05 March 2016

You Have the Very Breath of God in Your Lungs!!!

On Thursday night, someone challenged me not to cut people off or jump into every conversation, because my words have power! But the enemy of our souls would like to use the quantity of my words to distort that power.

What this person spoke was hard to hear, because I know talking too much and interrupting actually hurts him and others—and that is the last thing I want to do. But it was wonderful to hear, too, because they love me enough to partner with Jesus Christ in washing me and cleansing me for every good work! And their words were EXACTLY lined up with what God has been teaching me!

This person approached this “iron sharpens iron” moment with gentleness, and told me not to let it weigh me down, but trust God to change me. Earlier that same night, another friend said she saw a picture of people getting things passed out to them at church, and when it came to me I thought they had run out, but actually I needed to know that I should ask God, and He would give me “a double portion”! 

On Friday morning I prayed and told God I wanted my “double portion” to be wisdom! Wisdom is knowledge applied appropriately to the situation! Coupled with the love He fills me with, I can truly LISTEN to others—and bless them far more when He does call me to speak.

During worship at my church several months ago, we asked God what name He had for us. God told me I am His "Pure Mouthpiece". That sounded great, but the very next day I felt condemned and terrible for, yet again, sinning with my tongue. But He brought me to Jeremiah 15:19, where God tells Jeremiah after he was complaining, “If you return, Then I will bring you back; You shall stand before Me; If you take out the precious from the vile, You shall be as My mouth." I didn't ever remember seeing that Scripture before, that a human was called "as My mouth", as the very mouth of God--IF he returned to God! Reading that Scripture on that day was confirmation that God had really spoken "Pure Mouthpiece" over me, even when I felt dejected and awful and like a totally impure mouthpiece! And He was right there, inviting me out of it! Return to Me, my dear! He is so good! 

The Father doesn't turn away from us when we sin. Sometimes we feel like He does, but He doesn't. He turned away from Jesus for that terrible moment as He hung on the cross, so that He would NEVER have to turn away from us. Now, He's looking at us when we sin with eyes of love to pull us out. Even when we are right there, even when I'm cutting someone off in conversation or not listening well or dwelling in fear--He's actually extending His hand in that moment and saying, "Come on, my child. You're better than that sin. Come away with Me!"

The Father doesn't identify us with our sins, either! He laid our sins on Jesus for that brief moment so that they don't have to be laid on us! "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2nd Corinthians 5:21). He actually BECAME sin for us! Crazy, right? SO THAT we might become the righteousness of God in Him. I know it doesn't make sense, but even when we feel absolutely horrible and full of shame, God still says we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus! We don't have to understand, Jesus finished it! 

This morning at the Fountain of Hope in Phoenix as we dropped A. off for a hot breakfast and went off to give out the rest of our gifts, Saturday morning breakfast invites, and “You are God’s Princess!” cards in 85017, the center of prostitution and sex trafficking in the state of Arizona, I heard a voice yelling at me from the bus stop:

“God BLESS you!”

I looked up to see a man yelling fervently, on his knees, rocking back and forth.

“God bless YOU, too!” I shouted.

He wasn’t done.

“You have the BREATH of GOD in you!” he shouted.

“Thank you!” I said, before stepping into the car again. I had only ever seen people get on and off the bus there, and girls wait to be picked up. One day I had actually seen a young teen get in an old pickup truck with a big, burly man because “he would give her a ride”. Today was the first day I had seen someone praying.

“You have the BREATH of GOD in you!” He had said. It could not have been a more timely moment to hear from this prophet of God, interceding right in front of the ministry. 

One of the girls we saw walking along 27th Avenue in a red tank top and leggings, crossed the street when she saw us park the SUV and start walking towards her.

I looked at Renee and said,

“Do you think she’s avoiding us?”

“I don’t know!” Renee answered.

We crossed 5 lanes of traffic and started running to catch up with her.

“Hey, good morning! We have a gift for you!” we shouted.

She jumped, looked unsure, but then broke down.

“I was scared of y’all, coming towards me!”

We apologized for scaring, introduced ourselves and asked her name (I will call her “C”) , and invited her to breakfast.

“Thank you so much. I will tell the ladies around here who need help,” she answered—but said she didn’t need it herself.

I felt led to speak,

“God is love, and there is no fear in love… and just as we walked across the street and ran after you, many times in my life I have seen God running after me and pursuing me with His love! And I believe He is doing that now for you, too!”

