, 2020

hateful or silent?

 I have to admit, I'm just about ready to run away and hide from everything and everyone. I've never seen the world like it is right now, and I'm just plain tired of it.

I'm tired of the name calling and hateful rhetoric being spewed out. It seems no one knows how to have a respectful conversation anymore. If you disagree, the only way to get your point across is to yell and scream and point fingers and accuse the other person of being a horrible human being. Though I find myself scrolling through facebook a lot (maybe because of it), I think social media is probably the main catalyst for how people treat one another. It's so easy to say atrocious things to someone through a computer screen--when you don't have to look someone in the eye after you say horrible things, you don't have to actually consider how your hateful words affected them, right? And when you read words on a screen, with no tone of voice or true context or visual cues, it's so incredibly easy to misconstrue what someone means.

Or on the other end of the spectrum, people are so afraid of being called a bigot or a racist or ___phobic (you can really insert just about anything into that blank) or intolerant that they go the way of extreme political correctness. I've seen people speak biblical truths only to follow them up with words like, "...but that's just my opinion. You're welcome to yours, and I'm not going to tell you how to live."

As followers of Christ, we aren't called to be silent any more than we're called to be hateful. If you believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, you should be standing up for that. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, God has not given us a spirit of fear. If that's true, we shouldn't back down from speaking the truth. We shouldn't quote Scriptures and then water them down because we're afraid to be seen as "unloving" for speaking God's truth. As Paul went on to say, "I am not ashamed because I know Him and I have put my trust in Him. And I am fully certain that He has the ability to protect what I have placed in His care until that day." (2 Timothy 1:12)

Now is not the time for God's people to be silent. We can't just sit back and watch as evil is called good and as His name is dragged through the mud. We can't stand by as good people are ridiculed for believing--and striving to live out--God's word.

"And now I bring you this charge before God and Jesus the Anointed, the one destined to judge the living and the dead, at His glorious appearance and His kingdom: go out and preach the word! Go whether it's an opportune time or not! Reprove, warn, and encourage; but do so with all the patience and instruction needed to fulfill your calling because a time will come when some will no longer tolerate sound teaching. Instead, they will live by their own desires; they'll scratch their itching ears by surrounding themselves with teachers who approve of their lifestyles and tell them what they want to hear. They will turn away from the real truth you have to offer because they prefer the sound of fables and myths. But you must stay focused and be alert at all times. Tolerate suffering. Accomplish the good work of an evangelist, and complete the ministry to which you have been called." ~2 Timothy 4:1-5

Brothers and sisters in Christ, now is the time for us to stand up and speak out. Jesus didn't spend His life going along with the status quo. He touched the untouchable, challenged the self-righteous, drove the money changers out of the temple, and changed the hearts and lives of sinners. He challenged people at every turn, pushing them out of their comfort zones and forcing them to come face to face with their own failings in light of His perfection. He spoke in love, but He spoke truth. He didn't tell people they could think and believe and live however they wanted, and that doesn't change today just because society says it should.

Taking a ‘Long, Loving Look’ at Kendrick Lamar’s ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

in the twinkling of an eye...

 There's a common theme I've seen popping up in social media lately--lots of talk of the rapture. I see people worried about the things that are happening in the world around us, seeing the mess as a sign of the end times. Honestly, I see the same thing. I look at the wars and diseases and the blatantly evil things that are being called "good" and I see what Jesus described as the beginning of labor pains.

It's right there that people like to turn to two verses from Paul:

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed--in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Fort the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." ~1 Corinthians 15:51-52

"For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." ~1 Thessalonians 5:2

As is so often the case, though, we get ourselves into trouble when we handpick verses and don't compare them to the rest of Scripture. In this case, it leads to a common comforting belief--God's people being "raptured" before any of the truly terrifying things that are outlined for the tribulation. Like I said, it's a comforting thought. The things outlined in Revelation, Daniel, the words of Jesus in the gospels, and the other prophets are awesome and terrible. We're told that nothing this earth has ever seen--no earthquake or tsunami, no Genghis Khan, Stalin, Mussolini, or Hitler--can even start to compare to what will happen during that time. Who would want to be here for that?

Here's a question I would ask you to consider, though: If God didn't spare His own Son from suffering the agony of the cross, why should we think we will be spared from suffering?

I'm not saying I'm an expert on end time prophecy. There is still so much I don't understand and so many questions I just can't answer. However, there are some things I think a pre-tribulation rapture ignores. These verses make me think that, despite the popular teaching, we will be here and will be asked to stand against the powers of darkness during those terrible times.

