Sunday, October 29, 2017

Old and New Alike

This morning I am reading in 1 Chronicles.  I am coming to the end of the book and we have King David turning the work of the temple over to his son, Solomon.  While the Lord had given David all of the instructions, down to the smallest detail, David was not to build the temple because he was "a warrior and have shed blood." (vs 28:3b) A few verses later David tells his son, "acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever." (vs 28:9) Let's stop there for a minute.

I don't know about you but I am equally humbled and thankful God searches my heart and understands every desire and every thought I have. Really!  This means I am NOT invisible to Him.  He knows every single detail about me.  He knows the things I love the most and He also knows the things I probably shouldn't be thinking.  (Good way to nip things in the bud, if you know what I mean!) I need to be honest, there was a time in my life that I did not want the Lord knowing everything.  I just didn't.  I wanted to keep a hold of the things that were mine to control (yes, laughable for sure) and only give Him the things I think He needed or wanted.  Silly me, it was and still is all His anyway.  It was His the moment I asked to be His - the moment I asked Him to come into my life and to forgive my sins, to be my personal Savior. 

I find myself asking God repeatedly to search me, to remove from me what is wrong and broken and fill me with Him - what is right and good. I struggle daily with thinking I am still not where He wants me to be, a place I desperately want to be.  I want to make Him proud.  I want to be who He wants me to be. I want to honor Him with my life. I want to be His. And I want all that to help others know how good and perfect and loving and faithful He is. (I haven't gotten off with me.)  

David wasn't done passing things down to his son.  He also said to him, “Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished." (vs 20) I read that and a lightbulb went off in my head. It made sense. In the old testament, the spirit of the Lord was in the Ark of the Covenant.  The temple Solomon was in charge of was to provide a house for the Ark.  There were a lot of details.  (That is an extremely mild way of putting it!!!) Not just anyone could come before the Ark, and not a single soul could physically touch it.  God's Spirit was too Holy for man.  I know that sounds cruel, but let's be honest here - would YOU want something icky and sinful to touch you?  (I'll let you form the mental image of the worst thing you can think of and that is a good representation of what I mean here.)

But that is the thing with God. He so desperately wanted a relationship with His people that He gave David those detailed instructions and He had Solomon build the temple so His people could come before Him.  He made a way.  He ALWAYS makes a way.  Because despite the "icky and sinful" He so much wants us to be His.  To know Him. To fellowship with Him. To have a relationship with Him.  Do you see where I am going with this? Good.  BECAUSE...

1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" You guys!  This! The work of the temple is NOT complete.  Sure, we don't have to build an elaborate building and have lampstands and plates and incense and the like, but we do have to build the temple. You see, when God gave His son for us He did that so He could give each of us His spirit. WE GET TO CARRY HIS SPIRIT.  What an awesome opportunity, responsibility, and gift. He chose me.  He chose you.  He CHOSE US to be temples for His spirit.  Talk about being mind-blown and humbled.

I don't know about you, but I want to honor that gift. I want to be certain that when he searches me I am open to change and correction so His work can be done in me.  I want Him to use me to reach others.  I want my life to be a reflection of His goodness and power and strength. Why? Because I am not my own, I was bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:20 paraphrased). Like David's advice for his son, I want to serve Him wholeheartedly and with a willing mind. 

Lord, I pray that anyone who reads this sees the beauty of your gift. The blessing of a life lived with you. Lord, I ask that you open the eyes of their hearts so they may see you.  Reach them and hold them.  Comfort them and carry them.  Most of all, show them you will never leave them nor forsake them.

Love, M

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Following the Right Leader

This morning I am reading in 2 Kings. I need to be honest, these are hard books to read. The names!  Oh, my stars the names.  Not only the names but how close they all are and how the kings overlap each other.  People, these 2 books are full of joy, pride, anger, hate, plot twists, love, encouragement, fear, great military acumen, business deals, essentially you name it, these two books have it.  I have read the words and shook my head as well as cried happy tears of God's great love.  These aren't a fast read.  It's definitely taken me a minute, but I recommend them to you.  Now, to my point!

