Back and Forth

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

The new decade has begun, and the atmosphere is alive with fresh hope and expectation. As many of us have taken inventory of not only the last year but the last decade, highlighting patterns in ourselves and others that we long for more (or less) of in the years to come, we’ve begun to note the areas in which we wish to invest more of ourselves. To do so requires a keen awareness of the responsibilities we currently have and the ones we would love to see released into our hands. We start to make space, carefully laying aside the influences in our lives which drain and hinder our growth in order to create margin for our fresh vision.

However, in the midst of our longing for new, it can be easy to lay aside that which is currently in our hands. Often, this looks like a desire to put down that which is this most taxing. We can look with rose-colored glasses at the things on the horizons of our daydreams, believing that achieving new dreams will somehow lighten the load that we have been carrying.

While Scripture speaks frequently about being wise in what we take on in pursuit of the purpose that He has called us, there is another principle at work. In a society that longs for the immediate, we lose sight of the immense value of cultivation. The longing for the new can provide a foothold for the enemy to plant seeds of discontentment, leading to weeds of bitterness and selfishness. Rooted in pride, this mentality crushes the efforts we’ve invested before they can reach full bloom.

The story of David speaks directly to this effect. 1 Samuel 16 speaks of the incredible anointing of David by Samuel the prophet. The young man was commissioned to be king – and yet returned to the pastures. Rather than abandoning his current responsibilities in light of the new word given by the Lord, he went back to steward what was already in his hands. As we learn later on, David would be called to serve as a musician in King Saul’s courts while still working as shepherd, before finally being called full-time into King Saul’s armies because he served faithfully right where he was planted, allowing God to bring about the change of seasons.

It is an art and discipline, staying faithful in the present and trusting God to bring about the appointment. Art and discipline both require cultivation (the process by which new skills are mastered), and God works in this process to prepare us for the moment He changes our scenery and responsibility. As I have prayed for this new decade for myself, my loved ones, and my church, I have been brought back to 1 Samuel 17. This familiar story of David and Goliath displays the moment that God changed David’s season and began the process of elevating him to his eventual role as king. Yet there is one verse that stands out to me for this season:

“The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle…but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep.” (1 Samuel 17:13a, 15)

Many of us are in this time of transition, in this tension of being caught in the middle of what we must do and the promise to which we are called. In this in-between, how tempting it is to abandon the sheep and run head first into the dream! However, in this back and forth, there are skills to be learned from the pasture that we need for the battlefield. David speaks to this principle to King Saul when he sensed God’s ordained change of seasons:

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth… Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like on of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” (1 Samuel 17:34-35a, 36)

In the pasture, David learned to fight, provide, care, and lead. When the time was right – according to God’s timing, not David’s – God elevated him into that which he had been called. Just because your current responsibilities and positions do not directly appear to align with the word spoken to you by the Lord does not mean that you are in a wasted season.

Here in the pasture, you’re preparing for the palace to which you are destined. Be encouraged in this waiting that you are not stuck or being overlooked. Quite the opposite: the eye of the Lord is fixed on you to ensure that you are being well-equipped for the moment that He changes your scenery.

So, don’t abandon your sheep, for there are still bears and lions to be conquered before you and I take the battlefield.

Great Expectations

“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God,  and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:1-10)

Oh, how I am lame man.

Desperate for spare change from man, expecting nothing from God.

Eyes fixed on the ground, so entrapped in victim mentality that I dare not raise my gaze to see the Lover of my soul standing with outstretched arms, ready to take me by the hands and lift me from my own pity party.

Instead, I hope and pray that those passing by will be drawn in by my miserable state and take a moment to toss meager pennies my way. My expectation is to barely scrape by, fullness and abundance so far removed from my line of thinking.

I see myself so clearly in this man, and I think that (if we’re honest) many of you could say the same. However, just like this man, we are one moment away from encountering the One who could change everything.

*******

It was a day like any other: waiting on others to carry him to the gates of the temple to take his post. Eyes on the ground, a quiet plea for change stumbling out of his mouth, hoping someone would do their religious duty and toss a spare coin his way.

Enter Peter and John.

With the Holy Spirit burning within them and the town of Jerusalem still stirring from the incredible events at Pentecost (see Acts 2), the atmosphere was shifting from the ordinary. Expectation for the miraculous was subtly welling. Peter and John were still attempting to make sense of the ways that the Lord was moving and working with them, so they consistently spent time in His presence at home and at the temple for daily prayer.

Then, they saw him.

