Required Reading

required

We had required reading throughout my high school days, most of which I enjoyed. Some of which I truly did not…I am looking at you Cold Sassy Tree and Watership Down. I loved exploring the different genres and literature types, even if I struggled to write the papers on them or even to finish the book prior to summer ending.

I remember being taught allegory and theme, context and metaphorical writing. The entire time I kept seeing the true point of books, the thesis of many writers not being entertainment or story but a broader commentary on life, on humanity and the way we choose to live it out. When I finally got that, I fell in deeper love with books especially my two favorites Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby. 

When you are able to get beyond just a story, the words on a page, line after line, to see the root and heart of the author it changes so much about the story itself and how you digest it.

The same holds true for me in Scripture. When I dig in to passages that are more poetic and allude to something other than what they state, I find the beauty of God revealed all the more. That He knew we’d be a curious lot, one that wouldn’t settle for words at face value and so He gave us beautiful imagery and metaphor to describe our need, our deprivation and His provision.

I stumbled into such a passage this morning in Isaiah (Can you tell I am in the SheReadsTruth Lent study?). Where God is telling the barren woman to sing-a hard thing to do when one struggles with infertility. But when we look back in Scripture, we see the first three mothers of the Israelite nation were all barren-Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, and yet they bore out a nation, fulfilled a promise set forth by God to Abraham at the beginning. Y’all. How beautiful those words of Isaiah 54 become to a heart and to barrenness.

We do not insure our own survival, we never have. God does. He brought forth Isaac in Sarah so that the nation of Israel might be born. He knew they’d turn from Him to other gods, enslaving themselves to idol worship and trusting in a king rather than the King. Then another child would be born, to usher in a new kingdom. To remind them, to remind us, that we are not survivalists.

We see from the barren woman singing that we too join her, because He provides, He makes a way. He chooses the most unlikely way to remind us that we do not do this life alone, that He is the author of our story and the focus of our song.

Maybe you’re having a hard time seeing the context of your situation, circumstances just seem to be coming at face value, but let me reassure you that God has a way of working this story into a song, the circumstances into a poem of beauty and rhyme that He is authoring. We have to be willing to honor His work and not be our own authors, we weren’t made for it. Maybe our lives should be required reading every once in a while so we can see His authorship written across it all, providing the beautiful song of joy for Him.

Living Your Dream

Y’all know, if you’ve been a follower of this blog for long, that I have a Bible crush on Paul. I think he and I would roll well together and frankly a large part of me is really looking forward to meeting him in heaven.

Lately I have been enamored with Joseph. His entire story, from beginning to end, has just enraptured me in some ridiculous way. Over the last six weeks or so, we’ve been studying him in church. We’ve looked at what most would deem a mess of his life and ultimately God’s message throughout.

I think about Joseph talking about his dreams, there in the beginning as a young teenager with his brothers and dad. I cannot help but think if he’d only kept his mouth shut, if he’d just not been so transparent with what his head was speaking then maybe he wouldn’t have ended up almost killed, in prison…but then he wouldn’t have been advisor to Pharaoh. Would the grain have been stockpiled? Would the famine have claimed the entire land?

So I look at Joseph’s story, the entire thing, and think that in the moment say year four of prison, his dreams were looking awfully foolish and mocking to him I am willing to bet. Or maybe he’s dwelling on the fact he was a man of faith and rebuffed the advances of a woman seducing him and wondering where God was in that mess. For thirteen years Joseph was a slave or a prisoner, a life that looked like a mess. He was in it every single day, living it, and choosing faith over and over.

So we come to the backside of his story, where he gets reunited with family. He gives out forgiveness because that is what his faith tells him to do. He sees that what his brothers meant as harm, God wove into beauty. A mess turned into a message. But we don’t see that when he’s thrown in the pit. We don’t see how God can use him in prison. Or even in the famine. No, it’s a continual working of God in His sovereignty to weave a story that is threaded through with faith. One side we see a mess of threads for years, but on the other a beautiful tapestry from beginning to end.

