He Has Not Retired

I am just wrapping up Ecclesiastes in my brave ventur into the Old Testament.

It is thrilling to read. Amazing things happen every few pages.

Everyone – even those who haven’t cracked a Bible in years – know about Moses (all those plagues) and Joseph (dream interpretation) and Daniel (lion bait). We know Joshua marched around a fortified city and its walls fell, we know Gideon and his fleece signs.

Most of us who are Believers accept and expect miracles in the New Testament too, where Jesus does amazing things with bread and fish and demons and sickness. We get excited about walking on water. We even go as far as understanding that Paul got busted out of jail, and people who didn’t even have a basic education were suddenly fluent in dozens of languages.

Two thousand years ago, really neato stuff happened.

Problem is, so many think God has somehow retired. That He closed up the miracle shop and now He just does some healings and the occasional surprise check in the mail when you need it.

Do we forget why all those things are called promises?

It means if it was true for Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Jehosephat, Abraham, Ruth, Esther, Sarah, Joshua, Paul and the centurion with amazing faith – it is also true for every one of us.

So why don’t we see more of those kinds of things happening?

First of all – I think we do – but with science and technology, we may be slower to recognize them. Ask a missionary in a third world country if they have seen miracles, and I suspect many of them would say they have. We perform everyday magic with our advances, and we’re a little jaded. But it only takes one trip to the ER where a relative is mysteriously healed, or one narrow miss, and we question our science and our technology and remember Who is in control.

So if we are told over and over that our God is the same – then the difference must be us. And why is that?

We as a generation have a habit of putting our faith in other things. We take sick children to the doctor and have faith they will be cured. We trust Google to find our answers.

A few weeks ago, my four year old daughter had a sudden sharp stomach ache and a spiked fever of 103. We took her to the doctor who had no answers – all her tests showed up clear. The hospital couldn’t tell us anything either, even after the MRI. She looked fine, she tested fine and yet she was screaming with a scary fever. Our deacon showed up and annointed her with oil and instantly – literally – her fever left and she went tothe bathroom – after which she was fine.

Our custody hearing finished up with the opposing side’s lawyer struggling to complete a sentence and gulping for water every few words. We still don’t know the result, but I know my God was there and he was doing things in my favor.

And today – here in NYC – the earthquake. No one is hurt, and yet the earth shook. Do we have any doubts about Who is in charge?

I think what has changed is simply our faith. We don’t expect or look for miracles as much as our long ago ancestors. We aren’t as easily amazed, and we’re too quick to find a ‘rational’ explanation.

I’m still fine tuning my inner senses on this – but I have seen enough to know: my God hasn’t retired. He’s still very busy. And he is everywhere. So it is up to us – do we move in the mundane, and forget Him, or do we decide instead to move in the miraculous? And take Him at His Word?

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Isaiah 40 – Read It Again, This Time as a Mother

How many Christians know Isaiah 40, or at least parts of it, without even having to look it up?

This part especially:

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Appears in how many of our worship and praise songs. Especially the eagles part. We like that.

There’s some other stuff that had not caught my eye or my heart until today, that I think bears reading again (and again and again) if you are a mother.

It’s scary to be a mother. I work 90 minutes away from my children and I have recently realized this is not by accident – yes of course I took the job because I was 100% certain this is where God was sending me, although I have no idea why. Partly, now I see, is that I’ve been very controlling and anxious over my children’s safety. They are small. Yet where was I when he hung the stars? What can I do, even in the same room, to keep them safe? Read Job once and you realize – nothing.

So that means I have to trust, which is an ongoing and recurring thing in my mama heart, and I’m learning so painfully slowly. But I am learning. I don’t have to and I should not feel that I must keep those babies safe. Do you know what is convincing me of this more than any other day? Look at this:

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

That’s the NIV translation. My children are carried in his arms, close to his heart. That is a safer place than I could ever give them. I have been reminding myself, almost daily, that I am a stewared of these little lives that I love so much, but they are not my possessions. They are HIS and that is how they will grow and thrive. He has plans to prosper them, to give them a future and a hope. Plans to prosper them and not harm them.

Just yesterday I began to talk to my oldest about warfare. She’s the one in the middle of the custody drama, and I have see the way Satan is answering my total trust in God for our custody battle. He is attacking her. Mean things have been coming out of her mouth, about herself and about others, that I know are not from her heart.

