Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Compelling Love

It was love that compelled me that day at the Ace Hardware cash register.  I don't mind telling you this story because there was nothing about it that my flesh would have chosen; therefore, I can't boast.  The man checking out in front of me couldn't get his debit card to work.  As he went to his car to get another source of payment, God whispered over me that I should pay for his items.  I quickly paid for his items as well as my own and walked out of the store, never knowing his reaction to God's love on him.  I was simply a vessel of grace, and I knew it wasn't about me at all.  The truth is, I would have rather spent the money on myself.  I assure you the pineapple candle on aisle 9 looked way more appealing than his sack of tools.  But, the God of love compelled me to do something different.

After my sister shockingly passed away seven years ago, I was the recipient of such grace-moments.  Stranger after stranger knocked on my glass door, arms heavy laden with poppyseed chicken casseroles, pot roast, and brownies.  They didn't know me from Adam.  It must have been the love of God that compelled them to sacrifice their money, time, and comfort zones as they boldly brought me nourishment at a time my soul was starving. Those strangers are now friends and I am so glad they listened to the nudging of the Holy Spirit to reach out in love.

It is love that compels people to save up money every month in order to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  I know families that budget this item every month so that they can pack not just one but hundreds and hundreds of boxes in the month of November.  These people will more than likely never meet the children who open their small gifts.  These people will probably never be thanked.  It is simply the love of God that ignites a fire in these shoebox packers to get the gospel message out to as many children over the world as possible.

I don't know if you have noticed, but the days are growing dark.  Evil is lurking everywhere, it seems.  I see it in the foolish choices of our national leaders.  I see it in a nation that wants Planned Parenthood's funding to continue, despite the evidence of babies being murdered, chopped up, and sold off.  I see it in a teacher who flunks a young student because she refuses to deny her Christian faith.  I see it in an Iranian Nuclear deal that vows to wipe the apple of God's eye off the planet. I see it in the firing of a high school coach, all because of his post game prayers.  I see it in a Bishop who wants to remove all of the crosses from church because they might be offensive*** to Muslims. 

Just to clear the confusion:  we are not a Christian nation anymore.  We are now a nation that persecutes Believers in Christ.

How on earth did we get here?  It was a slow fade, like the beautiful sunset that quietly disappears over the horizon.

The days are increasingly dark.  But, there is still a flame inside of us.  When night hovers with an oppressive choke, God's light will shine more brightly.  He will use us as conduits of His love.  Everyday, we can put aside our flesh and our comfort zones and ask how He might love through us.  It's the compelling love of God that will indeed win this dark battle.  All the powers of hell will never conquer God's true church.  Love well, dear soul.

"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."  John 13:35

***As a side note, yes the cross is offensive

"The cross declares how dire is our condition apart from Jesus. It announces how deep the sin goes, how profound the rebellion is, how impossible is our plight apart from Help from the outside. There’s nothing we can do, no effort we can exert, no law we can follow.

The message of Christ crucified says you’re an absolute failure in relation to what’s most important. The horror of killing the Son of God points to the horror of our condition. The badness of Good Friday is a tribute to the badness in us.

The cross embodies some of the most offensive things possible you could say about someone in relation to God and eternity. This gruesome death Jesus died, you earned it. The hell Jesus endured, you deserved it, forever. The shame he underwent, the scorn, the disrespect, the hurt — all these are as suitable to us sinners as they’re unsuitable to the sinless one." David Mathis

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sight for the Broken and Barren

There was a certain man who went by the name of Manoah.  He was from the tribe of Dan, a very Jewish tribe, but also very close to the Philistine border.  God had turned the Jewish people over to the hand of the Philistines, due to their evil hearts that spewed forth evil acts.  But, God had set Manoah and his wife aside for His purposes. 

I wonder how many accumulations of months piled upon each other as Manoah’s wife bled deep, her head giving her husband the slightest of shakes.  No baby this time.  I wish I knew her name.  It seems all of the barren and broken women of the world at least deserve a name. 

