Drift Wood

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Never fails.  I set a goal to blog every week, and some big life thing happens that seems to stretch out forever.  It has, yet again, been two weeks, and I have not posted.  So, I endeavor to do so now!

I mentioned in past blogs that I had memorized Hebrews 11.  I finished it before 2016 ended, which was my goal.  Since then I have been seeking where to go next for memory work.  It’s not like there aren’t a lot of options, but I want what is best for me right now.

I expect I will head into James.  It is a short book, and there is so much in it on how to live, that I think it is just a MUST.

For this week, however, I am working on Hebrews 12:1-2.

In recent past, I quit my job and am still moving.  I never do one thing at a time.  Change comes as a tidal wave for me, or it doesn’t come at all.  I have been on automatic pilot, as a result, and I know God is okay with that.  There have been many times in my life where I was simply riding the waves, not really exploring anything that would deepen my walk, and I know that God gives such seasons of grace for us to just survive and lean on him, sheltered in his wings.

At such times, I have a vision of myself on a piece of drift wood, passed out, as I ride the crest and fall of every wave.  I am so thankful for the drift wood, which is God’s grace and protection; the shadow of his wings to use another image.

Now, however, I am being called back to exploration.  Time is past for automatic pilot, and it is time to re-engage in God’s word, as it is so very powerful, and soldiers do not advance without their armor and their weapons.  That would just be stupid right?  I know that his word is mightier than any sword.

12 For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Yet how many times do we head out into the things of the world without all our spiritual gear?  And then we wonder what the heck happened.  Why did I get hit?  Why wasn’t I effective?  God, where are you and why weren’t you there?

The Bible says he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  So what happens?  Well, we are running off to battle every day, missing our gear.  If you do not have your helmet on, you might easily take a head wound.  No breastplate, and you will likely receive a chest wound.  If you are not carrying your sword, which is truth that can only come from the word of God and his enlightenment through it, you are not going to be able to defend yourself.

It kills me the number of Christians who are committed to God, yet never read his word.  But, for many years, I was one of those people.

I think it intimidated me.

I also think it overwhelmed me.

I have learned some things in working with God’s word that help.  The first thing I do is pray that God will give me insight into what I am reading.  Sometimes I go to the stories of the Bible.  There are so many.  I grab a name like, say, Samuel, look it up (if I don’t know where to find him) in the back of my Bible, and go read about this person.  I have also started memorizing scripture, as it gives me a solid reference point.  I have also found that recall for scripture is much quicker when I have it memorized, and recall is necessary in a spiritual battle.

The danger with being on automatic pilot is that we run the risk of staying, and when God calls us back to service, which includes delving into his word, we choose not to listen.  We are too busy being absorbed in our frailties, and the idea of getting up off our drift wood to swim to our destination, is not something we want to do.

You understand what I mean when I say “petrified Christians”?  These are people who have literally become part of their drift wood.  They are apathetic or rigidly unbending.  What they are not, are contributors to the kingdom of God.

We cannot allow ourselves to stay in that place where we do nothing and try to coast.  God will either bring something along that rudely dislodges us from our drift wood, or, if we tenaciously cling to it, He will leave us there to atrophy.

So, let us endeavor to seek God’s word one visual bite at a time.  You are welcome to join me in memory work.  At the beginning of this missive, I had planned to move into James, something you can certainly do, but I think after writing this blog, I may need to stay in Hebrews.  As I mentioned previously, Hebrews 12:1 is my verse for the week.

Join me!

Selah

2012096

I have been in a holding pattern on this blog, it seems.  I originally started writing it as a means of sharing what I am learning in my delving into the Word of God.  That does not mean I have answers for anyone else by any stretch, but if something I have learned makes sense to someone else, so much the better.  AND I have so benefited from what others learn in their study time that I just wanted to share what God is doing in my life and what I am learning as well.

I have been in a place of sifting for the past two years. The sifter has been my job.  The Bible talks about sifting in more than one place, but the experience I have been in is referenced in Luke 22: 31-32.  31 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

I have been in places of sifting off and on in my journey with God for over 3 decades.  The experience is painful, and I do not pretend to understand why it is necessary in the sense that maybe for me God determines it necessary to sift me repeatedly when he may not one of his other children.  Maybe I’m just a slow learner. That is very possible, but what I am seeing now, as I look back a ways down the path from which I have come, is a process taking shape.

You see in the scripture where Jesus is talking to Simon Peter, he tells him that Satan is wanting to sift; is asking to be allowed to sift, and he is given permission.  That tells me a lot.  For one thing, God does not do bad things to his children, but he allows it.  Is that semantics?