First, in Paul's letter to the Corinthians he mentioned that believers will be changed "at the last trumpet." So that begs the question, when is that trumpet? To answer that we need to skip to the back of the book and look at Revelation. The seven trumpets start in chapter 8, but the final trumpet doesn't get mentioned until Revelation 11:15, where it is followed by voices in heaven crying out, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!"

Okay, so at first glance that doesn't necessarily seem to contradict anything. But the seven trumpets? They don't even start until after the seven seals--the first four of which release the famous "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The sixth seal is when all the people of the earth are hiding in the mountains and begging for the rocks to fall on them to hide them from God.

The trumpets themselves signal terrible things--natural disasters that wipe out 1/3 of our natural resources, demons that rise from the abyss to torture mankind for 5 months, 200,000,000 soldiers who kill 1/3 of humanity with plagues, the two witnesses who are killed for their testimony and are raised from death and called up to heaven in front of everyone. It's only after all of that that the last trumpet is sounded.

What about the verse in 1 Thessalonians, though? First, let's just read a little bit further. Verse 4 says, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief." Paul goes on to say that as believers we won't be caught off guard because we know the signs to look for, and we will be expecting Christ's return. His second letter to the Thessalonians gives us more information:

"Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." (chapter 2, verses 3-4)

Jesus Himself spoke of His second coming. In Mark 13 we get to listen in as He explains to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. He outlined the troubles that would come--false prophets, wars, earthquakes, and famine. He spoke of His followers being betrayed, hated, and executed for their faith. He told them they would see the "abomination of desolation" Daniel warned about. In 13:19 He said, "For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be."

I strongly encourage you to read the whole chapter, but for now let's move on to verses 24-27: "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven."

Jesus told His disciples that before His return, there would be a great tribulation. He spoke of the sun and moon and stars being darkened, all of which are outlined in Revelation 8 as events heralded by the trumpets. Revelation also talks about the multitudes who will be martyred during the tribulation, a number John couldn't even begin to count, people from every tribe, nation, people group, and language. The beast of Revelation 13 is given permission to wage war against God's people and to conquer them. How is that possible if God's people aren't here?

Multitude Of Worshippers Painting by Gregory Staton
Multitude Of Worshippers Painting by Gregory Staton


Despite the gloom and doom, though, we have a promise to which we cling: "Therefore, we were buried with Him through this baptism into death so that just as God the Father, in all His glory, resurrected the Anointed One, we, too, might walk confidently out of the grave into a new life. To put it another way: if we have been united with Him to share in a death like His, don't you understand that we will also share in His resurrection?" Romans 6:4-5

Because of that, we get to join with all those who will be victorious over the beast and sing, "Great and amazing are Your works, Lord God, the All Powerful. Right and true are Your ways, King of all nations. Who will not fear You, Lord? Who will not glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous judgments have been revealed." ~Revelation 15:3-4

The judgment of God isn't a fluffy thing to look forward to. In Hebrews 10:30-31 we're reminded, "For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Throughout the Scriptures we're given pictures of God's judgment being poured out on Israel, and it's never an easy thing to read.

But God.

As is always the case, God doesn't stop at judgment. Instead, He follows it with restoration, and that's no different at the end of the book. In Revelation 21:7 God tells us, "To the victors will go this inheritance: I will be their God, and they will be My children."

And like John, may we be able to say with faith, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Beauty in falling

There's beauty in every season, but I think fall is my favorite. Maybe it's the foggy mornings, the clouds hanging low in the hills, making them look like islands floating in a white sea.
 
Maybe it's the spider webs sparkling in the field in the morning, tiny threads so delicately spread across the grass. Maybe it's the first hint of cool weather, when you're greeted by crisp mornings that pair perfectly with steaming coffee and a front porch swing.

Maybe it's because I like the reminder that God uses brokenness. I think fall is His way of showing us that there is beauty in letting go.

As the leaves change colors, it's Him whispering, "There is beauty in the endings, too." The greens give way to reds, golds, oranges, and browns as His creation seems to slow just a bit.

The leaves fall to the ground and the branches are left bear, stretching--empty--up to the sky. With that, God tells us to bring Him our brokenness, our emptiness, when everything else has fallen away and left us with nothing to offer but empty arms stretched up to Him, knowing that anything we're given comes from Him.

Like the trees, we have to learn to stand even when our beauty falls. We have to learn to be exposed, everything else stripped away. We have to face the cold and the darkness of this world with nothing and no one to cling to--but God.