So I sat her down – after disciplining her for very loud, yelling back-talk – and asked her about her thoughts. She insisted they were her own. So I explained to her – our enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. Part of destroy is all the filthy lies that try to teach us we are not talented, we are fat, we are bad, we are incapable and unworthy. Already my precious baby has felt the “slings and arrows”, the fiery darts.

She really did not know Satan could invade her pretty little head with lies that sound like her voice. You know what, at her age, I did not either and that accounts for a lot of pain.

The other Good News for Mamas is the last bit, that He gently leads those with young.

How vulnerable are we when we are so attached, so utterly amazed with our wonderful children and so terrified for their safety and well-being. How much we need wisdom and discernment, not just for them but for ourselves. We will be led, and it will be gently. Awesome! I’m such a rebel in my flesh, that settled right over me light a snuggly blanket and I thought, wonderful, I need all the wisdom and help I can get and feeding it to me gently will make sure I receive it too.

For people like me who were not raised in a particularly Evangelical or Charismatic church, the idea of warfare and battling it out is pretty radical. So I’m a newbie. But that made me notice this part too:

2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”

When I see “her” in a passage that God has called to my attention repeatedly (this chapter in Isaiah showed up in not one but three different places the last two days, I think I’m supposed to be looking here!) it makes me take notice. This is the NKJV (the NIV has “hard service” for warfare and that is pretty interesting to think about too).

Notice it says “is ended”. Not “will be”, not “might be”. This not hang in there and see what happens. This is rest, trust – your battle is done. I know I have one more week of court in July, so my battle still lies in part a head of me – so my reading of this is more about what God also said to Jehosephat (and directed me to last time we were heading to court).

12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

13 Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord.

They were about to be attacked by a much stronger enemy, and Jehosephat wisely remembered the promise from God, that He would defend and protect his people if they turned to Him, so that is precisely what Jehosephat did – no panic, no stress, just cry out to God for help. Notice it’s not just the warriors in the line of fire, it is all the people including their precious children. And here is what God told him:

“Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

That’s what I think this passage means for us as well. The battle is not ours, but God’s. That idea of being thankful for the victory before the actual fray. If God is battling for you, is there really any question about the outcome?

So if God is protecting your children, it is time to trust. Even when you have to battle whatever is troubling you – trust and understand. He is your strength, your helper and your glorious sword and he will make your enemies flee – you will trample on their high places.

I think I have been guilty of discounting this in my own life, worried my choices in my first marriage would mean I somehow got left out of the battle help and other good things. But right there it is, God is over it and I should be too, and it is really well and truly time to trust.

Micro Manager

Most of the time, being micro-managed is a very bad thing. I have never worked well for managers who hover or worse, forcefully encourage me to adopt their methods and means to an end. I like better: there’s the galaxy, padowan, go to it.

Except when I’m wrestling through a very big trial, and then I appreciate the in-depth, detailed knowledge and insight my Holy Father has into my world. Tiniest details. I can’t grasp a mind big enough to hold the personal data I can’t keep up with myself times the billions of individuals in the world (and that is assuming we are it, for all I know He has dozens or more of these worlds to keep up with).

I am learning the warfare value of memorized scriptures. I can quote my handful of favorites back at the Enemy when he’s trying to do his thing and he goes away. But the arsenal isn’t very big yet. I am reading, voraciously, but memorizing is a time-investment and I will have to work on it the rest of my life.

So right in the middle of my court trial, I had one of the Christian stations on in the background during the night. My brain is so wired, our tv makes great white noise to drown out the screaming so that I can sleep. And then right in the middle of the night, a preacher (Baptist, definitely – it was a wild sermon) was shouting “If God is for you, who can be against you!” at least twenty times. Changing the emphasis…if GOD is for you…if God is FOR you…if God is for YOU…loved it. This is one of the few big guns in my arsenal – Romans 8. I love every word of it.

And earlier that same evening, same channel, different Baptist…the story of Jehosephat. Which I had been led to only a few weeks before in 2 Chronicles. Jehosephat who only had to show up and sing. It’s not your battle, Jehosephat. It’s not my battle either. I had been doubting how much I was supposed to do and then Jehosephat came up again.

I’m amazed at a God who goes to this much trouble to uplift a struggling daughter: ensuring two separate preachers on the one Christian channel I regularly watch would have sermons on, time them when I was awake (one in the middle of the night!), referencing scriptures I would easily recognize and have read during this particular ordeal, and play them on the very night I was agonizing about what I needed to do.

