Wednesday, August 2, 2017

covered


Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”
-Deuteronomy 1:29-31

Different scripture passages stand out to me in different seasons of life. Lately, Deuteronomy 1:29-31 is one that keeps pulling me back in like a magnet. I cannot get over the tenderness of it.

I came back to these verses to share them with someone who is struggling with depression and was looking for encouragement. When I was in the thick of postpartum depression, I remember sitting in church while the worship music played. I felt like I was in a fog; I was so tired, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that everything seemed hazy and I could not seem to pull myself out of it. God seemed far away, like I was at the bottom of a pit and though I knew He was up there somewhere, He seemed very, very high up in the distance. Then the band started playing this song by the Newsboys:


The idea of God living within my exhausted, numb heart, life and wholeness and power amongst the dust and the ruin within me, made me feel as though I had suddenly come to life. It felt like one of those dramatic deathbed scenes in a movie when the camera is showing things from the sick person's point of view, a blurred picture of doctors and nurses hovering and buzzing busily over the patient, who can't make out what the doctors' voices are saying. Too weak to fight for herself, the patient is completely dependent on others who are hard at work doing everything possible to bring her back to life.

The idea of God fighting for me is a powerful truth when I am too weak to fight for myself. When we are sprawled out on the battlefield, exhaustion taking over as our minds become confused and our vision becomes blurry, He rides up on His white horse and takes over. (After all, He has such a soft spot for the vulnerable.) 

Part of the beauty of the Lord fighting for me, beyond the fact that He is saving me, is that He believes that I am worth saving. Sometimes suffering is the result of external forces over which we have no control, and sometimes it is a direct or indirect result of our own sin. I tend to assume that my suffering is my own fault, which I'm sure is true much of the time. My old pattern, and the worn path I have to fight against going down out of habit, is to allow my shame to keep me from running to Him for help.

However.

Even when we are experiencing adversity due to our own sin, even then He is compassionate. I had not noticed before the part of Deuteronomy 1:29-31 that says, "The Lord your God will fight for you, as He did for you in Egypt...and in the wilderness." When the Lord fought for the Israelites in Egypt, He heard their cries and freed them from their oppressors. In the wilderness, when the Israelites were wandering around due to their own unbelief, even then the Lord fought for them. He provided manna and water and direction. Even when they sinned again and did not trust in the Lord, He warned them not to proceed with battle against their enemy because He would not be with them and knew that they would be defeated.

When we are wandering around in the mess we have made because of our own sin, God is still for us. We often experience consequences for our sin, but He still pursues us. The sin of the Israelites, over and over, was their lack of trust in the Lord (Deuteronomy 1:29-33). I believe that the reason this was the sin that God seemed to focus on is that trust is directly tied to relationship. He is more interested in our trust, our relationship with Him, than He is in our perfection and good behavior.

When I am floundering, fighting my sinful flesh at every turn, my spirit willing but my flesh so frustratingly weak, He is for me. The enemy, the accuser, would have us run away in shame, but the Lord is ever for us, ready to clothe us with dignity and strength. Just as He responded to Adam and Eve's sin by creating clothing for them, so He clothes us when we run to Him instead of hiding. We are clothed with righteousness because we are clothed with the most righteous one of all: Jesus Christ, Himself:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 
Galatians 3:26-27

Oh, what a Savior! May we accept the grace extended to us because of who He is, not based on our own merit, that we may live the abundant lives He desires for us.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
John 10:10

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

reflections on Embody Love Movement



Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend an Embody Love Movement workshop. It was better, more intense, and more personalized than I had expected.

At the beginning, as we established ground rules that would help us feel safe sharing and being vulnerable, I already knew I was in trouble. What will I have to share and be vulnerable about?I wondered. Thankfully, the other women who attended summoned up the courage to do the hard work of sharing and being vulnerable as they confronted the negative self-talk that we all seem to battle.  Their vulnerability and courage made me feel safer, though it was still challenging.

We talked about body image and the effects of culture and the media on how we view ourselves as women, as well as the negative messages we tell ourselves when we look into the mirror. We also talked about how to turn those negative messages into positive, true, empowering messages about who we are as women, not just what we look like.

The workshop tied in perfectly with what I have been learning about shame and vulnerability. The messages we tell ourselves often stem from a lie that runs rampant: "I'm not _____ enough," or put more simply, "I am not enough." In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown asserts that the feeling of "not enough" is at the very heart of shame. The workshop provided practice for me in living in what Brown calls "wholeheartedness."

As I left, feeling drained but filled, I invited God into my thoughts and thanked Him for taking me through an exercise that provided practical application for the truths He has been teaching me. I am amazed over and over again at where He is taking me on this journey that was (and is) clearly His idea.

I will close with my personal reflection--a sort of manifesto--on shame and vulnerability.