“Thank you,” she said, and walked off confidently, shoulders back and head held high.

We crossed back across the street and got back in Renee’s SUV. Just as we were shutting the doors to drive off, I saw C. had also crossed the street back to our side, and was walking her original path before we had scared her into crossing.

This time, she had the knuckles from both hands, next to her eyes. I’m pretty sure she was wiping them. Her self-protective exterior had softened a bit. I believe God really is pursuing her with His love and this is just one among many encounters she is having with Him. 

One of the ladies we invited understood our invitation, but I could tell she spoke Spanish, so I offered to pray for her in Spanish.

“What should we pray for?” I asked.

“That everything will be OK, and that God will take care of me,” she answered. In my experience, Hispanics have a cultural awareness of God and His protection, although not all have an intensely personal relationship with Him. But as I prayed for B., I prayed that she would know that He is her perfect Father and He takes care of her well, and that He won’t let her down. I saw some tears as we walked away.

One woman, another C., didn’t let us pray for her, and wouldn’t shake our hands because she was bruised and swollen. But she thanked us for coming and looked touched.

Today was the first day we gave out all 15 of the small lotions with the breakfast invitation and “You are God’s Princess” tags—and we even had to go back and fetch 4 more for young ladies we saw right out front of The Fountain!

Only 3 of the ladies we invited came back for breakfast this time, but when we finished handing out everything, we saw A. had finished her breakfast and was still there in the Fountain, and had made 5 bracelets for her 10 year-old daughter. We got to pray with her, and God gave me a picture of a hot air balloon that He was repairing holes in and filling with his Spirit again so that it could soar to the heights again. I told A. anytime she sees hot air balloons in the horizon, to think of this picture.

On the way home, I listened to the Bible on tape, and God blasted me with this encouragement: "If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:11

I want to be swift to hear, and slow to speak! When I speak may I be conscious that my words have meaning and power, may I speak knowing that I am God's Pure Mouthpiece!

May I speak nothing more or less than what God Himself is speaking through me! Amen.

29 October 2014

The Necessity of Beauty

It was that late-afternoon time where it’s dinner time in the United States, but not in the Dominican Republic, but my stomach still hasn’t agreed to leave me tranquila long enough to sit through a church service on empty. The women’s ministry meeting had ended, along with a serious private conversation with another missionary, and I still had twenty minutes before church started. Just enough time to slip away to buy some egg rolls from the nearest Chinese restaurant.

I paid 80 pesos for my food, and began to wait. Just in between the Chinese restaurant and the river, a small triangular park of sorts divided the road into a fork. Orange, red, and fuchsia flowering shrubs surrounded the steps leading up to the little island park, where motorcycle taxi drivers reclined on concrete benches, and a couple embraced each other in the shade. But it was the whole panorama that caught my eye as I looked out the tall doors of the Chinese restaurant, through the park, and out onto the river, where the sun was scattering rays of golden and rose-colored fire as it lowered onto the horizon.

With one egg roll down and one in my hand, I wandered across the street to take in the view. If I hadn’t been on my way to enjoy something just as beautiful—worshiping the Creator of all this beauty, with my fellow beautiful creatures—I would have stayed until the river swallowed up the sun, and its many-hued clouds gave way to darkness. But I would at least take some of the beauty with me, I reasoned as I plucked a few of the melon-toned flowers and secured them in my topknot.

Smile when you see the flowers. My friend Jasmine’s words echoed in my head. Surrounded by so much beauty, how could I help but smile?

Jasmine had sent those words to me in a text message nearly three months before. I had been visiting Arizona for the first time in my life.  Ever since I can remember, my dad has told me stories about how it was to grow up there. He said, sometimes he would be out exploring barefoot, and he would step on sticker cacti. That, apparently, hurt a lot. So he would lift up his foot, take out the stickers, and then take another  step, and lift up that foot, take out the stickers, and so on. After Dad had told this story enough times, we finally thought to ask him, “Daddy, why didn’t you just go backwards, if you were just starting the sticker patch?” I never understood that story.

But what I did understand, is that Arizona was a desert—extremely hot and dry, full of sand dunes, cactus and rattle snakes. Not so many years ago, my grandma shot a rattle snake in her backyard, and sent us the picture. This served to confirm my suspicions. Clearly, Arizona couldn’t support much life beyond desert plants and animals, and well-hydrated humans with air-conditioning.

