Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Signs of Life | The Beatitudes (Part 1)


 
 "signs-of-life"- shannon grissom


As a person who is often digging deep for that amazing opening line for articles, meetings and messages, the Beatitudes in the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 really fascinate me. 

Think about it for a moment -- if you were Jesus, with your new recruits, at the beginning of your ministry, knowing what you were about to ask of these wide-eyed men who had left life as they know it to follow you, painfully aware of what it would cost them (and you), and passionate for them to achieve your vision of them as ambassadors and over-comers -- what would you say to kick it all off? What would your vision-casting on the Mount of Olives have looked like?

What made Him decide that day to begin with those loaded statements we call "The Beatitudes?"

I have a theory about this.

Worth It

 

When Michael and I began the endeavor of adoption years ago, we kept hearing this phrase over and over: “It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.” Funny enough, some Hebrew speakers interpret ashrei, the Hebrew word we read as blessed, as having a connotation of being "worth it." It's not as simple as just being happy. And the truth is, if you've lived out those beatitudes or any biblical commands for that matter, you've probably found that it's definitely not always the most "happy" experience. No, blessed means more than that - it's a kind of commendation, an encouraging word that says, even though it's tough now, it is worth it.

Disciples in Jesus' day didn't just study with a Rabbi. They didn't just see him at church once a week or have an occasional coffee date. They totally immersed themselves in the life of the one they followed. He became their sole focus, not just to soak up all of his knowledge, but to literally be conformed to his image - with the goal of becoming just like him

If they were endeavoring to become like the Messiah, then leaving their jobs and families was only the beginning of their sacrifice. It would be exhausting, humbling, and unappreciated by most - not unlike biblical obedience in the world we live in today. So, Jesus shares these blessings for the true disciple to be found here and now, little reminders that there are spiritual, eternal, abundant blessings that far outweigh anything we would lose for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus. In other words - what makes it all worth it.
 

Signs of Life


Charles Spurgeon (who is 1000x wordier and wiser than me and I absolutely love it) called the Beatitudes a Ladder of Light, because they are a progressive list of attitudes and behaviors defining spiritual growth – they are, quite literally, where Jesus wants to take those who take Him on. For us, they serve as a kind of measuring tool. 

Keep in mind, these are not attitudes we are supposed to "try" to live out so that we can gain some kind of reward. They supernaturally emanate from a regenerated, Spirit-led life. So, for you list-makers and task masters like me, remember that rather than trying to pursue these in our own strength, we should hold them up to ourselves as a sort of measuring tool of our own growth and ask ourselves, am I really a "disciple?" And if I say I am, is there any evidence of that in my inward and outward posture? Are there any "signs of life?"


"Blessed are the Poor In Spirit..."


Notice it doesn’t say blessed are the poor in terms of possessions and salary. This is not "Marie Kondo-ing" your life to be happy with less or feeling shame about your material wealth. This is about spiritual poverty – or a recognition of it, rather.

Let’s use material poverty to understand this spiritual poverty. When someone is living in abject poverty, they recognize they have a need; they know they are have insufficient funds and that they are lacking to provide for their needs in order to live. They need help and they know it, so they humbly set aside self reliance and pride, and embrace that they must depend on someone else to sustain them.

Spiritual poverty isn't really that different. There are so many professing Christians in this world who go through life with the perception that they have a full cup to offer to the Lord, when the reality is the exact opposite. So many of us live as though we are self-reliant, self-sufficient; we are often self-focused and self-righteous. With that demeanor, when our faith becomes inconvenient, we can simply set it aside. God can be just "part of life," but doesn't have to permeate every aspect of it.

But Jesus says, the foundational sign of life is to see ourselves as we really are; it is to come to the desperate realization that we are spiritually insufficient, lacking and bankrupt; we have nothing to offer the Lord but a life-or-death need for the grace and intervention of Jesus. The poor in Spirit have a full dependence upon God.

What does this look like in a life? It is the confession of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 that he was like an animal before God in his pride. How about the cry of Peter to Jesus in John 6: "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!" Or the declaration of the once lofty Paul in Philippians 3, recognizing all his own personal achievements and endowments are worthless after seeing the literal divine light in Acts 9.

Have you had this "empty cup" experience with the Lord? I know it may not be incredibly appealing to be leveled in this way - but the consolation of this recognition of reality is this - yours is the kingdom of heaven. While you lose the facade of your own kingdom in this life, you gain a real one, in which you're not just a citizen but an heir. In other words, humility is a tell-tale sign of royalty. It demonstrates that truth has touched you. And that is so much better than proudly (albeit foolishly) living a life of make believe.

"Blessed are those who mourn" 

 

Having an intellectual awareness of your sin is one thing - grasping that reality emotionally is another thing altogether - and it is the second "rung" on our ladder of light. Again, when we look at Jesus’ description, we are not thinking about a worldly/physical condition – as in those who lose loved ones – but rather a spiritual, heart condition. When God lets you see yourself for what you really are without Him, then it is only natural that our response should then be a grief over it. 
 

