ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT LIFE
Brave hearts are hearts that don’t give up! We are going along life’s journey and everything is smooth sailing. Then life happens – out of nowhere an unexpected bump in the road, and the road is not as smooth as it was before. If you are like me your first efforts are to pretend things are going just as smoothly as they always have and you’ve just hit a little bump in the road. I’m very good at reminding myself others bumpy roads are worse than mine; therefore, I have nothing to really complain about it. Then the situation does not get better, in fact it gets worse. One begins to wonder if one’s prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling? You press in harder, you pray more, you enlist your friends to pray. You’ve gone to your knees many times now and after a while, you notice this a long season...
“Don’t be afraid, just have faith.” These are the words in Mark 5:36 Jesus says to Jarius when servants inform Jarius his daughter is dead. The beginning of the story starts out when Jarius, a local Jewish leader, asks Jesus to come to his house and lay hands on his dying little daughter so she may live. He knows his daughter is dying and he knows Jesus is his only hope. Jesus agrees to go with him. As they go, a great crowd is surrounding them and suddenly, Jesus feels healing power leaving him and asks, “who touched me?” His disciples are like – whoa, man take a look at this crowd, how can you even ask who touched you.
So here is this woman, we don’t know her name. What we do know is she has some kind of bleeding issue and it’s been going on for a long time. Verse 26 tells us “she had suffered a great deal from many doctors and over the years, she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.” Twelve years into this constant bleeding issue, she hears about Jesus and she thinks to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” We also know under Jewish law, she is considered unclean because of the bleeding. Anything or person she touches will also be unclean. Let’s just say she wasn’t supposed to be out in a crowd of people. She probably lived in isolation most of the time. So it’s likely she is sneaking through this crowd, maybe down low, or even crawling, and certainly hoping not to be noticed.
I can understand why she did what she did. Desperation. When you have spent all your time and all your money over many years, and you are out of options, only to discover there is no cure. Desperation leads people to do things they might not otherwise do, like crawling through a crowd of people when they are not even supposed to be around people. What takes you to your knees may be the very thing that makes you stand up tall.
The minute she touches Him, she is immediately healed and she feels it in her body. She knows and He knows. He is asking, “who touched me?” She is hoping He won’t notice her but He keeps on looking around to see who it was. She is frightened now of what might happen and she goes to Him and falls on her knees in front of Him, telling Him what she had done. In verse 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
What resonates with my heart about this story is after 12 years, she could have easily given up and thought why even bother. She could have used her uncleanness, or isolation, as an excuse to stay put. Sometimes we use our season of suffering to stay in isolation or feel isolated. Yet, for some reason, her faith was stirred when she heard about Jesus. She thought, “if I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Not giving up looks a lot like FAITH to me. Her brave heart didn’t give up and her faith made her brave heart step out, find a way to get through a crowd unnoticed and touch his garment. Her faith activated the healing power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, went out from Him to her in that moment. Trembling and frightened she falls on her knees --- only to be told stand up and go in peace. Although Jesus was in the middle of something else, He was not too busy for this needy woman.
Brave hearts don’t always have a smooth ride. Courage is built in the face of fear. If there is no fear involved, then there is no bravery in the equation. Brave is not giving up in the face of fear. Brave is traveling the rough and bumpy road and not quitting even when others say, there is no hope. Funny thing about the rough and bumpy roads – those are the very roads that send us to our knees in prayer. Yet we don’t give up, we don’t quit there, we keep on praying, and we wait for our rescue. We don’t when or how that might come to pass. What we do know is God is listening and He has a made a way. That way is Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile back at the Jarius ranch, his little girl lays dead in her bed. Enough time has passed for his servants to meet him. They bring bad news - telling him not to even bother bringing Jesus home, his daughter is already dead. Jarius could have given up at this report. He hears Jesus say to him, “don’t be afraid, just have faith.” Jesus did go home with Jairus and heal his little daughter – raising her from the dead when He said, “Little girl, get up!” Whether you’re down and out, or you’re just down, this same Jesus will raise you up too. Don’t be afraid, just have faith. Faith looks a lot like brave. And it seems like a little dab will do ya.
In a way, faith is like a muscle. You have to exercise it or use it to build it. Nothing happens if you never pick up a weight. Whether it’s a long season or a short season, remember to get on your knees and ask. Bring your requests humbly to Him. Asking starts the process of building the faith. As a bonus, what takes you to your knees – is the very thing that will draw you closer to God than you ever thought possible. So wherever the bumpy road takes you, make sure it takes you to your knees. And don’t give up brave hearts!
Brave hearts are poured out hearts. “I was pouring out my heart to the Lord,” she said when accused by a high-ranking official of public drunkenness in the holy temple. The story begins in I Samuel chapter 1. We know her name is Hannah. Her husband, Elkanah, also has another wife, Peninnah, who has children. They live in the hill country north of Jerusalem and are a “devout” family in a season of Israel’s history when everyone did what they thought was pleasing in their own eyes.
The annual family vacation was a trip down to Shiloh to worship the Lord. Elkanah, Hannah, Peninnah, and Peninnah’s children would make this one to two-day journey over several miles. In verse 4 we find when the day of sacrifice came, Elkanah would give a portion of meat to Peninnah and a portion to each of her children and he would also give a “choice” portion to Hannah who had no children. Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her “because the Lord had kept her from having children.” Verse 7 records “year after year, it was the same – Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the tabernacle. Each time Hannah would be reduced to tears and not even eat.” Her husband would ask, “Why aren’t you eating? What makes you so sad?” He would comfort her with, “You have me – isn’t that better than having ten sons?”
Imagine this yearly “vacation” – Hannah remembers how cruel Peninnah acted the year before and she thinks, this time I won’t let her get to me, I won’t let her see me cry. Or Hannah hopes – perhaps this time she will be gracious and comfort me? From the Bible, we know for sure this tear-jerking taunting happens every time they travel to worship. Although the Bible doesn’t say, it is likely this was a continuing event throughout the year that seemed to crescendo during the annual trip. In any event, I’m sure it was no easy task to live with a mean girl. What should be a happy time is deliberately made miserable by another’s cruelty. Should Hannah just not go? Interestingly enough Hannah does not let pain, suffering, or shame stop her from worshipping her God. Knowing Peninnah would play on her sensitivities and deliberately try to hurt her (and she was successful), Hannah did not let others interfere in her worship.
And so this went on “year after year” until one year after the sacrificial meal,
Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli, the priest, was sitting by the door in his customary place. Verse 10 records she was “in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed.” Then she makes this vow, “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime and as a sign he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.” As she is praying to the Lord, Eli is watching her. Her lips are moving and she is not making a sound, therefore, he jumps to the conclusion she is drunk. “Must you come here drunk?” he demands. “Throw away your wine!” You can imagine the priest might have had an angry or a disgusted tone? “Oh no, sir!” She replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. Do not think
I am a wicked woman. I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.” “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.” “Oh, thank you sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again and she was no longer sad.
