Tuesday, November 21, 2017

From Three Mountains, God Speaks:


Reading through the Bible this year, I am recognizing common threads that run throughout the Old Testament … the gospels … David’s songs … Solomon’s wisdom. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise: throughout thousands of years and dozens of human writers, it was the same Author telling the same Story.) 
Day 35 - Exodus 20-21, Matthew 23: 13-39, Psalm 28: 7-9

Terror: In Exodus, God outlines 10 commandments from atop Mount Sinai. From the midst of a dark cloud. With trumpets blaring. Complete with peals of thunder and bolts of lightning.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Thankfully, Moses was a willing intercessor; he entered the cloud that shrouded the Lord and received His commands for Israel. But the inapproachability of God, that awe-full distance, moved God’s chosen people to reject Him for a golden trinket of a god, one far less terrifying and far more manageable.

God’s treasured people neglected His law and turned to their own way: man-made idolatry.

Community: Following these 10 most familiar commandments, God’s beautiful heart shines forth in subsequent commands: mutual respect, justice and mercy for the oppressed, integrity and humility in community, and sincere worship. The flavor of these commands (if not the specifics, which can sound odd to our modern-day ears) is savory and satisfying, full of the ingredients that create a life of harmony and sacrificial love.

Woes: Flipping over to Matthew 23 was like flipping a coin to its other side. Unlike the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, huddled in fear before Yahweh, the Pharisees commended themselves as good teachers and exemplary law-followers.

And yet.

Just as those at Mount Sinai rejected the true God for a handmade imitation, so the Pharisees rejected the true God for their own misguided imitation of His laws.

Jesus didn’t pull any punches in his diatribe:
“You keep the letter of the law, but neglect God’s heart: justice mercy and faithfulness! You should have practiced them both.”

“You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Like Israel at Mount Sinai, the Pharisees neglected the true intent of God’s law and turned to their own way: self-exalting legalism.

Sorrow: Afterwards, Jesus wept. Perched on the Mount of Olives, he lamented over his people:

“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longer to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

(Only days later, he would weep on this mountain again, agonizing in prayer with His Father on the night of his arrest.)

Victory: Ultimately, it is yet another mountain, Mount Zion, which embodies the triumph of God’s kingdom and the dwelling place of His chosen people. Joyous worship replaces the terror of Mount Sinai; true righteousness in Christ replaces self-righteousness; and God’s people flock to Jesus ... the One who has fulfilled all the Old Covenant commands ... the One who welcomes His chosen people as righteous ones, made perfect in Him.

… you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them… the sight was so terrifying that Moses said “I am trembling with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant and to his sprinkled blood…” 
(Hebrews 12:18-24)
So, what is God saying to us from atop these mountains?

Don't turn away from Him in fear; turn to Him in faith.
Resist the urge to create a safer, more manageable god; exalt Him, not yourself.
Live a life of Love and Mercy and Justice. In His name.
Let Him take you under His wing.

And worship Him with great joy!




Saturday, November 18, 2017

Impossible!

Reading through the Bible this year, I am recognizing common threads that run throughout the Old Testament … the gospels … David’s songs … Solomon’s wisdom. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise: throughout thousands of years and dozens of human writers, it was the same Author telling the same Story.) Those threads weave a tapestry that reveal our desperate straits and God’s glorious redemption in Christ.
Day 26 – Exodus 3-5 - Matthew 18 – Psalm 22
What if they don’t believe me?
What if my clumsy speech gets in the way?
God, please send someone else! Anybody but ME!
No matter how patient God was in instructing him, Moses always had another “but...”. In his eyes, it was inconceivable that he could speak to Pharaoh in the ways Yahweh was saying, even though God was calling him to. Impossible!

We must gather our own straw now to make bricks – but still make the same quota.
Moses, you have made us abhorrent to Pharaoh and brought us nothing but anguish!
Then when Moses confronted Pharaoh, as the Lord had called him to, the Israelites suffered even more harshly under the Egyptians, and subsequently blamed Moses. How were they to make the same number of bricks, with NO straw?! What Moses was asking of Pharaoh simply wasn’t possible, and could never come to pass. He would never release them to worship their God. Impossible.
How can I become like a child, Jesus, which You say is the only way to Your kingdom?
How on earth can I forgive, and forgive, and then forgive again?
What Jesus tells us to do is surely impossible. I’m a middle-aged woman, not a bright-eyed child. I struggle to forgive the same sin/sinner seven times. But 70 times 7? Who are we kidding?!
Do you know that Jesus truly understands these questions? He Himself came face to face with the impossible. In Psalm 22, we hear his anguished cry, penned centuries before He cried it from the cross:

Why are you so far away when everyone is mocking and injuring me?
Come quickly and help me!
His pleas met with silence from the Lord. He suffered without God’s intervention; He suffered at the hands of those for whom He suffered.
Impossible that the Father should abandon His Son! We cannot comprehend it, until this glimmer of hope in the final verses of the psalm:
His story shall be told to all coming generations. And all humankind shall come and declare His righteousness to a people yet to unborn—that He has done it. It is finished!
In His resurrection, God’s impossible requirements and promises were fulfilled!
Our all-powerful eternal God declares some things to be impossible:
It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
But not impossible for Jesus! (Hebrews 10:4)
It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Jesus.
And so God freed Him from the agony of death. (Acts 2:24)
But as for those things that look impossible to us – for God to fulfill His jaw-dropping promises, for us to follow Him in the ways He calls us to – Jesus has this to say:




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Reading through the Bible this year, I am recognizing common threads that run throughout the Old Testament … the gospels … David’s songs … Solomon’s wisdom. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise: throughout thousands of years and dozens of human writers, it was the same Author telling the same Story.) Those threads weave a tapestry that reveal our desperate straits and God’s glorious redemption in Christ.
Day 15 – Genesis 33 & 34, Matthew 11, Psalm 14
The Good: Jacob had every right to fear the visit from his brother Esau – the one he had deceived and stolen from. But in a stunning twist, instead of avenging himself, Esau gave a broad forgiveness and a long-awaited, albeit fragile, resolution to the decades-long conflict. The seething hatred and jealousy between the usurper and sensualist gave way to a brotherly, albeit cautious, embrace.
The Bad: Then, Jacob’s daughter is raped. And – if it were possible - the reaction of her family is as horrific as the offense. Simeon and Levi go to brutal lengths to exact their vengeance (not God’s justice) upon the entire people of Shechem.
The Ugly: And Jacob was basically absent! Once he and his sons had arranged for Dinah to be married, he apparently sat back into his passivity. Wouldn’t he have suspected what his sons were about to do? Or was he so focused on trying to keep peace that he didn’t notice their angry energy? When Jacob learns of the slaughter, he rebukes his sons - not for their godless behavior, but for making him an outcast in the land.
The history of humanity tells the same story over and over again. When we see forgiveness and reconciliation, our hearts swell with hope. When we hear tales of violence and selfish rage, our hearts sink in despair. If I didn’t know the ultimate end of the story (Jesus wins!), these biblical narratives – and my own narrative - would inspire nothing but hopelessness.
What are we to do?
Jesus issues an invitation to the likes of us in Matthew 11:28
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Rest from your fear, from your rage, from your hopelessness, from your shame. From your self-righteousness and taking things into your own hands. From your desire for vengeance, and your vain self-protection.
Psalm 14 declares plainly that we are incapable of that kind of rest, apart from Him:
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one
!
Oh, that the salvation of my people would come out of Zion!
Praise God, for His salvation has come to us! In His Son, who became sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In him alone, we can lay down the ugly yoke of sin. In him alone, we can find rest and hope for our souls. In him alone, we can choose His good path and let him tell His story of salvation through us.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Treasuring the God who Treasures Us

Tapestry Discovery: Day 8
Genesis 19:15-16 ~ Matthew 6:19-21 ~ Psalm 8: 2 & 5 ~ Proverbs 2:11-14

The narrative makes me shudder every time. If it were a play script, the stage notes might read: Ominous music rumbles. Cue dark clouds from stage left.

Two angels arrive in Sodom and Lot welcomes them into his home. Late that night, a rowdy mob encircles the house, intent upon assaulting his guests. Lot displays immense courage: he walks out alone to meet the mob, hoping to dissuade them from this evil. No surprise: they rush him and his gate, intent upon their wickedness. No surprise: God’s angels overpower them, blinding the would-be attackers and snatching Lot right out of their angry hands.

Behind a bolted door, the two visitors inform Lot that their God-given instructions are to destroy the city. When Lot warns his sons-in-law to flee with him, they only laugh. As we read the account, we think, “Man, Lot’s the only one with an ounce of wisdom; he will gladly leave Sodom with those angels, and his family will wish they did.”


The next morning:

At daybreak the angels urged Lot on: “Get up! Take your wife and your two daughters, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.”  But he hesitated. Because of the Lord’s compassion for him, the men grabbed his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters. Then they brought him out and left him outside the city.
What? But Lot was the only one who had believed the angels! And yet, he hesitated. Hellfire was ready to strike, but Lot was reluctant to leave his home. And ultimately, the only reason he did was because of God’s compassion, in the form of the angels literally dragging him (and his family) from Sodom’s borders.

