Bible Study · Woman of the Word

Give me a Drink

FullSizeRender (4)Almost every day I read my Bible. Not because I’m holy but precisely because I’m not holy. Not yet. Not this side of eternity. I need the word, devoured, nourishing me. Sometimes it feels like a meal. Sometimes it feels more like a chiropractor appointment: something is slightly or grossly out of alignment in me and must be put to rights. Like most chiropractor appointments I leave sore and shaky but thankful for the righting, the putting back into joint that which was crooked.

Today was no different. Today I was in John 4. One of my all time favorite stories. I love the Samaritan woman. Since I’m so familiar with it, I didn’t come expecting to learn something new. There’s that pride again. Don’t worry, Jesus took care of that. I pretty much got jumped from behind and beat up by this passage this morning.

Jesus is sitting by the well, waiting. By the way, I believe this is entirely a set up. He basically ran to get here and then displayed his exhaustion so his disciples would leave him alone. He had a divine appointment that he did not intend to be late to. So as he’s sitting there, here comes this woman, exactly the lady he was planning on running into. He looks at her and says, “Give me a drink.” Shocked by his forthrightness towards her the woman questions his motives, and probably sanity. “How is it that you a Jew would ask me, a Samaritan and a woman, for a drink?” I could go deeply into the implied racism and political strain she’s referring to. I could discuss evangelism tactics and Jesus’ care for the downtrodden and broken-hearted and outcast. This passage is rich with all of that. But quite frankly, that’s precisely what I expected to see and feel when I came to it this morning. However, that’s not at all what jumped out at me.

What struck me between the eyes is Jesus’ next response: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

He asked her for a drink.

She argued with him about why he was asking her.

He told her she should have asked him to give her even more.

To rephrase, the very thing that Jesus asked her for was what she should have turned around and asked him for. He was actually wanting her to redirect the question to him. He would have been beyond thrilled if her response had been, “No! You give me water!” He wanted to give to her what he was asking her for.

And the same is true of us.

There are so many things that I believe that Jesus has asked me to do: Callings, tasks, appointments, commands. I spend most of my time either trying valiantly to do them for him (as if he needs me to get my part done so he can do his part), or arguing with him about why he’s asking in the first place. I tell him I’m unqualified, unprepared, untrained. I tell him I’ve disqualified myself, ruined my chances, wrecked the situation. I tend to buckle down, gear up and strap in or throw up my hands in frustration and shame.

But Jesus turned it around on her and He turned it around on me.

The very things He has asked me to do, and there’s no arguing He has commanded, He expects me to ask of Him. He doesn’t expect me to do any of it on my own, or through my own strength. He commands it of me so that I will bring it back to Him and ask him to do it. And when I do, he doesn’t just give water, but the water of life. When I drink of Him, the water wells out of me and overflows, overwhelms.

I wept with the joy and relief of it. I am not failing. I cannot fail. Because it’s not my job. It’s his job. I need only ask.

Jesus commands, “Be a wife and mother”

I pray: Jesus, YOU be the partner and parent that my husband and children need. You fill up their hearts, meet their needs, comfort their hurts. Be the parents and partner that I need. Parent through me to your glory. Set me aside so that my loves may see you more clearly.

Jesus Commands: “Do ministry”

I pray: You do ministry through me. Bring me to the ministry you have for me. Prepare me for that ministry. Lead me to it. Lead me through it.

Jesus commands: “Be a good friend.”
I pray: “You be the friend, the true friend my friends need and that I need. When you want to, use me to love them well, but YOU are who they need, not me.

Jesus commands: “Pray”

I pray: “Pray for me Jesus, and through me and teach me how to pray. Make my prayers powerful and effective because YOU are the righteous man praying  in me.

Jesus commands: “Give”

I pray: “Give to me Jesus. Be generous to me and then through me. Let me sit with open hands before you as you lavish your Self to me and fill my needs and the excess pours out all around me, blessing those near and far.

Jesus commands: “Forgive”

I pray: “Forgive me. Oh, I am the worst of sinners. Forgive me, Jesus, then let YOUR forgiveness flow through me to those all around who sin against you by sinning against me. All sin is ultimately against you, and you have paid the price for it. Let me be a conduit of YOUR forgiveness.

Jesus commands: “Love”

I pray: “Love me JEsus. I feel so unloved and unlovable. Pour out your love in my heart, open my heart to receive it. Let me believe it. THen let me give it. Let me love others not from my poor broken heart but from your full and whole heart!”

As I let go of trying to do any of these commands and instead ask Jesus for the very things he demands of me, I feel light. I feel free. I feel released from an impossible burden and yoked together under a light burden, and easy one.

He doesn’t need her to give him water. He doesn’t NEED any of us. We need Him. That’s the answer, the secret, the twist. Whenever we start to think Jesus NEEDS us, we’re off kilter, off center, out of joint. When we are thinking He needs us, it’s a sign that there is an area we need Him desperately, a place we need to come to Him and ask Him to do for us something we’re trying to do for ourselves.

