Time to Refresh

I can’t even remember that last time I sat down to write.  And, honestly, I hate that.  I let the busyness of life, the busyness of ministry take precedence over the things that refresh me, over my self-care.

know that when I take the time to write, my mind is clearer.  I know that when I spend time hashing out the thoughts I have about ministry, Scripture, Christ, and the adventure He has for us, that I find more joy.  I know that it’s something God has given me to refresh my spirit and grow closer to Him.  And yet writing consistently gets put on the back burner.

While the last couple of months have been full of exciting and productive things, there have been weeks that I have felt completely overwhelmed, lonely, or just plain numb.  In the chaos of life, I allow the enemy to use the very things I am doing for God to keep me from God.  Don’t get me wrong, through it all, I have been consistent about my devotional and prayer time.  But when I am running on empty, when I don’t have anything left to give, the hardness that is left prevents the nourishment of His word from sinking in.

I think this is why the Word of God reminds us multiple times to “be still.”  God knows we need personal refreshment for our souls so that when we draw near to Him we are able to receive what He has for us.  This looks different for all of us.  But as we learn what those things are, as we discover what things restore our soul, we have a responsibility to make sure those things become a priority.  I love the image of the oxygen mask on a plane: If I attempt to put the mask on the child first, there is a chance I won’t help either of us.  But if I place my mask on first, then I have a much better chance of being able to help the child as well.

I have to take care of myself or I’m of no use to anyone else.  I have to be able to receive, I have to be filled, so that I can pour out to others.  Ministry is futile when I have nothing left to give.

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Don’t we hear this all the time?

All. The. Time.

Why then is it so hard to implement?

It goes well for a short time and then we fall back into old habits.  We justify the the busyness of ministry because it’s God’s work, it needs to happen, the Kingdom needs expanding.  Or we justify the busyness of life because we need the money or the house needs fixing or the to-do list keeps getting longer.

The enemy’s number one tool of destruction is isolation.  And the tendency for busyness leads us right toward that path of destruction.  Have you ever been surrounded by people who genuinely love you – yet you feel alone?  Have you ever been crushed by the weight of 100 little things that seem insignificant?  When I am too busy to refresh, the enemy uses his tool of isolation – the first thing to go is my joy.  I become numb to even the most joyous occasions.  And then the rest of my life starts to suffer – my work, my home, my relationships, my parenting, my marriage.  The cracks start to show and things start to crumble because I’m not taking the time to fill up.

I sit here alone in my house tonight because I hit a wall.  I couldn’t figure out where the box of macaroni had gotten to.  The cheese packet was on the counter.  The water was boiling.  Did I put the box back in the drawer?  Maybe in the cupboard where I got the pot from?  The cupboard above the stove?  Ugh!  Where did I put it?  Maybe I threw a full box of macaroni away…

Nope.  The noodles were already in the boiling water and the box properly placed with our burnables.  I turned to my husband, “Please take her with you tonight.  Please.  I just need some time to get things done.”  And back to cooking I went.

But it just got worse, I was rude to my husband, angry about things beyond my control, yelling at my daughter for not listening (she’s two….), and essentially throwing a fit because I got mashed potatoes on the floor.

So as they walked out the door, I knew I needed to take some time for myself.  Forget the to-do list, forget that the rest of  this week will be a madhouse.  I’ll do nothing.  But, in my husband’s words, as he walked down the steps to the car, “You aren’t capable of doing nothing.”

He’s not wrong.  I’m a doer.  If I’m laying on the couch doing nothing I’m either absolutely, 100% exhausted, or terribly sick.  So I chuckled and thought, maybe I’ll write.  As I sat down and turned on the TV, I knew that writing was exactly what my soul needed.

I sit here with a smile on my face because God is good.  Because, in the midst of  the crazy, when I’m ready to give up, He reminds me to step back and be still.  He gently nudges me back to reality.  I’m thankful that I took a minute to recognize the nudging and didn’t just dive back into my to-do list (because, we all know, it’s not going to finish itself on its own).

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So, I guess I wrote tonight for myself.  Not to share the next step of our voyage.  Not to share some insightful thoughts about Scripture or to get on another soap box.  I wrote because I needed to feel my soul again.

What do you do to refresh your spirit?  And when was the last time you did so?

 

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The Enemy’s Last Resort

The past year has been an incredibly difficult one.  It has been an intense season of sifting.  And while I know sifting is ultimately for my good, I still loathe the process.

It is so easy for me to focus on the negative, to only see the tough stuff.  But, the reality is, that the Lord has still blessed us over the past year.  In small ways and in big ways.  I know He is preparing us for something.  I feel as if we are right on the precipice of a break through.  And I can’t wait to see what that is.  We are *this* close – I know it!

But today was a rough day.  Though I cannot pin point one thing or another, I woke up today exhausted, overwhelmed, and struggling.  The enemy seems to have his hand in every single area of my life.  All relatively small things….but today the pile of small things added up to too much.  At the end of the day, through tears, I looked at my husband and said, “I just want to quit.  I can’t do this.  It’s too hard.”

