Security

Right before he died, Moses gave a blessing to each tribe of Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

I’m not sure what avenue he used to do this – did he speak the blessings or write them down? Did he communicate them to some large general assembly or to just a select group of leaders? Did each tribe have representatives present to receive the blessings, or did they have to wait to learn of their blessings via the Israeli Postal Service?

Regardless, one of the shorter blessings caught my eye today.

Deuteronomy 33:12 reads, “About [the tribe of] Benjamin [Moses] said: ‘Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.'”

While this gem was initially written to Benjamin, it is not an applicational stretch to say it was (secondarily) written to you and me, too.

Why isn’t it a stretch?

Because a) you and I and all followers of Christ are the modern day “beloved[s] of the Lord”, and b) God does not change.

God loves us, ergo, we are His beloved. That one’s easy to see, right? We are “the one[s] the Lord loves”, and, as such, we can “rest secure in him”. Other translations read “dwell in safety by him”. Both renditions carry within them a sense of transcendent peace that can quiet an anxious soul with His presence…if we let it.

Why can we rest secure in Him?

Because our unchanging God shields His beloved – us – all day long. Not part of the day, all day. He doesn’t take a lunch break or get distracted by His Twitter feed from time to time. No, all day He actively shields you and me.

What does He shield us from?

All manner of that which is not in our best interest (Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11).

How does He do this? I think He protects us by putting us at “rest between his shoulders”.

What in the world does that mean?

I didn’t know, so I asked some old guys (i.e., free online commentaries written by now deceased gentlemen). Jameison, Fausset, and Brown, and Matthew Henry both give a geographical explanation for what is meant by “rest between his shoulders” that you probably aren’t interested in. Essentially, as I understand it, the Temple God inhabited was built on Mt. Moriah, which lay within Benjamin’s borders. The correlating imagery, then, is that the Temple itself represented God’s head and the mountain represented His shoulders. More to the point, the people of Benjamin literally “dwel[t] in safety by [God]”, in the shadow of the mountain (or of His metaphorical shoulders, if you prefer), which is just a fancy way of saying they dwelt under His holy protection.

So it is with us. As we – “the one[s] the Lord loves” – “rest between his shoulders”, it just means that He is protecting us from all manner of that which is not in our best interest.

So we got that going for us…which is nice.

I love this blessing for a couple of reasons.

The first is I just love the Hebrew concept of the patriarch speaking a blessing over his children. Fathers were supposed to speak life-giving words to their first-borns (although, as a second-born myself, I do believe I would’ve pulled a Jacob and snatched that blessing right out my brother’s ears and my dad’s mouth, but that’s a different post entirely). Verbally blessing their children was a normal thing back then. And while I am sure it didn’t go down how I like to picture it – a warm, sentimental moment during which the father cupped his son’s face in his hands and spoke full-bodied words of love and affirmation – the fact that it went down at all makes my heart smile.

But I love this blessing in Deuteronomy in particular because it’s an invitation for me to rest secure in my heavenly Father’s presence. As the Holy Spirit speaks to me through this scripture, it’s even better than a patriarch’s blessing; it’s a blessing from the Lord Himself.

And He’s saying it to you, too. He’s cupping your face in a warm, sentimental moment and saying, “Rest secure in Me, for I shield you all day long, and you rest between My shoulders.”

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Holy Moments

It’s true what they say: you can’t help people who won’t help themselves. But, oh, how I love to help people who truly want the things of Christ but have temporarily lost sight of how to get to them.

I love the feeling of being in relationships with people who share with me when they are faltering and allow me to encourage them back to Him. Those friends with open spirits, who long for the Lord… It is so sweet to come along side them and support them. And then to see the ensuing victory – that moment when the fog lifts and they see Jesus again! They knew he was there all along…. they kept the faith. And victory becomes theirs. These are holy moments to be a part of.

Maybe I am drawn to relationships like this because so often the shoe is on the other foot – I’m the one who misplaces Jesus.

