4 Lessons I Learned About Crossing Rivers and The Israelites

When we moved from Ohio to Virginia, I fell in love with the story of God leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Time. Time again I saw connections between that journey and ours, leaving a place we knew to head towards a place of promise, without a map and without a plan of our own.

A few months ago, I found myself drawn to Joshua, someone that I knew enough about from childhood Sunday School, VeggieTales and the occasional sermon to give you a basic run down of his story. I had no idea, however, just how his experiences would speak so perfectly to my own. I had the pleasure of writing a sermon about him for class and was overwhelmed with all I learned from that character study.

I find myself walking through a riverbed this week, having seen the waters parted and the way made clear for me to head in to a new position at my church. I’ve remained in that Joshua story, making sure I took notice of just exactly they went through in order to get into the Promised Land.

Here are a few things I do not want to forget.

1. It was big and scary. God did not mince words when He over and over told Joshua that what lay ahead would be something that could be seen as terrifying. He said this to Joshua, the guy who had lead the nation in military victory, who had gone as a spy into the Promised Land 40 years before and wasn’t scared of the giants then. And yet, God had to repeat over and over “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.”

We have the idea that the Promised Land was ONLY filled with milk and honey, as if here came the nation of Israel with bowls of plain Cheerios ready to flavor their life with sweetness and refreshment. But that’s not what they found.

Before they entered the land, the sent spies for a second time. These spies were found out and their lives were in danger! They had to rely in Rahab, a woman of low reputation from Jericho, to deceive her king and sneak them out. After they escaped, they spent days trying to shake the men from the city who pursued them. The first set of spies, 40 years earlier had only seen the people in the land and perceived great danger. The second set of spies were seen by the people of the land and were in actual danger!

Yet still, when they returned to Joshua, they said “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” That’s some confidence!

What lies ahead of us when we walk into God’s promises on our lives may have challenge, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God is the same for Joshua, for me and you and for generations to come. When He says He will lead you into His promises, follow Him! He is trustworthy!

2. It took a minute. God directed Joshua as to the plan, and Joshua immediately set about accomplishing the plan. However, before they would take the city of Jericho, before they would accomplish the first great task at hand, they had to pack an entire nation, send the spies, consecrate themselves, wait for the Jordan River to part, go back into the riverbed and collect stones, build an altar, tell the story of what God had done for them, set up camp, allow the story to reach the kings of the nations in the land, circumcise the men, heal from that, celebrate Passover, hear the plan of attack from the angel of the Lord and get themselves ready and head over to Jericho.

This was no flash of lightening and boom! Accomplished! No, it was a process, and each part of it served to prepare them not just go into the land, but to inhabit the land. God’s plan was never about entrance. It was all about dwelling.

When you are moving from one chapter to the next, be patient and be ready to find valuable preparation along the way.

3. The riverbed crossing was intentional. God made sure that the nation would see Joshua in the same light they saw Moses. Everyone knows about the parting of the Red Sea, but not many people talk about the Jordan River. But reading and rereading this part so sweetly illustrated the magnificence of God’s authorship. Through water Israel passed to freedom and through water they passed to promise. God is making very obvious points so as to make clear just exactly what story He is telling.

Echoed in this beautiful evidence of God’s crafting of a story, we see one man from each tribe head back into the riverbed, selecting 12 stones with which they will build an altar, the purpose of which is to communicate to the watching world what God had done for His people. God wrote the story so His people could tell it and tell it forever.

As you walk in a transitional time, make note of the story God is telling in your life. Make something permanent that you can refer back to for your own edification and to show others what God has done for you.

4. Be ready to fully rely on Him.  The Israelites had stopped circumcising their boys in the wilderness. Nothing marked them as set apart for God. So before they could be able to move into inhabiting the land, they had put themselves in right relationship with God. For them, this meant circumcision. For us, we look to a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the law, an identification by cutting away what is between us and God, a commitment to God’s precepts written on our hearts. They had to take radical action to show that they trusted God, and so must we.

As they healed from the circumcision they celebrated Passover (oh, the beauty of God’s storytelling!) The day after the celebration, they ate food of the land for the first time. Until this point they had still be eating manna. They were finally able, having told and retold and celebrated God’s story on their lives from Egypt to the other side of the Jordan, to enjoy what grew in God’s promise. No more would they just open the tent flap and grab breakfast. Now was the time to harvest and gather and prepare new delicious dishes! God had kept them on a steady diet of plain provision, and now He set before them a bounty of promise. There is a maturing that has to happen to move from the expectation that God will put the food in front of your face to getting the food that grows in abundance around you. This is in itself a deepening in your reliance on God, because it is not as easy as just eating what’s put in front of you.

When at last you are ready to dwell where He has lead you, do not sit and moan that the manna isn’t falling. Get up and go get that milk and honey!

*************************************************************************************

In just a few days I will be in a new land.