Amazing!

I’m sure I’m not the only believer who enjoyed or needed those words but still, powerful confirmation.

Here is what I learned from this micro-management moment between me and my loving Father God: sometimes I have to fight, but He is always there. I will be given as much reassurance as I need and I should not be so reserved about asking for it. He doesn’t want me to look at them, those I’m fighting. He wants me to look at Him. It will not be a matter of uncertainty, of what do I do now – it will be a matter of I am YOUR GOD and my part is obey Him and praise.

I can do that. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Broken

2 Corinthians 4: 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

My husband has damaged his knee. He is hyperactive, and a superb athlete. But he didn’t injure it doing any of the fairly dangerous things he loves to do (rock climb, ski jumps). He injured it moving oh so slowly training our four year old on the ski slopes.

I have the privilege and the pain of watching God court some one He and I both love dearly. My husband grew up poor, so he relies more than he should on his bank accounts.

He grew up lonely, so he is fiercely independent.

He doesn’t trust people easily.

I am watching as our Father deals with him on these things. For several days, all he could do was weep and mope. I have been on the broken end of this courtship more than once and it is painful. I have been carefully ripped limb from limb, only to be put back together better than new. But the breaking part is awful. Everywhere I have had doubts, mistrust, self-reliance, laziness, pride or a host of other sins, I have been broken and sometimes to my shame more than once.

This is where my husband is right now.

Then he realized he could still coach T-ball, albeit on crutches. He can still play drums in the worship team. He can drive.  The list of “can” is much longer than the list of “can’t”.

And I have watched as a joy I recognize is stealing over him. He’s laughing. He expressed trust that God would walk us through our upcoming court case. He just looks stronger.

There are so many wonderful things about him, that I could never explain to a non-believer my mixed feelings at watching this occur. I know the necessity of the breaking process. Clay jars have to have cracks in them, so the light can shine out. I know the absolute need for pruning, breaking, refining, and what it feels like to be the lump of steel in the forge – between the hammer and the fire – turning into a polished lethal blade.

And so I’m watching my husband have the same experience. I hate it for him, on the one hand, but on the other, I know that he will be immeasurably better for the changes this will cause. WE will be immeasurably better.

And so I am waiting, using this as a wonderful opportunity to adore and serve a man who doesn’t usually sit still long enough for me to do much more than feed him.

Peter had to be broken, suffering anguish when he denied his friend and our Messiah three times, before he was bold enough to proclaim the Gospel and receive the Holy Spirit.

Paul had to be broken, starting with blindness but also with jail, injury and pain, so that he would have the inspiration and grace to write and share and preach as he did.

Jesus himself was broken, not by temptation in the desert as we sometimes are, but by nails and a cross, and sometimes we have to share in that broken, damaged, painful state to participate with Him in the life, the glory, the rising again.

 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Who Is Like Us?

Two passages from 2 Corinithians:

4: 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

10: 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

This week’s Southern conversation was around “not NICE” (pronounced NASS) versus NOT nice (still pronounced NASS, but the first word has the emphasis and an extra syllable – NA-AH-T).

Try explaining to a Yankee this Southern verbal quirk. The two things have totally different meanings. Once is that some one’s behavior could be better, that the person in question may have suspect motives (social climbing?) while the other one, with the two-syllable “not’ implies suspect morals. Neither is a good thing. But never, ever assume because a Southern woman has referred to you as “nice” that this is a good thing either.

How nice. Bless your heart!

Southerners are different. This means that those of us who live in the North have had to adapt a little bit to the language, the culture up here. It’s a relief to know or bump into other Southerns – the language barrier falls away and you can have a real discussion.

So this is how I read the two scriptures from Corinthians: we ain’t like them. Our battles, our conflicts are different. Try explaining to an athiest how you’re battling a stronghold of pride, or struggling with obedience in the area of stewardship (and if you don’t know any, come to New York I can find you some without any trouble at all). Our fighting is different. For one, we fight. We don’t just say oh well it’s genetics or it’s a habit and accept the state of things. We don’t say how all our friends are doing it. We don’t roll over when Satan starts lying to us or to our families. WE fight and we fight hard. But to look at us during a heated battle, you might not know what you’re seeing: Bible out, hands up, oil on the forehead and the rest. Doesn’t look like warfare to those outside our faith. Probably, it just looks odd.

