But First, A Word from God

I love books. The fact that I currently have a stack on my bedside table just to read in the next couple of w

I review books as a blogger for a publishing company and I find solace in roaming through bookstores and piles of old books in thrift stores. My library card could have caught fire with how I burn that thing up using it so often.

scripture-and-psychologyBut the problem occurs when I put the words of even well-intentioned Christian authors ahead of Scripture. I can read about getting out of a pit, about loving others through what I do, and realizing the freedom I have in Christ. Yet, if I am not digging into His Word first? Well, then I am robbing myself of actual Truth.

Since Secret Church I have kept coming back to one particular area that David Platt taught on-the goodness of the Bible. And y’all, it is good. It brings us to Him directly instead of us relying upon another to reveal something to us. Just this morning I was really wanting to pour back into the book I am currently reading on friendships instead of the digging back into the book of Acts. Then I realized that I was placing more emphasis on someone else’s words, even a fellow sister in Christ, instead of Scripture itself, God’s very word to me.

There are days when I don’t feel like digging into His word, the hard of it. The messy of it. But it’s His truth, His divine words for me and for you for our lives and for His glory. When I put other’s words ahead of His? Well I start making myself a disciple of that person rather than of Him. (p. 125, Secret Church) I also miss out on the purpose God has for me for my life, because it is right there in Scripture. I give the glory that He is due and give it to that author, that writer, even to myself.

Please don’t hear me say that reading is bad, or that using resources by authors to draw God’s word out is a bad thing. But we first must come to His Word instead of that book. We have to devote ourselves to digging into what He says about Himself to then see how to become more like Him and less like ourselves.

Curses, Donkeys and Truth

God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Those words from Numbers. Words spoken by Balaam to Balak, a man unwilling to listen. Balak had come to Balaam to curse the nation of Israel, but God has His plans and His words. He used Balaam, who just verses before seemed to be attempting to channel a curse against the people of Israel.

This goes further back to Balaam being summoned by Balak, and thus giving his words to the highest bidder, regardless of their intent or content. Yet God would not allow it. Back in the 22nd chapter of Numbers, God tells him flat out “only the word which I speak to you-that you shall do.” This evolves into the encounter with the donkey and the Angel of the Lord, where Balaam is confronted with the state of his heart on pursuing his own way instead of the one in which God sent him out on.

So we come back to these words here, Balaam’s second prophecy from God to Balak. These words y’all…

I don’t know about you but today my very soul needed to shout them. To myself. He doesn’t lie to us. We may do that to ourselves, but God most certainly does not. And we are really good at lying to ourselves on alot of things that God has never said. Then we turn and look to what He has said and have the audacity to doubt and question if what He said was true. Y’all, I am standing right in this guilt along with you…because we are all guilty of lying to ourselves and then turning the tables on God on what He’s said to us.

I know that there have been times I have put God in human form that is nothing resembling Christ. That I stand in reverence one moment worshiping Him and then turn and act like nothing He has said is true. I don’t love others as I love Him, I don’t honor my parents as I should, I grow jealous of others and their wisdom/platform/ministry. I don’t see the good He’s working in me because I turn my lies into solid truth about all things.

When He speaks, He makes good on it. He has proven over and over again that He is trustworthy, faithful and so very good. He cannot be pulled down to human form as we deem it and then question whether what He says is right, good and true. It’s us that needs the work, that has to rectify that while we cannot understand it some of the time, He is able. He is unchanging. He cannot renege on the promises He has given us. It is our responsibility as those who live in Christ to take those promises as truth, conforming and transforming our thinking to view life through that lens and not the human lies and doubt we so often jump to believing instead.


 

What truths do you need to believe from God today? What doubts have you supplanted in your heart, your mind that He’s told you to have no fear in?

These are things I wrestle with still, but know no matter what your heart and mind attempt to tell you that He is not us, He is God. He is good and true. He will make good on what He says and He will do what He says He will.