If you could see my rock pile I’m gathering from my riverbed.
If you will listen to my story of how He did this for me.
Oh, my friends, God was trustworthy and able for Joshua and He is trustworthy and able for me and He is trustworthy and able in your life, as well.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:7-9

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Pray For The Church

       I took a break from my own thoughts tonight to listen to someone else’s. A search result brought me to David Platt’s Secret Church simulcast speaking on the Holy Spirit. This is my first time watching one of these. Barely 5 minutes in and he lays down this admonishment.

I have come face to face with my self sufficiency that plagues me, and along the way face to face with the frightening realization - I am a part - and I think I would be safe to say we a

Wow, y’all.

He follows it by pointing at how we have marketing and publicity to do what the Holy Spirit should be doing and the danger of mistaking the physical presence of people in a building for the existence of spiritual life.

       May that never be the story of my church, my leaders, or myself. May we never rely on ourselves and our modern means and methods to do the work of the Holy Spirit of the abundantly able God of the universe. May those who have experienced the holiness of God never fall silent on the subject and may we never fall reliant on any other.
      Today someone spoke word of advice to me, directing me that as I move forward to “embrace, believe and minister out of” three verses he referenced, each of which pointed out that in all that we do, making him known, fulfilling God’s purpose, even simply being, the foundation of this is Christ in me. Not my power, not my ability, not my purposes and plans. His alone.
       I hear this word of warning. I give ear to this advice. I stand ready to work not in my own strength, but in His. I have been so blessed both in Virginia and Ohio to be a part of churches where I believe we are led by people truly infatuated by His Spirit. Shining examples of standing back and letting God work though they are, I am committed to praying for their protection against this kind of apathy, pride and self sufficiency, because how it would break my heart to see them ask forgiveness for those.

      The American church needs prayer, now more than ever, and that means that your church needs prayer more than ever. If you don’t know what to pray, pray for a fresh move of the Spirit and pray for protection.

May it not be said of my church or of yours that we think we are bigger than the God we serve.

A Tale Of Two Mountains

It is easy when people speak about “holiness” and “righteousness” for people to interpret the message as a demand of perfection, unattainable and futile, frustrating and infuriating.  It’s easy to interpret it that way. It’s wrong, but I can see how one would hear the message that way, because I used to hear the message that way.

In the past few years I have learned that holiness and righteousness are not about adhering to a list of demands from an unfeeling master, but rather about relying solely and fully on the only one who is truly holy and righteous.

Hebrews 12 speaks to me to that point more than any other passage in the Bible. It begins with a heavy portion of the chapter addressing how we behave, instructing us to press on, to focus on Jesus, to expect ridicule and attack, to endure discipline as a blessing, to strengthen your spiritual self, to refuse to fall short, to reject anything that might cause you to reject Christ, because in unrighteousness is incredible and terrible consequence.

Alright, seriously though, how do you read that and not think again that this holiness thing is simply about behaving better? This is how. You don’t stop there. You read on, because in the second half of the chapter, following some of the strictest admonishment in the New Testament of how to live our individual faith lives, comes some of the most freeing, sweetest breath of life and hope kind of words that I have read.

Add suYou have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those

Moses climbed the mountain to receive the law, but there were strict boundaries placed which limited the Israelites from drawing near this event. Exodus 19 recounts this story and makes it clear that to attempt approaching the holiness of God by climbing the mountain would result in death. Hebrews sends us back to that moment, to remind the listeners of the familiar story, Moses going up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. These commands and the law were given to God’s people so they would be set apart from the rest of the world,

But the writer makes such a strong statement saying “You have not come.” You have not come to the kind of mountain where law is given as a method of setting you apart, of making you holy. At Mount Sinai, Moses had to consecrate himself and follow strict guidelines and then he still had to wait for the trumpet blast in order to approach God there.

When I didn’t understand holiness, this is how I thought of it. That it is marked rightly as burning with fire, darkness, gloom and storm. That it is about consecrating yourself, following those rules and regulations, and then waiting for a trumpet blast to tell me that I’ve been good enough to come to God. However, Paul makes it clear with those 4 words “You have not come…”

So if we are not approaching the mountain of the law, what do we approach?

you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstb

There it is. “You have come.” The other mountain, the mountain of God, where the first indicator is one that points at worship, thousands of angels in joyful assembly. And then “You have come” again, this time, not to a place, but to Him, to God. It is this path that ends in communion with our holy God.

How is this accomplished? By the word of The Word Made Flesh, which speaks better than all of the condemnation laid out from the first condemnation, that of Adam.

But it doesn’t end there! It goes on…

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from

Just before Moses stepped onto that mountain, it shook violently. These details would have been so familiar to the Hebrews receiving Paul’s letter here, that to connect the shaking of Mount Sinai before Moses went to receive the law would translate so sensibly to what is experienced when the Holy Spirit came to the new believers in those days.

