Holiday for Joy

I am keeping the holiday week post short, as I am spending time reflecting and dealing with some health issues, but one thing I have been pondering, and I wanted to briefly touch on it here.

I woke up on Christmas Day thinking about this blog and wondering if I should post.  But when I started thinking about what I should write, what I could write about the season, I became overwhelmed with the options.

I know that when I sit down to write a blog and I find my mind a clutter rather than clear, it is not from God.  When I receive something from him it is abundantly clear, and I can’t write fast enough.  So I have very little this week to offer up in terms of content except the following…

People celebrate Christmas for various reasons.  Some celebrate it to commemorate the birth of Jesus.  Some celebrate to the idea of Santa Claus.  Some celebrate to give and receive gifts.  Some celebrate because it is a time to feel good and to be around loved ones while eating excessively!

One thing I see that is consistent in all those reasons is the end product of joy.  For each of those reasons for celebrating the Christmas season there is a need to experience joy for a even a brief time.  As a Christian, I know what Christmas means, but I embrace all those other things I mentioned above as well.  I also marvel at the zeal in which I see people who do not believe as I do express themselves and fully embrace the holiday.

God is ever teaching me about grace in every moment of my life, and in doing so he is schooling me on the by-product, joy. During the Christmas season he has brought some very specific people and situations to my mind that have forced me to focus on whether I am able to give as I should in celebration,  or if I have quit extending grace to certain people because of my frustration with them which has endangered my ability to give with a thankful heart.  If I cannot extend his grace, I cannot give, and if I cannot give, I cannot experience joy.

See, I think the common factor, no matter our reason for celebrating Christmas, is that we want a season of joy.  We want to feel peace and comfort.  We want to laugh and be frivolous with those we love.  I think the difference is that if you believe in the shallow, that is the level at which you will experience joy, and it will last for only a short season.  But if you believe in something more sustaining, your joy will sustain as well, and it is the component of grace you can only receive from God that will carry you further in your joy past and through that which would steal it.

 

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He Sings Over You

zephaniah_3_17

Do you know God sings over you with joy?  I am trying to imagine what God sounds like when he is singing.  I just can’t, and to further try to imagine His singing being about me just short circuits my synapses.  I come back to one question.

Why?

Why would he sing over me?

This little scripture is power packed with story.  Judah finally had a king in Josiah who was willing seek the ways of God.  They had had two kings, Manessah and Amon who were just vile.  They had led God’s children, who were so easily “led down the garden path” in spite of the fact the God had proven his love and provision for them over and over again.  So Josiah was attempting to reverse the worshiping of Baal and paganism to bring them all back under God’s blessing.

In that time the prophet who was delivering God’s messages to the people was Zephaniah.  And if you read the book of Zephaniah, which is, in fact, the message God gave him to deliver to the people, it may be short but much like the above referenced verse, it lays it all out with no frills and is powerful.

The first two chapters are about God letting the people know just what he is going to do to them for disobeying him, and I have to tell you I think this may be where the phrase, “putting the fear of God in” came from.  Zephaniah pulls no punches as he explains the day of judgment coming for Judah.

In chapter three there is what I perceive as a pivotal part of the dissertation in verse 3, where Zephaniah says, ” Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands.  Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”  Makes me think, “Okay, so God is maybe going to spare those who have attempted to follow him.”  And it also tells us that it wasn’t the whole of Judah turning away from God.  There were those who maintained his ways and walked in humility and righteousness.

Finally, in the third chapter we see that God has referenced hope, and in verse 17, not only is there hope for Judah but this scripture speaks to all the generations.  In it is not only the promise of forgiveness but so much more.

Do you know God is with you?

It sometimes seem that the limb we are swinging from is one we are on all by ourselves, and rather often we know we have gotten there of our own doing.  But sometimes we find ourselves out on a limb swinging away due to someone else’s decisions that have impacted us, and whether the wind is a freezing Nor’easter or a mild Zephyr, the fact that we are out there blowing around on our own renders volume or temperature superfluous. Verse 17 is help in so many words.

The first line is simple, “The Lord your God is with you.”  Stop there if you must.  That should be enough to help move you to the knowledge that you are not hanging but grasped in the hands of Almighty God, and coupled with his promise from Hebrews 13:5 that he will never leave you or forsake you should give you nothing if not hope that you are not alone.

The second part of verse 17 tells us that God is more than able to rescue us from catastrophe that befalls us.  “He is a mighty warrior who saves,” and I don’t know about you, but this living life thing is brutal.  When I am promised God, the mighty warrior to save me, I’m going to hold out my arms and await the rescue.

Not only will he rescue us, but “he will delight in us.”  He will take great delight in us.  Wow.  Can’t think of any reason I gave God this week to greatly delight in me.  As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any reason, ever, for God to take great delight in me.