So I am drawn to Joseph’s story, his life, because He wrote it. He crafted it. He spoke into his story over and over. Just as He does mine. Though I struggle at times (okay, most of the time) to see it in the moment, I see how He works when I take stock and look back over my story, a faith journey of 17 years now…a little longer than Joseph was in bondage but living in faith. So often I want to choose bondage over faith because my story isn’t looking how I thought it should. I am sure Joseph’s wasn’t either, but God’s pen wasn’t finished with His story being written for Joseph. And He’s sure not done with mine either.

So I live the dream, in faith, knowing the Author of my story has a far greater ending that looks an awful lot like an eternal beginning.

Mossy Trees, Creation, and Tuesdays

Recently I have been enamored with the bigness of the world, of everything around me. One of my absolute favorite things is to look up under a tree, sometimes catching the sun peaking through the leaves and branches. I caught myself yesterday just standing on this beautiful plantation enveloped in the absolute bigness of this world. I probably looked crazy standing with eyes closed underneath hanging moss breathing deep, but honestly the older I get the more I really don’t care the perceptions of strangers. Their dialogue on my life isn’t affecting me breathing in the goodness of the creation before me. 

It’s the created reveling in the Creator’s work. 

No other part of creation, from His Hands, were created to enjoy this creation, to look at it with eyes of wonder and joy, to be content in giving Him the glory for all that is. When we look at Genesis 1:31 we see this same affirmation by God, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (HCSB, emphasis mine) Even as I type Bryan and Katie Torwalt are filling the still of my room with the words “let us experience the glory of Your goodness,” (from Holy Spirit, which makes me weep with joy) and that is a prayer worth singing out each and every day.

My hangup comes though when I want that bigness in every moment, grandeur and flooding visions of beauty and praise. Often the bigness of His creation is brought small in my life. It’s in the glimpse from a rear view, the quick word of encouragement, the found note from a memory long ago, or even the breath filling deep in a moment when the world may be coming in quick and hard. 

I sometimes forego the creation joy to push for the grander reveling, big moments held out for instead of sitting in the beauty of a Tuesday as Emily P. Freeman writes about so perfectly in Simply Tuesday. The small matters, the quiet stillness of a moment or a task completed is worthy of acknowledgement and we alone are created for that. The small leads and grows us day in and day out, walking us to the big to cherish and know of the Creator deeper. We run after big, wanting that in everything and every day when the small is with us in the moment.

Honestly it’s like saying we want Christ in His table-turning, miracle-performing  rather than the whispers of the Holy Spirit in moments. Both worthy and things worth desiring, but y’all we get both. We get the big and the small alike. It’s our choice to see the small as a means of revelry and praising. The bigness of creation is brought small by the Creator each day, it’s our choice as the created to recognize it for the very good that it is before us. 

Even when it means stopping in the midst, eyes closed, allowing Creator to meet with me the created under a mossy tree in the middle of Mississippi. 

Seeking Deliverance

Do you ever feel wronged? Like injustices are levied against you, repetitively to where you just can’t seem to win? During my Junior year of college I felt that way with a particular class. I just couldn’t win with the professor, no matter how many office hours I went to, no matter how many extra credit assignments I worked, I just couldn’t seem to grasp his method of teaching finance. I poured over the book, would dig into notes and still wind up feeling muddled and confused by the exams and projects. It came to a point of just hoping to get through it without falling below a C so I wouldn’t have to retake it my final semester at UT.

That semester saw me pull a C in that class, and the only time I have ever been proud to get C. (For the record I only received two other Cs-my Freshmen year, and that was because I was finding my new found freedom in not attending College Calculus and English) I was desiring after deliverance from the class after only three weeks in the semester.

I was thinking on that situation, as well as some others over the span of my life, where I was merely seeking to be delivered from the circumstances I found myself in. Circumstances I felt were injustices levied against me, and ones I would not have chosen had I had a say so in them. I couldn’t help but think of Joseph. While his situations differ quite drastically from those I found myself in, I find his example to be one which is best followed when responding to life.

