Sunday, October 14, 2018

Lessons from Joshua, Rahab, and Jesus' Family Tree

by Kayla Cook

When I was a kid, before the days of, I loved learning about my family tree. I had a great-aunt who was fantastic about researching that side of the family, keeping meticulous records of everything she found. I'd love to have my DNA tested by Ancestry or something like that, but I also watch too much Dateline, so that's a no-go for me at this time.

My life group is doing a study of the book of Joshua. It has reiterated in my own heart and mind how every part of scripture- Old and New, stories and Psalms- all point to Jesus. It also got me doing a lot of thinking about Jesus' family tree.

If you're not familiar with the book of Joshua or Joshua's story, Joshua is the guy who becomes leader of Israel after the death of Moses. If you know anything about Joshua, you probably associate him with the phrase "be strong and courageous" (that comes from Joshua 1:9) and with the battle of Jericho (and the walls came tumbling down). But before the walls fall in Jericho, we meet Rahab.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, whose house was built in the city walls. (Side note and not what this blog is about but I feel like I need to say this: that house was built into the city walls before Rahab ever lived there. God is intentional and puts us where He wants and needs us to be.) So back to our summary, Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, whose house was built in the city walls. When Joshua sent spies to scout Jericho, Rahab hid them on her roof and denied knowing where they were when city officials came knocking. As repayment for her kindness, the spies promised that she and all who were in her household (at her request) would be spared if they were 1- inside the house, and 2- a scarlet cord was hanging from the window. Rahab and her people followed the instructions, were spared, and were brought into the camp of the Israelites.

The story doesn't stop there. I mean, that would still be a pretty great story of God's mercy, but He doesn't stop there. Rahab is mentioned among all these biblical heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, and maybe even more amazing, Rahab is included in the lineage of Jesus. Yes, Rahab was Jesus' great-great-great (add several more greats) grandmother.

Remembering this fun fact about Rahab sparked my interest in the family tree of our Redeemer. You can find it in the first chapter of Matthew. I think it's tempting sometimes to scan over the lineages and the battle plans and the specificity of things, but I hope you'll see, as I have, that every bit of it is on purpose. Every single line of His family tree is Truth and holds purpose.

In Jesus' family tree, there are 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 generations from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah (I am not that awesome- God graciously provides that detail in Matthew 1:17). It was a patriarchal culture, so it's listed as "Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob..." and so on- 42 generations, all listed by father, and in only 5 cases, the mother's name was included too.






It got me wondering why- why these 5 women, not the other 39. I mean, Mary makes sense to me- she's Jesus' mom. But why Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba. And Rahab and Ruth were back to back generations (Ruth married Salmon and Rahab's son, Boaz).

Tamar was technically Judah's daughter-in-law, twice (married his son Er, who died, then Onan, who also died). Long story short, Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her by pretending to be a prostitute (see Genesis 38 for the full story). She and Judah had twins, and Perez is the twin included in Jesus' genealogy. Tamar is also the name of one of David's daughters who was raped by one of her half-brothers (2 Samuel 13), and when I see the name Tamar, she's the first one I think of, not Perez's mom. I had to do some additional reading and look back at Tamar and Judah's story.

Rahab was the prostitute we meet in Joshua, who was kind to the spies and therefore spared when the rest of Jericho met its demise. Rahab married Salmon, of the tribe of Judah, and they had a son named Boaz.

Ruth was a widow, who went with her mother-in-law Naomi to her homeland, worked in the fields gathering wheat that had been dropped for them to survive. There she met Boaz (Rahab's son).

Ruth and Boaz are the great-grandparents of King David (their son Obed was his grandfather- Obed had Jesse, Jesse had David). Yes, this makes Rahab David's great-great-grandmother.

Bathsheba was married to Uriah, was bathing when David saw her and wanted her, and David had her brought to him. She got pregnant, and David had Uriah moved to the front of the battle lines, where he was killed. In some translations, Bathsheba is actually listed as "Uriah's wife" or "the widow of Uriah", so technically not by name, but we know who she is. Bathsheba became one of David's wives and had Solomon.

I obviously don't know exactly why these women were included in His lineage or why they were mentioned by name- I don't pretend to be a biblical scholar or great theologian. But I do try to listen when He speaks to me. And this is what I feel being impressed on me when I read the genealogy of our Redeemer: no one is disqualified from Jesus.

Deceivers are not disqualified.

Prostitutes are not disqualified.

Widows are not disqualified.

