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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Waiting for an Oasis


I try to read my Bible daily. Sometimes, I'm in a hurry and breeze through it without much thought (honest confession time). Sometimes I think, "Oh, that's nice." Sometimes, I see the application of the verses for my life. And sometimes, God uses certain verses like a cup of cold water to wake me up. Well, that's what happened this morning.

One of my passages for the morning was Exodus 15:22-27. Previous to these verses, God has brought the Israelites out of Egypt in spectacular fashion culminating His miracles with the parting of the Red Sea. This particular passage takes place 3 days later. The Isrealites are wandering in the wilderness, waiting for God's next step in their journey. And, the complaining begins. They are thirsty and the only water nearby is in Marah and that water is bitter, not drinkable. Even though the Israelites have just experienced God's powerful provision during their exodus out of Egypt, they start complaining that He isn't providing what they need. Moses takes their complaints to God and He tells Moses to strike the water, turning it sweet and drinkable. God then proceeds to command them saying He will take care of them if only they will listen for His voice and obey His commands. Then, I read the last paragraph of chapter 15. I'm sure I've read it before but I don't remember it.

"Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water." Exodus 15:27

Okay, so they were grumbling and complaining in the waiting and wandering about water and if they would have just given God a second, He was leading them to an OASIS. Instead, they complained and God, in His mercy, provided for their need sufficiently. But, had they waited patiently for God's best and listened to God's voice because He was guiding them, they would have seen He was planning to provide for their need abundantly.

As I always do, I started to judge the Israelites. Seriously?! God just sent all these plagues forcing Pharaoh's hand, He parted the Red Sea for them and then He collapsed the sea on the Egyptians who were pursing them and seeking to re-enslave them. Three days later they question His love and provision for them. Seriously?! (Insert face palm emoji.) It's like when my kids open the plethora of Christmas presents and a week later, ask me for a new toy. Seriously?!

But, today God showed me my face in the faces of the Israelites. God has worked abundantly and miraculously in my life. He has never failed me. He has always provided. Yet, when I sit in a period of waiting for God's next step for me, I often grumble and complain. I whine that it's taking too long. I grumble, thinking I know the next best thing for me. That destructive thinking leads me to think God isn't providing for me, that He doesn't love me or that He isn't leading me where I think He should. And, sometimes in His mercy, He provides me with a gift, a small reminder that He is there. But, what if one step later, after the waiting and wandering, He had something even more spectacular to give me if only I had waited patiently, listening for His lead. What if my grumbling and complaining led me to a small watering hole, when I could have been led to an oasis in exchange for my obedience and faithfulness.

I desire the oasis, why do I settle for the tiny watering hole?

Here's my prayer for myself and for all of you who struggle in the waiting:

Lord, I confess that I live like the Israelites. I am prone to grumble and complain while I am waiting in the wilderness. I pray for your forgiveness and that I would be able to look to you in the waiting, discern your voice and wait for your best. Amen.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Plan Making and Perspective Shifting

The past few weeks have not gone as planned for me. Dang hurricanes. Reading that you may think, "Man, how was she affected?" I really wasn't. I have power, food, a dry house, all my possessions are intact and everyone I love is safe. So, why am I whining? I'm throwing a pity party because my kids have been out of school. I lost power for a few hours. I've had to help friends and family and even those I don't know which has taken time. I'm just being honest. Some people are awesome at throwing out plans and living in the moment. A need comes along and they happily serve. Kids are out of school and they are excited about spending time together as a family. They are able to throw caution to the wind and be spontaneous. Those people are not me.

I want to be one of those people, but that's not how I'm wired. I concoct plans in my mind and if those plans don't work out; I get in a funk. When school started a few weeks ago, I was so excited. I had all these grandiose plans. I was going to write constantly, be incredibly productive and get things done. But, that's not really how things have gone down. In reality, it's been one distraction after another. Sick kids, house issues, hurricanes, friends and family in need, no school and on and on and on the list goes.

Let's just get real for a moment. I struggle with contentment. Oh sure, I'm content when my plans are coming to fruition, the stars align and everyone is on their best behavior. Man! Then I can get the work done. I can be productive. I can do what it is God is calling me to do. I feel set and at peace. But, the SECOND things don't go as planned, I feel defeated and think, "Oh well, there goes the day. Guess this day is going to stink. Maybe another day I'll get it done."

And, as He so gently and lovingly does, God spoke to me through His Word this morning to reveal what was wrong with my perspective. He reminded me:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

Oops. Yeah, my perspective is all wrong. Not that it's wrong to have plans. It's not. But, the problem comes in when we don't hold the plans loosely, when we cling to them so tightly that we can't see what God might be doing instead. 

I had big plans for the last few weeks. And, you know what? They were MY plans. Not God's. Sometimes those two things line up and sometimes they don't. When they do, great. But, when they don't, I should not have such a tight grip on mine that I can't see God's. My problem is not the devising of plans, the problem is my resistance in giving them up when they don't line up with God's. 

