A Place to Call Home

Psalm 84:1-7 says, “How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near Your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”

Life on earth is temporary. On our journey through existence on planet earth, it is wise not to get too attached. There is a real home for us that traverses beyond the universe and makes our valleys of despair dissipate into nothing except the road to that home. Gospel hope is about believers being “with” Christ and “at home” with Christ in this present world and the next. Because there definitely is a next.

There is also a “here and now” reality of the Lord’s dwelling place, the place we call home, our nest, our place with Him. The place where we worship Him. The place where we release our faintings and cries. The place where we recharge and experience the autumn rains of the soul. The place where God speaks His loveliness and strength to us. The place where we securely land in the the net that catches us and settles us and draws us close. Where homelessness and loneliness are impossible. With Christ.

One criminal who was crucified alongside Jesus at Calvary simply asked Jesus to remember him as Jesus would pass into His own kingdom and Luke 23:43 says, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’ ” The criminal was convinced that there was indeed a place to call home. A heavenly kingdom. With a heavenly Savior-King. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Philippians 1:21-23 says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” And I Thessalonians 5:10 says, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.”

The Valley of Baka is simply a reminder that our home is truly with the Lord. That our tears point us in the direction of our permanent dwelling place with the Lord. That our pain motivates us toward the living God and His house. That our weaknesses, disappointments and battles with sin only push us into the arms of God Who is our sun and shield. That His tent is the only place to find soul rest, strength for the journey, and eternal destiny in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 84:12 ends with this and so should we: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

Not Uninformed, Not Unsettled

2 Thessalonians 2:8,15 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming… So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth of by letter.”

The continuities between the Old Testament and New Testament regarding the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ include references to blazing fire, punishment, destruction of the ungodly, stubble/ashes, worms that do not die, unquenched fire, and torment that does not end. Tough stuff. Yet, for believers, Paul says in his two letters to the Thessalonians, that we are not to be unsettled because we are not uninformed. We take comfort in that final justice is thankfully in God’s hands alone. It’s not if, it is when.

God’s Word cautions us about false teachings. Again, we are not uninformed. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we see that there will be a final turning away from God in the established church. Although hard to imagine and deeply disappointing, we find that Christ will not return until first, there is a massive falling away (apostasia/2 Thess. 2:3) within the covenant community (the Church) and second, there is the appearance of the antichrist. These two signs have not yet come in final form.

We are not uninformed. We learn about the man of lawlessness in scripture (also known as the antichrist). I John 2:18-20,22 says, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us but they did not really belong to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have the anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son.”

We are living in a time of restraint, yet the mystery of lawlessness is already at work and we can sense this reality even if we don’t know exactly how it plays out. 2 Thess. 2:6-7 is a difficult passage because of the differing possibilities of who/what the “restrainer” might be. G.K. Beale, in his commentary on 1&2 Thessalonians, gives 7 possibilities (for your further investigation): 1) Roman Empire, 2) Civil order of law inherent in Rome, 3)The Jewish State, 4) Satan or one of his evil agents, 5) Power of false teachers, 6) God/Holy Spirit, or 7) Proclamation of the gospel.

Despite difficult passages of scripture, it is clearly important for believers to grasp the reality of spiritual evil and to realize that the faithful will engage in a spiritual battle to the END. Our minds and hearts must be prepared. STANDING FIRM and HOLDING FAST are themes in the Thessalonian letters. Standing firm and holding fast are especially meaningful to those who are not unsettled because they are not uninformed. These are believers boldly living out the life of faith in Christ Jesus. But, what is their key to being informed and settled?

It is critical to realize that a believer’s confidence about present & future salvation is directly linked to one’s awareness and grasp of God’s Word. Therefore, we study diligently so we will not be uninformed, and therefore not unsettled. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 confirms, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” There is no need to be uninformed. And, there is every reason to be completely settled.

We have God’s complete Word. Amen.

My Tossings

Psalm 56:8 (ESV) says “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?”

