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God’s Guidance

I would love to have a mocha with Moses. Among the myriad questions I might ask him over said mocha, a few rise quickly to the top of my curiosity list. I would love to pick his humble brain about the weight of leadership. After all, he carried some incredibly heavy weights with the grumbling nomadic town he essentially mayor-ed and all. I’d love to glean from the rich truths the Lord taught him in those in-between, liminal years he spent in Midian waiting. But I’d also love to hear him speak into God’s guidance.

As someone who spends many hours processing the mysteries and profundities of God’s will with young adults and also as someone who continues to wonder what I will do and be “when I grow up,” God’s guidance remains on the forefront of my heart and mind.

Moses knew God’s guidance up close and personal. Really personal. Like burning bush in your face and pillar of fire going on ahead of you close.

There was very little questioning involved in God’s guidance of Moses. He spoke to him after getting his attention from sheep to a strangely burning bush. He sent him very clearly with step-by-step instructions to Egypt to be an instrument of rescue for God’s enslaved people  (see Exodus 3 & 4). As he held a staff in his hand as an instrument, God was holding Moses in His hands. His calling was clear, though not easy.

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After the miraculous Red Sea crossing, God moved ahead of His homeless people in a miraculous and marvelously clear way.

And the Lord went before them by  day in a pillar of cloud to lead them, and by night a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night  did not depart from before the people  (Exodus 13:21-22). 

When wandering to the next encampment by day in the scorching desert wilderness sun, God provided a directing cloud to shade and steer them. In the frigid temperatures of the desert night of pitch black darkness, God provided them a directing fire to warm and direct their wandering. Their extremity became God’s great opportunity to provide for them and direct them.

I wonder if Moses ever feared that the pillar would stop directing him, if maybe this time, he would be left to his own devices or his own wisdom. I wrote the following poem from Moses’ perspective.

Follow the Fire

What if the cloud becomes concrete,
Leaving us stuck in no man’s land?
What if the fire fizzles and fades?
How’ll we know what you’ve planned?

I’ve learned to sense its gathering,
The readying again to roam. 
In this wilderness wandering,
Your Presence has become home.  

At times, I’m reluctant to roll up the tents,
To again loose these pegs from their place. 
Yet I long to be postured to follow these
Pillars more deeply into your grace. 

Remember, Lord, they follow me,
Heavy with hope, hard on my heals.  
Compounding weight weights on me;
Be the One who continually reveals. 

While You rain down on us manna,
Your map you keep close to your chest.
You would  have our eyes on you
To know when to roam, when to rest. 

Shekinah glory before and behind,
As You lead our sojourning sect. 
For, no matter the travel or trial,
Your presence our path will perfect. 

Oh, leading Lord, please make us those
Who follow the Lamb where’er He goes. 

So often, I hear from others (and think to myself), “Well, if God would make His will that clear to me, of course I would follow. Life would be so much easier.”

We have something far better than a burning bush or a pillar of cloud or smoke. In fact,  we don’t have a something at all.  We have a someone called the Holy Spirit. Rather than whirl around outside of us intermittently, He has chosen to take up abode within us.

And we don’t have to wonder what the destination is. God’s will for every believer is that he or she be conformed to the image of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Church in Thessaloniki, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”  (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

We have the Holy Spirit, who descended on the disciples in Pentecost in tongues of fire, now indwelling us to direct and to guide us into all wisdom. Rather than guiding us into the promised land, the Spirit continually directs us towards our Lord.

Oh, may we be those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4).

 

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The Thorn

You have not seen a thorn until you see that of the bougainvillea. Trust me, I have pricked myself more often than I can count by those suckers. Underneath the gentle, papery flowers painted in the brightest hues of pink, thorns hide.

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Our church has been in a series in the Gospel of Mark, which landed us talking about the Passion in an unexpected time in the liturgical calendar. Since we were studying a familiar passage in an unfamiliar time of year, different parts of the Passion story stood out to me, most notably those poor thorns.

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Those poor thorns, they probably belonged on a plant like my bright bougainvillea. They were created to guard those petals spoken into existence by their mutual Creator. I imagine that those poor thorns,  had they been animated, would have fought against their lot. They were made to declare and point to their Divine Creator-Artist, not to pierce his head. That Sacred Head deserved a garland of flowers and victory, not the gashes of unjust suffering.

