Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snapshot from Snapshots

I'm not planning on doing this often, but I wrote a part of the book today that was sort of fun, it being Christmas and all, and I wanted to share. So here is a snapshot from Snapshots of Who I Am. This is from Chapter 9, The Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

While shepherds watched their flocks at night

It's Christmas time. I've spent the past few days strategically placing decorations around my apartment. There are Santa Clauses and nutcrackers, snowmen and angels smiling at me from every nook and cranny. There are candles and evergreen wreaths giving off their seasonal scents. And there are dishes filled with chocolates and gum drops, which I have to keep my husband and dogs from emptying on a daily basis! I love all of these decorations because they are filled with meaning, not only from my childhood traditions but as centuries-old celebratory symbols. Evergreens are verdant reflections of the eternal life that Jesus came to bring. The traditional Christmas color, red, reminds us of the blood that Jesus shed so that we could have eternal life. Sparkling ornaments and twinkling lights dazzle our minds into remembering the beautiful star over Bethlehem that announced the Messiah's birth to a band of Eastern kings. And the gifts we give are a token to the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to the Christ child.

But it occurred to me earlier today that a particular group of characters from the Christmas story are absent from my seasonal decor. I've just been taking inventory and this is what I found: five Santas, four nutcrackers, three wreaths, a pair of angels, one snowman and a reindeer. I've got two mangers, one that's painted onto a plate, along with the words, “Unto us a child is born”, and a beautiful Buckley Moss print of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, surrounded by some very calm looking sheep. I confess that I don't have any kings on camel-back, but I do have gifts to wrap up for my loved ones and yesterday I seriously contemplated buying a bar of soap that was “frankincense and myrrh” scented. So St. Nick, Frosty, Rudolph, Mary, Joseph, the angels and the wise men all made the cut, so who is missing? Shepherds. I've got all this cute, sparkling, scented seasonal stuff and there's not a shepherd to be found.

I confess, I'm feeling a little guilty. Here I am about to write about Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and I haven't got a single shepherd in my apartment, even though they played a really significant role in the story of Jesus' birth. Here's an excerpt from their Biblical cameo.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ... So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger...the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:8-12,16,20

I do find it amusing that though the Heavenly Host found shepherds to be a worthy audience of the biggest news in world history, Christmas decoration manufacturers don't seem to find them worthy of playing a major role in our holiday d├ęcor. It's a whole lot easier to go out and find a cute Santa or sparkly star than a shepherd to put up on the mantle or hang from the tree. But I'm sort of thankful for this because it's an indication that even today shepherds are viewed in much the same regard as they were in Jesus' time. Dirty and smelly, they're just not the guys you want to have hanging around, especially when there are so many other attractive options.

But that is part of the beauty and truth about Jesus. He's not interested in being what is most attractive to the world, He's interested in being what is most needed. Maybe this is the reason that the Heavenly Host appeared to those trustworthy shepherds upon that midnight clear. If you go back and fill in some of the blanks from the Luke story, you find that after seeing baby Jesus nestled into that manger, the shepherds immediately went out and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17) It is the nature of the Good Shepherd to take every opportunity to gather His sheep together. Even while He was still wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was tending His flock by entrusting men whose lives were devoted to the care of other living things to spread the good news of great joy for all people. What a position of honor for those lowly shepherds. Maybe they aren't decking people's halls as Christmas decorations, but on that night they were donned with the Lord's favor. They might not have been the world's first-pick, but God considered them worthy. Perhaps because they were men after His own heart- men used to seeking and saving the lost. Men whose lives were devoted to tending to the weak and the wounded. Men who knew every one of their sheep- from the tiniest lamb to the oldest and most infirm ewe. Men who risked their own lives for the security of their sheep. .

It wasn't random coincidence that the angels appeared in that field that night. God planned perfectly every minute detail of Jesus' birth and recorded many of those details in prophecies written centuries before. He could have told someone with a lot more influence. Someone shinier, someone more attractive. But He chose the shepherds. He chose some of His own kind.

As I look around my apartment, I am maybe a little more embarrassed than I was when I started writing this. I'm not against Santa or Frosty or Rudolph. Angels are beautiful and evergreens are filled with fragrance and significance. But my identity depends on the Shepherd. Yours does too. And fortunately, it is He who will guide us. Like any good Shepherd, He will lead us as we explore this vantage point of our identity in Christ. And I'm confident that as He does so, we will discover good news that is sure to fill us with comfort and joy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I had a thought today while driving in the car. I thought about Jesus touching a leper. It's recorded in Matthew 8. The man in this story might have actually had Hansen's Disease, a bacterial infection that ravages skin and nerve tissue, or some other form of dermatitis. In any event, Jewish law forbade anyone with an "infectious skin disease" to live with healthy people. Check out Leviticus 13 for a very thorough overview on Biblical dermatology. God's law is always meant to protect spiritually, emotionally and physically. He is our Protector, our Gate and Good Shepherd, so it was for the benefit of many that He mandated those few with infectious diseases be sent "outside the camp." This kept diseases like Hansen's Disease from becoming epidemics. There was even provision in the law for how to determine if and when the disease was getting better, and how to reinstate someone who had been previously cast out when their skin infection cleared up. God is very detail-oriented, and I like that about Him.