Adulterers are not disqualified.

No one is disqualified from Jesus.

Look, other than what's recorded in scripture, I don't know the circumstances or choices- theirs or those of others- that got these women in the situations they found themselves in. I do know this: if these women, with their circumstances and their choices, can be included in the family tree of Jesus, then every single one of us can be included in His story too.

Hallelujah- we can be included in His story!

I've often wondered why Bathsheba- not why she was included by name or reference, as I honestly don't remember noting that until recently- but why she got to be included in the lineage of Jesus at all. Why her?

Because David had another wife- Abigail.

I mean, David had several other wives, but Abigail was special (at least in my heart and mind).

Abigail was described as intelligent and beautiful (1 Samuel 25:3), and she single handedly kept David from murdering her first husband (1 Samuel 25).

So why Bathsheba?

Maybe, just maybe, God knew we would expect it to be Abigail, the beautiful and wise. If anyone deserved to be the great-great (add some more greats) grandmother of the Messiah, it was Abigail. But it's not about deserving.

It's not about deserving, and so we get Bathsheba.

The reality is not a single one of us deserve to be included in His story (Romans 3:23). By His great grace, He calls out to us, bidding us come weary and burdened and find rest in Him (Matthew 11:30). None of us deserve to be included in His story, and yet none of us is disqualified. This is amazing grace.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Long Path, Not the Wrong Path

by Heidi Ashe

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. 
Exodus 13:17-18

The Israelites were slaves for the Egyptians.  Slaves.  Not indentured servants working towards freedom.  Not equals sharing in the responsibilities of the community.  Slaves.  As one plague after another attacked the Egyptians because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, I can’t imagine they were hated any more. And then he let them go.  After the worst of the plagues…after every single firstborn around was found to be dead, Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians begged them to go.  In the leaving, the Bible says they plundered the Egyptians, taking silver, gold, and clothing, whatever they asked for, the Egyptians gave them. (Exodus 12: 36) So they not only walked out free from decades of slavery, they walked out in great wealth.  God rescued them.

But He knew they would need more. 

It says towards the end of the thirteenth chapter of Exodus that when they left, “when Pharaoh let them go, God did not lead them through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

He knew they would need more.

Allowing them a front row seat to plague after plague attacking their enemies on their behalf leading to a culminating victory parade out of town, He knew that if He sent them towards the Philistines the fear of war would be too much.  He knew they’d be running back to the Egyptians because slavery might have been awful, but it was better than war.

Some interesting circumstances in high school landed me in a new school, in a new county in the middle of my junior year.  It meant new friends, new classes, and a whole new home life in the middle of what was an already awkward time. {Hello high school and sixteen and a back brace.} Honestly, I hated it.  To me, even 16 year old me, stability was life.  I craved routine and structure.  (There’s that Enneagram 1!) I’ve been a planner for as long as I can remember and when God threw a curveball into my December and wrecked my plan for junior year, I was undone. I was angry, I was afraid and I was lost.

And He knew I would need more.

As He lead the Israelites through the desert, towards the Red Sea, they had to have been wondering, what on earth are we doing?! As they stood at the water’s edge and heard the Egyptians coming after them, they had to have second guessed Moses and God.  But imagine how big their eyes must have been as they saw the waters part. Imagine how shaky those first steps into the now dry Red Sea must’ve been. Then think about the relief and the wonder when they watched the waters pour back down over the Egyptian army as they stood safely on the other shore.  The relief.

I feel that relief now as I think back on my 16 year old self and a terribly hard season in which God led me the down the long path, not the WRONG path, just not the short path.  It wasn’t the path I had planned to take.  I wouldn’t have picked that path in my wildest dreams.  But as I sit here more than 20 years later, I can’t help but thank Him for knowing that I would need more.

In that terribly hard season of things being completely out of my control, God did not lead me down the shorter path.  He knew the shorter path would have me running back to all that I had come from, because I believed that it was better. Better than the pain of what lay ahead. Better than His plan. Instead, much like the Israelites, He led me down a longer path. A path right to the edge of the Red Sea.  Crossing that sea God showed me a new life.  He changed nearly every relationship in my sixteen year old world and opened my eyes to a new way. It made no sense to me then, but now I see it.  It was on that path that I learned to lean on Him.

As hard as it may seem, embrace the path you’re on, dear one.  God has you.  He sees you and He knows your plans, your dreams.  Jeremiah tells us He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (29:11) And I can honestly tell you that His plans are better than anything you could ever imagine.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hope is Alive

by Andrea Noles

Hope is Alive…

Isn’t it funny the difference a few days can make?