Childless – yet not prayer less! Closed womb, yet open heart. In this prayer, two things stand out to me. First – Hannah’s heart. This “poured-out” heart is solely focused on God and what He is able to do. In fact, she asks for divine intervention against the natural course of events “year after year.” While she is pouring out her heart to God, we don’t hear mention of Peninnah or her taunts. Instead we hear her address God as the “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” at a time in Israel’s history when their army was small and weak surrounded by powerful enemies. In the midst of her suffering, she became of woman of prayer who focused on the person of God and who He is. Second – God’s heart. No where do I hear God chastising her request or using the voice of Eli to remind her God knows best, or in His time, or perhaps you should be content with His will. I’m just noticing in this case -- human desire, even when overwhelmed by sorrow, is not sinful in God’s eyes. Although He already knows the desires of our hearts because He placed them there, God’s heart has ears to hear. Turns out this story is not about what Hannah doesn’t have, it is about the posture of her heart – a heart poured out to God in prayer.
She went back and began to eat again and she was no longer sad. Brave looks a lot like faith to me. Why was she no longer sad? At that moment, she still had a rival wife who hated her and she was still childless.
Pain finds refuge in prayer. She poured out her heart to the Lord and transferred her heavy burdens to the One whose shoulders were strong enough to carry them.
And so the story goes, they returned home and in due time, Hannah gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel because she said, “I asked the Lord for him.” Brave hearts are obedient hearts and she kept her promised vow to give him back to the Lord. When he was weaned, she left him at the temple to be raised by Eli. The story doesn’t end there though. Each year she brought a small hand made coat for Samuel and each year the priest blessed her saying, “May the Lord give you other children to replace this child you have given to the Lord.” While she went on to have other children, she did not exit Samuel’s life. A heart poured out before God has more influence than one would imagine. It’s not surprising Samuel was a man of prayer. She modeled prayer for her son, who then modeled prayer for an entire nation and it’s first two kings, Saul and David.
Not completely understood by her husband, mocked by Peninnah, rebuked by Eli, yet heard by God – the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, we know her for her sorrow (the pain of barrenness made more bitter by cruel taunts); we know her for faithfulness (she found strength and refuge in the Lord); we know her for her sacrifice (boldly leaving her little blessing at the temple). Hannah bravely faced life’s challenges through the act of pouring out her heart to God.
Whatever life’s challenges are today, big or small; bravely pour your heart out to God. He has ears to listen. Lord, I pray today that as we approach You, we don’t do it lightly, we go in whole heartedly – we pour our hearts out to You. In Jesus name.
Brave hearts are “ready for action.” The book of Ruth profiles a young women who was brave enough to take action when the action may not be the safest action and when someone she respected tried to dissuade her from said action. Her famous words “Your God will be my God” took her on a path from widow, foreigner, and gleaner (social services of the day) to beloved wife and great grandma of another brave heart, King David.
The story begins when a Jewish family (father, mother, and two sons) moves away from Bethlehem because there is a famine in the land. The Bible doesn’t tell us they were directed or led by God to move. We don’t know if they were running away from God, rather than trusting Him to provide for their needs. What we do know is they chose the country of Moab, a known enemy of Israel and a land of pagan gods. Unfortunately, the dad dies leaving the mother, Naomi, with two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. We don’t know why they did this instead of returning to their homeland or sending for Jewish brides. What we do know is the Israelites were forbidden to marry foreigners. As it happens the two sons die as well, leaving two widows. The mother, Naomi, hears a rumor the famine has ended and decides to return to her homeland. Ten years in a pagan worshipping foreign country has taken its toll, she is spent and she wants to go home. She sets out with her two daughter-in-laws, and on the way tells them to go back to their mother’s homes. In verse 9, she prays a blessing, “May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage” and kisses them goodbye. They all cried and both girls, Ruth and Orpah said “No, we want to go with you to your people.”
Naomi must have prayed for her husband to live when she saw he might die in Moab. Surely she prayed for her two sons not to die and perhaps prayed other prayers she felt God did not answer. Yet she didn’t stop praying. She prayed this blessing and thought to send them on their way. When Naomi sees the girls aren’t going to follow her request, she puts up a strong argument. In verse 11, she asks, “Why should you go with me? Can I still birth other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters return to your parent’s homes, for I am too old to marry again. Even if it were possible and I were to marry today and bear sons, what then? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry anyone else? No, of course not, my daughters. Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord Himself has raised His fist against me.” At this, they all cry again and Orpah kisses her mother-in-law goodbye. Ruth clings tightly to her mother-in-law and refuses to leave her. When Naomi realizes this, in verse 15 she tries to dissuade further Ruth by saying, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods. You should do the same.” HOLD the presses! Wait, what? She told her to go back and serve her pagan gods?? At this point, we don’t know if Naomi had begun to doubt the God of Israel was the one true God, or if she was just convinced He no longer loved her? Or perhaps she had let ten long years of what she considered disappointment color her judgment?
She had just. told Ruth and Orpah the Lord had raised His fist against her. Later when she returns to Bethlehem, she tells her friends (who, by the way, all seemed to survive the fierce famine) to call her “Mara” because “the Almighty has made life very bitter for me.” It seems to me Naomi has some stinking thinking going on right now and is not the best counselor for Ruth. What’s a girl to do? Go back and worship pagan gods or chose the one true God? Ruth is ready for action. She disregards Naomi’s advice and instead makes an oath to her. In verse 16 Ruth says, “Don’t ask me to leave and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal severely with me if I let anything but death separate us.” When Naomi hears Ruth’s determination, she says nothing more. Perhaps the famous line, “Your God will be my God” is what shut her down?
Numbers chapters 21-24 record some of the incidents between the Israelites and the Moabites, including the infamous story of Balak, King of Moab, who calls on the prophet Balaam to prophesy against Israel. Remember, even the donkey tries to stop Balaam from going and in the end, Balaam ends up prophesying blessings over Israel three times. After that, some of the Israelite men defiled themselves by having sexual relationships with local Moabite women. They also feasted with them at sacrifices and worshipped the gods of Moab, inciting the Lord’s anger “to blaze” against His people. In the account recorded in Numbers 25:1-9, God orders Moses, who then orders all the judges of Israel to put to death any of the men who have joined in worshipping the false gods. As the instructions were being given, one of the Israelite men was bold enough to bring one of these women right into his tent in Israel camp. A priest got so angry for the Lord he rushed to this dude’s tent, thrust his spear through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. The plague was stopped, but not before 24,000 people had died. Talk about drama. The circumstances exemplify that Swift song, “now we got some bad blood between us.” Suffice it to say the Israelites and the Moabites have some “bad blood” between them. When Ruth, as a woman from Moab, shows up in Bethlehem, she will without a doubt, be regarded with suspicion as a foreigner and perhaps in some cases, as the enemy.