You see Joseph didn’t ask for his brothers to sell him off to a band of travelers which caused his enslavement (yes, Joseph got a bit mouthy about his dreams of being above the family, but let’s just chalk that up to being the sassy-pants youngest child). Joseph didn’t ask to be placed within Potiphar’s house, nor did he beg to be seduced by his wife and then falsely accused of advances when he held strong to his integrity and character.

But we see over and over in just a few chapters in Genesis that God was with Joseph. He was with him and Joseph prospered. (Don’t confuse this with prosperity gospel, please…) Joseph didn’t rely upon God because of what God could give to him, but rather because Joseph knew God was with him in the midst of it all. He trusted that the Lord was with him and his character remained unchanging when he faced enslavement, imprisonment and success within Pharaoh’s employment.

There is a real difference in praying for deliverance from a situation and praying to seek God in all things. It’s an attitude shift and a perspective change. One that Joseph illustrated repeatedly throughout a life filled with injustice and enslavement. When we seek deliverance we place our good above that which God knows is good. We believe we know better than the Sovereign God.

Do some circumstances just plain stink? Absolutely.

Do I want to be delivered out of them? You bet.

But sometimes that just isn’t possible because that’s not what needs to be done. When I set my sights on deliverance, instead of God I hear my voice instead of His alot more. I hear my justifications of rightness and not of His promises. When I seek Him, I don’t see the slights or hurts as often, because I am no longer self-focused. I am driven by the will of Him who seeks to bring about every situation for good if I but allow His work to be done in and through me.

Even in the darkness of the prisons we find ourselves in, the Lord is with us and shows his kindness to us if we but seek Him instead of our own plan of deliverance.

Lingering

I have been doing a study of Genesis as the new year started. As a Christian now for 16 years I worried that the stories would bore me after reading them so often. Oddly enough, I find the more I read the Word the more things I discover about God, Who He is and what He does in our lives.

If you’ve read Genesis then you’ve probably heard about Lot’s wife in the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. We know the fire and destruction reigns down upon the cities that found no redeeming people in them.We know Lot’s wife turned back for a glimpse of the cities she had called home. Then she was dust…turned into a pillar of salt. Simply for turning back.

We know all of that already…but the thing I have missed before now is the lingering of Lot within the city and also just outside, when he bargains with the angels in where they are to run to prior to the destruction. Eventually after multiple instances of “hurry Lot” they had to physically pull him and his family from the cities because “the Lord was merciful to him.”

They gave him warnings when they didn’t have to.

They saved him from a maddening crowd when they didn’t have to.

They saved his family from destruction when they didn’t have to.

Yet he lingered. He even bargained to stay close by and not leave the valley. At first Lot had set up his camp, upon breaking with Abraham, just outside of Sodom and not in it. But over time Lot found his way to residing within the city-a city condemned to depravity and immorality. It’s a slow move into sin, it’s never a full-fledged cannonball straight into it. The even bigger issue is when deliverance is sent…and we linger.

We hem around what has been pointed out to us, for deliverance out of it, and instead choose to continue in it. It is what we have come to know and dwell in, even when it threatens to destroy us. God shows us mercy, providing a way out yet we cannot fathom life being upset by the removal of ourselves from this thing-idol, pride, lies, greed, etc.

What will we do?

How will we function?

All I have known is this way, this place, this situation.

Much like Lot we linger even when we have warnings of impending destruction, even with the knowledge that what we are in is bad for us. God always provides a way out because He has to deal with sin, even when we don’t. He cannot ignore it and He cannot push it aside.

So why do we linger in it, neglecting the warning signs and choosing to even look back in longing for what we know is our downfall?

Because we are fallen. We don’t see the good He is doing in us through this. We simply believe the lie from the Garden itself, that He wants to keep us from something good. We make it about ourselves, and how we are shorted of something rather than the immensity of all that we get in Him, with Him, in Him.

We get God.

Yet we linger in the valley longing for less.