In the same fashion as their Rabbi and Savior, they both immediately took notice of this man that was stationed at the outskirts. Their Teacher traveled the outskirts, keeping company with those whom the world had so conveniently set on the fringes.

The Spirit welled within them, and they knew exactly what Jesus would do. They diverged from the path to the temple and directed their gaze at this man – approaching him with intentionality. Expectation.

When they approached the man, the first thing that Peter did was ask this man to look up. Peter knew that the man needed to shift his vision to be fully engaged in what was about to take place. Just as Peter watched his Savior do whenever He performed a miracle, Peter made sure that the man knew that he was seen – actually seen, not given a mere glance.

The miracle begins with the realization that Someone sees you, right where you are.

The text tells us that the man expected to receive something from them. His past experience told him that at the temple gates, he could expect to receive spare change from those entering the temple – perhaps those who wanted to do their “good deed for the day.”

His identity was found in begging from men, from sitting on the outskirts of the presence of God.

Peter and John perform this miracle in the name of Jesus, showing this man that his expectation was too low. He expected to receive scraps from man’s table rather than sit down at the feast of God, and Peter and John learned well enough from Jesus that this man was exactly the guest that He longed to have beside Him at His table (Luke 14:21-23).

The first thing that this man does after he receives his healing is to enter the temple alongside Peter and John and praise the Lord. His heart and soul had just experienced the presence of God, and now his body wanted to make the journey from the gates to the court of the temple.

Seen and invited in.

What are you hoping for? What disappointment have you experienced that has told you that you belong on the outskirts? What pain still clings to your heart, plaguing you from expecting fullness? What are the scraps you have been feeding on instead of taking your place at the table? 

For me, affirmation from others is my “scrap of choice.” I crave hearing others say that I am ______ enough (pretty, thin, talented, good, etc.); I beg man to speak the things that my Father has already told me. Rather than running into the presence, I camp out at the gates and long for man to give what God has already provided in abundance.

What if we lived with God-sized expectation? What if we stopped begging from one another for the things that are already ours in Jesus? What if we stopped enabling one another by giving out spare change – instead, actually taking the time to truly see one another and refuse to allow anyone to stay at the gates? What if we went to the gates every day, pulling people up from the place of victimhood and bringing them to the Table with us?

May we expect to sit in our rightful place at His table and make frequent trips to the fringes to bring others with us to the Presence. May we expect Jesus to move and work through us in the ways that He did on earth.

May holy expectation define our days.

New Thing.

Sitting in my cabin, I hear the Whisper beckoning me to open the door. As I push the wood frame open, the cool breeze gently kisses my face. I step out onto the vast hillside, watching the waves crash onto the cliff’s rocks below me.

“This is what happens when you take Me out of your box. There is so much more than you ever imagined, and you get to spend the rest of this life and the next discovering and exploring this with Me. Take me out of the box.

I was comfortable, complacent, familiar, and bored in my cabin – thinking that this was all that there was to experience. Stepping out of the confinement of my own construction, I am awakened to the wonder for which I was created.

* * * * *

The mundane and seemingly repetitive nature of this life can easily dull our senses, causing us to shift into “autopilot”. Even as we face trials and tribulations due to our own sinful inclinations, it can be tempting to expect things to unfold as they have in the past. Our experiences can cause us to become numb to the ways of the Lord, constantly urging us to step out of what is familiar and into the unknown with Him; the God of new beginnings and unexpected miracles still desires to move and work in new ways in our lives. However, as we are so quick to place God in a box and place expectations on Him as to the ways in which He will speak and interact with us, we can fall prey to the god of pride and control who will rob us of the new things that God has for each one of us.

In the beginning of the Israelites’ journey towards the Promised Land (as recorded in Exodus 17:1-7), Moses faces the grumbling, thirsty Israelites at Meribah who are bitter towards him because of their lack of water. He turns to the Lord, who commands him to strike the rock in order to cause water to flow from it and meet the needs of the people. Later on, in the midst of the wilderness wandering in Numbers 20:2-13, Moses and Israelites are back at Meribah, complaining about their lack of water. Same place, same problem. God commands Moses to speak to the rock to cause the water to flow from it. Instead, in his frustration, Moses strikes the rock rather than being obedient to the new way in which God wanted to work.