And we believe different things about our bodies. We don’t mind our weaknesses – the ones that aren’t strongholds – because those are the cracks the light shows through. My cracks look a lot like scars from my abusive first marriage for example, but it means that I understand fear and anxiety and total dependence on God through faith. I get survival. I also know when to be quiet and let God do the talking for me.

I don’t buy that I’m only of value as long as I’m under 25 and wear a bikini. I don’t agree that my value is in providing sex to a man, who is allowed to treat me as a commodity and upgrade when he feels like it. I’m not acceptable because my home puts Martha Stewart to shame (for more on “Martha” – it seems to be something with the name – check out Luke. Housekeeping, not always the top priority in God’s Kingdom). 

I am a princess, the daughter of a King and if you’re planning to put your hands on me for anything other than prayer or a friendly hug, change your plans! The same is true of my daughters. My body is a cathedral built out of broken bones and a broken heart, made to serve and praise and my God lives there. If I do my job right with my kids – every one of them will be a house of the Lord and I won’t get to live in it, but HE will.

Our culture shows us “perfect” bodies that we’re supposed to want, achieved through hours of deprivation, hours at the gym or plastic surgery, bodies that are so perfect there is no room for brokenness, or light to shine out. But the fact is those perfect bodies will decay either with age or with death and then where will their owners live?

I’d be delighted if my earthly home were a little less expanded after the last few babies, and I’d be delighted if it didn’t remind me of the passing of years with some aches and pains. But it’s my house for now, and I know the one I get next will be indescribably better. So this one doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be revered as the producer of babies, the holder of my husband and the temple of the Lord, treated carefully like the fragile clay jar it is and then left behind when I don’t need it anymore.

So no, we are not like the World, and we aren’t supposed to be.

If we find ourselves conforming, rather than transforming, we need to stop and think not only WHO we are, but WHOSE we are. Our God isn’t like their gods. We are a mighty, mighty people of the Lord, however our vessels look to the rest. We are a royal priesthood, a nation apart. We are the sheep who know His voice. We are the remant of Israel, the Covenant people, those redeemed by the blood and passed over by the Angel of Death. Our names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We are manna-feeders and blood-washers and we are NOT like everyone else. Praise God!

Deuteronomy 33: 29

 Blessed are you, Israel!
   Who is like you,
   a people saved by the LORD?
He is your shield and helper
   and your glorious sword.
Your enemies will cower before you,
   and you will tread on their heights.”

Proverbs 31 Mama

This is my idea of a career woman:

She seeks wool and flax,
      And willingly works with her hands.
       14 She is like the merchant ships,
      She brings her food from afar.
       15 She also rises while it is yet night,
      And provides food for her household,
      And a portion for her maidservants.
       16 She considers a field and buys it;
      From her profits she plants a vineyard.
       17 She girds herself with strength,
      And strengthens her arms.
       18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
      And her lamp does not go out by night.
       19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
      And her hand holds the spindle.
       20 She extends her hand to the poor,
      Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
       21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
      For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
       22 She makes tapestry for herself;
      Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
       23 Her husband is known in the gates,
      When he sits among the elders of the land.
       24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
      And supplies sashes for the merchants.
       25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
      She shall rejoice in time to come.

She is up while it is dark. She helps her husband provide for the family. She supervises a large household, but she’s also diversified into farming and a few other things. She’s making clothing for people, but she’s also doing commerce. She’s nicely dressed, and her household is spiffy enough that people respect her husband. I imagine him a little well-fed looking, sleek and content. She gives to the needy and later on it also tells us she is wise and her advice is sought.

It is interesting to me how some Biblical teachers go from this womanly ideal (granted, she isn’t Deborah or Ruth or Esther or Mary)  to arrive at a vision of submissiveness, demure, quiet. Nowhere in this chapter – or elsewhere – do we read “she is adorned from head to toe in gray wool, as a Bruderhoff woman ought to be.” Nowhere do we find her sitting quietly in the kitchen playing with food all day.

She’s busy and she’s clearly working at home and outside the home. Wherefore, oh stay-at-home Christian mothers, ariseth the condemnation?

We have a very busy God, and he likes to see us busy too. That doesn’t mean women have to work outside the home, but it also doesn’t mean they must be at home either. I am persuaded this choice is based on the needs of each family,  in alignment with both spouses’ gifts. Martha wasn’t chided for being busy, she was chided for her stress levels (and for not taking a time out when she should have). Mary her sister wasn’t praised for being lazy either, the Lord approved of her decision to put Him first. So there is a balance, between our activity and our quiet, our rest and our calling, our children and our work.

