The Well

I am a pretty routine person because I have found I function best this way. So, it is no surprise that my morning time with the Lord has a pattern. However, I never expect it to be boring. The Old Testament has become a place I spend a lot of time and I love to see how it ties to the New Testament.

vaseRecently I read, “For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves – cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13. I immediately thought of the story of the woman at the well that meets Jesus in the New Testament! It also hit me that the Lord calls this rebellion a double evil. Who wants to be found guilty of this? Sometimes I know that I minimize my sin and excuse it away. Calling it evil sounds a bit harsh, but that is exactly what it is.

Fast forward to the book of John, chapter 4. The page tells of Jesus and his disciples traveling through the town of Samaria. “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from his journey, sat down at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water.” (John 4:6-7). The timing of all of this just makes me smile. He knew before time began that this moment would happen. He also knew the exact moment we would meet him too. Such an ordinary activity of that time turned extraordinary. Jesus asks her for a drink and she argues. “Jesus answered, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would ask him and he would give you living water.” (John 4:10). She argues again. “Sir, said the woman, you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this living water?” (John 4:11).  She makes the assumption that this living water can be contained.

There isn’t mention of Jesus ever getting to his feet, just sitting at the well, staying close to the source. The conversation continues. “Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.” (John 4:13-14). Takes me back to the verse in Jeremiah about the “empty cisterns that cannot hold water”. You have to keep going back for more to avoid emptiness, to try and satisfy your thirst. Oh, how I have been there. You too?

So what do we do? We who are so much like the people in both the Old and New Testament. Let’s see what this woman did. “Sir, the woman said to him, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.” (John 4:15). There is more to her response I suspect. “Go call your husband, he told her, and come back here. ‘I don’t have a husband’, she answered. You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ Jesus said. For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:16-18). Sounds like what she has been trying to fill her cistern with is men and it is not working. She is still empty.

The conversation continues between the two. “The woman said to him, I know the Messiah is coming (who is called the Christ). When he comes, he will explain everything to us. Jesus told her, I, the one speaking to you, am he.” (John 4:25-26) She doesn’t have a chance to respond because the disciples, who had gone into town to get food, arrive back at the well. I love this next part! “Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah? They left the town and made their way to him.” (John 4:28-29). I don’t know about you, but to be faced with my sin, all I’ve ever done, is not something that would cause me to run and tell everyone. The overwhelming weight of shame would have/has had me doubled over. But not this woman. She leaves more than just her water jar it seems at the well. Coming face to face with the Messiah tends to do that to a person. That is the part that causes us to run to town.

“Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said when she testified, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what he said. And they told the woman, ‘We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for themselves and know that this is really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42).

Many were changed because the testimony of one woman who had tried to fill her life with what does not satisfy. She met the one offering living water. I also like how this woman, so much like us, who have lived a life full of empty sin, was used to introduce a town to the Savior of the world. If he can use her, can he not use us? I want more than anything to tell others about what I have found! I do not live an empty life anymore. I have left my emptiness at the feet of the Savior of the world,  acknowledged that I am a sinner and surrendered to being filled with living water. It is a full way to live. Overflowing actually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Days After Father’s Day

Do you ever find it easy to celebrate someone? They take what the Lord gives them and pour all they have into it. Making one day all about them, just doesn’t seem enough. However, we do it anyway and call it Father’s Day. Cards are selected and gifts collected. I always like to see what the kids come up with on their own. They make or Giftsfind something and then wrap it up themselves. They wait expectantly to see their dads reaction as he opens up their gift. He gets equally excited when he is given a toy they picked out of the prize drawer at the doctors office and something new from a real store. All are precious because of the one giving them.

Rewinding just a bit, I’ve watched each time as Damon has been handed the gift of our kids soon after they were born. The love and overwhelming joy is almost indescribable. I’ve never worried if he would love the kids more than me or been jealous over the time and attention he gives them. In fact, I encourage it and am so thankful. To have a dad that is engaged and fully committed to his family is getting rare. One that puts God first, then his wife and then kids, isn’t always easy to find these days. Lies have been believed and the downward spiral of the family continues. Selfishness is the biggest lie ever and one satan uses time and time again. “You deserve” sometimes becomes the excuse to propel the lie. Guess what? It isn’t working.