Although I'm pretty low maintenance about most things, I happen to be super passionate about my hair. I recently received a rather unfortunate haircut that, while it technically was like the picture, was about three inches shorter than I actually wanted it...and I have really short hair to begin with. For the first few weeks after that haircut, I would get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and have a very emotional reaction. "It wasn't supposed to be this way!" Insert crying emoji here. I know I'm not the only one who has stood before I mirror with a sense of defeat - we had a vission, and we can see we are not living up to it. It stings.

While that's a very silly, shallow example, I thought about that as I studied this verse about grief.  Mourning spiritually is simply taking a look at yourself in light of God's standard, seeing how far short you are of that standard, and feeling the deep grief, because this is not who - or how - you are supposed to be. It should break our hearts that we have become offensive to the one who lovingly and purposefully made us. We should feel sadness that sin has such a hold on us, and that we are not living up to all He had in mind for us. Paul discusses this as he wrestles with wanting to be holy and yet still struggling with his sinful inclinations in Romans 7 with the cry, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!"

We don't just experience this grief over our personal limitations - it extends to what we see in the public, in the world at large. We live in a time when sin is not just tolerated. It isn’t just trivial – it is celebrated. When you are part of a heavenly kingdom, this is a tragedy. It hurts your heart to see it. "This is not how this should be," you think as you hear the news, watch who rises to power and fame, and interact with an unbelieving world. We are so, so far from where we should be.

We grieve over our personal failure. We grieve over injustice. We grieve as others experience the consequence of sin. We grieve when a broken world causes pain and suffering. We feel the weight of lost innocence and lost potential. We know that sin is not trivial, it’s treason, and the result is death. And the nearness of that death in a world created by the God of light and life is almost too much to bear.

But here is the blessing that comes with feeling the pain of the brokenness in the world - you will be comforted.

“ In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Jesus didn’t just mourn sin – He conquered it with His perfect, sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His victorious resurrection. He began the work of establishing a kingdom that will be free of sin, death, shame, pain, and brokenness. And until that Kingdom is established fully, He has not left us alone to grieve - He promised and delivered us a Comfortor, the Holy Spirit. But to really experience Jesus' victory and the Spirit's comfort, we have to be mourning the death that sin brought us. So let me ask you - are you grieving? 



Just the Beginning...


You may be asking yourself right now, why does God have to bring us so low right out of the gate? This doesn't really sound like a journey I want to be on. Guilt? Grief? Poverty? I thought God offered abundance and joy. Let me remind you of something - this is just where the journey starts. In order to build us up in His image, He has to tear down the idol of self we've built up. Just like a physical birth, it begins painfully, but it doesn't end there - labor gives way to light, new life, glory and great joy.

Understanding our need for God's grace on an intellectual and emotional level is essential to experiencing the passion, devotion, appreciation, loyalty, and an unquenchable joy of our salvation. You don't invite people to come see fireworks at high noon - you bring people into the dark. And in the same way, God must show us the darkness within and around us first, so that he can demonstrate his glory in and through us. So get ready for the big divine light show...

I'll leave you here for this installment, and next time we'll climb a bit higher on the ladder of light....


Blessings!





Tuesday, June 11, 2019

5 Things to Remember in Relationship Break Downs


(dinner argument, dana oldfather)

In the beginning, God created a world where relationships could flourish. Because everything was built completely according to His design, mankind could safely interact with one another without holding back – there was no fear of being hurt, no danger of disappointment, and no shame in honestly just being your "no filter" self. Relationships were steady. Stable. Eternal. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in anymore. Starting with the very first man and woman, people have chosen to step outside of God’s perfect design (we call that sin), and this has changed everything. It began with shame. Then came blame. Then there were competition and comparison. These grew into power struggles, mistrust, insecurity, jealousy, hatred, abandonment, and even war and murder. Trust and authenticity eroded away as walls and divisions grew up in their place.

So the real, ugly truth is that because we are living in a world scarred by the effects of sin, it is full of brokenness, and broken people – people who cross lines, break their commitments, and give up because things get hard. There are character flaws and addictions that rip some relationships apart, and then sometimes it’s external factors like geographical distance, or life experiences that cause people to change and grow apart. Sometimes it’s our fault relationships end, and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with us. It’s unavoidable and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, know for certain that it will. While we don't always know when conflict is coming, here are some tactics and tools we can keep on hand so that we can handle these situations in a Christ-honoring and productive way.

1. Keep It Real


While we can’t dodge conflict, rejection, and hurt, we can control our response to it. Often we tend to get stuck reacting to brokenness rather than doing anything productive about it. We feel surprised or resentful that it’s happening to us. We spend time blaming others, by feeling sorry for ourselves, obsessively analyzing the situation, or trying to figure out how to inflict maximum revenge on the offender. While these feelings are totally normal, we can’t stay there and expect anything to change. In his letter to the church, the apostle Peter says, "do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you." He understood what we must embrace – broken relationships are just part of this world. So don’t let them catch you off guard and get you off course. Instead, let them fuel you to run to the One who had the perfect design from the very beginning. Only He can bring the healing and restoration that we long for.