Think of two opposites.  Like the ends of a battery, the poles of the Earth, light and dark, soft and hard. Ok.  You get the picture. What I read this morning was exactly like that.  I began reading in chapter 21 about King Manasseh.  It didn't take me long to realize this guy was awful.  He was pure evil.  In fact, the modern-day equivalent that came to mind was Hitler.  No, not because they did the same things, but because they were both a single person with the ability to lead people to do the most horrible of things. A few of King Manasseh's atrocities were:
  • rebuilding the high places his father destroyed (like temples devoted to bad things)
  • erected altars to Baal
  • made an Asherah pole
  • bowed down to and worshiped the starry hosts - he even put alters up for them in the Lord's temple
  • sacrificed his own son - his own son!!!  Who does this?!
  • practiced divination
  • sought omens
  • consulted with mediums and spiritists
  • shed so much innocent blood it filled Jerusalem from end to end
  • he led the people astray
People, this guy was certifiable.  He killed his own kid to please a man-made god.  *Shudder* As if that wasn't bad enough, he had the leadership skills (I use that ever so lightly - even though it is the truth) to lead an entire country to do the same things he was doing.  He did this for 55 years!  That is a long time to invade and corrupt and turn people from what they know to be good and pure and right into what they know to "feel good" in the moment. 

He passed, and a kid he didn't sacrifice took his place.  For two years.  He was killed by an advisor.  Guess they'd had enough. Then came Josiah.  I don't know if he was the son of his predecessor, we are only told of who his mother is and that he is in King David's lineage.  However, what is known, he did right in the eyes of the Lord.  In fact, everything Manasseh was, this guy was not.  But it didn't start that way exactly.  See, he did good but he didn't exactly promote others to do the same straight off. No, it took him until year 18 of his 22-year gig to get things back on track.

The short of it comes as this, he sent his chief of staff, a guy named Shaphan, to the temple Priest, Hilkiah, to get all of the tithes. Shaphan was to then give the money to the contractors in order to restore and rebuild the temple of the Lord.  We're not talking a small project here either.  I'm not an architect and the blueprints of the temple are completely out of my realm of comprehension, I'm so thankful for the excellent detail the Lord gave us so we can understand the breadth of the work, but it was a bit too much for me.  I digress.  I don't even have a viable modern-day equivalent for it and anything I chose will not give it justice.  We're just going to have to go with the fact it was intense and great.  Anyway, they pay the contractors for labor and materials and they set off to work. A normal day in the neighborhood.

During the renovations, Hilkiah (also the sight foreman) finds a book.  This thing had been buried behind some tables, blocked by a few dozen chairs, old lamps, etc, basically shoved to the back of a storage closet. But this book wasn't just any book, this book was the Book of the Law. As in THE book that had the words God gave Moses.  Hilkiah gave it to Shaphan, who promptly read it.  I mean, wouldn't you?  Shaphan then went to Josiah and read it to him.  This is where Josiah becomes mind-blown.  He was already touted as being good and doing good in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2), but now his own eyes were opened up to all. of. the. truths.  Since no one had been teaching these things for a minimum of 75 years he fell in disbelief, tore his clothes, and wept.  (That was a really old school way of repenting.)

What happens next you ask?  Naturally, Josiah wants to know what the Lord has to say about all of this.  I mean here is a king ruling over a bunch of people who have been doing anything but follow God's commands for so many years they've lost count.  “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”  (2 Kings 22:13) So, Hilkiah, Shaphan, and a couple other guys went to speak to a prophet.  Prophets kind of had an inline connection with God, you know.  I think it is pretty cool that the prophet they went to, Huldah, was a woman.  Here you have a bunch of guys going to a woman to get directions.  (I'll let the irony stay! HA!)

She didn't sugar coat anything. "This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched." (2 Kings 22:16-17) I don't know about you, but that would have me petrified.  I mean, how can I be guilty of something I didn't know about?!  BUT, she wasn't done because God wasn't done.  Don't you just love that? She finished off with this, "Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.”  (2 Kings 19-20)

Can you imagine how happy Josiah was at hearing this?  Because he humbled himself before the Lord, repented, and sought him he was going to be saved from God's wrath.  Yet, he didn't stop there.  Here is where he was so much different from his predecessor.  He didn't take the blessing for himself and run.  No, he decided to take the amount of time he had left and share the Book of the Law with the people he was the leader of.  He didn't want to keep this truth for himself, he wanted to spread the word and have others find the same hope in God that he had.

"Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes, and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant." (2 Kings 23:1-3) 

What we had next was a good old house-cleaning party.  Josiah ordered all the things Manasseh had built or erected be torn down.  Not only were they to be torn down, but they were to be burnt outside the city.  (You know it's bad when it's taken outside the city walls!)  He got rid of everything that was ever given in dedication to the false gods. He even had the false teachers put to death so they couldn't continue to spread their lies to the people.  He got rid of every single last thing that was in direct objection to the Lord - the mediums, spiritists, idols, household gods, you name it - it was removed and destroyed. While all of this was happening, the people celebrated Passover like it had never been celebrated before.  There was an epic level of revival going on and the people were turning back to the Lord their God.  All of this was done in accordance with the Book of the Law and it is said, "Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses." (2 Kings 23:25)

One would think after all of this we would have a happy ending, but that is a different story for a different time.  

