Day Seventeen: You Were Once Slaves

Good morning everyone!  I decided I needed to get up and get at it today.  Otherwise, I’ll get busy and it’ll be bedtime before I get around to the blog and all I will really want to do is go to bed

 

READ:  This morning, SOLO takes us to the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 24: verses 10-15 and 17-22  I’ve grown to like the idea of typing it out (that way I know if you read this blog, you’ve read some Bible today), so I am going to share it with you now.

 

(10-13) When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, don’t enter his house to claim his pledge.  Wait outside.  Let the man to whom you made the pledge bring the pledge to your outside.  And if he is destitute, don’t use his cloak as a bedroll; return it to him at nightfall so that he can sleep in his cloak and bless you.  In the sight of God, your God, that will be viewed as a righteous act.

(14-15) Don’t abuse a laborer who is destitute and needy, whether he is a fellow Israelite or foreigner living in your land and your city.  Pay him at the end of each workday; he’s living from hand to mouth and needs it now.  If you hold back his pay, he’ll protest to God and you’ll have sin in your books…

(17-18) Make sure foreigners and orphans get their just rights.  Don’t take the cloak of a widow as security for a loan.  Don’t ever forget that you were once slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there.  I command you:  Do what I’m telling you.

(18-22) When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work.  When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare–what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow.  And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape–leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow.  Don’t ever forget that you were once a slave in Egypt.  I command you:  Do what I’m telling you.

 

THINK:  Here we are asked what 3 common themes link the scenarios.  If I were going to wrap up this passage in a verse, it would have to be:  “Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”  More than once in this passage, God reminded the Israelites not to forget that they had once been slaves in Egypt and God, Himself, had led them out.  They were repeatedly reminded never to forget what God had delivered them from and that they had done nothing to earn what they would receive in the Promised Land, so they would be wise not to get arrogant, thinking that they somehow earned what they had, and therefore were under no obligation to share it.  On the contrary, God was always commanding them to share what they had and to not be greedy or stingy. 

 

This passage is a bit humbling for me as I think back over the course of my life and the current situation in America, with scores of people flooding over our Southern border.  I have frequently extended a hand of friendship to people less fortunate than me and patted myself on the back for it.  I have, at times, even left such encounters feeling somewhat superior.  The truth of the matter is:  those encounters have never cost me a thing.  They were meetings of convenience in that, I never went looking for any of them.  I didn’t run away from them.  But, I didn’t have to go out hunting for someone with whom to share my friendship or blessing that day. 

 

On the other hand, there have been plenty of times when I’ve been presented with the opportunity to help someone less fortunate and I have found every excuse not to because those times it would’ve been inconvenient or it would’ve cost me something.  I know I’m not the only one, but as you can imagine, people are less apt to talk about those times. 

 

Recently, Stephen King slammed Tea Party conservatives with a quote: 

Much easier to be a Christian when the little children aren’t in your back yard, isn’t it?

4:18 PM – 22 Jul 2014

 

Though he received plenty of backlash, my heart was pricked by that comment.  The truth is: Yes, it is much easier when the little children aren’t in your backyard.  Though I am not strictly talking about this situation, it does apply here too.  I have been guilt of saying “send them home” whenever I see the stories on the news about our legal/justice system being so messed up that these mass crossings could even occur.  However, if all they needed to do was get out of their own country, then they could’ve just stopped at Mexico.  All over the world, when people leave their homeland and think about making a better life for themselves, they do precisely what Simon and Garfunkle said: “They all come to look for America.”  As a nation, we have been blessed by God.  The issue comes down to the fact that far too many individuals have tried to pass the buck of meeting these needs off onto the government.  We have taken an individual mandate and tried to nationalize it, not just for others, but for ourselves, as well.  We have voted for someone who would take care of us for years.  We have been the Israelites begging God for a king so that we can be obedient.  Well, now, we have a king (though he does not want to be called that) and we do not like the fact that we are now beholding to a king whose rules we cannot stand, or who seems to have a “Do as I say, not as I do” policy.  We cannot have it both ways. 

 

I cannot have it both ways.  If I shirk my responsibility to be obedient because it feels uncomfortable or because it’s inconvenient, then I have a faith of convenience, and that is no faith at all.  What I have done is usurped God’s authority in my life by placing myself on my own throne.  I have done precisely what God commanded the Israelites not to do:  I have forgotten that I was once a slave in Egypt. 

 

PRAY:  “Sit with your eyes closed.  Think about a recent encounter with someone who might relate to you like the neighbor, laborer, foreigner, or orphan described in the passage.  Perhaps you spoke a few words to a homeless beggar, or you listened to someone at school or work who was upset.  When faced with the person’s need, what did you feel?  What thoughts popped into your head?  What did you do?  Take a few moments to explore with God what was going on in your heart during the encounter”

I have to tell you that the reason I went into counseling and the reason that I love travel and exploring is because of people.  My belief is:  Everyone has a story and they want to tell it.  But they want to tell it to someone who is willing to really listen to them and to let them talk until they are done.  They don’t want to be fixed.  They just want to connect.  There’s a quote from one of my most favorite movies, Crash, that I feel pretty adequately sums up the state our world is in these days:

 

“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

 

From <https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071029110720AATBmVo>

 

Could it be that, in this digital world, in all our pseudo-connectedness, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to really connect?  In a world where kids can only communicate with others through a text message, the art of conversation is disappearing.  People only listen to respond, not to understand, and certainly not to really hear.  And with so much text-messaging and chatting and Facebooking and Twittering, over half of what is really said in a conversation is missed because about 80% of all communication is nonverbal.  Generally speaking, people are not really connecting anymore.  So, maybe, we just have to crash into someone just so we can feel something, because nobody really sees us or listens to us anymore. 