The writing of the shaking mountains moves into the consuming fire, this Holy Spirit symbol that we still recognize today, thinking of those tongues of flame that rested on the apostles as the Holy Spirit came upon them. It connects to Exodus 19 as the mountain shook, it was covered in smoke “because the Lord descended on it in fire.” Paul connects the power of holiness on the mountain to the fire witnessed at Pentecost to explain the power now available to us through His Spirit.

Before we are ready to allow the Holy Spirit into our lives, to experience him not like the nation of witnesses kept at bay down at the foot of the mountain, but to experience Him in full at the mountain top, we will find a shaking away. Just as God shook the mountains and arrived in fire, just as the Spirit arrived with rushing wind and fire on Pentecost, so to will He come to us in an experience unlike any other.

When my shaking time was on me, a friend heard a song and gave me a lyric from it which says “You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.” My friend, there is deep truth in that. I ran those words through my mind as things seemed to go from bad to worse. I found myself, at last, at a point where I was out of options and out of ideas on how to fix the mess all around me. I sat there in the sanctuary with what sounded like thousands of angels singing around me and in front of me I saw two empty hands with up turned palms. “Those are my hands,” I thought “I have nothing to offer. I have no more ideas. I have nothing.” Then into those empty hands slipped another pair of hands, filling them, curving around their edges, the meaning clear. Now that I had empty hands, they were ready to be filled by His. Now that I had nothing to give, He could give to me. Now that I had no more ideas, He could use me.

When you feel control is slipping through your grasp, don’t clench your fists. Let things fall around you, leaving your hands open so that what is of this world shakes away. Let His hands fill yours so that instead of you trying to grapple and grasp on to whatever you can grab to hold as the world breaks around you, He can hold on to you.

Just Give Me A Sign!!!!

In the past few weeks I’ve been working through a decision. Not a little decision like which socks, but one that felt big and important. Big like…is someone documenting this, because this is going down in the history books…oh…documenting my life and thoughts is my job.

People would talk about feeling peace or gaining clarity, but I never felt out of peace or particularly foggy. Close to the end a friend voiced what I’d been thinking the whole time, that really, either way I went, it really would be ok, that it wasn’t about right or wrong, but A or B. But with the process, there was this wait, and in the wait I found myself wondering, “How will I know when it’s time to decide? Will there be fireworks or what?”

I’ve been there before. It’s a natural human experience, to search for signs and wonders to direct your steps, looking outside of yourself to address your inner monologue. Even in the “follow your heart” crowd, if you watch, they interpret events, moments, conversations, chance encounters and apply them to the craving of their spirit and direct their path, good or bad, and move. It bears this note, that the casual observer can also tell if the outside influence of the action is a good or bad influence.

This isn’t a current trend, that everyone does it because everyone famous is doing it, but something that has been in our nature from the beginning. I listened to in incredible sermon a few weeks ago where Moses’s calling was outlined. It’s a familiar story, Moses is out and about doing the shepard thing and woah! There is a burning bush! And from the bush comes a voice which directs Moses to go back and get His people and free them from Egypt. Well, Moses doesn’t just take the burning bush at its word, for one thing, who even was this talking to him? And why would the bush choose him? And how exactly was this going to work, because he just was not the best guy for the job?

We find that story in Exodus 3, and there in verse 12, God has already anticipated that what Moses is looking for beyond answers to the questions, is something real and tangible that he can look to to drive home that this was real and this was trustworthy. We read, “And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

We know the story that follows, Moses gets on board, goes and talks to Pharoah, Let my people go, plagues, blood, bugs, more bugs and death, freedom, Pharoah say “oh shoot, what’d I do?” chase scene, staff raised and parted sea, Isreal races forward, makes it in the nick of time and the Egyptians drown. These are some pretty impressive things there. But God did not say, “This will be a sign to you, there will be locusts, like, EVERYWHERE, and I mean EVERYWHERE.” He didn’t say a word about the blood, about the frogs, about the walls of water, nothing. It wasn’t any of the powerful or miraculous things God would do through for and through Moses. But those are the things we look for. I wanted fireworks. I wanted sky writing.

What God gives as a sign is that Moses will worship, that Moses will find himself in adoration of Him. What would show him that I am sent him out is that he would find himself facing God in wonder.

So, thinking on this, I decided to stop deciding. Stop pros and cons, stop weighing out the options, stop playing out imaginary what ifs in my head. I was just going to sing, to worship God. When the thoughts about the decision came back into my head, I sang louder. I sang in the car. I sang at home. I sang doing yard work. I sang at my desk. I sang when no one was with me and I sang when others were around.

Soon enough, I could hear another voice, a voice from my childhood singing a sweet old song, “Blessed Assurance,” and there in the chorus rang out, “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” I love a good story and I love a good song, but there in those lyrics I found my answer.

The direction I should go should be the one that creates within me a response
to praise my Savior all the day long. 

When I filled my heart, my mind and my mouth with song it became so simple to see which way lead to more worship, which way pointed me towards singing and story telling the lyrics and lines I want written about me, penned by Him.

If today you are searching for fireworks or parted seas, may I direct you instead to song. Sing, sing loud, sing off key, just sing, until you hear Him singing with you, delighting in your delight of Him.