There is beauty in the trees after the leaves have fallen, beauty in the time of waiting. There is beauty in knowing that there is nothing left, that you have been stripped of everything you hide behind and that God still sees beauty there.

Friday, September 18, 2020

masks?

Sometimes I search for something to write. Other times, though, it seems like a topic is dumped on my lap, even if it's something I've been trying to avoid. Today is one of those times. I guess a more apt description would be "shoved in my face," because that's what's happening right now. Right now, that's the division over masks and government mandates pertaining to this virus.

I'll be honest--I have friends and family on both sides of the issue. I see and hear arguments on both sides, which normally wouldn't be a bad thing. Normally, I appreciate a good debate. I think I must get that from Pop, because he's been known to play "devil's advocate" on more than one occasion. I love learning something new, and you don't ever get to do that solely by watching, reading, and listening to the people you already agree with. New things are learned by putting yourself into a place of slight discomfort, a place where you acknowledge that you don't have all the answers and that there are things you don't know.

The problem right now? Nobody seems to be willing to listen to anyone on the other side of the issue. Instead, we see long lists posted on social media talking about the reasons people wear masks. They typically look something like this:
  • I wear a mask because I'm educated enough to know...
  • I wear a mask because I care about other people...
  • I wear a mask because I want to be part of the solution...
  • I wear a mask because I'm an adult who contributes to society...
  • I wear a mask because it means I'm caring and responsible...
  • I wear a mask because I know this isn't a hoax...
  • I wear a mask because I don't think an inconvenience is more important...
  • I wear a mask because it could save just one life...
At first glance, it looks positive. The problem, though, is that all too often the assumption seems to be that if you do the opposite, that means you believe the opposite. In this case, if you don't wear a mask it must mean that
  • you are uneducated
  • you don't care about other people
  • you want to be part of the problem
  • you aren't a contributing member of society
  • you are uncaring and irresponsible
  • you think the virus is a hoax
  • you think inconvenience is more important than lives
  • you don't care if people die

But wait--no one would ever say that, right? The problem is, that's exactly what these lists are doing.

I'll go out on a limb here to say this: I don't think we need to be wearing masks. No, I don't think the virus is a hoax. I do, however, think it's being used to create division and hatred in our society, just like everything is that happens in an election year (no matter which side of an issue you are on). There is overwhelming scientific evidence that shows that the vast majority of people are not at risk from this virus. Schools are closed or meeting virtually, though the risk to children is so low that it is statistically insignificant. People are losing businesses they've given everything to build. People in nursing homes are being forced to live out the end of their lives alone. I think those who are at risk should take precautions, and like always I'll stay home if I'm sick (isn't that what we're supposed to do?). I'll cough and sneeze into my elbow so that I'm not putting those germs on my hands.

I wear a mask at work, because I've made a choice to work for an organization that requires masks. That's one of the wonderful things about living in a free society--organizations have the right to make rules and guidelines, and I have the right to choose whether or not I work for them. If I choose to work for them, though, I choose to abide by their rules and guidelines. The same goes for businesses--it should be their choice whether or not to require masks, and my choice is whether or not I visit that business.

My choice not to wear a mask doesn't mean I'm uneducated. It doesn't mean I think the virus is a hoax or that I don't care about people. It does, however, mean that I've done my research (as I hope you have) and have come to an informed conclusion. It also means that I believe our rights in this country trump emotions and opinions. That's part of growing and maturing--children are controlled by their emotions and opinions. Mature adults? They depend on facts and truth.


Monday, September 14, 2020

when friends seem few...

To the teen girl, trying to find her "people":

Oh my goodness, sometimes this "friendship" thing seems hard. Sometimes you feel like you don't really have anybody you connect with--the people around just don't really seem to want you around, or you've found out that you've outgrown the friends you used to have so much in common with. You look at your childhood friends and realize that as you've started to grow up, you've started to grow apart.

The teenage years are far from easy. You're in a body that has become foreign to you, dealing with a mind that seems to have become your enemy at times, and prisoner to hormones that definitely don't seem to have your best interests at heart. You feel like you don't fit anywhere--at school, at home, or in your own body.

But can I tell you something? You're not supposed to fit right now.

You're in that in between, the time when you're not a little girl anymore but you aren't really grown up, either. The whole world is trying to convince you of who you should become, how you should look, how you should act. And all those girls who have been there with you through the childhood part of your life? They're in the same boat. That means all of you have lost your minds together, which makes it incredibly hard to be together.

