Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Places to Hide

Looking out from a not-so-conspicuous cave in the
oasis of Ein Gedi, Israel.
Photo taken May 2012

Some days I just want to crawl in a cave and hide. 

I can certainly relate to King David during these days.  Well, the future King David, who was, instead, running for his life and indeed hiding in caves.  Do you ever have days like this?  Days where you’re just ready to run away from the world? 

On days like this, I resist the urge to run away completely from challenges that come my way, but I do some serious internal interrogation (generally, in quiet places with just God and I).

Why are you feeling this way?  What is making you so anxious?  What is causing you stress?  What boundaries do you need to set to avoid these things?

If we’re honest, the daily challenges of life can feel like they are shoving us into a hole, whether we want to go there or not.  And sometimes the same challenges can feel like they are propelling us out into the world as a superhero to fix them all.  While it’s not healthy for us to constantly run away and hide, neither is it healthy for us to have an inkling of an idea that we can fix all the problems we’re dealt without the help of God.

So what did the mighty David do?  He hid.  But he hid in the shelter of the promises of God.  Look at these translations of David’s words in Psalm 62:5....

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (NIV 84)
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. (NLT) 
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (ESV) 
My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. (KJV)

Waterfalls in the hills of Ein Gedi, Israel,
where David hid from Saul's pursuit and wrote
many of the Psalms.
Photo taken May 2012




This is my remedy for the anxious feelings that come my way.  And though it takes a conscious effort to set aside my drive to “do” and simply “wait”, it’s where I find the most peace.

Sometimes, a short term cave-experience isn't so bad after all.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Judging a Book by its Cover (A Reflective Entry on Nehemiah 02)

I grew up doing musicals.  

Without sharing my life story with you, let it suffice to say that memories involving music, drama, or arts, always seem to stick with me.  One of the musicals I was in at some point in my childhood was called “O Me, O My, O Nehemiah!”.  The first thing I thought of when I heard about this Bible study was one of the predominant memories that remains of this fun little children’s musical: Nehemiah rebuilt the wall (see what I mean here if you are unfamiliar with what wall I'm talking about).

I say all of this to tell you one thing: the book of Nehemiah is so much less about the rebuilding of a wall... 

In fact, in all the peripheral research I did in personal preparation for his week’s group study, almost every resource I came to primarily talked of Nehemiah’s focus on prayer.   Prayer.  He was no engineer, after all.  He was a trusted, faithful leader that relied heavily on prayer.  For this reason, when we study Nehemiah, we may have to throw away some of our cozy childhood memories of our Biblical expertise and look at what the book really says.  We’re only in week two of this study, and still on the brief chapter one, but already we see a foundation Nehemiah builds in his life that has little to do with cutting or moving stone and a lot to do with relying on his communication with our Creator.

There are some very distinct truths that we can pull out of these 11 verses about Nehemiah, about our lives, and about prayer. 

We can pray with confidence!
As a God-follower (specifically now, a Christ-follower), we can have confidence in prayer.  Nehemiah demonstrated this confidence in that he knew the God he was praying to when he made his requests.  Nehemiah had a respect for God’s wonderfulness, he had a trust in God’s faithfulness, and he had a righteousness that taught him God was approachable.  Our attitude about prayer is often shaped by our attitude about God.  Nehemiah would have grown up learning about the attitudes toward prayer of Kings in his heritage, and one of them was Hezekiah.

Hezekiah prayed confidently to God in the same manner that we see Nehemiah doing so.  (See 2 Kings 19:14-19).  Hezekiah’s confidence was not just a boldness with the intent to flatter or manipulate God, but was to demonstrate his reliance on God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. We were reminded that prayer is not an opportunity for us to align God’s plan with our wishes, but as we seek God, our wishes are aligned to God’s plan.