The Faith Of My Child

Right before they leaned him back, his lips turned up into a smile, his eyes closed gently and he took a little breath. If I had known that his face would have shown the sincerity of his heart, I might have rethought my idea to leave my phone back on my chair so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take pictures and not just experience the moment. I will hold fast to the peace and pleasure written on his face for years to come.

In second grade, the kids watched a video of a friend being baptized. There were questions that followed and I answered them as carefully as I could. I know that as a parent I have the power to convince my children of most anything, and with something as sacred as their faith, I do not want them to turn around one day and say “I only went to church, I only prayed that prayer, I only sang those church songs to make Mom and Dad happy.”

Afterwards we talked about it, what baptism was, what you had to decide before you did that. Before that video, I knew they knew that Frank was baptized as a baby, and Molly was dedicated, but we hadn’t really touched the subject beyond that. In that discussion I told Frank that he had been baptized, but that if he decided that he ever wanted to be baptized again as a way to show people that he’d decided to invite Jesus into his heart, that was ok by me. It was clear that while Frank thought about God and thought about spiritual things, he had not made that choice for himself…which that was no big deal, because he was just barely 8. I told him that he would decide whenever he was ready, but he shouldn’t decide anything because his friend had and he shouldn’t say anything because he’d thought it’d please me, because it actually wouldn’t make me happy if he only said something to make me happy about God, that it should only be about him. He nodded and looked like he was thinking, but that was sort of the end of that conversation.

A few months later, he sat and watched another friend be baptized. I glanced at him to see what I could see from his face and his eyes were a little damp and his expression was of close examination. I asked him what he’d thought about it and he said something to the effect of “Good,” and no more, but it was pretty clear the idea of being in front of all those people in a wooden tub was extremely strange to him.

The summer continued and the school year began, and we didn’t discuss it anymore. Our conversations centered around my trips to Richmond to help my parents, situations at school and how they made the kids feel, what they’d been learning or whatever they were interested in at the moment. My parents both had intense health concerns and we prayed for them pretty much every night, but I could see something different about the way Frank was praying. It was not recitation of familiar verses or listing thanks and wants, but it was this honest appeal to the one he believed could heal his grandparents whom he loves so dearly.

I had encouraged those prayers and agreed Amen and Amen with him, but I became discouraged about my parents health situation. Then as I was sure God was not going to bring the healing I so desperately wanted for them, I was afraid I’d set Frank up for incredible hurt and anger that he would direct towards God. Maybe I should have said something about how He should pray “thy will be done” or “not what I want, but what You want.” But no, I had told him to ask, ask honestly what he wanted from the God who was listening and who loved Him and whom he could trust to do big miraculous things. I was sure that not only would I soon have to walk him through incredible loss, but I would have to walk him through incredible anger. I turned to God, struggling to form good sounding paragraphs that would express my willingness to submit to suffering, petitioning for healing and help with my child. It was mostly just short statements and questions. “What are you doing? I can’t handle this. What have I done?”

On and on Frank continued to pray, and miraculously my parents both received words like “recovery” and “remission.” These words I never thought possible, but Frank prayed earnestly for. How that taught me about the faith like a child. How that taught me about how He cares about us. How humbled was I that my son had stayed trusting praying “Help them”  while I gasped for enough air to croak out “Help me.” My cousin, who has worked tending to the care of patients who went through what my dad went through and personal experience with her family facing the same battle my mom has faced took the time out to call me and make clear that what my parents went through and their coming through the other side was nothing short of a miracle. It was medically ridiculous, but it was truly miraculous.

We continued on, Frank would pray for their continued strength and now he had other things to pray about, and his prayers were filled more thanksgivings than nearly anyone’s I’d ever heard. He started every prayer with all of the things he’d appreciated about the day and credited them to God, thanking Him for allowing those good things. He’d say “Thank you God for this great day. Let tomorrow be even better than this one!” And the following evening he thanked God again for the day, just as sincerely showing that he believed that God had indeed made the day better. Even on days I knew he’d had rough days, he thanked God for the day and found things that were good about it. That positivity and remembrance to give credit where it was due spoke so much to this mother again.

One night Frank was climbing the ladder to his loft and turned around and said “Mom, I want to be re-babatized.” I was a little taken aback. I asked him why and he explained that I’d said before that if he decided he wanted to do that, he could. Well, sure, I’d said that, but I’d sort of expected it to be something he did when he was maybe 17, you know, the same age I was when I decided to make my faith my own. I asked Kermit about it, was he too young to decide this? Kermit said “Well, 9 is young, but if the Spirit tells him it’s time to do it, then it’s time to do it.” Man. Look at everyone in my family being more right on than me.