But isn’t that what the enemy wants?  If I quit, if I throw in the towel, it’s all over.  He wins.

Nehemiah was faced with similar circumstances.  In chapter 6 he is *this* close to finishing the wall (more on this herehere and here).  All he had left to do was add gates.  So his enemies came at him, full force, with a vengeance.

As a last resort, they were pulling out all the tricks.  First, they tried to trick him.  They arranged to meet with Nehemiah with the intention to harm him.  Fortunately, Nehemiah didn’t fall for their scheme, even though they attempted multiple times.  Next, these men spread false rumor about Nehemiah, trying to intimidate him into giving up.

At this point, Nehemiah does two things.  We would do well to follow his example.

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  1. He prays, “But now, my God, strengthen my hands” (vs. 8).  What a perfect prayer when we are in the midst of spiritual warfare!
  2. He seeks counsel.  Scripture tells us to seek the wisdom of others (Proverbs 24:6).  But Christ also warns us that there will be false prophets (Matthew 24:24).  Nehemiah sought the counsel of a known prophet, Shemaiah.

However, the enemy will use even those in leadership to do his bidding.  Thanks to discernment from being in the presence of the Lord, Nehemiah realized that Shemaiah was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, “I realized that God had not sent him…” (vs. 12).  Shemaiah encouraged Nehemiah to run to the temple and hide from his problems, from the enemy, “He was hired, so that I would be intimidated,do as he suggested, sin, and get a bad reputation, in order that they could discredit me” (vs. 13).

When we encounter tribulation, when we are sifted, the first thing the enemy wants us to do is run and/or hide.  But it is the last thing that the Lord wants from us.  He does not want us to react out of fear or frustration, instead, He wants us to stand firm in the calling He has placed on our life.  He wants us to push through and set an example for all of those around us.

Nehemiah did not run, he did not hide, he stood firm and completed the work the Lord had set before him: “When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God” (vs. 16).  The same people that had worked so desperately to stop this work soon realized that it had all been the work of the Lord, even from the start.  What a testimony!

But the work of the enemy doesn’t stop there.  He won’t quit, he is relentless and will do anything and everything he can to thwart the work of the Lord.  Though many had finally seen that Nehemiah was doing the work of God, there was still one man trying to bring an end to that work.  The final words of this chapter are, “And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.”

He won’t give up.  Why?  Because his goal is to get you to give up.  The closer you get to God’s vision, the harder he will work.  He wants you to run, he wants you to hide.  The worst part?  You don’t always see the effect of that sin right away.  And he does that on purpose.  The enemy tricks us into thinking we are safe.  He makes us believe we made the right choice because everything is going well.  But eventually, as you get closer and closer to the edge, he will pull the rug out from underneath you and everything will fall apart.

Don’t run.  Don’t hide.  Don’t give up.

The next time you are faced with trials and tribulation, stand firm!  Pray and continue the work.  Finish what it is the Lord has started.  He will never leave your side.  No matter how bad it looks, He is there, fighting with you, giving you the strength you need.

Stand firm.

 

 

When We Forfeit the Miracle

Forfeit – (v.) To lose or be deprived of as a penalty of wrongdoing or neglect.

Parenthood has brought many treasures.  I think one of the things I love most is being able to almost grasp the unconditional love that God has for us.  It is a very difficult thing to comprehend – this Love that knows no bounds, that doesn’t care what we do, that gives expecting nothing in return.  It is relentless and unwavering.  No matter what I do, He still loves me.  And I understand that a bit more fully now that I’m a parent.  No matter what my daughter does (now and in the future) – I will still love her with my whole being.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be disappointed or frustrated.  That doesn’t mean I won’t discipline or require obedience.  It means that I will love her, I will hold her to a higher standard because I want the very best for her and I know better than she does what the “best” is (especially right now – she’s only two!).

God loves us.  He holds us to a higher (the highest) standard because He wants the very best for us.  And let’s face it – the God of the universe knows what is best for me way better than I do (even when I think I do).  I know that I disappoint Him sometimes, I know that I frustrate Him sometimes.  But I  am thankful for His discipline.  Because He wants what is best for me, He does require obedience.  If we obey, if we follow His lead, then we are on the path that is best for us (note here – best does not mean least resistance).

And when I don’t obey, then I forfeit a lot.  Just like a child who does not obey, they forfeit certain activities or certain treats (i.e. car keys, screen time, time with friends, etc.).  However, when don’t obey, I forfeit blessings.  I forfeit miracles.  I forfeit powerful moments of His presence.  And why, oh why, would I ever want to do that?!?

But I do.  Time and time again.

What have I forfeited?  What miracles did I miss?