Have you watched a child grow up knowing they are loved by their earthly father? I wonder if counseling offices would be less full if more dads made their families more of a priority? Maybe its that they don’t know how. What can be done now? Can this tide be turned or is it too late? I majored in sociology, so I am by no means an expert. However, I believe there is hope for families. Lots of ideas come to mind and I’m not quite sure how they are going to come tumbling out, but I’m talking to the Lord about it and letting Him lead. I do know that the Bible is full of wisdom. A dad who spends time reading God’s word and actually applying what He says in it, will better know how to love his family well. Selfish seems to become less in light of God’s word. I know this because I live with a man who lives this truth out. He gets up early, reads scripture and prays. His days are full and his love for us is evident.

Dads, you’ve been given a gift in the form of a child. Love them well and know to whom they are from. You have been entrusted with much. Do not take this lightly. Your child, and all the generations that come after them, are counting on you. Let God lead you, He is your Heavenly Father and has this whole thing figured out. It was His idea. “Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, and teach out of your law.” (Psalm 94:12). Also, talk to your kids and see what they need from you and how they see you. Be open and let your defenses down. Humility looks way better on a man than a suit of pride.

So, days after Father’s Day, I’m praying for dads. I pray you know that you aren’t these kids dad by accident. Your work at home matters and the impact you have is immeasurable. Don’t give up, no matter the age of your kids. Mistakes are made, but forgiveness is available from God and hopefully your family. “Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord; let us lift our hearts and hands to the God of heaven.”( Lamentations 3:40-41). It will all be worth it!

 

 

Dear Maggie

Dear Maggie,

You have just arrived at Sharp Top Cove, an amazing Young Life camp in Georgia. They say “it’s the best week of your life” and in a lot of ways it is! You will have fun pretty much starting at the moment the bus pulls into camp. The week ahead will be full of adventures, late nights and words of truth. A camp speaker will do their best to MMcommunicate how much God loves every single person there and His desire for a relationship. Everyone will hear about sin, the cross and Christ being made alive again. You know and have accepted all of this, but maybe the girl next to you doesn’t. The guy behind you may be worn out from striving to be something he isn’t and this week is a great escape. The girl who stands in front of you in the line to the snack shop, might have made so many mistakes that she has no idea how the God she is hearing about could possibly ever forgive her. That boy who is loud and tries to get attention at every turn, he might hear for the first time that God loves him, sees him and there is no need to fight for His attention.

Maggie, your commitment to Christ is astonishing! You love Him and are very secure in His love for you. When you have this, you live differently and make different decisions.  I watch as you have become more confident in who He is shaping you to be and following the plans He puts in front of you. Since you already know Him, pray for the kids that don’t. Their eternity could be changed forever this week. I pray your eyes and ears are attentive to those around you and your heart breaks for those who don’t yet know Him. I pray you come home with an even greater boldness to share Him with others. Bring all of the excitement home from camp and keep stepping into His adventures.

I know I’ve told you lots of times, but I am so proud of you! There is no way to go back in time and undo my teenage years, but I wish I would have been just like you, especially with your curly hair. You see, there is a bit of me in the lost kids you encounter this week. I once was that high schooler experiencing camp for the first time. What a difference it made in my life! I will forever be thankful for the summer of 1992 and my week at Frontier Ranch. When they give you 20 minutes to go outside and be alone with God, look up at the stars and worship the One who created them. Those stars are the ones I looked up at all these years ago and told God I belonged to Him. I told Him that I was finished living for myself and it really wasn’t working anyways. I wanted to return back to Him.