I am beloved. I am enough.

My weakness opens me to compassion, awareness, vulnerability, and growth.

My body is beautiful and powerful, carrying out all the beauty my heart and mind want to act upon.

My vulnerability is brave, regardless of the outcome.

I need the support of others who love me and also need my support.

Healthy boundaries help me to keep out the bad and let in the good.

God is glorified in me and in my life and growth.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

as you are






I have noticed that my eyes are sometimes so drawn to the sub-headings in my Bible, I forget to read one section as being connected to the next, which can greatly impact or deepen the meaning. Recently I read two familiar, consecutive sections of Hebrews and realized that I had never stopped to notice the significance of linking them together.

Hebrews 4:12-13 says,
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

These two verses make me uncomfortable. My first instinct is to hide the things of which I am ashamed. The fact that "no creature" is hidden from His sight, all things are naked and open to His eyes, and He discerns the thoughts and intents of my heart immediately brings up all the things in my mind and heart that I would rather leave alone, hidden in the dark spaces. The problem is that even when they are hidden, they still manage to slip out in my words, actions, attitudes, and priorities, but those things are easier to brush aside than the darkness that lies beneath them. We are so good at pretending, and others mostly don't want to deal with the awkwardness of these dark places in us, so they are often just as happy to look the other way or make excuses for us as we are happy to pretend that the darkness is either non-existent or not that dark.

In order to enjoy real healing and change, we must deal with the dark places. We certainly can experience suffering due to circumstances outside of our control, but our own imperfect responses to adversity may stem from areas that need healing. The problem of shame remains, though-- assuming that we can move out of denial and confront our own brokenness, how then do we deal with the shame of it? The exposure of the darkness necessarily reveals our inability to fix the problem on our own, but our shame often keeps us from showing our brokenness to others.

The very next two verses in Hebrews, which my Bible organizes into a separate section under a new sub-heading, provide a solution to the problem of shame. Hebrews 4:14-16 says,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in a time of need.

God doesn't deal with our brokenness the way we do. We tend to either minimize it or become crushed under the weight of it when we get a glimpse of just how broken we are. The Lord neither ignores the darkness within us nor despises us for it. Just as an injury must be exposed before it can be treated, our brokenness must be laid bare before the one who sees all things, including our thoughts and intentions. This would be a terrifying reality if it were not for the truth of Hebrews 4:14-16-- the perfect One who sees all is also able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He Himself was tempted just as we are, though He did not sin. He does not view our darkness with hatred towards us, though He is perfect. "He remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14) and knows from experience what it is like to be tempted. He understands our pain and suffering and has great compassion for our brokenness.

In Abba's Child, Brennan Manning discusses how we often project our feelings about ourselves onto God, assuming that He has the same hatred towards us that we sometimes have towards ourselves. Just as we do not know how to bear honestly facing our darkness and sin without being crushed under the weight of it, we also have difficulty fathoming the depth of His great compassion for us. He is perfect and sovereign, in control of all, but He is good and kind and compassionate, ready to draw out the sin and pain in order to heal us. He desires to heal our hurts, to make us whole, to bind up our broken hearts, all because of His love and for His glory.

I have tried the denial and the hiding and the ignorance due to my own immaturity. I have tried to work really hard to be really good. When I came to a point in my life where I was confronted with how not good I was, despite all my efforts, I went through a season of feeling crushed under the weight of it and was wracked with guilt and shame. If this is the place where you find yourself, you are in the perfect position to receive His love, healing, and compassion and to experience the immeasurable joy of knowing His goodness as you never have before. 

Whether you are a perfectionist like me who is realizing that not only will you never be perfect, you will never be "good" on your own, or someone who has stopped taking risks and given in to a life of sin, pain, and self-destruction because you are so filled with your own shame, God is ready to meet you where you are. I believe that He allows us to come crashing down so that we will be confronted with our desperate need for Him, which is the only way to get the healing and wholeness we crave. If we take small steps towards bringing our hurt and sin and shame to Him, we will find that He is infinitely more patient and compassionate towards us than we are towards ourselves.

He is the God Who Sees, and He sees you. This can terrify us until we come to know, in a personal way, that He is also the compassionate High Priest described in Hebrews 4. Come to Him, you who are weary and carry the heavy burden of sin, shame, and hurt, and in Him you will find rest. Take one small step toward Him, and just see what He will do. I am overjoyed to be joining the cloud of witnesses who have exchanged their songs of hurt and shame and despair for a song of His goodness that plays like an undercurrent running through my veins. If you haven't already, I hope you will join the chorus of the ones He has redeemed. Wherever you find yourself, He says to you, "Come."