 

THAT is how I feel every time I get to have a conversation with somebody who is not inside my little bubble!  And I love it.  I used to hate it.  I hated the butterflies I would get in my stomach any time it looked like someone was walking toward me that might want to have a conversation.  I would pretend like I hadn’t seen them, and turn around pretending like I had seen something interesting, or like I had been lost in thought and was doing the “thousand-yard stare.”  But, I have come to make friends with those butterflies.  They are my signal that I need to move, to be the first to move, to say something, anything.  In fact, I’ve told several people that once I’ve made up my mind to know you, you pretty much have no choice.  You can choose how far in you are going to let me.  But we are going to talk.  And I am not going to be ashamed for it.  Because if nothing else, you will leave me knowing that I heard you and was genuinely interested in whatever it is you chose to talk about that day.  Then, the next time I see you, I am going to ask you about that thing you told me.  Then, the next time I see you, I’m going to ask you about the next thing you told me.  Then, the next time I see you….well, you get the picture.  I just want to hear your story, and I want you to know that I’ve heard you.  We don’t have to have anything in common, at first.  But by the time we are done, there will be something we share.  Even if it’s just the 15 minutes we were talking.  That is 15 minutes you’ll never be able to get back again because you’ve lost it to someone who cared enough about you to listen to your story for those 15 minutes, and that I asked for whatever it is you told me.

 

LIVE:  “Now look back at the theme you wrote down from the passage and at the traits you noticed about God.  How do you picture this God responding to you as you think about the situation you faced?  Do you sense him speaking a personal message to you?  What is it?  (If you have a tendency to assume what God’s response would be, say, something similar to what an authority figure in your life might say, resist that.)  If you feel clueless about what God might be saying to you, offer this up to him and ask him to show in the coming weeks.”

 

Looking back at the Crash quote, the idea that comes to me is:  We were created for relationships.  At the end of each day, of each creation, God looked and said that it was good, except with Adam.  With Adam, he looked and said that it was not good for man to be alone.  We are told not to forsake the gathering together.  We are told that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  These all testify to the fact that we are not supposed to go through life alone, thinking that we can do whatever we want and it will never affect anyone else; thinking that what goes on in other countries will not affect us.  It cannot happen. 

 

In other circles, this has been called the Butterfly Effect: 

Meteorologists began talking about something they called the Butterfly Effect. The idea was that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different.

 

From <http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi652.htm>

 

Nothing happens in a vacuum.  In fact, nature abhors a vacuum.  If a hole is created, something will rush in to fill it.  We all have a hole in our hearts that we try to fill.  It is only designed to be filled by God, but that does not stop us from trying to fill it with everything else under the sun.  But we were also designed for relationships. The problem is that sin crept into the world back in creation and now our relationships are tainted by selfishness and self-centeredness.  We are all so concerned with ourselves or with what others will think of us, that we are paralyzed into inaction, unless and until we are acted upon by some outside force.  As my husband is fond of saying:  It’s basic physics. 

 

But what if we stopped waiting for someone to crash into us before we started moving.  What if we used our own discomfort to spur us into moving?  What if we stopped trying to fill that ache in our souls with food or pornography or money or work and filled it with God, and then allowed our overflow to bubble out around us, onto those who most desperately need it, instead of waiting, hoping that others would bubble out onto us.

 

With that, I am going to leave you.  I am going to go connect with people, rather than crash into them, and I am going to pour into their lives, trusting that God will take care of what I need.  The Son of Man had no home and no place to lay his head, yet he poured into the lives of everyone he encountered.  My prayer is that, by the end of the day, I will be able to say the same thing.  God bless you all! 

Day Sixteen: Live in His Presence

Today’s passage is Deuteronomy 10:12-21.  Read along as I share with you:

 

(12-13) So now Israel, what do you think God expects from you?  Just this:  Live in his presence in holy reverence, follow the road he sets out for you, love him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, obey the commandments and regulations of God that I’m commanding you today–live a good life.

(14-18) Look around you:  Everything you see is God’s–the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it.  But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children–that’s you!–out of all the other peoples.  That’s where we are right now.  So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded.  God, you God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome.  He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.

(19-21) You must treat foreigners with the same loving care–remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.  Reverently respect God, your God, serve him, hold tight to him, back up your promises with the authority of his name.  He’s your praise!  He’s your God!  He did all these tremendous, these staggering things that you saw with your own eyes.

 

THINK:  Here we are asked to identify what phrase, what quality of God, and what command stands out to us and why.

 

“God is my praise!” really sticks out to me.  It’s curious to me that the very thing God would have of his creation – their praise – is what he is to me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

 

 

The quality of God that most strikes me is the passage: “it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children–that’s you!–out of all the other people.  Because of the crucifixion and resurrection, we can now be called citizens of the kingdom to which God called the Israelites.  And God knew me before he formed me in my mother’s womb. 

 

Finally, the command that sticks with me is:  Cut away the calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded.

 

PRAY:  Here are some ways to pray back the passage.  Use as many of these suggestions as you wish:

  • Express to God your thoughts about living in his presence.  Has living in his presence been important to you or not?
  • Express to God those areas in which you would guess he considers you “hardheaded.”  (Pause and let this come to you.  Don’t necessarily go with the first thing that comes to mind.)
  • Express to God your feelings about the have-nots you know (widows, orphans, foreigners).  Talk to God honestly about how willing or unwilling you’ve been to include such people in your life.

 

LIVE:  Experiment with living in God’s presence while caring for the rest of the world.  Relax.  Quiet yourself.  Just be.

 

I have to admit that I have long been more concerned with paying lip service to the idea of living in God’s presence than I have actually doing it.  Most of my life, I’ve been concerned with it looking the way I think it ought to, more than just doing what I feel God’s calling me to do.  I’ve put it off by waiting until the time was right.  There’s always some “until” that would make things “just right” for me really get started.  I’ve even put it off thinking that maybe I was about to start for the wrong motives and that would be a sin.  Regardless, what happens is that I never get around to starting what I ought to.  And it never fails that when I decide it’s time to start because it’s time to stop making excuses, there are always so many things that pop up that get in the way, or threaten to, that I usually rationalize or justify stopping by saying that if God had really wanted me to do “such-and-such,” then everything would’ve fallen into place.  This is not always the case.