Surrender.

Drink.

Ask.

I want that river of life flowing out of me. Let me drink deeply from it. Let me drink deeply of Jesus first, continuously, always.

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Uncategorized · Woman of the Word

Forgiveness

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I’ll be honest, I’ve started this post over and over again for the last few months. Why? Because I felt like God told me to write about forgiveness, but forgiveness is something I am struggling with right now. So every time I try to put words down, and formulate thoughts into coherent sentences I get stuck. I either get lost as to what I believe about it, or I realize that I know exactly what I believe and I’m not living it. So as a hypocrite, but an anonymous hypocrite, I shut my computer and walk away, keep my hypocrisy to myself. I know Jesus knows, but you don’t have to.

However, something happened Saturday that made all the jumbled and disjointed pieces fall into place, and I’m ready to write about it. Tis the season after all. The very birth that made our forgiveness possible is what we’re celebrating at this time of year.

What happened was just a flash, a split second insight into my heart. I was sitting on the porch with my baby, drinking coffee and scrolling through instagram and my dog jumped up and bumped my hand to get my attention and then rubbed his head on my and licked me with affection. I patted his head and talked googoo to him until his stubby little tail about wagged itself off. Yet, despite his obvious worship of me, my heart likes him, but doesn’t adore him. He’s an excellent dog. Maybe the best we could possibly have for us. He is smart, trainable and infinitely loyal. He is a certified therapy dog who goes to work with my husband and loves on autistic kids. He adores my own children and follows them around like a…well, like a little lost puppy! He is good with other dogs, gentle with children, calm, and in every way an excellent dog. Yet my heart is pleased but not passionate.

Why?

Because I loved another dog long ago.

And I lost him.

When we had been married for a little over a year, we got a dog. THis was pre-kids, pre-career, pre-homeownership. He was our first joint venture. I will not call him our first child, but he was certainly parent-training for us. And I loved him with all my heart. THe lay-on-the-floor-and-cuddle-him, let him jump up in the bed after Jonathan left for work, I-only-have-eyes-for-you, they call it puppy love kind of love. He was the best dog. Ever. No contest. And he loved us the same way. Even after we had our first baby, he was like the big-brother dog. He was watchful and gentle and adored him along with us.

Then we moved back to Texas, and mere months later he was stolen. We found out later that the area we lived in was prone to dog-theft especially pure-blood Huskies. My heart broke. And that’s an understatement. I nearly lost my faith over that dog. I drove the roads and haunted the pounds for months looking for him. I called vets until they practically blocked my number. I mourned him for a long time. When I finally decided to get a new dog, I tried valiantly to attach, but I just never did. We finally rescued our current dog as a puppy for our boys and he has been a delight, but never the delight of my eyes. I thought I must be a one-dog-girl.

Until my dog loved on me on Saturday, and I realized the truth: I had been hurt so badly losing Moses, that I had closed my heart to loving any other dog.

And that is exactly what I’ve done with loving people this year. Last year, at this exact time, some one hurt me. Not just someone, my best friend. My former best friend. A woman I loved dearly and believed to be my forever friend got mad, said and did some very hurtful things, and then unfriended me, in real life and social media. It was confusing and shocking and painful. I’m not trying to paint myself as the martyr here. I am a sinner and I sinned against her, I’m sure in many ways over the years. However, I did not end the friendship. I was willing to repent and to forgive. She was not. And I was crushed. In many ways I still am. And the hurting didn’t stop immediately. It went on for months, in embarrassing, shaming ways, some intentionally perpetrated by her, some just the natural effect of a friendship dying and innocent bystanders asking innocent questions that cut like a knife.

Its shaming for someone to stop loving you, stop being your friend. It makes you feel unloveable, unfriend-able. You feel the need to explain yourself, to excuse the mess. And I didn’t want to explain or excuse, so I hid out. I hid from the hurt and the shame, terrified to run into her, terrified to run into anyone.

And oh, was I mad.

Mad and hurt.

Furious.

Furious and crushed and betrayed and hollow…so hollow inside.

And I didn’t know how to forgive. HOw to move on. I’m a Christ-follower, Bible degreed, minister. I know all the right answers. I know I’m forgiven much. I know that he “forgive[s] us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us”. But I was stuck holding a hurt that I didn’t know how to let go of.

Part of the problem was I thought I had.

I thought I did forgive. Every single moment of the day for a while. The mad would rise up again, and again I would lay it at the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice covers my sin and hers. Jesus’ blood washes away my guilt and hers. If I believe him for my own forgiveness, I must extend it to her as well.

There is nothing that anyone can do to me worse than what I have done to JEsus.

It is a trustworthy statement and deserving of full acceptance: Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.

I kept holding on to that. I kept trusting Jesus with my hurt and shame. I kept trusting Him with my sin.

I thought it worked.

Until my dog licked me and I realized that I hadn’t fully forgiven because I had refused to open my heart again.