Friday, May 26, 2017

carried



In one of his sermons, our pastor talked about how we should be compelled to share the Gospel because, as the word means, it is good news. Sometimes in my fear of making other people uncomfortable, I forget that the news I have to share is good. Today after I was studying Joshua chapter 6, which sent me back to Deuteronomy chapter 1, I am so excited to share with you what I learned because this is very GOOD NEWS!

In Joshua chapter 6, the Lord gives Joshua instructions for how the Israelites are to march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days in a procession that is to include the armed men, the priests holding the ark, and the rear guard. On the seventh day, they are to march around the city seven times, and then blow horns and give a great shout after the seventh time, at which point the Lord would cause the city walls to come crashing down. When the Lord does this, it is the long-awaited fulfillment of His promise to the Israelites as stated in Deuteronomy chapter 1. After the Lord had delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, Deuteronomy 1:21 says,

Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.

In Deuteronomy, after the instruction to possess the land, the people sent spies into the land, initially with the stated purpose to scope out the land and the best route. However, the Israelites then refused to take possession of it, saying,

...'Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven..."
Deuteronomy 1:27-28

Sometimes after the Lord delivers us from something terrible and difficult, the next trial that looms in front of us can bring up painful memories of past difficulties.  It can be easy to allow the greatness of the adversity to overshadow the miracle of the Lord's presence and deliverance. We must learn to shift our gaze to the Lord so that we will not fall into this trap of unbelief.

My firstborn was not an easy baby. She did not have any serious health problems but had great difficulty with eating and sleeping due to acid reflux and food allergies, was premature, and had colic. A dear friend recently said that when my husband and I became parents, it was baptism by fire. I have never entered a season with so much shock as I did during the transition to motherhood. 

A couple years later, when she had blessedly grown out of all the problems she had as an infant, I was driving by the hospital we had gone to so many times to see the GI doctor. Driving the familiar route from the hospital back to our house triggered a memory of a very stressful appointment my daughter had when she was about 4 months old. She had been in the middle of one her her terrible colic episodes where she was crying and screaming at the top of her lungs as though she were in terrible pain, and nothing I could do made it stop. She screamed as I took her out of the car and carried her into the building and continued screaming during an awkward ride in the elevator with one other person who must have wondered what on earth was wrong with my baby (welcome to the club!). As I remembered that day, I felt the stress and anxiety of it wash over me. Suddenly I felt Lord quietly reminding me that although that event had indeed happened, I was remembering the drive to the hospital, not the drive home. Through my memory, he took me back through that day, which was a snapshot of a season full of anxiety.

My husband had left work to meet me for the appointment, which my daughter screamed through, making it difficult to hear the doctor. By the time the appointment was over, I was so frazzled, I felt like I could not face the drive home with her screaming in the back seat. My husband offered to miss even more work so he could drive her back to our house, giving me a much-needed 20 minutes of silence alone in my car. You were remembering the drive to the hospital, the Lord seemed to say, not the drive home. The drive home was blessedly quiet and gave me the chance to calm down and gather myself because the Lord had graciously provided me with a husband who was so involved and engaged as a parent, he came to most of our daughter's many doctor appointments, and he was so in tune with me, he gave up even more of his time to help out when I needed it most. Sometimes the Lord's provision looks like a sudden miraculous deliverance, like when He parted the Red Sea, and other times, it looks like His gentle reminders of the people He divinely placed in your life to help you in the midst of your struggles. Either way, we need Him to help us fix our gaze on Him and on how He provided in the midst of our distress because it is so easy to become distracted by the circumstances. 

Though the Lord had done a miracle in delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians, I'm sure they still had memories of the suffering they experienced when they were enslaved. Perhaps the memory of the suffering had eclipsed the memory of His deliverance. Deuteronomy 1:29-31 is the beautiful response to the Israelites' complaints about their enemy:

...'Do not be terrified, nor afraid of them. The LORD your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eye, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.'

Though God's people complained and did not believe Him when He said He would fight for them, the battle of Jericho in Joshua chapter 6 is a miraculous fulfillment of His promise, delayed by their unbelief but fulfilled, nevertheless.

When I had my second daughter, she had many similar problems with acid reflux, eating, and sleeping, though most were not as severe as my firstborn's. When I took my second daughter to see the same GI doctor we had seen before, my firstborn came along. Though I was frustrated to find myself quite literally back in the same place, I gazed with joy on my healthy, happy, joyful 4 year old, my beautiful reminder of God's grace and provision, and I suddenly knew the peace of one who has seen the goodness of God in the midst of adversity. He did not make the problems go away immediately, but regardless of how He would handle it in His wisdom, I had a living, breathing testament to His goodness. Now that I am again past a second round of that difficult season, I can say two things with honesty and certainty: the suffering was significant and unpleasant, but He was faithful to provide.