You see, when we moved to North Carolina from Mississippi the summer before my 8th grade year, a huge part of me stopped pursuing God. Oh, there isn’t any doubt that I was still a Christian, but I quit living like one. Our church and friends had been an enormous part of my life and all that was now gone. I tried to keep learning on my own. I would sit beside my bed and read my Bible, but nothing was making sense. School was not fun and friends were few. Church was even worse. It took a year of trying to keep it all up, but I remember telling the Lord that I was putting Him on a shelf and would pick Him back up when I was older. You can never put the God of the universe on a shelf. However, I tried and set being popular at school and church as my goal.

Popularity came and so did the inner struggle of conviction. When Young Life arrived at my high school, a rescue plan was soon to unfold. It took time, but my Young Life leaders pursued me and were always happy to see me. My friends and I looked forward to attending the weekly “club” meetings. When the opportunity came for me to go to camp, I was excited! Little did I know the impact that week would have on my life. I heard stories about Jesus, sang fun songs and just played. We hiked, shopped and  let our guards down. One leader in particular, was so open about her relationship with Jesus that I had to experience what she had for myself. I wanted God not to be on that shelf anymore.

The night that I sat under the stars, outside of the store no doubt, was powerful. I knew the Lord had forgiven me and our relationship would be restored. “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” (2 Samuel 22:17,20). That pretty much sums it up.

Fast forward and I am at another Young Life camp, working as the office intern the  summer of 1998. In walks a boy from Texas, who was on assignment there for the month working as the “outdoor crew boss”. He asked me to make a transparency (I’ll explain what that is when you get home) of the worship songs he would be leading later that morning. We ended up dating and he told me about a job with Young Life in Fort Worth, Texas. I somehow got that job and my parents moved me all the way from North Carolina to Texas. My boss just happened to be the speaker from camp when I was that high schooler.

Years later and lots of life lived, I am still walking with the Lord and falling more in love with Him everyday. And that Texas boy is now my husband of 18 years and you are the oldest of our 7 children. So, Young Life played a huge part of my story and yours too, Maggie. I cannot wait to see the part it plays in yours!

I love you,

Mom

Approval

I’ve recently been listening to a teaching series to help me get better at writing. A person that loves Jesus and doesn’t tell you just what she thinks, but what God’s word says on the matter, is my kind of teacher. At the end of the teaching series, she spoke a blessing and words that caused me to weep. She spoke of approval and how we had hers. This might not be a big deal to many, but it is to me. It was something I use to long for, but never felt like I got. And then one day, it clicked – I have God’s approval and that is what matters. People change, sin causes hearts to harden, insecurity and brokenness have deep roots. I can’t dress my outside up enough, put on my best smile, say and do all the right things or have my kids behave perfectly to gain mans approval. It is not possible. In fact, it is down right exhausting.

One day, maybe 10 or so years ago, this striving for approval came to an all time high. You see when I am working so hard to get everything to appear just perfect, I put an enormous burden on my family. I didn’t see it at the time, but my husband did. It had been a typical Sunday and everyone looked just perfect filing into church. We left unruffled and behaved appropriately all during lunch. Then we got home. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember the exact spot I was standing in when my husband spoke life changing, eye opening words. He said, “Natalie, you expect perfection and we can not live up to it.” That was it. His voice wasn’t raised and his love for me didn’t waver, but these words struck my heart in the very best way. Now, it took time to unravel a lifetime of living like this, but I know mans approval is not what I now seek.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10). Pretty much sums it up. Our approval could not have been made anymore clear than when God sent Jesus to die on the cross. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2). Want to hear more? “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Does it get any better?

I desire to live worthy of my Heavenly Father’s approval. This takes discipline, time and a heart bent towards repentance. It is worth it! Do I get discouraged, sad, heartbroken, disappointed, afraid, angry, nervous or frustrated? Sure do. But you know what I am reminded of today? “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life was hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:2-4).