And yet the scripture says he does.  It is true, this scripture was written specifically to Judah, but these scriptures are prophetic, which means they span time and space.  That means the application and lesson may be about a certain time, place, and people, but the meat is for all of God’s children to read and learn from.  The story endures for us to experience and learn.

So not only is God with us and delights in us, but the next part of verse 17 says he will “no longer rebuke you in his love.”  The NIV Life Application says, “he will quiet you with his love.” This translation speaks to me more, as I find the concept of quiet correlative to rest and solitude.  It is generally what I need most when I am at the end of myself, and to think that God’s love can reach out to that which is fractious in me and quiet it with his love, is so very appealing, hopeful, and humbling.

Then the verse says the thing that just blows my mind, “he will rejoice over you with singing.”  Seriously?  Singing?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally struggle with confidence.  I know who I am; my strengths and weaknesses, and I will pat myself on the back when I know I have done well at something I have worked for, but I NEVER sing over me.  I would not even consider there to be something I have accomplished that would warrant me singing my praises…

So I cannot begin to fathom why God would.

But, then, I don’t think this little line is about accolades and pats on the back.  I believe that this little line is about the essence of the creation he made; you. Me.  It is the fact that he rejoices over each one of us, because each on of us is his favorite creation and he loves to delight over us.  He loves to sing over us, and I firmly believe that he sings blessing, protection, strength, and hope.  In fact, I think he sings things over us we do not have vocabulary to define.

God is with you, saves you, delights in you, quiets you with his love, and

God sings over you with joy.

 

God is My Shepard: Insights From the 23rd Psalm

 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

(The Message)

I always think of Psalm 23 as “The Death Chapter.”  I mean, it seems that it is rather often spoken at grave sites and funerals.  Whenever there is a traumatic scene where a funeral and a church are involved, they are reading the 23rd Psalm.

I am a fan of Jason Upton.  I listen to him a lot, and he has a song called Psalm 23.  He has a way of singing scripture that leaves it raw and yet whole.  I realized recently that when I listen to this song which, as you may have guessed, is about Psalm 23, I do not listen to it in the context one might think. Oblige me as I pontificate…

I have recently come to think of this scripture differently than as “The Death Chapter”.  I realized one day that I was using it was warfare.  It is not some lazy little portion of scripture that sits by idly until we need comfort.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it is comforting, and comfort is good!  But, it is also a club we can pick up and fight with.

Most people, no matter the spiritual background, are familiar with the 23rd Psalm.  “The Lord is my Shepard…”  reverberates through the memory banks and transcends many other texts we have heard.  And yet, how much do we actually use the scripture?

The version of the scripture I have posted above is lesser known from the Message, but no less poignant.  I think it paints a very vivid image, and for those who are unfamiliar with the Message, don’t discount it because of its construction.  It was written with much knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew and is exceedingly eloquent, textual, and vivid.

“…you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”

Wow.  I love the wording of that.  There are so many days I just need to STOP.

Stop the push and pull.  Stop the obligations and expectations.  Stop the performance and the accomplishments.  Stop resisting.  Stop fighting. Stop the fatigue.

Stop.  And catch my breath.

What do you stop?  What do you do to catch your breath?

And not only do I, we, have permission to stop, but then He will send us in the right direction.  And I think it is not coincidence in the set up of that scripture there.  Is it possible we miss the right direction because we do not allow ourselves to catch our breath?  Maybe we don’t hear what God is saying and how he is directing because we won’t slow down and take a breath.

“Your beauty and love chase after me.”

Again.  Wow.  That brings me to tears just to read.  It seems fantastical that not just God, but specifically, his Beauty and his Love chase after me, us.  Wow.  Just wow.  You know why I say that?

Because I know what a vile little shrew I so often am.  I know that that there are times the fallible people around me can hardly stand me, so how can the perfect God of the universe not only look at me but have his love and beauty chase me around.

Seriously?

Hard to wrap my head around.  But here is the lesson therein.  We are so busy looking to others and seeking approval that we are lovable and beautiful and worthy, when Psalm 23 says that God’s beauty and love is chasing us around.

What does that even mean?

I will tell you what it means to me.  It means that each day I live, I am renewed with the beauty of Almighty Yahweh.  It means that no matter how I am treated or even how I treat myself, his love endures through every moment of my human life.  It is like a heat seeking missile, and as long as I draw breath, it will find me.

Verse 4 says, “I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.”

If you are a person who deals with the darkness of life on a regular basis, no matter how fearless you are by nature, there comes a point when the human factor simply isn’t enough to combat some of the monsters crouching in the dark.  This chapter is about stepping into those dark places knowing that the kind of fear that is elicited from what lurks in those depths can only be negated by God alone. Knowing that even though you walk into darkness, with God you will walk back out into the light again at some point.