This morning, I was reading from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Day by Day, as Christ was praying in the garden, the disciples were supposed to be praying with Him.  In His greatest moment of need, they were supposed to be there for Him.  And what were they doing?  They were sleeping!  How often did Christ need them?  I’m guessing not often.  They missed that opportunity – “Jesus forgave them, and they went on to experience God working powerfully through their lives, but that unique moment with the Lord was lost.”  I don’t want to miss a single moment that He has in store for me!  But how often I must because I’m too preoccupied to notice what He wants from me, what He asks of me.  Here’s the kicker, “God does not need our obedience; He has legions of angels prepared to do His bidding when we fail Him.  The loss is ours as we miss what God wants to do in our lives” (emphasis added).  God doesn’t need me to obey.  But He gives me the opportunity because He loves me.  And I want so desperately to please Him.  I don’t want to miss out on those moments!  I don’t ever want to miss out on His presence in my life.  Without Him life is lonely, empty, and without meaning.

Obedience, Souls, Forfeit, Miracle, Blessing, God, Obey, Command, Scripture, Daily, Bible Study, Devotion, Follow, Gethsemane, Jericho, Peter, Joshua, Blind, Blackaby, Experiencing God, Fail, Blessing, Presence of God

Or think of it this way – what if Joshua and the Israelite’s had only circled Jericho 6 times (Joshua 6:1-27)? They were tired, nothing had happened, and they looked like fools.  But 7 times is what the Lord required.  And the 7th time made all the difference.  What if Peter, James, and John hadn’t put their nets into the water (Luke 5:1-11)?  They had been fishing all nigh and had barely caught a thing.  Why would now, in the daylight, when fish were even more sparse, make any difference at all?  But it did.  Because the Lord said so.  What if the man born blind has refused to go and wash his eyes out (John 9:1-12)?  Why put in the extra effort?  Can’t I just wipe them off right here?  But the act of obedience, the going and washing were an act of obedience.

You get the point.  They (and many others) could have easily forfeited the miracle.  And the Biblical narrative as we know it would be different.

We must obey!  If the Lord has spoken to you, if He has laid something on your heart, then you had better listen.  What could be on the other side of your obedience?  Is it time in His presence?  A moment of growth?  Or a miracle?

One thing is for sure, as a wise friend of mine once told me, there are souls on the other side of your obedience.  The Lord is waiting for you to listen so that He can use you to save the lives of others!  Are you willing to forfeit those souls?  Lives are at stake here.  The choices you make today will affect other people!

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If you know the right thing to do and you do not do it, that is a sin (James 4:17).  Do you know the right thing?  Do you know what He has told you to do?  Has Scripture shed light on your situation and give you an answer/solution to a problem?

Often times what He asks of us will be difficult.  Sometimes, it will seem impossible.  But it is always worth it.  Always.

After all, God, all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator of the entire universe – He knows what is best for you, what is best for me.  Why wouldn’t I want to listen?

The Tides are Changing

I’m not sure about the area where you are.  But, here, something is brewing.  We are right on the brink of something huge!  And I see it in the communities around us as well.  The more people I talk to, the more excited I get.

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But let me back up a few steps….or a few decades….for a moment.

At some point in the church’s history, passive Christianity became the norm.  Sunday mornings became the benchmark for being a Christian.  Sing in the choir, make and/or serve a few meals, put your money in the plate, and you are golden.  The standard has been met.  A few people were called to be missionaries, a few were called to be pastors. The idea of making disciples, of fulfilling the great commission was placed in their hands.  Because it was their job to lead the flock.  That’s what we were paying them to do after all!  We were also paying them to preach the gospel, to visit the sick, to baptize, to dedicate, to teach, to counsel, to grow the church…because we had our own jobs to do.  We had our own families to provide for.  And it was their job!  Do you see how this got out of hand?  How can one person accomplish all of that in a single week?!?  It was never, I repeat, never, supposed to be this way.

I’m not saying that pastors and missionaries should be unpaid.  What I am saying is that we took advantage of that position.  And we let the few start doing the work of the many.  We put our responsibilities in the hands of another person and allowed church attendance to replace disciple making.  At the end of Matthew, Christ gave His disciples clear instructions – “to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son, teaching them to observe all that I’ve commanded.”  We are His disciples and those instructions have been given to us.  Attending church on Sunday is not making disciples.  Placing money in the plate is not making disciples.  Making a meal is not making disciples.  Giving to charity (monetarily or otherwise) is not making disciples.  Don’t get me wrong – those are all good things.  But those good things, those fairly passive things, have replaced THE mission Christ has given us.

But the tides are changing.  People are waking up.

Millennials get a bad wrap.  And often, I am a tad embarrassed to be associated with a generation that is so frowned upon.  But there is one thing we have going for us, whether everyone may recognize it or not, we are passionate and we seek purpose.  Now, I’m not saying that millennials are the only reason the tides are changing, but I do believe it’s a big part of it.  They, we, want to be a part of something that truly makes a difference.  We want to get our hands dirty.  We want to have a purpose.

Unfortunately, sitting in a pew on Sundays doesn’t give purpose.  Donating to charity doesn’t give purpose.  But being a part of something bigger than me – that brings purpose.  Making a difference, seeing life change, seeing lives made whole through the power of Christ – that brings purpose.  And it should.  Because being a part of God’s kingdom, making disciples, is the purpose for which we were created.