So many days I can’t remember how to get to Him, but I believe He’s still there… somewhere… And one of these faithful friends comes along and speaks life to me. They encourage me toward Him in love and truth. And, inevitably, the fog lifts. And, surprise! There is Jesus again. My face lights up, and I laugh because He was there all along…. and my friends share in my joy. It’s as if we’ve banded together, two Christians against the Evil One, and we’ve prevailed!

I love those moments – holy moments.

They make me think of our daughters as babies learning to walk.

Holy Moments

They both walked late. Like their mama. We’d encourage them – show them how to move their little legs – put incentives just out of reach. Hold their little hands, then just a finger, then we’d let go altogether, hoping to see them toddle on without us. For a long time, they’d fall. They’d fuss. They’d grow frustrated. They’d insist on holding our hands a little while longer. And we felt those emotions right along with them – frustration, exasperation – waiting with baited breath for them to finally get it, believing that day would come and pedestrian victory would be theirs.

And on the day they finally walked by themselves… we came unglued with excitement and celebration! We ourselves didn’t accomplish anything…. except we had believed with all of our hearts that these little ones would walk one day… And when all those weeks (months?) of persevering in faith came to fruition, our hearts burst with gladness. And then it was on to the next issue to tackle… potty training… learning to read… learning to write… and on and on the issues go.

So it is in meaningful Christian friendships. We encourage. We pray. We listen. We believe on behalf of another who isn’t feeling it. And, eventually, we see breakthrough – glory – in the most literal sense of the word. Grace.

When Moses had to hold his arms up in order for Israel to win a battle against the Amalekites, he grew weary. His friends held his arms up for him, helping him accomplish his purpose (Exodus 17:11-12). And all were blessed by being a part of the victory the Lord gave them.

I’ve had many friends hold my arms up over the years. They are sweet friendships I treasure. The ones I treasure most, however, are those who have allowed me to hold up their arms in their times of need as well. It’s that mutual exchange of hearts and heartaches that births glory-full relationships.

If you want more meaningful relationships, be willing to hold someone else’s arms up, and be open enough to allow them to do the same for you.

There’s something holy about it… two friends united by Christ’s blood, encouraging each other to press into difficulty and grasp the Truth of the Cross tighter still…

Don’t miss it.

Spiritual Legacy: He Provides

I’ve never had a full-time job. As in, NEVER.

I guess that’s what happens when you marry an “established” man before you graduate college. Elian had a great job that met our needs. I finished my degree a year after we said, “I do,” working part-time along the way.

Once I graduated, our plan was to have children with whom I would stay home relatively soon. So hunting for a full-time gig was neither necessary nor wise at that point. I continued part-time work for a couple of years until I was 8.5 months pregnant with our first child. I took the last month of the pregnancy off and birthed an amazing little person in April, 2007, fully intending to stay home with her.

Lexi Baby

The more we thought about it, Elian and I came to the conclusion that my paltry part-time paycheck wasn’t so dispensable after all. I mean, we could make it, but it would be jeggings tight.

So we decided right after Lexi was born I would look for something part-time to give us some wiggle room. It helped both first-time grandmothers wanted nothing more than to babysit their little darling while I worked.

Summer started, and I had no idea what kind of work to look for. And, frankly, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to tackle a job search. Don’t get me wrong – my heart delighted in the gift of my precious daughter. I was completely and utterly in love with her.

But.

She wasn’t much of a sleeper and thought nursing was something she should do EVERY TWO HOURS FOR THREE MONTHS STRAIGHT. And, as any woman who has nursed a child will tell you, that equates to approximately 8 minutes of sleep each day for mommy. And that is a generous estimate. Add to that the mystery “colic” she had, which really means she was inconsolable for no apparent reason, and I was moments away from being committed.

Throw in a job search with the interviews and the “showering” and the whatnot, and all I could do was imagine my sarcastic response to a potential employer’s question like what are my “strengths” … I AM ALIVE AND SO IS MY CHILD. WINNING.