Or at least, that’s what I thought about Arizona. Imagine my surprise when I arrived  in Phoenix in the beginning of August, and saw flowers everywhere! Every office building, every intersection, and at least half of the houses seemed to be bursting with flowers.

“They’re not natural,” my friend explained. “They are artificially irrigated, with hose underneath the ground.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the flowers. I had already been staring out the window and smiling during the whole trip, when Jasmine texted me: “Smile when you see the flowers.”

Back in the Dominican Republic, a tropical climate  where one can expect to see a wide variety of flowers all year long, I haven’t stopped smiling when I see the flowers. Sometimes I come home from a difficult day in the women’s ministry, weighed down by my own mistakes as I try to navigate cross-cultural servanthood. Then I see the flowers, and I smile.

Last week, I sat on my bed and got out my box of pastels for the first time since arriving here again in August. I drew a blonde head of hair, drawn into a low bun, arrayed with orange-red flowers at the base, and in a wreath around the crown. I wrote above and below the portrait, “Let the beauty of YHWH be upon us.”

It was in the middle of a week of whirlwind warfare. In the warfare, God repeatedly encouraged me with beautiful things… The flowers are just an outward sign of His beauty, which is my real joy and strength. Besides flowers, He gives me beautiful promises from His Word, times of beautiful prayer alone and with other believers, beautiful coincidences reminding me that He never forgets me, beautiful faces that have chosen hope in the midst of desperation, and chances to offer beauty back to Him as I dance in worship.

I echo the words of David in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have desired of YHWH, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of YHWH All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of YHWH, And to inquire in His temple.”

This one thing keeps me going… the beauty of YHWH, the great I AM, my Father, my Lover, my Savior, and Friend!

1 Chronicles 16:29 says, “Oh, worship YHWH in the beauty of His holiness!”

I am convinced that beauty is an absolute necessity in the healthy Christian life. It’s not a luxury for artists, for musicians, or for retired people. It’s the lifeline for those in the battle trenches, covered in mud and wounds. We need beauty to survive in this battle.

We must recognize beauty, we must seek it out, we must enjoy it, we must dwell on it. We don’t recognize beauty and ignore ugliness and pain. Rather, exactly because we can’t ignore the pain, we must seek out the good. Exactly because are surrounded by ugliness, we must fight to dwell on the beauty of our King.

Good old Philippians 4:8 is not just a memory verse…it’s the only way to survive the mess we’re in, without becoming part of it. The Message says it this way: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

The New King James says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Beauty is not an escape from pain. It’s the only antidote. As we offer God our pain and shed tears for the broken lives all around us, He offers us His beauty for our ashes, the only kind of beauty that can satisfy our souls, and offer some hope for us. It’s that beauty and hope that we carry back to the very ones we cry for.  

Whether you are in a dry land where you didn’t expect to see flowers, or fighting spiritual battles in a tropical land, somewhere, somehow, God has put beauty in front of you. Take time for it. Find it and enjoy it. Or rather, find Him and enjoy Him,  because He is beauty! Take time for Him! Come behold the beauty of YHWH!

"I came to love you late, O Beauty, so ancient and new; I came to love you late. You were within me and I was outside where I rushed about wildly searching for you like some monster loose in your beautiful world. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called me, you shouted to me. You broke past my deafness. You bathed me in your light, you wrapped me in your splendor, you sent my blindness reeling. You gave out such a delightful fragrance, and I drew it in and came breathing hard after you. I tasted, and it made me hunger and thirst, you touched me, and I burned to know your peace." --St. Augustine

15 August 2014

To the mis-informed, mis-taught, and distraught: Purity is not what you think

It's been awhile since I've formed a rebuttal or even considered engaging in any kind of semi-intellectual, semi-theological debate of sorts on any article posted on Facebook or elsewhere. While I do read thoughtfully, I don't usually care to win the argument. 

But this title grabbed my attention. What a sad title! As I browsed the first few paragraphs, my grief and frustration only grew. 

I am so sorry for the author. While it's good to think about how you were raised, and try to find the Truth, this author's search unfortunately left her without any faith in God, because "I couldn't figure out how to be religious and sexual at the same time."

How sad.

Sad, because God wants a relationship with us--but the lies Samantha Pugsley grew up believing were religion devoid of relationship. Religion always destroys relationships with God and others. 

But God is so much more than that! 