I'm grateful that God's mercies are new every morning. I'm grateful that He sees me, knows me and loves me enough to correct me when needed. I pray today that I would keep my hands open and hold my plans loosely, knowing that His ways are higher than mine and living in His moment and not mine, is the best plan of all.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Waiting

"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" Psalm 27:14

Wait. That has often been one of my least favorite words. Who likes to wait? Not many of us. This is why we shop Amazon Prime, get Fast Passes at Disney and eat so much fast food. Waiting is no fun! Ask any child who is waiting for a birthday or a holiday. Waiting stinks!

But, as much as I hate to wait in the midst of everyday circumstances, God is teaching me a lot about how we learn and grow in the waiting. My natural tendency has always been to push ahead, forge my own way and make my own plans. Oooh, I love a good plan. I like to make things happen.

When God called me into full-time ministry in my early 20's, you better believe I had a plan. Guess what? My life pretty much looks nothing like the plan I had back then. Guess why? Because, God's plan for my life is so much better than even the best plans that my type-A self could come up with on a spreadsheet. 

During the last 5 years of my life, I have spent a lot of time in waiting. I'm still sitting in a time of waiting. I would like to say I've waited well. But, let's be honest, most of the time I've whined while I've waited. And when I whine and pout and complain, God is quick to show me that He is with me in the waiting. And, not only is He with with me in the waiting, He is growing me as I wait. If I would have accomplished my own plans on my own timeline, I would not have grown into the person He wants to use in the ways He wants to use me in the future.

I have no idea what God has for me next and many of you might feel the same way in your own life. But, there is one thing I do know, He wants to be present in our waiting and He wants to use the waiting period as a preparation time so that when we get to the other side, to the next thing, we will be fully trained. My prayer is that I would be found faithful in times of waiting and times of action. Lord, let it be so.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul “therefore I will hope in him.”The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him." Lamentations 3:24-25 (ESV)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Supplies



Confession time- I love new school supplies and school supply shopping. I love everything about it. I love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new, unused crayons. I love notebooks that are clean and have no writing in them. I love organizing new binders with beautiful dividers. Call me a nerd, I don't care. I've had an affinity for school supplies since I was a child. I always loved the week before school began when we would get new supplies and I would spend hours organizing them. I would smell them and enjoy the newness before they would be defiled by school work over the next few months. To this day, outside of book stores, office supply stores are one of my favorite places to linger. I love a new pen and clean notebook. And, now that I have school-age children, I get to live vicariously through them as they school supply shop. Of course, we have piles of half used pencils and stacks of partially written in notebooks at home. But, I wouldn't send those to school with my kids the first week. No, they have to have brand new supplies. The new school year needs to begin afresh. There is plenty of time for them to use supplies that aren't new as the year progresses. The first week of school is the time for new supplies.

I'm going somewhere with this if you were wondering. Jesus also had something to say about newness and the use of new supplies. Listen to what he says in Mark 2:21-22, "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (ESV)

Let's talk context for a second. Jesus has just healed a paralytic which awed the crowd and then He called a sinning tax collector to be one of his disciples. The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) are starting to get a little annoyed. Who does this man think that He is? Healing people in the name of God? Inviting sinners into His ministry? They decide it's time to approach Jesus and tell Him how wrong He is and how He's not following the law. They do this by trying to trap Him. They ask him why His disciples don't fast as prescribed in the law like John the Baptist's disciples. They try to pit the Son of God against the law of God and against a prophet of God. In typical Jesus fashion, He turns their questions and accusations back on the Pharisees. 

The Pharisees were so entrenched in the law and how things were supposed to be done according to tradition, they couldn't see the new thing Jesus was doing. They were so stuck on following the law and convincing themselves that they could make themselves righteous through their own efforts, they couldn't see the grace and new covenant that Jesus was ushering in through His ministry. They were trying to make Jesus conform to the old ways of tradition and how things "should be done". They were blind to what God was trying to accomplish.

And, Jesus calls them on it. His new ministry and the new convenant He was activating could not be sewn or poured into the old cloths and containers of the law and tradition. It was brand new. What He was ushering in needed to be put on new garments and in new wineskins. 

When we begin our new walk with Jesus, the old has to be put away. Our old thoughts, worldview, behaviors and practices have to be done away with so that we can start afresh with Jesus and be the people He's called us to be as His ambassadors. We can't start this new life with old supplies. Everything has to be made new. We can't try to infuse the new with the old. No, a main aspect of the Christian life is to continually, day by day, with God's help put away our old self so that we can walk in newness of life with Christ. Only then, can we be the men and women He's called us to be and minister to others in the ways He's designed for us.

As you enter this new school year or new phase of life or whatever new thing God has called you into, remember that we can't put new ideas into old mindsets and we can't get new results with old behaviors. As we replace the old thoughts, behaviors and patterns with God's word and the love of Christ, we will be able to walk in a manner that reflects that we abide in Jesus and our life won't be able to be anything but a pleasing fragrance to those around us. 