Something is brewing.  I see leadership rising up from the younger generation.  I see men and women of all ages who are not okay with the status quo.  They are not okay with a dying Church!  And they are ready to make a change.  The great thing is – that passion, that desire for purpose, and a desire for new life-blood flowing in the veins of the church – it’s extremely contagious.

The passion is spreading.  Though not as fast as a wildfire, it’s still spreading, little by little, like moss on the trunk of a tree.  The growth may not be noticeable on most days – but eventually, there is evidence that the moss has spread, it has grown, and it’s still spreading.  Slowly, but surely.

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But I feel like we’re on the precipice.  That passion is going to erupt and the wildfire growth will begin.  Something is brewing.

The winds are blowing.  The tides are changing.

And I want to be a part of it.

Unraveled

The voyage never really looks like what we expect.  I’m sure you’ve heard the line, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  It’s pretty accurate.  I remember starting this blog and being SO excited for what He had in store.  But then nothing happens.  And life gets really hard.  And…wait, I’ve written this before.

Phew.

Following in His footsteps is so hard.  And I know the process, the journey, the voyage….whatever you want to call it….I know it’s meant to grow me, to pull me closer to Him, to make me closer to His likeness.  But I want it to be easy.  Goodness gracious, I want it to be easy.

Life pulls me 500 different directions.  Being a mom, working, church ministry, the day-to-day to-do list (laundry, dishes, budget, etc.)…it’s never ending.  And through all of that, we are supposed to maintain relationships and further the kingdom.  And sometimes I just can’t do it.

And I know, it’s not through my own power, it’s through His that I can make it all happen.  But, how – how do I just give it all to Him.  I try to rest, to relax in His presence and I feel guilty for not doing anything.  For not cleaning.  For not reading more Scripture.  For not focusing more on my sweet child.  For not being happy that I have so many great things.  For being overwhelmed.  For just wanting a break.

And I realize, even as I type, that there is a spiritual battle in my life.  And I know that’s probably more than half the battle.  But it’s never ending.  And it keeps coming.  And I can’t catch a break.  It’s either money, or health, or relationships, or just plain old discouragement.

It. just. keeps. coming.

And I’m coming unraveled.

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I want to give up.  I want to throw my hands up and walk away from all of it.  To run away and never look back.  It’s too hard.  It’s too much.  But I can’t.  I have to keep working, keep smiling, keep going.

And I will.  I can.  He can.  Even though I’m a complete mess, even though I don’t have it all together – He is still there.  He’s holding me, walking beside me, encouraging me.

Who am I kidding?  I don’t have this figured out.  I don’t know that I ever will.

But He loves me anyway.  Thank God for that.  Thank goodness He loves me through the good and the bad.  He loves me through the mess.  He loves me.  Unconditionally.  Without expectation.  He loves me.

….even when I’m unraveled.

And that’s what keeps me going.

Second-Hand Worship

Worship can easily become routine.

We go through the week just getting by.  Every day – wake up, go to work, take care of the kids, do the dishes, take care of the laundry, numb the busyness with a bit of TV, and then off to bed.  Wash.  Rinse.  And Repeat.  Until Saturday arrives.  Then it’s a full day of catching up on what didn’t get done throughout the week or squeezing in time with friends or ___(fill in the blank)___.  Then Sunday morning comes around, the alarm clock goes off, and we rush off to church, sing a few songs, try not to fall asleep during the sermon, put a little cash in the plate, and head home for a nap before the football game.

When worship becomes just another check mark during the craziness of our week, then worship, well, isn’t actually worship.

Worship, Church, Malachi, Change

We have become okay with giving God our seconds.

And God, He’s still God.  Which means seconds aren’t okay.  In fact, He would rather us not worship than worship with our seconds: “Who is there among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain?  I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of Hosts, nor will I accept an offering from your hand” (Malachi 1:10).

 

He wants our best.  Or He wants nothing at all!  God is not okay with lukewarm: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

When we come together to worship Him, it should be with our everything: our full focus, a 10% tithe, a cheerful heart, a longing to sense His presence, a desire to do His will, a willingness to set aside our own desires, and so much more.  And so often, we bring Him less than our best.  We are distracted.  We let our circumstance define our attitude (super guilty of this one).  We get annoyed with other people.  We become frustrated when the music isn’t what we want.

And that’s just Sunday mornings!  Worship isn’t just a church service.  Worship should be a way of life.  How we live, how we act, how we treat others – this is living worship.  And it should always be our best. When we don’t forgive, when we harbor bitterness, when we gossip, worry, lie, steal, etc….then we are most certainly giving Him our second best.

The church in America is dying.  Slowly.  But surely.  And I have no doubt that this is because God is tired of our second-hand worship, our complacent attitude, our indifference toward sin.

I’m sick of living in this state of second-hand.  It’s depressing and certainly not fulfilling.  I need a change.  We all need a change.

So let’s do something about it!  Change starts with you and I.  When things are good, when they are great and God-ordained, you better believe it will be contagious.

So, how are YOU worshipping?