When we are in the midst of the suffering, I pray that the Lord would open our eyes to see that "He carries us, as a man carries his son." When everything around you is falling apart, may you rest with the peace of the one who is carried by the Lord. We do not have the promise of an easy life, but may we cling to the promises we do have, as stated in Deuteronomy 1:29-31-- the Lord goes before you, He will fight for you, and He will carry you, His precious child. You may have a difficult road looming in the distance, but rest assured that as a child of the Father of compassion, you will be carried.

Monday, May 22, 2017

made for surrender



I've heard it said that the areas of our lives over which we find ourselves grasping for control are the areas where we feel the most anxious. My tendency to over prepare for any new situation is how I deal with the anxiety of the unknown. However, like many things, God's wisdom in this matter is the opposite of my human tendencies. Trying harder has never been an effective solution for me spiritually; my coping mechanism of creating the illusion of control actually adds to my anxiety because instead of being present and taking hold of whatever joy is to be had at the moment, I'm busily preparing by thinking of all the things that could potentially go wrong. Paradoxically, I have experienced the greatest peace when I stopped trying so hard and leaned into the strength of the Lord. When we let go of the belief that we can or should be in control, we leave room for the only One who is ever really in control to come and fight our battles for us with perfect wisdom, strength, and goodness. Though we think we want to be in charge, we cannot experience true joy, peace, and fulfillment when we are living for control; we were made for surrender. 


Sometimes I want to go back to "past Lindsay" and take hold of her hand and bless her little heart. If I could talk to her, I would gather her up in my lap and say, "Bless your heart, you are so weary from striving. Don't despise the many weaknesses you see in yourself but lean into His strength. He loves all of you and is infinitely more patient with you than you are with yourself. Let Him do the work that you are trying so hard to do on your own."


At the end of Joshua 5, after the Israelites obeyed the Lord by circumcising the adult males and then observed the Passover, it was time to prepare for battle. Joshua was near Jericho, where the battle would begin, when he looked up and saw a man dressed for battle, holding a drawn sword. Joshua 5:13-15 says, 

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

I think it is possible that Joshua was simultaneously courageous and in need of reassurance in this passage. The Lord had commanded him to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9), and anything He requires of us, He is able and faithful to bring about when we submit to Him. Thus far, Joshua had shown courage in following the Lord's instructions (including religious observances in the midst of enemy territory) and preparing for battle. Many times when people in the Bible ask God a direct question, His response seems odd to me at first glance. I have come to believe that this is because He listens to whatever is at the heart of our questions, rather than what is on the surface, and speaks directly to what we are really seeking to know. Perhaps Joshua's question demonstrated both a submission to the Lord's instructions to be ready for battle as well as a need for reassurance that God was with him. His response to Joshua is a reminder that God is sovereign over all, always on the side of truth and goodness and justice. Instead of inviting Him along to help us as we forge ahead, we do much better follow wherever He leads. He loves us and is for us, but we benefit most when we go beyond inviting Him to be on our side and instead make the decision to be on His.

Joshua's response (worshiping and asking what the Lord's message is) shows humility and reverence. As he humbled himself before the commander of the army of the Lord (believed by many to be the preincarnate Jesus), he was told to take off his sandals because he is on holy ground. Holy ground is made holy by the presence of God; this is a reassurance to Joshua that God is with him. The similarity of this instruction to God's instruction to Moses in the burning bush incident indicates a confirmation that as God was with Moses, so He would be with Joshua. God has such great patience with our fear, doubts, and insecurity. Though He had already called Joshua and given him instructions, He provided the reassurance of His presence on the eve of battle. Perhaps Joshua struggled with feelings of insecurity as the leader of the Israelite army and needed the reminder that the Lord, the greatest and most perfect army general, was the One who was truly in control. 

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we do not turn a blind eye on our weaknesses, nor do we idolize them as being greater than what God can redeem. We allow our faults and imperfections to come to light, trusting that God will work in us and through as just as He said He would. Those He calls, He equips, though the equipping may look different than we would imagine. We are best equipped for spiritual battle when we have relinquished control and come to a place of complete dependence upon the Lord, who was always and rightfully the One in control, in the first place. 

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.

--1 Chronicles 29:11-12

Monday, May 15, 2017

the miracle of the ordinary


Throughout the Bible, God teaches the importance of remembering. In Joshua chapter 4, we read about God's instruction to set up memorial stones  after He had dried up the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross over into the Promised Land. After their circumcision in Joshua 5, the Israelites celebrated the Passover, possibly for the first time since they had left Egypt. Just as He did with the circumcision, God provided protection for His people so that they could obey His commands. Though they were still in enemy territory, they were able to observe the Passover in peace.