In Mount Holly, this time last week we were braving the ripples of Hurricane Florence and wondering just how bad things may get. Groceries stores were depleted, generators were purchased, and Brad Panovich was our hope for truth. Yes, I’m a Fanovich!

We just wanted to know what was coming… We wanted to be a prepared people…  we just wanted to know we would be okay.

And here we are, sitting in the first day of fall, with hope that the temperatures will soon match the season.
There is hope for us southern folks…. It’s called November.. but alas we will spread the pumpkin cheer and douse everything in pumpkin spice because we know what’s coming.

This past week I ran across a quote that settled instantly in my spirit. I quickly took a screenshot & shared it out for all the world to see… because doesn’t the Bible call us to share the good news- to be truth tellers, joy bringers, and messengers of hope.

Here’s what it said…

“When the stories about a student are saturated with negativity, have the courage to not join in. Tell a new story of their unique abilities and moments of kindness. Tell the story of hope."

Ahhhhh, that word.

On Monday, it started showing up everywhere I looked-- instagram, music, art, scripture.
Then I really started seeing it.
I saw it in the eyes of kids at my school. In the hearts of my colleagues who constantly remind me of what real love looks like. I saw it in my baby who just wanted another wagon ride because he knows the wagon will lead him to the stop sign. And he is simply fascinated with that big red Octagon.

Hope is alive today, dear friends.

If you’ve never read Romans 12, you’re missing out on the most amazing cup of hope in all of scripture. Every word of it is rich in wisdom and truth. Paul appeals to the Romans and basically says… you are not your own, you’re called to be different… to be living be set apart from the patterns of the world.
He continues on and teaches us about the gifts of grace and marks of a true Christian. He says to have genuine love, to outdo one another in showing honor, to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer.  See the hope here. It’s Jesus. It’s all the ways Jesus lived and taught us to live. Paul did us a HUGE favor and poured all the truth in a Romans 12 cup and says, “Drink ye all of this Christian friends, it is good.”

Just like Paul, there is an amazing musical theologian that can string syllables together, add a little music, and give us a Romans 12 hope, all the while encouraging us to move, speak life, and shine our lights bright.

The great, Toby Mac. 

A few days ago I went for a walk and his song, Speak Life, came through my earbuds like a flash of lightning.

Yo it’s crazy, amazing
We can turn our heart through the words we say

Mountains crumble with every syllable
Hope can live or die
Look into the eyes of the broken hearted
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope

And then this..

Where does Hope originate? Where does it come from? And how can we keep it? 
This week on Instagram Stories we will be talking about these questions and continue this conversation of hope.

I want a hope that is lasting.  A hope that is not dependent upon circumstance. A hope that goes beyond the thrill of a new outfit, new car, or new anything. 

I want a hope that overflows from the simple gift of Jesus Christ. 

So let’s raise our cup of truth this week and declare ourselves people of Hope.
Let’s promise to position ourselves with an attitude of love and grace. 
Let’s have the courage to tell a better story about a person.
Let’s rid ourselves of resentment and bitterness and love the unloving. 
Let’s be a prepared people and let the world know that everything is going to be okay.
Through storms and sunshine. Darkness and light.

Hope is alive today.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What God Has Taught Me About Himself Through Parenting

By Kayla Cook

Let me begin this by saying I've been a parent only as long as the calendar has read 2018- literally, my kid was born on New Year's Eve. Whether you are in the weeds of babydom like me, or you're a seasoned parenting vet with grown kids, or somewhere in the middle, or not a parent, I hope God meets you where you are through this glimpse into His whispers to me.

Motherhood has been a harder transition for me than I ever imagined. We waited for our baby- she was in no way, shape, or form a surprise- and therefore I thought I was going to be perfectly prepared. I (used to) pride myself on being a competent human being. I am (was?) available and reliable, a highly organized and efficient planner, a quick learner, a no-nonsense person who can get to the heart of what's important in a few seconds flat.

But then God gave me Selah. And just like her name tells us to pause in the Psalms, God has used her to make my soul pause and reflect.

So here are just a few things I've learned in my 8 whole months as a parent:

1. We scream and cry for things that God is already working on in that very moment.

This one I got while I was warming a bottle one day. Selah had gone from happy to losing her mind hungry in about 5 seconds. The provisions were already in place- the bottle was warming- but my girl couldn't see that. She just knew she had a need and it wasn't being met in a way she could see in that moment.