2. Drop Your Weapons 


While broken relationships may be the norm in this world, as Christians we are called to be "in it," and not "of it." That means that our response to relationship failures has to be different than what we see in the world. It is so easy to give in to anger and defensiveness, and to let it compel us to do something reckless, and sinful - like having a "you’re dead to me" attitude, slanderous, poisonous gossip, or even physical violence. In the moment, it seems like the most justified and rational response. But there’s a little passage of scripture that might make you think differently about this kind of retaliation.

When God initiated the great "break up" of Egypt and Israel in the book of Exodus, he unleashed a number of plagues on the Egyptian Pharaoh, who was ruthlessly enslaving the Israelite people. In response to the these miraculous events, Pharaoh calls together his counsel of wise men and sorcerers and magicians, who are able to replicate them with seeming ease. Plague after plague, we see that the response is that "the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts." Stop and think about that for a minute. These Egyptian magicians seemed to have had the skill set to potentially improve or resolve these issues, to help their people, to heal their land. But instead, they chose the road of retaliation. They actually made the problem worse. When you stop to think about this, doesn’t it seem crazy to you?

But we fall in to this trap all the time - rather than resolving issues, we get caught up in this way of thinking, and the result is that we’re really only creating a larger wake - more tension, more stress, more negativity. When you think about how unproductive this was, it really does shine some light on how unhelpful the revenge route really is. Not to mention that this type of attitude is what put them in direct opposition with God in the first place. So let's be different than these guys.

3. Build a Bridge


Now that we’ve figured out what not to do, let’s look at some biblical and practical things to do when we experience relationship break downs. First and foremost, we’ve got to try to make peace. Romans 12:18 says "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." How can we do that? We can start by owning our own imperfection. The Bible says that while while we were sinners, Christ died for us. We know deep down that we aren’t perfect - yet Jesus chose to see us not as offenders, but as hurting and hungry souls in need of the love and grace of a Savior. Acknowledging our own imperfection is a powerful tool that should soften us toward others. If Jesus chose to love us through our brokenness, maybe we can honor Him by working to love other people in theirs.
Giving grace and being a peacemaker aren’t about sweeping things under the rug or being a doormat - This posture is about being proactive. Philippians 2:3 says "Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves." What this means for us is that as believers, we have to pray for people, even when they let us down. We should be to be the first one to reach out, even if we’re shut down. We need to be willing to forgive, even when it isn’t deserved. And we have to acknowledge how we might have been wrong or hurtful, and what we need to do to make it right.

4. Set Your Limits


A word of warning - be careful not to misinterpret being a peacekeeper as accepting abuse. That is certainly not your Christian duty. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, "Guard your heart with all dilligence, for out of it flow the issues of life." In other words, boundaries are biblical, and it’s your responsibility to defend and protect the values, thoughts, feelings, and strengths you possess. While we should love and serve others, we should never feel like a slave to their agenda. So it’s important to learn to set healthy limits with others. You wouldn’t leave your locker, your car or your house wide open for anyone to take whatever they wanted, and you aren’t supposed to do that with your mind and heart. Here are a few examples of setting healthy boundaries:

Words | Simply letting people know when you like or don’t like something is a great way to guard your heart. It’s not offensive or wrong to let people know when they have crossed a line. Example: "The way you are speaking to me is making me uncomfortable."

Consequences | Your parents have probably thrown this one your way – the old "if/then." You can absolutely let people know that there will be a consequence if they continue a behavior that is harmful to you. Example: "If you keep standing me up, I’m not going to invite you again in the future."

Space | There are times when a conflict gets so intense that the best thing to do is take a step back. You can set an amount of time to be emotionally or physically distant from someone. The key is – you need to let them know it’s happening and why. Example: "I need us to take a week apart to think things through and pray about what to do next."

Phone a Friend | Sometimes truth is just easier to receive when you involve a third party. Maybe you need to get an adult involved like a teacher or counselor. Maybe it’s another friend who can help mediate between you and someone else. It’s absolutely okay to get help solving a problem. The Bible says "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety."
The point is, the Christian solution to conflict is not to be agreeable all the time at the expense of ourselves. We have to learn to build bridges while communicating our limits to others – and we have to respect the boundaries people communicate to us as well.

5. Trust the Lord


Hopefully, as you learn to build these practices into your life, you will be able to rebuild broken relationships. Sometimes though, even when we do all the right things, they still end. Whatever the outcome, here’s the most important thing to remember: God is in control. Scripture tells us that He delights in every detail of our lives, that He wants good things for us. And that means that even in the hurtful experiences, God has good things in mind for us.