It is God walking with me that helps me step fearlessly into what would consume human strength.  That is how this scripture moved from a poem to a living breathing torch full of permission, comfort, protection, and hope for me.  It now breaths into the icy chill that life sometimes is, bringing a flicker of light to the dark night.

It is not difficult to understand why this Psalm is popular at funerals, for it is often at funerals where we find ourselves in the darkest night of loss we can image. That is why the scripture is iconic for the lost and mourning, and why it endures not only as solace but as a weapon.

 

 

Gideon: Rescuer

We left Gideon (in the last blog) finally convinced that the direction he has been getting is coming from God.  Through this revelation we have learned about fleeces in the context of testing and can understand their use when trying to make certain the direction we feel we are getting is coming from God.

Now, we look at the action part of this story.  Gideon is now ready lead an army as God has directed.  Judges 7 starts out with God giving direction by telling Gideon he has too many men.  In verse 2 we find that the reason God doesn’t want Gideon to use a big army is because God wants to show Israel that he is the rescuer and deliverer.  He wants to make certain they know, when it’s all said and done, just whose hand delivered them.

He has Gideon announce that any of the men who are afraid to fight must leave and go home.  22 thousand take off, leaving 10 thousand men (v. 3).  Still that is too many, so God has Gideon take the remaining 10 thousand to the river for a drink.  Those who kneel and cup the water into their mouths are sent home. Those who get down on their bellies and lap the water like dogs are kept.  That whittles the numbers down to 300 (v.7).

Meanwhile, in the enemy camp, one individual is telling his friend about a dream he has just had where a loaf of barley bread comes tumbling down a hill and plows into a tent and causes it to overturn. The friend interprets the dream and explains that the dream is about Gideon and that the whole camp has been delivered into his hands.

Gideon, who God has sent on a reconnaissance mission hears the dream AND the interpretation and knows that it’s a done deal.  He rallies his band of warriors, telling them God has delivered the enemy into their hands, and they head out (v. 15).

I think this next part is ingenious.  God has Gideon divide the army into three companies.  He has each of them carry a trumpet and an empty jar with torches inside them.  They surrounded the camp and all together blow their trumpets and smash their jars crying, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”(v.20)

The enemy is caused to be thrown into a state of confusion (Nice having God on your side isn’t it?), and they turn on each other.  Long story, short, the enemy is vanquished.

A couple of interesting things I ponder in this last part of Gideon’s story.

First, why were they to cry “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon“?  I mean, God made it a point to stack the deck so far against Israel, just to be able to show that HE was what the victory was all about.  So why have them throw Gideon’s name in there?  Why had the person in the enemy camp dreamed that the sword of Gideon was coming for them all?  Why not the sword of the Lord?”

Second, what does this story show us in the here and now?

For the first, I am certain there are many ideas on why God did that and none of them wrong.  For me, I like to think that God cared about Gideon, personally.  I believe that he saw Gideon’s heart and knew there was no hubris.  So, he was good with allowing acknowledgement for a man who was so willing to do what he asked in the humblest manner.  Plus he was wise enough to check and make sure that he was actually getting his direction for God.  There was, after all, so much at stake.

And the second part can then dovetail off of the first.  For me, much of that practical application is a directive on how to best serve God.  I so often hear people, and I have done so as well, asking what they should do or how to know what God wants for them.  I think that this story shows that it is never about how insurmountable something appears.  If we have God on our side, he can always make a way.

We must seek him, ask and wait for confirmation that it is he who is directing us.  Once we have confirmation, we must look to him to show us exactly how to go about accomplishing what we are doing, always remembering it is never about us and our skills.  The victory always belongs to the Lord.

Through that acknowledgement, we may find ourselves winning something far greater than our original goal.  We may find our names being announced alongside that of Yashuea, the Rescuer.

 

Rescuing Gideon 3

This is the third l blog about the story of how God rescued Gideon in Judges, Chapter 6.  We left off with Gideon telling God how he cannot be the person to save Israel and with God letting him know that, indeed, even though Gideon may not be enough, Yashuea was most certainly up for a rescue.

Even after God confirms that he wants Gideon to do this thing, Gideon is still uncertain, so he sets up a couple of fleeces to make sure.  Now, a fleece, by the dictionary definition, is the coat of a sheep. But in Biblical text, a fleece becomes something of a test you do and pray over to God that will confirm that what you are “hearing” from God is actually from him.

This concept actually comes from this story about Gideon.  Gideon wanted to be sure he was getting direction from God.  So many lives at stake; it is not difficult to understand that he wanted to be sure God was in it.

So he tells God he wants a sign (v. 17).  He gets an offering for God that consists of goat meat, bread without yeast, and broth from the meat.  Remember, the angel is still there waiting for him, and he tells Gideon to place the meat and bread on a rock.  The angel touches the meat and bread with his staff and the rock lights on fire, consuming the bread and meat.  It is at this point that Gideon finally realizes the man with the staff is, in fact, an angel,  and he becomes terrified with the realization.