The frustrations and problems of this life can cause us to become complacent to the voice of God. Instead of waiting and obeying the voice of God, we can choose to rely on the methods that worked in the past. Rather than relying on a personal, intimate relationship with the Lord, we succumb to the “vending machine God” theology that tells us that God will respond in the same way every time if we do what “worked” before. While God will always stay true to His promises to protect, surround, and provide for us, He is very careful to leave out the details regarding His methods of deliverance on these promises. This causes us to remain in a constant state of reliance and expectancy, curiously waiting on the Lord to act.

God is steady and faithful, true to His word and His promises; He will never leave us, forsake us, or leave us to our own devices as we choose to stay close to Him. He is bigger than we could ever imagine, grander than we could ever dream, and more creative than we ever thought possible; why would we expect Him to work in our lives in the same fashion each time?

Will we dare to take God out of the box? Will we choose to lean in and embrace the mysteries of God? Will we take Him at His word, knowing Him to always be faithful, and wait with anticipation to see His miracles unfold?

Expect the NEW THING; take Him out of the box, and wait in wonder.

Seven

Sunday is the highlight of my week, particularly Sunday morning. Because my home church here in Nashville meets on Sunday evenings, my mornings are slow and restful. I sleep in, make a large pot of coffee, and put on my favorite Spotify radio station (The Belonging Co”) while I spend uninterrupted time with the Lord. Sundays are unhurried and unstructured, and these are the mornings where He always speaks something new and fresh to me through the Holy Spirit. (Side note: isn’t it amazing how clearly He speaks when we make room and come ready to receive?)

This morning, I began the book of Revelation. If I’m being honest, I was a bit anxious to read it. I’ve read this particular book of the Bible numerous times, but often feel frustrated because so much of it seems to go over my head. This time, I was determined and made up my mind to approach this seemingly intimidating book with the only method I hadn’t yet tried: let go and listen. Incredibly profound, I know, but that has become more difficult than I care to admit as I often allow my human reasoning and collegiate studies to cloud my ability to approach Scripture with childlike faith. Childlike faith produces bold expectancy that leaves no room for doubt to creep in, and I was committed to trusting that my Father would share with me through this passage.

I prepared to read chapters 1 – 3, and asked the Lord to make this text personal. Boy, did He ever! After the introductory chapter, Christ speaks to seven churches (seven specific areas) through the apostle John about their current state. The Lord gave me a brief phrase for each of the churches regarding their current state and current struggle/downfall during that time:

  • Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7) : The trap of PERFORMANCE.
    • Christ states that the church is doing incredible work, but have “abandoned the love” that they first had.
  • Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11) : The trap of FEAR & POVERTY SPIRIT.
    • Jesus says while He recognizes their poverty and the hardship they’ve faced, they must realize that they are actually rich because of their faith.
  • Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17) : The trap of FALSE TEACHING. 
    • Christ states that there are certain members in the church who are holding to false teachings, which have led them into sin (specifically, eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality).
  • Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) The trap of FALSE TEACHERS. 
    • Jesus calls out the church’s tolerance of a false teacher (referred to as “the woman Jezebel”) who practices and teaches others to live in sin.
  • Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) : The trap of DEAD FAITH. 
    • Christ brings to light the dead faith of the church and their incomplete works.
  • Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) : The trap of (feeling) POWERLESSNESS & INADEQUACY. 
    • Jesus speaks to this church about their tribulation and current state, as they “have but little power” and yet have “kept My word and not denied My name.” (v. 8)
  • Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) : The trap of COMPLACENCY. 
    • In this well-known passage, Jesus corrects the church for being “neither cold nor hot”, and calls them back to a place of repentance.

As I read through the state of each of these churches, I was cut to the heart and realized how I have been (and often, still am) just like each of these churches at one time or another…

Difficulties come in life that stir up feelings of fear and inadequacy.

Tragedies occur that cause me to become dull and numb to the truth of Christ’s victory.

Feelings of lack and insecurity cause me to turn to short-term solutions and instant gratification that are not in line with the life of faith.

People-pleasing and the need for approval lead me to become more focused on my performance and production than my intimacy with Jesus.

The day-to-day, mundane details of life lead me to forget the radical power of the Gospel.

My natural inclination to compare myself to others leads me to place my callings and dreams on the shelf.

My desire to befriend others rather than offend causes me to sit back and keep quiet when I see friends who are believers walking down a path of destruction.