Well, yeah, but it is important.  I believe, in my finite little human mind, that it is all about adding dimension to us, and more specifically, to our faith.  After a lifetime of being in relationship with God, I have learned a few things about him and how he handles me.  I am exceedingly stubborn and self-sufficient, prone to hubris.  Those are not admirable traits in the walk with God.  I have been learning the hard way for a lifetime that I MUST rely on God, and I cannot attempt to procure my ending myself.

Because I tend to not “get it,” I believe God has allowed Satan to sift me, because even though God is working on these undesirable traits, he knows I can take it.  He knows I have been conditioned enough to handle the obstacle course, even though I’m gonna complain and groan my way through it.

So, I have been in a job that challenges my most fundamental character trait, my sense of justice.  What Satan has done, since he has also known me my whole life, was to make sure I felt helpless, and at every turn I was thwarted, betrayed, and impotent to stop what I was seeing, because he knows that combo triggers my animalistic nature.  I am no flight person.  It’s fight all the way, baby.  (Thank You Jesus, You gave me a husband who is a tough guy with a gentle nature!  He is wise!)  But he also knows, I have an illness that gets triggered in such fights.  He also knows if he goads me to take it all on on my own…I will.

I am happy to say that I began calling out to God from the beginning.  I struggled with my fundamental nature and my wanting to step out on my own and take things into my own hands, which, I confess, I did.  A lot.  But I also stepped back and asked for guidance.  I asked for help too.  Maybe not enough.  And I know for sure that I did not exhibit God’s grace at all near the end of the the two years.  I began falling apart mentally, as Satan knew I would because of the nature of the illness that impacts my life, but I did not fail to turn to God.  I cried out over and over for his rescue.

Yeshua, my rescuer.

What I have been learning VERY slowly is that God is not interested in me winning the human race.  All the things that people hold up as successful, God is not interested in cultivating in his warriors.  He is not interested in how many church services I attend or how many messages I take in from famous speakers.  He does not care how much spiritual jargon I can spew or how many “encounters” I can say I have had with him if it does not change me to be more reliant on him.

I’m gonna tell you right now, this was ugly.  I have been praying since the first month I started my job to be released.  I committed to two years, and he has held me to it, to the day.  But he is faithful, and even though I made a mess of so many things in trying to get away and stop the wheat threshing I have been experiencing, he has been faithful in releasing me.

Satan has been right there with me as well, even sending someone along to tell me what a sinner I have been.  The truth is that I have sinned.  It’s really not about my sinning.  I’m human.  It happens.  He knows better than anyone that if he wants perfection, he better not send me.  But, my heart is good, and when he told me to love the people I worked for, he knew I would do it.

He knew I would screw up as well, which is why he provided Romans 8:28: 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  He did it so that I would know that my sin in the midst of serving, in a place I never would have chosen for myself but that I went to in obedience, he would erase and work out all of it in spite of my blunders and mishandling; because my heart longs for him and I confess what I break.

One day I woke up and asked as I had every day, “Is it done?  Is it over?  Can I leave?”  One day he said, “Do it,” and so I did.

I will never know if there was another reason, really.  I know He told me to go, cleared the path so specifically that there was no misunderstanding.  I was an intellectual stepping into a world political agendas absent of common sense.  The people I worked with were beautiful and many from families I have known my whole life.  I will never know if there was a purpose outside the sifting I encountered.  The facility will close back over itself, absorbing my empty presence as though I was never there.  But Oh Man, did it grow me.  I learned, really learned how to swing a sword of truth in a sea of deceit.

Maybe that is what I was sent to do.  I didn’t do it well.  Bad form rather too often, but there were specific moments when God told me very directly to speak to those who seem to be rather full of their own significance, not considering those they are to be leading, and I did.  I will never know what God will do with that.  It’s really none of my business.

Footnote…

I gave my resignation when God impressed upon me to do so, and interestingly enough, it was before I had another job.  So I step from one stone of faith onto another I can’t see.  I have no idea what is round the corner, but I can tell you that, sin and all, I passed the sifting.  Satan did not take me out.  Oh, he pulled out all the stops, but in the midst of the fog I fell back on the foundation that was reinforced by God’s direction that I memorize the 40 verses of Hebrews 11.

Faith

I choose to be sure of what I hope for and I choose to be certain of what I cannot see.

I am sure that God is faithful to finish what he started in me (Phil 1:6)

I am certain he has a plan for a hope and a future just for me (Jer 29:1)

Selah

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

Faith and Promises

by-faith-hebrews-111

I believe I mentioned in a past blog that I have been working on memorizing Hebrews 11.  This week I have completed my goal.  40 verses.  And through the process, I have gained intangibles that I believe will produce fruit for the rest of my life.

For one thing, this one chapter has cause me to consider the application of faith not just in my own journey but in the journeys of those mentioned in the text.  Abraham, Enoch, Moses, Noah, Joseph, Abel, Isaac, Rahab, Sarah, Jacob, and many more.  A lot of big hitters in that text.  And those whose journeys were specifically mentioned had a couple things in common.