Frank waited patiently for the baptism date to arrive and read his baptism booklet. There on the back was a spot for his testimony. He stopped on that. He asked if we could come back to it. Sure. But when we came back to it, he didn’t get it. I tried to explain what a testimony was, but he kept answering “Why do I want to get baptized?” instead of “Why did I ask Jesus into my heart?” I told him probably ten convoluted examples of what a testimony was and he looked over my shoulder and made silly faces. Finally I said here is a pencil, take this to your room, turn off the tv, sit down and write why you decided to ask Jesus into your heart.

I came back to check on him maybe 10 minutes later and he was watching tv. I asked him what happened and he said he’d finished and given it to Daddy. He’d written…

“I was sitting in church thinking of God and decided to follow Him so I could understand him better. I chose him in my life because one, no two people. My mom and dad. My family believes in him so much I couldn’t resist but to get baptized. I know he did some risky miracles, but nothing he does ever goes wrong.”

     My heart, right!!! I told him it was perfect, and inside it made me feel so much better that he’d gone and written it alone so that I didn’t wonder if I’d influenced it. The last bit made me chuckle thinking through Jesus’s miracles and which would have been the risky ones. Probably walking on water. At bedtime I asked him “Which of Jesus’s miracles was the riskiest?” Frank answered, “In my life?” I was a little surprised, because I expected a bible story, but I said “Ok, sure, in your life.” He talked about how God had healed his grandfather, and how He’d helped Grandfather start living a healthier lifestyle, but in order to do it God used a big scary health problem.

And I saw it, the path that Frank had traveled in the past year, from the times where he watched his friends being baptized and knowing that about baptism the way he knew about anything else “bibley.” He’d been taught about it, he’d read about it, he’d heard about it. But faith is not faith that is on paper or words floating from a speaker to your ears. Faith is found in experiencing God and His might and majesty and finding no other alternative worth choosing.

Today Frank was baptized, something he’s waited and wanted to do for a few months. That smile as he slipped beneath the surface and came up, it came from deep inside. We have many more years ahead of us as parents, to guide him, to direct him, to speak truth to him and to encourage him to continue to choose this faith as his own…on his own. But what a gift we have in this day, to remember that our boy has a heart for the Lord and is tucked so sweetly in the arms of our Savior that he can whisper his prayers right into His ear.

Happy Baptism Day, Frankie!

 

Pentecost and the Trinity

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise God above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

     Growing up I sang the Doxology and had enough Sunday school to get the basic idea of the trinity. Three in one….all each individual and yet not separate. There was a children’s moment where the children’s pastor used a banana to illustrate the trinity, showing that if you press your finger into the top off a banana it will separate into three parts, all three fully banana, but individual sections. It stuck, that banana example.

But it was still a bit of a mystery. Because, God the Father I could understand. He made everything and made me and my family.  God the Son I could understand. He was Jesus who died on the cross and took our sins. God the Spirit? God the Holy Ghost? What was that? Was it like a transparent Jesus? Or like God with a Charlie Brown holey ghost sheet on? And what was with the tongues of fire? It was almost like I was looking at the banana, and the first two pieces were banana and the third piece was like, I don’t know, kiwi in a banana shape? Just confusing.

In the early years of my adult life, I understood that those urges, the pulls on your heart which give directions to your steps, separate from whims and desires had something to do with the Spirit. But I probably also attributed that like nice feeling you get when you’re singing at church or like the feeling of the wind on your face when you sit outside at a retreat as the Spirit. I was aware that there were people who talked about the Spirit provoking certain responses in them that I wanted no part of and I saw stories on tv about snakes that just made the idea of being too involved with the Spirit sound kind of dangerous and weird.

So I lived the first decade and a half of my adult faith like
FATHER, SON, and the other guy.

     I saw some unhealthy things attributed to the Holy Spirit and I saw some intriguing things attributed to the Spirit, but nothing ever interested me enough to stop and say, “What exactly are you all talking about?” I would read about and think on the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, but the Spirit still remained distant. It wasn’t until my 30s that I sat in churches where I heard good scripture on who the Spirit is and about the daily impact of the Spirit on a person’s life and our world, not fantastical promises of supernatural worked up frenzies expressed through sensational emotional highs. I heard about surrender. I heard about releasing control. And these things peaked my interest.

By the time Pentecost rolled around last year, I was excited about this. A day to remember when the Spirit came and the church was born. The day was almost upon us when I realized something.

In the Old Testament, God was introduced as “the God who sees me.” He was watching. He was observing. He was manipulating the outcomes of human affairs, but He was separated behind a veil.

     Then came Jesus, and at Christmas we meet Emmanuel, “God with us.” God stepped out from behind the veil and drew closer to humanity, willing to step into our dirt and mess and clean us.

Then came the Holy Spirit. And He was now the God withIN us. The Spirit was the final piece in God moving as intimately into our lives as He possibly could, to go from being behind a veil, to being present next to us, to being inside of our hearts.

     It was a beautiful thought, one that I treasured over the past year. That God would want to be so close to me and that the Bible told this story from start to finish of growing intimacy with Him. There was this terrible separation at the beginning of the book when Adam and Eve were send out of the garden, but God had a plan to restore that relationship, to bring back the closeness where man could stroll in the garden with God and feel no shame. It is like this embrace that gets tighter and sweeter as the story concludes.