As I sat back and let the gravity of my own depravity settle in, one word rung through my mind. Remember. I recognized His voice, picked up my pen, and wrote the truth that the Lord spoke to each church after He highlighted the problem/lack:

  • Ephesus: Remember My authority.
    • I AM the True Vine. (John 15:1)
      • Whenever you begin to rest on your own ability and become focused on what you do/produce, remember Who gives your your strength.
  • Smyrna: Remember My victory. 
    • I AM the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11)
      • Whenever you fear your circumstances and feel a strain on your resources, remember Who takes care of you.
  • Pergamum: Remember My provision.
    • I AM the Bread of Life. (John 6:35)
      • Whenever you feel that you are missing out or are lacking something that you want, remember Who sustains you.
  • Thyatira: Remember My power.
    • I AM the Light of the World. (John 8:12)
      • Whenever you feel tempted to give in to sin or to follow others in rebellion, remember Who is in control.
  • Sardis: Remember My Return.
    • I AM the Resurrection and Life. (John 11:25)
      • Whenever your faith feels dead or you begin to fall into the trap of the false spirit of religion, remember Who is coming back for you.
  • Philadelphia: Remember My protection.
    • I AM the Door/Gate. (John 10:7)
      • Whenever you begin to fear the situations that you’re facing and feel powerless to change them, remember Who you belong to.
  • Laodicea: Remember My presence.
    • I AM the Way, Truth, and Life. (John 14:6)
      • Whenever you become lukewarm or faith in Jesus becomes “familiar” and comfortable, remember Who He is.

As I finished writing, I was overwhelmed by the wisdom and understanding that He provided; how He delights to teach and help us to understand His deep mysteries! 2018 has proven to be dynamic, and in these two and half months I’ve experienced almost every emotion possible. From my family and I facing an unexpected death to seeing a dream come to pass that I had written off, from heavy financial burden and debilitating health issues to God’s miraculous healing in both my body and my spirit, I have been reminded of the true power of Christ. He delights in you, and wants to walk out this life with you. He wants to speak to you, to reveal His rich wisdom and truth to you. He is not finished yet.

Just as the seven churches in Revelation had seven unique circumstances, Christ had seven specific answers for them. The seven “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel, the seven rich facets of Christ’s character, supersede each and every lie that you face. In the Hebrew culture, the number “seven” represents completion and perfection; seven is used to represent God and His perfect, spotless nature. Christ, the fullness of God on earth, speaks completion over you each and every day through Holy Spirit and the Word. Stop, listen, and receive.

Above, below, before, and behind – Christ is all around.

There isn’t a situation, circumstance, feeling, fear, need, or desire that the Truth of Jesus does not address AND reign sovereign over.

 

Charcoal Fire

As I’ve mentioned before, moving to Nashville was a difficult and weighty decision for numerous reasons, but primarily because of the regret and disappointment that had become synonymous with the city. For several years, I couldn’t even think about Nashville or music in general without feeling a physical ache. I suppose that’s what regret feels like, that dropping sensation you feel in your stomach while your heart rises to your throat as you try to choke back tears.

It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in that. In John 18, we read about the arrest of Christ. Taking place at night to avoid protests of the crowd and maintain secrecy, we see that Jesus is in the high priest’s chambers and Peter is standing in the courtyard, warming himself around a charcoal fire (verse 18). This is the sight of his denials of Christ (three in total), as Christ had forewarned Peter about during dinner earlier that evening.

Scan ahead to John 21. Jesus has been resurrected and had already appeared to the disciples (see John 20). John 21 tells of another occurrence where Jesus spent time with seven of the disciples (including Peter) post-resurrection. Draw your attention to verse 9:

“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread.”

Jump forward to verses 15-17, in which Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” You can feel the ache in Peter’s heart are he replies, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.” (verse 17). In that moment, Peter knew that Jesus was referring to his denial of Him back in the courtyard; Jesus redeems each denial by asking Peter three times to declare his love for Christ.

Allow yourself to think for a moment of the emotions that Peter must have felt as he approached the fire that Jesus had made for their breakfast. Charcoal fire. In that moment, could you imagine the emotions that must have welled up within Peter, as he recalled what took place around a charcoal fire days before? If it were me, I don’t know how I could stand to sit around that fire for five minutes, let alone a full meal!

Peter loved Jesus so much that he was willing to sit in his regret and discomfort long enough to allow Jesus to redeem it. Do I? Am I willing to return to the places of deep regret and disappointment, to sit in those excruciating emotions long enough to allow Jesus to enter in? Am I willing to fully embrace my past, not for the sake of tormenting myself, but to experience full redemption?

I cannot live in the abundant freedom of Christ until I’m willing to return to the places of shame and failure with my Savior. Until I can sit in that place and allow Jesus to lovingly touch each wound, I will be stuck in lukewarm freedom.