I imagined our Christ comforting even the thorn that would pierce His head, knowing the Crown that would come.

The Thorn

Oh, let it not be my lot, Lord,
To pierce your beautiful brow.
They twist and contort me,
You watch them even now.

I see that you can see me
Through your bloodied gaze.
You care for Your creation,
Even on your worst of days.

Your voice spoke into being
The plant I do adorn.
Must I be an instrument
To make your voice mourn?

Must I unmake my Maker,
Slicing His Sacred Head?
Must I be enlisted in a plot
Leaving Life-Maker dead?

Fret not, my fibrous friend,
                 For a better crown yet comes.
                 My desperate, dying gasps
                 With life will fill their lungs.

                 Rest here on my brow,
                 Play your part in this story,
                 For suffering and submission
                 Will end in lasting glory.

 

 

 

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Keep Your Lamps Burning with Oil

The parable of the ten virgins has always been a strange one for me. I know I want to be like the five virgins who are wise. I mean, who wants to be grouped with the foolish sisters? And why don’t they share? Initially, they seem like stingy, wise virgins to me.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying,  “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.”

It helps a little to understand, as much as one can, the culture and customs into which this parable was spoken. Weddings back then were more like traditional Hindi weddings are today in that they took place over numerous days. And we thought waiting as bridesmaids for the actual wedding to take place after all the preparation and getting dolled up and hours of pictures was hard. We are talking days of waiting and an uncertain start time, let alone start date.

Even a toddler can understand that bottom line of the parable: stay prepared, stay ready, for you never know when the bridegroom will announce himself.  That part I understand.

The wise girls brought enough oil to last through delays. They had the longer view. I also understand that part.

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But how does one read this parable through a Christ-centered lens rather than a moralistic lens?

This morning, as I was stuck in traffic, the Lord reminded me of another story from 2 Kings in which oil supply plays a significant role.Unlike the parable, this story involves the end of a marriage, rather than the beginning.

A poor widow who had lost her husband found herself at the end of her supply financially, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  A creditor to whom the family owed money had come to take her two children away to be his slaves since there was no money to pay for the debt and no husband to work to pay it down. In desperation, she came to the prophet Elisha.

And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside,  borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When t the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing (2 Kings 4: 2-7). 

I want to be like the wise virgins who have ample oil. But so often,  I am more like the widow. I don’t have enough physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally to do one day, let alone plan days in advance in a state of preparedness.

But what if the way to be prepared and keep our lamps burning with oil is to have empty vessels lifted unto the Lord in dependance and desperation like the widow?

We don’t have the oil we need. We never will. The stores don’t sell it. And even if they did, it would not be enough.

In the Old Testament, oil often represents the work of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, it would make sense why the wise virgins did not share their oil. The Holy Spirit cannot be purchased or borrowed, it must be given and received from the Lord Himself. It is a personal and intimate exchange. My dependence upon the Lord and His provision for me cannot be shared with you,  and vice versa.

Each one must bring his or her empty vessels to the Lord to be filled continuously. This is  what John 15 assumes when it speaks about abiding.

Preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming is a daily dependance upon the abundantly unctuous one. Lifting empty vessels,  admitting our own utter lack and looking expectantly to the Lord for provision.

If emptiness,  neediness,  and desperate dependance are what it takes to keep one’s lamp burning with oil, then maybe, just maybe, I can join the wise virgin club.

 

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Crickets

Before we moved to San Diego, when we were in the exploration phase, people used many truths about San Diego to lure us here. Among these were the following: “You really don’t need air conditioning in San Diego, the weather is nearly perfect year round,” “You don’t realize how humid it is in the South until you live in San Diego,” and “There really aren’t bugs like mosquitos in San Diego.” Needless to say, we took the bait with the help of a clear call from God to head West.

And let’s be real, all is pretty well here. That being said, I was unprepared for two natural phenomena that have shocked me here in San Diego. The skunks and the crickets. Skunks are to San Diego what squirrels are to the Southeast. They are everywhere, running about as if they own the place. I would much prefer a cute nut-hunting squirrel to a nasty striped skunk any day. Mater, our dog who has been skunked more than a handful of times, agrees whole-heartedly. They don’t write about them in the tour books. So consider yourself forewarned. You can thank me later.

