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Faith

Time to Break Camp and Advance

October 9, 2014

It seems that the fulfillment of God’s promises in our lives typically comes by traversing an off-road path that keeps us dependent on him. The journey isn’t the nicely paved road, but the trek filled with mountains, sharp edges, and unexpected turns.

We easily can relate to the disciples who were told to get in the boat and head to the other side. They saw a destination ahead of them, not the storm that would be their teacher long before their feet were back on ground. [Matt 8] Or there are the Israelites, whose 11 day journey in the wilderness to the promise land stretched out over 38 years and 8 months.

Promised destinations never arrive quickly. Though they sure come suddenly.

When the Israelites first headed into the wilderness, they were full of trust in the God who parted waters before their eyes. He performed miracles, provided supernaturally, and promised a land to them. They started out eager to arrive, conquer the land, and dwell within their home.

Most of our journeys are the same. At first, with the promise before us, our hearts are full of trust. We remember who God is and how supernaturally he works, and we’re expectant to see it. We’re excited to get to that promised destination and plant ourselves in what he has destined for us.

But, just like the Israelites, it’s easy to forget.

The time came along their journey where they were given the chance to explore what was up ahead. “Go check it out,” said God. “This is what I set aside for you.” [Num 13]

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But instead of coming back with fiery eyes of passion and hearts full of gratitude, they came back wearing a heavy coat of intimidation. They forgot how God could work through them, making it all look too big, impossible, and overwhelming.

In fact, they came back holding onto words never actually spoken to them. It wasn’t the enemy who said they were the size of grasshoppers. They allowed the circumstances to fill their unbelief with words and pictures to validate those internal fears.

They became intimidated by what they saw, minimizing their identities by their own perceptions. And all of a sudden, what was promised became terrifying with giants too large and them too little. They peered over into what was ahead and said, “It’s too big.”

The Israelites refused to believe God’s ability to work in them and became totally lost, desiring to head back from where they came rather than move forward into what was promised.

I wonder if a transition happened along their 38-year journey of waiting in the wilderness as their hearts started to doubt what was possible with God. I wonder if, as dry and barren as the wilderness was, it became comfortable to them. Safe. Familiar. Without intimidating giants to keep them feeling unqualified, small, or exposed.

I wonder if their season of hiddenness, marked by God for a purpose, became a season of hiding by way of their own fear.  

As fired up as they were when they first left Egypt for this destination, along the way they became willing to forgo it for the slavery of the past, or the wilderness hiding of the present. Comfort and safety in hiding outweighed the responsibility of stewardship and leadership over what was being offered.

But then, all these years later, as God’s people stood at the same place where the law was first given and God was encountered, he spoke these words: “You have stayed at this mountain LONG ENOUGH. Break camp and advance.” [Deut 1]

It was time. No more hiding or wandering. God charged them to turn, take hold of their journey, and head up that dang hill to occupy what was theirs.

As much as we wrestle and battle through our own wilderness experiences, we can hide in them past our season. The Israelites found themselves in the desert because they were enslaved and needed freedom. We similarly find ourselves in the dry land because of God moving us out of where we were to bring us into something new. Yet, if we’re not careful to remember the God who works through us even when our circumstances are barren around us, we may find ourselves hiding in a wilderness of fears and doubts that says we’re too ill-equipped for what’s up that hill.

But then an unassuming Thursday comes along and we are standing in the middle of a wilderness journey long past when we were sure we would be on the other side. We wake up to how we’ve been hiding in our fears, that it’s time to get moving again. Yet, in the same breath, we remember how we don’t feel like it and decide tomorrow will be better.

Just as we go to sit down and wait out another day, God’s arrow of grace comes shooting at us with the words, “You have stayed at this mountain LONG ENOUGH. Break camp and advance.”

Faith

Your Weakness is a Gift

October 2, 2014

I’m convinced most needed these days is simple. Simple reminders that we are enough and He is enough and what we can do today is enough. That’s my hope for this post. A simple reminder for a Thursday morning.