For the last year, I’ve kept my heart closed. I haven’t let anyone get close to me again. I don’t trust them. I don’t want my heart broken again. I don’t want to be rejected again. I don’t want to not be worth walking through the pain again. I don’t want to be the only one in it to win it again.

And that’s not forgiveness. Not full forgiveness. Not trusting Jesus fully.

FOrgiveness does not always mean reconciliation with the person who hurt us. Sometimes there are irreconcilable differences this side of heaven. If they are our brother or sister in Christ, there is always hope in this world, and full assurance in the next that we will one day be at peace again. But there is no guarantee this side of the pearly gates that we get that friendship back. Sometimes its just not safe. Sometimes its just not healthy. Sometimes we can’t be who God is asking us to be with that person in our life. We may have given God’s glory to someone else, and once you’ve made someone your idol, it may be hard to let them just be a person again. And we have to trust GOd with that. We cannot make someone repent or forgive or grow or change. We can only repent and forgive and grow and change ourselves and trust God to work on them.

But full and true forgiveness always means healing for us. It means moving on. It means opening our heart again. “The joy now is part of the pain then,that’s the deal.” That was what Joy said to Jack when they knew she was dying of cancer. Loving again, trusting again means I know I’m going to hurt again because I’m loving and trusting a sinner. And they are loving and trusting a sinner too. And when you put two sinners together sin is going to happen. We’re going to sin against each other. Guaranteed.

But Grace makes it worth it. Grace means that I’m already forgiven the sin I will commit against you. You are already forgiven the sin you will commit against me. Together, we get to live and speak and experience that grace in real-time that is already true in eternity. We get to extend, in small ways, the grace we are lavishly living under always in Jesus. We get to become the forgiveness of Jesus extended, not hypothetically or condescendingly, but tragically, painfully, expensively given because it’s given to that which pierces our side, right up under the ribs.

Those “Et tu, Brute?” moments are when we are most like JEsus in the garden. Sometimes it may be a Judas kiss again. But sometimes it’s the sleepy and terrified Peter. And we gently forgive those sins because they have been so exquisitely and beautifully paid for in full.

When we refuse to love again, we are refusing to forgive that person because we are saying that their sin against us is the only thing we will ever believe about ourselves again. We are refusing to believe what Jesus says about us. We are refusing to forgive the lie that Satan speaks over us regarding their sin. When we forgive, we negate that lie. We allow the truth of Jesus to be bigger than the hurt of their sin. When we refuse to love again, when I refuse to love again, what I’m really saying is “I don’t trust Jesus any more.” When I walk in forgiveness and open my heart, I’m saying “I believe Jesus still has me and any hurt that he allows to come my way is for my good and His glory.”

So, I’m going to wake up tomorrow and forgive again. I”m going to smile. I’m going to let Jesus bring new friends into my life. I’m going to open my heart, be real, be me. And if you are that new friend, here’s my promise:

  • I promise to let you in
  • I promise to be real
  • I promise that I’m going to sin against you
  • I promise to repent when you bring my sin to me
  • I promise to forgive you when you sin against me
  • I promise to trust Jesus with our friendship

I don’t believe that I’m always a great friend, or even a good friend. But I do believe that Jesus is the Perfect Friend, and he uses me to be a friend to others as His hands and feet in their lives. He’s still working on me and through me.

Bible Study · Woman of the Word

Godly Discipline: Jeremiah 1:13-19

13The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” 14Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disasterb shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. 15For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. 16And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. 17But you, dress yourself for work;c arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” Jeremiah 1: 11-19

 

Then God asks Jeremiah to look again. One more time. Just for practice.

What do you see?

And what Jeremiah sees this time is also a promise. A promise of judgment. God will never tolerate sin. His people, called by His Name are going to be called to account. “The tribes of the Kingdom to the North” are the Chaldeans, and the Chaldeans are part of Babylon. God is using Babylon to discipline His people. To be clear, Babylon and Israel, were not friends. God is going to use their enemies to sit in judgment on them. SInce the JEws had stopped listening to His prophets, since they didn’t respond to teaching and warning, God was moving on to punishment.

Oh how often do we get disciplined in front of or by those who we most wish to look strong and clever to. If pride goes before a fall, some of us are tripping over thin air daily. And usually in front of people that it is physically painful to look the fool in front of. God so often uses those we fear here on earth to teach us to fear Him more.

As godly parents we are called to discipline our children. In our modern culture we hear “spank” or possibly “time out” when we hear discipline. HOwever, the root of that word is disciple. A disciple is one who takes instruction and correction and puts it into action. Instruction and correction. As the discipler we must first instruct. The greek word for disciple carries with it the image of a teacher wrapping their hand around the hand of their pupil and writing the word with the pencil in the student’s hand and the student’s hand in the teacher’s hand. No mistake can be made while the student submits to the pressure of the teacher’s hand. That’s instruction. Hand-over-hand. Watch me. Do with me. Do it yourself. But when that series ends in a mistake, as good teachers, as loving parents, then we correct. Depending on the severity of the mistake, we measure out the severity of the correction. We did not invent parenting. We are simply modeling our father.