Morning Prayer:

God, “You have kept count of my tossings.” My anxious musings and fears of failure; My panicky what-ifs, my phobias; My regrets and life-altering decisions; My disappointments in myself and others; My attempts to engineer circumstances; My relentless quest to control things; My unmet expectations and dreams; My leanings toward self-preservation and achievement.

God, “You have put my tears in Your bottle.” My hurts from companions and familiar friends; My judgments not in tune with Your grace; My prayerlessness at every banquet; My unfaithful heart and mind; My decaying body and energy of life; My secret shames and hateful attitudes; My motives not in alignment with Your purposes; My longings unfulfilled by people in my life; My endpoints resulting from sin and pride; My loneliness when absent from strong believers and gospel conversations; My drifting when I put aside Your Word for any length of time.

God, “are my tears not in your book?” You have said they are in Your Word. You hear my whole prayers and even my half prayers; You silence the noise of the enemy; You shelter me from pursuant persons and troubles; You listen to my ventings and settle me; You correct my erroneous thoughts; You regroup me with Your comfort; You remind me of Your love and care; You redeem my soul in Your tenacious safety; You give me a spacious place to recoup; You provide what I don’t even know I need; You infuse my life with creative outlets; You have called me to be Your child.

Surely, my tears count. My tears are received by You; My tears do not evaporate into the Universe; My tears remain in Your capable hold; My tears are in Your safe-keeping. Your bottle never reaches capacity.

Until one day, My tears will be transformed by You into tears of joy!

Amen.

Twisted But Beautiful

My head tells me that suffering is a natural part of life, but my heart tells me to avoid pain, to figure out a way to be exempt from pain, to do whatever I can to erase pain. My natural response to life is to slow down the aging process, vindicate myself against people who fail me, smooth things over, and work overtime to squelch the thorns of frustration involved in the regular recurring things of life on planet earth. Wishing to turn back the things that should have never happened – a fender bender, a broken dish, a jammed printer, a throbbing tooth, a fractured arm, a WiFi outage, credit card theft, the list goes on. Meanwhile laboring to prevent these frustrations of life as an ongoing occupation of the mind and body.

I have always loved the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 and the conclusion in Genesis 50:20 when Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” If you follow the story more closely, you will find that God was always near and accessible to Joseph, even in prison. God did not leave Joseph alone, but blessed him with compassionate daily provisions that sustained him.

If we will simply dare to look, looking for those compassionate daily provisions is an ongoing occupation of the mind and body that is fruitful and life-sustaining. Finding those compassionate daily provisions is possible with an eye on the goodness of God and His promise in Romans 8:28 that “He causes all things to work for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

As believers, imagining our suffering as our number one enemy in life is terribly short-sighted and self-focused. However, interpreting our suffering in light of sincerely trusting God removes the wasting of pain. If we take the long view and focus on His glory, unwasted pain becomes an eternal investment. Trusting God in our suffering includes the heavenly dimension of the greater things He seeks to accomplish. Pain then possesses meaning, not randomness. And, God’s trademark is turning suffering into benefit, tears into joy, loss into redemption, earthly into heavenly, fear into courage, darkness into light, doubt into faith, death into life.

I so need God’s perspective to be able to see that pain doesn’t have to be wasted. If I believe that God uses pain to draw me into greater dependence on Him, I might stop to ask myself what I have erroneously been dependent upon other than God. If I realize that I am not just a physical being, but a spiritual being, I might be able to see beyond the assaults on my body and mind and claim the truths of Romans 5:3-5 which says, “Not only so, but we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The evil actions of Joseph’s brothers seemed to shatter his life as a teenager. Selling younger brother Joseph into Egyptian slavery was a monumental crime, yet his life was spared from death – a compassionate daily provision. Even as a slave, Joseph served Pharaoh diligently. Joseph maintained his integrity. Joseph depended on God. There were daily compassionate provisions as Joseph rose to roles of responsibility, even in prison after the false charges of Potiphar’s wife. Once again, Joseph maintained his integrity and was called out of prison to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. He indicated that it would be God only who could interpret dreams, not man. So, God enabled him to interpret Pharoah’s dreams. Another daily compassionate provision.