They did what was asked of them, even if it didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time.  They were told to build an ark, move to a land  that was promised but that they had no possession over, sacrifice their only offspring through whom their promised descendants were supposed to be reckoned…

And they never received the promises made them in their lifetimes.

Cogitate on that for a minute.

“They were stoned, sawed in two; their lives were taken by the sword; they went about in  sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in the deserts and mountains, in caves and in holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised them.”  Hebrews 11:37-39

I won’t lie.  This depresses me a bit.

But  it also humbles me to the core.  Who am I to complain about the inconveniences in my life when these people experienced all horrible things to provide the experience of faith for their offspring?

Verse 40 renders explanation.  “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

What does that mean?

I looked it up in a the Amplified version, as I had been doing my memorizing in the NIV.  And it says for verses 39 and 40, ” And all of these, though they had divine approval by [means of] their faith, did not receive the fulfillment of what was promised, Because God had us in mind and had something better and greater in mind for us, so that they [these heroes and heroines of faith] should not come to perfection apart from us [before we could join them]”.

Ok, so this gives a more expanded concept, and it reminds me that God doesn’t see the timeline JUST in order.  He sees it in ALL order.  Ever looked at something from the front and thought that was all there was to it, but then when you took a step to the right or left you realized there was much more dimension than what you originally saw?

I apply this concept to Hebrews 11.  These people and what they lived look to me (from the front view) as birth, life, and death.  They were born.  They lived and received promise, they walked out their faith, and then they died before receiving what was promised.  To that construct, the lack of fulfilled promises is discouraging to me.  But when I step a bit to the side, I can begin to wrap my head around the concept that God’s perspective is not only linear, and the complete fulfilled promise was that we all partake of His promise of everlasting life.  Not only that, but I can see that God, back when He was directing these saints, had me in mind…

and you.

Abraham and Sarah’s promise that their descendants would be numerous as the stars and grains of sand is still being fulfilled.  Had Abraham and Sarah not had faith that God WOULD fulfill the promise he made, we would not be reaping the benefits of their faithfulness now.  What about all of the saints referenced in this text?   They were given promises that are still, today, being played out.  The deaths of those who were fighting for the Gospel to reach all peoples were not in vain.  The promises are still being walked out.  And those promises have become ours.

Another thought occurred as I contemplated this.  If God were to say to Abraham, “Hey, how about I send you back to where you were in the promised land, and instead of coming home at the point of death, you can just hang on there until I finish fulfilling the promise I made you?”

I’m guessing Abraham would be like, “Uh, well, if it’s all the same to you, Yashuea, I will stay here in heaven with You.  I’m good.” Why in the world would he want to stick around for the fulfillment of a promise, when he had the option of heaven.  And ultimately, heaven really is the promise fulfilled for those who serve God, right?

So in thinking this way, I have to rethink my understanding of my Dad’s promises to me.  Sometimes He makes me promises that He fulfills in my life immediately.  His Word houses promises throughout that I find occurring in real time in my life.  “I will never leave you or forsake you,”(Hebrews 13:5) is one that comes to mind.  That is a promise he renews each day I’m alive and I find it answered as I drift off to sleep every night.

But there are other promises that are, perhaps, generational.  And they take much time. I truly believe that the promises given the saints in Hebrews 11 are now mine, and every generation of saints hands off the baton to the next.  We all share in those big monumental promises of God.  We all contribute.  We run our race, and we have faith that even if we do not see the end result, God will not waste us.  He will use us for the fulfillment of promises. And that is where faith becomes very active for us.

Because we are so finite, we tend to think the best promises are the ones that we see fulfilled in our lives. They are wonderful, and God loves to give to us, but the promises that matter the most are those we contribute to, I think, rather than the ones we see only for ourselves.

If you have not spend time memorizing scripture, I encourage you to do so.  Just a verse at a time.  It will have a profound impact on your walk that will ripple throughout the moments in your journey.  This section of scripture has been a game changer for me.  It is massive in warfare.  It has given me hope.  It has bolstered my endurance.  It has expanded my theology, and it will continue to educate me long after I move on to other scripture.

 

 

Got Doubt?

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“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (My accent)

So Thomas.

Thomas is perhaps best defined by his interaction with Jesus at the end of John 20.  Like Peter, Thomas strikes me as an individual who tended to live his passions on the outside of himself.  He seems to me to be one in the group who tended to speak what others were thinking.  However, in this scenario, the others in the group had an advantage, as they had seen Jesus when he appeared after the resurrection.  Thomas had not been present.

So one can understand Thomas might be demanding visual proof that the others did not.  They had already had it!