Father has given instruction. Over and over again. Then he sent loving and gentle warnings. Then He increased the pressure with His faithful prophets. And now, with Jeremiah, we have arrived at the most strenuous form of correction. The painful kind. Loving parents don’t spank first and instruct after. But loving parents also don’t shy away from correction when a recalcitrant child is refusing instruction.

So God sends Jeremiah with the verdict: guilty, and the sentence: exile. Exile into their enemies’ lands. Banishment from home. Why? Why cast them away from Him and from their land He gave them? Because they have already cast Him out of their hearts. This movement away from HIm geographically was a mere technicality at this point. Israel had already moved far from Him in their hearts. Why keep up the pretense?

C. S. Lewis says that in the end there will only be 2 types of people: those who say to GOd, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” The ultimate version of Hell is getting exactly what we always demanded and thought we wanted. Romans says that God hands them over to do their wicked desires. If God is letting you go into your self-centered and self-glorifying world, that is judgment. If He’s still disciplining you, be encouraged, you’re still in the family. Good parents discipline their own children, not the neighborhood kids!

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So He sends Jeremiah out to this thankless job with these instructions: Suit up! He tells him to dress for work! This is not going to be easy. Don’t come in your bathrobe or your best suit. There may be some manual labor involved and without a doubt you’ll probably have to run from angry mobs. However, God leaves Jeremiah with hope. He will not allow these angry mobs to overtake him. He tells him to not be dismayed. Don’t falter. Don’t be swayed by their anger. God isn’t sending him on a popularity contest. He’s not campaigning for an election. He’s going to tell the truth. And the truth is notoriously unpopular.

The truth is still unpopular. The crowds still don’t much like hearing about their sin. Honestly, I don’t much like hearing about my sin. Except when I consider the alternative. To be instructed and corrected means I’m a disciple. I’m being called to action. That’s good news. I”m still in the fold. I”m still family.

Uncategorized

Asking for Help

I have always been a voracious reader, devouring anything I can get my hands on. I have always loved reading a wide variety of books from the classics to brain candy to absolute trash just to have something to read. However, my taste for non-fiction came a bit later. I wanted to get lost in a book, and non-fiction keeps you a bit at arm’s length, thinking about the subject.

Lately however, I’ve seemed to crave non-fiction, and as always I have several going at once. While on any given day I might be dipping into history or science or education, you can almost guarantee you’ll always find some Lewis volume safely teetering in the stack or tucked in my reading bag. Lewis and I have a special friendship that he just doesn’t realize yet. But someday, when the roll is called up yonder, shortly after I pass the pearly gates and dip my toes in the River of Life, Lewis and I are going to have coffee (or perhaps he’ll prefer tea?) and we’ll share that wonderful moment of which he writes when you find someone and say, “Oh what? You too?!?” I know he’s not perfect, or even, strictly speaking, canonical. But I believe he’s divinely inspired and certainly inspirational and he’s my brand of depraved! When he vulnerably speaks of his weaknesses, I totally relate, and when he describes our Savior, he speaks my language. I love Lewis. I have since Aslan.


So, this last few weeks, I’ve been working my way slowly through his book on prayer (again). It’s a series of letters to his friend Malcolm, and while this is not my point, I do love that he and Malcolm clearly come down on opposite sides of the fence on a few points, but they actually enjoy the lively and educated debate of good friends over a deep subject. Unlike our modern era, which seems intent on “unfriending” anyone with differing views while simultaneously forming wild and uneducated opinions about everything.

However, today i was reading the chapter where he speaks about how hard prayer is. They’ve been discussing the whys and hows of prayer, but then his friend’s wife poses the question about how praying is just hard. It’s not necessarily hard to do, but it’s hard to MAKE ourselves pray. We balk at it. We avoid it. We do a minimalist job. We all know we should pray, that there’s power in prayer, that it connects us to our Good Father and True Husband. We wouldn’t go weeks without talking to our earthly husband, but we regularly avoid our Heavenly One. Lewis points out that things that would not distract us from a good book or even a crossword puzzle will readily and happily distract us from prayer.

I was so grateful for his honesty and vulnerability. I actually cried in relief that not only am I not the only one who experiences these “entanglements” that keep me from the rich prayer life I long for, but one of the men I consider “one of the greats” of the faith also struggled with these aspects of prayer.

And I have been struggling with prayer lately. Not, supposedly, out of anger at God, or lack of faith in prayer. Rather, if I’m honest, out of feeling of untethered-ness. I am in a period of waiting. Literally, my “word for the year” for 2017,  that I ask God for every December, is “Wait”. I hate that word. I hate waiting. But what’s more frustrating this time, is that I don’t know for sure what I’m waiting for. I’m not sure what God’s plans are for my family in the future. My husband is in grad school getting a higher level certification. My children are growing up and we’re done adding to the ranks. I have nothing on the horizon. Nothing I’m gearing up for. Nothing I’m excited to hope for. For the first time in as long as I can remember, there’s no obvious milestones or changes or hills to climb or ministries to start, or children give birth to, or churches to plant, or…My life has been built on change and what’s coming next and preparing for that. And I have no clear vision.