Ruth was born in a country that worshipped false gods and parents who likely did not acknowledge the one true God raised her. She was not one of God’s chosen people. She chose to follow God. “Your God will be my God.” Brave looks a lot like faith to me. Whether it’s from national history or from the family she married into, she knows enough about the God of Israel to put her faith in that God, rather than the false gods of her nation, who were known to demand child sacrifices. One might argue she knew a little something from her husband. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, perhaps not. Imagine that conversation - uh, honey, I’m not even supposed to be married to you, it’s against the laws of my God, but let me tell you about Him. Perhaps she knew something about the God of Israel from her mother-in law? The one who now says her God has raised his fist against her and counsels her to go back to her nations gods. At this point, we don’t know how Ruth arrived at her decision. A weeklong journey alone for two widows held much potential for danger. What’s important is faith stirred in her heart and she chose to make Him her God. Her God will be the One known as the one true God, the only living God, the God of Israel.
As the story goes, the pair arrives safely in Bethlehem. At some point, Ruth learns about the provision in the Jewish law for the poor and needy to follow the harvesters and glean the leftovers. Ruth is again ready for action. In Chapter two, verse 2, “One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.” As it happened, she found herself working in the field of Boaz, a distant relative of her deceased father-in-law. Remember Ruth was not raised Jewish and likely has no knowledge of the Jewish kinsman redeemer laws. She is just out there taking action, doing what she needs to do to provide for herself and her mother-in-law in the way God has provided. Later when Boaz notices her, and he offers her safety (to stay in his fields) along with water and food, she falls at his feet, thanking him, asking what she had done to deserve this kindness, and confessing she is only a foreigner. In verse 11, Boaz lets Ruth know he knows she is a foreigner yet he also knows what she had done for her mother-in-law. Then in verse 12, he lays out this bombshell...
“May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” His response indicates her reputation of faith in the God of Israel is well known. Brave hearts are hearts ready for action because of their faith in God. When things are upside down and they don’t look right, faith is the ingredient that changes everything.
The next few chapters reveal an unexpected love story, more bold action from Ruth, including a brave marriage proposal to Boaz, and a beautiful baby legacy. Do you think she might have experienced a moment of panic when she learns there is a closer relative and she finds out she might have to marry a stranger rather than the man Boaz who has been so kind to her? If she did, no matter. Even Naomi’s time of bitterness. no matter. A brave heart stirred by faith, ready for action, boldly stating, “Your God will be my God” changed everything for both of these women. The goodness of God rains down on Naomi as she cuddles that little grandbaby - a miracle, surely an answer to prayer. God has not left her because He promises He will never leave or forsake us. The God of Israel, whom Ruth chose to follow, shows up for her in a big God-size way. She gains a husband who wants her and understands her journey as a stranger in a foreign land, since Boaz’s mother “just happens” to be Rehab as revealed in the Matthew 1:5 lineage of Jesus. Then she has a baby, who just happens to be the granddad of the great King David. What’s a girl to do? Go back and worship pagan gods or choose the one true God? No matter what your situation, no matter who says what, always choose God. If God is for you, who can be against you?
Two ordinary women just like us, who experienced great loss, just like some of us. Both displayed very unique yet different reactions to their losses and life circumstances. Both in need of God’s grace, just like us. In this contrast we see God’s faithfulness and grace to all people. If you are like Naomi, a long time follower still praying, yet discouraged by life circumstances or feeling God has not heard your prayers, look up! God has more to do with you! Rise up, brave heart! If you are like Ruth, a new choice maker yet not feeling “qualified” or like a foreigner in uncharted waters, take heart! God is ready to use you for His purposes. Take action, brave heart!
The beautiful Queen Esther is one of the brave hearts of the Bible. One thing about brave hearts is they are prepared hearts. Her famous brave words, “If I must die I must die” only follow or come after “gather all the Jews together and fast for me, and my maids and I will do the same.” Although the Bible doesn’t quote prayer with the request to fast, one assumes they go together. There was a divine order – first, pray and fast and second, do the brave thing.
This was not false bravado or naïve courage. Esther knew it was against the law for her to approach the King without being summoned and she knew the punishment was death as revealed in Esther 4:11 “anyone who appears before the king in his inner court is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter.”
Her cousin, Mordecai sent her this message, “Who knows, if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” When she heard those words, Esther knew in her heart what she had to do AND she prepared her heart to do the hard thing.
May I also say there is something quite wonderful about being the right girl in the right place at the right time? Listen carefully – because who knows if perhaps you are in the place you are for such a time as this? We are not here at this place in this time for no reason.
Brave also looks a lot like faith to me. Even though she was the Queen she knew her rescue would only come from God alone. She didn’t think about her own strength or influence, instead she prayed and humbly asked her friends to fast for her. Her faith was in God’s ability to change the situation. She put her faith to work. She let prayer do the heavy lifting.
So here’s the thing – We know from the history outlined in the Bible how she became queen. It certainly wasn’t her station or position in life as she was not the daughter of a king or even a relative who had some legacy to keep. Nope – Just an orphan girl who found herself winning a beauty contest she didn’t even enter. In Chapter two, verse three, we see the king appointed officials in every province to gather the beautiful, young virgins for his royal harem. She was simply chosen for her beauty and outward appearance. When her time came to be summoned by the king, she pleased him enough for him to place a crown on her and call her queen. In one of her messages to Mordecai, she states, “the king has not summoned me in 30 days.” In this moment, she doesn’t know whether she has fallen out of favor or even when the next opportunity to possibly have influence, if she has any, will occur. Talk about reasons for insecurity! This wasn’t like, “I’m having a bad hair day” or “My eyes are bit puffy, I need a facial.” This was if the king is in a bad mood today or he doesn’t like me, I will be put to death for showing up UNINVITED.
Esther knows the story of the ex-wife who was demoted for NOT showing up when summoned and the history of this king demanding obedience. The Bible doesn’t say how much time passed between the two queens. The Persians kept detailed accurate historical records and those reveal four years passed between Queen Vashti’s demotion and Queen Esther’s coronation. So what was the king busy doing during that time? The historical records show he was trying to conquer Greece as revenge for his father. He orders a bridge to be built on a narrow piece of water (the straight) between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in hopes of sending his soldiers marching straight into Greece. A storm comes along and destroys the bridge before the soldiers could use it. The king is so furious he gathered all the engineers who designed and built the bridge and chops their heads off! Then he sends soldiers with whips to “whip” the water 300 times, throw shackles into the water to “bind” it, and stab the waves with red hot irons. This guy takes the meaning of “crazy ex” to a whole new level! He is irrational and you don’t want to get on his bad side.
“Who knows, if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this?” She laid her insecurities aside and decided, “this is my time.” This is my time to be used for the purposes of God, whether I live or I die. The message from Mordecai struck a chord in her heart there is no place of privilege exempting a person from their responsibility to respond to God’s call. Faith stirred in her heart. Her faith was in God’s ability, not her position. When a situation seems hopeless, God breathes hope. Here the Jews are captives who were exiled to this city, this place in time. Even when God seems strangely absent, He is always so close. His presence is what makes us brave. We can rely and have faith in His presence.
Joshua 1:5 says, “He will never leave us nor forsake us.” For this reason, we can be brave enough to say – we are the right person in the right place at the right time – to carry out God’s purposes. Allow your destiny to be solely determined by nothing other than the purposes of God. Prepare yourself to be brave by preparing your heart. Spend the needed time in prayer.