 

A few weeks back I sat at a coffee shop and had a conversation with a wise man years ahead of me. He asked how I was doing and what was going on in my life. I replied honestly that I was wrestling to find security and confidence in this season. So much feels unknown that it leaves me more than a little uncertain in myself.

I talked with him about some of my weaknesses that I haven’t been able to overcome in a deeply satisfying way. No matter how many times I read or speak out truth, I still find myself fearing, doubting, or stressing about what is trivial or without purpose.

“I want to be free, confident, and secure,” I told him. My words echoed what I was believing. Namely, that if I could tap into those things, I would feel qualified for what’s ahead.

“That sounds a lot like perfection to me,” he replied back. He’s never been one to shy away from the truthful words, which I welcome. The more truth he gives, no matter the sting, the more I know he really loves me.  Though I definitely snarled up my nose and glared my eyes in a micro-expression of dislike over what he was digging into.

“God doesn’t want you apart from him, but dependent on him. Maybe those weaknesses are the gifts in this season to keep you closely tucked under God,” he said.

He kept speaking, but by then I was lost in the deep whisper of the Spirit. Like a swirling tunnel of wind around me, I kept hearing the same few words over and over. “Your weakness is my gift,” the voice spoke, with each repetition hammering its nail of truth deeper into my core.

Something happened in me in that moment. I began remembering.

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So often it seems we confine the good gifts from God to what we publicly praise, celebrate, or proclaim as wonderful. That which others would long for is what we term as gifted. The gifts become what we testify to, encouraging those around us to petition and seek God for similar things.

But what if those good gifts include what keeps us deeply dependent on God, not what makes us independent from him? What if those defaults of our lives that leave us humble and low are actually the gifts of grace that keep us close?

I easily can look at weaknesses in my life as areas I need to overcome or eliminate. But maybe, instead of seeking to be free from such things, our place is actually to find God in the midst of what is weak within us. Then, instead of our story being about fixing, it becomes about finding.

To be weak isn’t to be far from God, but to remain as close as possible to him. And those struggles in us which birth deep dependence on him are grace.  The great gift God will offer to us in any season is a sustained need for him. It may be easy for us to despise our weaknesses, but they are, in fact, the gifts of grace in our present season, not letting us wander too far from home.

If you’re weak on this Thursday morning, you are in good company. The kingdom is full of weak ones who are ever-learning to depend on the great, living God for the strength to walk through the day at hand.  The kingdom will never be filled with the best, brightest, or most self-sustaining. So today is a good day to take a deep breath and let go of such expectations over yourself.

Instead, remember that no matter what weaknesses or thorns you may carry today, your journey is to find God.  Release yourself from trying to figure out how to fix what is weak in you. Because what is weak may in fact be the beautiful gift of a God who longs for you to draw fresh breath from him today.

Faith

Tapping Into Wild Hope

August 8, 2014

Promises may be tricky business, but so is hope. Because, if we’re honest, it’s one of the hardest things for us to live in without our fearful grip of control.

Most of our hope is built around man-made limitations and boundaries to be sure we don’t go crazy or get out of hand. We tell ourselves that while hoping is fine, we wouldn’t want to hurt ourselves by going overboard. Like a parent talking to her child holding a giant bucket of Halloween candy straight off the trick-or-treating streets, the motto is: partake in moderation.

Just a few weeks ago I was driving home to Atlanta from Charlotte, doing some of my thinking. In the midst of a previously busy school week, I had finished a book proposal that I longed for God to do something with.

Reflecting on the week, though, I realized how quick I was to tell people that “I’m good with whatever happens,” “it’s just for fun,” and “it’s okay if it’s not the right time.” While on one hand those words resonate with my deep desire to be surrendered in the process, on the other, I was clearly withholding my hope in a simple effort to self-preserve.

If you’re like me, we build this equation around the falsity that higher hope mixed with life’s uncertain outcomeswill always equal greater disappointment. And since we can’t control what comes our way in life, the only answer to lessen the sting is to diminish the hope.