Therefore, I have no clear thing to pray about. I don’t know what to ask God to do. I am just maintaining. And that leaves my prayer life feeling rote. I believe that growth happens in the waiting room. I believe that faith happens in the rote. I believe that the sacraments and catechisms and liturgies were built on exactly that foundation. That we learn and grow not in the newness of discovery but in the repetition and practice that we have already learned. It’s in the doing it again today that we submit, obey, surrender, trust, lean and learn.

What struck me was that even, and maybe most of all, the disciples struggled with prayer. THose handpicked by JEsus to walk beside him found they had no idea how to communicate with the Father either. What was convicting was they asked for help. I limp along, thinking that JEsus expects me to figure this out, get it together, do my homework, be on the self-study program for prayer. BUt not the Disciples. They just went straight to the source. “Hey, Jesus! Could you teach us how to pray?”

And there it is.

That’s the key.

The asking to be taught how to pray, is in fact praying.

Lord, this is what I need to do, and I can’t do it. Can you teach me how to?

Lord, I need to be patient with my children, but I’m not patient with my children. Can you teach me how?

Lord, I need to manage my anger at my husband better, but I’m failing miserably on my own. Can you teach me how?

Lord, I need to teach my son to spell, but I’ve tried everything and he’s still struggling. Can you teach me how?

Lord, I don’t know how to share your gospel with my neighbors. Can you teach me how?

And thus I have begun to pray. I”m already praying in fact. I admit my humanity, my failure in my own strength, my dependence upon Him. I ask him for wisdom, which He promises to give generously. I confess my sins, which He forgives, has forgiven. I admit my failure, which He has already provided for perfectly.

There in the midst of bringing him my real and immediate problems, and asking for His intercession, I’ve already begun to pray. And with that step towards Him, He takes my hand and together we approach the throne of Grace in confidence, saying together the words He’s already coached me with:

“OUR Father, who is in Heaven…”

Woman of the Word

Open your Eyes: Jeremiah 1:11-12

I’ve spent my whole life in ministry. My major in college was ministry (and that’s a WHOLE different topic on my opinion of how we educate and train ministers). My husband and I met there because we were both youth ministry majors and proceeded to spend many years either in volunteer, fund-raising based or (glory be) full-time paid youth ministry. From there we went on pursue church planting and all that entails. So our whole marriage has been marked by doing shoulder-to-shoulder ministry work. Everything aimed at that goal. We’ve either been training, planning or implementing ministry in some form or fashion for our whole adult life.

From 19 years in ministry (which is admittedly not exhaustive or even extensive by ministry standards–but I’d like to think it at least qualifies me to speak from experience) I can tell you that there is no magic pill, no incantation, no quick fix to any problem, issue, trouble, hurt, or sin. Whatever the question, the Gospel is the answer. Always. But how to apply the GOspel, how to speak the Gospel into those situations is never formulaic. THere are no easy answers. We are broken fallen people, in a broken fallen world, hopeless and helpless and in desperate need of a savior. Enter Jesus. And HE does business with our sin and shame and hurt and fears. But it is almost always a process. A process of repentance. Again and again. A process of restoration, slowly, painfully. A process of redemption, moving from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ step by faithful step. And what do ministers do? THey serve. THey come alongside. They faithfully speak the Gospel. They administer the art of presence. They are salt and light.

However, we are all ministers. We are all priests of God, bringing the people to God. We are all prophets of GOd, bringing God to the people. We are ministers of the Gospel. So, aside from a ministry degree, seminary training, systematic theology and an upper level Greek class what can you do to be equipped for this calling? Like Jeremiah, you are called to go where God sends you and speak the words He puts in your mouth. So what does that look like?

11And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almonda branch.” 12Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” Jeremiah 1:11-12

Yes, we’re still in chapter 1. But I believe that the initial calling of Jeremiah reveals so much about how God operates in our lives as He calls us to hard things, to difficult things, to impossible things. So I want to inch through this a bit. Really looking at God and Jeremiah.

The first thing after God calls Jeremiah, he asks him to do one thing: Look. Open his human eyes and see what God puts before him. It’s a good first step in any situation. Open your eyes. Shut your mouth. Be slow to speak. What do you see? What is in front of your face? Where is the hurt? Where is the rebellion? Where are you not believing God? Where is that person not believing God? What do you see?

In this circumstance, God was showing Jeremiah something specific: a vision. First, an almond branch. THat would make no sense if you don’t speak fluent Hebrew, but “almond” in Hebrew sounds like “Shaw-Kade” and “watching over” is “shaw-kahd”. Very similar. God is making a play on words here. Similar to how we manipulate words in a knock-knock joke to be verbally ironic.

Knock! knock!

Who’s there?

A Little Old Lady

A Little Old Lady Who?