So, we press on having hope in what is to come. The life we have known is not all there is. The best and I mean the very best is yet to come! “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

 

Words Repeated

When words get repeated, especially in a short amount of time, I pay extra attention. Last night one of my boys, who had not made the best decisions all day, drew a picture and placed it on my pillow. I called him aside to ask for more details. His simple words hit the mark and I thought again of all I want to learn this summer. He drew a picture of what sin makes him feel like inside. He said sin makes him feel dead. He said he saw a picture of himself in chains. I don’t know about you, but at 8 years old I could not have summed up the state of us sinners like he did. He’s right you know, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

This morning our pastor repeated a message similar to what I heard last night. We took communion together as an act of remembrance and worship. We remember all that Jesus did in his 33 years here on earth. How he died a horrible, painful death on a cross. Then after 3 days of being in a borrowed tomb, he arose. He remained on this earth for 40 days and then took to the heavens. Just trying to wrap my mind around this act of grace is overwhelming. Trying to keep the tears from falling is not easy when we make time for this at church. I am so grateful for what he did for me and I will spend the rest of my life pointing others to this eternal gift. How can I not?

After communion, we continued worshipping together. We sang a song called Glorious Day by Passion. The words so perfect. “I was buried beneath my shame. Who could carry that kind of weight? It was my tomb, ’til I met you. I was breathing but not alive. All my failures I tried to hide. It was my tomb, ’til I met you. You called my name and I ran out of that grave.” (As I type, a sweet girl of mine sits beside me singing the last line because she sang it in her class too!)

Sin, shame, unrepentance, unforgiveness and the list could go on, become chains that keep us bound to a tomb. To remain in a place of death, when the stone has been rolled away on our behalf, is not necessary! As this song goes, “I needed rescue, my sin was heavy, but chains break at the weight of your glory.” The weight of glory that breaks our chains is the cross. Look at this verse – “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces.” (Psalm 107:14). Can you just hear the metal pieces falling to the ground?

“Out of the darkness into your glorious day. You called my name and I ran out of that grave. Out of the darkness into your glorious day.” That is how the song ends and can I tell you it was very hard to keep from sprinting with joy out of the church pew after singing this!

I pray you’ve heard him call your name too. I pray you’ve felt the weight of the chains sin so binds us with and asked for the breaking freedom that only he can give. I’ll close by typing out some of the scripture we read today at church. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ…”. (Ephesians 2:4-5). Friend, you are so dearly loved. Freedom and real life is waiting outside of the tomb. Come running out today!

Summer

It is finally here!! The long awaited summer break! There is much excitement in our home. We have had some really sweet teachers and those who have stepped into hard situations. The whole bully thing wasn’t fun, but it taught us a lot. At field day, my son that had been bullied, knew he would more than likely see the boy that made school a place where fear ran deep. We talked about it and he said he was a bit nervous. However, by the end of field day, he said he had tried to find the boy to tell him he had forgiven him. Amazing. Kids have so much to teach us adults.

I hope to learn a lot from them over the next few months. Our days slow down and we have more time together. From Maggie, our oldest, I hope to learn a bit about being content and not fearing missing out. She has learned this lesson well. It came with a struggle, but it paid off. She has plenty of friends and is social, but knows herself well enough that sometimes it is better to let events pass by and recharge.

Moving to the next one in line is Jackson. That kid has physically grown so much this past year! From him, I would love to learn perseverance. He has dyslexia and that made reading such a challenge and anxiety was ever present. He finally got the help he needed and off he went. This year also brought on a new love of running. Who knew he could run like the wind?! He is a great long distant runner and I pray he just gets better and better. I want to persevere like him in the areas that are hard for me too.

Anna Kate comes next and she is a wonder. Her love of learning is incredible! She makes hard things look easy. From her, I plan on learning how to try something that is out of my comfort zone. She joined the choir at school and then tried out for the play! Another talent uncovered – the girl has such a pure voice. She worked hard and performed with her head held high and a smile on her face. She was fun to watch!

The next beauty is Abbey Grace. She is as steady as they come and sees things very black and white. She has style and confidence beyond her years. From her, I plan on learning to be a bit more relaxed. Dancing and not caring whose watching, is as natural as breathing to her. I love that about her.