I’m looking for God’s compassionate daily provisions. Although I’m not in prison, I have had some self-pitying moments about the pandemic being like prison. Yet I’ve visited friends and family often, in non-traditional ways. I have been graced to have pretty days to go on morning walks with my daughter who lives close by. I have been blessed to have a car that works fine. And, I have been able to be creative in the acquisition of groceries and other supplies. Suffering might have simply been more mental than physical during the last year or so – with fears surrounding an invisible health menace, questions about life ever getting back to what was felt to be normal, concerns about a divisive and hate-filled country, wonder about a teetering economy, and general fatigue over inconveniences involved in waiting on God’s compassionate daily provisions. But, those compassions were definitely there.

I need to open my eyes. When pain isn’t wasted, I can be free to see the compassionate daily provisions of the Holy Spirit – perseverance, character, and hope. God will expose something important and turn a season of suffering into benefit. God is faithfully working out His purposes. Similar to the pattern of Joseph’s story, we can be sure that what God is now accomplishing is the saving of many lives, His ultimate purpose. We might not know the how or why, but we can be sure that each day contains a compassionate daily provision for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is when the twisting becomes beautiful.

The Goodness of the Lord

I love the Paul Tripp quote about the goodness of the Lord: “The goodness of the Lord frees you from being imprisoned by past regret, paralyzed by present doubt, and crippled by future fear.”

Psalm 119:65-72 says, “Do good to your servant according to your Word, Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust Your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word. You are good, and what You do is good; teach me Your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep Your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in Your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees. The law from Your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

When I think about these words from scripture, I am reminded of all the things that comprise God’s goodness. God the Creator is to be admired, but more importantly worshipped, because He is superior in all and over all. His qualities are beyond positive. They are otherworldly – He is immutable, infinite, impartial, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. In these qualities and more, I am assured that God is the embodiment of perfect goodness. He is kind, benevolent, and full of good will toward all creation. He is virtuous and righteous. Morally excellent. I must ponder the past, present, and future in light of His Word.

The key is – “in light of His Word.” I must know it. I must read it. I must meditate upon it. I must study it carefully. It must become a part of me. In Christ, I can know Truth through His Word. It sets me free, body, mind, and soul – from imprisonment, paralysis, and fear. Past, present, future.

God did this for me. My past is fully forgiven because of the accomplishment of Jesus Christ in conquering death delivered to Him upon Calvary’s Cross. Although enemies meant His death to be permanent, Christ rose victorious and paid the price for me that I owed for my own sin. Why then would I cling to past mistakes and regrettable choices if this salvation victory has been sealed for me by the Good God of the Universe? Yes, I stray away from trusting God when I look away from His Word. This happens especially when things are going well and I appear to have a grip on my life. Afflicted with worries, what-ifs, frantic paces, perfectionistic burdens. This happens. But, God has erased my regrets through Jesus Christ. God did this for me.

God does this for me. When my present is crowded with pressures and pulls, when my daily existence shouts that 24 hours is not enough, and when my calendar is jumbled with activity upon activity, God invites me to spend time with Him before facing even another minute. His presence brings peace and calm, clear thoughts, gratitude, and faith that casts out doubt. His Word enables me to filter out lies and plots. His Spirit whispers life-giving truths that sustain me in the present. God does this for me.

God promises this to me. A future marked by hope. A future not built upon fear. A future that creates in me (now) an attitude of expectant preparedness. A delight in His Word. A willingness to be identified with Christ in the sufferings of the past and present, with the weight of His glory out in front of me. Alignment with His will and not my own. A day when all tears will be wiped away. A day when Christ will return and make all things new. A day when God’s goodness will totally triumph. A day when the enjoyment of the Lord will last forever and life will be lived in light of His majesty and glory. The real meaning of freedom. God promises this to me.