I would dearly love to be back at home with my children. They are growing very fast, and in eighteen short months they will all be in school. I was at home for three years while the last three were babies and it was heavenly. I consciously enjoyed every minute because I knew it would not be forever, and it wasn’t. It is heartbreaking to kiss them every morning as I’m leaving while they are still in bed.

At the same time, I know my sisters who are at home with their children are also painfully busy, experiencing some of the same struggles that I do: do I clean or read to my children? Do I serve at the church or spend the time with my husband? Do we manage with a little less money or should I find a job to help with our bottom line?

  15 She also rises while it is yet night,
      And provides food for her household.

I’m home in time to make and serve a family dinner, to do the homework routine and I don’t miss the special events – performances, teacher meetings and sick days. Our weekends are totally and completely family-centered, and there is not a lot of “me” time in my life, mainly because I don’t need or want it. I want that time with the small people I spend the rest of the week working for.

They love it when I’m working at home, or taking a day off, or doing an activity with them. But at the same time, they enjoy all the things my additional salary provides, and they see us giving, sharing and providing for others. Unless God tells me it’s time for a change – and shows us how to live on one salary without my husband imploding from panic – then this is how it will be for now.

This is my dilemma: the path before me is my current post, safe and familiar with lots of flexibility, or the new one that I think I’m being directed towards, but with it – the chance of returning home to the babies is diminished.

Am I supposed to be a voice for God in the workplace? Am I supposed to be like this woman, and clothe my family in scarlet? We shall see, we shall see. Either way – this is the truth that I know that I know that I know: Serve the Lord with Gladness, enter into his gates with Thanksgiving.

Where there is serving, there must also be gladness and thanksgiving. Wherever there is serving, there must be gladness and thanksgiving.

New Trick and a Whopping BIG Sword

I never watched Xena the Warrior Princess much, because when it was on, I lived in the UK and it came on at a bad time for my life.

I did, however, admire the exploits of Saint Olga, who before she converted to Christianity protected her small son, her kingdom and her people from invasion by scalding, burying alive and crushing the envoys sent to intimidate her. Eventually, they realized the Lady’s Not for Turning. Period.

More recently, and at the perfect time, I saw the new Alice in Wonderland. The one where Alice is a grown up and goes back to help boot the evil Red Queen and reinstate the sweeter White Queen. Alice was like Joan of Arc with better hair. She swung an enormous sword and beheaded a dragon with a very bad attitude. My three girls and I were jumping up and down cheering her on.

Equally invigorating – watching Lord of the Rings…Eowyn, taking out the evil dark knight, that no man can kill…but she can because she’s no man!

There are plenty of icons and symbols in history and fiction of the warrior female, yet it is a difficult muse to tap for so many of us. Being a mother brought out my soft side as much or more as it has brought out my Warrior Queen.

But the Enemy hasn’t slowed down one bit, and his attacks are every bit as vicious as they ever were. I find them more painful now, mainly because I’m defending myself and four little people who haven’t learned to fight for themselves.

My first husband wants custody of the big one. And today, in a TV-interrupted debrief from her, I learned that the psychologist asked to evaluate her – and decide where she goes – wanted to know would she like to go live with Father, and spend all her vacations with Mother? She said no, clearly, no (quote). But it put a real wrinkle in my day and I fought tears for an hour. How could anyone be so heartless to even ask such a question? This child is alive becauase I fought off the same father she’s now casually talking about.

I know who could be so heartless. It’s the same evil snake who wants to destroy my family from the inside, and your family too.

I was watching Beth Moore yesterday. She had her sword out – the Word of Truth. And she fought with the skill of an Olympic fencer. Take that, and that, and that. Gospels, Epistles, Psalms, Old Testament prophets – one after the other.

No weapon forged against me shall prevail.

No weapon.

No psychologist with silly new age ideas about “alienation” or a father inhabited by a spirit of contention and hate.

No court in the back woods with no idea how a smart 9 year old thinks, or what is best for her.

Satan is going to keep bringing it on, and it’s exhausting and sometimes I cry.

But…I also believe…Jeremiah 29, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Be still, and know that I am God.

In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:27-29

The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 30, 9 – 10)

 9This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10(and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 9)

Take that, and leave my family alone!