Paxton comes next and he has the most forgiving heart of anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve actually been learning from him for quite sometime. He also takes talking to God on others behalf pretty seriously, but with an ease that is very mature. He sees needs of others and does what he can to help. I’m keeping my eye on him and pray to love people as easy as he does. Send us any prayer requests and Paxton and I will offer our hearts and words to the Lord on your behalf.

Eli is in a league all his own. Nobody is a stranger and he loves women with blue hair. He is unique and hilarious. From him, I will watch and learn how he accepts those who look a bit different. I’ll see them as someone made in the image of God and love them right where they are. Bring on the blue hair!

And last is Vivian. This child is full of life and fire. She loves well and is very courageous. She knows how to stand up for herself, while looking lovely in freshly applied lipgloss. She is quite secure in how loved she is and asks amazing questions about Jesus. From her, I plan on learning the art of graciously being completely honest and letting God’s truth be the final word.

Looks like I’ll be quite busy these next few months, When school starts again, I’ll have some of the best parts of my kids shining in me. To help our family wash a little of the parts that don’t look like Jesus off of our hearts this summer, we are memorizing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in inquiry, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We’ve picked out the things of love that are hard for us and ones that come easy. Lord willing, it is going to be a great summer!

A Second Chance

We left off with Jonah on dry land, after being in the belly of a fish for three days. This is where Jonah has to make another choice. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:1-2). I love this next part! “Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s command.” (Jonah 3:3). I don’t see any arguing here or debating, just simple obedience. God said do it and Jonah got up and went. What a way to follow through in repentance. Sometimes we can make all kinds of promises to God if He will only get us out of this pit, then we will do – you fill in the blank. I pray we have a Jonah response when given another chance.

When Jonah starts walking across the city, God gives him words. He set out and proclaimed, “In forty days Nineveh will be demolished!” (Jonah 3:4). His message was clear and simple. The response is shocking! “Then the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth – from the greatest of them to the least.” (Jonah 3:5). One man, going where God tells him and speaking what God tells him to speak. And the people responded! What had caused their hearts to soften and be ready to believe? Easy, it was God.

The message keeps going. “When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (Jonah 3:6) Now the leadership has gotten involved. He has taken off everything that separated him from the people of his kingdom and trades his throne for ashes. When I looked up the word sackcloth, Wikipedia mentions words like “worn as a token of mourning, sign of submission, grief and humiliation”. Oh, and they were typically made from goat’s hair. I’m not sure what the people of Nineveh typically wore, but I highly doubt the kings royal robe was made from goat’s hair. What a trade and such a humble example.

“Then he issued a decree in Nineveh: By order of the king and his nobles: No person or animal, herd or flock, is to taste anything at all. They must not eat or drink water. Further more, both people and animals must be covered with sackcloth, and everyone must call out earnestly to God. Each must turn from his evil ways and from his wrongdoings. Who knows? God may turn and relent; he may turn from his burning anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7-9). Can you imagine if this happened in our day? Would the people of the US so willingly submit to our president? The answer grieves my heart. The king was doing all he knew to do to save the people of Nineveh.

And looks what happens – “God saw their actions – that they had turned from their evil ways – so God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with. And he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10). Why can’t we be like the people of Nineveh? What would happen, if as a nation, we all repented and everyone would, “call out earnestly to God” and “turn from their evil ways and from his wrongdoings”. Can you even imagine?

I get a bit of a picture in my head. Everyone is equal and stripped of their “royal robes” and the dress is humble sackcloth. People who were never meant to be elevated and worshiped are sitting side by side in the ashes with the homeless. We all go low and cry out to God with hearts of repentance. Nobody has their own agenda or is spewing hate of those who have different views. School and church shootings would be no more. Discrimination ends. The murder of innocent babies comes to a halt and all lives really do matter. They matter because we are all asking for disaster not to come to the US. We are all praying to the only One that can save us from eternal damnation. Can you picture it too? What would it take to make this happen?