You're not supposed to fit, because if you fit you get comfortable. And if you're comfortable, you stop growing. Right now, the only one you need to try to fit with is God. He's the One who can help you figure out which pieces of the childhood you should be kept and which pieces should be tossed away to make room for the new. He's the One who has designed you and who is shaping you into who He wants you to be.

Sometimes, that shaping is hard. Sometimes it takes grinding or scraping or melting or squeezing. It is so worth it, though. These hard times you find yourself in the middle of will create a treasure that can withstand the pressure and the flames of an uncertain future.

But that's the future, which I know is hard to think about. Right now, you're in the middle of the hard stuff. You're facing the fire and feel like you're alone--but I hope you remember that you're never alone. Remember the fiery furnace? And when Jonah called out from the belly of the fish? And when Peter started sinking on the waves? And in Lamentations when Jeremiah was crying out in the midst of the devastation of Israel?


Even right now--maybe especially right now--God is with you in the hard time. He's close enough to be able to whisper in your ear, and He's got you. He's holding you and there's no power that can ever be strong enough to pull you out of His grip.

One day, you'll feel the pieces of your soul start to slide into place. You'll start to learn who God wants you to be and you'll see glimpses of why you've gone through the hard things to make you who you are.

I'm not saying it will all make sense, or that suddenly one day you'll find "your people" and feel like you fit in the world. To be honest, I've never gotten to that place myself. I still have times when I wonder who my friends are, where my "tribe" is. I don't have a big group of friends who all hang out together and bring their families together for barbeques. I do, however, have a friend I've been able to count on for more than 20 years now, one I can count on no matter how little we've seen each other. I have family (blood and not) I know will love me no matter what. I have a husband who has stood next to me through all my craziness and who loves me in spite of myself.

Most of all, though, I have a God who promises me that He's always close enough to whisper in my ear.

He's your "people" and that will never change.

Monday, September 7, 2020

lamenting a nation

Israel had been warned, time and time again. They had been given so many chances to turn away from all the wrong they had been doing and to return to God and His purpose for them. Over and over again, though, they refused. The leaders, priests, and prophets kept lying to the people, telling them that everything was fine. Instead of pointing out where Israel was falling short and showing them what needed to change, they overlooked all the shortcomings. Instead of guiding them back to the right path, they pretended like the people didn't have anything to be worried about.

"They never warned and exposed you to correct your wicked ways so that things would go well again with no captivity. Instead, they told divine oracles of lies and deceit, that everything was fine." Lamentations 2:14

Lamentations isn't a fun book to read. Right now, especially--because as I read through these 5 chapters I keep seeing glimpses of the United States. If I'm being honest, they seem more like big, flashing, neon signs of the United States, actually.

The poet is talking about a nation whose beauty and worth have faded. It's a nation that has allowed the enemy to take over everything, even the temple of God. It is a once great nation that is now mocked by its enemies, all its failings exposed and put on display. It is a country that has even begun to sacrifice babies in order to make life "better" for the mother. A country that doesn't care about anything other than this moment:

"Impurity clung to her inside the cover of her clothes. She refused to consider anything but the present, never expecting her impurity would be revealed." Lamentations 1:9a

We, as a nation, have turned away from God. Our children are paying the price for our sins--through abortion, gender reassignment, pedophilia, and human trafficking. We have "pastors" who are telling us that all the wrong we're doing is fine, saying that the Bible didn't really mean that sins are actual sins, that right and wrong changes with society so things like homosexuality and sex before marriage and greed and lust and pride aren't bad now because our society has changed. Our enemies are watching in glee as all our failures are put on full display, and none of them have any interest in coming to our aid.

I wish I could point to Lamentations as an example of a nation realizing just how far they have fallen, repenting, and running back to the God of their salvation. That's not the case here, though. Lamentations is the grief of a nation lost deep in the consequences of their sins, finally bearing the punishment that God has long warned was coming. To be honest, I'm afraid our nation has followed suit. I'm afraid we are finally reaping what we've sown (though I sure hope I'm wrong). The Scriptures are really plain when talking about the reasons God will bless a nation and the reasons He will destroy one, and we seem to be comfortably camped out in the behaviors of the latter category.

In the middle of Lamentations, though, we have a reminder of hope:
"Saying Your name, Eternal One, I called to You from the darkness of this pit. Surely You've heard me say, 'Don't be deaf to my call; bring me relief!' So close when I've called out in my distress, You've whispered in my ear, 'Do not be afraid.'" Lamentations 3:55-57

Even when we're in the pit, crying out in despair, God is close enough to His children to whisper.

war

 War is raging all around us, and for far too long many of us have been too blind to see. Sure, we know the verses that talk about how our w...

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