The commentary I read about Thomas pointed out something I found very apt.  It stated that doubt was not a way of life for Thomas; meaning, it was not his state of being. We see that when Jesus tells the disciples his life is in danger and Thomas says in Luke 11:16, “Let’s also go, that way we may die with him.”

No.  Doubt, for Thomas, was the beginning part of his process for making decisions.  Doubt allowed him the option to question things.  And that is part of the wonderful ability God gives his children to reckon the experiences of life with Him, learning about Him in their own stories.

I have many people in my life who are much wiser about theology and, I would venture to surmise, are far more understanding about the ways of God.  I am grateful for their input into my life, as they have helped grow me dimensionally.  However, I am not interested in having the same walk my siblings or my parents have with God.  My journey is different from theirs, and I have never been a person who enjoys going along with a crowd just to be part of something.  I want the experiences in my life to be real and to have meaning.  Otherwise I don’t see the value in them.  And if I have to have a God who can only be defined by someone else for me…

Then quite frankly, I won’t have a whole lot of respect for Him.  See, I am a doubter.  Straight up.  I question everything.  And a God who cannot handle my questions is really no God at all, at least not one I can count on to weather the storms in life.

I have looked death in the face too many times and have had to do it alone every time.  So  to have to depend on someone else to define for me who God, is unrealistic.  And to be honest, He has shown himself in such rugged, searing ways to me while I was hanging over a cliff of one type or another, that I would not suggest someone who has not experienced a lifelong battle with mental illness must experience Him in the same way.  The rescue for me will be different than the next person.

I think the place where people get hung up in the scenario with Jesus is when Jesus says in verse 29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Does this statement negate the fact that Jesus loved Thomas so much he made a point of going to him and giving Thomas the exact proof Thomas needed to put a period at the end of the sentence rather than a question mark?

There is lots of room for opposing views about this text.  You must ask God what he would have YOU get from the story.  That is the living part of the the process of reading God’s Word and asking him to breath through it into your own life.  For my part, I can rather easily see the admonishment.  I am not knocking established church structures by an means when I say what I’m about to say next.

I grew up in a church setting.  I have the solid understanding of the workings of Christianity due to that upbringing.  I think that it is easy to blame a church for making us too “religious” or “indoctrinated,” when the fact is that with a church body it is more likely we become lazy and sedentary, like we are being chauffeured through our journey rather than being an active part of the adventure.  What I found some years ago was that if I did not question things; if I accepted someone else’s teaching without asking God about its value in my life, I became susceptible to being disillusioned.

As a child I was instructed in church about Thomas and how bad it was to doubt.  And I carried that around with me my whole life.  Thomas was a bit of a loser because he doubted and did not receive blessing because he did not believe without seeing. That was my inherent understanding of this story.

I have come to realize through my own journey of doubt and struggling with belief, not with believing that God is real, as I have always known that.  No, the struggle has been in believing the second part of the scenario with Jesus and Thomas.

I struggle with believing that when I am not measuring up; when I am not believing without seeing, that He still loves me and that His blessing is waiting for me.  He comes to me in a way He knows only I will understand and shows me the thing about Himself I need to believe.

The end goal is to believe automatically without having to see.  When we can do that we are far more prepared to face the battles coming our way.  We are able to allow God to work swiftly and mightily in our lives, but that does not mean we will not be blessed if it takes us longer to get it.  The walk is about trusting God so much we immediately step from our precipice of doubt off into belief without the stuttering transition that requires proof.

I have been memorizing Hebrews 11.  I am just a few verses shy of having that goal accomplished.  I cannot tell you how much God has used that section of scripture in my life over the past few months.  I have learned, for myself, that the scripture is a sword set aflame by the Holy Spirit.

I tested it.  I know it to be true.

I doubted.  I asked, and God sent this process for me to learn.

Had I believed from the start, I think the blessings would have come sooner, but they are not diminished by my doubt.  My understanding of God has changed fundamentally because of what I have learned through my doubt.  I have come not to see him as “The Father,” some stern being, brandishing a flaming torch and a big stick.  I have come to see Him as my beloved parent.  He is my Abba, Yashuea, my Rescuer.  I never would have learned who He is in me and for me had I not asked questions.

Thomas is a character who was so important he ended up being encapsulated in the longest standing text, ever.  There is a reason for that, and I do not believe it was just to define him as “Doubting Thomas.”  He was just as complex and dedicated as the other disciples, but he did struggle, it seems, with reconciling the tangible with the intangible, believing without seeing.  I have no doubt the lessons Thomas learned, once learned, became so concrete they could not be moved from his life with a sledge hammer.

I see myself in the story of this man, and I find I want to defend him.  But he does not need me to defend his life.  Even his death attests to a life lived so completely in Christ.  He was stabbed with a spear in India while establishing a church.  My goal is to remember that doubting is valuable for anything the world would throw at me, and unnecessary for that which Yashuea would.