Dry Bone Season

This weekend I spent time with women in my neck of Nashville, joining together with women across the globe to listen, learn and see the Word of God come alive at IF:Gathering. Last year I participated in this same local gathering and felt my perspective shift, my heart come open to some things I had tried to close off or be guarded against that God was really pushing hard on me about.

This year I came in tired and sick…battling an upper respiratory thing all week in the midst of one of the driest seasons I have ever had in my 18 years of Christian living. I ploughed through the holidays trying to conjure up the feelings of Christ’s nearness, of the awe and wonder of Emmanuel and I was just left with a bit of empty and hollowness. Even as the new year rang, things have felt very meh with me and the Lord so to speak.

I have been in a hard study of His Word in 1 and 2 Samuel that I’ll be sharing later this week on, but in all honesty, life hasn’t been really living in Christ for me the last few months. It’s felt like a dry desert kicking up some dust and finding spots of growth even in the parched, but nothing lush and overwhelming, no valleys or mountains…just a dry plateau of this journey.

So as I stumbled into this weekend of IF:Gathering I wondered if I could be engaged, if I would hear Him speak directly to me in the dry life I have been living. In realizing all this about the season I find myself in, I never once sought God out of thirst. I never once went to Him asking for Living Water to fill the parched heart that was just surviving. It’s been a very me-focused push through this journey, never once leaning onto God for help or guidance, for filling or quenching. I just thought I had to muster through in this season I found myself in, because I had chosen to enter this season of dryness on my own accord.

For this season I have chosen to isolate and seclude myself from alot, saying it was out of busyness and a call to quiet my life more. But what it really meant was I need to wall myself off because I was being pushed and challenged in ways I wasn’t ready to process and apply, to change and grow in community. IF:Gathering this weekend centered on the early church, and Acts as the Scripture focal point.

A group of women studying Acts, watch out world…but what struck me most was in Acts 1:7 how Christ is speaking to the disciples one final time, that we aren’t to know the times that are set by Father God because He has ultimate authority, God of all. He is sovereign and true, He is faithful and just. He is worthy and above all else, He can be trusted. So in my dryness I sought water. I sought the fountain of His unending faithfulness and love to be poured out when I simply could not make it for myself. I asked trusting He provides, knowing He is good and will give according to His glory what pleases Him.

It took being in this very dry season to understand that I didn’t have the faith to ask. I sought to do it on my own, as I often fail to see myself doing, and instead seek His well of life-giving truth.


This has been the song of constant prayer over the last few weeks.

The Manger

You know the song we sing around this time of year, “Away in a Manger”? Well that song has been on my mind for weeks now. Odd, I know. Of all the Christmas carols, hymns, songs to have, that one isn’t one that truly sticks out as a mind-grabber. But alas, here I am this morning humming it while I clean up breakfast and look at the tree partially lit up (half the lights at the top went out, it’s a thing I just don’t have the will to drag out new lights for).

The line “the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head” is what keeps popping into mind and I am having a hard time here with it. Here’s why…

I think we like to look at Christ as this babe in a feeding trough there in a stable-structure. We like to see Him as this babe that shepherds came to marvel and wise men sought to honor with gifts, but we keep Him there in this context throughout our lives.

jesus-in-the-mangerWe have this concept that Christ is infant-to wonder and lavish love upon, but we don’t like the reality that His Presence commands of our lives. We don’t like that when He came with us, our selves got a bit too uncomfortable, our lives got rocked by Emmanuel. God with us.

Because that meant we couldn’t point to His absence, His silence, as excuse. He physically laid out His life, relinquishing the glories of heaven and His right in order that we might be in relationship with Him. In a few months we’ll look to Him on the cross, but I think we often upgrade the image of Christ as a babe in order to downplay our need for Him.

When we put Christ only in the image of the manger, born in a stable as a helpless babe, it appeases our self to think He can’t do it all, He can’t be relied upon and maybe He needs our help instead of the other way around. We don’t greet Him with welcoming in our lives often, but instead stare in wonder at this humanness of God Incarnate instead.