Jesus’ familiar words in Matthew read like a commentary on Lot’s conflicted heart:
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
Lot may have been the only righteous man in that wicked city (see Gen. 18:22-32). Yet his heart treasured his family and home to the extent that, apart from God’s mercy, he would have perished along with his earthly treasures.
When the deepest desires of our hearts are earthly things (even good things like home and family), we will neglect wisdom, lose perspective, even turn from God’s sure word -- to our great detriment. When we set our eyes upon Jesus and His kingdom, the things that matter to Him (love, peace, justice, righteousness, faithfulness, mercy), we stockpile heavenly treasure.

In the midst of the struggle to release passing pleasures for eternal treasures, God will pull back our grasping fingers from any earthly gift that keeps us from desiring Him as we ought. Because of His compassion, He will grab our hands and rescue us.
And, as these passages (from Psalm 8 and Proverbs 2) illustrate, He will draw our eyes to Himself: the God who guides, guards and honors us as His treasured possession:
…you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
You have made mankind a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
Wisdom saves you from perverse men who delight in evil.
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil, From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tapestry Discovery

Those Read-Through-the-Bible plans? I love the idea of them. I’ve just never been able to actually do them.

When I first tried, early in my Christian walk, I could not make connections between Old Testament narrative, a song David wrote a thousand years later, and a Jesus story set a thousand years after that. I figured, I’m not good at the wide net approach; my personality is better suited to digging deep in one focused spot.

And, for the most part, that’s what I did for the last 25 years: dug deep into God’s Word, one beautifully rich book at a time, growing in understanding of and love for Him along the way.

So don’t ask me where the idea came; it was out of left field (God’s direction can feel like that sometimes, right?). But when my kids settled into their school routines, and I contemplated what to study next, it came to me that I should read through the whole Bible. I prayed, found a plan on my Bible app, and asked God for the grace to stick with it – at least for a couple weeks, before returning to my native dig-deep approach.

Imagine my surprise when I began to discover patterns in these “random” readings, like varied threads coming together in a tapestry, patterns my newly redeemed eyes could not recognize all those years ago. By Day 2, these eyes welled with tears to recognize God’s repeated message to generation after generation, separated by thousands of years. (And I wrote the post below: The Foolishness of Independent Agency.)

Why should this emerging tapestry surprise me? God is Who He Is, and always has been. His Word for us is consistent and straightforward, albeit narrated and fleshed out in a broad variety of texture and color. Every day, every passage, every message reveals Jesus: the fulfillment of God’s promises, the salvation of God’s people.

The Foolishness of Independent Agency

Discovering the Tapestry, Day 2: Genesis 3  ~ Matthew 2 ~ Psalm 2:2-6 ~ Proverbs 1:7

The story is certainly familiar. God clearly told Adam not to eat from that One Tree; Eve was drawn to it, and Adam with her. With some coaxing by the serpent, they judged its fruit not by God’s eternal truth, but by their own limited sensibilities (it was good for food, pleasing to the eye and offered wisdom). Exiled from Paradise for their own protection, their actions have impacted the entirety of the human race, from beginning to end.

The story is certainly familiar. Astrologers from afar followed a Star that clearly marked the birth of a new King, unprecedented in glory. When he heard the report, Herod judged Jesus not by God’s truth as divined by the wise men, but by his own paranoid sensibilities. He does all in his earthly power to destroy this perceived rival to his throne (including slaughtering a city’s worth of baby boys, just in case). Yet, God’s voice whispered to the wise men and to Joseph through dreams, guiding them away from Herod’s murderous path.

In Psalm 2, God speaks raises His voice above a whisper, and speaks clearly about Herod and his ilk, those who imagine they could stand against the Lord. Basically, He laughs at them and declares, “Who do you think you are?”

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord 
and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 
He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 
“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

Independent agency is a foolish and dangerous fantasy. If God says the fruit is off-limits, then the fruit is off-limits. If He chooses to give His Son, a gift so unimaginably gracious that the world cannot understand it, no power on earth can alter His purpose.

And by Solomon’s hand, the threads of these passages are woven together:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Season by Season

It’s that time of year again. 

Actually, I’m not really sure when that time of year began this year. Because I am a retired homeschool mom! I thought my friend’s kids were already in school - until she informed me that she (and they) had two more weeks of summer. 

Who knew?


Most years, I’ve enjoyed lesson planning, book purchasing (that shouldn’t surprise you), setting up our school space, launching into a new year with fresh plans, fresh hope. 

But I don’t miss any of it at the moment. 

Because we are launching one son into the welcoming arms of a wonderful local Bible school. And the other son is switching schools and majors, pursuing what seems to be the right road for him at this juncture.


There’s enough freshness and adventure to go around! (Even though I have no idea when your kids start school.)

