Pilgrimage

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  Genesis 12:1

Jesus said that no one could follow him unless they were willing to leave father and mother, brother and sister.  Did He speak theoretically, or did He know, personally, the price of leaving kindred and the comforts of home?  He knew the cost.  Jesus knew that following His Father’s voice would prove to be stressful for family dynamics.   

Yahweh had divine rights to Jesus.  He shaped His identity.  He established parameters and boundaries.  He set future goals for Him, culminating in paying the price for sin on a cross.  He guided and encouraged Him all the way there, and then all the way home from the confines of a tomb. 

Obedience and honor were the responsibilities of this Son of God.  As Jesus modeled pilgrimage, there was stress. He set off on a course for which He had no roadmap.  He trusted God for the next step on His journey.  He never knew what the next day would bring.  It unfolded as He listened and followed directions.  He had to learn obedience.  It wasn’t hard-wired.  He knew intimately the stresses of following His Father’s voice. 

The call of Abram to leave his parents and family to establish a new allegiance was extended to Jesus and is still extended to every son and daughter of God.  When I was born into God’s family, I left the authority of my earthly father for my heavenly Father.  God’s commands took precedence over all other influences.  I submitted to His Fatherhood as He shaped me, established parameters, set goals, and corrected and encouraged me.  Obedience and honor are my responsibility, just as they were for Jesus.

The call of God will be burdensome when family loyalties are threatened and when Christian friends think my steps are too radical. That’s because the only one who hears the call is the very one to whom God speaks.  Jesus knew the disdain of His parents and siblings.  When at its worst, his family thought He was mad.  On one occasion, Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were waiting to see Him outside a ministry venue. He made it clear to those delivering the message that even mothers and brothers had no personal advantage because they were related to Him.  They, too, had to hear the call and set out on their own pilgrimage.

When my obedience is tested with famine, breathe over me Your encouragement.  As you did for Jesus, feed me with the manna of heaven.  Amen

Grace And Scoundrels

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [Messiah] comes.  Genesis 49:10

If I look for a biblical hero to emulate, Joseph is always a good choice.  His fidelity to God amidst great suffering has inspired believers like me down through the ages.  Of all of Jacob’s sons, Joseph gets the most attention.  Yet, it is not from the line of Joseph that Jesus was born.  The highly flawed sons of Jacob didn’t mess things up so severely that God disqualified them from His covenant of blessing.  The promises of God prevailed over sin. 

What was the purpose of Joseph’s life?  It was to save Judah and His descendants.  If Joseph had not assumed a place of power in Egypt, he could not have brought his father and brothers there to live.  Jacob and all his descendants would have perished in a great famine.  It’s hard for me to grasp that Joseph was used by God to save a scoundrel brother who had sold him into slavery.  That seems twisted.

But God is wild and wonderful. He exalts the likes of Judah.  He blesses adulterers like King David.  He forgives betrayers like Peter.  He saves persecutors and murderers like Paul.  Judah, at the end of his life, offered to give his own for the life of another brother.  He finally chose righteousness. The common thread in all of these stories was a heart of repentance.  God’s forgiveness was so radical that an entire past was put under His atoning blood.

No family is perfect. Some haven’t seen their children and grandchildren in years. They grieve. They feel embarrassed.  They fear they are entirely to blame.  They dread being asked about family when they’re out with friends.  Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant to them? Is it relevant to us in the very places we long to see the righteousness of God revealed in the lives of our family members?   Yes.

This Christmas, as we hear the Christmas story and are tempted to zone out at the reading of the lineage of Jesus, let’s wake up and sit on the edge of our seats.  When Judah’s name is mentioned, let’s worship the God who works in family messes.  Let’s marvel, even if by faith, that no one is out of His reach.  Let’s put that faith into action by praying for a renegade’s forthcoming repentance.  God’s redemptive storyline spreads to the darkest corners of our lives.

For every family ‘Joseph’, there are tears of joy.  For every family ‘Judah’, there are tears of faith.  You are God over every family drama that is brought to your feet in prayer.  Amen

When Glory Invades Our World

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  Luke 2:9

Oh, what it must have been like to witness the glory of God manifested all around them.  The shepherds didn’t ask for it, didn’t earn it, and didn’t expect it.  God’s favor intervened in their history and brought an experience they would never forget.  Nothing in their lifetimes would eclipse the memory of that night when heaven opened and the limitations of their spiritual eyesight were lifted.  Do such moments still happen today?  Yes, from the dramatic to the hushed moments when an ordinary day becomes anything life-defining. 

A pastor we knew had an aortic rupture…. something you don’t usually come back from. While clinically dead on the table, he witnessed a battlefield.  He saw forces of darkness and God’s angelic forces engaged in a battle.  When God brought the pastor back from death, he told everyone….. “If you saw what I saw, how outnumbered the enemy was, and how majestic and mighty the angelic warriors were, you would never be afraid of anything ever again!”  I think of his testimony every time I battle fear. 