I pray we each hear the word of the Lord like Jonah did and respond by getting up and going! God may have come to you a hundred times before, but we’ve been to busy with our agenda and defending whatever cause shares our tightly held ideas. Let Him give you the words and take you where He will. Maybe it’s across the US to people you don’t know. Maybe its as close as someone in your own family, who doesn’t know Him. We are still here and there are many who need to hear about the God that relents.

 

Rescued

I wrote about Jonah, fear and escape last time and I would love to jump back into this story. If you are familiar with the city God had asked Jonah to go to, you can see why he was running away. The city was Nineveh and the people were evil. In fact, they were known for their horrible acts from what I have read. I’ll spare you the details, but it wouldn’t be a place on your top 10 travel destinations in those days. Nevertheless, God cared about the 120,000 people who lived there and He told Jonah to go to them.

Because of Jonah trying to flee, God had created a great storm in the sea he was sailing on. His travel companions decided this was his fault and Jonah tells them to do something crazy. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so that this great storm will calm down for you, for I know that I’m to blame for this great storm that is against you.” (Jonah 1:12). The men rowed hard, but couldn’t save themselves and they made a choice. “So, they called out to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.’ Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging. The men were seized by great fear of the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” (Jonah 1:14-16). Interesting isn’t it how God can turn what seems horrible into something good. These men were eye witnesses to the power of God and that obedience is pretty serious.

God didn’t leave Jonah to perish in the sea and He doesn’t leave us either. He sent an unconventional rescuer. “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17). And in those belly moments Jonah prayed. “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol; you heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2). Have you been there before? Jonah was in a place of darkness and with no help in sight. I love the choice he made somewhere in that 3 day stay. “As my life was fading away, I remembered the Lord and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those who cherish worthless idols abandon their faithful love, but as for me, I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (Jonah 2:7-9). Nothing like ending up in a pit, where all options have run out, to point you to the Lord.

Jonah also mentions worthless idols. Somethings never change because we still struggle with these today. In my experience, the pursuit of these worthless idols have landed me in a pit. If I stop and think about those times, I’ve got to ask myself what was I hoping to gain? My answers would be acceptance, to finally feel like I was enough and maybe if I’m really being honest, elevate myself just a bit. Recently, I was reminded of the ever tempting “platform”. Now, that would have gotten me some years back, but not anymore. I no longer need a platform to elevate me or give me a false sense of being exalted by others. It won’t last and what would be the price to pay to keep myself on that exalted platform? Oh, I’ve got some examples here, but they would read like judgement. So, I’ll just stick to the scripture that says, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11). The place to stay is low and let the Lord move you when He decides.

And as for Jonah, who was low in the belly of the fish, the Lord had not forgotten him. “Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10). There aren’t words or actions between the end of Jonah’s prayer and the Lord commanding the fish. I wonder if when Jonah started praying, the fish started swimming towards the shore? Guess that will be one of my questions I’ll ask in eternity. In the meantime, we learn from Jonah the need to pray. If we find ourselves in a pit, pray. If we find ourselves in a dark place, pray. If we find ourselves cherishing worthless idols, pray. If we find ourselves abandoning the faithful love of God, pray. In times of thanksgiving, pray. Jonah also told the Lord he would fulfill the vow he had made. He turned from running in fear and disobedience to crying out for help and surrender. He was shown mercy and patience by our all powerful God.

I love the encouraging words written by Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them. But I have received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). God was patient and merciful with Jonah and Paul and many others in the Bible. You and I are no different. God longs to rescue us….

 

 

Fear

Today is of course Mother’s Day and it has been a good day. There weren’t too many meltdowns before we headed out the door to church and that is a gift by itself! Worship took my focus off of myself and refocused my attention on the King of my heart. Our pastor spoke encouraging words and ones that I need to spend sometime studying and see how the Lord wants them applied. Church was followed by a great brunch and sweet gifts. Yes, a good day indeed.