"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:9-10, 12-17 ESV)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Home

Before I sat down to start writing and working this morning at my favorite coffee shop, I decided to take a walk around my town of Smyrna, GA to clear my head. I was immediately struck by thoughts of what the term home means to me. I love my current town of Smyrna. It has a small town feel while sitting on the edge of the very large and bustling city of Atlanta. Even though Smyrna is growing rapidly, it has managed to keep most of it's small town charm. 

This got me thinking about "home" and all the places I've lived. Last week we were in Texas visiting family. Every time I go home to Waco, I feel homesick and consider that maybe we made a huge mistake not staying in Texas. It will never cease to feel like home.

But, during my walk today, I realized Smyrna/Atlanta is home, too. And, when we lived in Cambridge, MA I loved it so and it felt like home as well. How can all these places feel like home? Isn't just one place supposed to feel like home? At that moment it struck me, home is wherever we are that is exactly where God wants us at this time in our life. God chose for me to grow up in Texas and He called us to Atlanta and to Boston and back here to Atlanta. This is exactly where He wants us and sitting in the center of that is where home lies. 

Acts 17:26 says, "From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live..." (NSRV)

God, even though my parents grew up in New York, planned from the beginning of time, the plan for my life and where I would live. He had a reason for me growing up in Texas and He had a plan concerning all the moves I've made in my life, and He has me here, in Smyrna, GA, for a purpose. He has a will and a plan for you where you live, too. And, whenever we are in the center of that plan and His will, where we are will feel like home.

The Bible also tells us that even though God has set up the places where we will live on this earth, this is not our ultimate home. A sliver of our heart will always long and be homesick for our ultimate home which is heaven. Yes, we are called to live at home in the world where He has placed us. We are called to bring His kingdom to the place where we've been dropped at this moment in time by His sovereign hand. But, we are also called to live as one who longs for our eternal home. 

Hebrews 11:16 tells us, "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (ESV)

So, to answer my earlier question, yes, we can feel at home in multiple places at the same time. That is our calling as Christian sojourners on earth. We make a home here in the world, encouraging His "kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven", while at the same time longing for that day when we will live in our forever home prepared for us by God Himself.

Oh, that I would find that balance- how to live in the here and the not yet. God, help!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

My Shield Still...



This Saturday will be our son Nathan's 4 year "cranioversary". Four years ago, on July 1, Nathan underwent an endoscopic craniectomy because he was born with a condition called craniosynostosis which means his head was born fused together so that his brain could not grow normally. A couple weeks post surgery, I wrote the following blog post. I was in the weeds then, but the fact that God is my shield has not changed. I pray that it will be an encouraging read for anyone who needs to hear this message today. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Jars of Clay



If I had to pick a chapter of Scripture to be my "life chapter" (is that a thing?), it would be 2 Corinthians 4. That fact might seem obvious to you if you've hung around my blog for some time. I mean, the title of my blog is Extraordinary Treasure, Ordinary Girl which comes from 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 which says,

"But we have this treasure in jars of clayto show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every waybut not crushedperplexedbut not driven to despair; persecutedbut not forsakenstruck downbut notdestroyed.." (ESV)

As I prepare for an upcoming writing conference where I will get to propose a book idea, discuss my blog, etc. there is pressure to redefine the purpose of my blog, revamp my look and define my audience. But, as I pray for direction in these areas, these verses and that chapter continue to jump out at me and speak to my soul. 

I write because I truly believe that God reveals to me extraordinary treasures as I live my ordinary life. And, I can't help but share what He teaches me. My audience, honestly, is whoever wants to listen, whoever wants to join me on this adventure of discovering the nuggets of truth He show us in His Word.

In Paul's time, clay jars were created by artisan potters who would take raw clay and though the skill of their hands mold the clay into a precious vessel. After the clay was molded and baked, they would beautifully decorate the jars using paint and glaze. The jars would be decorated based on the value of the items they would contain. Sometimes they would be decorated beautifully because they would hold precious items such as scrolls of scripture and law. Other times they would be minimally decorated because they would have a more basic function such as holding water. But one thing all clay jars had in common was that they were breakable and they would not last forever.

We are just like those clay jars of old. Our physical bodies are "jars" that hold precious treasures. Our bodies were created and molded by the Potter with a specific purpose in mind. Our bodies are beautiful, functional and breakable. They are also temporary. They are a temporary, functional container that hold precious, eternal treasures.

What are some of the treasures God entrusts us with? 

* 2 Corinthians 4:6 says that God has shone the knowledge of Him in our hearts. We have the privilege of housing the knowledge of Him in such a way that it shines forth into the world around us.

* Scripture also teaches us that we are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Even though I've known this truth for some time, it's still so hard for me to truly comprehend that my ordinary body is a TEMPLE for the Holy Spirit. Sit with that truth for awhile. Are we living like people who house the 3rd person of the Trinity? Eek!

* We also have the opportunity to digest His Word in a way that it becomes written on our hearts. His Word doesn't just live on a page bound in a Bible I purchased on Amazon. If I spend time reading it and meditating on it, it becomes engraved on my heart and I can carry it with me wherever I go. 2 Corinthians 3:3 says, "And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (ESV)

So, the question for you and for me is this- do we live like one who walks around as a container of extraordinary treasures?