Prayer brings success!
Do you see?  This is the answer to success in every area of life!  Prayer changes our heart’s desires to God’s desires.  God’s desires always match His great plan and purpose, and His purposes never fail.  Therefore, prayer always leads to success when we are seeking to have the heart of God, rather than seeking to have our own way.

God’s answers are immediate!

When we are praying for the plans and purposes of God to pan out, we can be confident that He has already answered those prayers.  Here are some examples: In 2 Kings 20, the prophet Isaiah came to tell King Hezekiah that he was going to die.  The King prayed as soon as the prophet left, and before Isaiah had passed through the courtyard of the temple (which was not very far at all-perhaps from your house to two doors down), God gave him the answer to Hezekiah’s prayer: “I’m giving you 15 more years to live.”  
Wow!  That's pretty immediate!
Consider also, Daniel and his prayer (see Daniel 10:1-14).  Daniel started praying and immediately God sent out the answer.  The angel sent to deliver the answer was held up for three weeks, though, and so Daniel kept praying.  Come to find out, Daniel’s prayers weren't just for an answer from God – they were for the delivery of that answer.  Do you get it?  When we pray, God answers immediately!  If we don’t see or know the answer immediately, we keep praying for the delivery of the answer!  God’s ready to dish out answers to prayer.  They are not as few and far between as they may seem, but we have a responsibility: act.  Pray.  Ask for what we need and then pray for a clear delivery of your answer while you praise God for what you can confidently trust that He has already done.

Prayer is valuable!
In verse 11 of Nehemiah chapter 1, we read that Nehemiah was praying with other people.   His request of God was not just to hear his prayers, but to hear the prayers of all the faithful people who have been in prayer.  Nehemiah was the spokesperson for his people at this time, but he was not the only person interceding through prayer for the Israelites and for the city of Jerusalem.  Sometimes we are in a place in life where we are a “spokesperson” – we are in the position and have the ability to speak up for that which we and others are praying.  But sometimes, we are the silent warrior, praying with other believers, expecting from our faithful God, but not necessarily writing a book about it or leading a movement for it.  Each prayer is vital.  Each prayer is valuable.  And no prayer goes unheard.

That “circumstance” in your life is your divine opportunity!
In fact, Nehemiah’s mentioning that he was a cup-bearer to the king wasn't necessarily as out-of-placed as it seems, initially.  The assignment of cup-bearer was a high honor bestowed on people that were loyal leaders and whose character had been tested.  This testing of character would have taken years, perhaps Nehemiah’s entire lifetime up to this point, but certainly before Nehemiah knew how God was going to use him.  Instead, while this verse states a fact, it also states a history: God had been putting this plan into place for a very long time!  His statement (in 444 B.C.) resembles the heart of what Mordecai spoke to Queen Esther approximately 40 years earlier (in 473 B.C.) – God has placed Nehemiah (like Esther) in the position and with the express ability to carry out a divine plan “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). 

You can take heart from this, because it is a truth that runs like a thread through the entire Bible, through the ages, and into the timeline of your life today: God has placed you in a position, and has placed in you the ability, to carry out His plan “for such a time as this”.  Your job is not a coincidence, your neighbors are not a coincidence, and your car troubles are not a coincidence.  All these things that shape our lives – the “dailies” that we have to deal with – are all part of the plan that God has in mind – and they have been that way forever!  Trusting, honoring, and following God during whatever you’re dealing with is your opportunity to jump into a divine plan and see restoration happen in your life and in the lives of those with whom you come in contact. 

Logic can be our biggest ally or our biggest enemy!
Often, we fall into “logic traps”, leading us to believe that an answer from God was really not from God at all, but was because “that’s just the way things naturally happen”.  While this latter statement is true much of the time, the reasoning behind it is not true.

When you cut your finger and ask for healing, God may use a salve to heal your finger, but the salve was not the healer.  The salve may have been the resource, and your application of the salve was perhaps the obedience required, but God is the one who did the healing, not the salve.  This is what we mean by logic traps.