And, dare I say, sex as God designed it is so much more than what Samantha was taught. 

God says to have no other idols before Him, and that includes purity. This author is right to recognize that purity has become an idol for many in the Church. Any time we lift up a standard of holiness above the Holy God, we risk creating an idol. 

As someone still on the purity side of the fence, though, purity is not an idol for me. I struggle with my share of idols and could write long books about them, but first, let's talk about this article. 

Purity certainly is an idol for some, and that can be very damaging, as Samantha lets on. My head hurts and my heart cries a little to read the first couple paragraphs of this article. This is surely not purity as God, or His Word conceived it, or as many solid churches preach it. I am sorry to hear that some churches teach stuff like this, or are perceived to teach stuff like this. A Biblical, [truly] liberating, and joyful celebration of sex as God created it is not like the distorted teachings she describes. 

Lie #1: "I would go to Hell if I did it" The woman caught in adultery didn't go to Hell, as far as we know. Jesus said that the one who is without sin could be the first to stone her--so, of course, she wasn't stoned. Then He told her to turn from her sin and walk free. That's because we all deserve Hell, no matter what kind of sin we commit--be it lying, lustful thoughts, coveting someone else's stuff, slander, of course the list goes on. The list does NOT go on because God wants to make our lives miserable. On the contrary, the list goes on because He is Holy and can't look on sin. Little do we know, until we turn to God for help, His holiness is actually our eternal happiness. That's because even though our sin separates us from Him, our source of true and lasting joy, He is a God of relationship. (I mean, duh, He created sex for one thing!) He couldn't bear to be separated from us, so He sent someone else to take the separation.... Jesus. Jesus' sacrifice and victory over sin and death, in our place, is the reason NOTHING can separate us from the love of Christ, not sexual sin or hate or murder or anything....anyone who has taught anything differently is lying. 

Lie #2: "[A]s a girl, I had a responsibility to my future husband to remain pure for him. It was entirely possible that my future husband wouldn’t remain pure for me, because he didn’t have that same responsibility, according to the Bible." Whoa, just whoa. I have NEVER read that in the Bible. Shame on anyone who ever taught anything like that. I just did a search for the word "sexual" in the Bible and really can't see how anyone would get a one-sided message from any of the verses that appear. Does the Church sometimes, especially historically, put an undue burden on the women involved, more than the men? Yes. It goes way farther back than just Christianity, though. Does God teach this in His Word? Absolutely not. In fact, it was Jesus Himself who stopped the Pharisees from stoning the woman caught in adultery. 

But there's something more subtle at work here than the obvious inequality Samantha claims she was taught. She says she was taught to remain pure "for him". Really, really wrong motivation! What if there is no future husband? Does that mean all our "saving ourselves" is for nothing? More on this later. 

Half]-Lie #3: "[I]t would be my duty to fulfill my husband’s sexual needs" Anyone teaching this to women alone, is twisting God's Word again.... 1 Corinthians 7 clearly states that the man should serve his wife's sexual needs. Every time it mentions the expectations for the man or the woman, it mentions the same expectations for the other, "in the same way". This is because a committed, monogamous relationship will have issues that will require BOTH sides "submitting to one another in love" (also a Biblical mandate) for the good of the man, the woman, and the relationship in the short and long term. 

Lie #4: "[I]f I remained pure, my marriage would be blessed by God and if I didn’t that it would fall apart " Works-based theology didn't work for Job, or Stephen, or a lot of people throughout the Bible, so I see no reason anyone would think it does now. Except that all of us, even teachers, are "prone to wander"--and unfortunately lead others astray when we do.  

Major result of all the lies, #1: "It became my entire identity by the time I hit my teen years". Purity should never be an identity.... our identity is that we belong to Christ! Not just our sexual thoughts and actions.... but our whole beings! We are sons and daughters of a loving Father God! 

Major result of all the lies, #2: "[S]ex felt dirty and wrong and sinful even though I was married" God help us!  So sad! The Bible doesn't say this, and churches don't usually say it, either! But we need to speak up more about why this is not true! I myself am convinced that sex is a gift from God. He gives good gifts to His children! While it might not always be perfect, He created it to be fun, and life-giving both literally and figuratively, when within the bounds of a committed monogamous relationship between a man and woman. Maybe it's easy for me to see this because I am so sure of God's goodness and love for me! Not just love far removed or distant.... but a personal love--the love of a wonderful Daddy for His little girl. 