My prayer for us today is: As we seek Him and pray for His guidance, God will reveal His purposes and plans for us. As we ask, He will answer. We will know His presence, our hearts will be stirred in faith, and we will bravely march forward. In Jesus name, Amen.
“Words Matter” reminds me God’s word is like a hammer building us up, lifting us, stabilizing us; and also, smashing to pieces those unwanted things. Words shape who we are.
“Words Have Power” reminds me God’s word breathes life into our soul and spirit, revealing our aliveness and identity in Him.
“Words are Intimate” reminds me I am His in a pursued, intimate relationship. He knows me intimately better than I even know myself. He is the author of my life. Before I was born, He saw my unformed substance and created my innermost being. He knit me together in my mother’s womb. He knows a word even before it is on my tongue. He knows the numbers of hairs on my head. I am known.
I love that my creator knows me better than I know myself. While it means I can’t hide from Him, it also means He reveals little secrets I didn’t even know about myself. Private chats with Him are often very revealing.
In my late 20’s Himself and I lived in a teeny tiny house with our two daughters, Smiley and Chatty. With about 800 square feet of living space, the bathrooms were often used as private offices for planning surprises, quiet moments, reading, private discussion, secret rendezvous, etc. If you ever lived in a motorhome with four or more people, you understand there is no place for privacy or alone time. If you wanted alone time, well, off to the bathroom you went. One day I sprawled out on the bathroom floor crying out to God about how “hurt” my feelings were. I don’t even remember the topic of the argument; I can only imagine something really dumb, not relevant to the grand scheme of things now. If you’ve ever really cried your eyes out to God, then you know what a comforter He is and just how loved He can make you feel. In His arms, there is healing like no other. My feelings were hurt, so I ran to my God. That day I cried hard and I told the Lord how “himself said this and then he said that, and then he did this, whatever the issue was.” While I don’t recall my exact complaints, I recall very specifically God’s response because I was surprised into silence when He said, “you never cry over me like this.” Not what I expected to hear.
Seven little words, one short sentence – piercing my heart with a thousand “knowings” all at once. Knowing I disappointed Him, knowing I didn’t love the way I should love Him, knowing my God is jealous over me, knowing He sees me and He knows me and yet He loves me still.
Quickly getting off the floor, standing in front of the mirror – looking back at the girl who was expecting comfort and healing, because God does heal broken hearts! He has done this so many times for me in my life. Gazing into my surprised somewhat somber looking face – girlfriend – its not fun when God calls you out – reveals something dark and twisty about yourself you didn’t realize was there.
He saw me. He chose me. He pursued me. His offer of sacred romance to become His bride was something I accepted, I longed for, and to be honest, I thought I had secured long ago. Perhaps it was drama. Perhaps it was emotional tears. Perhaps it was just the stillness of a solitary bathroom, the only private place in the house. God saw me for who I was in that moment and reminded me of my true identity. What exactly did I mean to Him? What exactly did He mean to me? He gave His life for me. Who exactly am I? Does a daughter of the King lay on the bathroom floor? Get yourself up and straighten your crown girl! If you want to be transformed into a new identity, then act like a royal. Be royal enough to fan the flame of the Spirit within you.
Jesus was clear about His identity and His worth – He said, “I am the bread of life, I am the true vine, I am the light of the world, I am the way, the truth, the life, and I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly” along with many other words. He did not say, “I have big toes, or I’m wide in the hips, or I carry my weight in the middle…” He didn’t say, “I don’t have experience or resources to do this or that.” He said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” I am His, He is mine. The words we say declare our intimacy with Him.
There is a divine makeover that takes place in our thoughts, hearts, and conduct – which in turn equips us to do what God calls us to do.
John 15:16 -- "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. I have appointed you to go and produce fruit that will last, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
I pray today that we pursue an intimate relationship with our God. That we boldly declare – I am His, He is mine!
Words matter because words have power. Words have power to save lives and words have power to destroy lives. Words spoken to us, for us, over us, by us, by teachers, parents, and others, and it goes on and on.
The best part of the story is God’s words have the most power. It’s like the trump suit in a trick-taking card game. In the game of Hearts the suit has authority – for example your small little two of hearts beats that giant King of Diamonds. That’s just how it works. Fortunately for us, it is the same with God’s word. His words have authority over all the other words spoken in our lives. If someone didn’t know the rules of the game, they might not know their little ole two of hearts had such power over the King of Diamonds. Let us not forget the rules of the word game. Rather, let us apply generously God’s words to all circumstances of our lives.
Jeremiah 23:29 says Gods word is like a fire and Gods word is like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces. I’ve often used that example with young children – think of God’s word like a hammer. What does a hammer do? So it’s just nails, right? Yet, when the nails are driven in properly and in the right places, they actually hold everything together and make it all stable. That’s the power of God’s word in our life – it holds everything together and makes us stable. On the other side of the hammer head, there’s this fork-looking prong. What’s that for? Pulling out unwanted pieces or breaking down something that stubbornly wants to remain or as God says “breaks a rock into pieces.” That’s the power of God’s word in our lives – to get rid of unkind, untrue, unjust words spoken to us, about us – breaking down those lies of Satan we may have actually believed.
Most of the Word we get comes straight out of the Bible. Sometimes though God just speaks to our heart. When God whispers in your ear, it is the most delightful thing. I found out for the first time when I was about 7 years old. I was walking home from a friend’s house, about 5 houses away from my house. I was just one house away, oh so close, but not quite safely home – when a very large dog charged me and ferociously stood his ground barking at the edge of my yard. I was frozen stiff with fear. I literally could not move. I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was going to die. I was sure that dog was going to eat me; I just wasn’t sure if anyone would hear me screaming while that was happening because it was sort of on the backside of my house. It doesn’t matter anyway because right now I couldn’t scream if my life depended on it. There was an entire yard and a garage between where I was standing and where the front door of our house was. This huge great dane was as tall or taller than I was! (ok, I know that’s not saying much as I’ve always been short) – but when you are 7 – this is a BIG DEAL! I would say I was having a panic attack but those words weren’t invented yet! I was face to face with a very real fear – and in that moment, God whispered in my ear these words, “Hold your head up high and walk on by.” I don’t recall if He said He would be by my side and I certainly couldn’t quote Bible verses about walking through the valley of the shadow of death… Here’s is what I did know in that moment – I knew God was my protection – I knew He was my defender – I knew He was with me. I live to tell the story, so obviously I did exactly that – I put my head up high and walked on by. It was a totally amazing trick I learned at an early age! It’s called, do exactly what God says! AKA put your head up high and ACT like the child of God you are!