So, you see, I wasn’t feeling the whole work thing. I just wasn’t there physically or emotionally, and every time I looked at that little baby – 4 weeks old, then 6 weeks old, then 8 weeks old – I thought the same thing: she’s too little for me to leave her for work.

And yet. The financial wiggle room. It wasn’t there.

The days went on, and we continued to float along, wondering what we should do.

Then, mid-summerish, some friends came to visit us. At the time, they were our daughter’s appointed guardians if something were to happen to me and Elian. So they came into town to meet their possible future new addition. We visited a good long while, had some lunch, watched the baby’s every fascinating move.

Then they handed us an envelope. Obviously, I knew what it was – a congratulations-on-the-new-baby card. But it felt different in my hands.

It felt… thick.

It probably has a folded, hand-written note in it, I thought.

I pulled the card out and read the front. I don’t recall what it said, but I remember what happened next.

As I opened the card, $20 bills came falling out. More bills than I could count. My eyes filled with tears as the realization set in that many hundreds of dollars were sitting in front of me.

Overwhelmed, I searched our friends’ faces for an explanation. It went something like this, “We hope this small gift will help you be able to stay home just a little longer with Lexi.”

The Lord… through His people… I’m telling you… He provides.

I did stay home, worry-free, for several more months. As is the case with most colicky babies, once she turned three months old, all was right in the world. No more countless hours of crying. She slowed her roll and learned how to give me 3-4 hours between feedings, which meant my 8 minutes of sleep/day DOUBLED. I started to feel more human again. A part-time job fell in my lap. And I didn’t kill anyone.

The Lord… through His people… I’m telling you… He provides. 

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)

What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For?

One of the go-to verses for Christians in pain is 2 Corinthians 12:9. In it God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Of course, the context is important. So bare with me while I rehash that for us.

Corinth was a city of wealth, commerce, and depravity. Sexual immorality was rampant, with prostitution being part of idol worship. Apparently, the Corinthians had a hard time separating themselves from these cultural practices. Paul tried, somewhat in vain it seems, to encourage Corinthian believers to higher standards – godly standards. Second Corinthians was actually his third letter (at least) to the group, after several lengthy personal visits to try to steer the church in the ways of the Lord. To put it mildly, Paul was frustrated and desperately wanted these believers to desire to be the Church – those called out of the world and into the Kingdom.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paul felt the need to answer a question the Corinthians seemed to be asking themselves – why should we listen to Paul?  Paul acknowledged their grumbling, reporting his awareness that “…some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing,'” (2 Corinthians 10:10). The Corinthians were feeling a bit rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to say it… when Paul wasn’t around.

Paul did his best to respond calmly the rest of chapter 10 and the first half of chapter 11, but he eventually decided sarcasm and mockery were the way to go. (Have I mentioned I love him?) He was infuriated the Corinthians were choosing to elevate false apostles’ teaching above the true Gospel he had introduced to them (2 Corinthians 11:5-6).

While defending himself, though, he didn’t want to give the impression the Corinthians should listen to him because there was something special about him. It was important they realized it was not Paul he wanted them to submit to but Christ in Paul. Paul told the story about his infamous thorn to illustrate his humanity and frailty and to emphasize only the existence of an all-powerful God could explain how a man with such a restrictive condition could be so successful.

Within this context, Paul recounted how he asked God to take away his thorn three times (2 Corinthians 12:8). And God had responded this way, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The first part of the sentence intrigues me. “My grace is sufficient for you.” What does that even mean? We Christians are quick to quote it to someone in need, but have we really nailed down what’s going on here? I haven’t.

What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?

I took the verse apart in the Greek last night to try to answer that question, and you’re never going to believe what I found out. What God really means is, “My grace is enough for you.”

If you’re paying attention, you’re realizing I discovered absolutely nothing new. So I took it apart in the English and came up with this.