When the Enemy Attacks

When we put our energy toward accomplishing the works of the Lord, the enemy does not like it.  He will do whatever he can to thwart our efforts and progress.  As Charles Stanley puts it in Church Awakening, “While Christ has promised to build up the church, the adversary is equally committed to tearing it down.”  And he will use people both outside of the church and inside of the church to make that happen.

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At the beginning of chapter 4 of Nehemiah we see opposition come from outside the church.  At first, the opposition comes in the form of words, in mere insults: “They can’t do it.”  “It isn’t good enough.”  “It won’t work.”  “They will fail.”  Sound familiar?  These are simply words, but if they are received with the wrong attitude, they can be utterly destructive.  This kind of opposition casts doubt and makes you wonder if the task is even possible (and without God, it probably wouldn’t be…but that’s another post for another day).  It makes you question if God actually wants you to be doing this.  And it takes your focus off of His vision to the much smaller vision of man.  Words can be devastatingly destructive if we allow them to be.

Nehemiah didn’t let these words win; the building of the wall continued (vs. 7).  But their choice to continue working only made the enemy angry.  They then conspired to come against Nehemiah and his men in a physical manner – they were going to put a stop to the building one way or another.  In America, we don’t often see physical attacks such as the ones mentioned here, but the enemy still has ways, beyond words, to try and halt our work and progress.  Busyness would be the first way.  How many people within the church, how many Christians, are too busy to put their hands and feet to the tasks of our Lord?  Or what about money?  The budget doesn’t allow for such a vision… Or he keeps the few people who could finance the vision from “catching” the vision.

Which leads us to the idea that the enemy sometimes uses those inside the church to stop our progress.  He keeps us busy, keeps us from tithing, keeps us prideful…and mostly, he discourages.  In verse 10 we see, “The strength of the burden bearers is failing, yet there is much rubbish; and we ourselves are unable to to rebuild the wall.”  How many times have you seen the strength of leaders fail?  How many times have you seen burn out happen?  How many times have you seen someone walk away because the struggle seemed insurmountable?  I myself have been guilty of thinking the task is too large, that there is too much rubbish standing in the way, we will never make it.  And when I allow those thoughts to invade my soul, I’m letting the enemy win.  When I allow those thoughts to influence my actions and/or the actions of those around me, I have become a tool in the enemy’s hand.

Nehemiah didn’t allow that to happen.  His response is a perfect model for how we should respond in the face of an enemy attack.  First, he prayed.  Or I should say, they prayed.  At this point, Nehemiah’s “I” became a “we” – the people were catching the zeal and passion for the Lord’s work that Nehemiah had from the start.  So when trouble threatened the horizon, they went to the Lord in prayer.  This should always be our first response.  No matter what the situation, finding ourselves on our knees is the best place to be.  It is only in prayer that we can prepare for battle.  It is only through prayer that we can dress ourselves in the armor of God and prepare for the spiritual battles that face us every single day, “for in every duty we must expect opposition from our spiritual enemies” (Wesley).

But that prayer means nothing if we don’t put our feet to our faith.  “Nehemiah was not the fanatic to blunder into the delusion that prayer was a substitute for duty…” for he knew that prayer with action is “the most effective defense measure” (Expositor’s).  He could have easily prayed for protection and continued on the way they had been – building the wall without any regard to the enemy.  But he took it one step further, Nehemiah prayed for protection and then prepared for battle.  Protection doesn’t mean that God will keep the battle from happening, but it does mean He will be there fighting right alongside you, strengthening your faith, bolstering your spirit, and so much more.  Protection means that we are never alone.

The second response that we see from Nehemiah is unity: “I said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another.  At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.  Our God will fight for us” (vs. 19-20).  Our best chance of success is to pull together as one when the enemy attacks.  Regardless of whether the attacks come from outside our walls or within – the answer is unity.  IF we are united THEN God will fight for us.

Unity is a form of anointing in the Lord’s book.   The 133rd Psalm is a  short one but the entire point is that unity = anointing: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion.  For there the Lord has appointed the blessing – life forevermore.”

“The origin of anointing was from a practice of shepherds.  Lice and other insects would often get into the wool of sheep, and when they got near the sheep’s head, they could burrow into the sheep’s ears and kill the sheep.  So, ancient shepherds poured oil on the sheep’s head.  This made the wool slippery, making it impossible for insects to get near the sheep’s ear because the insects would slide off.  From this, anointing became symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment” (gotquestions.org).

Unity, Anointing, Forgiveness, Enemy, Nehemiah, Love, Abundance, Protection, Blessing, Empowerment

When we are united, it is then that God anoints us.  It is then that we receive blessing, protection, and empowerment.  But the significance doesn’t stop there.  First, and foremost, this isn’t speaking of outward unity, but rather, true unity, unity of the heart.  In order for us to be truly unified in that sense, there can be no unforgiveness or bitterness.  For if we do not forgive, the Lord will not forgive us, and we forfeit the blessing that unity brings (Matthew 6:14-15).  Aaron and his sons were not permitted to minister to the Lord or be in His presence without the anointing of the oil.  Without unity, without that anointing, we harm our relationship with the Lord.  When we ourselves are not forgiven, when we have not payed our debt, we cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  Sin cannot be in the presence of the Lord.  And if we can’t be in His presence, we certainly can’t do His work.