Now onto the crickets. Maybe this is not a San Diego wide-phenomenon, but I can most certainly attest to the infestation of small, nasty, nearly see-through crickets in and around our home. I know they don’t bite like mosquitos, but they are loud, prolific little creatures.  I have begun hiding out in my home in the evenings for fear of walking out the front door to be greeted by walls that are acting as cricket hostels. You were not invited, nasty beings. You are ruining my picturesque visions of San Diego.

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Crickets don’t get much representation or marketing in life. In fact, only two things come to mind immediately when I think cricket. The first is a great childhood book called A Cricket in Times’ Square, starring a polite little cricket who is most assuredly not related to the cricket clan living in our home. The second is that awkward silence when no one is talking, when an attempt at conversation or a small group discussion goes nowhere, leaving everyone standing and staring at their toes. Crickets.

Sometimes that latter view of crickets is how I feel about God. There are so many times when I or those I love or those I don’t even know have cried out to God and asked for some miracle, some sudden stop to the evil around us, some answer to the profound suffering on this earth. And the response from Heaven often seems to be silence. Crickets.

“A silent heaven is the greatest mystery of our existence…Society, even in the great centres of modern civilisation, is all too like a slave-ship, where, with the sounds of music and laughter and reverly on the upper deck, there mingle groans of untold misery battened down below. Who can estimate the sorrow and suffering and wrong endured during a single round of the clock…?”

Robert Anderson, writing from England over 150 years ago, captures the sentiments we often feel perfectly. Dean Mansel, quoted by Anderson in his book, The Silence of God, says something similar. “There are times when the heaven that is over our heads seems to be brass, and the earth that is under us to be iron, and we feel our hearts sink within us…”

Crickets from Heaven seems to be a shared human experience. And I, as every human ought to be, am confused by this seeming indifference from a God I know and believe to be loving and gracious and just.

Anderson’s explanation of this seeming Divine Silence has been a great help to me as I seek to follow a God who often does not work when and how I think He ought to. He writes the following:

“A silent Heaven! Yes, but it is not the silence of a callous indifference or helpless weakness; it is the silence of a great sabbatic rest, the silence of a peace which is absolute and profound – a silence which is the public pledge and proof that the way is open for the guiltiest of mankind to draw near to God…If God is silent now it is because Heaven has come down to earth, the climax of Divine revelation has been reached, there is no reserve of mercy yet to be unfolded. He has spoken His last word of love and grace, and when next He breaks the silence it will be to let loose the judgements which shall yet engulf a world that has rejected Christ.”

While not a popular view point, I believe Anderson is correct. “The advent of Christ was God’s full and final revelation of Himself to man.” God’s response to suffering, to natural disasters, to loneliness and pain and evil is most clearly seen and expressed in Christ. In Christ, God said to the world, “I will not leave you alone; I won’t ask you to fix the mess you have made; I will not be content to leave the world like this, to be separated from you. I will come to earth and will do what you cannot do. I will create a way, the Way, for you to be reconciled to me. I long that all would be put back to its rightful place in proper relation to me, you and your world.”

Anderson aptly says, “Men point to the sad incidents of human life on earth, and they ask, ‘Where is the love of God?’ God points to the Cross as the unreserved manifestation of love so inconceivably infinite as to answer every challenge and silence all doubt for ever.”

God is not silent because He is cold or careless, but because His best and only answer is the offer He has given in Christ: the offer of a Suffering Savior who demands only trust in Him, as hard as that can be at times.

Crickets, yes. But crickets in light of the Cross.

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Redefining Success

We lugged our chairs and the sun umbrella down to the shoreline with our books in hand, ready to read silently together (because, when you have been married for 13 years, and become comfortable in your skin, this defines an ideal date). I buried my feet in the  sand and glanced up to watch the waves before diving into the pages. But I never got to the book.

Surf school had my undivided attention for the remainder of our hour at the beach.

It was not the neon rash guards the students were wearing, though those most certainly draw attention. It was not said party’s incredible talent at riding the waves.  It was not even the proud parents who were fully clothed and wearing sneakers attempting to take action shots of their would-be surfers.

It was one particular surf coach who arrested my attention.  After carrying the bulky  board down the beach for her teenage student, both got into the white water. Every few minutes,  the student would get up on the board and ride a tiny wave onto the shore.  I honestly did not watch the surfer because my gaze was glued on the elated coach.