Then a quick time of rest and this is where the sadness hit. When the day is focused entirely on the one person that now resides in Heaven, my heart hurts. Not just over the physical absence, but all that having your mom entails. Time has helped heal places and if walking through grief is something that can be used to help others, then I am thankful. Use it Lord and may it bring you glory.

I was reminded the other day, by a friends text, of my moms favorite verse. It was “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement.” (2 Timothy 1:7). It’s a great verse, isn’t it? The thing is, my mom was very fearful, but all that seemed to fall away as she dealt with cancer. I know medicine helped, but she wasn’t afraid. She no longer had a spirit of fear. That had to be such a freeing feeling, when something you fought against your entire life, is no longer an issue! I think she picked a great verse. Don’t we all want to be done away with fear and have instead power, love and sound judgement? Is this even possible?

The last time I wrote, I mentioned the city of Nineveh. If you look at the book of Jonah in the Old Testament, you will see a man who started out with fear. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their evil has come before me.’  Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence.” (Jonah 1:1-3).  Oh Jonah, there isn’t anywhere you can go and not be in the Lord’s presence here on earth. Take a ship or plane, He’s still there.

I also wonder what the cost of the fare was that Jonah paid to catch his ride of escape? What price do we pay trying to escape? Whatever the cost, it is never enough. Jonah would soon find out that he could not escape. “But the Lord threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart.” Guess what Jonah was doing? “Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep. The captain approached him and said, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” (Jonah 1:5-6). I wonder if the call to “Get up” rang familiar to Jonah? Isn’t that exactly what the Lord had commanded earlier?

I’ve had plenty of times in my life where I know clearly what I am to do, but fled in the opposite direction. I paid the fare of escape and for a moment felt peace. However, a storm was raging and my vessel was threatening to break apart. That is such the way with sin. God says one thing in His word and we do the exact opposite. In Jonah’s case, he had good reason to run because what God was asking him to do was terrifying. Fear had to have been a great motivation to send him running and we will look more closely at that next time.

I see a bit of Jonah in me and maybe you do too. Fear has a way of becoming apart of us and spilling over into every aspect of our life. However, my mom knew it didn’t have to. God did not place a spirit of fear in us. No, instead he placed in us that know Him as our Lord, a spirit that is full of His power, love and sound judgement. It is out of what He has placed in us that we pour out to those inside our homes and everyone we come in contact with. So today, lets get up and let go of our fear. It leads to a shipwreck in our lives and anyone else we have in our boat. The price is too high and so much more is in store.

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Royal Spokesman

Yesterday morning I was reading in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. It has become one of my favorites. In the beginning of chapter 36 bad news arrives. “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then King of Assyria sent his royal spokesman, along with a massive army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem…The royal spokesman said to them, “Tell Hezekiah: The great king, the king of Assyria, says this: What are you relying on?” (verses 1-4). We could stop right here and have a great conversation. Have you ever been questioned like this by someone more “powerful” than you? I know this feeling, especially in my younger days. I hear this also being said like, “where does your hope come from”? We will get to that, but lets keep reading.

The royal spokesman continues with another question. “You think mere words are strategy and strength for war. Who are you now relying on that you have rebelled against me?” (36:5). Is it just me or do you hear “who do you think you are”? He urges them to make a deal, to compromise in fear. “Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you to rely on the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will certainly rescue us! This city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.” (36:15). Doubts must have been a flying by now. However, the people didn’t say a word, because their king had said not to respond.

Word gets back to King Hezekiah and “he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and went to the Lord’s temple.” (37:1). This was the place to go to be close to the glory of the Lord during this time. He also sent word to the prophet Isaiah saying, “Perhaps the Lord your God will hear all the words of the royal spokesman, whom his master sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke him for the words that the Lord your God has heard.” (37:1-4). One thing I notice here is how Hezekiah refers to God. He calls him Isaiah’s God, but not his. Maybe he doesn’t quite yet trust that God would speak directly to him.