How many times have I been this way to God? Even just in waiting for our girl- I threw so, so many tears and sobs and screams towards Heaven, when the provision was already lined up perfectly.

2. Getting clean isn't necessarily fun or comfortable.

My child hates baths.  If I could make the word "hates" in 75 point font, in a glaring orange color, with a fully working siren blaring, it would not be enough to emphasize Selah's feelings about water. (Before you email/message/comment, we have tried every trick in the book, held the book upside down and backwards, and tried it that way too.) Her daddy and I have become baby bath professionals and can clean a babe in record time. She may hate it, but getting cleaned up in a necessary part of life.

It's necessary in my spiritual life, too. Sometimes we let things go and shrug them off as "little" sins, or things "everyone struggles with", or we say to ourselves, "at least I don't ___" or "at least I'm not like ___". That phrase "at least" is so dangerous. We compare our mess to other flawed humans instead of the holiness and righteousness of almighty God.

This is not to say to just try harder and clean yourself up. It is always and only the blood of Jesus that cleanses our sins and makes us white as snow. Salvation is the free gift of God for all who believe (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8). I do nothing to earn it; I simply come to Him. Sanctification- being set apart as God's people, being made holy- is an ongoing work in our hearts and lives through the Holy Spirit, and it's not easy work. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, even painful, and no one likes discipline in the moment, child or adult. But God disciplines those who He loves, just like a good parent disciplines their child(ren) (Hebrews 12:6). It is not always fun, but it's always for our good.

3. We sometimes fight the very things we need.

God whispered this one to my heart a few times, during diaper changes, and during seemingly endless rocking in a dark room to the sound of ocean waves from a sound machine. Our girl loves to flip over like a loony toon mid-change. She also goes from settled and peaceful to a squirmy mess, right as she's giving in to sleep. She does this thing where she will nestle into your shoulder (*swoon*), then will throw her head back like "I'm awake! I'm not sleeping! See how awake I am?!"...rinse and repeat. In the middle of the night, she was doing her dozing off head throw, and I said to her, "why do you fight this?" and Holy Spirit whispered so clearly to my heart, "you fight what you need too, dear one."

4. There are things that happen in life, to us and to our children, that look bad or maybe even are bad, but that doesn't necessarily mean we did something to cause them- in fact, they're for the glory of God.

I spent much of Selah's first 3 months of life in a perpetual state of self-loathing. That's hard to admit, but it's true. It was strange and nothing like I expected, particularly because we waited for her, and so I expected nothing but peace and joy.

But then I had to be induced out of medical necessity- for her safety and for mine- at 36+4. Because of needed medical interventions, I wasn't allowed to walk, stand, or even move to a position where my legs weren't flat during my 31 hours of labor. 31 hours of labor ended in an urgent c-section. Once she was born, there were complications and I had to be completely put under anesthesia- my husband got to hold our baby first. The first time I saw her is crystal clear, but beyond that, much of her first 24-48 hours are a blur to me. I have harbored so much guilt and (dare I say) grief over that. Selah was strong- both physically and strong in spirit- from the very beginning, and she spent exactly 0 minutes in the NICU. I know I have so much to be thankful for, and please believe me when I say that I am.

But she was also tiny- barely over 5 lbs. She has scars on her right foot from monitors and blood sugar checks, and those scars may be with her for life. We discovered an allergy to dairy at 6 weeks old and some other scary, hard to navigate food allergies called FPIES around 6 months old (more on that another time).

Whether you view these things as big or small (and my own view of them changes depending on the day), just like most mamas, I have carried an intense amount of guilt over...basically everything that involves my kid that isn't perfect or the way I think it should be.

Is there something I did or didn't do that caused all of this? Her birth story is nothing like I pictured or even wanted, and I was already super low maintenance as far as birth plans go. I felt like my body failed me, and more than that, it failed her. This baby was prayed for and cried over for quite some time before she came to us. Why couldn't I have just one, clear picture? Was it too much to ask to want to hold her first, to have that moment with my husband with our just-born baby on my chest? Why was she so little? Will she always have those scars that overwhelm me every time I see her sweet little foot? Why can't my kid just eat Cheerios like anyone else's? (She's insanely allergic to oats, by the way.)

"Christian karma" would tell me yes- it's all my fault. I did not coin that phrase- Christian karma- but I think it perfectly describes the views of so many believers. Christian karma says if I do well, I receive well, but if I do something wrong or bad or have some hidden sin, bad things will happen to me or my loved ones.