Grace can mean favor, approval, or blessing, typically unmerited. Enough means occurring in such a quantity as to fully meet a need. So God’s favor and blessing will fully meet our need. The question is begged, our need for what? Some needs? All needs? Specific needs?

Before we can transfer the idea to ourselves, we need to get back in Paul’s shoes to understand the original intent of the Lord.

Paul had some needs.

In the most immediate context, he had a thorn of some sort causing him some agony. God likely would have been intending to communicate His favor was enough to get Paul through that agony. God’s blessing was enough for Paul to live  for a lengthy amount of time in spite of whatever physical, spiritual, or emotional pain he was experiencing.

Zoom out a smidge, and the wider context is that Paul was defending his credibility as an apostle to the Corinthians. In the midst of their doubting his authority to speak on God’s behalf, God tells Paul, “My approval is enough.” The power behind Paul’s ministry resided in God’s approval and favor, not the Corinthians. Nothing else was needed. Even without the Corinthians’ okay, God’s approval was enough for Him to accomplish whatever He willed through Paul.

I’d also like to think the Father-heart of God wanted to remind Paul that He loved Paul. He wanted Paul to feel confident of that love and to find his identity in that love, no matter what others were saying about him. God approved of Paul, even if others didn’t, and knowing that should have fully met Paul’s need to feel secure and valued. 

Step back even farther, and we realize Paul had a nearly impossible task – to take the Gospel to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles also (Acts 13:46). The Jews thought of Paul as a traitor preaching sacrilege and would’ve rather killed him than listen to him try to convince them Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting on (Acts 9, 13). The Gentiles didn’t know what to do with Paul. Some were scared of him (Acts 9), some tried to worship him (Acts 14:11), some stoned him (Acts 14:19), some believed his message (Acts 14:20), and some, like the Corinthians, believed Paul initially but got angry when he held them accountable. So when God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” the widest application implies God’s favor was all Paul needed to successfully fulfill his life’s calling to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, Eph 3:8).

Back to the original question. For today’s believer, what is God’s grace sufficient for?

God’s grace is sufficient…

1) To survive pain. God’s blessing is enough for us to make it through any kind of physical, spiritual, or emotional pain, no matter how long that pain exists. God’s grace – His favor – is enough, all by itself, to sustain us until He determines that pain should end.

2) To empower us for ministry. God’s Kingdom purposes are accomplished by His endorsement alone, not human approval, ability, or ambition. We all have a ministry, and His grace – His blessing and approval – is enough, all by itself, to make our ministries flourish.

3) To establish our security. We all wonder, to varying degrees, if we are loved, valued, appreciated, accepted, approved of, desired, etc. Too often we look to others to affirm our worth. God’s grace – His approval – is enough, all by itself, to solidify our true worth.

4) To fulfill our life callings. We’re all here for 2 reasons: to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16). How we make Him known, and to whom, may vary, but, ultimately, we’re all called to the same thing. And the calling is not for the feint of heart. But, God’s grace – His favor and blessing and approval – is enough, all by itself, to empower us to do what we’re supposed to be doing.

So I guess to put it succinctly (1100+ words later), God’s grace is sufficient for everything.

All is Grace

Ann Voskamp has a favorite saying, “All is grace.”  There is something good about everything, namely that everything affords us the opportunity to grow closer to God.

Even the bad things that happen have a good component.  Extreme tragedies, for example, are our invitations to deeper intimacy with the Lord as we wrestle in conversation with Him over His allowing the tragedies.  We are drawn to Him out of anger over the event, demanding answers and explanations.  But as we pursue Him, He reveals His tender, personal love for us in a way we cannot see when we don’t come to Him.  And we are changed by His love.

All is grace.

Psalm 145:8-9 says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”

All.

Even those who do not accept His existence.  Even those who worship His nemesis.  The Lord is gracious to all.  Because all is grace.  Unbelievers experience blessings every day, not the least of which is they haven’t been eternally judged yet.  He is patient, not wanting any to perish but everyone to understand their need for His love (2 Pe 3:9).