With every tiny wave the student caught, the coach would thrust both of her fists into the air as if she had just won an Olympic gold or the lottery. It was not a feigned or false excitement. It was her guttural, reflexive response to the success of her student.

I wondered at the beauty of the scene. A coach more elated at the small successes of her pupil than even the pupil herself.  Certainly,  this surf coach could be out in the deep waters, catching the uncharacteristically large waves that were churning that day. She clearly knew how to surf, and, as such, she could have been enjoying the wave herself.

Yet, here she was, wildly celebrating a newbie surfer in the shallows.

I kept watching, wondering if she would remain as excited throughout the lesson. Sure enough, every wave caught left the coach smiling from ear to ear with pride.

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My husband and I spent the remaining minutes discussing the beauty of someone attaching their own success to the success of another. As those who disciple a staff team of twenty-somethings, we have had to learn to make the success of others our success. If they begin to learn their gifts and their unique contribution to the kingdom of God, if they find the lane in which they have been called to run the race marked out for them, we are successful.

I wish I could say I was always like the surf coach.  But celebrating the success of others is not natural to my flesh, nor is it celebrated in our get-your-own culture. If it were, teachers would be our celebrities, but, alas, they are not.

Left to ourselves, we (and I don’t mean the royal “we”) tend to measure success by our own moments in the spotlight, our trophies, and our individual triumphs.

But what if we defined success biblically? Then, success might look more like service and seeking the welfare of another above our own. My success as a disciple-maker does not always look like me getting to exercise and strengthen my natural gifts. It often looks like staying put and doing the same thing over and over again in the lives of new people. Rather than crushing it on the waves, God has called me to coach others in the white water. That means that their success, their learning to walk with God and share Him with others, their discovering their own gifts, is to become my success.

When he was on the earth, Christ could have done a number of things successfully. He was, after all, the God-Man. Yet, he poured himself into the lives of twelve men. He trained them, coached them, corrected them, and cared for them. Before he even went to the cross, when he was praying what has become known as the high priestly prayer,  Christ said something profound.

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” John 17:4.

Part of Jesus’ work on earth was to develop the disciples who would become God’s chosen instruments to bring the news of the life, death and resurrection of Christ to the world. He attached the success of his mission to his faithfulness in pouring into those men.

May we learn to do the same, no matter what the arena of our coaching and training.

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Perspective for Those Being Pruned

We don’t need Angie’s List to verify the expertise of our pruner. We need only look to the record of the life of Christ and the living annals of his work among His people. Yet, when we look upon the work of the pruning knife in the lives of our dear ones or feel its sharp incisions in our own lives, we tend to find ourselves questioning.

Does He know what He is doing? What are His intentions? Did He not know that was already a struggling sapling? Did He not see how fruitful that bough was before He lopped it off?

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Our Sight of Pruning

On a road trip this past Summer,  our family drove through the Edna Valley, a tiny Central Coastal version of the more famous Napa Valley. Some of the vineyards were lush. flourishing, and easy-on-eyes. Others looked like they had been abandoned, as they only had stumpy stalks to offer passersby. Upon a closer look, however, one could see that the wines were receiving proper irrigation and were carefully tied and trimmed.

A thoroughly pruned vine, from our sight, appears haphazardly harmed, if not dead. No grapes hang heavy on its tendrils. No green shoots promise a healthy harvest.

So, too, do the lives of people in the midst of the pruning process appear. They look lifeless and limp, stubby and stripped. It is as if each disappointed prospect, each announcement of hard news is another stroke to an already languishing plant.

His Sight of Pruning

Sinclair Ferguson, in his book Maturity: Growing up and Going On in the Christian Life, has been incredibly helpful in my understanding of the Divine pruning process.  He writes the following:

“The skillful vinedresser distinguishes between adequate pruning and over-severity.  A  vine severely pruned will produce leaf-bearing shoots which invariably become fruitless stems. Pruning  is a skill. If the vinedresser cuts too far from the bud, the stub will die  and harbor disease. But if he cuts too close to it, the bud itself may  be damaged. The skillful vinedresser cuts close, but not too close, to the bud-and produces strong, fruitful, lasting growth.”

Our God is the heavenly husbandman. He is an expert pruner (John 15). After all, He created both  the concepts of xylem and phloem and the more complex inner-workings of each and every human soul (Genesis 1 and Psalm 139).