 

Abba Father, I thank you for this gentle reminder that you love me and that I have been chosen.  But I have not been chosen just for the chance to go to Heaven.  I have been chosen so that I might live down here, in the world, but not of it, being Jesus with skin on to the lost and hurting.  Please help me to quiet my mind enough that I can hear your still, small voice, and then, help me to remember that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, including anything you ask or require of me while I am here on the face of the Earth.  Help not to disgrace your name as I try to act in your service.

 

All these things I ask in Your Son’s Precious and Holy Name, Amen.

Day Fifteen: Listen!

I am going to handle today’s passage a little differently.  Instead of working through the Read, Think, Pray, Live sections of the devotional.  I am merely going to type out the reading for today.  I have a few insights, based on what I’ve been living through this past year, but I don’t think those need to be the focus today.  The reading speaks for itself; since it’s the Bible, it usually does.  But, I want to share just this passage today because it cuts right to my core. 

 

Numbers 6:1-9

 

(1-2) This is the commandment, the rules and regulations, that God, your God commanded me to teach you to live out in the land you’re about to cross into to possess.  This is so that you’ll live in deep reverence before God lifelong, observing all his rules and regulations that I’m commanding you, you and your children and your grandchildren, living good long lives.

(3) Listen obediently, Israel.  Do what you’re told so that you’ll have a good life, a life of abundance and bounty, just as God promised, in a land abounding in milk and honey.

(4) Attention, Israel!  God, our God!  God the one and only!

(5)  Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!

(6-9) Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts.  Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children.  Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.  Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.

 

Abba Father, I don’t know into what land you are about to guide my family, but I pray that you help us to remember that you are the one leading us there, preparing us for that land, and I pray that you would always be before us and that we would never forget that you are the one guiding us.  I pray that we would not forget the lessons we are being taught in the midst of our current storm.  I pray that we would not falter in disbelief the next time troubles hit our lives because we remember that you have brought us through this one and through every other trial in our lives, and that we have become stronger and better able to serve you because of them.  Help us to always live in deep reverence before you, never forgetting that all we have is a gift from you and not of our own hands.  Thank you for your mercy that has spared us what we deserve and thank you for your grace that has granted us what we do not deserve.

 

In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name, I pray, Amen.

Day Fourteen: Reflections from Week Two

Obviously, I got off on my date just a little bit.  But I am okay with that.  There is always room for grace.  Right?  Besides, I much prefer the idea of Sunday being my reflection day, because that’s when I do the bulk of my reflecting anyway.

 

There are so many things I have to think about for this week, and reflect upon.  But I want to start with today’s sermon.  Our pastor, Ryan Cox, continued his sermon series on James.  Today we covered James 1, verses 5-8.  My take-aways were pretty poignant.  The first point he made was that wisdom turns to God first.  Far too many times in my life, I have turned to God as my last resort, rather than as my first response.  He even made mention of the fact that, far too often, people are heard saying that the only thing they have left to do is pray.  Man alive, have I been there so many times this past year.

 

His second point:  Wisdom trusts God.  Over this past year, I’ve found myself saying:  “well, we trusted God and then, it feels like he dropped us on our heads.”  I know the reality is that he did not drop us on our heads; just like he didn’t lead the Israelites into the desert to let them die.  Jesus also did not lead the disciples out onto the water to let them drown in a storm.  Why does it seem like God dropped the ball on this?  Well, because I stopped trusting Him when He didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted Him to.

 

If I could wrap this week up with just one thing, I think it would have to be how amazing I think it is the way God works.  A year ago, I was going to our pastor at sermons he would preach, tears streaming down my face, telling him how what he had just preached about was exactly what I had been reading or dealing with this past week.  This week was no different.  I’ve just made a standing appointment with him, for after church, every Sunday we are doing James, because I just have a feeling that this book is going to be hitting some tender spots.  The neat thing about the spots that it’s hitting:  this time last year, if this message series had been preached, it would’ve reached an entirely different person and I would’ve heard a completely different sermon. 

 

I’ve sat through church the last two weeks amazed at how well God can judge a situation.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the messages are geared toward me and what I’m going through.  But I am dumbfounded, blown away, bowled over by the fact that God knew exactly when I would be ready to hear a message the likes of which I heard today, or last week.  I am in awe of His timing. 

 

The kids and I just finished watching Man of Steel. There was a line in it about trust that I will paraphrase and pass along to you because it so aptly applies to what I’ve been dealing with.  Sometimes you just have to act, and the trust will come later.  God doesn’t need me to agree with Him to be right.  God doesn’t need me to trust Him to be right.  And sometimes, you may not trust what God is asking you to do, or that it will turn out right, but you still have to trust the one who’s asking you.  God is many things.  He has many names.  One of the most important names is Abba.  Father.  Or, if you know your Hebrew, Daddy.  It is a term of endearment.  It signifies a personal relationship.  A Daddy cares about His children.  And while he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to them, he knows he must prepare them for the day that it will because we live in a world where bad things happen all the time.  To not prepare one’s children for the day that things might not go their way is neglect, and God is not capable of that because He has said He will never leave us nor forsake us.  If that’s the case, then when it looks like God is nowhere to be found, we can trust that is just our perception of our situation, and not the reality because God cannot lie.  And what kind of Daddy would God be if He allowed us to be spared from everything that ever came our way that way hard.  We would all end up like butterflies that people tried to help out of their cocoons.  We would look like butterflies.  We would have all the necessary requirements to qualify, on the surface, as a butterfly.  But without the ability to fly.  And without the ability to fly, we would not be able to eat.  If we don’t eat, we die.  A good father, a Daddy, would never do that to his children.  No.  Rather, he would let them suffer their way out of their cocoon, knowing that the hard work will have its reward.  He knows that His Children will come out of their cocoons stronger than they could ever imagine and that strength will enable them to fly just the way they were designed to.