If you’re wondering why I’m not more sentimental over what’s coming and what I’m leaving behind:

The truth is, as of junior year in high school, both my sons were taking classes at co-op and local colleges. My role has been more administrative than instructive for a long time. It's been a gradual transition more than an abrupt one.

The truth is, this transitional season is already so very different, so much more demanding, than what I’d imagined. I am ready (can I say it? even relieved) to move into this new season, to lay down homeschooling and pick up whatever comes next. 

All summer long, wide-eyed friends have asked: “What will you do with yourself, now that you are done homeschooling?”  

Seriously.

My response is long, and makes me grin. Here's a snippet:

~Play my newly tuned piano and hopefully take lessons again
~Look for a job - preferably at the library or used book store in TR. Because I books and I TR!
~Continue volunteering at the library (only if I’m not working there, obviously)
~Complete ministry training at church so I’m ready to be a faithful friend to women in crisis 
~Focus on my husband more intently
~Write more regularly. Maybe try to publish?
~Be more available to friends. (I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever known through Explorers, and those friendships will most definitely survive my retirement.)
~Continue involvement in monthly Book Club and Women’s Fellowship meetings
~Start all those projects I’ve wanted to get done at home. Like cleaning out the attic. Organizing my books. Washing windows. Deep cleaning rooms, one by one. These things have been on my horizon for more than 5 years, people! They’ve just never made it off the back burner until now.
~Encourage homeschool moms in any way I can
~Start weights training
~Breathe deeply and appreciate this season



Can I just say, right here, how thankful I am to God for seasons? No, I don’t like wet cold February days when hail assaults Ruby (my beautiful CRV). And I don’t like July’s sodden humidity, which can lay me flat the minute I step outside. 


But, like every created thing, seasons change. I have autumn to look forward to, then cozy fires in the wood stove as we hunker down in the months that follow. And I know spring will come.


Our family is moving into a fresh season, full of its own BIG plans and hopes, BIG joys and fears. But I know God better (and therefore love and trust Him more) than I did when we started homeschooling 16 years ago. 

He's the One who blazes this trail that lies ahead of us. And I am ready!



Friday, May 19, 2017

No Ordinary Turtle

(Note: I wrote this when Ben was 6 years old. And tomorrow is his high school graduation celebration!)
It was clear right away that this was no ordinary turtle. Ben set him down on the deck for all to see, and he stuck out his stumpy little legs and started marching! When Ben picked him up again, instead of pulling into his shell, he kicked his legs, stuck out his crinkly little face and stared right up at him.

We named him Sunny, for his disposition, and for the sun-yellow streaks that marked his domed shell. Ben identified him as an Eastern Box Turtle, endangered but quite common to our woods, and a gourmand of such gooey delicacies as slugs, snails and earthworms. (He also had a taste for Asian pears.) So Ben set to work collecting Sunny’s slimy menu from beneath rocks and rotting logs. When he offered a nice fat worm to Sunny, he ate his revolting lunch right out of Ben’s hand!

We set up a tank for Sunny on the front porch. I smiled every time I checked on him, because he’d boldly peer up at me instead of pulling into his shell.

One afternoon, I watched Ben walking Sunny. (He would put him down on the grass and Sunny would walk, as Ben stayed just ahead of him.) It occurred to me: Ben and Sunny share a personality trait.

For Ben’s never been one to pull into his shell, either. As a toddler, he had no fear (although he provoked much fear in his stunned parents) as he ate or climbed or otherwise tackled anything he came across. If a child hit him or took his toy, he did not run to Mommy; he just hit or took the toy right back (thankfully, he has outgrown that stage). He was not one to hide from any risk or conflict. He stuck his neck out and marched along with Sunny-style confidence.

And he did not inherit this trait from me! By nature, I am not one to stick my neck out in risky situations. If it were up to my own desires, I’d pull into my shell and hide.

But when I gave my life to Jesus, I discovered this happy paradox: with God as my hiding place, I possess all the boldness I need, in order to do what He asks of me.


I have learned more of what this means through the years. Hiding in the Lord doesn’t mean withdrawing myself from the world, like your average turtle would pull into his shell until danger passed. Instead, God hides my life inside His love, no matter what is going on around me. I can risk investing in a difficult relationship, or standing up for what’s right when silence would be easier, because even as I do so, I am hiding in the most secure shelter in the world: God’s protective hand. I have the freedom to stick my neck out when God asks me to get involved, no matter how risky it may look to my human eyes. Even as He hides me under His wing, He sets me high upon the rock of His strength.

God’s children are safely hidden in His own perfect power and goodness and faithfulness. Confident and secure there, we can stick out our necks, stretch out our legs, and walk boldly wherever He may lead.