I have to pause here, because at this point we see Gideon’s cause for hesitation.  All this time he does not know who the stranger talking to him is.  He could be some kind of nut job.  He could be the enemy.  Who knows?!  So, Gideon realizes, finally, who the stranger is, and that shifts his reality a bit.  I know it would mine!  He is terrified with the realization.

The angel tells him not to be afraid and then gives him direction on tearing down the alter to Baal Gideon’s father has, and when Gideon has torn down their idol, Israel, or what I like to call “the villagers” send out a lynch mob to kill Gideon.   You can read further about that part of the story in verses 15-31.

Meanwhile, the Midianites, Amaelekites, and other eastern peoples join forces and head over the Jordan to the Valley of Jezreel, no doubt preparing for mischief.  Now, remember there were so many of them they are described as “thick as locusts,”  And this is where things start to get interesting.

The term “fleece” takes on a new meaning, because Gideon is still not sure that it is God wanting him to do this big thing, so he puts a wool fleece on the threshing floor and says, “if the dew is only on the fleece and all the ground is dry [in the morning], then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but at this point in the story I’m thinking, “Buddy, God has been pretty patient with you.  Think maybe you should just SHUT UP, and do?”  I mean, God’s patience MUST be running a little thin, right?

Nope.  God does the thing Gideon proposes, and the next morning the dew is only on the fleece while the ground around it is dry.  STILL, Gideon is not sure, so he says in verse 30, “Do not be angry with me.  let me make just one more request…This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.”  No surprise there that he is asking God’s patience.  Even he knows he is pushing it, but he is obviously driven by his need for certainty, and I have to admire his tenacity.  How many times do we give up rather than make sure?  How many times do we go with what is easiest rather than persevering with really knowing for sure what Abba wants us to do before we act?

Next morning the fleece is dry while all the ground around it is covered in dew.  At this point, Gideon locks and loads on this whole concept, and he steps out to do what God wants him to do.  So we have a new definition and process for making sure direction comes from God, and we have a new leader.  But what else is present here?

God is imminently more patient with us than we are with ourselves and with others.  He is willing to do whatever it takes to convince us that we are truly the ones he has chosen for whatever task he has asked us to take on.

AND

He is so gracious about it.  He will let US ask HIM to perform components of a fleece that will show us that he is speaking or that the direction we need to go is, in fact, the direction he wants us to go.  Now there are some things about fleeces that can cause us problems.  First of all, we do not really need them, because if we are God’s children in relationship with him, we have the Holy Spirit to direct us.  Gideon did not have the Holy Spirit, because Jesus had not come yet, paid the price for our sins with his life, the resurrection had not occurred, nor the ascension, and Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit.

We have the Holly Spirit IN us as his children, so we can speak directly to him and our spirit can “hear” him speak to us.  In throwing out fleeces, we run the risk of not relying on his “voice” in our lives and in not trusting him to show us and walk us through our uncertainties.  This is fundamental to our growth and our journey.  We must learn to consult God and then listen for his direction.  That is something a fleece can negate.

Also, it is important if you feel you are hearing the Holy Spirit speak to you and you want to confirm with a fleece, that you are not biasing a fleece.  In doing the fleeces he did, Gideon had nothing to gain by the actual fleece process.  So he ran a test on something completely unrelated to the situation he was in.  The dew on the wool or on the ground had absolutely nothing to do with him taking on Israel’s enemies.  Sometimes when we do fleeces we run the risk of stacking the deck, so to speak, so that we benefit somehow in the process and the outcome of the fleece becomes not about confirmation, but us gaining something.

Finally, I think that this part of the story is impactful, at least for me, because it shows me yet another part of God’s nature.  I can see his love for Gideon in this section and his understanding of Gideon’s hesitation.  I didn’t mention in the above, but in the scripture, which I encourage you to go read for yourself to get every morsel, Gideon asks the stranger to wait while he goes and get the meat and bread.  So the angel is standing for a long time.

Gideon has to go get the goat, kill it.  Make bread, cook it.  All this time the angel is standing there waiting to indulge Gideon’s battle with his inadequacies and misgivings.  There was a time when I would have struggled with god doing such a thing, but I have seen him do it for me over and over.  I’m often rather obtuse, and so often though I see my cup runneth over, I still question him on whether or not anything is in it.

We are human beings.  God knows this.  He made us.  We are finite.  He knows this, so he knows what we have to start with and what he has to work with.  The thing that we need to remember is that God is not human.  We cannot understand his thoughts or ways unless he gives us that understanding.  He is not finite.  He is infinite, and we must work to not forget that.  We only need know he is the beginning and the end, so we will never out tap his resources.