If you have any doubt of that, read about the story of Joseph. Found in Genesis, this is a young man who suffered tremendously because of the selfish and evil treatment of the very people who should have loved and protected him. But despite the hurt, Joseph stayed connected to God. By the end of the journey, he knew that even in loss and disappointment, God was orchestrating a special mission for him. At one point, he has a chance to confront and exact revenge on those who abandoned him. But instead, he says this: "…You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." Isn’t that amazing? Joseph could respond this way because he found that the broken relationships in his life were the vehicle that God used to propel him into the great call on his life.

Even if it doesn’t feel great in the moment, sometimes a relationship ending can be a really good thing. God may have a better plan for you, or you may need a particular experience, and this fork in the path might be just the event that sets you on the road to your destiny. So when you find yourself in brokenness – don’t panic! Don’t retaliate. Do all you can to restore and build bridges, and then trust the Lord with the outcome. You’ll find, just like Joseph did, that God will use this experience to draw you close, to position you and prepare you for the purpose for which you were born.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Psalms for Moms


I love mother's day, and here's why -

For a long time, I didn’t know if I would ever have the privilege of being a mother. But after a long, hard road of infertility, as a mid-30's, newly-licensed foster mama, I'll never forget the late March evening my precious daughter was placed in my arms. I knew at once that this had always been God's perfect plan. I had waited so long and prayed so hard for her, I knew that moment I would never, ever, take it for granted. And I can honestly say, two plus years later, I am still so overwhelmed with gratitude every single day for the precious gift that motherhood is in my life. 
After a few exhausting and incredibly emotional weeks in those early days, I stole away one morning to process this new season, this huge change. Now that I had what I had desired for so long, the weight of the responsibility was heavy. So, I drove myself to the Starbucks just down the street from my house, asked God for wisdom, and dove in to the scriptures for what it means to be a mom, by God’s design. 

Prepare to Launch



A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

To my dismay in that moment, I discovered that parenthood is about preparing your children to leave you, so that they can be fruitful, independent of you. This was hard for me to grapple with as a foster mom. The vulnerable position I was in felt heavy on my heart every day. I knew our time together, our forever, was not guaranteed. I could lose her. I was terrified of that. I didn’t know how long I would have her. I'm not unique in that, really - the truth is none of us ever do. But God’s Word reassured me. The fact is, one way or another, our kids will leave our care...

So for as long as God entrusts his precious children to us, that is our mission, our privilege. Prepare them for launch, for flight, for separation from us. And so that day, I began to look at parenthood God’s way. Even as a tiny little person, my goal each day was to pour in to her what she needed in order to strengthen her for whatever was going to come next.

For me, that looked like this: if I could just make sure she felt attachment. If I could just make her feel well and healthy (she came home very, very ill). If I could just focus on her really believing that she was loved - not just by me, but by a great big God - These were the things I knew she would need to carry her through, whether she stayed forever or in the event that she did leave our home. 

"Mama"


The Hebrew words for mother and father are very fascinating. It probably isn’t surprising that Ab, father, is a picture of an ox (symbolic of leadership or strength) and a house. The father’s role is as the leader of the home.

But what about a mother’s role in parenting?

The word for Mother is Em. Same beginning letter for leader or strength, but the second letter means water. Mother means “strong water" in picture form.

The implications for that are pretty amazing - 
Hebrews made glue by boiling animal skins in water. As the skin broke down, a sticky thick liquid formed at the surface of the water. This thick liquid was removed and used as a binding agent-"strong water" – so linguistically, the Bible shows us that a mother holds it all together, keeps things running smoothly. 

Another way to translate these pictures is "headwaters." Headwaters are a molding force, the source and head of the way elsewhere. This certainly speaks to the influence of the mother in guiding and shaping a young life, of her instruction and her example. A mother leads by modeling as she yields to the authority of the father in godly submission. Her force, like water, is gentle, and repetitive, powerful enough to carve pathways out of hardened mountains and stone. 

Interestingly, there are so many properties and effects of water that are so crucial to life and health: it elevates mood, increases cognitive function, regulates, protects, removes waste, helps with nutrient absorption, fights illness, increases energy –

It’s gentle yet powerful, it is cleansing and healing, it sustains life.

I would say that’s exactly what mamas do and are on the daily.

A Greater and More Perfect Love


What does all this have to do with God?

A mother’s love – known for its special intuition, its fierce protectiveness, and refusal to give up on even the lost causes --  is just a mere reflection of a greater and more perfect love.


