When the Way Seems Mostly Cloudy

I was at a crossroads a few years ago in the months before my divorce was final.  I had a choice to stay here in Georgia or move to be closer to my family up North.  Month upon agonizing month I struggled with the weight of it, and the only thing I really knew to do was to listen to this Third Day song as I ran on the treadmill–at least on a treadmill, there is an illusion of going somewhere…

But I know I’m not the only one who has been in a barren place: as the Israelites moved from place to place in the desert, they had a visible sign of the Lord’s guidance:

Exodus 13:21-22 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or by night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. 
And we know that the very presence of the Lord dwelt in their place of worship later on in Exodus: 
Exodus 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.
I am reminded of all this as our study in I Kings moves along to chapter eight.  Solomon dedicates the temple, this structure that took seven years to build.  It required more gold, precious wood, manpower and skill than we could possibly imagine.  God was pleased with this massive undertaking and it’s completion.  When the ark was finally brought to the temple and set in the Most Holy Place, we see:
I Kings 8:10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.  And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  
There it goes, every time I read or write that very verse, my hearts swells with emotion, God was so pleased that nothing else could fill that Most Holy Place.  What are we trying to fit into our most holy place–self-glory, recognition, worry, fear?  We have to let the Lord fill that space.  Him and Him alone.  The priests and kings and people of the land can look on in wonder and we will know that we have something far greater alive within us.  How amazing is that?  Maybe then the way will seem a little clearer?
Maybe you’re thinking: wouldn’t it be kind-of nice to still have that pillar of cloud here today?  When His presence hovered over a certain church, a life-mate or even the right  car to purchase?  Wait a minute, he does, because according to Romans 8:9-10, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” and Romans 5:5b: “…because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  Do you realize the power in these two verses?  Especially, the first?  The very spirit of God abides, lives, moves, takes charge in us.
So, no, we do not have a pillar of cloud or of fire, but we have the presence of our Almighty God LIVING in us. 
Which begs the question: how are we showing that fiery presence to those around us?

When Processing Law and Grace

So, I just finished reading this book recently, and I have to say it’s pretty great.  We all may, at one point or another may have tried to make obedience to God’s laws super-complicated, or may have even asked the harder question of “What role does the law play in my life now that  we are living under a gospel of grace?”

I know I have.

Recently, I’d already come to a few convictions recently on what certain commandments look like in my life, or more precisely what breaking certain commandments have looked like, so I felt like this came at a good time.  As a writer and an introvert, I can get into my head too much and some of my thinking and behavior becomes pharisaical without me even realizing it. For instance, I got to a point a few weeks ago that I was just overwhelmed with the enormity of what obedience to God in a particular area of my life could mean going forward, my heart was heavy for days, I was weepy and I came to church on a Friday night needing to talk to somebody, anybody and I did and it helped–and a hug from near stranger helped too.  The problem was, I was trying to figure out God’s timing for what He was telling me to do on my own and I had to step back and realize that yes, this is what God is telling me, it’s consistent with His word, even the calling He’s laid on my heart, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it tomorrow or even next week. 

In the meantime, he has other instructions that I can do now.  Things, I’m certain will prepare me for that bigger task down the road.  All that to say, the law convicts, sets us on a straight path and protects us, really, but it is grace that gives us realization that following the law is something was absolutely cannot do on our own, after all, before Christ came, even when people came to the temple to offer sacrifices, they had a high priest acting on their behalf.  The wonderful part about this is that WE have a great high priest in Jesus Christ–the final high priest.   That’s the part that calms my heart.
I love the fact that this pastor and writer makes the final chapter in his book all about Law and Gospel.  He makes the point that God is the Judge of all the earth, and that he is also the Sovereign Ruler who extends to us mercy and pardon. AND he extends his help and grace to allow us to live righteous lives according to his law. 
Why do we insist on doing it ourselves?

The Beauty of Scars

Photo Credit quapan’s  by Creative Commons

Scars invite people to look at you differently, sometimes they are visible and sometimes they’re not, when they are, and when someone takes the time to get to know you and see how far you’ve come, they see you as a listening ear, a word of encouragement or someone who can offer a piece of advice.

Scars indicate to you what you’ve been through–how God miraculously healed you through that accident, heartbreak or time of terrible sickness.

Scars spur you on because if you can look down and see what God has physically brought you through, you will reach for even greater heights, be more vulnerable and actively seek out those challenges you never thought you could meet on your own.