Now, outside of God's design I do believe that sex, which exposes our deepest vulnerabilities as humans physically, emotionally, and spiritually--brings some of the deepest pain we can know as humans. That is why God forbids it--because He loves us and wants to spare us that pain. But if we've experienced it, and we turn to Him for help, He will not turn His back on us. He didn't turn His back on David after he repented for his adultery. He will forgive, heal, make beauty out of ashes, and help us to live pure lives before Him. That's the beauty of grace!

For my part, I ask for God's strength and grace to be pure in my thoughts and actions, not in order to have a great marriage, earn God's favor, or gain anything at all.... but rather because obedience is God's love language! 

I can only love Him, because He first loved me. There truly is nothing sweeter than walking closely with Him--not even extra-marital sex or other habits of the mind and eyes that will ultimately harm me and grieve my Creator, who I delight to honor. 

That said, am I pure? Well, purity is not a box to check or a line we either have crossed or not--it's a lifestyle of submission to Christ, who alone can keep us pure. Without Him, even if we don't check that box or cross that line, we are powerless against the sins of the mind. Jesus said if we even look at another to lust after them, we have already committed adultery with them in our hearts. God, help us! (And, He does!)

It is Christ who purifies me. It is "Christ [who] also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25b-27)

I am not pure for my future husband, but instead I am pure for and through Christ. 

If my purity were to please the Church, or my future husband (who may or may not actually exist), it would just be another false hope, another foundation of shifting sand, another idol. The only sure foundation is Christ! 

Again, am I pure? Not always, and certainly never on my own strength. Proverbs 22:9 says, "Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”?" Not I. But, in the words of a wise friend, "yoked to Jesus, I am free to walk in righteousness." 

Grace and peace to you. 

05 February 2014

Cast your net!

At the international student Bible Study on Friday night, we studied the story of Jesus telling His (future) disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. These were simple fishermen who had been working all day without any luck. To their surprise, they caught a huge amount of fish. Astonished, Peter recognized Jesus' lordship. Jesus responded by telling them to follow Him, and He would make them fishers of men. 

We asked how Peter probably felt when God told him to just cast the net on the other side.

"Frustrated," was a common answer. 

After all, he had been fishing all day. Come on. There's no reason the fish would just magically appear and flock to the other side of the boat. It was unreasonable, but Jesus said it, they did it, and the results were more than they ever could have imagined--let alone caught on their own.

I felt like God spoke directly to me through that. 

If I do ministry my way, I can fish all day and catch nothing. That's frustrating. The Spirit's instructions to "cast my net on the other side" can seem unreasonable and ridiculous. But if I will just obey, if I will just take Him at His Word, I will truly bear fruit---more than ever before! 

14 December 2013

The "L" Word

A lot of times we think of "lust" as simply something we do when we look twice, or for too long, and our thoughts start crossing boundaries.

But the greater issue behind lust is objectifying people--seeing them as minions to serve our own ends. Thinking of ourselves as deserving something from them. It takes place in our minds first, but it doesn't stay there. Objectifying people means taking advantage of them in the moment without considering the consequences of our actions. Assuming we know all we need to know about them, instead of stopping to listen and get to know them. Manipulating them to do what we want them to do, for our purposes.

Objectifying people sabotages our calling as children of God, to proclaim salvation and show the love of the Father. If we are in the habit of lusting after or objectifying people, we can't simultaneously walk in our calling to be ministers of reconciliation. We need to first be reconciled to God! If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:9).

Oh, my God YHWH, help us. We can only stop objectifying and start loving, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit You have given us. So come, Lord, come. Enter into our lust, into our objectifying of others. Redeem our thoughts and our actions. Help us to see our fellow humans as they are--made in Your image, not ours. Because of that alone, they are worthy of dignity and respect. May You help us see that others are made for Your purposes and glory, not ours.

May we no longer see any man according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). May we follow the radical example of Jesus with the woman at the well, who surprised her with His pure intentions of simply speaking truth and showing love, after so many men had sought her out to serve their own ends. We deserve nothing from You God, but You lavish Your love on us. May we do the same to others, expecting nothing in return except the smile of our Heavenly Father.

Amen! Asi sea.

31 October 2013

the best battle plan: fighting to rest

Back in August, God was teaching me about trusting in Him for a certain situation out of my control. Well, actually, several situations. (They always seem to abound! Because I never have control! News flash!) 