“God knows what he is doing in every situation of our lives, not least in our darker moments. Pain, times of disappointment, or sorrow, all serve as his pruning knife. His providences seem to cut deeply; but his purpose is to enable us to grow strong enough to bear new fruit. He prunes with perfect skill. We are tested, but not beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).”

When the vineyards around you or within you seem to be lifeless stubs and feel severely pruned, it is helpful to look at some of the previously pruned fields now fruiting at the hands of the same Pruner. And  really, we need only look to one field, the life of Christ.

The Pruned One

Century upon century before Christ came to earth,  the prophet Isaiah, filled with the Spirit,  poetically predicted His coming.

For he grew up  before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground  (Isaiah 53:2). 

The picture here would have been clear to the Jewish people. What once had been a healthy vibrant nation at its height under the rule of King David had become a stump. Through stubborn sinfulness and resulting exile, God’s people no longer looked like a tree of promise. Rather, they seemed a forgotten, nearly rotten stump. Into this context, Isaiah promised that a new shoot would grow, breaking tenderly through the remains with new hope and new promises for God’s people.

Certainly,  when Christ came to the earth and began his dynamic earthly ministry which was paired with powerful signs and wonders, God’s people began to wonder if He might be the promised shoot, the green one come to fill God’s people and place with new vitality.

However, at the height of his ministry, just as the tree seemed poised for power and promise, he willingly let himself be mangled by men. The tender shoot was on the tree of punishment, yielding himself to the Pruner’s knife.

And all seemed lost. Until the Resurrection where the pruned Person of Christ showed the first fruits of the coming harvest.

The Heavenly Pruner had known what He was doing all along. Out of death would come new life.

Our proof of the expertise of our Pruner lies in the life of Christ and its continued work in the world. As such, we may rest secure that, in time, the pruned parts of our lives will bear lasting fruit. What now appears to be a dead stump will bloom like the Cherry Trees in D.C in the Spring.

Until that day,  let us rest in the expert hands of the Pruner.

 

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A Risky Friendship

When we think of Paul’s conversion (or rather Saul’s conversion to Paul), we think of the Road to Damascus and the brilliant light and him falling to the ground. In Acts 9, where the conversion of Saul is chronicled, the first nine verses refer to this dramatic and memorable scene; however, the next ten verses tell the other incredibly significant, often-overlooked and over-shadowed part of the story: the story of a faithful believer in Christ who followed His master into a very risky friendship.

Ananias. A disciple in Damascus, the very town to which Saul had been headed, breathing threats and murder, according to verse 1. Going about his normal life until he had a vision that radically redirected him towards an incredibly incongruous and unlikely relationship.

Just as the Lord had appeared to Saul and called him by name, the Lord came to Ananias in a vision, calling him by name. Both sons, though very different sons.

The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said to him, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

The Lord did not need to give details to the name of Saul, for all the early church knew of Saul of Tarsus. He filled their nightmares with his violent zeal. According to Acts 8, Saul had been ravaging the church and had been a key player in the execution of Stephen, the first martyr. The Greek word for ravishing, lumainomai, literally means to wreak havoc, to corrupt, to defile or to soil.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard much about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name.” 

What confidence the Lord had in his servant Ananias. After all, Saul had already seen a vision that Ananias would come and lay his hands on Saul. It is not unlikely that Ananias had thoughts to lay his hands on Saul in anger for his violence against his fellow believers and the pain and panic he was causing in the lives of believers who were fleeing from Jerusalem to save their lives. Yet, the vision had shown Ananias coming to lay hands on Saul to heal him, not to harm him.

He was to heal the eyes who had likely relished the sight of Stephen being martyred by stoning. Talk about a risky friendship. What if it was an elaborate trap? What if the repentance had been a farce? A ploy to lure believers to harm?

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 

On the Word of the Lord, Ananias went. He did as the Lord said. He set himself vulnerably in the presence of one who had ravaged the church and touched him, becoming an instrument of healing to the one who had been an instrument of harm.

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and taking food, he was strengthened. 

Had Ananias listened to fear or to prejudice or to even the advice of well-intentioned believers around him, the scales may not have fallen from Saul’s eyes. Had the scales not physically fallen from Saul’s eyes, countless Gentiles and Jews would not have had the spiritual scales fall from the eyes of their hearts which had been blinded by the Enemy (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

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The story of Saul’s conversion is, in some ways, the story of two conversions. Saul’s spiritual conversion to Paul and Ananias’ different conversion to friendship with a former enemy.