Scars are the most beautiful marks one can carry because they show life, they display to you that:

#1 life is worth living, getting out of bed, and pressing into the pain
#2 wisdom is worth gravitating toward because people look for wear and tear–kinda like examining a house’s foundation before purchasing it, we see the cracks, and we make the investment
#3 though the scars, we are healed

Gifts Upon Gifts–Is It Christmastime?

On going over our lesson in I Kings 1-4 last week during group time, one of the questions that popped up in our study from Chapter 4 had to do with Solomon receiving the gift of wisdom from God.  We were asked the question: “What gifts has God given you?” Someone in our class shared how thankful she was for a good husband and children, and a home and I inwardly shook my head and thought-“That poor woman, she answered the question wrong, it’s ok, our leader will say something…” And when someone said, “Well, my ability to do such and such or touch the lives of so and so, I outwardly nodded in agreement, because this is of course how I interpreted the question (which is always the right way, no?) And, inevitably our discussion leader said, “You know I was thinking about outward blessings too.”  And then my black and white world trembled a bit when I realized that there could be two interpretations to this question. 
And then, I thought how incredible it was that Solomon’s gifts were the same too:
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.
Wow.  So, not only does God grant Solomon exactly what he asks for, but he heaps blessing upon blessing upon him through material wealth and honor. 
How AMAZING is this God that we serve?  So much so, that not only can we thank God for the talents, skills and abilities that he’s given us, but we see the residual blessings of these inner qualities, we gain respect when we do a job with the best of our efforts, we love our work when we allow God to provide exactly what we need when we need it, we see our children flourish when we raise them according to his commands and teachings, we become confidant in who we are when we are giving back. 
It really is this beautiful waltz, isn’t it?
What gifts and talents has God given you that you have seen tangible results?  I ask this so that He might get the glory… 

A Father’s Last Words

Ah, a new year ushers in a brand new phase of Bible Study.  I love it, I really do, just being able to open up a new study guide, meet new people. It’s great.  It’s all the excitement of starting a new school year without roasting in your brand-new school clothes (and too-tight shoes) that you really should have saved until fall but you insist on wearing right away, well, ’cause they’re new.
This year we’re studying the divided kingdom and the minor prophets, so don’t be surprised if you see posts heavily influenced by the happenings in I & II Kings. 
I should start out by saying that I love the Old Testament.  Where else could you get away with the “man after God’s own heart “having a young virgin by his side to keep him warm in his old age? If this doesn’t completely undergird your belief that the Bible is the best book ever, I don’t know what will.  All that to say, I Kings opens up with David being old, some scholars suggest that he’s in his 70’s here.
This is a man who has seen and endured so much throughout his lifetime, from fighting lions and bears, and literal giants to being pursued by his best-friend’s father for years.  He endures the death of his son by a wife who was garnered through deception and death.  His own son issues a plot against him to overtake his throne and in so combating this plot, his son is killed, and this is just the half of it.  We could close right here and just skip to the NT, really, because we learn so much through David’s examples of strength, faith, failures, victories and sheer pain, but the Bible doesn’t stop there, so neither do we.  The sun may be setting on David’s reign over Israel, but that doesn’t mean his work is done.  Now is the time to prepare his son, Solomon, the man who will rule over the nation of Israel, the man who God promised would be David’s successor and the man who would achieve grander scales of wealth, prosperity, safety, wisdom and knowledge greater than any kingdom before. 
And you ask yourself:
How do I raise a son/daughter like that?
To choose wisdom and knowledge over riches and achievement?
To follow after God with their whole heart?
To choose obedience over sacrifice?
To move all that head knowledge of the books of the Bible, the names of Joseph’s brothers, how many commandments there are and push it right down into their little hearts and have the Word Made Flesh spill out there? 
Because that is what we all want, right?
Believe me, if I had the formula, I’d bottle it up and give it to you in package form, but I will share with you the words that David, the dad, had for his son.
You see, the first chapter of I Kings starts off with a plot to overtake the throne, a plot by David’s 4th son, Adonijah.  I guess because David was creeping up in years, Adonijah thought he could pull a fast one on his father.  So much so, that he’s pretty brazen about it, he basically assumes the role of king by getting the high priests to support him, having a huge feast and inviting all the important people–and all of his brothers, except, of course, Solomon, and pretty much just assumes the role of king.  However, the prophet Nathan learns of this, prompts Bathsheba to talk to David directly and they make their own plans to set Solomon, the rightful heir, upon the throne.  Adonijah hears of this and pleads for mercy and is allowed to stay alive as long as he obeys Solomon. 
Chapter 2 opens with the words,
“When the time drew near for David to die he gave a charge to Solomon his son.” 
“I am about to go the way of all the earth, ” he said.  So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.”
I love those first few words, “be strong, show yourself a man…” 
We witness those scenes in movies, even read about them in books, but this charge is followed up with specific instructions: honoring and obeying God, keeping his commands.  It’s just that simple, and we often want to make it more complicated than it has to be, I think it’s because we as Christians allow ourselves to get sucked into what the world’s definition of masculinity and success is: making a ton of money, being in charge, making our own way.  Sure, I admire people like Donald Trump and Kobe Bryant to a certain degree.  They know their subject matter, they’ve been around the block more than a few times, but these aren’t our fathers, grandfathers, best friends, husbands, they are men that have been elevated in other people’s eyes.  Both of my grandfathers were men to whom I can look back and say, certainly, that they would have uttered the same last instructions out of their mouth that David would have.  They were not rich, neither one of them had a college degree, but they were incredibly wealthy in that legacy of godliness that they left behind, and for that, all the money in the world could not replace. 
Love the godly men in your life, respect and honor them, and above all: listen to them.  