Nehemiah didn't succumb to these traps, though he was certainly a wise man.  He chose to bring the details to God and let God work those details out.  His prayer was desperate and brokenhearted for the heritage of which he had only heard stories.  Even with these disjointed burdens, Nehemiah knew that God was big enough to ease his burden, in whichever way was suitable to His plan.  Like the heart of Nehemiah, let’s be mindful to thank God for each and every answer to prayer – even those we don’t physically see.  And let’s remember that while logic has its value, nothing surpasses the power or value that is held in the very being of God.

Despite a busy week and a late, exciting night of preparation the night before our group meeting, I was stoked to share these truths with the ladies!  In choosing to dive in and figure out more about exactly what we are reading, we found that while historical records intrigue and stories themselves can delight, seeking out deeper truths helps us to re-cover our perspective on this book of Nehemiah and to recapture the essence of what Nehemiah was really about: drawing closer to the heart of God. 

Questions for Reflection:
  • Have you ever had an event in your life that has caused you such great sorrow that you have wept for days or weeks?  What was it?  Did you take time to seriously pray about it?
  • How would you evaluate your current prayer life?  Is there something you would want to change?
  • Do you view prayer as a privilege, a job, or both?
  • Knowing what we know about Nehemiah’s divine placement in history (like Esther, like Jesus, like Moses), can you see how God may be taking you through places and seasons that could bring Him glory and bring you long-term goodness?  We cannot know which way the hand of God will move, but working to see our “hard times” through the eyes of eternity can give us hope in the short-term.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Scripture Notes: Mark 7 (Check Yourself)

Jesus replied, ‘You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’  For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.’  Then He said, ‘You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.’”  -Mark 7:6-9

I had a friend tell me once that her husband was cheating on her.

Then another friend.

Then another.

There was little I could do but pray, and pray I did.  My initial response was to be defensive for my friends, because I want to protect.  But my God-sensor told me to beware of being judgmental.  You don’t see what I see, He would whisper to my heart.

But God (I should've known not to start a prayer this way…), he is spouting Your name and Your principles off everywhere He goes!  How can someone who is doing something so blatantly against Your Word (cheating) proclaim Your Word (to be faithful)?

Of course, my defensive prayer was not surprising to God.

And His response?

You don’t see what I see.  You weren't there when I told the donkey to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22), or when I blinded Saul and renamed Him Paul for my glory.  You know that I don’t need a perfect person to work for me.  You know this, because you know you.  Despite your flaws (I've had many conversations with God about these), you make yourself available and I use you. 

If I can insert a hash tag, #epiccomplaintfail

Okay, okay, so I won’t judge.

Judging the person makes me just as guilty as them at that point because of what Jesus said in these very verses: I will find a loophole in God’s law to justify my own perspective for my own benefit or “to hold on to my own tradition”!

My responsibility lies in the same place as it had before my conversation with God: pray for them.  My job is to be Judge, not yours, He says.  Your job is to be in love with Me.  I’ll lead you down the right paths. Besides, this case is too big for you to handle.  Don’t worry, I've got it.

When we finally choose to worship God with our actions and not just our words, we will find tremendous freedom from the need to judge and justify.  And when we choose to check our actions against what the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) should be producing, we will probably find the root issue of our surrounding problems.  As Jesus later said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.” (vs. 20)

Let’s fill our hearts and minds with the good fruit and uproot the bad that tries to defile us.  Let’s get back to the basics of Christ’s immense love for us and the sacrifice He made before we jump to the justification of our defenses.

Let’s practice a little more grace today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Waters of Great Love

At twenty-nine the waiting game is over
No offense, but I've got lots of things to do
So I've left you this little note
And I'm hoping that you'll find it:
Meet me in the waters of Great Love

I held off for a while, just stalling Him, you see
But His calling for me was growing quite too faint
I realized my love for you
Would never be enough for you
Unless I drank the waters of Great Love

So I'm drinking deeply now, still hoping you'll show up
Yet this waiting time hasn't been for naught
And when you've made your peace
With all you've done and fought
I'll be wading in the waters of Great Love

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

People Can Be Messy (A Reflective Entry on Nehemiah 01)

People can be messy… especially me. 