But even knowing that God created regulations for skin infections to protect His people, it's still a little sad to read Leviticus 13:45, "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, and cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp." On the one hand, this demonstrates how God knows everything and we humans are slow on the uptake. Leprosy (Hansens) is spread through the respiratory system, which means that the whole "I'm coming! Get out of the way" warning would have gotten people clear of their breath, and the covering of the mouth thing would have perhaps caught some of the moisture from their breath- no doubt keeping thousands of lives safe. But your heart sort of breaks for the person who had to go around in the leper costume, always announcing how "unclean" they are.

What's really amazing is that if you treated people like this in American society today, you would shock everyone. First of all, affirmative action has taught us not to discriminate- ever. Don't get me wrong, I am all for affirmative action. Or, at least, the idea behind it. I understand that it is abused in some cases, like all other good ideas. But how much more God-like can you be than to say, "We no longer count you inferior because of your gender or ethnicity or socio-economic status." Isn't that exactly what Paul was getting at when he said in Galatians 3:28, "There is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is the good stuff in the Bible but it's really misunderstood a lot. So people look to the government or elsewhere to find "social justice" when really it's the God-followers who ought to be leading the campaign. Anyway, affirmative action, anti-discrimination, those things the Western church dropped the ball on got picked up by the government along the way and now we Americans are shocked when people are treated differently. So someone going around saying "unclean! unclean!" would be appalling to us!

I think that as believers it's imperative to understand who God is in that situation. First, He is the Protector of many, thus the reason for the law in the first place. But it doesn't stop there- He is the bender of His own rule. Or actually, a better way to say that is that He is the completer of His own rules. Jesus is the completion of the law, Matthew says. So when He touched that unclean man and healed him, it wasn't that He was contradicting what His Father had spoken into the legal system hundreds of years before, it's just that He was writing the final draft. This is the fabulous stuff in the Bible- and it's worth thinking about, talking about, and acting on. God told the lepers to go outside the camp. True. But God reached out and touched them and healed them. Amen! "But God..." a small phrase that carries the weight of eternity. People sinned and brought judgment on themselves, but God sent Jesus to be punished for that sin. People were unable to keep all the rules of the law, but God provided a new covenant, written in the blood of His own Precious Son. I was trapped in rebellion and sin, but God pursued me with love and set me free. Things are the way they are and that is oftentimes bad, but God makes all things new.

Lepers were not allowed to be touched, but Jesus touched them. And that's incredible. But this is what's really got me thinking. We're okay with Hansen's disease these days. We know it's caused by a bacterial infection, and that people don't really have any control over whether or not they contract it. But that's not what the Jewish people thought. And they weren't the only ones. For millenia, people have assumed that lepers were sinful, awful people and the disease was a consequence or manifestation of their sin. Only in the past few decades has it been understood that Hansen's is not a sexually transmitted disease. See, I think it's easy for us to look upon the sick and weak who are "victims" of circumstance, drought, war, famine, etc. and want to touch their lives. We all want to make an impact. It's popular. Yesterday World Vision had an all day thing going on the Christian radio station to raise money to support West Africa. The response was huge! This is great, and I'm not trying to belittle the work of World Vision in any way. Certainly they are acting out the Great Commission and I fully support that work. However, I am struck that people with diseases on other Continents are so much easier to take care of than the disease that pervades our own lives and/or the lives of those closest to us- sin. It's easy to call an 800 number and pledge to feed the hungry, sponsor the orphan, provide treatment for the infant infected with HIV. There's nothing wrong with that. We should do that. But that's easy. That costs hardly anything. A phone call? Thirty dollars? That's not really asking much. And a lot of people in America want to reach over to another Continent. But what about reaching over to your spouse? Or your sister or your bother? What about your son or daughter? What about that person at work who really annoys you? What about the people that hate you and make sure that you know it? What about those "sick" people? And what about you? Who's going to reach out when it becomes uncomfortable, painful, even shameful to touch that person who hurts you, frightens you, or might cost you your reputation?

That's what I was left thinking about in the car today. Because I'll send money. I'll sponsor and give. But when Jesus asks me, no commands me- to touch the one that I consider unclean, what am I going to do? We've been conditioned by our churches and non-profits to see the needy as acceptable. We need to help them. Besides, that's what makes us better than everyone else, doesn't it? Otherwise, we'd be just like all those other selfish worldly people, wouldn't we? So we respond to that need. But when the need is close, when it costs us personally, our reaction is much, much different. Humility is expensive. It costs time and money and it means letting other people see you for who you really are. Shoot, it means seeing yourself for who you really are- the way that the Holy One sees us. And that stuff is dirty. It's messy. It takes time to work that out. And we don't want to deal with that. We want to sweep it under a rug, or focus on other people's problems or the government and what a bad job it's doing or the people with cancer or AIDS or whatever. But that's a poor man's version of Christianity. You want treasure in heaven? You want to know the elaborate riches awaiting you in Christ Jesus? You have to touch the person you do not in any way shape or form want to touch. That's what Jesus was doing. NO ONE wanted to touch a leper. It was FORBIDDEN. It simply was. not. done. But He did it. And that's the reason that I'm writing this. Because until the day I die, I will be amazed that that is who HE IS. And humbled because it costs me everything to be like Him, and I kick and moan and whine all the way to the cross.