Charcoal is the best agent for fire because of its ability to burn and sustain fire at a higher temperature than normal wood. That concept resonates, as we all know those places and wounds in our lives that hurt deeper than others. There are mistakes we’ve made that are painful, but easier to admit and talk about than others. I need to invite Jesus into the more shallow wounds, of course, but until I bring Him to the “charcoal pain”, that thing/event/person of the past that haunts me and seems unmentionable, I cannot walk in His abundance.

Will I allow 2018 to be the year of the abundant life that He has for me? Jesus is already sitting at my charcoal fire, waiting for me to join Him so He can fully heal and redeem it – will I sit down?

A Year of Bread

Breathing deeply, I place my hands on the cool patch of earth. I recall my youthful joy the day that I planted these seeds two decades ago, my heart filled with longing.

Returning to this plot of land is painful; the sting of unrealized dreams runs deep.

And yet…

I pick up the small watering can and watch the slow streams of water soak into the parched dust – a steady mix of fresh water and my salty tears. As the can empties, I sit up. Resting on my knees, a smile spreads across my face as I see the shadow of my old friend drawing near.

Hope has returned.

*  *  *  *  *

As I prayed and dreamed about 2018, the word “purpose” continually came to mind. I wanted this year to be an extension of the dreams and prayers I had for 2017, whose theme was “commitment and creativity”. Naturally, the verse that came to mind was Romans 8:28:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Because I wanted this verse to be central to my year, I thought it would be beneficial to do a exegetical word study for “purpose”; what I discovered was so simple, yet so profound that I felt compelled to share.

The word “purpose” translates from the Greek word “prothesis”, which means, “a setting forth; specifically, the Shewbread (Showbread/Bread of the Presence) in the Temple as exposed before God. This stopped me in my tracks, as I realized that I needed to change my approach to the word before going any further. This verse is often used by believers to make sense of tragedy that occurs or to encourage when faced with obstacles in the pursuit of calling/dreams. However, in context, this word has nothing to do with calling, and everything to do with the Bread of the Presence that God directed Aaron, and the high priests to follow, to make and set before Him every Sabbath day (see Leviticus 24:5-9). It was a continual offering to the Lord, meant to be a memorial food offering, that was also the provision for high priest and his family to consume, as their inheritance was the Temple and their work was to continuously minister before the Lord on behalf of the people; basically, they did not have any means of making money or producing food, so they were set aside portions from offerings provided by the Israelites.

Excitement stirred in my heart as I recalled the passage that I read weeks before in Exodus 29, titled “Consecration of the Priests”. In this chapter, God is instructing Moses in the procedures for consecrating (setting apart for service) the priests. He tells Moses of the specific animal offerings that need to occur over the course of seven days, the blood that was to cover the high priest’s garments from the sacrifice, and the meal in which the priests would eat the “meat” of the offerings and the bread of the Presence. I then turned a few pages further in anticipation, and read Exodus 40 in which the priests washed with water, put on their priestly garments, and approached the altar for the first time.

Wow.

Reading this over, I went back to the four Gospel accounts of the “Last Supper”, and felt my heart rest in a new understanding. This is why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before the meal. This is why the breaking of bread and consumption of wine, the declaration of it being His body and blood, was so profound. This is why the consumption of the wine – rather than just an outward covering of their clothes – is so groundbreaking. The disciples would have understood the holiness and sanctity of this moment, of Jesus walking them through the priestly ordination and consecration meal as the close of what the Church refers to as “Holy Week” (beginning with Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and ending with Easter Sunday) was approaching. This is why Peter calls believers in 1 Peter 2:9 “a royal priesthood”. Jesus, the Bread of Life and Bread of Presence, was the offering; He brought Himself before God as the final sacrifice so that we didn’t have to strive for His Presence any longer. He showed them their true purpose on earth.

As we go into this new year, praying and dreaming about what we want 2018 to hold, remember this. Remember that the purpose of God is Jesus; as simple as that sounds, it will change your approach to this year if you allow that truth to sink in. The purpose of God, the calling that each of us have on our lives, is Jesus. Our purpose, motivation, destiny, anchor is Jesus – it is relationship, not achievement. This truth empowers us to dream big, because we can walk in the confidence of knowing that no matter the outcome of our pursuits, our purpose has already been met and cannot be taken from us. When we can walk in confidence knowing that our actions (or lack thereof) do not keep us from living out our purpose, we are free.