Psalm 119:48-50 says, “I reach out for Your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on Your decrees. Remember Your word to your servant, for You have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” Therefore, I trust that God’s goodness completely enfolds me now and forever, and I will not be imprisoned by regret, paralyzed by doubt, or crippled by fear.

Self-Righteous Attorneys

John 16:13a says, “But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”

When not resisted in my life, the Holy Spirit points out my spiritual blinders and invites me to see the contradictions that need leveling, the hypocrisies that need equalizing, and the entitlements that need eradication. In daily musings, the worst of all my blinders is my inner defense of my own goodness. It comes so naturally. My conclusion that I am not as bad as human traffickers or drug smugglers; my satisfaction with the good things I have done; my pride in the things I’ve achieved. My not-so-badness as a wife, a mother, a friend, or an employee.

My whole case is built around personal satisfaction and fulfillment, and never about serving others in loving reflection of my Savior Jesus Christ. Never about kindness that is not burdensome to show. Never about laying down my life except for my own prosperity as a fundamental human right. As I excuse myself from some forms of service, celebrating my introvert personality style, I also take one step further into “church introversion” which seems sometimes to have forgotten the Great Commission. Conclusion: I’m not much embarrassed by my self-focus unless the Holy Spirit lets me see it up close.

While I have become a self-righteous attorney, daily defending my own goodness, the Holy Spirit has been whispering these questions in my heart: Why does my Martha-method-of-operating keep usurping Mary’s better way – sitting at the feet of Jesus? Why does my busy ministry schedule prevent me from spending time in life-changing prayer? Why do I hesitate to leave my comfort zone and help others when it is not convenient or when I don’t feel competent? Why am I enslaved to my own sense of perfectionism? Why do I attempt to do God’s work in my own strength and with my own resources?

I have rested my case out of self-righteousness on a daily basis. I give in to inward preoccupation. “Me” is what rules me and routinely hijacks my heart. “Me” is what replaces God. I should not be surprised at the human heart, of which mine is one. Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV) says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” No wonder something other than God is always ruling my heart. No wonder something is always impinging on my heart and not God.

For a Christ-follower, the great victory of salvation was won in my place by Jesus Christ, but day after day I fight battle after battle of self-focus…and I forget the Lord’s promise to be with me and to give me His power to meet these battles. Deuteronomy 31:6,8 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you…The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

In the battle zones of self rule, the Holy Spirit can surely be trusted to take my blinders down and redirect my heart so there is a spiritual sense of going upward, victoriously one step at a time. God faithfully overturns my verdicts of self-sufficiency, self-confidence, independence, right of ownership, freedom to boldly assert my opinions, and freedom to do what I want. I can trust Him in this process.

As a leader in a local Bible study ministry, I was recently asked to consider God’s changing of Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and to imagine what my own name change would have been if Jesus had assigned me these. It wasn’t difficult to decide – my old name was definitely “Rebel” and my new name was “Respecter.” I now have a bookmark that reminds me of these names. Am I still a self-righteous attorney? Sometimes. But, within the daily battles, I am actually ascending God’s stairway, not through works, but through deeper faith in Him Who has the power to change my heart. As a Christ-follower, I am learning to give up my right to be right as often as God’s Spirit convicts me. I am learning to lay my opinions, convenience, and ideals aside for the most important ideal – Christ in me, the hope of glory. I can definitely trust Him in this process, for He is my faithful attorney. He is the One Who will never leave me. He is the One Who will never forsake me. He is the One Who removes my blinders and gives me eyes to see.