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Photo Credit: Henry Burrows

As I was thinking through my protective reactions, my mind began drifting to a story of God opening a ridiculous door in the documentary “Father of Lights.” If you haven’t seen it, I so encourage you to watch it. In the film, God moves by His favor in this crazy, unlikely way. The outcome the world says couldn’t happen – that’s the door He opens.

Driving somewhere down I-85, this clash began to take place within me between my well-restrained hope for what is possible and my full belief in a God who moves far beyond the fenced walls of the world’s opportunities.

We are prone today to preserve ourselves at all costs from disappointment, believing it could be the end of us if it comes on too strong or suddenly. We plan and predict for disappointment’s attack because we are fearfully certain it will come. Instead of embracing it as a teacher on the journey, we decide we would rather withhold hope than fall into its trap.

But what would it look like to live with hope that comes by us surrendering our self-preservation tactics and allowing vulnerability to be our companion on the journey?

We have the option to live closed off from hoping in exciting potentials and impossibilities. We can easily walk around with buoys and fences surrounding us to control the hope we invest out of fear we may feel the depths of disappointment.

Or, we can go against the grain and risk allowing our hearts to beat for what is true of us and the dreams of the Father within us. For us to become less concerned by what may come, and more excited by what very well could be. We can choose to tap into what is live in this moment, no matter the unknown outcome.

That is wild hope.

We miss something important in life when we put up walls around our hope. We miss the celebration when things come and we miss the disappointments when they fall. We miss being alive and vulnerable and plain human. When we proclaim to the world that we’re living abundant and free, it must come with us willing to carry wild hope even in the face of possible disappointment and discouragement.

So today, this is my story: I have this dream of a book and it has legs and a backbone and form – but it needs open doors. And I’m willing to hope in what can’t be seen (and what the world says likely doesn’t match up) because I can’t get out of my head that I love a wild and extravagant God.

So I wait. And as uncertain as it may all be, I hope.

Faith

When Dreams Become Our Identity

July 24, 2014

There can be a danger to dreaming. If we’re not careful, what we hope for becomes what we rightfully await. And when a dream shifts to a right, then we’re in trouble. Because there, in that place, expectations get built around what was always meant by grace. To be gifted.

Dreaming with God is about soaring high above the confines of the world, feeling the air of freedom as we hope and believe for that which the world tells us cannot and will not. But overhead the chaotic chatter of doubt and defeat, we find wind for our wings as we tap into His dreams over our lives.

To dream with God is to fly. And oh, how we are meant to soar high.

Dreams come because of who He is and who He sees us to be. They are prophetic gifts of grace. They arrive by way of Heaven’s voice leaning down and whispering deep into our soul’s ears, “You see that way up there where it’s impossibly high? That’s exactly where I want to take you.

But if we’re not careful, we can hear those words, dream those dreams, and meld them into our identity as if part of us, a place they were never meant to occupy. Dreams affirm who we are, speaking to our identity in God, but never are they to validate us. They aren’t created to complete or satisfy, no matter our subconscious efforts to prove otherwise.

When our dreams become our identity, the once found freedom in hoping for what’s ahead becomes a weighted demand for our performance, image, and success. What was freeing now becomes suffocating. We feel the dream’s impossibility not as exhilarating and an opportunity for God to do what man never could, but as terrifying – our hearts racing from fear it will never happen unless we push harder.

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So we grip tighter and cling with every bit of ourselves to those dreams. They no longer feel as gifts, but rights and demands upon our lives. We don’t wait in anticipation; we advance in panic.

The longer those dreams keep from manifesting, the more despair, discontent, and anxiety we have over all that isn’t in our lives. We look at our today and cry out in frustration over what is missing. Our dreams become the measuring stick for the present, our eyes so focused on getting to that place that today is never enough.

This isn’t what life is supposed to look like, we cry. And today becomes all but lost by our unmoving picture of how it’s all supposed to look. We are no longer attached to the Giver, but to the gifted dream itself. And here, we are wholly unaligned and out of sorts.