It was the mercy of God that delivered the Israelites into the hand of their enemy for forty years.  Perhaps that sounds backwards, but He would stop at nothing to have their devotion and love. If ra` (evil) would turn into ra’ah (sight and understanding) only through the hands of a cruel enemy, then so be it.  It was also the mercy of God that would implant a son into Manoah’s wife’s womb.  It was this same mercy of God that would raise this son called Samson up with supernatural strength sewn into each fiber of muscle, a strength that began to deliver Israel. 

They saw Him, you know.  Manoah and his wife beheld Christ Himself.  The broken and barren woman even received a double portion of His presence.  You can’t tell me Jesus doesn’t see the downcast.  Chances are, Manoah and his bride only realized after He left that it was God Himself.  But, the Word is clear.  The Word Himself brought word about their hoped for son.  

The wife saw the Messenger first.  She was given clear instructions on how to raise her son.  He was to be a Nazarite, set apart from wine, razor, and unclean things.  She told her husband the instructions, but Manoah wanted his own taste of glory and begged God to send the Messenger one more time.  God must have smiled down at Manoah as He commissioned Christ to come down again.  Funny thing, Jesus appeared to Manoah’s wife this second time when she was all alone, just like the first!  She had to run to find her husband so he wouldn’t miss out again.  Manoah finally takes in the Presence and begs for the chance to send up a burnt offering, which the Messenger receives.  

Manoah inquires the Messenger’s name but is given only that it is “Wonderful.” The Hebrew word would be pala: to be wonderful, set apart, distinguished, astonishing, extraordinary. Pala is almost always used with God as the subject.  A normal angel would never refer to himself as pala.  It simply must be Jesus here!

If one thing is true, it is this:  when Jesus appears, we can see!  The same word for appear in Hebrew is to see in Hebrew.  Jesus appears and Manoah later tells his wife that they have seen God.  Without an appearance, there is no spiritual sight.  Without an intervention by the Redeemer, ra` (evil) will escalate and no ra’ah (sight) can be given. 

Perhaps you are broken and barren from unanswered prayer.  Perhaps you are in desperate need of sight.  Rest in this truth:  there is a Savior who sees all.  His eye is upon you and the insufferable ache.  Christ’s presence is with you…even if you don’t recognize Him at first.  Pray for sight, and you will see that He was with you all along, His mercy allowing the difficulty that would bring you straight back to his heart.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The God of Rain

Seems like such an odd thing to be praying for since we are entering a season that tends to be more wet.
 So, maybe it is a prayer for the spiritual realm instead of the physical, but the concept comes from a very physical and tangible concept.

God showered it over me:  the former and the latter rain.

I know what you are thinking, "What on earth is the former and the latter rain?!"  Because that was what was running through my head when every verse I encountered had to do with this subject.

James 5:7  "...he hath long patience for it, until he receives the early and latter rain."

Deuteronomy 11:13-14 "...if you obey...I will give you the rain of your land in his due season...the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil."

Job 29:23 "And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain."

Proverbs 16:15 "In the light of the king's countenance is life, and his favour is as a cloud of latter rain."

Hosea 6:3  "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD, his going forth is prepared as the morning, and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."

Joel 2:23  "He gave the former rain moderately, he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month..."

Jeremiah 5:24  "...neither say they in their heart, let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season, he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest."

Zechariah 10:1  "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them the showers of rain, to everyone, grass in the field."

I am not trying to take things out of context...just wanted you to see that this concept is everywhere! 

But, what does it mean?

On a surface and very practical level, the Palestinian area where Israel is located only receives a significant amount of rain a couple of times a year.  The first time is in the autumn months...around September or October.  This rain is for the purpose of preparing the ground for seed to be sown.  It sometimes only comes as a dew, but it softens the ground enough for the seed to take root into the earth.