You and I are infected. We are diseased. Our families are diseased. Our parents. Our children. Our friends at church. We were born that way, we will die that way. Paul said that we will struggle with the desire of our flesh until the end. But He touches us. And His touch heals us! "In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." No one has made it to holiness. Not a single one ever will. No one is righteous, we're just blood-covered- and that makes us righteous in Father's sight. And while that blood covers us, we are slaves to the righteousness it produces which means one thing- you must touch the leper in your life. I have to touch the leper in mine. Don't fool yourself and think that you're going to want to. Even Jesus was honest enough to admit that He DID NOT want to go to the cross. But He went to obey. And that's where I'm at, folks. Obey. Go where He went. Die like He died. Because He touches lepers. I don't want to. You won't want to either, but God- He wants us to. So let's do it. Let's touch the untouchable. Love the unlovable. Teach the unteachable. If you and I do- then maybe, just maybe- someone may be healed.

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man...Immediately he was cured. Matthew 8:3

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


My husband is gone for a couple of days on National Guard duty. He's off in a helicopter or shooting something. And I'm at home realizing, not only how much I miss him, but how much I really, really like him.

I read Love and Respect like all Christian newlywed girls do these days. And there was a lot in there about how men often feel loved but not "liked," not appreciated or noticed. I probably don't tell Andy often enough that I do respect him, like him and appreciate him. But when he's gone, I certainly do have time to think about it!

I woke up in the middle of the night doing that reach over to the other side of the bed thing you see in movies- no Andy, just a Gatsby leg hanging off a pillow. (Gats is enjoying the extra bed space while Andy is out of town!) I guess when someone is absent, you become aware of how content you are in their presence. Contentment. Is there a better place to live? I don't think so.

When Andy was in the course, I wrote him some encouraging notes for his last phase of training. One of the notes was about the meaning of his name. Andrew means "strong" and his middle name, Mark, is derived from the name "Mars" the war god. It means "warrior." They're both Biblical names, and I don't know why specifically they were chosen for him, but I love that Andy, my soldier, is so appropriately named for who God has called him to be. A strong warrior. He is indeed that. :)

It's funny that someone with a name like "strong warrior" would get this kind of rep though- when my friends first met Andy and I was after their seal of approval, Rosemary said, "He's a teddy bear." Probably not Andy's favorite title, but one that won my heart. Andy is not only a "strong warrior," he is the kind of man that Stu Weber calls a "Tender Warrior."Why? Because Andy is learning to refuse the temptation to look strong in his own eyes or the eyes of man, and completely accept the Lord's strength- no matter the cost. That's the sort of thing that makes a girl's heart go pitter-pat. ;)

Real strength comes in weakness alone- when we see who we have been and reject it because God has given us a better identity. Real love comes when we die to ourselves. Real freedom comes when we pursue truth, no matter how scary that seems. And real men are made when they pour contempt on all their pride and humbly lift their eyes to the cross. I'm married to a man who is becoming all of those things. And, oh my, do I ever adore him!

My sweet husband, my tender warrior, I love you. And I like you. You are my friend and my hero. I love seeing you grow in wisdom, freedom, truth and devotion to our King. See you soon, sweet friend.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Joyful, Joyful

So, if spiritual food had calories, I would be obese. Check out these gigantic portions that got tossed my way today from friends who spoke encouraging words into my life today- talk about "feeding" the lambs. I am one fatty lamb with the friends I've got.

"God of grace, grant us the strength, the wisdom, and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will."

"One thing is for sure, only the Holy Spirit can bring about the transformation needed"

"I am not the sum of my failures, nor the sum of my accomplishments. I am who I am, a conqueror, regardless of how many times I've won or lost."

And that was just from today's email. There were conversations with friends filled with honesty, confession, encouragement, accountability. There was Oswald Chambers and his forever challenging, if not frustrating exhortations. And there was time reading the book of John, always good to hear Jesus say, "What are you worried about that other person for? You follow me." John 21.

But even with all of that fatitude, I managed to get bummed out mid-afternoon. "O soul are you weary and troubled?" Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am some of the time. But, I took a moment of prayer before BSF and asked the Lord for help. He said, "the joy of the Lord will be your strength." Nehemiah 8:10 With that in mind, I decided to sing a hymn about joy. I wanted "Joy to the World" (I am getting into the Christmas spirit already anyway) but before I could get to it, my hymnal picked another one for me- "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" Every stanza was perfect. When I finished the song, I thought, "I wish that Holly (my BSF teaching leader) would pick this hymn to sing at BSF tonight. But that will never happen. It's a Christmas song."