Come Close to Me

Reconciliation is the reason Jesus stooped way down from heaven to suffer human brokenness in physical death, provide atonement for our sins, and provide the ultimate victory for believers – reconciliation with God from Whom we had been estranged since Adam. But, living out reconciliation as believers is still hard. Almost everyday I ask myself “why can’t we all get along?” And then I answer my own question with “I know why, I just wish it could be different…”

What we long for is what only Jesus can provide. Genesis 45:3-5 says, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’ “

One key to reconciliation is “coming close.” God did this “coming close” when He sent His only Son to us to provide a way for our salvation through His death and resurrection. We in turn need to do this “coming close” in our primary vertical relationship with God and then our horizontal relationships with people.

We live with the possibility that we can offer one-way forgiveness to others when they have hurt us, but the reality that we may not be able to experience two-way reconciliation. Isn’t this the model Jesus gave us? He came to provide forgiveness for sin, but seemingly many do not accept the invitation into Christ’s reconciliation and choose to remain lost.

In my educational career, I found that all kinds of hostility and evil could be perpetuated by trying to communicate with colleagues, parents, and students indirectly through social media, email, texts, and letters. Misunderstanding abounded. The absence of body language and facial expressions made imaginations run wild. Missing tone of voice was a setup for confusion.

As walls of misunderstanding were being built up, it always seemed that they came magically tumbling down in face-to-face meetings. Of course, the magic is in the power of the Holy Spirit to break down barriers and move in with love and grace. Physical presence always seemed to light the path. Empathy was made possible. Forgiveness was easier to embrace.

Joseph had already forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery and not knowing if he was alive or dead many years later. He had been freed from the slavery of unforgiveness. Yet, he longed for reconciliation with his brothers and God made a way for this. It involved “coming close.” Joseph initiated the process of reconciliation as a picture of the way God would initiate reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

If we live out faith in Christ by modeling Him, we need to be initiators of reconciliation. When we are sinned against, we need to make the first move. The first move deals with our own hearts. We need to repent of any part we have played in causing hurt and then forgive others for the hurts they have caused. But then, like Joseph, we need to keep doing the work that is our part – to move in close to those who have caused the hurt, to seek restoration, repair, and rebuilding if it can possibly be re-had.

What we find is that proximity and presence, being in person, being face-to-face, and “coming close” are all barrier-droppers. If you read the story of Joseph, you will see that, even though the process of reconciliation took years, that Joseph was constantly moving toward it. It was his hope, his dream, and his longing to be reunited with his family. It was the work to be done to which he was dedicated. It was the work to be done that depended on God’s grace and mercy to be completed. It was the work to be done that God used for the salvation of many lives, not just Joseph’s family. The picture is usually bigger than what we see, because God is working behind the scenes to continue His offer of salvation to many others.

“Come close to me” is the watchword for moving from forgiveness to reconciliation.

What is Unsaid

Remember God Who created the sun, moon, and stars? Deuteronomy 4:19 says, “And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars – all the heavenly array – do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” Job 11:7 says, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”

Remember God Who made the sun stand still? Joshua 10:12-14 says, “On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel.”

Don’t you sometimes wish that these truths would be audibly spoken on the nightly news and throughout all media outlets? I recently caught a mention on cable news that Bill Gates wants to run an experiment to dim the sun as a way to stem global warming and save the planet… his scheme pictures airplanes releasing some kind of coolant into the atmosphere to form a dimming layer to reflect back the sun’s rays.

A voice inside my head was saying – the “unspoken” in this news segment was what was most important for the world to know – “What about God?” I found myself asking – Why isn’t anyone affirming that God created the sun and He’ll handle it according to His purposes? No one will be dimming the sun apart from God’s will. Why isn’t anyone attesting that Joshua’s prayers and humility before the sun-stilling God of the Universe resulted in God’s powerful and supernatural intervention to bring about salvation for His people Israel?

Remember God Whose power shattered the chokehold of sin and death on the first Easter? I Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” His mercy and power brought this salvation miracle to us. Easter’s celebration is truly the focal point of all human history. We don’t speak it enough.