The next rain comes in the spring, around April or May.  It comes just before harvest time, which occurs around June.  This rain develops and grows the crops so that the harvest will be plentiful.  It is a harder rain than the former rain.

I am not a dummy.  It would require great faith to live in this kind of environment and expect a crop every year. 

Sometimes what is physical for the Jewish people can be spiritual for the church.  So, what would that look like for us?  Why should we be concerned with a concept known as former and latter rain?

Many associate rain with the Holy Spirit (see Is. 44:3-4).  What if rain could be tied to a soul harvest?  If the former rain softens the soil and allows a seed to be planted, then maybe God uses our witness in this way.  God softens a person's soul, waters the seed that has been planted, and a harvest comes later on.

The rains always had to do with a harvest, so if we are going to apply it to our spiritual lives, then we can't forget this!  How might this work for believers?

In Clarke's words, God wants to do two things:
1.  Impregnate the seed when sown
2.  Fill the ear of wheat near the time of harvest (He wants to ensure what was promised.)

How might this apply?

 Here are just a few ways...

 1.  We can ask God to sow an understanding of Jesus and His rain on it til it is manifested in our lives!  (We can ask the Holy Spirit to rain on our talents and gifts and use them for His glory!)

2.  We can look around and see what God is doing in our lives and ask God to send rain to bring about the result (for our family, God has sown a seed for loving the nations and we are asking God to bring rain to show us what to do with that love.)

3.  We can ask God to send rain on our children's souls...that He would soften the ground for salvation, or rain on the Word that has been implanted in their they will know Him and live their lives to glorify Him.

4.  We can ask God to restore the years the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2) (Through sin, suffering, and/or trials, things in life may have been stripped away...we can ask God for rain to send a bountiful repayment.)

5.  We can pray for rain to fall on our finances...that what we have will go far...and that if He wants to bless us with more, that it will be used for His purposes and name's sake.

6.  We can pray rain over our church and country.  (We can pray for a turning from sin and a turning to God's pure heart...we can pray that rain might lead to a revival of sorts...a true soul harvest.)

7.  We can pray rain over our friends' wombs and arms that are longing for children...that God would prepare the "ground" and fatten and grow that baby until the "harvest."

What seeds are you desiring to be planted?  They can be spiritual and physical!  Pray for the former soften and prepare the ground for it to take root...and then pray for the latter rain, expecting God to come through on His promise!

I think Jesus wants us to know that He is our former and our latter rain.  He came softly the first time, as a suffering servant.  But, when He comes again, it will be as the King of Kings, noticeable, and where everyone will witness His glory.  In our lives, He is both, as well....the one who allows things to start, and the one who brings them to completion.  Our alpha.  Our omega.  Our former rain.  Our latter rain.  Our very living water. (Jn. 7:38)

This idea of former and latter rain goes much deeper when dealing with the nation of Israel, but I wanted to focus on the church today. 

What would rain do for you right now?  Pray for rain.  And then you better open that pretty little mouth of yours wide open!
"For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground:
  I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:
 and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses."  Isaiah 44: 3-4