So off I went to BSF, still battling the blues a little bit, hungry for what God would do tonight. Small group was amazing- a whole other story unto itself. But then, when we went to the sanctuary for lecture, what song do you think appeared on the projector? None other than "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." I laughed out loud and shook my head, "You're funny," I said to Him. I hope He gets pleasure out of things like that. I don't know exactly how He does it- whether He plants the desire, or meets it before we know we want it- I don't know, but I hope it tickles Him. It tickles me. I LOVE moments like that with Him- pure enjoyment of each other. It is bliss.

So, I practically rolled out of there after lecture. It was the spiritual equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast. Then I got to come home and chat with my love (who is out of town for the week) and tell him all about it. It's so fun to compare the day's stories of God's faithfulness with each other. How much He has changed us, blessed us and nurtured us! To Him be the glory! Our cup overflows- with joy, of course! :)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I have decided to follow Jesus

When I was a Freshman in college, I didn't like Jesus. "But, Meredith, you didn't like Him because you didn't know Him," you might be thinking. I assure you, I knew Him. Knew of Him anyway. I grew up hearing songs with words like this, "Love so amazing, love so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." And when I was 19 years old, I fully and completely realized that Jesus wanted my life. And I hated Him for it.

I guess some people first hear about Jesus in light of His mercy and grace. That was not ever absent in the Gospel that was presented to me as a child and adolescent. I sang "Jesus loves the little children" and "Yes, Jesus loves me" a thousand times. But I am what you might call "strong-willed" and by the time I was old enough to realize that being like Jesus would mean forfeiting some of the things that Meredith would want to do- I was decidedly opposed. What kind of a God asks you to give up what you really want? A Holy God. That's Who.

But I was 19 and I wanted what I wanted- whatever that even was back then. My way. That's what it was. I didn't want to listen to my parents, who spoke on Christ's behalf. I didn't want to listen to Christian friends. And I didn't want to listen to any pastor who had more than a feel-good story to tell. That was that. God had other plans.

God's grace has sometimes come to me in the form of complete loss. Relationships ripped apart, ambitions flushed down the toilet, dreams in pieces, heart shattered. But I can't lie to you and say that once my life was crushed, I looked up to the cross, where the Savior gave his life for my nasty soul and welcomed Him. No. I screamed at Him. I spat. I scorned Him. I hated Him. Why would you do this to me? You are supposed to love me! You are supposed to be the One who loves unconditionally. But You have ruined everything! You and your nosy people and your demands that no one could ever meet! I knew Jesus. Ignorance of Him is something I can never claim. I rejected Him.

Maybe because I can remember feeling hatred and contempt for Him (it was only 9 years ago) I feel such adoration for Him today. Because one day, a Tuesday, while I sat on my bed I read the book of John. Everyone else (it seemed) had abandoned me. Heartbroken and desperate, I read about Him. And I realized, for the first time, that the Man of Sorrows, who had borne my contempt for all these years still, amazingly, miraculously loved me. I can't describe that revelation accurately. The best that I can express is that I looked at Him and though I had seen Him a thousand times before, I saw and felt and believed that despite my hatred, despite my abuse and contempt and false accusations, that He was desperate for me. And in my heart, I left my unbelief behind and I ran to Him on that cross and felt His love...finally. Oh! The relief I found that day! When the hands I'd nailed to the cross first held my ruined heart- life came to me.

Maybe it's because I remember hating Him that I am determined to agape. Nine years later, and a hundred turning points when "I have decided to follow Jesus" and now my Sweet Savior has called me to suffer with Him. He was so faithful to warn us- "in this world you will have trouble..." "no servant is greater than his master. If they hated me, they will hate you." I used to think that when the Psalmist wrote, "the insults of those who insult you fall on me" he meant that I wasn't going to hurt. That somehow the Holy Spirit was going to absorb the pain and I would walk on some sort of emotional cloud nine while the fiery words of those who oppose His way would dissolve in mid-air. But that's not what He said at all. It's not that those insults aren't going to hurt you. It's that they are going to afford you the opportunity to know Him in a way you cannot when you are comfortable. It means that you are going to share them with Him.

All those years that I stood at the base of the cross and hurled insults at Him, He was Holy, and He never ceased to love. He won't. Not until the end- when the trumpet sounds and the time of grace is up, and grace is replaced by wrath. Until that day, His love is poured out to anyone who will receive it- regardless of their hatred. It's impossible to know Him in His fullness and not be drawn to the cross to suffer alongside Him. We can choose to sit it out. We don't have to hurl insults at Him anymore. We can stop doing that and say, "Oh, I choose Jesus Christ as my Savior" and then go about our merry way and do what feels good. We can ignore the hurt. We can keep secrets and tell lies. We can become proud. We can accumulate stuff. There's tons of options out there other than suffering. But how will we ever really know Jesus if we don't stay there at the cross? How will we ever be like Him if we don't experience the brutality of man's selfish, hate-filled heart and love him anyway?