Fast forward ….. I’m 21 years old and find myself in a place I never dreamed I’d be. I’m newly single with two under three and I’ve just been released from a relationship which I now understand I was never called to in the first place. Yet at the time, I had spent the last three years praying and toiling to make it work, so it was painful. I also really believed God was going to answer that prayer, so it was confusing. Many women in the church were curious to know what had happened. Under interrogation one day, I told the story of my husband cheating numerous times with as few details as possible. Later a woman called me aside for some words of wisdom. By this time, I had pretty much made a mess of my life and not walked the path God had planned for me. So here I am. I don’t have high opinion of myself and I think going to church for a long time probably equals godliness or at least a truckload of wisdom for sure. Experience has taught me this is not always the truth. Praise God for when it is and I will commit to being one of the times when it is for others. But hey, when it’s not, let’s call it what’s its not! This lady whispers these words to me – “you know, honey, you can fix this. If you just give your husband what he wants in the bedroom, he won’t be going other places to find it.” As those words fell on my ears I froze, I wasn’t sure I could breath. I certainly couldn’t move. I was stuck in one of those old church pews that only fits two people! In lightening speed the thought got past my brain and lodged into my heart – “this is my fault, I didn’t do enough, I wasn’t good enough.” If I had actually taken the time to tell this lady what the previous two years had entailed in the name of saving the marriage, her ears would not have been able to handle it. Luckily before I could do any such thing, God practically pushed me out of the pew with a gentle “Hold your head up high and walk on by.” I didn’t need to say anything and so I didn’t. I didn’t have a Bible verse to quote about when all have turned their backs on you, God is still for you -- yet in that moment God’s words held me together and caused me to be stable enough to do nothing and walk away with confidence. Considering the fact that I was homeless, jobless, and a single mother of two, I can’t even tell you how I could have had confidence in God; yet somehow I did just because of His words to me.
It took a while but God’s words also smashed like a rock into pieces the lies Satan planted in my heart that day. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t do enough. Even though I knew I had done more than God would have ever required, those little dark and twisty lies wrapped around my heart. Lies the devil hoped would hold me back from God’s purpose for my life. When you are down, he wants to keep you down, because hey, he came to kill, steal and destroy you – that’s just how the game is played. I would be willing to bet; if I was betting kinda gal ;) wink, wink, you have experienced something similar. Unkind words – those are not God’s words. Unjust words – those are not God’s words. Words designed to knock you out of the game – those are not God’s words.
God’s words are designed to lift us up, build us up, secure us in the place He has called us to. God’s words are designed to cause us to live out the purpose He has for us. God has both a purpose and a plan. He says I know the plans I have for you, to give you hope and a future. He says we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) Can you say I am God’s masterpiece and I am loved by my Maker?
Meanwhile back at the hammer… The hammer head is easy. Fill yourself with God’s word about you and every other aspect of life – and you will have a solid foundation and be stable and used for good purposes. The fork prong side – a little work is required. Search your heart – pray and ask God to reveal to you the hidden lies and then seek out what God’s word says about those things and let His word smash those unwanted things likes rocks into pieces.
I pray today God will reveal to you hidden areas you can apply His word to. I pray He will reveal more and more of Himself to you that you may know more of Him and just how much you mean to Him. To the One who died so we can hold our heads up high and act like the child of God we are. Amen.
Psalm 3:3 “But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head.”
I grew up about a block from Disneyland. I could hear and see the fireworks every night at 8:00 p.m. in the winter and 9:00 p.m. in the summer. As sure as the sun would come up every morning and go down every night, Tinkerbell would fly and the Disney fireworks would light up the sky. I don’t know how I knew Tinkerbell would fly; that was just the way the story went. The fireworks were a “sure thing” though – a nightly ritual at our house – a display not to missed. Our dad had built a patio cover with a ladder and we would just climb the ladder, sit on the roof, and enjoy a beautiful light show every night.
Those fireworks were “faithful.” Rain or shine, there were fireworks. Bad day or good day, there were fireworks. To this day, whenever I see fireworks, I can’t help but think of Disneyland. Many nights I lay falling asleep wondering what was inside the magical kingdom that inspired such awesome light shows every night. I was six years old and my first trip to Disney was a big deal. My first ride was “It’s A Small World.” With music (now you have that tune in your head? It’s a Small World, after all….) and costumes from around the world on adorable dancing dolls – what more could a girl want? I did not want to leave that ride. “Back in the day” it was not so crowded and my dad just let me keep on riding over and over again and again. The next ride was “Dumbo”, the pink flying elephant. It was magical and again I kept flying over and over again. Then I was done. I had been to Disneyland and I was happy. That was it, could not be happier. At least, in my six-year-old naïve state, I didn’t think I could be any happier. They say it’s the happiest place on earth. And it was kinda like heaven until….
I was pretty much ready to leave happy and my dad insisted I needed to go on more rides. He said, “We don’t have use the e-tickets, but we have to use the c-tickets at least and we have one left.” And that’s how it went down, the ride of my life – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! My dad pushed me onto the ride, saying “I’ll see you at the other end!” and there I was, all by myself being rolled into a dark black hole. This was way out of my comfort zone and I was scared to death. The entire ride was in darkness with scary things popping out at you at every corner and unpredictable scary noises around every bend. Since it was dark anyway, I closed my eyes and held on tight until I came out the “other end.” I just kept telling myself, “I will come out the other end.” Perhaps my faith that I would come out the other end was based on dad’s words, “I’ll see you at the other end.” In any event, those words kept me still. Even though I was crazy scared, those words made me last the entire ride! I’m not kidding about crazy scared – I’ve never gone on that ride again to this day and I wouldn’t let my kids ride it either!!
Funny thing though, life can sometimes be just like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Crazy unexpected turns and twists, scary things that force us to tell ourselves, “we will come out the other end.” I was six and that was only a “c” ticket ride. Now I’m an adult and sometimes life gives me an “e” ticket! Whatever the ride, I know I will come out the “other end.” My faith talks to me and tells me I will come out the other end. It tells me God will weave all those dark twists and turns into the beautiful story of my life. It tells me God is the author of my life, He is good, and I am loved.
The thing about those crazy twists and turns, those scary corners of darkness, or the unexpected noises that threaten to break the peace in my heart – they are places where strength is built, they are places where hope is preserved, they are places where I am cradled and held close in His arms, they are the very places where I learn more about Him, they are the places where my faith is tested and His faithfulness proves true every single time.
I want to have the Disneyland fireworks faithful kind of faith! Rain or shine, I will have faith in my God! Bad day or good day – I will have faith! Faith that talks – faith that tells me not only will I come out the other end, God will be with me every step of the way. Faith that is sticky – not scotch tape kind of sticky, E-6000 kind of sticky (ain’t nothing getting that sucker apart) – faith that sticks close to God and holds on for the ride no matter what. Faith that is a preservative – the preservative that doesn’t let you “go bad” – the preservative that makes sure you last, makes you go the distance! Time traveling faith – “where people of old earned a good reputation through their faith.” Faith that stands the test of time and travels with you wherever you go in all the seasons of life. Faith that sees in the dark – faith that keeps its eyes on Jesus – “the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”
Faith that reflects all the faithfulness of God – faith that talks to you and makes promises, faith that sticks to you and never leaves you, faith that preserves you all the way to Heaven, faith that travels with you, and faith that sees you with the hope and the future He has prepared for you. Faith that sees you, faith that sees Him, faith that sees in the dark keeping its eyes on Jesus! That is a fireworks kind of faith – it lights the way, rain or shine!