Day Thirteen: Justice, Grace, and Mercy all Rolled Into One

READ:  Today’s reading comes from Numbers 35, with a specific focus on verses 9-15.  Here God is advising Moses to set up 6 asylum-cities that would be used to house suspected murderers until they could be tried, so that those who might want to exact vengeance upon them would not be able to hunt them down.  It was God’s will that justice be done, but he wanted it done properly, and without malice.

 

THINK:  Here we are encouraged to spend time thinking about the God who is making himself known here and to jot down a few words to describe him.

 

Justice, Grace and Mercy all rolled into one. 

 

PRAY:  “For a moment, set aside this passage.  Check in with yourself–explore recent thoughts, feelings, events in your life and how you’ve responded to them.  What’s primarily on your heart today?  Is anything troubling you?  Bring your thoughts to the God who created asylum-cities.  Read the verses again.  As you do, picture God entering the room.  How do you relate to his presence?  Share with him what you’ve been thinking, if you can.  Does doing so make you uncomfortable? Why or why not?”

 

There are so many places I could go with this, but where to begin? 

 

What really troubles me today is just the amount of injustice in the world.  My husband sits in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.  A friend of mine is living through a divorce and watching the effect it is having on her children.  I know that this kind of justice is not what God intended because this is not justice.  And I have frequently spent time wondering where our justice was that one troubled girl from a troubled family would be so readily believed over so many people offering testimony to the contrary.  And as I listened to my friend, I was wondering why it is that people find themselves thinking that they ought to be able to do whatever they want and never have to suffer any consequences for their actions, and why they will summarily subtract everybody from their lives that may try to remind them of the hard they are inflicting.  How is that justice?  Well, the answer is:  it’s not.  And I know that.  But it tends to make me question the goodness of God when He is supposed to be just but there seems to be no justice for me and my kids, or for my friend and hers.

 

But, there is mercy. 

 

Though our joint situations are less than desirable, for the most part, whenever somebody asks me how the kids and I are doing, the answer is fine.  Not the “I know you are only asking to be nice, so I’m going to say ‘fine'” kind of fine.  But, all things considered, we are doing well.  Yes, our current set of circumstances bite.  But, in His Infinite Wisdom, God knew that we would be able to tolerate this separation because we’ve been through deployments before.  The kids and I are all used to being without the man of our house.  This part is no great shock.  The reason why we have to be apart notwithstanding, this is just another deployment, except that this time we are living in someone else’s house.  That’s truly been the hardest part of the adjustment, and even that has not been terrible because we’ve also lived in someone else’s house before.  So, while I could find plenty to complain about, when you get right down to it, I would just be complaining to complain.  And, in my humble opinion, there’s enough of that in the world.

 

And there is also grace.

 

Several years ago, my husband and I had a couple of hard years during our marriage.  There were some growing pains and some adjustments we needed to make.  We had brought baggage with us from our previous lives at home with our families that was weighing down our marriage.  The patch we hit had us looking at the other person, unsure if they were going to stick it out.  I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.  My husband knew he wasn’t going anywhere.  But neither one of us could look at the other person and really believe in our hearts that they/we were going to stick around.  It took us 5 years to get past that hump and during that time, I clung to a promise he and I had made early in our marriage.  He clung to the fact that he had made a promise to God.  We came through that struggle closer than ever and with absolutely no doubts that we were going to be married until death do us part. 

 

That was grace for our current situation because had we not had to live through that first, I cannot even imagine what this part of our lives together would look like.  I do not know how we would’ve made it through to the point we have, if either one of us was worried that the other was about to call it quits. 

 

Of course, our situation is sad.  It is unthinkable and we should not be sitting where we are (the civilian world wouldn’t even touch our case).  But, we are here.  The mercy of God has spared me many things I have not deserved in this life.  The grace of God has given me many things I could never have hoped to deserve.  And as for justice, well….the only true justice will come when we stand before our Creator on Judgment Day.  Until then, I have faith that God will use this trial to strengthen me and my faith for the next trial, and that I will come out better and more prepared for everything that comes after this time in my life.  It may hurt in the meantime, but pruning always hurts.  The thing about pruning is: it is always done to help the plant grow into the shape it needs to, to cut away the dead parts and to ensure that the plant is producing the best fruit possible.  But, there is still cutting involved and cutting is still painful.  So, I will mourn that I had parts that needed to be cut away, but I will live. 

 

And I will come out better for it…

     …because God is a God of justice, grace and mercy all rolled into one.

 

LIVE:  Think about what it’s been like for you to be with the God who is both a God of justice and a God of refuge.  Has it left you with questions or with new thoughts on how you want to deal with your sin in the future?  Make a note of anything that seems significant.

 

So far, I’ve covered what it’s been like for me to be with the God of justice and a the God of refuge.  But, I have not covered how this makes me think about my own sin and how I want to deal with it in the future. 

 

To say that I have been humbled through this entire process would be putting it mildly.  To humble me, I had to be knocked down off my pedestal.  Truth be told, I was not aware that I was on a pedestal until all this happened.  I had no idea that I had spent a big part of my life thinking that, as far as sinners go, surely I was the least sinful.  I thought that surely God got a pretty good deal when He got me, that there wasn’t a whole lot of work He needed to do to get me ready for Heaven.  What a joke!  In God’s economy, ugly is ugly and dirty is dirty.  There is no such thing as a little dirty or a little sinful.  Sin is sin; dirt is dirt; ugly is ugly; and it all must be dealt with, even mine.  And I have been made to see my own sin, dirt, and ugliness and to realize that I need a Savior as badly as my husband’s accuser.  God will not wink at sin.  He will deal with all of it, and He will do so justly.  But not just the sins of the people who have wronged me.  Mine too.  The only way to be spared from the harshest of those consequences is to throw myself at God’s mercy, at the foot of the cross, and claim the blood of Christ as the covering for my sins.  And I need to do it each and every time I sin, keeping short accounts with God, lest I forget or come to think that maybe “it’s not so bad.”