Dream again. Create again. Hope again. Do something beyond what your natural ability would allow, because you are secure in the Purpose of God.

“Waves of Purpose are crashing upon the flame of fear, and I will dance on the ashes that remain.”

Weak, and proud of it!

Lately, I’ve been ever-so-lovingly challenged by the Lord to reevaluate where I’ve placed my trust. I decided to do an exercise that involved me asking the family member I’m closest with to describe me as a young child. The words in particular that were the most difficult to hear were “you knew who you were, and you embraced it.” My life since I was  ten years old has been marked by the lie that I am never enough. I tried to become who everyone else wanted me to be, and when that didn’t work, I ran from anything that looked remotely like intimacy in relationships for fear.

These past nine months in Nashville have rocked me in the best way possible. I’ve met these incredible people who challenged me to be real, to rest, and to rely on them. I’ve realized that my fear of never being enough caused me to become self-reliant – to the extreme; I had no idea how to lean on other people, whether in the work place or in relationships.

I began to realize how prideful I had become – relying on my own strength, ignoring areas of weakness and refusing to acknowledge them. I had stuck to what I knew and the things that I knew I did well, and didn’t want to expose weaknesses to grow in those areas because that would mean being vulnerable and willing to admit that I didn’t have it all together.

This morning during my time with the Lord, I was reflecting on the ways that He has been shifting things in my spirit this year. I picked up reading where I left off in the book of Jeremiah, and was completely astounded by today’s reading…

* * * * *

Jeremiah 39 – 43. The Babylonians invaded Judah, and the prophecy that the Lord had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah had been fulfilled. The Babylonian armies came in and took all of the nobles, business owners, and land owners (the upper and middle classes, respectively) into exile in Babylon. The military leader, Nebuzaradan, left behind the poor and let them abide in the land because they were not worth the effort to bring to Babylon. These people had never owned land, never worked, and essentially would have had no idea how to survive on their own. It would have no adverse effect on Babylon to let these people stay, as they would most likely perish on their own anyways.

But, God had different plans in mind. The Lord’s hand was on Jeremiah’s life, and he was given the option to either come to Babylon and be taken care of (per the king’s orders), or he could stay in Judah. He chose the latter. In addition, the king of Babylon appointed a governor to the land to oversee the remnant. He would be their representation before the king of Babylon, and they were told to “gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and dwell in the cities…” (Jer. 40:10)

Land of their own for the first time in their lives! Resources that they could call theirs, homes to dwell in, representation before the king for their needs, and the mouthpiece for the Lord (Jeremiah) dwelling in their midst! What more could they have asked for?

However…

The governor of Jerusalem was killed by long time adversaries of the Hebrews, and hope was lost again – even though a misfit group of Hebrews (who had been living in the outskirts of the city to escape the Babylonians when the city was captured) defeated their adversaries. The loss of the governor shook the hope of the remnant to the point that they decided it was time to return to Egypt, believing that the loss of their representation before the king of Babylon would result in their destruction.

When I read this, my mouth dropped. Egypt?! After this clear blessing from the Lord, they still were controlled by such fear that they would want to return to their ancestor’s land of slavery?

They were so blinded by fear of the unknown that they were willing to return to the bondage of the past rather than embark on the adventure that the Lord had set before them.

Think about it for a second… Jeremiah had already prophesied that after seventy years of dwelling in a foreign land, God would bring the people back to Jerusalem (see the famous passage, Jer. 29:11). However, God wanted to expand that blessing even further! By leaving the poorest of the poor in Jerusalem, He was going to train them up to not only be sufficient on their own, but to guard and rebuild the land after the destruction of the exile to Babylon. Think about it – this would have meant that after the seventy years of exile, the Israelites could have returned to a fortified city rather than ruins (see the book of Nehemiah). There would have been no lower class in the entire land, because the poor would have established themselves! Israel had the potential to become the strongest nation once again, returning to the prosperity that they experienced under King David.

However…

Their fear won out. Though Jeremiah spoke to the people and told them, “If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy that he [the king of Babylon] may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land.” (Jer. 42:10-12) He goes on to say that if they choose to live in Egypt, everything that they’re afraid of will come to pass, and they will be destroyed and/or taken into exile in Babylon.

They chose Egypt.

The remnant of the weakest Israelites saw themselves as just that. They saw themselves as the lowest of the low, unable to provide for themselves, and sought a master. They did not trust God to be their leader (much like their ancestors did, asking for a king and rejecting God’s lordship over them – see 1 Samuel). God was going to redeem them, call them up out of their poverty, and build them up into people marked by prosperity and abundance (Jer. 40:12).