While our God has instructed us to address Him with masculine pronouns, we see that often he uses maternal imagery to convey certain aspects of His love. It isn’t that God is female or feminine - but as image bearers, there are certain attributes of His character that God has specifically entrusted to the female gender to express and reflect. In other words, there are aspects of this beautiful and fierce maternal love that actually point us to our Heavenly Father and His love for us. 
Just look at how Colossians confirms that He is the bonding agent and the headwater for us:
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
Colossians 1:17-18

Here are three more of those maternal allusions, nestled in the psalms, that are used to describe Gods love for us:

A Safe Place


Read: Psalm 17: 8-9 | Psalm 57:1 | Psalm 91: ALL
Here we read about this protector, this refuge that is our God, using the imagery of a mother bird protecting her young. This behavior is instinctive for animals, and for human mamas. How often have we heard legendary tales of feats of strength performed by mothers in desperate attempts to rescue their children? 
Mothers instinctively shield, gather, cover, shelter. They use their wings to block the sun and to shield their babies from the cold. They use their bodies to hide them from predators. Check out this video to see it in real life! Did you notice how there was room for everyone? What a beautiful picture of God's love! 
Jesus even speaks to this kind of maternal, instinctive protectiveness: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." 

God wants to shield us more desperately from our enemy than any mother in nature. And He gave His very body, His life to do so. The wings are the grace. And this undeserved, covenant favor preserves us just like those helpless, baby chicks. All we have to do is run to Him. 


Sustainer


Read: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-16

As I read this passage, there are three elements to what is described of the Lord. It starts with sustaining someone who falls. A physical misstep. Next it says He raises up those who are about down. An emotional pit. Finally it says He feeds them appropriately. A filling of food. When I read about all these things I see a common thread. And the thread is comfort and nurture, all met with appropriate filling. 

In the moments that we fail or fall, a mother is often the one that we run to to kiss the boo-boo. My little one certainly always wants mommy when she’s not feeling well or when she’s hurt. It’s nothing against daddy, there’s just something special about mom’s comfort and nurture. Moms pick you up, dust you off, and set you back on your way when you fall down. 
Sometimes instead of a misstep, it's a spirit of discouragement. We get overwhelmed, we don’t think we can go any further. We say "I can’t do it." We lose our confidence. Often, moms are always there to remind us who we are, to cheer us on and say, "Yes you can." 
As far as God being the source of physical feeding, this absolutely cracks me up -  because I have personally experienced this almost daily. Many nights, just after we cross the threshold of the house, I hear, "Mama, what's for dinner!?" Often we look to our moms to feed us, to fill us up. There’s something comforting about having a home cooked meal from your mom, often that’s the way your mom shares love, at least I know in my household it is.

God emphasizes the same aspects of his character in the very first of his covenant people. He wanted them to know that he was enough and would provide everything that they needed. He wanted them to know that he would be there with them every step of the way. He called himself "I AM" to convey his sufficiency, and El Shaddai, which in one translation means "WHO ENOUGH." If there is a void or an emptiness, He can fill it.        

So how does He do that? What is the sustenance that sustains us, fills us, encourages us and failure? What can make failure fruitful?  HIS WORD. More than “mother knows best“, God the father knows all. We can trust his word and his encouragement over us.
When we are broken and discouraged, when we fail or when we are longing, His desire is that we would come to Him and feed upon the word. He so desires to strengthen us, to change us, to bring forth wonderful things from us, and the way that He makes that happen is by giving us the food of His word.


Jesus said it Himself, "man does not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Let us not fail daily to go to our sustainer and our comforter to receive the food, the bread of life.


Sacrifice


Read: Psalm 103:1-13
There really is not a better word to describe motherhood. From pregnancy to nursing and on, a mother must give of herself, nearly constantly, to her own exhaustion, depletion, to nurture and prepare another life. Often there is almost a complete surrender of identity – there is who you were before kids, and then there was you as a mother. It changes everything.

Notice this word compassion, compassionate, that so often describes God. The word in Hebrew is Racham. Here's the amazing thing: these same letters make up the word WOMB in Hebrew. They are just pronounced differently.
Think about a pregnant woman's existence for a moment: Daily you feel nauseous. Nightly you can’t sleep. You are experiencing strange sensations, cravings, your body is not your own, and transforms with each day. Everything about your daily activity must center around this fetus, who in no way thinks of your needs. It’s uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. But does a mother retaliate or becomes angry at the child? Of course not! She knows that within her, despite the inconvenience and discomfort in the season, there is the promise of life. And she will do anything she needs to do, and do her anything she must, to bring that life into the world successfully. She overlooks what is happening to her in order to seek the best interests of the child.

That is what is meant by compassion of the Lord. It means that despite our own imperfections and shortcomings, despite the fact that we inconvenience Him with our sin and rebellion, that He holds on to His steadfast love for us, determined to bring forth a productive life out of what is growing within us. 


 Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Isaiah 49:15

The sacrifice, the compassion, is the cross. There are no lengths that He wasn’t willing to go to in order to overlook our flaws. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

He will love us despite our undeservedness, because He sees the potential for life. As a mother protect her unborn child, so He will protect us, He will never let go of the promise of one day holding us in his arms. And He will pay any cost, even sacrifice His own life, for that to happen. We can trust in Him. 