 

My prayer for you today is that if you do not have a personal relationship with the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, you would make it your task today to get one.  All sin will be judged, and because God is Good and Sin is not, it will be dealt with justly, and that justice states that God will not coexist with sin.  You cannot harbor sin in your heart and hope to offer it as a home to His Son Jesus Christ.  I pray that you would take care of that today if you feel God is prompting you.  If not, I pray I have planted a seed, or watered one that’s already been planted.

 

Until next time, God bless you all!

Day Twelve: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Good morning everyone.  Technically, this is Day 14.  Yesterday, I spent the day with friends swimming and then, had to “move into” the home where I will be house-sitting for the next few weeks; so, it was a full day.  As I sat in the living room of said house this morning, listening to birds, thinking about this devotional, I realized that if I don’t start getting up in the morning and taking care of this, I will continue to let a day or two slip away, until – before I know it or realize it – I will be so far behind, I’ll just have to scrap it or start over.  So…without further delay:

 

READ:  The passage, today, takes us to Numbers 14:1-24.  The passage includes a prayer by Moses, asking forgiveness for the Israelites (once again).  The party of 12 had just went to scout out the Promised Land and ten of the returning men decided that the giants in the land were too big and that there was no way they could move in and take it from them.  Only two, Joshua and Caleb, said that God would give the land over to them and that they should be obedient.  God did forgive the Israelites, but still, a whole generation had to pass away before He would allow them to enter into the Promised Land.  Joshua and Caleb would lead them in, but not before Moses himself passed away.  Take a look at verse 24:

 

“But my servant Caleb–this is a different story.  He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately.  I’ll bring him into the land that he scouted and his children will inherit it.”

 

This is what God said about Caleb.  How I would love it if God could say that about me and my family!

 

THINK:  Could you imagine, knowing that God thought as highly of you as He thought of Caleb? 

 

In this section, we are asked:  (1) What impresses you most about God?  Why?  And (2) What impresses you most about Caleb?  Why?   What impresses me most about God is the way he speaks about Caleb.  He is confident that Caleb will be able to move into the land and take it over the way God has commanded them to.  I would love knowing that God could be that confident in me.  What impresses me most about Caleb is that he trusted God.  There were giants in the land but God said He would deliver the land into their hands, so all they had to do was be obedient, go in, and take it.  None of their victories ever came without a fight, but God went before them every time and there was not an enemy the Israelites encountered that they did not overcome when they handled things the way God told them to.  Caleb and Joshua saw the lay of the land.  No doubt they saw exactly the same thing the other 10 members of the party saw, but they knew their God was faithful and would do for them what he had done for them all along.

 

PRAY:  Ask God to show you where you fit in this passage.  How might you be tempted to “[turn] a deaf ear”?  How might God be calling you to live a different story–to be one who has “a different spirit” from others, who follows God passionately even though it might involve risks (for example, loving the unlovely, pursuing a career that makes less money, admitting to others the mistakes you’ve made)?

 

LIVE:  Imagine what it would feel like to have such trust in God that you would be willing to take whatever next steps God presents to you.  Imagine what it would be like to be so different from others that you might be excluded because of it.

 

There are easy routes and there are hard routes.  I’ve taken both in my life time.  When I’ve taken the easy route, I’ve come out pretty, unscathed, paint unscratched, looking none the worse for wear.  But, I was untested and, most definitely, unprepared for any future fight.  Also, I was not inclined to go looking for the next test either.  The times when I have been most gratified is when I did the hard thing and came out on the other side of it.  Maybe a little battered or bruised, with a few dings and scratches.  Maybe even by the skin of my teeth.  But I made it.  And I was stronger because of it.  And more prepared for the next battle.  Not just that, but I was almost looking for the next thing I could tackle.

 

Over the course of the last few years, I have found myself wanting to take a few steps back from the fight.  I’ve felt like I’ve had so many battles on so many fronts that I’ve wanted to dial back on one of them in particular.  My schooling takes so much time and energy that I’ve found myself saying:  “I’ve got 7 years to complete it.  I could take some time off and go do something else for a while.  The only person saying that I need to keep pushing through is me.”  Yet, every time I’ve said that or felt that, I’ve gotten this feeling in the pit of my stomach telling me to just keep going.  I even had those thoughts when I was in Lynchburg for my counseling classes.  There were people all around me who had taken a much less intense route than I had and I found myself wondering why in the world I hadn’t done a little more research to find an easier route.  Or at least a shorter one.  Why did I have to be in a program that was requiring so much of me, and at a time in my life when things seemed to be falling apart everywhere else?  What was I thinking?

 

The truth is:  I wasn’t “thinking” when I took this route.  It kinda fell into my lap and it just felt “right”.  I didn’t question whether or not it was the right thing to do because everything I was learning was meeting me right where I was and kept propelling me forward.  Even when I was in Lynchburg and people asking me why I chose the Marriage and Family Therapy route instead of the Licensed Professional Counselor route, which is a shorter program, it never occurred to me that I had chosen the wrong route, but it did get me to thinking:  “You mean, I could’ve been done by now?  Why did I choose this?”  I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t choose this.  It must’ve been chosen for me.  Why?  Well, because, had I known what I was getting myself into, I would not have chosen this.  And with our current situation, I could’ve dropped this at any time and just went to work at Wal-Mart.  Or Starbucks.  But faith propelled me to keep going.  I just had this sense that there was something better waiting on the other side, so I had to keep going.  Even now, when things get tough and I just want to run back home and go live a simple life in the country, I feel like I would be running away from my life.  Only instead of the Israelites who just WANTED to run back to Egypt, I would actually be doing it.

 

Come to think of it, when I do stop and “think” about what I’m doing, none of it makes any sense.  Who on earth would take a backseat on the running of their lives?  Why would you entrust your life to God when He seems to have dropped you on your head?  Why wouldn’t I just take control of my life back?