I didn’t know you could yodel!

I know, I know. Sigh. But that’s what’s happens with God and Jeremiah. God tells the first knock, knock joke, but no one’s laughing because it’s not supposed to be funny. It’s a promise.

God is watching over His word. That means that He is guaranteeing it. He’s personally overseeing the delivery. This isn’t being delegated. He is essentially telling Jeremiah that whatever He hears from now on out, Jeremiah can take it to the bank, no matter how crazy or drastic or unbelievable or scary or sad or hopeful. It is as good as done.

And we can too. We can take God’s Word to the bank. If He says “I am working all things for your good,” we can believe that, even when “all things” hurt and our “good” seems really painful. If he says, “I will give you wisdom when you ask,” we can approach him liberally when we have no idea what we’re doing or supposed to be doing. No hesitation. If He says that our joy will be complete in Him and only Him, we can stop chasing after all these other fool’s gold dangling carrots the world is offering: careers, money, fame, success, pleasure, laziness, beach homes and light bodies and health and wealth and all that. We can believe that none of that will bring joy outside of Jesus Christ and that with Jesus all of that, if he adds it unto us, will just be gravy.

Don’t forget.

God doesn’t forget.

God’s going to do EXACTLY what He says.

 

Woman of the Word

Disqualified: Jeremiah Pt.3

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A few years ago, I took this awesome shot of my oldest son shooting a basketball. That’s an ambiguous description because while it implies he made it, it doesn’t flat out attest to that and therefore leaves it in the gray zone of whether or not he sunk that ball through the net. He did not. He could not possibly, except by accident, have made a basket back then. But the picture made him look totally amazing.

I feel like that’s my life a lot of times. You catch me in the right moment and you get the impression that I’ve got it all together, totally squared away, sure of myself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you could yell, “roll film”, what you saw just a few seconds later would belie the version that the snapshot told. If I could hit play on the picture above, you would watch the basketball go wildly off course and hit the ground, not even skimming the rim. If you watched me leave the store with all my quacking ducklings in tow, looking like a pro, you can just wait til we get to the car and watch me lose my mind when “buckle your seatbelt” is this entirely new concept akin to rocket science that my children cannot manage.

So who am I to be giving parenting advice or mentoring other mothers or teaching Biblical truths? No one. I’m absolutely not qualified to do any of those things. I’m groping along in the dark, just like the rest of you. But being unqualified for the task does not therefore excuse me from it.

Let us jump back in to where God has just called Jeremiah. We discussed last time that Jeremiah’s calling was not based on him or anything about him, but on WHO was doing the calling. In light of that, we probably expect Jeremiah to go whooping down the desert plains of Israel scaring the sheep in his excitement. If you’ve grown up in church there’s a certain royal stigma with “receiving your calling”. In some youth groups college groups churches, it seems to happen so often you wonder if you’re at a call-a-thon fundraising event. People gettin’ “called” left and right. And they’re always so happy.

In my experience, those who truly feel God whisper in their ear something that He has for them to do, the weight of the matter sobers them. There’s a holy humbleness that comes with being tapped on the shoulder by God. A calling is usually NOT something that highlights our gifts and talents, makes us shine. In fact, most often a calling pulls us into areas of great DIScomfort where we must press into God moment by moment to keep from falling apart. Callings are not without joys and pleasure. In fact, Paul calls it “joy unspeakable” when the Holy Spirit moves in us and through us. But we have to move out of the way first. Paul also spoke of “three times pleading for this thorn to be removed” and finally coming to grips with God’s sovereign and holy and gracious “no”. Then God spoke again and told him that “His grace is sufficient for [Paul] and [God’s] power is made perfect in [Paul’s] weakness. For when you are weak, then you are strong”. That’s a calling at work. A calling sanctifies the called first and the ones we are called to second. So feeling humbled and even a holy fear is a gift from God. It sets you up to respond in dependence and humility and to “decrease that He might increase”.

And sometimes, as in the case of Jeremiah, a calling produces fear and overwhelming feelings of being DISqualified. That is not from God. Those are lies from Satan. If our calling and qualifications are based on WHO is calling us, then we cannot be DISqualified by anything we have done, are doing, will do or cannot do. But we fall for that lie. And so did Jeremiah.

6Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7But the LORDsaid to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the LORD.”

9Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

God calls Jeremiah and Jeremiah says, “wrong number.” Why? Jeremiah’s particular excuse is that he’s too young. He thinks that being too young makes him unable to speak God’s words effectively. The scripture doesn’t tell us WHY he thought youth would disqualify him. Perhaps in ancient Jewish culture, being young meant you didn’t know what you were talking about. Perhaps being young implied a lack of education or restraint or trustworthiness. Perhaps Jeremiah himself felt he lacked the life experience, training and education to fulfill his role. Perhaps his friends told him that he was unqualified and unworthy. We aren’t told what his internal fears and thoughts were.