There is a river of God’s Truth that runs underneath all the things that we are constantly hearing, sun-dimming theories or not. Truth that is suppressed. Too often not spoken. Amos 4:13 says, “He who forms the mountains, Who creates the wind, and Who reveals His thoughts to mankind, Who turns dawn into darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth – The Lord God Almighty is His name.” Truth declared, but not repeated enough.

No matter how many human plot twists we experience in our culture, no matter how many scientific breakthroughs, no matter how many words and images come into human heads, the river of God’s Truth that runs underneath all Creation needs to be the continuous whisper of God Almighty into our hearts, where the unsaid becomes the said. Where the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth to us.

Surely God will dim the sun when and if He wants, according to His plans and purposes, and for His glory. He has given us His comprehensive Word. I am reminded of a wonderful line from the hymn “In Christ Alone.” It goes like this: “No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand, ‘Til He returns or calls me home, Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.”

While waiting for Christ’s return, may we turn the unsaid into the said, boldly and often. God’s Truth, become spoken! God’s powerful and supernatural intervention to bring about salvation is still at work in the world through His Son Jesus Christ. Let’s not leave this unsaid anymore.

Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

Mahanaim Moments

In my quest to carve out a life in this world I have been driven, if not western-enculturated, to love achievement. First borns are notorious for that orientation to achievement. I always wanted the straight A’s. I wanted the degrees. I wanted the awards. And I wanted the satisfaction that comes from hard work. I wanted a noble career. I wanted the white picket fence. I also wanted independence…

I grew up plainly seeing God in His Word, in church, and in Christian high school. In the gentler ways, I knew heaven was a reality just like the Bethel experience in the Jacob’s Ladder story (Genesis 28). I believed. I saw Jesus Christ as the bridge to salvation. I understood the realities of heaven and earth. I accepted the gifts of faith and new birth.

But more frequently, I was assaulted by the countless hard places that were strewn in my path by God to invite greater dependence on Him. One great reckoning came in Canaan Valley, West Virginia, where my earth-shattering culture shock took place. “City girl” met a cocktail of remote (and I mean remote) geography, 200 inches of snow, new marriage, new job, and new baby. I asked myself, “WHAT have I done?” But Faithful God whispered to me, “Now it’s just you and Me. Depend on Me.” What else could I do? All my props had been yanked away. And independence sure wasn’t working…

My literal prayer for those two years was, “Get me out of here!” Life in Canaan Valley was a wakeup call, definitely one of my Mahanaim moments! (I like the name. Mahanaim is the place where Jacob wrestled with God, nothing gentle about it). For me, West Virginia was both an ardent struggle with God and a forced settling into my God-given roles as a wife and a mother in a beautiful, mountainous, but depressed economic location. No malls. No movie theaters. No grocery stores except one. No hospital (the nearest was 45 minutes away).

Since West Virginia, a chunk of my lifetime has passed by with many Mahanaim moments, the spiritual wrestling matches I have had with God along the way, although not as severe as Jacob’s experience in a place called Mahanaim. Mahanaim was a location given in the Bible (Genesis 32:2), likely about 10 miles east of the Jordan River. Here’s the story. Genesis 32:24-30 says, “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’ “

Looking back, God provided me with a lifeboat of solid Christian girlfriends who helped start me on a journey of regular women’s Bible studies wherever I lived from then on. But, in the moment, prospects looked bleak. Like Jacob, God had to stop me in my tracks and realign my priorities. Only by His grace! I know He earnestly started a sanctifying work in stubborn me after my years of dodging Him while chasing my so-called dreams. No matter how intentionally I have tried to poke out of His providential bubble, in my college years especially, I seemed to be tethered to a divine plan that led to that one of several Mahanaim experiences. God certainly showed up and my life would definitely be “Canaan Valley different” from then on.

There is a lot of mystery in Jacob’s wrestling story, yet Jacob knows He has experienced God personally. There is mystery in my own story. But, I can say with certainty that there have been profound Mahanaim battles in my life between heaven and earth, God’s strength and my strength, God’s will and my will. These are two realities that often pull me apart. Thankfully, I don’t have a battle scar like a permanent limp. On the other hand, there are limp-like reminders of God’s painful sanctifying work in my life. Reminders left behind by a loving God.