Last weekend I was visiting with my mom and she was telling me about a book she was reading and some conversations she’d had with one of my cousins and she presented this to me. God in the Old Testament was the God who was invisible to us. Then Jesus came and made God able to be seen by man. And then the Spirit came and enabled us to make God seen by others.

Oh, how that pleased me! In the spring, my life group (see: small group, bible study, cell group, etc.) read Forgotten God by Francis Chan and discussed the Holy Spirit, His person and His impact. The thing that I was surprised to find was that the first effect a person displayed after an experience of the Spirit was almost always a vocal one. To worship, to speak a foreign language, to pray, praise, sing or to tell people about the gospel. When we can’t find the words, in Romans 8 we read that the Spirit speaks for us. The very obvious job of the Spirit is to make God known to as many people as possible.

That embrace that drew me closer and closer into His presence reversed.

In the same story about the sweetest intimacy we can experience is the story of the greatest extension available. As His arms gather us in each alone to Himself, He offers to place His Spirit inside us so that we may in turn, turn and embrace others. Through the Spirit God offers us each the experience of making Him known to us as our whole world, as well as the privilege of making our whole world know Him.

       Like breathing in and breathing out, the blessing of the Trinity and Pentecost is the inhalation of intimacy and the exhalation of love. There is a song that came out a few years ago that says it like this…

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only.

Praise Father.
Praise Son.
Praise Holy Ghost.

Amen.

4 Steps To Knowing God’s Direction

Are you there God? It’s me, Sarah.

During my figure skating years, I would strike deals with God. If I landed the next jump I would take it as a sign that I should talk to a certain boy. Or I would cut a tight circle with my blade on the ice and if I could keep my spin scratches within the boundaries I’d drawn, it would be a sign that I would pass the test I had tomorrow. It was not a particularly accurate system, but I did it more than once, evidencing a confidence in what was little more than an 8-ball in action.

Deciding for myself to be a Christian at 17 didn’t seem to make the direction of God any more clear. I looked for signs and wonders to make it clear for any and everything from where to go to college to where to eat dinner. What path should I take? Which way should I go? What does it all mean?!?!?! While I considered myself to have at least a modicum of discernment, while I thought myself to be right about more or less everything, at the end of the day, just like so many other people, this was a question that plagued me.

When I felt direction, was it God talking or was it me?

Was I just making up the answers to my own questions about His will for my life?

1. Be prepared to shut your mouth. We all know that famous phrase from the backseat, “Are we there yet?” Does it speed the travel time at all? No, of course not. Neither does nagging God. Another well known line is “God gave you one mouth and two ears, so you’ll listen twice as much as you talk.” This is true with our relationship with the maker.

God will listen and it is right to tell Him what’s on your mind, but if you never stop and sit still and quiet, you’re not going to hear anything. Tell God your thoughts and opinions and your hopes and your plans, and then be quiet. Be still and know, friend, know that He is able.

Job lived through some horrible situations and he didn’t curse God, but he got pretty down. He had some friends give him some advice and Job talked and talked and talked. By the time God shows up on the scene to have a word with Job, God has to tell him to Just. Shut. Up. Now of course, God didn’t say “shut up,” because God is more polite than me, but the message was there.

Job 38: 2-3 says God spoke out of the storm and said “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Now I know that message, because I’ve heard it loud and clear. I have the tendency to think I know best and there have been more than one occasion where God has in essence said “Who do you think you are? Do you know who I AM? Get ready, because we’re about to have a talk.”  That is not the way you want to start things off with Him.

If you want to hear God’s voice, the first thing you have to do is be quiet.

2. If you want to know what sort of things God will be saying, get in the Word. God will not tell you something that conflicts with what He’s laid out in the Bible. Read it with respect, look for the historical context, look up the original meanings of words, look for the application in your life today and look for the broader meaning for the church at large.

Let’s say you get home to find out your significant other is out. They left you a note on the table that reads “Ran to Food Lion. Getting milk. Be back in 15.” After 10 minutes, you wonder if he can pick up your dry cleaning. You know from the note if he is close to the dry cleaners or far away. You also know that he’s probably already left the store and is almost home since so much time has passed. Because you were given important information and you can use the knowledge you have of the area and the time, you are able to figure out you’re probably going to have to pick up your own slacks.

God gave us the Bible to be a resource, a tool. Though you might see someone decorating their yard with an old plow, or displaying their grandfather’s old saw proudly on the wall of their shed, but that’s not it’s purpose. Tools are made to be used to help us build things. The Bible is a tool to help us build our lives. Use it.

3. Keep a journal. Or some method of documenting that allows you to review what God has done. In high school I heard a youth pastor say, “If it is important, right it down.” That was when I started my first journal. and there have been many years where I didn’t journal with any regularity, but having picked it back up, I’ve been reminded of how important it is.