 

I don’t know what my next steps will look like; God has those hidden from me, right now.  And I am well aware of why.  If I knew what He was going to require of me next – if any of us did – we would turn tail and run for the hills because of what it would entail, and how much he wants to stretch us out of our comfort zone.  And, honestly, I don’t want to try to imagine what it would be like to be so different from others that I might be excluded.  I would rather just cross that bridge when I come to it.  One thing I have discovered to be true for my life, however, is that even when I am being excluded by some (hurtful though it may be), I am being included by others.  I have never been truly alone regardless of how pressing my circumstances were.  Even when I have been smack in the middle of a set of choices that has made some people roll their eyes or shake their heads, I have never been alone! 

 

I don’t know what God is calling me to, but I know that – based on my current set of circumstances and how much it is stretching me and prodding me to go deeper in my walk with the Lord – whatever is next is going to be something that requires the faith and strength I have earned on this leg of my journey.  And I know that for every scar I have gotten while on this walk, I have earned a story that I will be able to share with others who are in the midst of making their own scars, or who have already had their fair share of scars and who will be there to remind me that those scars were not, and are not EVER wasted.

 

So…at the beginning I asked the question:  “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”  I’ve heard that many times and every time, up until now, I’ve been left thinking: but I can fail.  Well, the truth of the matter is: if nothing is wasted, then I haven’t failed.  So long as I keep going and keep trying, I haven’t failed.  So long as I trust that God will deliver into my hands the victory He has promised, I can’t fail because the results are not actually up to me.  All he needs is my obedience and for me to trust Him when he says that the outcome is in His hands.

 

 

 

 

Waiting on the Lord

Looking through some old blog posts, and this one really encouraged me today. So, I’m sharing it again. Enjoy!

cottagegirlpatty's Blog

So, back near the first of the year, my husband bought a devotional – Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence (a 365 day devotional by Sarah Young) he was reading everyday.  Everyday, it seemed what he was reading was meeting him right where he was.  It was amazing!

Since he’s been gone and since I am not allowed to send him anything other than letters, I have made it my mission to write out the daily devotions in addition to the letters I send him.  My original intention was just to afford him the opportunity to be able to continue reading the devotions he had begun before he left.  Of course, what started as an attempt to keep my husband immersed in the word, has turned into something that has been blessing me and meeting me right where I am.  No lie, it’s almost like the devotions he was…

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Day Eleven: Don’t Forget

This post is a day late, I realize.  Last night, there was a congregational meeting at our church that ran a little late.  So, today, you get 2 for the price of 1.

 

Day Eleven’s reading comes from Numbers.

 

READ:  Numbers 9:4-5, 9-12.  This particular passage begins with Moses telling the Israelites to celebrate Passover in the wilderness of Sinai, which they did.  Then, it lays out instructions regarding their cleanliness in regards to the keeping of the Passover. 

 

THINK: “As humans, we are forgetful people, and as forgetful people we need tangible reminders–symbols–of who God is and what He’s done…..Under what circumstances are you most prone to forget who God is and what He’s done for you?”

 

This question convicts me.  Many times over the course of the current situation my family is living through I have forgotten God, who He is and what He’s done for us.  I’ve been so busy being mad over my circumstances, feeling like God had forsaken me, whining about how He had let this happen, that I had neglected to keep in mind, and thank Him for all the things that He was doing and had done in my life, that would prove He hadn’t actually forsaken me/us.  Sadly, once you start down the road of “poor, pitiful me,” it’s easy to just keep going.  This is not the first time I’ve found myself needing the prompting from these scriptures. 

 

PRAY:  “Take a stroll down memory lane.  Think about the times when God was evident and at work.  Allow your memories to guide your prayers of gratitude for all He has done.”

 

This is the one thing that has been one of my biggest weaknesses, especially over the past year.  How easy it is to forget how good God has been when He has refused to give me my way.  Or when things have gone my way, but because they were going well, I decided to take the credit for myself.

 

When I left home, I mistakenly thought that I could have exactly the life I wanted because I said so.  For most of my life, things went pretty well like I thought they would.  When I made good choices, things went well.  When I didn’t choose so well, there were consequences.  Everything was a fair game of give and take that always seemed to end with my coming out about where I figured I would, and at least where I aimed for, because I had aimed.  That was just the way life was supposed to be.  Right?  You make a plan.  You work the plan.  Just like they say in recovery programs.  “It works if you work it, so work it.”  Granted, I would slack sometimes and not get what I thought I wanted, but if I had really wanted whatever that thing was, then I’d have worked hard enough to get it. 

 

This thinking had even crept into my walk with the Lord.  I figured if I was obedient, like the Bible says I am to be, then I will be rewarded.  How is it that I had managed to miss all those pesky little passages about being guaranteed to suffer if I am identified with Christ?  Somewhere along the way, the messages that said that if they hated Christ, they would surely hate me, had become just something that I would hear in church every once in a while, or something that happened in countries where Christians were really persecuted every day.  In China, of course, this would happen.  In Muslim countries, naturally, people should expect that their obedience to the Word of God would be met with hatred and disdain and even outright violence.  But, this is not China.  And this is not a Iraq or Syria.  So, I should’ve been fine.

 

Then, one day, I spoke with a lady at church who told me something (2 things, really) that really stuck with me.  The first thing:  God wants us to come to with for everything and with everything, and if the only way He can get us to do that is to keep us desperate for Him, because we cannot help ourselves, He will.  In fact, during one particularly rough time in her life, she prayed that she would always be desperate for God.  My family’s current situation was only in its infancy and all I could think to say to her is:  “But, I never prayed that prayer.”  But all I could think was:  “Why in the name of all that is holy would anybody ever pray that prayer?”