James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father,” (James 1:17).

I typically only believe this verse applies to BIG gifts.  My husband, by children, my salvation – these are from the Father, and I am thankful for them.

But the little gifts I take for granted, not noticing that I am literally surrounded by sweet nothings from the Lord, day in and day out.

My 2 yr old’s little hand resting on top of mine.

My 5 yr old’s laugh.

My husband’s freshly-shaven face.

The aroma of cookies baking.

All is grace.  All is a good and perfect gift from the Father, meant to draw me closer to the Giver.

Lord, help me to see these gifts all around me, and use them to deepen my affection for You, the One who spoils me so with His infinite love.

A Change Would Do Me Good

God has been hard at work trying to teach me about perspective lately.  My default perspective is hopelessness.

Is something in my life changing?  Despair!

Is something in my world unpredictable?  Insecurity!

Is something in my environment not exactly (or not at all) how I want it to be?  Kill me now!

Yes, these are my ingrained responses to life.  But God says to me, much like I say to my young daughters, “Oh, no, ma’am.  My children do not respond this way.  This is unacceptable.”

(Or as my 2 yr old says, “Unasseptible”.)

Children of God are supposed to be joyful!  (Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:16)

Those who have Christ are supposed to be hopeful!  (Romans 15:13; Ephesians 1:18; 1 Peter 1:21)

Joyfulness and hopefulness are not lofty, unattainable things the Bible describes.  They are realities to be enjoyed and displayed in the hearts and lives of believers.

To get more/some/ANY joy and hope in my life, God is reorienting my perspective.  He is changing the ways I view a lot of things.  He is showing me how I’ve worried far too much about details that are momentary and have no bearing on eternity.

For instance, why do I get so worked up over my children dawdling?  Will we not still get to wherever we are going?  Why not allow them 10 extra seconds (!) to stop and smell the roses?  Why allow my blood pressure to rise, my jaw to tighten, and barking commands to HURRY UP come out of my mouth?  The Lord is using Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts to make me stop and smell the roses…  notice the details…  enjoy the details… and control my emotions like a rational adult – like Christ – rather than a stressed-out train wreck.

Yes, God is changing my perspective on the little things to recalibrate my heart.  I must recognize what is little so I can also recognize what is big.  There are big things in life – times when we experience big emotions – that God wants me to respond appropriately to as well.  If I cannot control my emotions and actions regarding dawdling children, how then can I expect myself to remain in check – in joy and in hope – when I experience a major change or loss?

I am learning to chill out.

Frustrations aren’t as frustrating when you’ve been practicing thankfulness.  Bad things don’t seem as devastating when you’ve begun to view things with eternity in mind.

Perhaps the thing I dread most in life is being separated from loved ones.  If someone in my family died, I would dwell on having to live the whole rest of my life without them.  But what is that, really?  Fifty, sixty years…  If we both love the Lord, we’ll be with each other eternally…  And that truth would make the present separation bearable.

Second to a loved one dying is a loved one moving.  Sure, there is technology to keep us in touch, but it’s just not the same…  Not being able to “do life” with those I value most hurts, especially if the separation is indefinite.

I think of our church’s pastor and his family.  They are moving to Ethiopia in 2 months, and our church body is rocked.  They’ll be over there at least 2 years, and who knows where they will go after that.  I’m not as close to them as some, but I will miss them, and the idea of NEVER seeing them again can be depressing.

But God is flipping that for me with this phrase – “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5).

Paul is overflowing with thanks and praise for the church at Philippi, gushing love over them and for the Lord.  He is excited that, although they are physically apart, they are partners in the gospel.

And aren’t we all?  All believers are called to spread the gospel where they are.  That is our chief purpose in life.

It is so neat to me to think that my friends will be spreading the gospel in Ethiopia at the EXACT SAME TIME I am spreading the gospel in Memphis.  We may be physically separated, but we are united in advancing the Kingdom.