I have discovered that I am a word hoarder. If I’ve emailed it, written it down, blogged it, or read it, I don’t discard it, I hold on to it so that I can review it again and again and gain from it all over. Keeping a journal, keeping a little hoard of words the documents your days enables you to recognize patterns of His faithfulness as you revisit what God has done for you, taught you, taken you through. And eventually you’ll start to anticipate that God will do these things again and again.

If it is true on a grand scale that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” it is also true for our own lives. There is no historian but you for your days and nights. Perhaps, you will grow up to be well known and influential on the course of the world and someone will right a book on you in retrospect, but that author will be digging through research to discover who you were. You are in your life now. Who better to write it down but you?

While God authors your story, put pen to paper and document it.
Live your history.
Learn your history.
And leave your history behind ready to move on to what God has for you next.

4. Be prepared to accept what He says. Even if you don’t like it.

Seeking after God when you are facing challenges or difficulties or decisions is not the same as chasing Santa. God loves you and wants you to live a life beyond your wildest dreams, but He is most interested in His glory and our gain. And our gain might not look like we think it should.

Our gain may look like a broken car so that we can build a friendship with a mechanic.
Our gain may look like going without so that we can know provision by His hand.
Our gain may look like failure so we are inspired to try harder next time.
Our gain may look like devastation, utter decimation, so that we are hands are so empty they are ready to be filled by His.

Our gain isn’t always new things, promotions, accolades and skinny thighs. His glory IS our gain. When you are ready to do what brings Him the most glory, you will, despite the circumstance, see the most gain where you didn’t expect to find it in the first place.

Knowing where God is leading is possible. God is no created method for predicting the future, like my figure skating 8-ball attempts to divine answers to silly questions. God is ready to walk you straight through your life into His glory and He has a Plan A for your life. He will not be thwarted by a Plan B, but He has a best plan, His plan for you. The best way to walk that path is to tuck in so tightly to His shadow that the only thing you can see are His feet in front of your own, His track before you, and walk therein.

His leading will never disappoint.
His ways are good.
His paths are worth the journey.

The Faith Of My Friend

If we are lucky, we have a friend who has faith that makes you take a step back in awe. If you are friends with Cheryl Binegar, you are lucky, because you have that friend. Cheryl has always impressed me with her reliance, her joy, her care for others and her purity, purity of intention and purity of action.

There was a man in the Bible that most are familiar with, Job, whom God credited like this, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” And to that came the response from the terrifying restless wanderer, the acceptance of the challenge “Surely he will curse you.”

My friend is going through a very tough time, helping her parents through incredibly difficult health issues. There is sense of living loss without absence that can walk beside us when we travel with our loved ones as their health fails, and it is unlike anything else I’ve known. I imagine it is unlike anything Cheryl has known either.

She has been support to so many, and my hope is that she is receiving the same measure of support in return, good support. As Job sat wishing he’d never been born after the decimation of everything he loved and valued, his friends saw him from a long way off, saw his trouble and they suffered with him. In Job 2, we read that “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

These well intentioned friends who loved Job started their attempts to comfort him, just by being with him. Just being present. And that was such a good thing. It shows the depth of their care for him, that they would sit with this man who was ceremonially unclean, covered in sores. They could have looked on and said, “I’ll send a nut and fig basket to the friend of ours who we all believed to be the best of the best, but I’m not going near him til he is recovered.” Skin afflictions were viewed as expressions of soul afflictions at that time, so the watching world, seeing Job’s family, livelihood, property, possessions and finally his health could have immediately declared him to finally be exposed for some secret sin and shame. But they don’t. They come to him and they suffer with him.

They must truly love him, but in the many chapters to follow they try talking him through his situation, but in doing so they express their own questions about Job and God, their own doubts, their own fears, and their own sorrow. We’ve all been there. In a dark place with friends who offer advice or commentary that doesn’t suit or may even sting. If you are honest with yourself, you’ve been that friend, not knowing what to say, saying something that comforted you once and seeing the other person’s face change, and you wish you could have said it better. We’ve all said, “I wish I knew what to say.”

I wish I knew what to say.

Cheryl is facing now a difficulty that is recognizable as painful. If you’ve lived what she is living, even a portion of it, then you will, as Job’s friend’s, see her suffering from a long way off and ache for her. If you haven’t experienced sickness in those you love, I know you know it’s terrible, but when I entered into my own experiences with this, I remember clearly sitting with my brother as we shared that we just didn’t understand before. It is a blessing to be outside of that knowledge.

Cheryl is in a beautifully supportive community and has built for herself with her sweet, funny love for everyone she meets a response team who wants to care for her. I’m not even there and I trust that it is so, because I know those lovely people that she has loved in action and I know that they will love her in action in return. But when anyone sits in presence with someone going through what she’s facing, it is natural to accompany commentary as Job’s friends did, with our own doubts, our own fears and our own sorrows.

And the faith of my friend, y’all….

This girl….