Y'all- that's not how Jesus works. Look at when Jesus heals the blind man (John 9). Paraphrased version: the disciples ask Jesus, "who sinned for this to happen?" They're basically asking, "whose fault is this?"

We ask "whose fault is this?" too. We look for a way to explain the unexplainable, in big ways and in small ways, and I have a pretty good theory about why. And here it is:

It's because we want to convince ourselves the bad thing at hand won't happen to us or our people. It gives us a sense of control and, if we aren't careful, a sense of pride. We are looking for a way to draw ourselves and the people we love on the inside of the circle of safety. If I can find fault in others, I can avoid said fault in myself, and therefore keep me and my people from harm- that's the logic.

Do you know what Jesus says, when the disciples want to know who to blame?  "Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'" (John 9:4, ESV) That man was born blind to be used to the glory of God, to have Jesus perform a miracle in his life, to believe in and worship Jesus (John 9:38), to testify to Jesus' work.

I know- and the no-nonsense part of me will be first in line to tell you- that we reap what we sow (Galations 6:7). There are consequences for our choices, and we can't call our consequences "trials". Well, we can, but we shouldn't. When our sin catches up with us and we're dealing with the fall out, we're not walking through a trial; we are dealing with the results of our decisions. It's still hard. And even when we are walking through junk of our own creation, God is gracious to walk through it with us, and He doesn't just stay with us- He redeems it all.

The rhythms of grace are bigger than "just" reaping and sowing- in the rhythms of grace, it's both/and. One of my favorite lines of my favorite songs says, "it's not one or the other: it's hard truth and ridiculous grace." We get both.

Yes, we reap what we sow. Yes, sometimes bad things happen because bad choices were made, whether ours or someone else's. Yes, sometimes bad things happen as trials to test our faith, which is of great worth (1 Peter 1:7). Yes, sometimes bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Yes, sometimes bad things happen because there has yet to be a miracle without there first being a need or a problem.

The rhythms of grace are to, above all, glorify God.

Here's the kicker: no, you may not get to know the "why" this side of eternity.

I may never know this side of Heaven why my kid was born early and the way she was, why she has the scars she has (and the ones she will surely get in her time on this planet), or why she can't eat something as simple as goldfish crackers. But I do know that God will use all of it for His glory and our good.

5. God's goodness is not determined by things going well for me.

Once upon a time, when things would be going especially well or when there was some praise report, I was one of those people who would follow the news with the phrase, "God is good!" And I meant it. Because He is.

Then I had trouble conceiving. And with every pregnancy announcement that included the phrase, "God is good!", satan whispered to me, "but He's not good to you, is He? See, He's good to them, but He's not good to you. You've done everything He's asked you to, and you're the one without a baby. He may be good to some people, but you're not some people."

I know who I am and Whose I am- I can tell satan to shut up and go away. But even for a seasoned Jesus girl, who once literally opened her back door and told (actually yelled at) satan to leave her home in the name of Jesus, those lies pile up and start to snake their way in if you let your guard down, even for a moment.

With Selah's FPIES, we have to run single ingredient food trials for a week at a time. She currently has 6 safe foods and we are on day 2 of trialing the 7th. Apples were our 2nd food trial, and the girl loooooooves apples even more than she hates baths. When she passed, someone said to me "God is good!"

And He is. But He is not good just because my kid can eat apples.

If apples made her as sick as oats and avocado and dairy do, my God would still be good. He is good because of who He is, not because of what He does for me or what He allows me to have. He is good if Selah only ever has 6 safe foods. I pray for more, and I believe He will give us more even than we ask for, but if not, He's still good.

6. "Good" is a good, right standard.

Remember when I told you I (used to) pride myself on being a competent human being? My expectations for myself and my husband as parents were off the charts. Anytime anything was hard, from the day I was induced to keep both of us safe, to her allergies, to little patience on little sleep, to the time she had the tiniest bit of diaper rash, I would rake myself over the coals. Obviously, I was a bad mom because I couldn't perfectly control everything to give my baby the perfect life *insert eye roll*. I'm rolling my eyes at myself now, but it was real and hard and awful. If I overheard someone speaking to another person the way I spoke to myself during that time, I would not stand for it, not for a minute. Anytime anything wasn't "just so", I would absolutely berate myself.

But then I was reading in Genesis Chapter 1, when God makes everything, and do you know what God says about his creation? He says it's "good" and "very good."