Falling, Submission, Surrender

This blog post won’t serve as an end all authority of what submission must look like in the body of believers, nor will it be my stance on authority and submission inside the context of marriage…I’m still working both of those out.  However, I want to share some initial thoughts on what it means to be personally submissive to Christ.
Ever had your life flipped upside down in an instant?  Literally not know which way was up–who you could trust and who you couldn’t?  Has there ever been a point in your life that you had no way to predict your schedule from one day to the next because of the next potential crises or hurdle around the bend?  If you are alive and sitting in front of a computer, then my guess is many of you can relate.
Four years ago, my life did that unexpected twist-turn.  It started, ostensibly, with my husband spending a month away from my one-year-old daughter and me.  There had been lots of distance between he and I that last year, things were disintegrating and it seemed like neither one of us wanted to try and figure out just what that gap was.  It was a deep, ugly and selfish gap.  One of us was trying to fill it up with mom-duties and the other was trying to fill it with a person who offered the acceptance, love and patience that I neglected to.
Then things really and truly did take a downward spiral–and when I got done falling, I was caught in two very strong and capable outstretched arms.  Arms that belonged to a Savior, who, two thousand years ago invited little children onto his lap, arms that swept money and trinkets and cages of birds off tables in the temple court in an act that may be labeled as fury, but, more that anything else should be called righteous, and arms that extended to a man named Thomas so he could see the nail scars on his hands–after all he had gone through, the pain, the ridicule, beyond-belief physical suffering, it was that important to Jesus for this doubting disciple to see the nail prints, to really and truly believe.
There is this unspoken assumption that if we no longer speak of it, we are no longer dealing with it, or hurt by an incident, that the ache isn’t still there.  Honestly, I wanted to write about this because #1 I am amazed at God’s all-sufficiency to heal me, to really and truly make my heart whole again, I didn’t have to fill it up with other stuff, He really is everything and I am so grateful. #2 I still have issues.  Can I get an “Amen!”?  Issues of trust, vanity, selfishness, pride, I have a long way to go until I’m all there.
I’ve found these holy God-arms have assumed various roles through these last four years:
sheltering, buffeting me against attacks
guarding me from certain, dangerous, even stupid situations I put myself into
leading me to amazing places, meeting people I would have never thought I’d have the privilege of knowing
using his Holy Spirit to do only “God things” in other peoples lives
cradling me when I was so weary, I could only collapse
I don’t have the time, nor you, reader, the patience, I’m sure to read the list I could compile with the specifics of His love, but I will say this:
These arms have accepted me:

No matter what I’ve looked liked
No matter what I’ve done in the past
Whether I volunteered my time enough, gave enough, showed up enough, called enough–He made it known that it’s only His grace that’s sufficient in my life
They’ve wanted nothing out of me, except maybe, my surrender…
The tail-end of this post made me think of my own butterfly observation.  For some reason, I saw a ton of ’em out today, all different shapes, sizes, colors, but the last one I saw this evening came as I waited for the apartment gates to open.  It flew in front of my car as the wood board lifted and the huge metal gate with slats at least 5 inches apart (big enough that a skinny cat could slink right through). But the butterfly didn’t take that skinny-cat route, just as the gates were parting, she fluttered in between the opening of the two gates, like she had been waiting all along for me to let her in.  

Could she be grace?