But I can know what my fears and thoughts are. I know exactly what makes me feel disqualified: previous failures. Eight months ago my husband and I, after much prayer and agony and agonizing prayer closed the doors on our church that we planted 4 years ago. The road to that church plant had been rocky and steep and sometimes apparently fruitless. But we felt sure we had heard God’s calling. So we pressed on. The church itself had been spiritually fruitful, but not numerically. We had many baptisms. Many marriages healed, rededication to Christ, redefining of the Gospel. We saw the Gospel go deep into people’s hearts, change their mind, refine their lives, sanctify their souls. But we also saw attack, after attack, after attack from the Enemy. If the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever, then the Enemy seeks to get us to glorify ourselves and enjoy God occasionally, on our terms, when it costs us nothing. When we fall for that temptation, we glorify ourselves or others instead of God. And God, while the perfection of grace, will not share His glory with another.  We attempted to please everyone, and so pleased no one, chief of which was God. So, in light of the drama and chaos and lack of fruit in evangelism, we had our final service, bid everyone adieu and tearfully closed the doors on that church and that season.

And it was awful. People were hurt, understandably, and they were angry, not as understandable. People got nasty. They slandered us, lied about us, refused to be our friends any more, or even attempt to reconcile. It was one of the most painful times of my life.

And I felt disqualified.

Disqualified from ministry. Disqualified from teaching. Disqualified from writing. Disqualified from friendship or church membership or even life with Christ. I was ashamed and hurt and paralyzed with fear. What if they were right about me?

I spent months healing. Dealing with my pain and hurt and doing business with God about my sin and my failures.

Then I began to feel God calling me to operate in my gifts again. Calling me to write. To speak the Gospel. To plug-in again.

And I said, “Nope. Wrong number.”

Because I felt disqualified.

But I wasn’t. I’m not.

Not because I nailed it. But because Jesus did.

My calling, my work, my ministry is not based on past successes or failures. It’s based on His sacrifice. His sacrifice covers all. It covers my past sins, assuredly. But it also covers my past failures, bumbles, bad decisions and wrong choices. It covers where I’ve hurt people and where I failed them. And where they failed me. When Jesus calls us He doesn’t call us as perfect people, but to grant to us His perfection. He doesn’t call us because He knows what work we’re capable of but because he knows what works He is capable of doing IN and THROUGH us.

And our failures, the very things we think disqualify us are often not failures at all. Our church closing was not a failure. Not obeying when He called would have been a failure. Like Jeremiah, we are not responsible for the outcome.

We are not responsible for whether our children go to a good college and get a good job and are good spouses and co-workers and parents. We are responsible for giving them the Gospel, praying for and with them, modeling repentance, pointing them to Jesus, leading the way to delight.

We’re not responsible for our company succeeding, making their profit margins grow or making their stock more valuable. We’re responsible for doing our work to the glory of God, speaking and living the Gospel to our co-workers, modeling grace, living in the Kingdom that we are loyal to.

We’re not responsible for making our spouse or friends happy. We are responsible for loving and respecting our spouses and friends, washing them with the Word, giving them grace, making our homes an outpost for the Kingdom, viewing our homes as our first mission field.

You, like Jeremiah, have a calling “to all to whom [God] send[s] you, you shall go,
and whatever [God] command[s] you, you shall speak.”  The call didn’t include “make them listen” or “make them see reason” or “make them repent”. God doesn’t hold us responsible for how it turns out. He just asks us to obey.

And we are all qualified to simply obey. All of us can do what we are asked to do. No matter what has happened in the past. NO matter what others think of us. No matter what we think of us.

Why?

Because we’re so great?

No!

Because God has touched us. He touched Jeremiah’s mouth and put His words in them. He has touched your mouth as well. Your hands. Your feet. Your life. He will use you exactly has He desires.

Whatever you think is disqualifying you is not as big as God’s touch on your  life. Whatever you’re scared of, God has promised to be with you to deliver you. He may not deliver you from difficulty. I can almost guarantee this life will be difficult. But he will deliver you from disqualification, whether from internal or external lies. His calling is the final say.

And obedience will always be fruitful. It will change us more and more into His image. It will put us in His hands to be used by Him. It will put us on the front lines to see Him at work in others’ lives. And it may get worse before it gets better. For Jeremiah there was plucking up and breaking down, and overthrowing and destroying before he finally got to see the building and planting. But the chaos will give way to creation. The darkness will give way to day. And we will be right in the middle of God’s plan when we are yielded to Him.

“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” Colossians 1:12

Woman of the Word

No Excuses-Jeremiah Study 2

Jeremiah was a normal man. Normal life. Normal Job. Normal faith. The only notable exception was, he was a prophet, a man who heard from God and spoke for him. That might sound glamorous or exciting or delightful. But I think you will find that in Jeremiah’s time, much like in our time, those who speak boldly for God and His truth are not popular and sometimes have very little return for their investment. Depraved people (that’s Israel–and also, that’s me—and also, that’s you) aren’t particularly fond of hearing about their sin, and they’re even less fond of repenting, or turning away from their sin.