Conclusion


Moms are definitely wonderful, and worthy of gratitude; but let’s remember they are but a mere fraction, a pale reflection, of our God. So let’s not forget today, and every day, to give thanks and honor to the one from whom all these wonderful mothers with their wonderful qualities have come. He is our sealant, he is our source, he is our our safe place, our sustainer, our sacrifice. Thank you thank you God for showing us your love for us through mothers.






Thursday, January 10, 2019

Be Dust, Be Stars, Be Sand

Father Abraham 


My husband is constantly teasing me because I can't just enjoy a song; I have this obsession with knowing all the lyrics and the meaning. I know it's nerdy. What can I say? I'm just a naturally curious person. So, one of my many useless talents is thinking of an appropriate song for any given situation. 

If you grew up going to church you probably heard the song "Father Abraham." Ever really thought about the words of that one before?

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had father Abraham
I am one of them, and so are YOU
so let's just praise the Lord...

I bring this up because this week, as I read about Abraham, this song popped into my mind. (I should probably mention that I have a completely adorable and very musical three-year-old in my house, so the children's songs are pretty much always stuck in my head these days). But as I played it over in my mind, I had this incredible realization about these sons and daughters God is describing to Abraham (which is, by the way, us!) and what exactly we should be like. 

Understand, then, that those who have faith are the sons of Abraham.
Paul, Galatians 3:7


God talks to Abraham a LOT about Abraham's progeny. But these verses had a particular impact on me...

"I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth..." 
Genesis 13:16


"'Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.'" 
Genesis 15:5


"'I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore..." 
Genesis 22: 17

I have read these statements many times. And I always simplified them as being a reference to the extreme fruitfulness God was about to endow to Abraham, to the innumerability of his descendants. I mean, think about how many grains of sand, specks of dust, and stars there are in the world. We're talking vast, overwhelming, supernatural provision. And I definitely think that this is part of what God was trying to communicate. But I also think there's more to it than that. Let's explore...

Dust


Dust was the physical component God chose to construct man with in Genesis 2:7. Dirt. Fine dust, that blows in the wind. It comes from the Hebrew root "to pulverize," indicating it has been broken down to a fine powder. It's walked all over, trampled, and daily, hardly considered at all, except for the eternal struggle to get it off of our ledges and shelves. 

Dust is a humble thing. It's common. It's not particularly special. BUT -- when it's carried in the wind, or combined with fire, it sure can be something special to behold. Here are some interesting facts about dust: Atmospheric dust absorbs blue and green, but not red and orange, which makes for the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that you see. And remember that "black dust" you read about recently travelling in the wind from the Sahara desert? That's actually an annual phenomenon, and if it didn't happen, the depleted soils of the Amazon rainforest wouldn't get the nutrients they need to sustain that gorgeous ecosystem. So the dust doesn't get the glory. But it's one amazing conductor.

Why would God say that Abraham's children should be like dust? I think it has something to do with humility. God took Abraham on a very literal journey from the place of the "mountaineer," Haran, to the place of "lowliness," or as you read it, Canaan. His children would need to do the same to walk with God in victory. Part of that is in recognizing where we came from. I feel like the world is all too ready to remind us that we're "nothing special." In this earthly body, we may feel overlooked, ordinary; we might get trampled on because of our kindness or Christian values. We might be repelled, or even despised, rejected like dust. 

But if we are children of Abraham, if we let the Holy Spirit (which literally means wind or breath in the biblical languages), guide us, place us, if we go with His current, then He is going to use us to do some amazing things. We may not get the glory in this life. But we can know that He is using us to bring heavenly glory to this world. But even as lovely as that is, thankfully, that's not the whole story of who we are. 

Stars


While humility is the mark of our character while we are here on earth, we have to remember something very important as believers - this is NOT our home. Stars have a function here on earth. They are beautiful, inspirational, they give light and direction. But they don't belong here. Their home is in the cosmos, in other galaxies far, far away. They are simply a participating influence here, reflecting the light of their home in the darkness. Friends, as the family of faith, that's our story. Our glory is in the heavenly kingdom, not here. 

Jesus taught that the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Peter also speaks of an appointed time when believers will be exalted. Paul shares similar words. And in Revelation, John speaks of a host of overcomers who rule and reign with Christ when His kingdom is fully established here on earth. But until that time, our job is to simply be a light, be an influence, teach, help, inspire, provide wisdom and hope to all who will receive it, remembering that this isn't our kingdom, it isn't where we will ultimately end up. So how the world reacts to you really doesn't matter so much. Whatever anyone says, you just shine on, baby. Reflect that heavenly light in all you do. Your glory day with Jesus is coming!

Sand


Just after Abraham offers Isaac, the son of promise, to the Lord as requested, we find God addressing Abraham, encouraging him and rewarding him for having withheld nothing in his pursuit of obedience. As a foster to adopt mama, I understand something about not only waiting, but placing the fate of your family and your children in God's hands. It's not for the faint of heart. The process does something to you. My husband and I walked through hellish circumstances for nearly two years, and we say all the time, we are not the same people who began the journey. 