Maybe we too have counted on other people to pray for us or discern some big decision for us, because we just didn’t trust God to speak to us. Why is that? For me it came down to insecurity, fear, doubt and I didn’t spend much time actually listening. The easier thing for me to do was ask others who did put in the time listening, praying and reading their Bibles. With this set up, I could spend my time doing what I wanted to do and receive the benefits of direction. But you know what? I was the one who missed out and my reliance on others became unbalanced. Once I got a taste of hearing Him speak to me through His word and just deep inside (also known as the Holy Spirit living in you), I’ve never been the same. Don’t get me wrong, I still seek others insight who know the Lord and it often confirms what I have heard.

In King Hezekiah’s case, Isaiah sent him back God’s response. “The Lord says this: Don’t be afraid because of the words you heard, with which the king of Assyria’s attendants have blasphemed me. I am about to put a spirit in him and he will hear a rumor and return to his own land, where I will cause him to fall by the sword” (37:6-7). This had to give Hezekiah hope!

The royal spokesman sends Hezekiah another message. “Don’t let your God, on whom you rely, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem won’t be handed over to the king of Assyria. Look, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries: they completely destroyed them. Will you be rescued? Did the gods of the nations that my predecessors destroyed rescue them…” (37:10-12)? I like the wording hear “your God, on whom you rely”. I wonder if, even in this realistic threat, if Hezekiah felt strengthened? My guess is yes, because of what happens next.

“Hezekiah took the letter from the messangers’ hands, read it, then went to the Lord’s temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: Lord of Armies, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you are God – you alone – of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. Listen closely, Lord, and hear, open your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear all the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated all these countries and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made from wood and stone by human hands. So they destroyed them. Now, Lord our God, save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God – you alone” (37:14-20).

Do you see how he has changed in his reference to God? He pulls Him near and places his trust in Him alone. Hezekiah isn’t seeking his own glory here either. He wants the world to know who the one true God is. Have you been in a situation of such humility that you have done the same?

King Hezekiah receives another message from Isaiah. “The Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘Because you prayed to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria, this is the Lord has spoken against him…” (37:21-22). Read 37:22-32 for yourself. It is so good! I’ll pick up with verse 33-35. “He will not enter this city, shoot an arrow here, come before it with a shield, or build up a siege ramp against it. He will go back the way he came, and he will not enter this city. This is the Lord’s declaration. I will defend this city and rescue it for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.” Do not miss the importance of Hezekiah going to the Lord himself with what appears to be an assurance of the power of God. He takes the letter from one set of hands into his own and then spreads them out before the Lord. I love how he figuratively took this situation out of his own hands and placed it into the Lords.

Want to know how the story ends? “Then the angel of the Lord went out and struck down one hundred eighty five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. When the people got up the next morning – there were all the dead bodies! So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and left. He returned home and lived in Nineveh” (37:36-37).  (Maybe next time we will fast forward to the book of Jonah and see what happens to the city of Nineveh.) See how God kept His word. He always keeps His word. “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” Proverbs 30:5. I do not read of any harm coming to the silent people of Jerusalem. They obey their earthly king and he prayed for their deliverance. He also sought the help of Isaiah to pray to the Lord, their shield, as well.

What I took away from these words was beautiful. God always hears and sees. He sees us at all times and hears not only our words, but the words spoken to us. This encourages and saddens me. If you only knew some of the unkind words that have flown quickly out of my mouth. However, I John 1:9 tell us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Clearly we are told if we confess, talk to God and tell Him what we have done, He will forgive and cleanse us. I don’t see a list of sins that He will forgive and ones He won’t. So that one sin you might be thinking of that He could not possibly forgive, yeah that one, do you not think He isn’t ready to forgive and cleanse you? Oh friend, He is more than ready.

Take your sins, concerns, papers if you have them and place them in the Lord’s hands. Pray, read His word and listen. After you’ve done this, if you feel lead, talk to someone. Hope is waiting and fear can be dealt with!!