It was Sunday morning and I lay in bed praying. Praying for all the families who face the Sunday morning “temptations.” Don’t look at me like that – you know exactly what I’m talking about. We have all faced our Sunday morning temptations! As I prayed for those who might be feeling the pressure of getting everyone ready for church… I was reminded of one Sunday morning a long time ago.
It was a different time and era. The era where the daddies wore “suits” to church. I can remember the suit Himself had on – it was the blue suit we got married in. We had only been married for six months and that suit still looked really good on him. He asked if I was ready to go. I said yes. I was wearing a pretty dress. Although it was a hand-me-down, it was one of those “feel-good” dresses. It fit me really well, I liked the style, and it was a neutral color I enjoyed. I liked wearing that dress, it looked good on me, and I felt good in it. I had paired it with some well worn but neutral high heel sandals. He asked again if I was ready to go. I looked at the girls, who were now two and four, and both were ready including cute little pony tails. I said yes we are all ready. Within the next ten minutes, he asked another three or four times, “Are you ready to go?” I like to solve a puzzle and my brain was immediately tackling this issue. Why did he keep asking if I was ready? Was it because he needed to be there “extra” early? He was the head usher and this always meant he had to be at the church a little early to open the doors and sometimes meant he needed to be “extra” early on other days for other duties. As for why we just didn’t drive separate vehicles, like I said, it was a different era.
In the meantime, Himself had gone upstairs and changed and was now making a rather dramatic entrance down the stairs. From the corner of my eye I saw the blue suit moving; yet more than that, I heard the clomping of the “clodhoppers.” They were noisy and could not be ignored. Imagine the largest, most worn, most muddy, pair of work boots clomping down the stairs as if they were the star on a runway show. My brain was like, wait, what’s going on here? This was a puzzle I could not piece together. Because this situation looked and sounded hilarious, my first response was to bust out laughing. I barely caught myself before that happened -- No I don’t think so, he looks kinda angry. Should I say something? No, I’m supposed to know what’s going on here. Hmmm… you got me… In that very moment, God whispered in my heart, “He doesn’t like the shoes you are wearing.”
Okay, I don’t know about y’all, but when God whispers something in your heart, it is generally the most exciting thing. This was like, huh? What? In that same moment, my mind was bombarded with – wait a minute, I’ve been a single mom for two years and I only have three pairs of shoes, (1) the pair I’m wearing, (2) another pair of heels slightly less worn that don’t match this dress, and (3) a really worn pair of old tennies. In the six months we’ve been married, we’ve never had an argument so this will probably be the first because I’m not going to let some dude who has been laid off work since we got married start complaining about my shoes that I haven’t had money to replace! And besides that – this guy who wears a curly afro hairstyle also wears muscle man t-shirts and brown cords. Not someone I want to be taking fashion advice from! Then there is the small matter of communication! All relationships are built on good communication, right? Why don’t you try using words here? Am I supposed to divine this bizzare behavior? Oh, you really think you can convince me you want to go to church wearing your workhorse “clodhoppers” because you are loudly announcing you are “ready to go!”
Yes there are two pairs of small eyes and ears watching and listening on a Sunday morning. What message are they going to take away from this “thing” that’s about ready to go down? Okay – put the pause on this story for a minute and let’s go over to the lab….
Let’s dissect the anatomy of a temptation. What we see in the gospels about the time Satan came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, it was really about WHO he was.
“IF you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
“IF you are the Son of God, jump off!” (the high point of the temple)
If you are really who God says you are…. Funny, how the same thing is true today. If we think about it, most temptations are really about the devil trying to convince us we are not who God says we are. He says we are His forgiven, loved, and cared for child.
See, God hasn’t really taken care of you. You don’t even have a decent pair of shoes to wear – even to church to worship Him. You just like to pretend you are His “beloved” child. And now your “beloved” hubs is judging your shoes as inadequate, as inappropriate. He doesn’t even want to be seen with you wearing those shoes! Those thoughts, if we let them, can sink down deep in our hearts and convince us we are not accepted nor loved.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I decided to go with a calmly stated, “maybe you don’t like my shoes” And then a little tad sarcastic, “What shoes would you prefer I wear?” Of course, he brought out the slightly “less worn” other high heels I didn’t believe to match my dress. Honestly I don’t remember whether I changed the dress or the shoes or neither, I just remember I “survived” our first argument, which of course, landed on a tense Sunday morning while trying to get ready for church.
The light bulb moment I’m having this Sunday morning is Himself really didn’t like the shoes I was wearing because he really wanted me to have a newer pair all because he loved me and wanted good things for me, that’s all. Even though he didn’t know how to articulate that idea that day, I can say I am certain of this today because I have a closet full of too many pairs of shoes! I am loved and God is good! Not that how full your closet is – is any measure at all! What I’m most grateful for is I have a closet full of funny stories to remember how God has used a humble beginning to bring me to where I am today. Oddly enough, there are still situations or rumblings trying to chip a hole in my belief about who God says I am. Nevertheless, I am a forgiven, loved, and cared for child of God, with or without shoes!
Carve that Pumpkin!
One of my favorite things about October is pumpkins! In the decorations, in the coffee, in the muffins, pumpkin lovers unite in their celebrations of all things pumpkin spice and everything nice! Yet that whole pumpkin carving thing – to be honest, I’ve never really been that into it. And why would I? It’s just a big mess to clean up! First you have to gut all the junk out of the pumpkin, then try to figure out how to sculpt a perfect whatever on the first try because knives are not that forgiving and who wants an ugly something on their porch? However, IF I were to carve a pumpkin, here’s my 3-step approach.
Step 1 – Start with gutting the junk! Spiritually speaking – it’s a good time to get rid of the junk in our lives. So what is spiritual junk? Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater – how about we just start there in I Peter Chapter 2, verse 1 – “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” Spiritually speaking, some of the gunk is sin – we’ll just call that plain old vanilla junk! Maybe there’s a lot, maybe there’s a little – no one sees it except God and us. Vanilla junk mostly hidden, unless, of course, you’ve been allowing that gunk to spill out all over your friends. (It happens!) No matter, there’s a simple solution for sin – it’s forgiveness. Humble yourself, take it to God and ask forgiveness. Father God, rid me of any spiritual junk holding me back from Your light. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
Truth be told, sometimes it’s hard to see the plain vanilla junk because there’s other more complicated junk floating around. This junk just hangs around from life’s daily grind. It’s not related to sin necessarily, it’s mistakes, failures, painful trials, negative or hurtful words someone said to us. This junk is more complicated because we live in this world and life just happens in all kinds of flavored junk! The nuances become sophisticated new flavors and we give them fancy names. However, if we allow it, not only will this fancier junk clutter our hearts and minds, the potential is ripe to turn itself back into plain old vanilla junk. So gut it – as soon as you see it, notice it, hear it, feel it – get rid of this junk too! If that junk has been there a long time, ask God to heal it, give you a new perspective or take it away for good. Take it to God and see what He does with it. Phillipians 4:6-7 reads “Be anxious for nothing – let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” He’s got you! He’s got your back! He wants your junk, all of it!