If "good" is the adjective God chooses for His creation, I think it is one I would do well to use more in my own life.

Not perfect. Good. The only one holding myself to this "perfect parent" standard was me. Embrace the freedom Jesus purchased on your behalf. Which brings me to...

7. My salvation came at a high price. Like unimaginably high.

I knew this before I was a parent. I did. Jesus gave Himself and took on the punishment for all of my sin (and all of yours, and all of our kids', and all of the people we love, and all of the people who get on our nerves, and all the people ever of all time).

I think I thought of it as Jesus' sacrifice, which is true and right, but what I couldn't grasp before becoming a parent was the great cost it was to the Father.

I mean, I knew that. John 3:16, right? "For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son..."

God loves me, yes. I know. Or I thought I knew. Just like I thought I knew how much my parents love me. In our family, we've always said, "I love you bigger than the sky."

Then I met Selah, and immediately I got some point of reference for just how big "bigger than the sky" love is. A parent's love is bigger than themselves. I believe it is one of the two ways we get a little glimpse of how much we are loved by God in this lifetime.

I can't imagine my parents sacrificing one of their children to get the others back, but that's exactly what the Father did. I can't imagine sacrificing my one, precious, amazing child (y'all, just the thought of that makes my chest tight). He didn't just sacrifice just any kid. This was His only Son, His perfect Son. And He wasn't sacrificing for other flawless loves- oh, no. He was sacrificing perfection to get back the ones who had done everything wrong. God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

It was a higher price than we can ever grasp, and He paid it for us. We are worth that much to Him.

Y'all, know this: God loves you, and He loves the people you love. He knew what choices you would have (or not have, depending on your situation) and what choices you would make, and He still entrusted you with the people in your life. Love of God and people- this is it, the big purpose and calling we are all searching for. We want it to be bigger and more important, so we miss what is biggest and most important: loving God and the people He made. Let's not miss it. We're not called to be big or important- we're called to be love.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Happiness is the Truth

by Jamie Gunter

Ya’ll. I may sound crazy, but lately I have been thinking about being happy. Not really whether or not I should be happy but what, exactly, that means. Is it a feeling or something circumstantial or… more?

If you were like me a couple of years ago, you were overjoyed to hear a new song that was simple, catchy, and happy. Actually, the title is literally “Happy.” Pharrell Williams may not have meant to insert a profound statement but it’s in there…  “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.” I didn’t think about it then but it struck me this week- there it is- happiness is the TRUTH. I think he was on to something.

One of the wonderful things about having trials and sufferings in life is that you gain perspective and understanding. At the time our baby boy died I had been in a period of suffering and grief for months, and then it was deepened tenfold. In the midst of this immeasurable pain was immeasurable mercy and love, and with it came peace and… joy. Not the kind of joy that makes you smile a lot and giggle and feel fuzzy, but the understanding that there was a protection over me, a hedge around my heart and hope in an abiding love. I knew joy unmatched awaited where my son had gone, and one day I would get there too. In our trials, James tells us to count it joy (happiness) because our trials grow our faith. I was able to count my suffering as joy because I was given an opportunity to cling closer to Jesus, the One who is truth, and goodness, and mercy, and love, and JOY. Glorifying Him in my trial gave me joy because my life was meant to do just that- I was living out my purpose.

In his book “When I Don’t Desire God” John Piper says,“Seeing the glory of Jesus Christ in the gospel awakens joy. And joy in Christ magnifies his worth. That is why Satan aims chiefly at blinding us from seeing Christ for who he is. He hates to see Christ honored. And Christ is mightily honored when the sight of his glory gives rise to the kind of gladness that cuts the nerve of sin and causes radical sacrifice in the cause of the gospel.”

I think we sometimes get caught up in thinking that happiness comes in moments, feelings, and circumstances. True joy comes by pursuing the One who created it. God wants us to have joy- in Galatians it is actually named a fruit of the spirit for those who profess to follow Christ. Sometimes that joy is a tearful, hard fought fight through tough circumstances and sometimes that joy is simple and lighthearted.

Whatever your trial or circumstance, may you cling to the One who promised to sustain you and endured the cross because of the joy that was to come.

. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
Hebrews 12:2

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. 
Psalm 43:4

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Psalm 147: He Gives and Takes Away {The God of It All}

by Jamie Gunter

Oh friends I am so excited to gush about one of the (in my opinion) most powerful and beautiful psalms. Within it you see our weakness, our deep reliance on a mighty God and you also see His response to our weaknesses- He will care for us, He will rescue us and bless us.