Her heart is not just to graciously accept the comfort given, but to share the peace and the comfort she already has.

I want to share this with you, this bit from a Facebook post she made the other day. She says…

“I will end with this. Many of my friends have really struggled with how long my family has been going through this trial. They don’t understand why God wouldn’t just heal her. I will never pretend to understand the Lord’s purpose for allowing this struggle, but I do know that I have seen so much good arise from it. God isn’t my genie in a bottle who grants my wishes. He does love me and my family and never intended for the world to end up so broken. But He has given me what He said He would. That is peace through this and the hope of a future. He doesn’t owe me a comfortable life here. I get that and honor Him through this painful season. 🙏🏼”


Cheryl has peace that passes all understanding, an incredible thing because these trials she faces are outside of reason. So many would be driven to despair, and yet Cheryl, and I believe her parents who are living this, are driven to hope. Not because they are naive, not because they are simple, not because they are fools and not because they are weak.

They are driven to hope, because they have that kind of friend one in the same as the one who they call Savior.


I will tell you, if you have a friend like Cheryl, you are richly blessed.
Cheryl will tell you, if you have a friend like Jesus, you are eternally blessed.

Pray for my friend Cheryl, and for her parents, and for her family. And pray for those supporting her, that they will have eyes that see and ears that hear, so that they too may know peace like she does.

By Faith, I…

The story of Abraham and his journey out from Ur has been one I’ve returned to over and over since the very beginning of our family’s exit from Ohio. There’s been a lot that I feel like I identify with there in that story of a handful of people stepping out and leaving what they know to go out in the world and find where they belong, one foot after the other led by not much more than a few conversations with God.

The Israelites, it seems, were forever building little altars, or big altars, stacks of rocks that whenever anyone saw that pile, they’d remember, this is where God did _____ for them. And I imagine that in a nomadic tribe they wandered back by those stacks from time to time and did revisit those stories. I am so glad for those stacks of rocks, those stories retold so that I could return to them so many many years later and hear what those stories tell us.

I was back with Abraham again this week, listening to a few sermons, reading the passages again, and ready to process the meaning for today. During each class I’ve taken in the past year, we’ve been assigned a sermon to prepare and present, and this week one of my classmates presented on Abraham. While my friend gave his sermon he repeated this passage…

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Don’t I hear that? Don’t you? Oh man, y’all….I am looking forward to that city with foundations, not the one I came from where I struggled to build my own foundations, but the one where I am going, built by Him. I long for it as it applies to my time on Earth and I long for it as it applies to my time in the next life.

When my classmate gave his sermon he read that passage a few times, by faith, Abraham…by faith Abraham….by faith, Abraham…and then he asked “I can’t help but wonder what it might say about you, By faith,…..” and then he named each of us sitting there. I sipped in the air of the room and held a tiny breath til he reached my name.

By faith, Sarah….

I can’t keep moving towards the promise of God if I rely solely on a pile of rocks we made three and a half years ago when we left Ohio. The Israelites piled up the stones and moved on. They reflected and remembered, but they kept moving forward.  When I hear “By faith, Sarah…” because I am still alive it is an action statement. What did I DO because I trusted God at His word? What am I doing today because I believe in what He’s promised? What will I do tomorrow? How can I keep moving forward “by faith?”

There is a purpose and a plan for you, friend.  When you have those times that the action called for by faith is so clear, DO it!!! Do it and then mark it so you can remember it, so you can come back upon the old stories of your life and see, “By faith, I….” Let those moments encourage you to see that when you trusted God to direct your steps, He guided you well, He defended you, He protected you, He provided for you. Build little altars. Keep a journal. Plant something. Mark it so that people will see and remember what God has done. And then travel on, little nomad, because God has a journey ahead of you before He brings you home.

If it’s been a while since you’ve made a stack of stones, consider today, what does God have for me to do?

By faith, Abraham.
By faith, Sarah.
By faith, you.
By faith, I…….

A Rock or A Vine?

Everyone has days where they hit a wall.
Everyone has days where they sit beside someone who is hitting a wall.

We learn from our youth to be rocks, to be strong and hold ourselves up no matter the situation. We can strong our way through anything if we really try. When we know others are in pain, we should be their rock. Be solid and strong, hold their rocks up with our own rocks, strength upon strength we will not topple over. That’s ok…it’s ok to hold someone up. Just maybe though, as we hold rock upon rock we unknowingly build walls.

Maybe we were never intended to be rocks, but rather vines, seeing one another attempting to scale the walls we hit, and to reach out, grab a hold, wrap around, embrace, care and not let go of each other. Not to support by propping up, but to support by allowing the other to grow while you encourage them towards the light. And then, when you are the one hitting the wall, allowing others to pull you into the sun’s warmth, to trust them to allow them to pull your grasp off those walls, to let go and to find a way up and over.

It’s ok to be a rock, I guess. To offer support. But isn’t it better to be a vine?

For my friends hitting their walls today, I am here for the up and over.