The oil of anointing held a very pleasant aroma.  It was made from olive oil, cinnamon, myrrh, cane, and cassia lignea (very similar to cinnamon) (Exodus 20:23-25).  When someone was anointed the aroma would have been very agreeable, attractive to others.  When we are truly and wholly united, only then will we be attractive to those outside of our walls.

This anointing we receive from the Lord when we are united is excessive as we can see in the 133rd Psalm.  The oil ran down Aaron’s beard and onto his robes.  Even today in the Middle East, oil for anointing is poured in such a way that it reaches every limb.  It’s an extravagant amount.  The dew of Herman mentioned in the Psalm is also mentioned because of it’s abundance – historical documents note that this dew, even in dry weather, was so abundant that tents were as wet as if it had rained at night (Clarke). God’s anointing – His blessing, His protection, His empowerment – is abundant when we are living in true, straight-to-the-heart unity!

When the enemy attacks, our response should be prayer with action and true unity.  If we do these things, there is much to come in return: protection, blessing, empowerment and more!  God is there!  He is always there!  He just wants us to acknowledge His presence, His power, and His purpose (unity, or true community).

When the enemy attacks, God will respond justly.  The question is, will you?

Change : a Reflection

Change.  It’s a word not many people like to hear.  And it’s something I personally struggle with.  Even on a small scale.  But change is inevitable.  It’s a part of life.  And often times, I believe it’s meant to be uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable.  Another word I don’t like.  But something I am learning to appreciate.

change

You see, change and being uncomfortable, they are two things that have been a large part of my life this past year.  They are the two things the Lord is really using to grow me.

This year has been so hard for me, for us.  In fact, it may have been the hardest yet.  There has been a lot of change.  And I have been uncomfortable for a better part of the year.  We have faced overwhelming loss and sorrow.  A year ago, I never would have guessed we would be where we are today.  Different people.  Different expectations.  Different outlook.

Sometimes, when I think about where I thought we would be now, I am saddened.  I mourn the loss of relationships that should have been.  I mourn the loss of our sweet child and absently rub my belly where a glowing bump should be.

But we are not meant to focus on the loss.  We are supposed to count all trials as joy.  And I am trying.  When I refocus on the presence of Christ I see just how far we have come.  I see the joy that He wants for us.

Because of our trials, our relationship as a couple and our relationship with Christ has grown ten-fold!  I am not who I was a year ago.  And I am so thankful for that.  I’m not as judgmental.  I’m not as naïve.  I’m a bit more understanding and a teensy bit more forgiving (working on this one).  I’ve finally made my quiet time with the Lord a priority once again.  That prayer and study time is something I look forward to and something I miss on the days that I fail to prioritize correctly.  Justin is the same.  I have never seen him with the fire that he has now.  The passion he exudes is incredible.  I still see the hurt we have dealt with bubble to the surface from time to time, but I see God using it for something greater than what the enemy intended.  What the enemy intended for evil, God will use for our good!!  Hallelujah!

And we have been blessed with so much this past year!  Our niece is due any day.  My adventurous two-year old is coming into her own – and bringing me new joy in my weakest moments.  We have a new-found appreciation for our church home and have developed some pretty fantastic relationships over the past year.  And with all of that, the excitement for the next year is wonderful!!  I can’t wait to see what unfolds.

God uses the change in our lives to bring growth.  And He makes us uncomfortable on purpose.  If we aren’t changing, we can’t grow.  And if we aren’t uncomfortable, we probably aren’t growing either.  If we are comfortable than everything is the same old.  I don’t want to be comfortable anymore!  I’m ready to shake things up!  I’m ready for the change He has planned for us in the year to come!

I’m going to expect the unexpected, chase the wild goose (Holy Spirit, here I come), and run towards the roar (Lion of Judah, I am yours)!    Who’s with me?!?!

When God Gives a Vision…

I always have a plan for the way things are supposed to go.  And more often than not, God tends to throw a wrench into those plans.  A lot of the time, I don’t even understand what’s happening or why there was a shift.  But sometimes God grants us a peek at what He has in store, sometimes He allows us to see a glimpse of what is to be.  Those are moments of vision.  Sometimes God gives us a vision of how He wants us to move forward in furthering His kingdom.

Glimpse, Clouds Part, Vision, Dream, God Sized, Hope, Future, Nehemiah, Furthering the Kingdom, Goal

Now, I’m not necessarily speaking of something supernatural like a dream where we see the future and know for certain exactly what it all looks like (though, with God, all things are possible).  One of the ways Merriam-Webster defines ‘vision’ is “the mode of seeing or conceiving; unusual discernment or foresight.”  God often gives us an unusual foresight to conceive what the future might hold.  For instance, God has given Justin and I a vision for our church of young adult ministry, specifically for those outside the church.  That vision certainly wasn’t expected.  And since that moment of foresight, we haven’t heard much, I believe, because God is saying ‘not yet.’  I can see as I reflect upon this past year and our current situation that He is preparing us now for something in the future (However, about half way through writing this post…that ‘wait’ became a ‘ready, set, GO!’).  He has given us a vision, of that I am certain.