It is easy to believe God doesn’t care about you in the midst of great misery or pain. But that same misery and pain leads you to a closer walk with Jesus. God’s chief desire is not to be our puppetmaster, moving our strings and dictating our emotions for his pleasure. God LOVES His children. In our neediness and weakness God becomes our full provision and power, drawing us closer to Him.

In 1588 King Philip II of Spain wanted to overtake England from his Sister in Law, Queen Elizabeth I. Phillip sent Medina Sidonia with a massive fleet that was seven miles long ship to ship. 26,000 men strong against England’s smaller boats and smaller army. The Spanish Armada was the greatest army at the time and there was no question who would win. But- the wind. The Spanish sailed on fortresses on sea- massive ships designed to move with the wind, not against. The tiny English ships moved with AND against winds. The winds carried the Spanish straight for England, and then turned. The winds were against them after they arrived to battle and the English took advantage. They set fire to their own ships and sent them straight into the Spanish Armada’s fleets. The Spanish cut anchor lines in panic and the winds shifted their ships north where they were bashed against Ireland and Scotland’s coasts. They came home with one third of their men while England lost only one hundred in battle. If the Spanish had won, the mighty British Empire would have been Spanish. We might be speaking Spanish and historically been predominantly Catholic. It is also important to note that in the next ten years, two more Spanish Armadas were sent only to be battered by storms and have to retreat.

Why do I mention this? Because I think it’s fascinating…. :) and also because of the English insistence that God was on their side and turned the wind to ensure their victory. Englishmen quoted Psalm 147 constantly- it was even printed on coins and medals after their success- “He makes His wind blow and the waters flow”. God’s power is infinite, as is His love for His people.

As you read through the Psalm, look for the contrast of our weaknesses and God’s mighty strength.

  Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
    for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
    he casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
    make melody to our God on the lyre!

*God gathers us to Himself as His children and in our specific ailments He heals us. This is amazing when you read the next line which shows He knows the number of billions of stars and has named them all- yet He cares for our individual hurts. God is infinitely powerful and also infinitely loving.

He covers the heavens with clouds;
    he prepares rain for the earth;
    he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
    and to the young ravens that cry.

*God gives food to the beasts and the raven who cries- why are ravens mentioned so specifically when the more general word ‘beasts’ comes before? Ravens were deemed unclean to eat in the time period- they were the outcast of the animal world, and were a nuisance to people yet God feeds them just like other animals. He provides for the most ridiculed outcast.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
    in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
    Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
    he blesses your children within you.
He makes peace in your borders;
    he fills you with the finest of the wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly.
    He gives snow like wool;
    he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
    who can stand before his cold?
 He sends out his word, and melts them;
    he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob,
    his statutes and rules to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
    they do not know his rules.
Praise the Lord!

*This portion literally lists God’s gifts- He strengthens you, He blesses you, He gives you peace, He provides for you. And then, my favorite part of this Psalm- the beauty of “He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes, He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.” Isn’t the word picture here beautiful?

Have you ever felt scared during an especially harsh ice storm in winter? I know in Boone there were many times I could not rely on my skill to get somewhere- I prayed for God to steady my hands and heart. The reality of me being very small and weak was clear on days the wind howled and ice was literally hurled from the sky. But then- He sends word and melts the ice and snow. In our times of panic, fear, weakness, with a word God can rescue us.

God’s rescuing and healing does not always look the way we want it to however. His plan is not made in order to make us happy or comfortable. His plan is to bring the nations to Himself. When we went through the months of consistently hearing nothing had changed with our baby and that we would lose him, we could’ve lamented that God wasn’t rescuing us, or our baby. That He wasn’t healing. But God did so much more- He brought us (and many others through Hayden) into a closer, more intimate relationship with Himself. He more than healed my baby boy- He allowed Hayden to never know human sorrow or misery or pain- but to only know love, and to go from living to being fully alive with Christ.

In his book “The Pleasures of God,” John Piper says “Surely it is because our fear reflects the greatness of his power and our hope reflects the bounty of his grace.” Our fear of God and our hope in God reveals His glory.