Francis Chan, who I am just beginning to listen to, has much to say about this. And Katy and Anthony (God bless those two!) saw fit to share with Andy and me a sermon Francis taught on suffering. Andy and I listened and related. Suffering has come our way in recent days- false accusation, insult, reproach. We've been shocked, we've been hurt, and, by grace alone, we've been obedient. "Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse." Romans 12:14. Why? Why would you ever do that? Why would you love someone who has expressed contempt for you? Why?

There is ONE answer, one answer only. Because He does. Because I hurled insults at Him and hated Him and rejected Him for years. And His mercy stayed the same. His grace came to me in waves. He chased after me like fire through a drought-stricken forest. He consumed me with His love. And to know Him, to really know Him, I have to do the very same thing. Agape- the love that expects nothing in return. The love that is poured out for its own sake- not because it's deserved, not because something good is going to happen in its wake, not because it's going to win me brownie points in the hereafter. Because it is HIM. God IS love. He IS agape. And, if I want to know Him, if I want to really know Him, then I have to stare in His eyes while the words beat me into a pulp, while my heart and soul are crushed and know His love, His never failing love for the very ones who are hurting me.

Like Paul said, I have not attained this. But I press on. That's all I have. And that's really all I want. To be able to love someone who hates me the way that I hated Him- will I ever attain this in this life? I don't know. But He's worthy of the effort. Because it's that love that turned my hatred into devotion. Love that amazing, that divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Light has Dawned

Jesus is the Light of the world. A few weeks ago, when we studied Isaiah 9- "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Some wise woman in leader's meeting said, "Light dispels darkness. There's not a thing that darkness can do about light." So true. Light cannot get "put out" by the dark. Dark is the absence of light. When light is present, darkness ceases to exist.

I read my friend Elizabeth's blog today- a tribute to her friend Charis- a girl I've never met but have only heard of. I know her by reputation- a reputation of fearless love for the Lord, unhindered devotion to Him, trust refined by trial. Elizabeth's words about her caused my heart to burn with truth and conviction- light has dawned. Darkness flees when we shine before one another the way that Charis does, the way Elizabeth does- they're not perfect people, they're just bright, that's all. Full of the Light that came down from heaven.

So it dawns on me again- why am I afraid of darkness? Darkness has NO effect on light. Light is still light, regardless of the dark corners of the world. That darkness cannot put the light out. The light can put out the darkness. And why do I fear lies? What lie has power over the truth? Truth sets free. Truth is love in action. Truth is the fruit of the Light. So why do I fear lies? Why am I terrified of what does not exist?

God said through Isaiah in chapter 51, "Where is the wrath of the oppressor?" Where is this scary force of evil that has any power over the Light? What defines my life, really? Dark or light? Truth or lies? By grace alone, Truth and Light came to me- by His choice, out of His love, His mercy, His passion for that which was sick and lost and dying. I'm not afraid. Not of the dark. Not of the lies. I have more than that, and though the gates of hell may wage war against me, they've already lost. They can have my body, my life, my reputation- they may win many battles, but the war is won already. Light wins. Love triumphs. Lies are replaced by truth. Light has dawned.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do the Jesus Dance

I sent my brother this card for his birthday that had the words "How to Dance Properly" written on the front. Just beneath the inscription was a hologram. When you tilted the card forward and back, the image- a youngish looking guy- would swing his arms and hips in this silly looking dance. It reminded me of Grant because he's got pretty good moves for a white guy. He took social dance class at Wake Forest and learned to swing and waltz and all of that good stuff, but he also has rhythm, and can legitimately dance when he wants to.

Maybe it was that card or the increasing Word coming to me to rejoice and be glad, or a combination of those things, but for whatever reason when I read 2 Samuel 6 a few days ago, I laughed out loud at the fun of it.

Here's the story: King David has just started reaching his prime. After years of running for his life from a jealous, enraged and crazed King Saul, the Lord finally removed Saul from the Earth and David was, for the first time since he was a boy-shepherd, free. Can you imagine what that felt like? Having a yoke of fear and oppression you've known since you were a boy lifted finally? And not only that, David was now free to inherit the kingdom of Israel, to become its chosen king, a job for which he had been anointed years before.

It must have been a really exciting time for David. God was handing over the land He wanted him to have- and an especially special piece of that land was the city of Jerusalem, which had previously belonged to the Jebusites, but from that time on would be called the City of David. David was setting up house, getting married (a lot) and having kids. God was blessing David, to be sure, but there was one blessing that was lacking- David had not yet brought the ark of the covenant (see Exodus 25) into the city walls.