So what should our response be when God does give us a vision?  Nehemiah was a man of vision.  Before there was ever a vision, he spent a lot of time in prayer (more on that here).  Prayer is vital to any vision God gives us, both before and during the implementation of that vision.  We can’t carry out God’s plans if we aren’t in daily, constant communication with Him.  If we aren’t communicating with Him then we are doing nothing more than making the plans of God the plans of man.  Prayer is essential.

Once Nehemiah is sure of God’s vision, he sets himself to plan for the task.  He has to evaluate the situation, see the reality of what needs to be done.  In the second chapter of Nehemiah, verses 12-16, he mentions twice that he doesn’t tell anyone what God has put in his mind to do.  When God gives you a vision, it isn’t to bring glory and fame to your name.  When God gives you a vision, it is still HIS vision.  If we ever use that to bring attention to ourselves, we have missed the point.  So Nehemiah quietly moved forward without attracting any attention.

In the midst of that planning and preparation, the vision or the problems that arise within the vision, may seem insurmountable.  Nehemiah was surrounded by ruins and disappointment (quite literally).  He was given a vision for a problem no one else seemed to want to fix.  And in the middle of the night, as he was planning, he literally came to an impasse: “Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass” (vs. 14).  So what did he do?  He found another way!  Nehemiah didn’t give up at the first sign of difficulty.  The vision seemed impossible from the start, but he didn’t let that stop him.  And even when it became even more difficult, Nehemiah kept moving forward.  Why?  Because this wasn’t a vision of man.  This was a God sized vision.  And only with the power of God could it be accomplished.

Finally, Nehemiah feels it is time to cast the vision (vs. 17-18).  He explains to the Jews the situation they are in, the why.  Then he gives them a solution to fix it and says, let us fix the issue, together.  He doesn’t cast the vision and say, ‘Okay, God gave me this vision, I’ll be over here working on that.  Can you guys pray for me?’  No, a God-sized vision requires that His people come together in unity to accomplish the task.  And He also explains how God has been in the mix.  It’s one thing to cast a vision of how we see things.  It is another when we are able to point to God in the process.  I love how Matthew Henry  looks at Nehemiah casting the vision: “By stirring up ourselves and one another to that which is good, we strengthen ourselves and one another for it; for the great reason we are weak in our duty is because we are cold to it, indifferent, and unresolved.”   If we are weak it is because we have become indifferent.  When God gives us a vision, it is our responsibility to stir ourselves and others up.  And no matter how crazy or impossible the task, we can’t take the time to worry about what other’s think, “The man who is in dead earnest has no time to be self-conscious, he does not indulge in sickly reflection on the effect of what he says on other people’s opinions about himself, he will not care what they think about him so long as he moves them to do the thing it is laid on his soul to urge upon them” (Expositor’s).

And lastly, when faced with opposition, Nehemiah doesn’t give up on the vision God has given him.  Instead, he clings more tightly.  We will face opposition.  When God gives us a vision, it is usually something that can’t be done by the hands of man.  In order for that vision to succeed, God will have to be in the mix or it will fail.  That way we can’t take the credit.  Because of that impossibility, there will always be naysayers.  And there will always be obstacles to overcome.  Nehemiah’s response to that opposition is this: “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (vs. 20).  In other words, we are determined to make this happen, we will not give up because God Himself will grant us success.  When you know you have a vision from the Lord, there is no need for doubt or discouragement, there is only moving forward.  If He has given you a vision, He will provide the means.  All He requires from you is faith.  I have been reading through Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson (I highly recommend it).  He notes at one point that it is “Our job is to hear [God’s] voice.  His job is to establish our steps.  And if we do our job, God will do His” (pg.25)!

our-job

So stand firm.  Push forward.  And never forget to pray – “We need to work like it depends on us and pray like it depends on God” (Batterson, Draw the Circle).

The voyage continues here.

Response to Crisis – It Matters!

We have all experienced crisis and trouble at some point in our lives.  And we all respond a little bit differently.  It doesn’t matter if that crisis is a betrayal, a job loss, a natural disaster, or something else entirely….our response matters!   Christ followers are supposed to be different from the rest of the world.  So when we experience moments of crisis, when we experience trouble, when we are face to face with a devastating circumstance, the world is watching to see how we respond.  Our response matters!

In the first chapter of Nehemiah, within the first four verses, Nehemiah is given heartbreaking news – the walls of his home city are demolished, there is no protection for his people, for the people of God.  They are a city in crisis!  He is broken and in disbelief.  So he grieves and weeps…for days.  It is in this grief that we can learn a good deal from Nehemiah.