Tests of faith break you down. They refine you. The deepen you. They change you. Abraham walked away from that altar with literally nothing dividing his heart with the Lord. And I believe God wanted all his covenant people to possess that same quality. 

Sand is silica that is broken down as far as it will ever break down. Salt, interestingly, qualifies as sand. I wonder if Jesus had this in mind when He told his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth." Have you experienced being "broken" by the Lord? That moment of complete surrender to His perfect will for your life? When we finally get to that place, when we hold nothing back from him, we can become like sand - sand is a natural buffer that protects land life from the powerful waves. Many life forms live on sand, and in the water, it joins together to create hospitable coral habitats for life forms that can hide within it. You can be a refuge. You can be unstoppable in your faith. But you have to LET GO. Let go of your pride, your will, your dreams, your vision of your future - whatever is standing in the way of complete obedience, let it be broken off and away from your heart. 

The Point


Are you a son or a daughter of Abraham? Have you placed your trust, your life, your whole heart in the hands of El Shaddai, the great provider? Then be humble like dust; be heavenly like stars; be a broken down haven like sand. Let's be the children God promised and purposed for us to be. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What's in a Name? Geneologies, the Bible and YOU



This week in studying with my AMAZING Bible study class, a great question came up. "What's with all the genealogies?" If every word is important, and if all Scripture is beneficial (as we are told it is later in the biblical writings), then how can we make sense of this, what is there to apply to our lives? W find the answer looking at the first genealogies we are given, starting with Cain and Abel! 

Let's start by looking at what the names mean. You can find this yourself with a printed or online interlinear Bible - they are amazing to have around! 

Cain: to acquire
Abel: to exhale, empty

Even in their names, they represent fundamentally different approaches to life. Some think they can get the most of of life by ACQUIRING. Some recognize that to benefit most, you must become EMPTY.

Beyond their names, we can see that they approached God differently. Their sacrifices reflect this. Since they, like their parents, knew good from evil, they knew what was right from what was wrong. Abel chose obedience. And it seems that Cain chose worldly logic:

We don’t really know what made their sacrifices pleasing or displeasing to the Lord – it’s not specific. We can look at what is different about them:

• They both brought of their work

• They both knew to bring an offering – this is the first time we see this

What was different?

• Abel brought of the firstlings – first and best

• Cain brought perhaps from his excess

What do we offer to God? Do we merely fit Him in to our lives, or is everything else scheduled around Him?

Other things to think about:

Cain brought from the ground, which was cursed, but Abel brought a lamb, through which the curse became a blessing (this looks like a foreshadowing of Jesus to me!)

Cain was angry about God not having regard for his offering. Cain brought something that was life giving, that adds something – grain fills us up, sustains, fattens. While his brother Abel brought a bloody corpse – he took a life. They didn’t even eat meat at this time – So logically, Cain must have thought, "what a waste!"

**Principle: We can’t always follow human logic in understanding what is pleasing to God** Sometimes God’s standards, the things that please Him, are difficult for us to understand. When things don’t make sense to us, we face the same temptation as Cain, and there is a temptation to operate within OUR parameters instead of operating within God’s.

If we take a deeper look at this scene, though, the "God-principle" we learn is this:

God is pleased with is emptying out, sacrifice, full giving of life to God as a gift, and our first and best. A giving over of what is most precious to us, giving him life and treasure. Even if it is messy and seems like a waste to worldly logic, this pleases him. This got God’s attention. There is also the hint that Abel understood that blood atonement was necessary, and that nothing he could do could cover him. Also, Abel knew that God had sacrificed an animal to cover his mother and father. So, he simply modeled what He saw God doing. 

God isn’t interested in our surplus, our extra, the work of our hands. He isn’t impressed with our action, our religion. He doesn’t need our help or our work. And our work can’t cover us or get us a blessing or attention and intimacy with God. HE is the giver of life, not us or our efforts to sustain it. Activity doesn’t get God’s attention.  

It’s kindof like the difference between a relationship with God versus religion. 

Next we see that Cain’s countenance fell: He was angry and fearful, and that is where temptation always finds us. When the temptation to doubt God and to turn to sin comes, according to God, WE MUST LEARN TO MASTER TEMPTATION.

This is a part of maturing in the Lord – God will strengthen us, He will counsel us, but ultimately we have to choose to do the right thing. 

God says something so profound here – sin is crouching at the door, it wants to be the focus of your life, but you must master it – it can only come in if you let it in. That is why the new testament instructs us to FLEE from sin. It’s much easier to master sin when you leave the door shut. Once you invite it in, it’s much harder to get it out!

"Master" = mashal in Hebrew – same word as proverb or parable

To master is to rule, a king passes laws to protect and help bring out the best in his kingdom, to help it flourish. In the same way, when YOU enforce God’s rule on your body and your mind, then you become a living parable, God’s essence and best are seen in you. 

