Why It Helps to Talk About Stuff

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Leviticus 18:1-3: “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.  You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.”

Little A and I have had a few preliminary birds and bees talks, we’ve gone through 2 books together, there have been a few questions and some giggles, I’ve learned a 3rd grader’s terms for certain, ahem, parts, and, and being new to this education thing, I’m not quite sure if we’ve got to the right level of information for this stage, but at least we’re trying…This was a little more than I got as a kid.  Somewhere around junior high, I was handed Preparing for Adolescence and given the instructions, “Let me know if you have any questions!”

<Record scratches somewhere in the distance, music stops abruptly.>

Awkward with a capital A.

Contrast this to my mid-20’s niece who got married a few months ago. I can remember saying to her before she was engaged that she knew a gazillion more things than I ever did at her age about relationships–even after I got married.  Not shocking, tell-all stuff, just wise, discerning things that are helpful for every woman to know going in to a life-long relationship.  She surrounded herself with godly women, she learned, I know that she and my sister-in-law must have had discussions. She went into things wide-open, and she’s told me that she is learning even now.

I like to assume that my daughter has always known stuff like saying “thank you” when someone gives her something, or holds the door for her, but, no, she didn’t know it instinctively. She had to learn by instruction and she had to learn by yielding her heart to the process. Sometimes, more than other times, this is immensely hard. I don’t need instruction, I’ve got this. Easy as pie.  No worries.  <Splat> That’s the sound of me falling flat on my face in mud.

Saying “thank you” is a bigger piece of the pie, really.  It’s about manners, about doing the right thing at the right time and it’s about treating others how you would want to be treated.  Little steps.  And in the beginning of Leviticus, God started off with the “little” instructions, like how the Israelites were to assemble their camp in the dessert (centrally around the tabernacle) or what to do when something became moldy, or what to do when someone had a wasting skin disease, all seemingly tedious details, but they were all important.  God wanted them to live orderly, healthy lives.  And so, as we graduate from how we plant our crops in chapter 19, we move on to how we use our bodies.

Just as we see in the verses above, the Israelites needed an all-‘round rewiring. They needed someone to say, “What you grew up watching, witnessing all around you, that was wrong.  It was hurtful and will bring you nothing but trouble.”  If God was calling his people apart to be holy, just as he was holy (Lev. 20:7), well, then he had to show them how.  Laws like:

1) not having sexual relations with a relative: not your mother, stepmother, aunt, niece, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, or your neighbor’s wife…

2) no homosexuality

3) no bestiality (Lev. 20:10-21)

God uses strong language here: “Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” Lev. 20:22

These are all rules that God continues to want us live by. Over and over again, we see that God is a jealous God.  Why shouldn’t he be? He is our Maker, our Husband.  He wants all of our affections and attentions, and living in a fallen world, these affections are usually right in our face.  Even the things don’t look bright and happy and appealing and attractive, they are there too, Little A and I had a discussion about bad words in school yesterday…sometimes it feels overwhelming.

And so we pray, the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, for THINE is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Be assured, we are not doing this alone, it is God who strengthens us to stand, and so do other believers, by their testimonies and how they live their lives. For we are: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. ” I Peter 2:9-12.

Let us carry this with us, as we know little acts of obedience yield big results.

4 Ways to Trigger Jesus’ Faith

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My parents and I were trying to parse out some scripture this morning over the phone re: salt and light and for some reason my thoughts floated toward Jesus’s faith in God. I think it started when my dad mentioned Jesus’ holy attributes as well as his human ones. Jesus was the Word, but he still had to memorize it. Jesus, by nature, was all-powerful, yet had to subjugate himself to human authority: his parents, instructors, the government. He was the very source of all life and health, yet all around him people were sick and dying and calling on his ability to heal. He even got tired, became angry, was hungry and thirsty, all very, very human. But what stood out to me this morning was that faith factor. How else could he calm the waves with a word, call a dead girl, “just sleeping,” or deliver a man from a legion of demons? This took bravery. It took authority, and it took faith. How can we trigger this faith? By doing exactly what Jesus did:

1) Spending time alone with his father

2) By listening to what He says

3) By reading what He writes

4) By observing the things that bring Him joy

How do we practically do each one of these things? I believe items 1-3 are largely covered by reading scripture. That leaves #4: What brings God joy? We do. We humans do. I know it’s unbelievable when you factor in how terrible we can be at times. But He does. Case in point, He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. He loved spending time with Moses, speaking with Him face to face, watching his face shine. I know he loved this (and us!) so much that he sent his own son so the He could speak with us face to face, so he could touch us tenderly on the shoulder as he offered us living water, he could break open pieces of bread and fish and divide them among a couple of thousand to make our tummies full. He could call our dead bodies out of a grave and he could offer us the very best wine at our own wedding. See, it wasn’t the super spiritual mountain-moments in Eden or at Sinai only, it was the mundane, the food and water, the touching and healing and the driving out of bad things to make room for the good.