Our own efforts to seek to earn what has been gifted is one of the most exhausting, unending, never satisfying pursuits to life. Because we will never obtain what cannot be won.

The truth is that the more we push, the less anything moves. God waits for us to rest back into who we are in Him, while we press on out of need to validate, leaving ourselves tirelessly undone by the demands. But the rhythm of our lives doesn’t have to be centered on our efforts to press harder to perform better to become more.

The freedom of our dreams is always found in His rest and breath. When we sit deep again into our identity seat as His – as known, whispered to, fought for, and believed in – we find His spirit of life which exhales upon what was slain by our own sword.

The impossibilities of our dreams are meant to be our inheritance, but the road forward is marked by intimacy. When we find our identity tangled in our dreams, it’s time to hear His whisper, inhale deep His breath, and settle back into God’s restful presence.

I will put breath in you, and you will come to life…and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.’” [Ezekiel 37]

Faith

Why We Can’t Forget to Remember

July 3, 2014

I do my best thinking at night, always in that silent spot after the light is turned off and I’ve said goodnight to my husband. I roll over to my typical right side, arm under pillow under head, legs curled up, and eyes shut. And in that space, I remember.

I start venturing on this wild ride of maybes, ifs, and could-bes. I remember words spoken, dreams deposited, and promises given. I imagine myself years from now in the furthest hoped-for place, doing what I love and living what I dream. That’s always what my thoughts are in that safe, nighttime space.

I find, though, that my dreams and courage fade about the time my alarm goes off hours later declaring a new day. As I fall out of bed and shuffle my feet to the bathroom to start getting ready, my valiant thoughts of the night before become a soft hum as though we suddenly are miles from each other.

And as they fade, I so quickly forget.

From the first breath of the day, resistance seems to be a friendly companion, following me to each appointment, errand, and conversation, always ready to offer its pressing advice for how to give up, live defeated, and remain unsatisfied. Resistance is at every turn, exerting its strength and tactics to ensure that not one step more is taken towards those dreams.

If I’m not careful, resistance will be sure to keep me forgetting. Because when I do, my day becomes dictated not by the promises in my life, but my feelings in the moment.

See, when I wake up forgetting, emotions become the guiding force to my day. How I feel is the rudder that steers my course, keeping me in circles to eliminate forward progress. Before long, my own emotional teetering and wavering overflows my ship with water, forcing me to try to save what my feelings are sinking. By the end of the day, I did so much fighting with my emotions that I never actually moved anywhere.

Tomorrow, I say. I’ll get moving tomorrow.

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Photo Credit: Allison Johnston

But once again, resistance keeps me from remembering by using my emotions to sabotage my progress. And so it’s the same story on a new day. Trying to bail the ship I’m sinking myself by forgetting to remember.

This is why we must remember.

Because remembrance is like manna that keeps us sustained upon a course when we are not easily seeing or hearing.

Jesus once asked his guys, in the middle of their typical confusion, the question: “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” [Mark 8:18]

Sometimes (or mostly) in life, it is plain hard to see. No matter our best efforts and prayers, we simply cannot see what we long for or where in the world we are heading. And equally frustrating is when we also cannot hear. God may appear to be muted or distant. And in that place, when sight and sound don’t seem to be companions on the journey, the question is if we can remember the promises spoken over us, the dreams deep with us, and the truth of our identity and purpose.

In Hebrew, the word for remember is zakar. It means to keep in mind, to boast, to invoke. And its purpose then, in encounters like Moses to the Israelites or David in the desert, is the same as it is now: to affect present feeling, thought, and action.

Remembering changes what we think. And when we think different thoughts, we feel different emotions. And when we feel different emotions, we act and respond differently. Remembering fixes our eyes on what is true in the spirit, not what is before us in the natural.

Remembering keeps us moving forward when the course no longer has visual markers, emotional highs, or cheering crowds. When we cannot see and we cannot hear, it’s time to remember.