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Asher {2 years 6 months}

I just didn't know how fast the days would go with the 4th born.  You would have thought I would have understood, having three before him, but it seems time is moving faster and faster.  I wish I could capture his lil' cheeks and made up words and put them in a bottle.  Asher is the sweetest thing, even for a two year old.  {That's not saying he won't poop in the bathwater or create a disaster zone out of his mass amounts of animals!}  He loves life and he makes us love it a little more, as well. 
Two years and six months.  Goodness, where's the Kleenex box?  There are some things I want to hold onto...
*Loves to sing.  His fave song is "Hallelu Hallelu Hallelu Hallelujah!  Praise ye the LORD!"  Of course, we thought for weeks he was going around the house saying, "Hide yo crazy, boy!"  Praise Ye can sound quite akin to Crazy!
*Entered the world of make believe.  His favorite little figurines are Elmo, Grover, Snuffy, and Big Bird, but he also loves all things animal...stuffed or plastic.
*Picky Eater.  Still.  Sigh.  Unless it's fruit, then he can't get enough.
*In big boy bed.  Bottom bunk and sharing a room with Sam.  Works well until 6 am every morning when he is up because his brothers are.  :(
*Still naps about 2 hours everyday.  (Praise Ye the LORD)
*Super tall for his age, wearing 4T in shirts because his torso is so long.
*He's hard to say 'no' to's either because I'm old and tired or because he's super adorable and cute.
*He loves to kick the soccer ball around, shoot hoops in his little goal, slide, and play catch.
*Books.  Still obsessed. We climb into his bottom bunk with mass amounts until I convince him it's naptime.
*He's the best mannered person in our whole family...almost always says please and thank you!
*Social.  Tells people hi and bye wherever we go. (Sometimes this embarrasses Cade which really cracks me up.)
*Loves Kroger and Target. (Maybe because we spend half our days at these places!)
*Likes to try to color and likes sticker books.
*Hates shoes.  Would rather not wear them.  Like ever.
*Still not interested in potty training. (I'm still trying to figure out how to potty train a kid that has to be on the go and in the car all the time!)
*Hates it when he drops off his, youth group, sports...he sighs with frustration and screams, Ahhhh!!!
*Knows some letters and counts starting with 8:  8, 9, 10, 18!!!  (Who needs 1-7 anyway?)
*Loves order and for things to be in the right place.  Dislikes being dirty. Tries to help the older boys fold clothes and unload the dishwasher.
*When I tell him to do something specific, he looks at me and holds up his toy and says, "I wanna play."  Stinker almost gets away with it.
*Prayer Warrior.  Obsessed with praying multiple times at the dinner table.
*Happy happy happy.  Our little double portion of joy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Digging Ditches

Does the concept of Old Testament Israel being divided into two separate kingdoms confuse you as much as it does me?  Well, let me try to break it down real easy-like for us both!

The people of Israel asked for a king, so God relented and gave them their desires. They weren't content with God being the True King, they wanted flesh and blood.  If only they knew what they were getting themselves into!  So, the first three kings were Saul, David, and Solomon.  They each reigned 40 years.

What happened was that Solomon was not faithful to what God required.  He married a whole lotta women, a lotta them foreigners.  This was a no-no.  So, God tells Solomon that he will separate the great kingdom and create two kingdoms after Solomon dies. 

Unfaithfulness always creates division.

So, God names the upper region, Israel. They didn't have a single good king.  Not one.  They reigned from 7 days to over 40 years, but not a single one got it right by pleasing God.

The lower region, Judah, was the one where God would continue His namesake.  There were good and bad kings, but the good ones continued to worship God as Yahweh.

 Enter the passage that I can't get out of my head:  2 Kings chapter 3.

Joram is the King of the North (Israel) and Jehoshaphat is the King of the South (Judah).  Joram's problem is this:  the King of Moab had to supply a tribute/tax of a huge allotment of sheep to the North.  But, the King of Moab (Mesha) rebelled.  Joram decided to go to Jehoshaphat for help to fight against Moab for the rebellion.

For whatever reason, the King of Edom gets on board as well, so you have three Kings and their armies entering into the Desert of Edom, which must have been the best route to Moab.

After marching for seven days in the wilderness, they run into a huge crisis.

Maybe you experienced it this summer.

No rain.

Zilp. Zada.  No water for the men and no water for the animals.

Catch the Kings' two differing responses.  Joram, the one who did evil in God's sight, immediately responds with this:  "God has gotten us three kings out here to dump us into the hand of Moab."

Jehoshaphat's (the southern king who worshipped God) response is different, "Isn't there a prophet of God anywhere around through whom we can consult God?"