The main thing I took from these passages of scripture this morning is how a bad leader can direct our paths in a wayward direction if we aren't careful to keep our hearts and minds ever vigilant on the truths of the Lord.  Here's the catch though.  Unlike the people of that day who looked to their leaders for the answers to absolutely everything, we often look to ourselves. We can be that bad leader in our own life.  We can set up idols and false gods and take our eyes off the things the Lord wants for us.  But, just like king Josiah did, we can repent.  We can clean house and come back to the Lord and seek to follow him.  He is never too far away and we are never too far gone.  

While he does forgive us when we repent, the consequences of our choices when we followed our own broken paths don't disappear.  Instead, they offer us the opportunity to lead another who is making a similar mistake or series of choices, down the right path - like Josiah did when he read the Book of the Law to the people and reinstated the Passover Celebration.  We have an amazing opportunity to share God's goodness, his saving grace, and the joy fellowship with him brings.  

People, God is so good.

What needs to come down in your life?  What story do you have to share with another?

- M

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Setting It Aside

It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  I need to be honest here.  I doubt my ability to teach.  But more than that, I doubt it is a dream that will ever come true. Hear me out on this.

In the past few days, life has had its way with me.  It has been one curve ball after another and one anxiety-laden situation after another. I have shed many tears, questioned my existence and purpose, and even thought, in many ways, how I wish I was someone else.  Granted, the latter would not have prevented the former from happening; it would have just changed the situation.  I digress.

In the past, I have shared about spiritual gifts.  I have even been so bold as to share what mine are. In the past year, I have run a million miles per hour headlong into achieving my gifts, of doing or becoming what they say of me. I've failed to succeed. In that failure, I have gained an extreme level of doubt over the truth of my gifts.

You see, I took my first assessment when I was a very new Christian.  I was given the questionnaire by my Pastor.  He told me to pray before answering, and to answer to the best of my ability.  I remember being so excited to find out the results; I was full of giddy expectation.  I felt once I knew what they were I would finally have a purpose in life and I could go on from there.  Somewhere around 13 - 14 years ago, I found out my gifts were teaching, knowledge, and discernment.  I can remember the part of me that was elated hearing the teaching part since that is what I have wanted to be and do since I was a little girl.

Fast forward many years, lots of life experiences, trials and tribulations later, and I come across the opportunity to share about spiritual gifts with the ladies in my church.  I spent weeks reading books, researching online, reading scripture, and finally taking a gifts analysis.  This one much different than the one my Pastor had given me all those years ago.  Wouldn't you know, the top two gifts were teaching and knowledge.  Even though I took the analysis only five months ago I don't remember what the third one was.  Strange?

Fast forward to today. I hit another brick wall in this quest to teach. I had good intentions.  Most of which was backed by current circumstances and my desire to expedite our process through them. Surprise!  It totally doesn't work like that.  So I sat down this afternoon with the expressed purpose of continuing the study I began for the ladies at church and stumbled upon yet another gifts test.  This one worded much differently with a lot less ability to decipher which gift was being promoted through the questions.  (It is hard not to tell what they are getting at!) This one gave me the following answers: teaching, knowledge, and wisdom.  In that order.

Ok, God, I get it.  This is what you have gifted me with.  I am ever thankful for what you have entrusted me with, but honestly, now what?  I have a feeling teaching as a profession - in an academic sense - is not where you have me.  I'm getting that.  It hurts, sure, but I'm too exhausted - mentally and emotionally - to keep pursuing that line of work professionally.  I gave it all I had and I am learning that sometimes everything you are is still not enough especially when it is out of your will.

Therefore, I am officially handing it all over to you.  I'm not giving up, I am simply releasing control.  I will put it to bed and I thank you for giving me the courage to try.  This isn't an "I told you so" thing.  Not at all.  I know that because you don't say those words.  Instead, what I know this is, is simply, "wait".  So, I will wait.  I will take each day and work at becoming and growing and learning what it is that I still need to know.  I will be the best at who and what I am today and tomorrow and all the days that follow.

Thank you for my gifts and I hope someday you show me exactly how you want them to be used and at that point in time, I hope I do not fail you.

- M