One of my very favorite pictures is one of Jesus that I don’t see around much anymore, is a bearded man in a robe with a beautiful little lamb draped around his neck. Do you think that lamb could hear his heartbeat and vice versa? Most likely.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will carry the lambs in his arms and gently lead the ewes with young. (Isaiah 40:11)

Yes, Jesus is holy and just, and like him we are called to be holy. But do we have to be holy for God to start loving us? Absolutely not, in fact, I had this discussion with a little girl in our Sunday school class recently. She asked, “God love us when we do good things, right?”

Me: “Yeah, he certainly likes it when we do good things, but that’s not why he loves us. Think of your mommy and daddy. They love you without conditions. Even when you do bad things, they never stop loving you. Yes, they are happy when you help with the trash at home or clean up after your pet, or when you’re nice to your brother or sister, but no matter what, they always love you.

 Look! I have been standing at the door and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

 

 

 

Why Numbers Matter

FullSizeRenderHave you ever had one of those weeks when everything seems to come together? You’ve been waiting and praying so long, that when the answer finally does come, it’s mostly unbelievable.  It took me writing a letter of encouragement to a friend a few days ago for me to have my Aha! Moment (thanks, Oprah).  More on that later…

But I share that to say that the book of Numbers isn’t just some confusing text sandwiched between God’s Levitical law and Moses’ reinstatement that God must be #1 in the Israelite’s lives. It is an essential text for the preparation of God’s people.

At the start of this book, Moses was instructed to take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their division all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you. Num. 1:2-4. This census wasn’t a quick process,  I’m sure each male adult 20+ was standing there, scratching his head, thinking, Why the long lines, why all this precision?  Why the ordered encampment?  Why do the Levites get to be the ones closest to the sanctuary? Why?

Does this sound familiar?

Why am I having such a hard time finding a job? Why did my mother die so early? Why is my best friend no longer my best friend? Why does everyone else see to have it all mapped out and I don’t ?

Let me tell you a secret:

They don’t.

None of us do.

Because we aren’t the ones in charge, God is.

Isn’t the census taking and the tent arrangement and clan alignment so beautiful in light of that?

Because God saw the big picture. He knew what was waiting for Israel down the road.  He knew that Israel had battles ahead.  He knew that there needed be a way to communicate his rules and laws.

Yes, 40 years was a long time to wander in the desert, and time and again, just as the Israelites were tested, so are we. Will we stand firm?  Will we love him with all our heart, mind soul and strength?  Will we glorify and thank him, no matter what the circumstances?  Remember, James 1:13-15: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Consider this, we find that the total number of men eligible to fight in the army was 603,500, this was for an estimated 2M person population, this was over ¼ of their population, or a 1:4 ratio! To put that into perspective, our current armed forces vs. U.S. population is 1:318!  God was readying them, one person at a time, one heart at a time.  Now what was God doing arranging them by tribe?  These were slaves, they probably didn’t know how to read or write (I’m theorizing), what they did have was oral tradition, how else were they to quickly convey the laws of the Lord, but through speech?

Let me ask you something, if you feel like you’re in a spiritual/physical/life desert right now, wouldn’t you do everything you possibly could to find your way out? And even if that length of time isn’t up to you (which it isn’t).  Wouldn’t you do everything in you could to prepare yourself while you were there for the time that God does open up the floodgates, so that you won’t view money, relationships, success the same way again.  If you’re smart you’ll want God’s view on everything, because, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” 2 Chron. 16:9.  In light of this discussion on spiritual fervor, I want to introduce you to what the author, Bob Sorge, in “Secrets of the Secret Place” labels as spiritual violence: the intensity with which the last days’ generation will pursue God.  ‘they will seek God with their entire being, denying themselves, throwing off all entangling sins, in order to run the race with passion, purity and perseverance. ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force’” (Matt. 11:12).

He goes on to say, “Jesus doesn’t respond to all believers alike. He responds differently to those who seek more diligently. We see this in the way He handled the Twelve.  Peter, James, and John were invited into some of Jesus’ most intimate and awesome moments, while the other disciples were not included.  The difference, I believe, is that the others held back somewhat in their hearts toward the Lord, while Peter, James, and John pursued Jesus harder.  Some of the disciples doubted Jesus, even after the resurrection (Matt. 28:17), and that reservation of spirit robbed them of the greatest levels of intimacy.  Those who had more were given more.”