Their fear – their false, worldly view of themselves that told them they were worthless – kept them from experiencing the restoration that God longed for them to have.

They decided to go to Egypt, and experienced their worst fears. The Babylonians had their sights set on conquering Egypt, and they they did just that (Jer. 44:40). God knew that this was going to happen, hence why He commanded the remnant in Jerusalem to stay where they were! God had plans and provision in store for them, but their fear and false identity robbed them of the victory.

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In seasons where it seems like your strengths are being attacked and placed aside, where your areas of perceived weakness are being called to bat, how will you react? Will you trust that God is going to redeem your areas of weakness? Will you surrender control and believe that God is greater than your fears, or will you hide in strongholds that you think will save you?

Have you forgotten that your weakness in your true strength? (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Allow grace to flood into your areas of weakness. Give yourself permission to not have it all together so that God is able to fully be Lord over your life. Refusing to embrace your weaknesses ultimately shows that your faith is in yourself (your strengths), and lordship belongs to pride rather than Christ. When you are weak, then you are strong.

Purposeful pain.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

When you take an honest look back at your life, it’s relatively easy to pinpoint a season that seemed to be marked with pain, wanting, and even loneliness. It’s a time when you felt stripped down, bare – like your heart is in a constant winter state, longing for the warmth of spring.

In my life, the last seven years were a such a time. Perhaps this is why I felt such a connection with C.S. Lewis’ classic, “The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. My heart felt like Narnia before the return of Aslan; it was in an perpetual winter season. I used to view this as punishment from God for the mistakes that I made. I was desperate for more.

No more.

The number seven in the Hebrew culture represents “completion” or “perfection”. God is so faithful to use the most blatantly obvious symbols and signs in my life to show me that He is just. The past few weeks of living out my twenty-fourth year on this planet have been marked by beautiful revelation from God, and now I’m able to see more clearly how God shaped and molded me in my wilderness season. I needed those seven years. In all honesty, I’m an Israelite through and through — I’m the reason that my wilderness season lasted longer than the journey required. What could have been a year process turned into seven, filled with my grumbling and tears of frustration.

However, as I am now exiting the wilderness, “…coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved…”, I am so deeply grateful for that time. There are not enough words to express my deep gratitude for this season. Yet again, I’m reminded of the countercultural nature of our God; my weakness and longing was the key to my satisfaction and strength.

In the Hebrew, the word for wilderness (“midbar”) comes from the root word “to speak, appoint, promise” (“dabar”). The purpose of the wilderness season is not to punish you, it’s to commission you!

Leaving the wilderness, fully reliant and fully resting on the shoulders of my Beloved Savior, I am speechless. The wilderness season was the commissioning of my heart for His Kingdom’s plans. I’m ready now for all that this life holds because I’ve learned not to hold anything except the beautifully scarred hands of Jesus.

Moses, not David.

Yesterday at church, the person in front of me turned around and introduced himself to me after worship. He told me that I had “such a beautiful voice”. Per usual, I looked down and muttered thank you with a small smile. I’ve had this happen more times than I can count since I was young – people complimenting me on my voice, or random strangers hugging me and informing me that I’ve been given a gift from the Lord. (In all honesty, I don’t think it has as much to do with my voice than my volume… I’ve always been known for my projection.)

I hate this, mainly because there’s still a part of my heart that soars every time. You see, singing was my identity from a young age. I performed everywhere I could, trained with some incredible musicians and teachers, and recorded with phenomenal producers; singing was my life. I couldn’t forsee doing anything else with my future aside from becoming a country singer. “Sami Lee” was going to be the next Reba McEntire or Carrie Underwood.

Then, life happened, and I left the spotlight for what was initially meant to be a temporary leave of absence. I left the music world and was stripped of my identity (so I thought). At sixteen, I met Jesus, and began to reconstruct my life. However, there was always this fear tucked away in the back of my heart that this new identity wouldn’t be enough. I knew Whose I was, but I didn’t know what I would do; I was a performer both on and off the stage, and I couldn’t separate who I was from what I did. This fearful mentality stayed with me through college, and I completely gave up music. The more I learned about the Lord and fell in love with Him, the more afraid I became of music because I knew that it was the greatest idol in my life. This broke my heart on a daily basis; I loved to sing, but felt that I couldn’t let myself do it for fear that I would let it become my identity.