Notice again, there’s a connection with emptying ourselves out and not filling up. Keep sin out, so that God’s presence can have room to radiate from you.

Cain just couldn’t resist the temptation. He wanted to act out on his anger. He gave in to the physical passion, the desire for position, to possess what belonged to his brother. He gave in to the same temptation as his parents. At the expense of the innocent – his brother.

Our sin always affects more than just us. 

Cain’s went on to father many children, who scripture tells us followed their appetites. As He pursued a lifestyle of "acquiring," he found himself further and further away from the Lord, literally in the land of "wandering" (Nod)

When we leave God’s boundaries and God’s presence, we are simply wandering aimlessly, without purpose. 

THE HIDDEN MEANING IN THE GENEOLOGY OF CAIN: names matter! They tell us a story!

We know that Cain was led by his passions, his emotions, his carnal desire. He wanted to ACQUIRE for himself, fill himself.

And that’s exactly what his name means

When we seek to fill ourselves up with things that we want outside of God’s hope, we follow along with this line and its message.

We follow the teaching and appointing ourselves (reveal ENOCH) wild, lawless, fugitives (IRAD)

The result of this lifestyle is that we are "smitten" or blotted out by God (MEHUJAEL)

Because there is no life, no blessing that comes from filling ourselves with the things of this world.

Metushael – seeking death, mortality

We may not realize it at the time, but filling ourselves with things other than God, not leaving a space for him to place his hope and message is essentially seeking out death (reveal next name) some of us know that place all to well, where death would be a welcome release from the chaos and confusion of our lives as we have abandoned God’s boundaries…

Lamech –reduced/to the poor, humble, humiliated - we just find ourselves humiliated…



Lamech’s two wives teach us that pursuing this lifestyle, we will always have to seek more to become satisfied, and will be filled less and less.

Adah, "to pass by, remove"  and Zillah, shadows – (Lamech’s wives)

When we align ourselves outside of God’s will, we forfeit the promises he wants to give us and relegate ourselves to the shadows.

The product of this union (the sons of Lamech) is what we do with our hands to try to fill the void on our own, outside of God:

Jabel, which means course, became a cattle breeder – he produced things, material wealth (stuff, fasion, wealth and power)

Jubal, which also means course, became a musician – he was an artist – entertainment (sports, tv, popular culture, music, traditions)

Tubal Cain the way of acquiring - was the metal worker, the technologist (toys, distractions, diversions, advancement)

And haven’t we sought things, entertainment and technology to fill ourselves so much? These are the temptations that keep us from spending time with the Lord so often!

 Isn’t this how mankind has sought to find joy? By acquiring, filling himself with things, experiences, and distractions and toys?

"If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold."

 This shows an utter arrogance and relishing of sin.

This seventy seven is found in only one other place in the scriptures, in Matthew 18, in a conversation between Peter and Jesus about forgiveness. While we may think we are confident and getting all that we want, what we really are is in desperate need of mercy, the forgiveness of God.

The way of Cain, the way of wandering, of filling oneself up, is the way of hopelessness. The more we try to fill ourselves up with stuff, entertainment, technology…the more we reject His message…the closer to death and hopelessness we become…


Abel was different. He gave everything.


Eve wanted to be different. She made room for God’s legacy in her life. She became a literal vessel bearing hope for the future (her children).

When both of her sons failed to meet that destiny of becoming the crusher of the serpent, she let God’s words resonate in her mind and heart. She didn’t give up. She kept going. She kept being the vessel, kept bringing forth children. Chapter 5 contains the continuation of the story. Hope was not lost though their children were. She trusted God’s words when life didn’t’ make sense. And so did those who came after…and within the lives of these people, a truth is hidden. Just like the parable. Their legacies become a parable for us:

Genesis 5: 1-29

Adam Man

Seth appointed (instead of another as compensation or substitute)

Enosh subject to death (mortal, mankind)

Kenan sorrowful, lamenting

Mahalel Blessed God

Jared One descends, shall come down literally

Enoch – to teach, to dedicate, to inaugurate

Methusaleh his death shall send (was and is believed that methusaleh’s death would bring about the flood, prophecy of that time)

Lamech to the poor and lowly (l = toward, resulting in mech – low and humiliated)

Noah rest, comfort

The string of names forms a message that can only be a referenced to the promised seed that would overcome:

Mankind is appointed to mortality and death, sorrow. But the Blessed God will come down to teach, to dedicate, to inaugurate, and his death shall send to the lowly and humiliated, rest.


It is as if God is reassuring mankind through the line of Adam: Don’t give up hope. Keep being the container of life, my vessel. Victory is coming for you!

So here’s the question - What side of the family tree do you think you’re in? What message does your life send to the world? Is your life a parable for obedience, a source of encouragement for others? Because if we are in this thing with the Lord, this faith walk, that is exactly the way we were always meant to be. 

 
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