So 2 Samuel 6 starts out with David and 30,000 of Israel's most upstanding citizens determined to move the ark. I'm assuming that the original plan was to move it from out in the hills down into the city, but along the way, something really incredible happened. One of the men (His name was Uzzah) walking alongside the cart that was holding the ark, reached out and grabbed the ark (assumably to keep it from falling) when the oxen stumbled. The guy should have chosen to fear God rather than gravity, because when he touched the ark, God was angry and he struck him dead. When you read this at face-value, that seems really harsh of God. But, this crew of happy transporters, though they were well-meaning and excited at the prospect of giving the ark an honorable place in the city, had completely neglected God's explicit commands for how to handle the ark. It's recorded in Numbers 4 that when the ark was to be transported, only the sons of Aaron could prepare the ark, and even they could not touch it or they would die (Numbers 4:15). Furthermore, the ark was never to be placed in a cart, but carried on the shoulders of a specific clan- the Kohathites. Uzzah was a Levite, not a descendent of Aaron, so his touch was even more of a disgrace in the eyes of the Lord. And so the Lord killed him right then and there.

David was amazed and terrified! This is something I really like about David. He is credited as a man after God's own heart, but, especially in circumstances like these, we're reminded of how much of a man he was. Far from the super-hero confidence he displayed when he slayed the giant Philistine years before, David was so spooked by Uzzah's death that he decided to send the ark elsewhere- outside of the city. He was scared to have it in his house! This is so David, and so all of us- one moment we're confident and completely sure of God's plan for our lives and His deliverance, the next we're terrified and need a minute to re-group in the familiar comforts of home. I remember being like this when I was just getting to know the Lord. I would go to church or BSF and learn something so terrifying and amazing about Him that I would want to go home and watch Golden Girls reruns to calm my mind! Ha!! But, like David, I finally tossed that false reality aside, probably because I discovered the same sort of thing that he did after he sent the ark away...

After Uzzah's death, David decided to stash the ark at a guy name Obed-Edom's house. But, I guess after going back to his palace and recovering from the shock of Uzzah's death, David realized that there was still something missing in the City of David- the glory of the Lord. So when he checked up on Obed-Edom, he found that God had blessed everything the guy had! David was having none of that! Miss out on the Lord's blessing!? No way! This kind of thing is how David earns the "after God's own heart" part of his title. He resolved to finish moving the ark into the city. But this time he got things right- 2 Samuel 6:13 says that the ark was being "carried" and not only that, but after only six steps, David made a sacrifice to the Lord! David was completely determined to give glory to God- by following His rules, and by giving up something of value. But that's not my favorite part...

The best line ever is 2 Samuel 6:14 "David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might." I LOVE this!! Another reminder of my brother, who sometimes says, "you can never be overdressed," ;) Not in this case, brother! David, on this occasion, thought that his royal garments would inhibit him from doing what he was determined to do- dance before the Lord!! And not just dance, dance with all his might! I can only imagine David, whose heart had been enchanted by the Holy One, dancing around like a mad-man before the Lord, genuinely expressing His JOY over His presence manifested in the ark!

But not everyone was pleased with David's dancing. One of his wives- Saul's daughter, in fact, Michal, told him that his dance was common and vulgar- not befitting of a king. Sound familiar, folks? Have you ever been determined to worship the Lord- through song, or praise, or dancing, or writing, or prayer, or speaking the truth in love- and someone has come along and said, "Ummm, You need to tone that down a notch. It's not reverent." Reverence- sometimes very real and very necessary. Sometimes a code word excuse for a luke-warm heart toward the Lord. He knows the difference. And so does the worshiper. David knew that his heart was pure before the Lord, but that it was also full of JOY that needed to be expressed! So his response to Michal was perfect- "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over Isreal- I will celebrate before the Lord." Go David!!

Yesterday I talked about singing. Today, dancing. Because a word recently came to me- "Not rejoicing is as much a sin as not repenting." If you are in Christ Jesus, then you have reason to dance for JOY. He has made a clear path between you and the Almighty, and, friend, you feel free to dance right along it.

But know that other people won't appreciate it. In fact, they'll question you. They'll accuse you. They'll attack you. They'll put you down. And when they do? Just dance. Dance with all your might. Celebrate before the Lord. Because He is worthy.

I love my Lord. I love His freedom and His truth. I love Light and Deliverance, Restoration and Healing. I am for those things because I am for Him. And, if I have to dance around in my underoos like David to show Him just how much I love Him, then I will- with all my might!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Love Lifted Me

Our BSF lesson this week ended with a great question- "After studying the first twelve chapters of Isaiah, what song would you like to sing to God?" The question kind of came from Isaiah 12, which is a beautiful song of praise to the Prince of Peace.

Listen to some of these beautiful words of assurance.

"Your anger has turned away and you have comforted me."

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid."

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."

There are songs to sing to a God who does those things. And Andy and I have been singing them! I love the story of Paul and Silas from Acts 16. They were thrown in prison for doing something right, but instead of growing bitter and angry and complaining, they sang songs and prayed. Andy and I have been working this out in our marriage the past couple of weeks. When we've become discouraged or hurt, we've sat down on our sofa, opened up one of our song books, and sung hymns! We have felt the Lord bless our hearts with strength, courage, hope and deep fellowship with each other in these times.

Some of our favorites are- "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" "How Firm a Foundation" "My Goal is God Himself" "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" and today, I sang (by myself) "Love Lifted Me"

It's a blessing to sing- neither of us (sorry, love!) have the gift of beautiful voice, but we do love to sing to the Lord. And as we lift our voices, He lifts our hearts with His steadfast love.