However, when it comes to being a prophet the focus is not on the object of the prophecy, nor on the subject or verb. It’s not even on the speaker of the prophecy. The focus is on the source. Jeremiah was not to be concerned about how likely these people were to receive the message. He did not take a Gallup poll and determine if the audience had a high probability of buying what he was selling. This was not a MLM deal. This was truth. and truth does not bow to popular opinion or cater to society’s current tastes or vie for approval in the community. Truth is truth whether we like it, agree with it, accept it or not.

So, God calls Jeremiah to speak truth.

4Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Do you see the basis of God’s calling on his life? Jeremiah’s calling was NOT based on his qualifications, giftedness, natural proclivities or even his ideal location. Jeremiah’s calling was rooted first and foremost in WHO made him, not HOW he was made. God created Jeremiah. God planned Jeremiah out and intimately knew him even before He began the breathtaking and beautiful task of forming him. Before God orchestrated the mysterious and almost magical mixing of DNA, egg and sperm, to create a human, to determined the shape of his nose and the length of his legs and the shade of his eyes, God knew Jeremiah’s heart, mind and soul. And into that heart, mind and soul, God poured His Words, his powerful, precious words. Before He even formed Jeremiah’s lips he had anointed them to speak His truth. In fact, it was the potent fact of being known by God that determined who Jeremiah would become.

Our identity is also rooted in who made us. Our calling has so little to do with what we think we are or are not qualified for and so much to do with Who is calling us. In fact, our being known and planned and determined by God, sanctifies and blesses our external circumstances. Knowing God has made us each in His image and yet, the sacred paradox, each unique, should make each facet of your life both holy and flexible. Holy, because God placed you in your life for His purpose: the time, the place, the parents, the friends, the hurts, the victories. None of that is a surprise to Him and it can all be used for his Glory and your good. Flexible because it can change at any moment and still be just as ordained and ordered by God. To accept from His hands the monotonous mundane and the crazy chaotic and bend with each to see His glory and do His will is walking by faith.

Jeremiah, the nobody from nowhere was called by the Ultimate Someone to be. Not to do. Jeremiah wasn’t asked to DO prophecy. He was asked to BE a prophet. I’m not asked to DO mothering, wifeing, friending. That would be painful, a job. I’m asked to BE a wife, mother and friend, a daughter, sister, worshiper. It’s not a vocation. It’s a calling. I was already made to do this. To be this. To live this life. Wherever this life takes me, I’m still being me. The “me” that was made and known and consecrated and anointed by God for His will. I can face those circumstances knowing that they are not whims to wear me down, but ordained to sanctify me and glorify Him.

I want to be clear here. The “me” that God created was born into a fallen world to fallen parents and by nature a child of wrath. To adopt the attitude of “this is just who I am and you and I will just have to accept it” is the opposite of walking by faith. Our world tells us that we should “love you the way you are” and “you are enough” and “beYOUtiful”. And each of those, in the context of the Gospel, has an element of truth. But in the hands of our Enemy, they reek of the worship of self. Our identity and worth is found in Who made us and How He redeemed us, and that He is sanctifying us.

He’s taking the pieces of you and me, the raw material, damaged in the fall and cleansing it, shaping it, reforming it into His image, the image of His son. Imageo Dei is the idea that every person on earth is made by God in His image, which involves us being 3 part creatures as He is three-part God, body, soul, and spirit, and having an eternal element, stretching forward as He is an infinite God encompassing time forward and backward. But our Imageo Dei was warped and shattered by and in the fall. Our sinful father Adam generously passed his sinfulness down through generations. We have inherited both his Imageo Dei and his “child of wrath” nature. However, when God calls us, saves us and grafts us into His vine, He takes our Imageo dei, and sanctifies it into the Image of Christ.

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:49

So as our natural talents, interests and personalities go through the refining fire of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, they are redeemed to be used by Him for His glory and our good and ultimate joy. So “I’m just bossy, that’s who I am” becomes, “God gifted me with leadership, and I use that with grace and gentleness for His Kingdom”. “I’m just outspoken, that’s who I am” becomes, under Jesus’ refinement, “I speak the truth, IN LOVE, by applying the Gospel to areas where I see people enslaved to sin.” “I’m just naturally shy,” becomes “My quiet spirit helps me to see past the noise and chaos to those who need a gentle word.” “I like books; I like games; I like shopping; I like running; I like travel; I’m a homebody” All of those, when surrendered to Christ can be how God uses you to reach the broken, hurting people around you who share those interests. When you do not spend them on yourself, when you invest the talents God has entrusted to you, then you receive return for your investment, and growth for the Kingdom. Like Esther, you should trust that God placed you whereever you are “for such a time as this.”

But do not confuse your fallen sinful self, for your “how God made me” self. “I’m naturally selfish, or proud or angry” may be true, but we are no longer slaves to the natural man. That is the part that will be put to death in Christ. That’s not a personality. That’s a pet sin. And no one should keep those around as pets. They’re man-eaters. Put them to death!