Not kidding – and here’s the thing – once all of that spiritual junk is gone, you would be surprised at the gaping whole left! On purpose, holes are filled. Ephesians 4:29-32 is a set of alternating gut and fill instructions. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out your mouths, but only what is helpful building others up, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holly Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
Step 2 – Carve out time for God to do the filling! Interestingly enough, First Peter 2:1’s “RID Yourself” is followed by 2:2 – “Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Nutrition worth having isn’t contaminated by junk. For the spiritual milk to be of nutritional value or for you to get the most spiritual benefit, it must be pure and uncontaminated. It also just so happens that you have to want it – want it enough to carve out time for Him. If you’ve ever seen or heard a baby who wants to eat, you know what it looks and sounds like! They are eagerly seeking the nipple, they will scream for the bottle until they get what they want/need. This is not an excuse to throw a tantrum and you might look and sound funny if you did. The Bible doesn’t tell you to BE a baby, it says “LIKE newborn babes…” Are you “craving” the pure spiritual milk? Are you intently eagerly carving out time for prayer and the Word? Whether it’s a little or a lot is not so important because just one moment in His presence has the power to change your entire day. Fill yourself with His love so the light of the world might shine through you to those around you.
Step 3 – Light it up! Be the light. I think sometimes we are waiting for the next big God moment to break through like a flashing neon light. I’ll be the first to say I’ve had a few of those God moments as have many of you. I believe in miracles, in healing, in the awesome power of the Almighty God we serve. I love it when God shows up in His God-like way and there is absolutely no denying God made something possible in an impossible situation. It is just what He does and His light shines far and wide! Yet when I look at the night sky as simple as it is, God reminds me one tiny speck of light is easily seen in the darkness. One candle burning in the wind can be seen a long distance. Our daily normal run-of-the-mill lives might be the only light those around us and within distance ever see. God wants to meet us right where we are every single day. He wants to fill us with His love and light not only for our own spiritual edification, but also for those we might encounter. He placed us here to be the light of the world. Matthew 5:4 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden….
Sometimes it’s just right in front of you – a person in need of an encouraging word, a gentle touch, kindness in a harsh world, love that comes down from the Father of all love. Sometimes, you’ll have to look or listen a little harder for it. Ask God to point it out to you. Who can I be the light to today?
Gut it – get rid of your spiritual junk!
Carve it – carve time to get filled with God!
Light it – be the light the world needs because that is why you are here!
Even if you aren’t enchanted with pumpkin spice (although you probably are since you’re still reading), I sincerely hope you never look at a pumpkin again in the same way.
And the walls came tumbling down! Do you have any walls you need God to knock down? It could be – yet it doesn’t have to be – a great big wall – say like you just got a telephone call from the doctor about the growth cut out last week. Well, it was cancerous and they need you to come in for more tests. That’s a big wall staring right at you! Or it could be life’s smaller yet overwhelming challenges are choking the life out of you.
Have you ever been to one of those restaurants where the menu is 25 pages long? Because, well, you know – CHOICES! And if that isn’t enough choices, there is also the Skinnylicious menu and the dessert menu for the Cheesecake side of the house. There is so much going on, you can’t even decide what to eat. I heard one lady say she would need to get there 3 hours before she planned to eat just have time to read the menu! Sometimes life is like that – there is so much going on – you don’t have time to think about what’s next because if you slow down, all the plates will come crashing down on your head! In reality, you don’t have any big life or death challenge, you just have all the little daily challenges stacking up and overwhelming you. Fortunately, there is a Bible promise in Psalms 61 that reads, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead to the Rock of towering safety.”
For everything in this world that is rock solid real, it so happens there is a counterfeit of the real thing. In the book of Joshua we find a people who go about their evil ways ignoring the stories of the one true God and they proudly hide behind their rocky tower of safety – the walls of Jericho. Archeological excavations of Jericho reveal a stone wall 11 feet high and 14 feet wide. On top of that, a smooth stone slope angling 35 degrees for 35 feet north where it joins a massive stone wall towering even higher. This wall seemed unsurmountable to those hiding behind it. Yes, they had heard stories of the Israelites and yes, they were concerned enough to lock their doors. Joshua 6:1 records “the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid. No one was allowed to go in or out.” I’d say this amounts to their hearts being overwhelmed on a daily basis for a season, and they trusted in their “rocky walls of towering safety.”
Did you know they were potentially given a chance to exit peacefully? According to some Jewish historical records there were seven Canaanite tribes living in 31 fortified cities across the “Promised Land”, each ruled by its own king. Jericho is one of those “city-states”, as is Ai and Jerusalem where Canaanites tribesmen called Jebusites live. Apparently, before they ever enter the land, the Jewish people send a diplomatic delegation to the Canaanite tribes with this message: "God, the Creator of the Universe has promised this land to our forefathers. We are now here to claim our inheritance, and we ask you to leave peacefully." Needless to say most of the Canaanites don't. Only one tribe takes the offer and leaves. If this actually played out the way that record shows, it is interesting to note the God of the Heavens and Earth provided a way out if only they chose to obey the one true God. No matter who you are, wherever you are, whatever you face, God has a way out for you. He just calls you to choose Him over the fortified walls you’ve built in your life. He wants to be your one and only “Rock of towering safety.”
As a teacher of young children, I loved to tell the story of the fall of Jericho and the kids loved to act it out. The exciting story of the walls miraculously tumbling down is found in Joshua chapter 6. While some Bible scholars attribute the tumbling walls to a “well-timed earthquake.” – does it really matter how this miracle happened? If God showed up in the exact “well-timed” moment, isn’t that what we all need anyway? Like every day all the days of our lives?
What resonates most in my heart about this story is when faced with an unsurmountable wall, Jericho victories happen when God’s way is followed in total obedience. I also notice an important sequence as well.
First, there is a promise. Before Joshua knew anything about the battle plan, God spoke to him, “Hey buddy, my servant Moses is dead and the time has come for you to lead my people across the Jordan River into the land I’m giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses wherever you set foot…(perimeter noted in Joshua 1:3) …No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” Joshua had to exercise his faith to grab hold of this promise. He had to believe God is who He says He is and God will do what He says He will do. Hebrews 10:23 instructs us to “hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.” As my Pastor often says, here comes the “amen or ouch” moment – do you trust God to keep His promise? Do you talk, act, and live like you believe He is who He says He is and you are who He says you are?