Today, I find myself praising the all-powerful God who writes straight with crooked sticks, who uses risky friendships to advance His kingdom. May we learn from Ananias to listen to God’s Word and to step out in obedience towards intentional friendships with those very different from ourselves.

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On Greater & Lesser Advocates

I am not a lawyer, but I am a mother. Which means that though I am neither demanding in personality nor powerful in presence, I turn into a fierce advocate for my children. Watching the classic courtroom scenes from A Few Good Men and reading To Kill A Mockingbird are about as close as this girl comes to training in argument or advocacy. However, when someone I love is threatened or put into a difficult place, tenacious advocacy erupts from a dormant place deep within me.

I have watched the most shy mothers turn into brave warriors on behalf of their children, advocating for their rights, their treatment, their place at the table. It is a scary and stunning thing to watch someone advocate for another.

At some point in life, we all find ourselves in need of an advocate to greater or lesser degrees.  Whether in an interview, a legal argument, or a garden-variety misunderstanding, certain circumstances will trigger within us a deep desire for someone to advocate on our behalf, someone to take up our cause and go to bat for us.

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Advocacy in the Scriptures
Advocacy seems to be woven into the very character of our God. As such, it should come as no surprise that we find in ourselves a corresponding hunger to both give and receive advocacy.

While the taste of the forbidden fruit was still on Adam and Eve’s tongues, God undertook on their behalf. He, the betrayed party, killed an animal to graciously provide clothes to replace fig leaves for his ashamed creations (Genesis 3:21).

A few years later, the Lord advocated on behalf of the slain Abel (Genesis 4:10).

When Abram threw her under the bus, God Himself advocated for the vulnerable Sarai. Twice. (Genesis 12 &  Genesis 20).

Abraham would later advocate for Lot and the inhabitants of the city of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33), urging God to spare them if there were even ten righteous people in the whole populace.

A hardship-weather yet God-protected Joseph advocated for the very brothers who had begun his long journey of suffering  (Genesis 47).

We  have not even exhausted the examples of advocacy in the book of Genesis, but I think I can stop advocating for advocacy Scripturally.

When God established His people through Moses (yet another advocate) and the laws and precepts given through his mediacy, it should come as no surprise that advocacy found its way into the fabric of God’s people. Priests were established to advocate for the people before God through an elaborate system of sacrifices. God’s people were to advocate for the sojourner and stranger and even the accidental murderer (Deuteronomy 19:4).

The Greater Advocate
All these stepping stones of advocacy, whether human or divine, were meant to point us towards and lead us to the Greater Advocate, our Great High Priest, Jesus.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God (Hebrews  2:14-17).  

That the eternally offended party would come to earth, put on flesh and become the atoning sacrifice for our sins is shocking enough. But Christ not only died to make us right with God, He lives to advocate for us.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). 

Goaded to the Greater Advocate
Lately, I have found myself looking around for an earthly advocate, someone to plead my cause, to back me, to believe in me to no avail. Yet, as strange as it sounds, I am slowly becoming thankful for the absence of earthly advocates.

The lack of lesser advocates can goad us to the greater one. Rather than allowing us to stop short, the Lord will sometimes lovingly force us to walk, by faith, all the way up to His very footstool. There we will find the Son seated at the right hand of the Father, pleading for us, advocating on our behalf.

 

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Hanging Harps: Hope on Hiatus

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

Though written thousands of years ago in a specific time and place, Psalm 137 resonates strongly with Christians of every age whose hope has been on hiatus, who are in danger of hanging up their harps.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps…How can we sing the Lord’s song while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may might hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. 

God’s people sang this mournful song in their exilic journey from their home to the foreign, strange land of Babylon. They had once been a jubilant, hopeful people, singing spontaneous songs of praise and gratitude on lyres and harps. They had known a home where they belonged, where they were understood, where life was as it was meant to be. However, through the complexities of their own sin and refusal to seek and serve God alone, they were led into a dark exile. Nothing was familiar, everything and everyone seemed harsh and unwelcoming. They were close to giving up, they wanted to hang up their harps.

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While Syrian believers can sing this Psalm with a depth of understanding foreign to most Christians, every Christian at some point or another can and should empathize with our exiled ancestors.