 

Then, about a year ago, this same woman said to me, “The thing about God is, what He wants is for our insides to match our outsides.”  Look back at that prayer I said people would have to be crazy to pray.  What I realized shortly after this precious woman shared this second thing with me was that I had, in fact, prayed prayers of desperation.  I had sat in the pews at the church I attended in high school, a church I attended for 5 years and never once felt like I fit in, begging God to show me what this thing called Christianity was all about.  Surely there had to be more to being a Christian than just saying some prayer and then sitting in a church pew for the rest of my life.  I mean, if this is it, then why not just take me now.  Otherwise, why else am I here?  There has to be more to it than this.  Please, show me what it is.

 

Then, as I got older, and had kids, and felt like I had kind of stagnated, I would pray that God would let me make a difference in the world, that He would “really” use me.  I was hung up on doing something “big” for God.  What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that I was more concerned about doing something for God than I was about having a relationship with Him.  I figured that if I could “really do something for God,” – something good enough or big enough or that nobody else had ever thought of or done – then He would have to accept me.  I just couldn’t  or wouldn’t or didn’t trust that He would accept me as I was and then equip me for the position He wanted me to fill.  And even that, He wouldn’t do until I had totally submitted to Him:  my plans, my will, my husband, my kids, my life.

 

Then, our desperate situation hit.  To say that my world was turned on its head would be an understatement.  I don’t know that it’s necessarily true to say that I forgot about God, but I felt like He had forgotten about me.  I felt betrayed because He didn’t answer my prayers (and those of MANY other people) the way I wanted them answered.  I felt like I had entrusted my heart to Him and He had taken it, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it.  Yet, I am surrounded by people who kept telling me that I could trust Him.  “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.”  “Yes, I know,” I would say.  But, in my head, all I could think was, “Is it gonna happen this side of Heaven, because, if not, then I don’t know if I want this.” 

 

Then, I went to Lynchburg for my intensives.  As I mentioned in previous posts, I went with just one prayer:  God, please show up.  Please reveal yourself to me.  I don’t care if it hurts, or if I don’t hear what I want to hear.  Just show up and show me something.

 

I had faith enough to pray that and I hoped (probably more than I actually believed) that He would answer it and not leave me sitting in silence wondering what in the world I was doing.  And some of what He showed me was painful.  There were some ingrained thought patterns I had come to accept over the years – thoughts about God, thoughts about myself, thoughts about my self-worth – that were simply not true, that I am going to have to work to overcome.  There were also things God showed me that let me see that He had not forgotten about me, things that He had done for me and/or my family over the course of our situation, that could only have come from Him.  THOSE things, I was not thinking about when I was complaining.  I was too busy being ungrateful and indignant that He had put me in the position to be thankful for things I had never even wanted.  And to top it all off, I kept trying to run away from the circumstances I found myself in because I just wanted so desperately to try to regain some semblance of control over my life.  But every time I tried, something would happen, and I would fall flat on my face again or be told “no” again.  I was actively trying to forget God because I felt like He had just abandoned me. 

 

But the truth is:  God had not abandoned me.  No, instead, He was being faithful to answer the desperate prayers of a teenager, tired of not fitting in, who prayed that God would show her that there was so much more to being a Christian than just getting dressed up, playing church, and filling a pew every Sunday for the rest of my life.  Granted, He hasn’t answered the way I wanted, but He has been answering it the way He has for generations.  How is that, you ask? Well, for example, there is only one disciple (John) who died of old age.  ONE.  And even that one was boiled in a huge basin of oil, but survived.   

 

What I have discovered (or what I have been shown) is that the only way that I can possibly grasp the gravity of what Christ did for me is to be put in the position to see how desperately I need Him.  If I am honest, that is a position I have desperately tried to avoid my entire life.  My prayers did not reflect that though.  Come on!  Tell me, when was the last time you heard someone pray that God would make them a mediocre Christian, or that their walk with the Lord would be mediocre?  Don’t most people pray that they would be “on fire” for the Lord?  Yet, once the fire’s lit, how often do we start praying for rain?  How often do we start telling God that the fire’s too hot, that we can’t stand the heat, or that THIS is not what we actually wanted.  All of a sudden, we forget just how God has blessed us and delivered us before, and now…we just want out.  Or maybe that’s just me. 

 

When God started answering the prayers I had prayed years ago, I had forgotten that I had prayed them.  Then, over the years, I had forgotten the scriptures that remind us to count it all joy when we suffer all kinds of trials because they are testing our faith, which builds our endurance, with then ensures that we have everything we need, that we are perfected – complete and lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).  Finally, I had forgotten just how God goes about preparing His people to walk with Him in a world that will grow increasingly more hostile toward Christians as the world progresses. 

 

So, let me wrap this up, by sharing the final section with you.

 

LIVE:  “Create a symbol that will remind you of God’s faithfulness in your life.  Maybe it’s a photograph of your close friends or a rock you picked up during a hike.  Put this symbol in a place where you will see it often.  When you look at it, be reminded and thank God for his blessings.”

 

I don’t have a symbol yet.  I have not created one yet.  But I keep thinking about how so many Old Testament figures built altars so that future generations would remember what God had done for them on that particular occasion.  I believe that this is definitely something that would be helpful to me, for the next time that I forget how God has met all my needs according to His riches in glory.  For now, what I do is write.  In a way, this devotional is my altar.  And every day, I add another stone to remind me of how God is continuing the good work He began in my nearly 32 years ago, and of how I can be confident that He will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.

Day Ten: What is Holiness?

READ:  Today’s reading is Leviticus 22:1-8, but the extended passage is chapters 19-22.

 

In this passage, God informs Moses that he needs to tell Aaron that he and his sons need to remember to treat the holy offerings the Israelites consecrated to Him with reverence so they won’t desecrate God’s holy name, because He is God.  Then, He proceeds to lay out a series of rules that tell what all could make them unclean and what they must to do avoid becoming unclean, as well as what they will need to do to become clean again.