In reading Luke’s account of Christ’s life, I love the honesty of Mary with Gabriel. Just yesterday  we talked about Zechariah’s response to him as he hears the news of an impending birth. Then just a few verses later, we see Mary greeted by this angel (y’all he wasn’t some little cherub all cute and fluffy, this was Gabriel, mighty angel come to bring the news). Same truth of a birth coming, only this one is the Savior of the world, God Himself. Mary’s initial response is one of confusion, not doubt. But how can she get pregnant as a virgin, unwed? She wasn’t doubting his news, she just couldn’t see the possibility of it with her.

But her response to Emmanuel coming to her, coming to us?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Is that how we respond to Christ the King? Is that how we address Him even now, knowing His redemption of our souls was purposed through this very season we celebrate? Do we look to Him as the authority of our lives even in the context of the manger? Because y’all, He didn’t stay in the manger. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He reigns, rules and intercedes for us…

He’s not away in some manger, helpless and in need of us. It’s us that needs Him. We needed Him thousands of years ago, in that manger, to herald a new hope, to rejoice as our weary souls cried out for a Savior. We needed the new morning, new mercies, redemption and grace. There it all came, in the form a baby, heralded by an angel and under all authority given by God Himself, so that we may say “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Defining Work

Recently I was talking with my sister about jobs and career and degrees. We both are first generation college grads, and both of us have Master’s degrees in the education field. As I was launching into a bit of an emotional monologue about the use of degrees in jobs she stopped me with, “You need to get over that.”

 

Without realizing it, I had elevated this education to a place of importance, of stature that was bordering on idolatry in my life. I had made it more important than God’s design for me. I didn’t fully grasp this until I read the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:

Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind…Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun.

(v. 17, 20 NKJV)

I saw how I had placed my work, the labor of my life, as the thing to be obtained, to define me and make me find meaning in it. I did it all without realizing it. It was a slide I hadn’t seen myself take and ultimately it left me just as Solomon states, despairing and hating.

If I am truly honest with y’all I was a nasty person to be around in some of those moments. I contributed to the hate and despair as I let my job and my work seep into every ounce of my life, laboring out of a place of idol worship rather than out of the overflow of Christ. It wasn’t work as worship, I had switched it around and made my worship be my work. I sought the meaning of my life in the work I did, and ultimately it crushed me and left me empty.

It does that to us all if we allow it, if we pursue after meaning and definition from our work for our lives. We see how Solomon shows us plainly, cautioning us that he’s done it…every bit of it, and yet it was lacking, it left him empty. It ultimately gained him nothing but emptiness and despair.

But when we seize our work as a gift from God, that it is from His hands instead…that we aren’t relying on our work to be what defines us, but instead relying upon God, then we find nothing is better, that joy is found. Because it’s not about us in that work, it’s not about the work itself, it’s about God. It’s the good found only in Him, what He gives us, that we are then able to rejoice in. We are able to meet the stressors of a job situation, a career move, job loss with the focus on what He is telling us rather than what that job says about us.

When we are able to accept the truth that our jobs, positions, degrees, etc. aren’t what give us definition, then we are able to see the way God chooses us for them, whether a lifetime, a season or somewhere in between. It’s in that we can Amen to Solomon’s follow-up words:

Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor.

(v. 24, NKJV)

Over All,Even the Small

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It’s hard to fathom an “over all” ruler sometimes, especially in America where we cling desperately and aggressively to our democratic ways. We are the rulers of our choices. We are entitled to the rights and privileges, we get to vote for goodness sakes! We get a say in it all!

Believe me, I’m not advocating for a dictatorship in any way, but it’s funny how it shapes how we view so many things.

This week I have been especially drawn to the sovereign nature of things, of life, of Christ specifically. For me I see His sovereign nature as this big nebulous, orchestrating large movements and shifts in cultures and peoples. As I have dug deeper in study I am seeing that “over all” means over all. It means the big and the small, the minute detail and the largest scope of life.