Crisis, Fear, Struggle, Mourn, Response, Trouble, Anguish, Sadness, Trials, Prayer

First, amidst that weeping, in his mourning, Nehemiah never neglected to pray.  In fact, he also fasted.  You see, “he eased his sorrows and unburdened his spirit by pouring out his complaint before God and leaving it with Him” (Henry).  How often do we mourn without the comfort of our Lord and Father?  How often do we turn away and forsake Him because our heartbreak must be at least partially His fault??  The Jews were the chosen people of God.  Nehemiah could have easily started cursing God, ‘Why did You let this happen?’  ‘How could this be?’  ‘Where were You?’   Instead, his first response in grief was to pray.

So how did he pray?  He first lifted praise to the Lord, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God….” (ch. 1 vs. 5).  That’s hard isn’t it?  In the midst of heartbreak, the last thing we want to do is praise the One person who could have prevented the heartbreak in the first place.  But praising Him during trials is an important response for our faith and His word tells us to be joyful when we meet trials (James 1:2).

He was in constant prayer, day and night.  The idea of God’s people being left unprotected bothered Nehemiah to the depth of his soul.  Instead of worrying and fretting, he prayed.  And then prayed some more.  I am a firm believer that God never tires of hearing our prayers.  In Matthew 6:7, the Lord denounces vein repetition.  However, “the prayer that is repeated simply because the worshipper is too persistent to be satisfied until it is answered” doesn’t fall into that category (Expositor’s).  We should be circling every crisis we encounter with prayer until the matter is resolved (one way or another).  If that means years of prayer, so be it!

He looked to God’s word: “Our best pleas therefore in prayer are those that are taken from the promise of God, the word on which He causes us to hope” (Henry).  We need to be praying His word, praying the promises of God, just like Nehemiah, “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses…” (ch. 1 vs. 8).  Praying His word isn’t intended to remind God of what He has spoken, I don’t think He needs the reminder.  But, rather, to acknowledge that we are aware of His promises, His commandments, and His goodness.  We know that through heartbreak, through troubles, through sour lemons, God can bring goodness, mercy, joy, and triumph.  Why?  Because His word says so.

He was specific.  In order to be specific in our prayers, we must be seeking God’s will in the first place.  We must be actively doing our part.  Nehemiah didn’t just hear the news, mourn, and pray.  He began to plan a way to fix the problem, all the while praying, seeking the will of God – “He did not sit still and say, ‘Let God now do His own work, for I have no more to do,’ but set himself to forecast what he could do towards it” (Henry).  And when he felt the Lord had shown him a way, Nehemiah began to pray specifically.  Because of his position as cupbearer to the king, he knew he held a place of significance and favor.  The cupbearer had to be trusted, after all, they were the ones who could most easily kill the king!  Because of this position, he knew approaching the king was an answer to his problem.  Nehemiah, like Esther, had been placed there for such a time as this.  So he prayed for that meeting specifically, “…make your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man” (ch. 1 vs. 11).  We do not have to be vague in our prayers!!

He waited on the Lord’s timing.  Chapter 1 of Nehemiah is set in the month of Chislev, and chapter 2, when he finally speaks to the king of the matter, is set in the month of Nisan.  There are FOUR months between the two!  Some sources believe these four months passed because Nehemiah was not in the presence of the king.  Possibly due to winter months, or possibly because he only worked one quarter out of the year.  But regardless, from the time Nehemiah heard of the crisis of Jerusalem until he was able to do anything about the matter, four months had passed!  All the while, Nehemiah kept praying and kept seeking the Lord’s will.  He was waiting for an opportunity to arise, for God to open the right door.  He recognized the need to be preparing, and while he did not sit still, he didn’t rush into anything either.  He wanted to be certain of the will of the Lord.

He continued to pray in the very moment he needed it:  The king out right asks Nehemiah what is bothering him at the beginning of the second chapter.  Perhaps Nehemiah didn’t hide his sadness as well as he believed, or perhaps due to fasting for four months, his physical appearance was altered to a point that the king couldn’t help but notice that Nehemiah’s countenance was not quite right.  So the king implores Nehemiah to express his anguish. And after a moment of fear, he does, then, “The king said to me, ‘What would you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven” (ch. 2 vs. 5).  You see, “the brief and sudden prayer reaches heaven as an arrow suddenly shot from the bow, but it goes right home because he who lets it off in his surprise is a good marksman well practiced” (Expositor’s).  Nehemiah had already been in constant prayer about this situation, so it makes sense that as he steps forward to speak with the king that he would, one last time, ask the Lord for confidence, clarity, and compassion from the king.  It would have been a natural reflex, just as it should be in our own lives.

In conclusion, our response to crisis, no matter the form, should be to pray and seek the will of God.  He knows better than we do how best to move forward.  He knows how the crisis will be fixed already.  And He knows best how to equip each one of us for the moments we find ourselves in.  Nehemiah sets a beautiful example of prayer in crisis, it would be wise to follow his lead.  The world is watching.  Our response matters.  Will you worry, curse God, and shut down?  Or will you pray, trust the Lord, seek His will, and move forward?