No, we will never see the big picture, but we do know the artist who is painting it, and it should be our heart’s desire to trust Him, even in the most tedious details.

What small, tedious, repetitive task have you been assigned and have then seen how God used that for a greater purpose? I’d love to hear from you!

The Sheep Know My Voice

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John 4:1-18

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Yesterday was a hiking day, my first D5, rated so for elevation gain, speed and distance, 13.7 miles to be exact. There were 11 in in our group. Our trip leaders were a husband and wife team, Margaret and Paul*. I rode with them to the trail along with two others and we got to know eachother a little bit on the way there. It was a gorgeous morning, a perfect day to be in the North Georgia mountains. Mid-40’s, clear, breathtaking. Early on in the hike we split naturally, the die-hards in the front and the slightly-slowers in the back. For a good 4 miles or so I was right in the middle between the two groups, a little lonely at times, but maybe I spared a few people the sound of my heavy panting. It was during the second half of our trip, after about mile 9, did Paul and I start talking. He and Margaret both had two grown children each and had originally met hiking when they took it back up after their children were grown. For three weekends in a row, part of three different hiking clubs, they ran into eachother. The run-ins blossomed initially into a friendship and the rest is history.

The two of them had nicknames for the other, it was pretty sweet.  When close on the trail, they would occasionally yell, “Marco, Polo” to one another.

The trail was difficult, but for the most part clearly marked, however, around mile 11 we reached some tricky water, the forging of some streams, and really the only part of the hike where I had a very brief chance to stop and take a few pictures (that came out badly anyway), fortunately, I was able to keep up with the slightly-slowers–thank God I did. We reached tail of our lollipop route at around 4:30. We were done. And grateful. The first group was hanging out leisurely by their car changing shoes, while the second group took a pit stop and changed as well, but we were missing someone: Paul. We had someone check the bathrooms, there were multiple calls to his cell phone that went directly to voicemail. No sign. No word.

We waited at the trail head for several minutes and I went with Margaret to speak with the park ranger, about five minutes after that, they dispatched a small atv and Margaret geared back up to go find Paul. It was getting darker, colder. Three of us stayed in the car and waited, watched, and prayed. Twenty minutes ticked by, with the sun setting, temps were dropping quickly and I didn’t want to assume to the worst, just concerned that there might have been a fall. Thirty minutes…forty minutes, a camp volunteer offered a warm place for us to wait at his mobile home, we thanked him for the offer, but said that we would wait another 10-15 minutes.

Five minutes later, we spotted the two of them and I let out a cheer. Paul looked flustered and exhausted, but thankfully, was in one piece. It wasn’t until we were on our way home that we heard the full rescue story:

Margaret went back to the tricky water part and started yelling, really, really loudly. Paul had indeed taken a wrong turn at the water and dropped his phone, that quickly disappeared in the brush. Paul responded with a whistle from his back pack, she yelled again, went up on a ridge, away from the rushing sound of the water and continued to yell. She heard the whistle again, but now further and further away, she bushwacked, and yelled , bushwacked, yelled, he whistled and eventually she found her husband. I was blown away. She didn’t give up, she didn’t let the cold, and the threat of darkness and her own safety deter her.

She. Kept. Yelling.

He kept whistling. It struck me to the heart, #1 because God and I had been speaking to eachother all day, especially around the various falls that cascaded through the valleys. I can’t even describe the beauty of these falls, I was in awe, a natural response would have been to drop to my knees in gratitude, but at one point, I felt Him saying, “Rachel, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. This beauty is NOTHING compared to the beauty I have in store for you.”

And when Margaret told us that when she first started yelling and heard a whistled response, she wondered if it was really Paul or someone playing a trick on her. But she kept going anyway, what else did she have?

And #2, this passage from John 4 immediately came to mind…the sheep listen to his voice…But we’ve got to be on the same frequency, we’ve got to know how to hone in, to focus on the shepherd. So many things creep into our conscious that threaten this communication, that bump us to a different wavelength and move us off track. So what can we do to stay on track?

1) Read his word, frequently, carefully, and expectantly.

2) Pray. This is a direct form of communication with the father, anything He says will be confirmed by scripture.

3) Weed out the noise. Media, friends, etc. All fine things in and of themselves, but we should not let them trump our final authority.

The result? Greater peace, clearer direction and full surrender to Him means that there is much less on our own shoulders.

We have no idea the beauty He has in store.

*names changed