You may not look at me and see it, but I've got a past.  I've got a history, a story of heartache and shame; a story of misunderstandings and a broken spirit.  I have it.  You probably do too. 

This is why joining together with friends to get down to the nitty-gritty of life can be messy too.

Tonight I spent about two hours going over chapter one of the book of Nehemiah in the Bible.  It’s a short chapter – only 11 verses.  It’s a scene setup, for all practical purposes.  Chapter one of Nehemiah doesn't have a whole lot of juicy detail that splashes on you from the pages of old.  Rather, it’s quite factual, with a little emotion from the perspective of the writer. 


There’s so much more.  There’s always so much more, isn't there?  I have a history.  You have a history.  Nehemiah had a history, as did Jerusalem.  And while I’ll leave the historical perspective of chapter one to my friend and pastor here, I’ll give you some internal reflection. 


My history is not much different than that of the Israelites.  I have had good days and bad days like them.  The Israelites were told that their sin would lead them to destruction, and God has issued the same warning to me.  I knew this even before I had an understanding of God in my mind. As children, we’re taught a basic moral concept of right and wrong.  As adolescents, we test this concept.  As adults, we live in its consequences.  Nehemiah wept at these consequences; his heart broke because of them. He did not weep because he thought it was unfair; rather, he knew how ugly his heart and the heart of his people had become.


Still, Nehemiah knew the promise of God was not only to punish wrong, but was to restore what was lost when people did right. (See verses 8-9 in chapter 1.) God promised his people an option for redemption when they turned to Him.  God promises that for me, too.  Through Jesus Christ, I have this prescription for grace with no expiration date.  It’s available to me any time I call it in – turn to Jesus, He restores, He redeems, He heals.


Just like a medicine, I have to receive God’s grace.  I have to accept it, allow it to cover me, and allow it to heal me.  The Israelites had a lot of healing to do after being captive in Babylon, too.  They had a lot of rebuilding of their lives, of their city, and of their commitment to the right living God had planned for them. 

Amidst Bibles, brownies, and Boggle (the game!), I was allowed to be messy tonight.  I was allowed to share shame and my journey through redemption and acceptance of God’s grace.  I felt I was in safe company with Nehemiah – a beautiful soul that dealt with messy things.  But Nehemiah’s story was not unplanned.  And neither is my mess.  God has a plan to use me to rebuild things like He did Nehemiah.  He can use you too, if you let Him.  It might get a little messy, though.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Scripture Notes: Matthew 28 (Loyalty)

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28:20b

Matthew records one of the last things he remembers Jesus saying as, “I am with you always.” It obviously meant a lot to him.

Matthew was a tax collector-turned-disciple. His whole career up to this point was riddled with trickery and deceit. Manipulation was the game. He would spend his time swindling people out of money to get a commission the government wouldn’t give him.

Up until Jesus called him, Matthew didn’t really know loyalty at all.

Walking with Jesus, following him quite literally, listening to His every word — these things gave Matthew the proof he needed in his spirit of Jesus’ loyalty. So, when Jesus said, “I am with you always,” Matthew knew it was no joke. Jesus wasn’t just saying something to get Matthew to do something. There was no manipulation involved here.

A light went on in Matthew’s mind. His heart finally understood all the prophecies of old: Jesus is the Savior. When He said He would be with him, Jesus had proven that He would. Whether He showed up physically or simply set up residence in his heart, Matthew had the most loyal friend he would ever find.

And he knew it.

When we choose to receive God’s gift of Salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus Himself, we choose loyalty to be on our side. Never again will we be able to say “I am alone” because Jesus promises to be with us. In Jesus, Matthew found genuine loyalty.

We can, too.