When we read over miracle after miracle in the Bible, sometimes it can be easy to take for granted the Lord's amazing displays of sovereignty and provision. Although the Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years and one whole generation did not get to enter into the Promised Land because of their disobedience, God still fulfilled His promise. Joshua 5:10 says that the children of Israel kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month, which my Nelson Study Bible notes was four days after they had crossed over the Jordan River. I am amazed that despite the Israelites' sin during their wilderness wandering, despite the lengthy timeline that could have been shorter if they had been obedient, the Lord still provided for them in the wilderness and then brought them into the Promised Land in such perfect timing (Exodus 12:6) that it was exactly the right time to observe the Passover. Though we sin and wander and experience the consequences for our sin, God still provides and fulfills His promises to us, down to the last detail. When we have blown it, may we repent and trust in his grace and sovereignty as He continues to lead us on the journey He ordains.

The Passover was a time to remember the Lord's deliverance of His people from their days of slavery in Egypt. Before they went into battle, the Lord knew they needed to remember both to Whom they belonged, as well as what God had done for them. When we are discouraged, we need to remember who we are:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!...

1 John 3:1 

as well as what God has done:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Romans 5:8-10


After the Passover observance, Joshua 5:12 says that the manna (the food God miraculously provided for the Israelites while they were in the wilderness) ceased and they ate the food of the land of Canaan (the Promised Land). God makes special provision for us when we are in wilderness seasons. Though we may be tempted to hold ourselves to an impossible standard when we simply do not have that much to give, the Lord is intimately acquainted with our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical capacity at any given time and provides for us accordingly. He is not limited by our weakness or lack of resources. However, having experienced the miraculous provision of the Lord during wilderness seasons, we can easily become overly attached to the miracle instead of the Provider, Himself.

Early in my pregnancy with my first daughter, the doctor told me that I was having a miscarriage. I was scheduled to have surgery on a Friday morning. As I was in the midst of my grief, the doctor's office called me in Thursday afternoon for one last sonogram, which revealed my daughter, miraculously alive and growing. When she was born, other circumstances that were unknown until the doctor was in the midst of performing a c-secion (because she was breech) meant that the baby and I could both have been in danger if I had not had a c-section. So much about my daughter's development and birth was so miraculous, I remember wondering if the next baby could possibly seem to be as much of a miracle. My next pregnancy ended in miscarriage and was accompanied by some unexplained health problems that required emergency surgery and a chemo drug. It was a long, difficult process. 

When I became pregnant again, it occurred to me that the miracle this time would be if I had a normal, healthy pregnancy and birth experience, which is exactly what the Lord provided. I had become so attached to the miracle of the first pregnancy, I had failed to realize that sometimes the miracle looks like ordinary, every day provision, which is just as much from God as the miracles are. I love the explanation from the Expositor's Bible Commentary by Frank E. Gaebelein, "In the providence of God, extraordinary means are only temporary. Now the Israelites would experience the miracle of regular harvests in the land of milk and honey...Jesus' miracles were evidence of God's presence and were not intended to be regular sustenance."

Praise God that in His wisdom, He knows when we need extraordinary provision and when we need the miracle of ordinary! As children of God, when we see firsthand the miracle of His unfailing provision, may we fall more in love with the Provider rather than His provision. His provision, like everything else, stems from His great love for us.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

the pain and the beauty of the way everlasting


As summer approaches, I am eagerly awaiting a planned vacation to the beach. Part of the main appeal of a vacation destination is simply that it isn't "here," wherever "here" is; it is a place unassociated with our day-to-day stress and responsibilities. The very fact that it is far enough away to make us feel care-free implies that we must make a trip to get there.
Sometimes God casts a vision of a new place where He wants to take us, but it is so different than where we are currently and where we have been before that we must journey to get there. The journey may simply be time and effort as we do the daily work of studying scripture. Other times, the journey is the long road to recovery required in order to receive a healing that desperately needs to take place.

The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years before God delivered them and called them to a journey that led to the land of their inheritance. In Joshua 5, just after God miraculously enabled the Israelites to pass over the Jordan River onto dry land in Joshua 4, God commands Joshua to circumcise the adult male Israelites. The first generation of Israelites who left Egypt were denied entry to the Promised Land due to their unbelief, and the second generation of Israelites who had been born in the wilderness had not yet been circumcised. Before going to battle to take their inheritance, the Israelites had to bear this outward symbol to show that they belonged to the Lord. Perhaps this command was a reassurance to them that the Lord still called them His own after their parents had fallen out of favor with God.

When the circumcision was complete, Joshua 5:9 says,
Then the Lord said to Joshua, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you."

As I researched what this meant, I found that the circumcision was an outward sign to show that the Israelites were no longer slaves to the Egyptians but were instead "free born children of God" (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary). As a citizen of twenty-first century America, I have difficulty appreciating what it would be like to be a slave, but I imagine that something so traumatic would leave some psychological and spiritual scars that would be passed down to the next generation. Though their parents had been circumcised, God wanted to renew His covenant with the next generation before ushering them into the Promised Land. Part of the Israelites' reproach was that they had been immersed in the Egyptian culture of idolatry, so the circumcision would show that they were now to be fully devoted to the Lord (Matthew Henry's Concise Commenary). They needed to remember and show that they were leaving behind the destructive habits and beliefs from the past as they followed the Lord to the place of the inheritance where they could enjoy the blessings of abundance which God had promised (Exodus 3:17).