One of the hymnals we have is a book my mom gave me a couple of Christmases ago. It's called, "Then Sings my Soul" by Robert J. Morgan and it is really beautiful. Not only is it full of hymns, but includes a little background story for each one, with biographical info about the song writers. Today, as I sang "Love Lifted Me" my eyes were drawn over to another verse written by this song writer, Howard E. Smith. It's from a lesser known hymn of his called "God Holds the Future in His Hands."

Dread not the things that are ahead,
The burdens great, the sinking sands,
The thorns that o'er the path are spread,
God holds the future in His hands.

God holds the future in His hands
And every heart He understands.
On Him depend, He is your Friend,
He holds the future in His hands.

I know this. I love Jesus Christ with my entire heart and my life is completely dependent on Him and His future-holding hands. And I also know this- I am passionate that everyone I know come to the same realization- albeit it painful and frightening at times, what with the sinking sands and the thorns. But I hope we all learn to depend on Him, He is our Friend, and he holds the future in His hands.

May His love lift you today! What song will you sing to Him when it does?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Movin' right along...

Ok, I just read something hilarious in the Bible. It's in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel, the prophet, has the funniest conversation with God.

Samuel seems like a really sweet man, but a hardcore God-follower at that. God called him to do some really rough stuff. For example, he had to tell Saul that he was no longer God's anointed choice for the Israelites. I do not envy him that job in the least. It's rough enough confronting a person when they've offended God and/or you- but going on behalf of an entire nation to a king who was slightly crazy and mostly bad-tempered and saying, "You're fired" ? Something tells me Samuel enjoyed those words a little less than "the Donald."

The reason I say that is because Samuel had a hard time getting over Saul's disappointing choices. Samuel knew that Saul's rejection of the Lord and His Word had caused the Lord to reject Saul, so there was only one action to take- tell Saul that the kingdom was being given over the one "better than you." Whoa. Who wants to say those words to someone? And who wants to hear them? How devastating to know that God has seen your poor stewardship of the gift He gave you and decided that you are no longer chosen to receive the blessing! But God's mind was made up! Saul had rejected God's Word. Despite being given every evidence and provision from the Holy One, he continued in his sin- and did not repent- not until Samuel caught up with him and called him out. But by then, as Samuel said, "He who is the Glory of Isreal does not lie or change his mind; for he is not man, that he should change his mind." I find that a frightening and fascinating thought! First frightening because I know that I have embarked on sinful escapades that have lasted days, weeks, months, years longer than I would have ever even thought possible. Struggling with a pattern of sin is so serious, grievous, and requires a lot of faith and endurance to overcome. How amazing that the Holy One knows hearts- Isaiah 11 says that He does not judge us by what he sees or hears. In other words, it's not our actions, those are too easy to fake, it's our heart's attitude that He is paying attention to. And, He alone is able to know where we are with those things while we struggle with sin. And that's where the fascinating part comes in. God knows when someone is given over to the sin they've chosen. And there's no faking it with Him. I love this about Him. Because people can say one thing and then turn and do the exact opposite, but God is not fooled!!! He knows the hearts of man. And, in this case, He knew that Saul's was not going to change.

But Samuel was bummed out. The Bible says He mourned Saul for a long time. And God was grieved too. Another sweet thought- it's possible to grieve together with God over the same disappointment. However, God, because He is completely Other, knew when it was time to move on. And when it was time for Samuel to get movin' on with Him. So He said to Samuel,

"How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel ? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way!"

I love this. God telling Samuel to move on, buddy, it's over. I don't say that lightly. I say that with awe. God is so sovereign. Only He knows when something is over. All we can do is follow His word, obey and wait. But sometimes, things end. Sometimes it's time to start brand new. And that was the case here.

But Samuel was freaked out! God commanded Samuel to fill his horn with oil so that he could go anoint the new king- one of Jesse's sons. But all that Samuel could think about was how Saul was going to be ticked off that he was going behind his back and anointing a new king.

Poor Samuel- he tried to be straightforward. He told Saul exactly what God had told him to say. But he knew that Saul was filled with rage, and he was afraid he would come after him! Oh, how I can relate! Even after being obedient to the Lord, I sometimes fear the wrath of man. Samuel was so freaked out he said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me!"

Now here's the part that I find funny- after Samuel freaks out to God, His response is- "Take a heifer with you and say..." I think this is funny because God completely ignores Samuel's freak out moment. I don't think it's that God didn't care about Samuel's fear and I KNOW it wasn't because God didn't hear Him (he knew the word before it was on his tongue! Psalm 139) But, I think that Saul was such a non-threat in the eyes of the Lord that He didn't waste a breath even acknowledging Samuel's fear- it wasn't worth His time.

This is great to me. I love it. God is just like, ok, Samuel you have to move on from Saul. His time is over. I'm sad over it too. But a new blessing is waiting over at Jesse's and if you're ever going to get to it, you gotta get going.

Thank you, Glory of Isreal. You are so right. Always right.