Provisioning

The other night I watched Noah for the first time. While I know many liberties were taken with the script, I have to say it was done well. I honestly didn’t expect it to be all that great…maybe that’s why I found myself coming to the end thinking it was a pretty good depiction (imagery wise).

SPOILER AHEAD

But it steered off course when it came to the story of Shem, Ham and Japheth, or as we know the populators of the human race post-flood. It didn’t actually play out in the movie as it does in Scripture.  You see Ham questions why he doesn’t have a wife yet Shem has been provided for. He also points to his younger brother Japheth who will have no wife either when they board the ark. He even points to the animals being mated for re-population.

Noah lobs a whopper of a question back at his son when he points to the trees that were provided for building, and the animals as well (turning his son’s argument back on him), when he asks “Hasn’t He sent everything we need?”

God provided exactly what was needed at the appointed time. Not before it was time. He gave the wood. He sent the animals. He laid the plans on Noah’s heart and mapped them out in his mind. Here he was, a man building an ark in the midst of a drought. People mocked his choice, they doubted his sanity. They questioned his God and his use of his talents.

I can imagine that to be a difficult task for Noah. To undertake something with full dependence on God to provide. To show up and be present in every moment, every nail and every board. I can guess at the frustration Noah might have felt in building something…waiting on the promise God gave (as a judgement on the people). I wonder if in the quiet, long days Noah called out to God without a response. If he cried in the whys of this burden he now felt he was carrying. I wonder if he thought God had forgotten what he had given him to work on..to be.

Maybe God’s given you a promise that is ark-sized. Whether it is children, marriage, missions or any number of other calls for your life. To you, they are bigger than that ark, and holding all of you, your life, your dreams and hopes in it. Maybe…just maybe you (and I) are not at the point of deepest need for fulfillment of that promise. That you (and I) just think we’re at that point of most extreme need, and yet He knows we aren’t. He sees the entire unfolding of the plan and knows that His provision comes at the point of deepest need, as He defines it. Not you (or me).

 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.  At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:6-14 (NLT)

My Namesake Moments.

I love the story of Sarah in the Bible. Not only because we share a name (albeit mine is without that pesky h) but there’s a bit of her personality in me…

God tells Abraham he will be the father of many nations. This truly isn’t a euphemism for something else. Abraham’s lineage will father countless nations, birth two religions that even today seem to be at odds with one another. He shares this with his wife, and for a while I believe Sarah was right there with him in that belief. But doubt crept in as the days, weeks and years passed. 20+ years pass and still Sarah remains childless. How does she respond? She takes matters into her own hands to get God moving on His promise.  (waves hand) Hi, matter-taker over here. When I have felt that God’s timing isn’t working for my schedule, I like to get in there and fidget with it. I put my hands on it, and take it back up off the altar where I have committed it to Him. I feel like I know better for myself and frankly, don’t trust God’s going to honor what He has said…eventhough He has never once reneged on a promise.

From Sarah’s example alone, I should trust God’s timing is not my own. His schedule is perfect and sure. When I get my own hands on His plan without His urging, all I do is create a mess. A mess I will have to then be responsible for long after God’s work in that area would have been complete.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

God shares a promise with her and her husband to give them a son, thus beginning the covenant promise to Abraham to make him the father of many nations. What does Sarah do when she hears it? She laughs to herself, and then questions the Lord’s will for her life. On more than one occasion I have laughed at what God has set in my path or shown me explicitly a peek at the plans He has for me. Then I have questioned Him. I have very openly questioned His own authority and sovereignty, His power and goodness within my own life. Then when He calls me on it, I try to back away from my actions of doubt.

You’d think I would have learned from my namesake alone to trust Him in all His promises. Regardless of my own strength or ability, He will accomplish what He sets out to do in the lives of His children, those whom He loves.

My namesake has alot to teach me about who I am in so many ways, as well as how God works in me and through me to accomplish His will. Too often I find that I believe I know what’s best for me. I can figure this out without consultation and regardless of what God has said He would do in His time. I believe I would fair much better in my relationship with God if I take a moment and learn the lessons of my namesake.