No doubt the circumcision was physically painful, and the Israelites had to take time to rest and heal afterward (Joshua 5:8). The process of letting go of our own destructive behaviors and beliefs can be painful, but when the Lord ordains it in His perfect timing, He provides all that we need. The Lord's chosen timing for the circumcision seems odd because instead of doing it in the obscurity of the wilderness, God waited until they had crossed over into enemy territory. The circumcision would have left them weak and unable to defend themselves from their surrounding enemies. However, when He calls us to something painful but necessary, He provides all we need in order to be healed. Joshua 5:1 says that the Israelites' enemies, having heard about the miracle the Lord had done in leading His people across the Jordan River, were so afraid that they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. Thus, they could rest and recover without fear of an enemy attack. The healing process requires that we become aware of and acknowledge an area that is diseased or injured, and taking this honest look at ourselves can be difficult and painful. When we come face to face with our own sin and scars from past hurts, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, the Father of compassion stands by, providing the rest and support we need in order to be healed.

...Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles...
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Ultimately, His mighty work done in the midst of our weakness is one of the ways that God reveals Himself to us and to those who witness or hear our stories of redemption. When we are in a place of brokenness that makes us painfully aware of our own inability to fix the mess or heal the hurt or solve the problem, we are better able to see and recognize the hand of the Lord as He lovingly intervenes. Though sometimes painful, the process of our healing is for our good as well as His glory. He heals us because He is life and goodness and wholeness and purity, and the more we abide in Him, the more we will see our own healing and restoration as a natural result. As our trust in Him increases, we can more fully appreciate the significance of Psalm 139:23-24. Though we may know all too well the pain of facing our own sin and our own pain, we can ask the Lord to reveal it to us as we trust that His purpose is to lead us in the way everlasting. This prayer echoes in my own heart as I am reminded of the pain and the beauty of the healing He has done in me. Though I understand the cost better than I did before, I have experienced joy that awaits because He is faithful, and so I look forward to the healing that is yet to come:


Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

patient in affliction


Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Romans 12:12

Not long ago, I wrote a post about being joyful in hope, and I've been thinking about the second part of the verse, "patient in affliction." After my recent posts about Joshua 2 and Joshua 4, I want to come back to Joshua 3, which tells about when God stopped the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross over into the Promised Land.

The Lord had promised a good thing (the Promised Land) to His people, but the Israelites had to go through a process to actively receive their inheritance. The Lord told Joshua to instruct the priests that "as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap" (Joshua 3:13). The river was in its flood stage (verse 15), which meant it was even more treacherous to cross. The priests had to take a literal, physical step of faith into the river before the Lord caused the waters to stand still. He was ready with the miracle but required this act of faith before the miracle would be performed.

I've been thinking about being "patient in affliction," and I've been thinking a lot about hope. In my own life, my darkest, most difficult moments have been when I see little hope of a bad situation improving, however irrational the feeling may be. I have clung to the Lord in those times, and though I have been so weak, He has been and is faithful, as stated in 2 Timothy 2:13:
if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

As much as I have hated going through trials and prayed desperately for their end, I am finding that now I can look back and see how He was faithful, and these instances have led to a new hope. This new faith in His goodness, which has been a result of enduring times of difficulty, has given me a hope that I never had before. I have long had the hope of salvation, but I lived much of my life feeling anxious and afraid of all of the things that could go wrong in any given situation. I needed to believe, deep down, in His goodness before I could have hope, and this belief had to come from watching Him at work during and after times of very personal, internal adversity. Once we begin to believe in His goodness and have a resulting hope, we can be patient in affliction.

James 1:2-4 says,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Hope produces both perseverance (patience) and faith. James 2:17 says,
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), we can more easily put our hope in Him. Hope produces patience and faith, and real faith leads to real works. If we believe He is good, we can step into the raging waters when He calls us. Though we may be afraid, we only need "faith the size of a mustard seed" (Matthew 17:20) in order for the Lord to perform the miracles that are necessary in order to bring us into the Promised Land, which is our inheritance.