One king wanted to avoid God, the other wanted to seek His face through the prophet.

Elisha agrees to seek God's face on behalf of Jehoshaphat, because he has respect for him as king.

God comes back with this:  "Dig ditches all over the valley."

 Umm. Whaaat?

Here is what God says in full:  "Make this valley full of ditches. For this is what the LORD says:  You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink.  This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD; he will also hand Moab over to you.  You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town.  You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones."  (2 Kings 3:16-19)

They obeyed.  They couldn't make it rain, but they did what they could. Despite their thirst and despite the fact that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, they sank down low into the hard earth and dug for all they were worth.

God was true to His word.  The next morning, the water had arrived.  The only thing I can figure out is that it rained far away, in a high region, and the water came into the valley as a flash flood, filling the trenches full. But, I guess God could have done it any way He pleased.  He is God like that!

Here's one of the best parts!  Moab looked into the valley, and having not seen it rain, they believed the reflection of the liquid in the trenches was blood.  They assumed the three kings and their armies had turned on one another.  The Moabites entered the camp and were surprised to have all the other armies surround them instead.  The king of Moab quickly realized his mistake.

Here is what keeps jumping out at me (ESV):  "I will make this dry streambed full of pools." In other words, He is going to fill the valley with water.

I don't know what you need water for, but I want to encourage isn't up to you to produce it! 

Here are a few things that I hope stick with me after studying this passage:

1.  Only God brings what we need

2.  He does it in different ways (He allowed Elijah to see and hear the rain and wind (1 Kings 18:45)...with Elisha, he neither sees nor hears it.) "Many a blessing has been lost by Christians not believing it to be a blessing because it did not come in the particular shape which they had conceived to be proper and right." Spurgeon

 3.  God's instructions to us often don't make sense...he told Noah to build an ark (they had never even seen rain!), he told an army to march around a city, and he told this group to dig ditches.

4.  When He gives an instruction, we should do the thing and then expect the blessing. "Men will, when they expect a thing, prepare for the reception of it." Spurgeon

5.  Faith obeys the instruction before receiving the first sign of fulfillment of the promise.

What I keep asking myself is this:  Do I have the faith to dig ditches?  Or will my response to the wilderness be like Joram's, that God has only brought me thus far to leave me to the enemy?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

White Cottage Bungalow {Refusal of Rest Leads to Captivity}

It’s when the air exhales summer and inhales the crisp, fresh bite of a fall apple that I get a hankering to own a cabin.  I find myself daydreaming, nestled in my white cottage bungalow, buried deep in pine needles and wild flowers.  I am a solitary confinement type of gal which is probably why God gave me four busy kids, pulling me out of myself and into the lives of others.

But, for one moment, let me dwell there.  For one season, let me rest.  I’d have to take my Tempurpedic pillow and mattress, fleece leopard jammies, Minnetonka house shoes, and mass amounts of strong coffee laced with Sweet Italian Cream.  God’s letter to me in one hand and commentaries on how to interpret it would be sprawled everywhere.  I’d be covered in Bethel music, C. S. Lewis tales, and the quilt my Great Aunts pieced by hand.

I’d listen for only one voice…the most beautiful voice in the universe.

I’ve thought about the Sabbath and how honoring it was for our good.  It wasn’t just another harsh rule from a so-called hard to please God.  God knit every sinew of our beings together and wove a beautiful soul in the hidden places.  Wouldn’t that God know that His precious beings needed rest?

Perhaps the greatest reason that the Israelites were taken into captivity is because they didn’t let the land rest and lay fallow every seven years like God instructed.  If it’s one thing I want to carry forward from this moment, it’s this:  refusal of rest leads to captivity.  Captivity on me looks like stress, anxiety, refusing to trust God’s heart, fear, worry, and anger.  What does captivity look like on you?

In that illusive cabin, I want to lie on His chest and listen to His heart that beats for me.

But, I bet I can start right now.