Lord, may we praise You in our joy-filled days and in our grief-stricken days. Thank You that You provide, bless, love, and protect us. May we not fear the unknown or the hard circumstances we go through but instead pray we use it as You ask- to point others toward Your holiness and to reveal Your glory. We long to know You more, serve You more, and to be more like You.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Psalm 139: You Are Not Alone {God is With Us Always}

by Jamie Gunter

First, forgive me- things are about to get a little heavy here. If you don’t mind, I’m pretending you, precious reader, are taking my hand and trekking through the muck with me…

There is an ache that many of us have endured that perhaps we didn’t even know how to name. I would argue that all of us have gone through a season where we’ve suffered from this pain- I would name this affliction the longing to BE KNOWN. It’s sneaky, selfish, and life altering. We desire for others to see us, hear us, love us, want us, and to truly know us. We want friends with inside jokes, spouses who finish our sentences, and pets that do everything we tell them. 

But, sometimes we don’t have them. We are in despair because we are alone. And what is being alone? It is not being known. Being forgotten. 

Ok friend- here is where I tell you the good news…. Just kidding, not yet. But it’s coming. 

My story with Psalm 139: (and how it relates to loneliness…)
I lost my first baby boy when he was five days old. We knew we would lose him for my entire pregnancy. This was the saddest, most desperate, anguishing season of my life thus far. And I was lonely. People were swarming around us doing everything they possibly could after he died but there is a loneliness in the death of a child. You feel thrown into a pit of despair with your misery shoveled on top, suffocating you. 

But, God. He was there too. (Here’s the hopeful part…) It was the most excruciating time, but never have I felt God so tangibly by my side. He refused to leave me. In the time I desperately needed someone to know me, my grief, my pain, my constant heart’s cry- He reminded me. “I know you.” He witnessed the death of His Son. He knew my pain, my misery, my anguish. 

To the 139th Psalm I went, clinging to God’s promise to always be with me. I turned there to be reminded of the ways God treasures me, but found so much more. Not only does God fully know me but- get ready for it- He knows ALL THINGS. Not only that, but He taught me that this Psalm wasn’t really so much about me after all- it’s about Him. Any goodness in me reflects the One who is GOOD. It is about God being giving, loving, powerful, and wise. What mercy and grace is displayed in His knowing His children in such an intimate way. I am so grateful. Called the “Crown of the Psalms,” David’s beautiful song is a reminder of God’s omniscience (He knows everything), omnipresence (He is everywhere), and omnipotence (He can do anything).

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

The above verses tell us that God is all-knowing- He knows every thought, action, and emotion we have had and will have. He has “hemmed us in, behind and before” meaning He knows our beginning, our end, and hold us in His hand in the here and now. A picture of His love for His children.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.

God is everywhere. When David writes if I “ascend to heaven” he means God is there if we go up. “Make my bed in sheol” would be the grave, which is down. If I take the wings of the morning” would be where the sun rises, in the east and “dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea” would be west, the direction the sea would have been for David as he is writing in Israel. God’s hand does not leave you no matter, He holds you in the strength of His right hand. 

 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

This. This is soul stirring for me- as humans we will have the darkness of misery cover us, the grief of losing those we love- painful, excruciating circumstances but though we are blinded momentarily by our suffering, God is our light. He can do absolutely anything. What seems to be dark is actually covered in the brilliance of God’s light because He spoke it into being for His glory, to fit into His perfect plan. And if it is not good to us, it is still good because God is infinitely good.

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

God has written our story from our conception to our death and knows what lies on every page throughout the life we live. There is the picture of God’s greatness, His holiness and sovereignty here. His works are great, nothing is hidden from Him, and His eyes see us- all of us, every thought, action, good and bad from the beginning. And He still sent His son to die for us. 

 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

God’s knowledge, wisdom, his thoughts are too vast for us to understand
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

An emotional cry from David that comes, I believe, from his devotion to God. A plea that God would crush His enemies and a promise of devotion. David hates what God hates and desires to love what God loves. (Idea partly taken from John Calvin’s Commentary)

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

A prayer:
God we pray You search our hearts and wipe away any evil, any sin, any thought, action, or emotion unpleasing to You. May we reflect Your love, Your grace, Your truth, Your holiness. May we be a light and a city on a hill.

Friend, when you feel alone, when something happens in your life that throws you and the winds of change blow, remember you are not alone, friend. You are fully and intimately known by the God of the Universe. Not only is He a good God, a holy God, a loving God, but He is GOODNESS, He is HOLINESS, He is LOVE. This is the One who will never leave you. We are in the best of hands.

For a beautiful version of Psalm 139 by MercyMe:

And congratulations, Jenny Shank! You won our subscriber contest from last week!