Andy said yesterday, "we don't need to dwell on anything that isn't pleasing to God" to include our hurt or past sin, or the sin of other people. So true. And what a great help from my sweet help-mate! There is a time of repentance and grief over our sin, and the sins of others, but eventually God says "move on." God wasn't ignoring Saul's sin- that's important. We can't ignore sin because God never does. But Samuel had to trust God to take care of Saul in the end. He knew that Saul had spoiled his blessing. He felt bad for him. But there were new blessings on the horizon, and Samuel had to get over his fear of man and get going to get to them.

And from that son of Jesse, David, came my Hero- Jesus Christ. He was his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson (I think that's right) So I'm glad God got Samuel up and off with that heifer that day. The world was blessed and Samuel was not harmed.

But, for those faint-hearted Samuels out there (like me!) here's a word of encouragement, one that He has used to strengthen my heart.

"Hear me, you who know what is right,
you people who have my law in your hearts:
Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults."

Jehovah knows. He cannot lie. He cannot be lied to. It's ok. Just move right along. And if He tells you, take the heifer, chances are He wants to bless a lot of other folks too. :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The "Agony" of Defeat

Defeat is only agonizing when winning is the goal.

I talked to my Mom and Dad tonight, after the election results were in. He lost the race. My mother said, "We cannot say that we are disappointed because that would mean that we are disappointed in God." My father said, "I am not discouraged. I receive God's answer." and then proceeded to bless me and tell me to communicate to my husband how much he appreciates him.

I got off the phone and said to Andy, "I am rich." Rich in blessings. Rich in spiritual inheritance. Months of work, hope, prayer ended tonight, and in the echo of "defeat" my parents bless the Lord and my marriage. No complaints. No pity parties. No slander.

It's not because they are better than anyone else. My parents have become more and more completely aware of their poverty before the Lord in the past years of disappointment and trial. It's not that they are better, it's that they have chosen another goal, a better goal.

Defeat is only agonizing when winning is the goal.

But that is not their goal. So defeat is an opportunity to say, "To God be the glory for the things He has done." And to bless the Lord and others.

We sing this hymn in BSF from time to time. It is so true of my dad, who, as I wrote before, will judge one day- in the eternal Kingdom, where all things will be made new and disappointment and failure, defeat and falsehood will no longer exist. But until then, this is his goal, together with my mom- and mine and Andy's with them. This is our treasure, our win- tonight and always.

My goal is God himself,
Not joy or peace nor even blessing, but Himself, my God;
Tis His to lead me there, not mine, but His-
At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.

-Fanny Crosby

Come thirsty

"Come all you who are thirsty,
come, come to the waters."
Isaiah 55:1

In the book of John there is a story about a woman who had been sinful. I assume that she also had been very hurt. She'd been married several times, and divorced several times and was living with a man who was not her husband.

Usually, when you hear about this woman, she is used as an example of a great sinner. We can have a sort of "that would never happen to me" attitude, "all those marriages, all those men." But this was a society where men were permitted to divorce their wives if they were displeased with them in any way. Perhaps her heart had been broken just as many times as it had hoped for love and commitment. Perhaps it was jaded after so many years of disappointment and sin. Perhaps she was a great sinner who brought all of it on herself. I don't know. But I know not to pass judgment. How forgetful I can be that I am a great sinner. She was no different than myself.

It made no difference to Jesus. He came to her one day at a well and asked her for a drink. His reason? To help her recognize her own thirst. Then He told her that she could have asked Him for living water. Perplexed, she said this- one of my favorite Bible quotes, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?"

The well is deep. She was talking about a hole in the ground, Jesus was directing her toward the depth of need and hurt in her heart- they were both right. The well is so, so deep.

But we cannot know Him in His fullness and deny that He has called us to come drink when we are thirsty. He doesn't deny that the well of our heart is deep; He promises to be able to fill the depths with Himself.

Lord Jesus, today, I am so thirsty. Fill my cup, Lord.

The Lord is the One who fills our cup to overflowing. He meets the depth of our soul with something alive, something that I cannot even comprehend. It manifests itself in peace and love and joy and gentleness.

But people and circumstances, they can cause the cup to spill. Out of their anger or hurt or cruelty, they knock into us- the joy, the peace spilling out. Our cup is empty. Our hearts are filled with grief. This has happened to me in the past few days. Harsh words slammed into me like a freight train, and my cup was empty all of a sudden.

But the response is this- turn to the Well, to the Fount of Living Water- ask Him to fill my cup again. Fill it, Lord, to overflowing.

It's not ever a person's job to fill another person's cup. We are just conduits of His living water for one another, so though it may appear that someone else fills our cup with gladness from time to time, it's really just that the person has opened themselves up to become faucet for His grace. The water's source is Him alone. I say this because it matters when the cup is suddenly empty. Anger and hurt will come, but the person who caused the emptiness cannot fill the cup back up. It is my own responsibility to go to Him when I am so thirsty and ask to be filled again.

May our cups be filled to overflowing from the Fount of Blessing Himself. Grace and peace to all who read this.