While we have never been to Eden, to the world of shalom for which we were tailor made, our hearts remember and long for the home country we have never seen. Our hearts hum the tune of hope and home, even though we can’t quite remember the words. Our disappointments and sense of foreignness remind us that we are indeed exiles on this earth, those looking for a better country, trying to find the way back to the home they never fully knew.

When a baby dies, when a spouse leaves, when a body betrays us in illness, when a child struggles to find friends, when the best the world has to offer leaves us hollow, we ask with the saints of old, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”

When physical hopes have continually been rearranged and/or ruined, it is natural to want to hang up our harps and to harden our hearts. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

But that is only half the story.

Desire coming is a tree of life.

God’s people hung on in exile through the dim and far-off promises of the prophets that God would come and bring them home, that while this foreign sojourn felt endless, God had plans of hope and a future. And when they came home, the harps and the hope that seemed futile were picked up and used to sing songs of joy and relief.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come, he will not delay,'”and “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39. 

As tempting as it is to hang up our harps and to leave our hope on hiatus, we must cling to the promises God has given us. Some days we may only be able to barely hum the tune, but we must ask our Father to keep our home song in our hearts as we pass through a hash and strange land.

As impossible as it may seem now, we will one day sing with the returned exiles a very different song.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dreamed; Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, likes streams in the desert, those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,  carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126. 

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As It Seemed Best: Encouraging Words for Overwhelmed Parents

As it seemed best.”

These four words have been a continual source of healing and comfort to me in my  earthly parenting; however, I am even more comforted by the fact that they have no place in God’s heavenly parenting of His children.

In his letter of warnings to the Jewish Christians, the author of Hebrews addresses the concept of biblical discipline.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as  it seemed best to  them, but disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For  the moment all discipline seems painful  rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:7-11.

As Seems: Parenting from Our Limited Perspective

Discipline is a loaded and misunderstood word, especially in our culture.  However, the biblical term translated discipline holds a greater range of meaning than mere correction  or punishment. The Greek paideia means instruction that trains someone to reach maturity and full development. While it includes correction, biblical training goes far beyond meting out consequences. It is a multi-faceted process that addresses and presses  the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional lives of our developing children.

As it it were not weighty enough, this biblical definition takes the conversation around the discipline and training of our children to a whole new level. Instead of staying in the common wrestling mats of “What kind of consequences do I give my children?” and “For what actions will they receive consequences?,” it creates many more mats upon which to wrestle.

  • What is our developmental plan for our child’s spiritual well-being?
  • In which school environment will each of our children be most stretched?
  • Will this risk that we are encouraging our child to take (trying out for a sports team, taking a challenging class, going away for a church trip. etc…)  be a healthy stretch or something that snaps his/her spirit?
  • Are we over-correcting our child to the point of constant critique?
  • When do we address the various patterns we see in their lives? Do we pray and let the Lord work in His time? Do we bring them up? If so, when and how? In what order?

Even when we think we have arrived at an answer for this child in this season,  there will be another season for this child (not to mention, other very different children, for many families).  So many potential pieces. How will they ever become a cohesive whole?

These and countless other questions should cause parents to drop to their knees in prayers for discernment and wisdom.

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Parents are called by God to lovingly,  intentionally, prayerful discipline their child(ren). He knows that we are limited in our understanding of our children’s hearts and hard-wiring. He knows that are bound by time, unable to see the future into which we and they are walking. He knows that we have our own pasts, foibles and blindspots that affect our parental vision.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust. Psalm 103:13-14.

As Is: Parenting from His Perspective

While we, through prayer and discernment and many teary or heated conversations, parent as seems best,  God works providentially as is best. There is no seeming best to Him.

The One who ordered the stars and hummed hummingbirds into existence has hard-wired each of our children. His Spirit goes where law and even loving parental interrogations cannot (1 Corinthians 2:10).  He stands outside of time and sees the full frame of the future that is coming for each of them (Psalm 139). He will not break a dimly burning wick, and a bruised reed he will not break (Isaiah 42:3). Every incident of their lives He will work with intention to their good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Oh, what a net this reality provides to the weary, wondering parent. Rather than leaving us paralyzed by a sea of choices and potential consequences, these promises free us to move forward in fear of God and trust in Him, rather than our own limited perspective.