At 21, I discovered my love for leading worship; I realized that people were less concerned with me and more concerned with the One we were singing to. This completely rocked my world, because I found a way to reconcile the pieces of my heart without fear of forgetting where my identity truly lies. The past few years have been spent leading worship and teaching young women how to lead, and it’s been more life-giving than I ever imagined. (I think the Lord knows better than to allow me lead worship to large congregations, at least for now.)

I’m a Moses, not a David.

The Lord used forty years in the wilderness to strip Moses of everything he knew and everything that competed for his affections. God stripped him of his power, his influence, and his platform in order to call him to Himself. Then, in an incredible fashion, God called Moses back to leadership in the “burning bush commission”. Moses’ reaction?

God, do You remember who I am? I’m murderer! Do You remember where I am? I’m living in the wilderness – I have no resources to accomplish this! Do You remember the last time I tried to lead? I obviously don’t have the talent or ability to lead others! Please send someone else! (Exodus 3 – 4:17)

Moses was afraid. Stripped of all that he had ever known, he couldn’t fathom going back and trying to bring justice for his people again… Didn’t God remember the disaster he created the last time he tried to do this? Why would God put stock in someone who had failed before? But, God had the perfect position for Moses:

Moses was going to be a leader, but not in a glamorous palace, looking down on the people. Moses was going to be the leader walking amongst the people. His time of refinement in the wilderness prepared him to lead IN the wilderness. 

Moses was not like King David (the second king of Israel). Though both are incredible pillars of the faith whom we admire, study, and strive to imitate today, their leadership platforms were wildly different. David’s peak of leadership landed him on the throne; Moses’ sphere of influence consisted of roughing it in the wilderness for forty years with over a million people who had never lived on their on before. David commanded, and the people obeyed; Moses repeated what he heard from the Lord, and the people complained. David held all authority; Moses was the conduit between the people and the True Authority. David’s time in the wasteland led him to the royal tower; Moses’ desert season led him right back to the wilderness.

I’m a Moses, not a David.

God knows that my pride is too great and I would not be able to faithfully steward such a lofty position in the limelight. Instead, I get the incredible privilege of walking alongside young people, teaching and training, rather than looking down on them from a stage. I don’t receive applause or sign autographs anymore, and yet I get to use my gifts in such a fulfilling way than ever before. God recreated me in my own wilderness season so that I could spend my life leading others through their deserts.

I was created for the wilderness, not the spotlight, and I could not be more grateful.

the truth about the abundant life.

I’ve come to realize that I’m both a visual and kinetic learner (at least when it comes to spiritual matters). I love my time with the Lord in His Word, so when He pairs what I’m reading with what I experience in my day to day life, it takes root in my heart. The last two weeks have been quite draining to say the least, and by Monday morning I felt like collapsing at the Lord’s feet. It seemed like every area of my life was under attack, and I couldn’t manage the wounds on my own (not that I ever truly can, but in my own pride I like to think that I can “soldier on” most days).

Naturally, I went on a hike.

My favorite trail had been hit by some storms, and the wear-and-tear was evident. I noticed a rather large tree had been uprooted, and I took a moment to gawk at the size of the roots and how a seemingly small storm could dislodge something so strong. I continued walking, and saw that the large tree had actually fallen across the trail several feet ahead.

That’s when the Lord tapped at my heart.

This is where you are right now, Beloved. That tree that I uprooted in your life last year that was destroying you is in your path once again. You have two choices – will you let this stop you and become overcome with grief, or will you climb over it and keep your eyes on what lies ahead?

Tears welled in my eyes as I let His words sink in. I love how God uses such simple things illustrate profound truths in our lives! In 2017, I’ve committed myself to living the abundant life; I’ve come to realize that the abundant life often looks remarkably like the broken life, and that’s where God so beautifully fills in the gaps. In my brokenness, I run to my Father’s presence, and it’s only in His presence that I’m able to live abundantly.

Perhaps that’s the secret to the abundant life – learning to simultaneously hold heartbreak and gratitude in your hands. In my brokenness, I am filled. In my weakness, I am strong. In my emptiness, I am abundant.

Today, would you celebrate your own brokenness? Would you thank the Lord for your scars and your wounds? Would you open your eyes to see that the cracks in your heart are where His light shines through? Can you embrace the paradox of the broken, abundant life?

I will.

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**If you have not read Ann Voskamp’s “The Broken Way”, stop what you’re doing and purchase the book. She writes about this topic in such a profound way, and you will be truly touched and challenged.