And that is a purpose for which I can joyfully let go of my friends, no matter who they are or where the Lord calls them to go.

A Little Help Believing

On Sunday our pastor preached on Genesis 12.  Verse 1 reads, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.'”

(The previous Thursday I taught on the same passage.  It appears the Lord was really trying to get something through my thick skull.)

The gist of these verses is God calls Abram to move.

Away.

From his family.

To an undisclosed location.

My dad was in the Air Force for 20 years, so I know a thing or two about moving to an unknown land.  By the time I was 13, I had lived in 6 states and 3 countries.  Every time my parents informed my brother and me that we’d be moving, the same anxiety took up residence in my stomach.  I knew from experience that each move offered adventure, excitement, and opportunities that I would never otherwise have been exposed to.

But I also knew that each move meant having to learn how these new people did things in this new land.  The learning curve a new kid has to navigate can make for some painfully long and lonely months/years.

No doubt, Abram and his family felt these same emotions in their guts the day God told Abram to leave his country (Genesis 12:1).

Abram was to physically leave his country and his relatives, but, of course, this leaving concept can be applied a lot of other ways.

God calls us to leave churches, friendships, relationships, jobs, schools, sin habits, and the list goes on.

And, often, when He calls us to leave something, He has not yet showed us where we are going.  That was the case with Abram.  And that can be the case with us.

“Leave this job,” God might say, “and go to the job I will show you.”

“Leave this church, and go to the church I will show you.”

“Leave this friendship, and go to the friendship I will show you.”

So, at the very least, we have someone in the scriptures to whom we can relate when we are being called to leave something behind.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not enough to encourage me.  If I am to be uplifted in my circumstances of having to leave something, I need more than just the knowledge that other people have had to leave stuff too.  Misery may love company, but miserable company doesn’t offer hope or encouragement.

Lucky for me, God knows I need more than empathy.  Insert verses 2 and 3.  God says to Abram, “‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you'” (Genesis 12:2-3).

In short, God promises Abram that his leaving will result in great blessing.

And that was enough for Abram.  Verse 4 begins, “So Abram left…”  He didn’t “pray about it” for a month.  He didn’t consult his closest friends for their opinions and interpretations of what God was calling him to do.  He didn’t read a few books on the subject to become better informed concerning this calling.

He just left.

Abram believed God would honor His promise, so he obeyed.

That’s pretty bold faith.  That’s faith I can admire and desire to emulate when I am called to leave something.

But that’s not enough to convince me to trust God.   If I am to step out in faith, I need more than an example of someone who did just that.  I need to know that it worked out well for them.

And God knows I need that proof.  So He provides it.

As we keep reading in Genesis, we see that God leads Abram to Canaan, and God promises Abram, “‘To your offspring I will give this land'” (Genesis 12:7).

But when Abram and barren Sarai (as opposed to fertile Sarai, who was someone else’s wife) failed to produce children, Abram began to doubt there would be any offspring to whom the land could be given.  So, again, God appears to Abram, revealing more of the plan this time, and says, “‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation…and in the fourth generation your descendants will come back here [Canaan]'” (Genesis 15:13-16).

And then you know what happens?  Everything God said would happen.

The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt.  The Exodus goes down.  They return to Canaan, the Promised Land.  Oh, and they leave Egypt with gold, silver, and clothing.

So, to recap, God tells Abram to leave the comfortable known for the completely unknown, promising blessings for obedience.  Abram obeys, by faith, and God keeps His promise, blessing Abram and his offspring with land, numerous descendents, and wealth.

As I soaked up this story last week, it finally hit me, “Hey, this is the proof that obeying God – leaving whatever we’re called to leave – can really work out.  God can really be trusted.”  And I finally became okay with the concept of leaving.

If God is the one asking us to leave something, it really will be in our best interest to trust Him, even if we don’t know where He is taking us.  The story of Abram helps me believe that, even when my feelings and circumstances don’t.