I just randomly opened up to 2 Chroncles 20 and God started speaking to me. As you intercede for your the lost, for reconciliation, for healing, for justice, for the church, for anything at all you are going through, follow this battle plan.

It's the battle plan of a people who don't actually have a plan. The threat is too big. It's out of their control. So their lack of a plan turns into the following response. It's a pretty amazing story. 

vs. 1-2 the threat arises
 It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).

vs. 3-4: choosing to seek YHWH earnestly as a people gathered together
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

vs. 5-9: remembering God's power, promises, and faithfulness
Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’

vs. 10-12a: making a bold request for salvation
And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. O our God, will You not judge them? 

vs 12b: admitting our total dependence on God (so beautiful)
For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.

vs. 13: waiting on God! 
Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.

vs 14-15a: God speaks 
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! 

vs. 15b: God instructs us not to fear--to look at Him instead of the circumstances 
Thus says YHWH to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

vs 16-17: Special instructions
Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battlePosition yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of YHWH, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”

vs. 18-19: Humble worship and loud praise
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high.

vs. 20a: The people rise up early to obey God's instructions
So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; 

vs. 20b: Faith in God precedes the success of the mission from God:
and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” 

vs. 21: Sing praise as you go out to fight the battle
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever.”

vs. 22-25: God moves during the praises of His people to fulfill His promises
Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. 

vs. 26: The people gather to bless God in the valley (bless God in the valleys where He has given you victory!)
And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed YHWH; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah [blessing] until this day. 

vs. 27-28: The people praise God with joy and music 
Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of YHWH. 

vs. 29: The fame of YHWH's Name and His glory spread throughout the territory
And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 

vs. 30: The people who had waited quietly in spite and in the midst of turmoil, now enjoy the blessing and rest and peace of God:
Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.

God gave him rest all around! I could use some of that rest all around. Not rest because nothing ever happens to me, or I'm never in any "impossible" battles... but rest in knowing that God is on His throne. Rest in knowing that I am His child. Rest in knowing that He has overcome the world. Rest in what I cannot see. FAITH.

Arriving at this kind of rest is not something you work up or meditate on until it pops up on your radar. That's not what Jehoshaphat and his people did. They did what the people did in 2 Chronicles 15:15, where the same phrase is used. They sought Him with all their soul: "And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around." 

True "rest all around" doesn't mean you don't fight. It means you stop fighting on your own strength. ("Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" --Galatians 3:3). By faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, you fight to seek God with everything you are. 

I have so much still to learn about rest! It all starts with admitting my insufficiency and seeking God.

"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me." (John 15:3-4)

What has God taught you about rest?

18 October 2013

on the frustrations and graces in serving

If we back up to 7 years ago, I remember when I first realized I had to act on the compassion God had given me. That I was anointed to preach good tidings to the least of these.

In the weeks after my church youth group's inner city mission trip in Charlotte, North Carolina, it was clear we were impacted by what God had shown us. We compiled our testimonies into a book, printed and bound, with home grown artwork of Jesus' hands holding the world. We called it "I See Yo' Hand!", after the loud observation we had heard during the puppet show Bible story we performed for the kids.

After that trip, I started volunteering every Sunday afternoon with the 10 - 18 year old girls in an inner city ministry center. 

A couple of memories stand out above the rest. The first is of Desirae, the defiant little girl with the matted hair who smelled like no one had cared to wash her or her clothes for weeks. She had lice crawling in her hair and mud caked on her knees, and she spoke with a raspy, hardened voice. In spite of everything, Desirae was a beautiful child. But her brown eyes were full of too much pain for her four years of life. She was fiercely independent, and, at the same time, just as fiercely loyal to her sister and brother. Something inside me told me evil had taken advantage of that beauty. During rare moments, something inside of her would snap, and she would cling to me or sit in my lap. Her tears became mine as I cried out to God to for healing and justice
I also remember the time someone I ministered with blew up at a homeless man. I only vaguely remember the reason why--I think he had shown up at the wrong time for the meal or the food pantry. But it didn't seem anything which merited disturbing the whole block with angry shouts.

Afterwards, the person I was ministering with explained that the man should have known when to come, and this kind of behavior couldn't be tolerated anymore.

To me, all I saw were moving lips, saying a lot of things, but never apologizing or expressing regret for the outburst. How could you preach the Gospel to the same people you scream at? I wondered.