Second, there were instructions. God outlined a detailed battle plan that was very different from what military generals of the day would have proposed. In that day, fortified cities would be assaulted or surrounded and starved into submission – a strategy that would take several weeks or months with heavy casualties. God had a seven-day plan highlighting silent marching carrying horns and then a change of plans on the seventh day with seven marches, priests blowing horns, and people shouting! This likely sounded crazy to some. Imagine you are Joshua and you have fought many battles – you are a mighty warrior and you know God has always been with you. In fact, you can recall the day Moses stood on the mountain top and raised his hands while God was with you, the commander on the ground, leading the battle to victory below (Ex. 17:8-13). Well, that was the old way. Have you been in the place where you have a change of plans and the people with you say, but we’ve always done it this way in the past. Key words “in the past” – you need God’s word for every new situation. You can’t live on yesterday’s manna. You need a fresh word from God for each day. You need guidance and directions (specific battle plans) for each new challenge you face. Mighty warriors understand new challenges are not problems, they are opportunities for new victories in new ways. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go around doing everything the “same old way” because that’s how it’s done. I’d rather spend the necessary time seeking God to get some new exciting, sometimes crazy instructions!
Third, there is the ACTION! Key word – obedience. If you don’t know the instructions, you can’t follow them. Therefore, you can’t really skip a step here if you want true Jericho-like tumbling walls victories! Funny thing about those victories, they often appear to have happened overnight miraculously. Yet along the way, a few things happened to work the faith muscle. There was the flooding Jordan River they needed to cross. As soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched the water at river’s edge, the water began to back up a great distance. As the priest stood in the middle of the riverbed on dry ground, they waited for the entire nation of Israel to cross over. Every single person experienced crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. It wasn’t until they all crossed, they built a memorial on the banks, and then the priest crossed to high ground that the water returned and overflowed its banks as before. Then there was the fun flint-knives event where the entire male population was circumcised in one night. Then the “Lord’s Commander” confronts Joshua. There was a miracle, a painful night, and a supernatural encounter – all on the way to the tumbling walls of Jericho!
If you are facing what appears to be an insurmountable wall, reflect on Joshua’s Jericho victory. It can be yours too! Secure your promise. Get your marching orders. Be obedient. Hang on tight. The walls are about to come tumbling down! God is faithful!
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GET SPICY ON LAUNDRY DAY
Here is the thing about laundry day in God’s Kingdom. There’s no shout it out, zout it out, pre-wash, pre-prayer whatever. It is just throw it in, apply the blood, and wa-la all stains are gone! I don’t know about you, but I’ve been washed in the blood and that is as clean as I will ever get!
Psalm 51:7 says, “Purge me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” Purging doesn’t sound like a ton of fun. Hyssop? Hyssop is a dwarf bush growing wild among the rocks in Palestine and sometimes cultivated up the walls. Hyssop’s aromatic fragrance comes from its blue or reddish flowers and leaves and may be the reason it was thought or perceived to have “medicinal” properties. We see references to Hyssop in the Bible more often than you might think from ceremonial cleansing of lepers and houses with mold to confirmation of God’s covenant with sprinkling on people and God’s commandments. The first reference in the Old Testament is Exodus 12:22 the Israelites were instructed to “brush the hyssop over the tops and sides of the doorframes of your houses.” You will recall this was after the hyssop branch was dipped in blood and was to protect them from the death angel that was about to strike all of Egypt. In John 19:29 when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” they poured sour wine onto a sponge and put it on a hyssop branch and held it to his lips. All roads lead to the cross, the final and complete sacrifice where His precious blood was shed and we are washed clean.
Turns out hyssop is a garden herb of the mint family (mostly Bible translated as the spice marjoram) prolific in the Middle East and commonly used for cleansing, medicinal, and flavoring in a variety of different applications. So hey, let’s get spicy. “Purge me with hyssop…” Other translations of Psalm 51;7 read “purify me.” When God instructed the Israelites to use “hyssop” as their “paintbrush” on the doorpost, perhaps it was His way of “marking” or “painting” them as “pure” – His very own, purified people and not targets of the death about to rain down on the Egyptians. When the soldiers who mocked Jesus on the cross just so happened to a use a hyssop branch likely because it was handy, perhaps it was not coincidence, perhaps it was divinely ordered by God to signify Jesus as purification with His blood sacrifice on the cross. Purifying is something God and only God can do. I have found no matter how much I purge, I cannot make myself pure. One Bible dictionary puts forth “purge me” properly means “expiate my sin.” Expiate means not only “remove guilt”, but also make “free from the criminal propensity to sin and all the bad effects of the aggravated crime.” Again that is not something I can do on my own. Expiate can only be performed by and through the grace of God and His unfailing love.
Meanwhile back at the laundry, as they say, “it all comes out in the wash.” And by “all”, I truly mean all. Girl friends, when God cleans it up, it’s not superficially clean, it is clean all the way -- pure on the outside and whiter than snow on the inside. You don’t have to carry the guilt from the past or worry about the future. Sometimes I need the “gentle cycle” and other times I need the “heavy duty” or the “express wash” cycle. Whatevs, I need it all!
Another thing about the laundry room, prayer is the best place to “air your dirty laundry.” When you are on the spin cycle feeling like you are going nowhere – you know, that place where life’s problems are twisting you, spinning you, and knocking you around, that’s the place to give it all to God and know in the end, it will all come out brighter, cleaner, and better. That is God’s way. He also separated the light from the dark, so He doesn’t really need our help sorting it all out! When I think I need to help out because my problems are extra special, they are not normal, I need to remember “normal is just a setting on the dryer.” Sorting out life’s everyday problems one load at a time is just what God does, every single day, every single time I take it to Him in prayer. We need a setting for “cares” – washing your cares away – casting your care on Him.
Speaking of “loads” –why isn’t it a scientific fact that what goes IN should be what comes OUT? Because, you know -- well, lost socks. Always, nearly every time, there is bound to be at least one lost sock! Searching for your “soul mate” --- you’ll find Him at the cross. Laundry room/war room, whatever you call it, spend the necessary time there to wash your cares away AND find your soul mate. Laundry isn’t just about getting rid of stinky smell, sometimes it’s about smelling good! Let the fragrance of His presence wash over you.
Laundry is something you do that nobody notices until you DON’T do it. Then, you do it or you and your whole family is walking around naked for all to see. This only works out well IF you decided to put yourself in the dryer and you came out “wrinkle-free and two sizes smaller!” Seriously, though, laundry is a necessary part of regular life and spiritual well-being. Don’t ignore it. Psalm 51:10 – “create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.”
Here is my “preliminary” Lessons from the Laundry Room Checklist:
(1) - Check your pockets! You do not need to carry all that “stuff” around. It’s weighing you down. Give it up. Let it go.
(2) – Don’t overload! Don’t complicate it. Keep it simple because it is that simple! Apply the blood and all stains are gone. White as snow - that simple.
(3) – When in doubt, use the gentle cycle. Give yourself grace. His grace is sufficient! His unfailing love is the best fabric softener ever!
(4) – Use the “cares” cycle daily! Casting your cares on Him.
(5) – FLUFF! -- this is totally what I would call a “fluff” piece, but then God calls me out on it every time and I just fall in love with Him all over again.
There is a bit to sort out here but then again, that’s God’s job – sorting out our everyday issues one load at a time. Laundry day in God’s Kingdom, where all our sins are washed away, all our cares are washed away, we are purified and we smell fabulous darling!