I have always walked away from my Mahanaim moments not the same. I have walked away with a changed heart. There’s a lot of name changing in the Bible – have you noticed? And after Canaan Valley, I walked away with a different name. “Patient” is one of those new names. “Encouraged” is another. “Hopeful” another. “Content” another. Coincidentally, just about the time I was resigned to living in the mountains forever, God moved my family to Virginia.

And not because I earned a free pass. But because I went into the ring, engaged in all the punching and flailing, and wouldn’t let go until God was finished with His sanctifying outcome for me. His plan and His glory are all that is important. Sometimes holy outcomes in my life are temporary, but just the same, the Mahanaim repeats are worthwhile.

Photo credit: Twisty Road – US33 through the Virginias – Andrew Lavigne’s Website alavigne.net

Making Peace with Dust

God chose dust as one of the important particles He used in Creation. You will remember your school days studying particles in science class maybe? Dust may have varying smaller components, but it can be seen almost anywhere, except for the few seconds following a thorough dusting and vacuuming event in your house. Wait 15 minutes and you will see all the dust return!

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Definitely a cause to respect dust. And then there was that terrible problem of sin in the Garden that brought an even greater reality to dust. Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” I sometimes wonder what role dust would have had in the event that Adam and Eve didn’t disobey God and roll us headlong into the Fall and its consequences – to dust we will return…

I have lived with allergies all my life. Manageable allergies, but always there. I have seen allergists. My most recent allergist performed the traditional skin tests probably a decade ago. Nothing had changed from my childhood. I tested positive for dust among other allergens like mold, mildew, grasses, pollen, etc. Go figure. I am allergic to the very thing of which I a made. The proof is in the half a box of tissues that I go through on particularly dust-filled days, sneezing and blowing my nose. It is kind of poetic considering the dimensions of what happened in the Garden of Eden. Another fallen thing…

The remedies are impossible to secure. A vacuum cleaner that doesn’t throw out any exhaust dust. Not happening. Industrial strength Hepa filter air purifiers. Not happening. No carpet in the house. Not happening. No forced air heating and air conditioning. Not happening. No stirring up sources of dust. Not happening… I love to quilt and therefore fiber dust flies all over the place when I am cutting and sewing fabric and batting. When the sun shines on the surfaces in my sewing room, the utter storm of dust is revealed. My allergic reaction is, in my imagination, tantamount to breathing secondhand smoke. I will suffer. But granted, it is manageable and I will continue to quilt in the future.

One day this week, I wrestled with a decision to clean up the sewing room dust or not. Resisting my OCD passions, I just whispered to myself “Why don’t you just make peace with dust and move on?” There is comfort in not getting bogged down by the underside of things. Just like the back side of a tapestry, the raw side of a quilt top looks pretty chaotic and ugly. But, the final product is beautiful. There is a pattern in all these metaphors that reveals a pattern that God frequently uses. He purposes to use the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary. God uses the perishable dust of man to release the imperishable new creation that believers will experience in eternity with Him as the result of genuine faith. The new creation. From old to new. From dead to living. From earthly to heavenly. From dust to life after dust. The extraordinary.

Don’t let “dust life” steal your heavenly vision. The Israelites actually longed for the dust and rust of Egypt when they lost their focus on God. Paul Zach has written a song called “Restore Us Again” and one of the verses goes like this: “We longed for Egypt in the wilderness, A kingdom made of dust, Built an idol out of happiness, A paradise of rust.”

I am thanking God today. He is the Only One Who breathes life into our dusty souls. He is the Only One Who chooses to put His spiritual treasures into these jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7) called humans. He is the Only One Who could save us from the kingdom of dust and make all things new in Christ Jesus. He is the Only One Who could breathe eternal life into our otherwise deadly destination without Him. I’m making peace with dust, because for me, it is only temporary.