As believers, our inheritance is none other than Jesus:
O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.
Psalm 16:5-6

When we face trials of many kinds, let the testing of our faith produce perseverance. When He calls us into turbulent waters, we can believe in, look for, and experience His goodness as we step into the water in faith. This journey ultimately leads us into our inheritance, which is the prize of knowing Him more. I have a long way to go, but I can tell you from my experience thus far that to know Him is to love Him. When I was in the midst of difficulty, I felt so insufficient. I clung to Him with all I the strength I could muster, which was not very much at all. Praise God that He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14)! He can do mighty miracles with our tiny, mustard seed-sized faith. I pray that whatever turbulent waters He may be calling you into, you will take the step of faith He is asking of you and experience the wonders He wants to do within you, for the ultimate prize of knowing Him. I cannot express the joy I have now that I can truly say, "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance." The waters may flood and rage on, but He who calls us is faithful.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

memorials turned into ministry: sharing your story



In my previous post, I discussed the memorial stones God directed Joshua to have the Israelites arrange (Joshua 4) after He pushed back the waters of the Jordan River so that they could cross over into the Promised Land on dry land. My first reading of the story made me think about the importance of reminding ourselves of what God has done in order to encourage us as we move forward into new territory.

As I was reading over it again today, I was struck by all the other people who benefit from our memorials of God's intervention in our lives and realized that memorials are not for ourselves, alone. When we see how God has been at work in our lives, we have a responsibility to share our story with others. When God performed a miracle that allowed the Israelites to cross over the Jordan River, His purpose was not only to get them across the river; it was to reveal Himself to several different groups of people.

When we begin to consider who we can share our story with, we can first think about who is already in our circles of influence. In Joshua 4:2-3, God commands Joshua to "take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe" to set up the memorial stones. Each tribe would have one representative for the tribe, or extended family, to help remember what God had done. One of the most obvious, but sometimes most difficult, places to start with sharing our testimony is our own immediate and extended family.

Among the twelve delegates were men from the two and a half tribes that had already been given their inheritance and were coming to help the remaining tribes as they prepared for battle. A second group of people we can share our story with includes our spiritual mentors who are walking our journey with us, encouraging us, teaching us, praying with us, and fighting our battles alongside us. These are the people who were there to witness the struggles you faced and who were praying and cheering you on as you fought to take the inheritance the Lord promised to you. Though their encouragement is an important part of what spurs us on in difficulty, we can bless them in turn by sharing what the Lord has done in our lives and invite them to celebrate with us. I often find that when God does something exciting and obvious in my life, I almost immediately want to call my parents to tell them. They know me well and know my struggles, so they can appreciate the significance of the specific things God does in my life. I recently called to my dad to share with him something specific that I had prayed about and God had answered quickly and clearly. He asked me to keep him updated on what God is doing and said that it is an encouragement to him to see God working in my life. I hadn't thought about how this would be a blessing to him, not just a joy for me.

Probably the most explicitly stated group of people who were to be the beneficiaries of the memorial stones were future generations of Israelites. In Joshua 4:5-7, Joshua says that when their children ask about significance of the memorial stones, the Israelites who took part in crossing over the Jordan River were to tell them about the miracle God performed. We can share our stories with our literal children but also with future generations in general, as well as our spiritual sons and daughters. In our culture and often in our churches, different generations are very segregated. This chapter in the Bible speaks to the importance of taking the time to tell believers who are spiritually younger than we are about God's goodness in our lives. I believe in the importance of intentionally building relationships with people who belong to other generations in our churches and communities. Our testimony can be more effective if we are already in relationship with the people with whom we are sharing because they will care more in general and will better appreciate the magnitude of what God has done when they know us, our past, and our struggles.

When we share our testimony with both previous and future generations and then listen to their stories of God's goodness in their own lives, we can find points of connection and better appreciate the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Joshua 4:23 says that the Israelites are to tell future generations that, "the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over..." In understanding the similarities between what God has done recently and what he has done in the past, we begin to see patterns of behavior based on His unchanging character. This allows us to know Him better and increases our faith as we begin to expect His help and deliverance after seeing it happen over and over again in our lives and in the lives of others.

Verse 24 stood out to me the most in my rereading of Joshua 4 today:
that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.

While remembering what God has done for us is an important encouragement to ourselves, God also reveals Himself to others ("all peoples of the earth") through what He does in us. We have the privilege and responsibility of telling others about the one true God, and I believe that sometimes the most effective way to do this is simply to share how we have experienced the truth of who God is. The Bible tells us in many ways, explicitly and implicitly, who God is, and this must be our starting point and our checkpoint, but often the way we come to a deeper understanding of those characteristics is through personal experience. I grew up hearing, reading, and knowing that God is faithful (Lamentations 3:22-23) and compassionate (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), but this took on a much deeper meaning for me when I experienced Him grieving alongside me and witnessed His faithfulness firsthand. If I tell others that God is faithful and compassionate, they may or may not believe me or agree, but other women who have had struggles similar to mine might be more likely to connect with those specific times in my life as I share how God was faithful through my times of suffering.