 

THINK:  In this section we are asked to read the passage again, noticing our reactions toward God about what we’ve read.  It asks if we feel drawn closer to God or repelled from Him, and then, we are encouraged to talk with Him about it, exploring what could be the possible causes for our response.  Then, the challenge comes to ask God to show us more of ourselves — “the memories, opinions, and feelings you bring to him on this day.”

 

This is where I began to wonder just what holy actually meant.  So, I looked it up.  I had what I thought was a rudimentary idea, but I wanted to make sure I knew for sure.  It means consecrated, set apart, separated.  Another definition is “set apart for a special purpose.”  That definition I could grasp.  But then:  why the urge to be holy as God is holy? 

 

I know how to set apart a thing or a person for a special purpose.  But how does that apply to God?  How does one define God as holy, when He is the one who does the defining?  If he is above all things, and has created all things, and therefore, has dominion over all things…is that what makes Him HOLY?  Is He holy because He is unchangeable?  Because He is omniscient?  Omnipresent?  Omnipotent?    I think I’ve discovered that the answer to all of these questions is: YES. 

 

But what really struck me about that passage is just how unattainable true holiness really is apart from Christ.  With all the rules the Levites had for being able to approach the Holy of Holies, it was no wonder they had to enter with a rope tied around their wastes.  If they forgot even one thing, the Holy and Just God would have to punish their sin.  Therefore, the only way that person was going to get out was by being dragged out.  But, because of Christ, the veil to the Holy of Holies has been rent from top to bottom and, now, we are all free to enter in, to have a personal relationship with God, because Christ’s death and the shedding of the blood of the perfectly pure, sinless sacrifice paid the price for every sin for the rest of eternity.  So long as we accept it.  We no longer have to worry about whether or not we have asked forgiveness for every single one of our sins before we can go to God.  We can come to Him with those sins, known and unknown, and ask Him to show us where we need to ask forgiveness and He will tell us, and then we can ask forgiveness for all of them and repent. 

 

That is the only way that we can be holy as God is holy.  Because, without Christ, we can never be seen as sinless.  Without Christ, the best we could do is hope we hadn’t forgotten any of the rules, and had covered all of our bases, before we approached God. 

 

You see with the God of the Bible and Christianity, there is no such thing as “good enough” or a balanced scale.  You can never attain a state where the scales tip heavier on the side of your good works because as long as there is even a speck of dirt on the other side, you are all bad and deserving of an eternity in Hell, because a Holy and Righteous and Just God cannot and will not wink at sin.  The wages of sin is death.  Plain and simple.  That is the holiness of God.  And that is why we need Christ.  Because of His sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, the debt of our sins has been paid.  If we accept Christ, God will look at us and only see His Son standing in our place, saying: “His sins are paid for.  I took care of that bill.  He can come in.”  Without Christ as our vouchsafe, we would all be doomed to Hell. 

 

But as harsh as that sounds, it was God who provided that way out.  God, who cared so deeply about His creation that He said, “He is not willing that any should perish” and that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  God must punish sin because He is Holy, but He doesn’t want to because He loves His creation. 

 

PRAY:  This section challenges us to (maybe) ask God to help us increase our belief that He is holy, and then to ask Him to show us how this truth interacts with our first reaction. 

 

LIVE:  “Use this silent time to rest in the presence of the holy God, who has just made himself known to you.  Let go of your own words and let yourself enjoy the experience.”

 

And with that, I will leave you.  Take some time and let the weight of what the word HOLY means to you.  See what God wants to show you.  Then, if you’d like, drop on back by and share, if you’d like.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

Good night,

Patty

Day Nine: Letting Go of Sin

READ:  Today’s passage comes from Leviticus 16 (verses 20-22, specifically, though they recommend reading through to verse 30).  This passage talks about the scapegoat.  The scapegoat was the goat upon whose head the nation’s sins were placed.  Then, this goat was sent out into the wilderness, taking those sins with him.

THINK:  Here we are given a list of activities to consider performing.  I will list them for you.

 

  1. Picture yourself laying your hands on this precious animal’s head.  Even better, hold a stuffed animal, figurine, or even your pet, and put your hands on its head.

 

  1. Confess to God your acts of rebellion, your bad attitudes, and your harsh thoughts about others.

 

  1. Experience the feeling of transferring your sin to this animal.  (Don’t feel sorry for the animal.  God didn’t give it the capacity to take on hurt or guilt from your sin.)

 

  1. See yourself sending it off as it takes your sin far away from you.

PRAY:  What do you wish to say to God about having sent your sins off without you? 

Now, that’s a powerful question.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how to respond to that question.  God says that this is good enough, but my mind questions:  “Is that really all there is to it?  Surely, that can’t be it.  What else do I have to do?”  I can also say that just that response right there would be enough for me to not want to take that step, if I didn’t already know better.    Even so, it was hard to actually do that activity in faith.  I kept getting this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that there’s no way this could be good enough, because, what if the goat comes back?  How do we get so good at rationalizing away everything?  But, even more important to ask, if that’s all there is to it, then why not do it and trust what God says?  What do we have to lose but our sins?

LIVE:  Quiet your mind and wait on God to show you situations in which you need to remember what you just did.  Practice resting assured of God’s love in those situations as you are resting assured now.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of the scapegoat.  Thank you that you have made it just that easy for me to be separated from my sins, since I cannot ever hope to make atonement for them myself.  Thank you that You came after me when I was lost, and for continuing to chase after me until I am back home in the fold.  Forgive me, Lord, when I have cheapened the sacrifice of Your Son by refusing to believe that it is enough.  Help me to remember, when I am having the hardest time forgiving myself, that I cannot withhold from myself that which you have so freely given.  And when I am hurting and tempted to seek vengeance on those who have wronged me or my family, remind me that you withhold your forgiveness from nobody and that I will only be forgiven the measure I am willing to forgive.  Give me strength to walk in faith, resting in this forgiveness, claiming it for myself as my victory over sin.  Every.  Single.  Day.

In Jesus’ Precious Name, Amen.