It doesn't make any sense to minister full-time to people you don't really love, I reasoned. What a terrible, meaningless, way to live. 

Although I didn't put it into words, I felt that I was the compassionate one. I was the one that really cared about that homeless person's feelings, and about little girls like Desirae.

I couldn’t relate to the leader’s anger or weariness. 

But for me, the superiority I felt to my co-laborer meant that I was ultimately serving myself in the name of serving God and others. I was feeling good about myself, and critiquing others--on the inside, anyway. 

Now I’m a “grown-up.” I’m a missionary, actually, even though the word still sounds strange on my tongue. I’m not a 16-year-old volunteer anymore, or a college kid masquerading as a social critic.
Now, I am daily fighting the battle against spiritual and physical poverty.

But I’m not so different from you. You have jobs that are minefields of spiritual warfare. You have ministries, families, marriages. You have relationships that need restoration. We’re all soldiers at war, battling against the powers of darkness. And we can all get weary, just like the woman who yelled at the homeless man.

At least, I get weary. It's a good thing Jesus has a special invitation for people who are weary: Come to Me! That's exactly what I'm doing... coming to Him with my questions.

Questions I never asked myself so many years ago, now run through my head often--even though I don't work face-to-face with the microloan associates. . Usually, I am in the office supporting those who work face-to-face with those in poverty--like the loan officers who sometimes must work long hours in the scorching sun, going from house to house to collect payments from associates who are behind in their payments--but who still take time to visit and pray for sick group members. 

The point is, I'm asking questions I wasn't before. And God is answering. 

Questions and answers like:

Q: How do you both hold yourself to unattainable standards and love others without any standards at all?

A: This is the crux of the religious spirit, approval addiction, and a host of emotional and spiritual sicknesses—and it brings with it a world of weariness.
You don’t. You don’t measure up to your own standards or to anyone else’s—let alone, God’s. But that’s convenient, because neither do the people you serve!
That’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the Only One that measures up, and the grace He lavishes on us in spite of all our failures extends to the most wretched creature willing to accept it.

Q: How do you have patience with those who refuse to learn what you sacrifice so much to teach? You know, the ones who nonchalantly disregard you and all the work you’ve done?

A: That’s kind of what we do to Jesus every time we gossip, complain, or lust. We disregard all He came to teach us, and yet He keeps having patience on us. We choose to walk in the dead works of the flesh instead of in the abundant life He died for us to have. That’s gotta hurt.

But He doesn’t turn His back on us. If we return to Him, He will return to us. He is always ready to receive truly repentant hearts.

His love is not bound by our feeble incapacity to forgive ourselves or others. He never stops loving us. He always lives to intercede for us. He stood in the firing line for us, and now He’s come back to defend our cause before a righteous Judge.

That’s amazing grace and riches of mercy.

And as we accept it, we pour it out on others.

Q: How do you keep loving someone you exist to tirelessly serve, but who betrays you?

A:  In John 13:2, we read that the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus.  In the very next sentence, Jesus stands up and begins to wash the feet of His disciples.

“And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.’” –John 13:2-5

I have to wonder, what was running through His head as he immersed the filthy feet of Judas into the washbasin, and later wiped them with the towel? How did it feel to so humbly serve the one who would soon ensure your own murder?

I’m sure it hurt like hell. Rejection hurts. Rejection by those you love and trust hurts even more. But betrayal hurts most of all.

But in the midst of all that pain, Jesus loved.

For me, this brings new meaning to Jesus’ words at the end of the episode: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

Jesus serves people who don’t measure up, people who disregard Him, and people who betray Him. People like me—and you.

Once we get that kind of crazy love into our heads, we will never be able to complain about those we serve. Instead, we will identify with them on a deep level.

I’m not the one who measures up, expecting others to measure up.
I don’t measure up.  Only Jesus’ blood washes me clean from all sin.

I’m not the one being ignored or rejected.
I have ignored and rejected Christ.  Only the Father’s grace allows me to accept and obey Christ.

I’m not the one who is betrayed.
I was a betrayer. Only in the Holy Spirit am I empowered to be faithful.

Maybe if we all pause and let Jesus wash our feet, it will help us remember that what’s really important is not the distinction between the servants and the served, or who serves the best, or whether the people we serve conform to our expectations—but just that as Christ loved us, so we love others.

That in all things He might have preeminence!