Often we get it, but we don’t believe it in our daily life. We see the sovereign God of all at this 3,000 foot level where He’s reigning and weighing in on the big stuff-creation, judgement, salvation, redemption. But He’s also very present in His sovereignty in the small that I see as my life. He heals miraculously both in my broken heart and the terminal illness of another.

I often discount His character in my life, His presence of the nature that He can never not be. All of God’s character is present all of the time in the big, and my small. For He is Lord of all, meaning that decision I am making and the circumstances of my life. I see Him in the long game, but He’s in the short game as well with me.

It means He is sovereign, Lord of all, in the now of life. In this moment. In this thing. In a diagnosis. In a heart break. In an interview. In a birth. In a death. In my writing. In your hobby.

He is over it all. All.

Maybe I’m alone in realizing this, that He cares and reigns in my smallness. That is matters to Him, being over all in my small.

“In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and of Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the command without fault or failure until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God will bring this about in His own time. He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings,and the Lord of lords…” 1 Timothy 6:13-15 (HCSB, emphasis mine)

So I look at Paul’s words now as he’s encouraging Timothy in the small of the work before him, to pursue righteousness and fight the good fight of faith. And I see these words below. The giving of life, the keeping of His commands…because He is Sovereign. He’s the God of BIG and small. In the fight and the rest. In salvation of all, and redemption of me. In each and every moment of my perceived smallness. Because He is a BIG God, He’s also the God of all..even in the small.

That Year in Birmingham

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Birmingham for an event. At one time, just after college, I called Birmingham home for a year. I have been back once, for a little over 24 hours, in those 13 years since I packed up a that Uhaul trailer with my dad and grandfather and booked it back to Tennessee.

In planning my trip back down, I couldn’t help but recall the first time I went to B’ham as a freshly-educated college grad knowing I had a job in baseball. One week in I was crumpled on the floor of my kitchen telling my sister it was a mistake to be there. That I had somehow made a terrible decision, living five hours from anyone I knew, and I wasn’t possibly going to be able to make it in this city that didn’t offer me much.

Part of me cringes at that memory because of the emotion of it all, remembering how bleak my outlook was and how incredibly alone I felt in that city. The other part of me rejoices though, because I am 13 years wiser from it. God drew me there, whether I wanted to recognize it or not, for a purpose and a reason. He led me there, to get me right here. He did some significant work in me over that year that I can only see in hindsight, and allowed me to work out who I was in some difficult moments.

Throughout my time in B’ham I made some poor decisions, I will own that entirely. My way, my will and my attitude won out on several occasions but I am also able to see how I needed to work out that in an environment where it was me dealing with Him without distraction or other voices bringing solace. Being there allowed me to see where He was not leading me and I was taking my own path and my own way. It brought me back to Him in a way which if I had remained in Knoxville I would not have seen nor chosen.

In so much hurt and grief we cannot possibly see how it’s for our good while we are in it. We cannot see how being alone in place, a place we don’t like and the circumstances aren’t how we would craft them could bring anything remotely resembling His good for us out of it all.

But it does.

It did for me. I am pretty sure it will for you too, if we let go of our expectation of the situation, our will and our way and accept the work God is doing without knowing what it is. The end result isn’t the point, it is what you are going through that’s refining you and making you who God intends you to be in His image, as His reflection and not your own.

The whole process, in the circumstance, in the location, in the job, in the relationship…all of that is the point. Sometimes it takes a whole lot of distance of years or miles to see it. To see how one of the worst and hardest times of your life was also one of the best parts of your relationship in Christ, with God through the Holy Spirit.

But we have to allow it. We have to accept it. We have to be willing to go through it, even in the ugly, even in the lonely, even in the longevity of it all. It’s never about us. It’s about the work He’s doing, we just have to receive it.