The "all the peoples of the earth" category can sound overwhelming, but when God gives you a story of deliverance, He means for you to share it and will provide the audience, whether it is an audience of 1 or 1,000. We need wisdom and discernment in how much to share with whom, as it is not always appropriate or beneficial to share every part of our story with every person. We can pray for wisdom and guidance in this and need to be sensitive to social cues from others as we try to gage how interested and comfortable they are with our story. Context is also important; sometimes we need to save sensitive topics and our vulnerability for one-on-one or small group discussions.

Some practical applications that have helped me recently on my own journey to find how and with whom to share my story:

1. Consider those who are already in your circles of influence and who may have had similar struggles and experiences. Then think about the broader scope of people you don't already know who may be experiencing similar struggles. What groups of people would identify with your specific journey? You don't have to be limited by this, but it may be a good starting point.

2. Put yourself in situations where you will interact and build relationships with people from different generations, cultures, beliefs, etc. We can minister to and disciple believers and non-believers, alike, as we share what the Lord has done for us.

3. Pray for God to increase your love for the people He wants you to serve. I can't think of a prayer God would desire to answer more than a prayer for Him to increase your love for someone! When our love for people increases, our boldness and courage in sharing something difficult increases as a result. Also, people will generally be more comfortable with and receptive to someone who has a genuine love for them.

4. Pray for God to start putting faces to the people with whom He wants you to share your story. I recently prayed this prayer and the previous one and am amazed at how quickly He began to put me in various groups of women to connect with, both for their benefit and mine. This is one of the many important reasons to find and join communities that share safe spaces.

Once we begin to come out of a difficult wilderness season and have had time to experience our own healing, we can begin to think about how and with whom to share our story. One of the most beautiful things about sharing what God has done is that often the completion of our healing seems to come when God uses what we have learned in the wilderness seasons to help others. Thus, our messes that became miracles can become memorials that God uses for ministry. God does not desire that we suffer, but he does cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). I'm so thankful for the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

messes, miracles, and memorials



I have always been, and remain, an introverted homebody. When it was time for me to leave home to go to college, my parents and my best friend drove me to my new school and helped me move into the dorm. I didn't have a car and didn't know anyone. I remember the strange, suffocating feeling that washed over me after the people I loved most drove away.
I knew that my temptation would be to remain isolated rather than endure the awkwardness of meeting new people. I made myself sit alone in the cafeteria instead of taking food back to my room so that I would be forced into close proximity to others. It took some time to meet and befriend what became an amazing group of friends, including my future husband, but in the mean time, God brought others who invited me to sit with them or came over to sit with me during meal times. I was so grateful for this kindness.

Before long, I had a group of friends from church who I came to love as family. After that happened, on some of the many occasions when I would sit and eat with these dear friends in the cafeteria, I would silently pause and remember what it felt like to sit in the very same room and eat meal after meal alone. I wanted to remember and give thanks for the blessing of the friends that God had provided because I didn't want to take them for granted, and the remembering made my friendships that much sweeter.

In Joshua chapter 3, God parted the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross over on dry land to the Promised Land. In Joshua 4, God instructs Joshua to have delegates from each of the 12 tribes of Israel take stones from the middle of the river and set them up as a memorial. The stones were to serve as a reminder of what God had done, as well as a conversation piece for future generations so that when they asked about the stones, the parents could tell the story of crossing over the Jordan. They would also be physical proof to other nations of the mighty works of the one true God.

As always, God, in His great mercy, anticipated His children's needs. He knew their tendency to forget and take for granted what He had done for them. Perhaps He was thinking of times of adversity to come during which the Israelites would need the encouragement of remembering what God had done before, giving them hope about what He would do in the future. Perhaps He knew how much sweeter the land of milk and honey would seem to future generations when they learned about God's deliverance of their ancestors from slavery and wilderness wandering. In times of ordinary provision, we have the luxury of forgetting and not fully appreciating our complete and utter dependence upon God. When we are in the midst of adversity, we are perfectly poised to both confess our need for Him as well as to witness His miraculous provision, which is sometimes easily forgotten once life returns to a blessedly unremarkable semblance of "normal."

This holy Saturday, as we look forward to celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, may we remember the His suffering and the miracle of the divine becoming flesh and taking the punishment for our sins that we might enjoy the awesome privilege of being called children of God. We remember His suffering not as those who witnessed it, but as those who have the privilege of knowing the outcome. Though Hebrews 4:16 says we may now "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help," we remember that it was not always so. Our salvation is a free gift, but it did not come cheaply. In times of suffering, we can look back on memorials from the past and remember how God delivered us before, giving us the courage to wait expectantly for His miraculous provision yet again. In times of rest and security, our peace is made sweeter as we remember the mess we were in before He delivered us. May the miracles, the messes, the suffering, the blessings, and the times of peace in our lives all serve their purpose as we bear witness to His goodness and mercy.