But you might protest that most of us will not have a near-death encounter and come back to speak of it.  So, how do we witness the glory of God, like the shepherds, in a life-changing way?  My answer ~ when the heavens open and God’s Spirit brings revelation and illumination of something I’ve never seen before in scripture.  It is as cataclysmic to my spirit, soul, and mind as any angelic visitation may be.  It changes my paradigms, banishes my fears, brings escape out of entrapment, and showcases the glory and character of Jesus in just the way I need to have my personal doctrine challenged. 

 It is easy to separate the times of scripture from the times I live in.  Surely, experiences of God wouldn’t overlap in similarity, would they?  My skepticism obscures the reality of God’s presence and power.  God is to be experienced and the supernatural is to punctuate my life with a series of powerful moments.  It’s time we ask for them and dare to share them when they happen. 

My trust in You does not depend on the miraculous, but every miraculous encounter with You changes me forever.  Amen

You Really Are Who You Are In Heaven

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. Genesis 37:23

Joseph was stripped of his royal kind of robe. Jesus was stripped of his robe, too. The momentary humiliation didn’t change the destiny or the spiritual identity of either. Jesus stayed in touch with his belovedness but I suspect that Joseph did not. History would prove that the brother’s destruction of the robe of many colors, and the brother’s criminal treatment of Joseph, would do nothing to stop his ascension to a royal position in Egypt. Their sin against him only set it in motion.

Jesus was God’s Son whether anyone acknowledged Him or not. If the accusation flew that he was only the illegitimate son of Mary, Jesus was still God. When the crowd publicly humiliated him by accusing him of demonic possession, Jesus was still God. When His family eventually turned on Him and believed Him to be mentally unstable, Jesus was still God. When He hung on a Roman cross and died the most degrading death in existence, His spiritual status did not change. Jesus was still God.

If ever there were a world in which I needed to settle my spiritual identity, it’s this one. It is growing more and more unfriendly to the name of Jesus Christ, and anyone associated with Him will experience discrimination. If a barb from a parent can lay me low for four decades, how will I survive a community that ostracizes me? Suppose unfair criticism from a local spiritual leader sends me into hiding. How will I sustain the intentional diatribe of non-Christians who are looking for things they can misrepresent?

No ill-treatment in this world can change my status in heaven. God’s kingdom is what counts; it is eternal. Things on earth should be discounted; they will pass away. Though I am hated here, not one ill feeling comes from the Father above who calls me His. While earth bestows the basest kind of shame, God bestows the heavenliest kind of honor.

The only way to stay in touch with these beautiful realities is to read a Word that is eternal, not temporary. Whatever it says is true forever and ever. Today, I may be Joseph in a pit. Tomorrow, I will be reigning with Christ.

Every time Jesus was crushed, He looked up until He felt Your favor. I lock my eyes on You. Amen

When I Keep Doing The Same Things

Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. Genesis 37:20-22

There is a father who will take out his anger on his children today. He will cut them to shreds with a sharp rebuke and they will shrink and go into hiding. He’s done it before. He even saw the damage in their eyes but that did not deter him.

There is a middle-aged woman who will see dreaded circumstances repeat themselves. She will say, “Oh no, not again!” but she will make the same disastrous choice she made the last time. She does not see that God often gives another chance to do something different.

Reuben, for all his faults, did make a different choice. (Although not one that was drastic enough.) He had sinned against his father many times throughout his youth and had experienced the stab in his own heart as he saw his father’s pain. The last offense he committed was sleeping with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. With this fresh in his memory, he will not agree to take the life of Joseph, his father’s favored son. He cannot bear the thought of Jacob’s grief yet again.

Do I really learn from my mistakes? The magical answer is ‘yes’. Who is going to repeatedly put their hand over an open flame?  But that is naïve. When bad behavior is generational, thoughts of stopping happen long after the deed is done. By default, we live as our fathers did.

Jesus told Nicodemus two critical things. 1.) ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh.’We are like whom we came from. I am a product of a mother and father and will possess not only their physical characteristics but their holy and sinful bents as well. I will not deviate without spiritual transformation. And, 2.) ‘That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.’ I am to be like by new Father because I was born of His Word and His Spirit. So here’s the question that replays in my mind? Am I more like my new Father than my earthly parents? I should be if the new birth and the things of the Spirit are nurtured.

How does this relate to learning from my mistakes? When I repeat the foolishness of my youth, the Spirit of God calls to me. “Why are you doing that? You’re now my own daughter and I’m calling you out to be like me, not them.” Past mistakes are a mirror. I see the reflection of my former self against the reflection of my brother, Jesus, standing next to me. With just a glance, I walk away and have no appetite for the former things.

Forget my last name today, Lord. I am Christine – of God’s heart. Amen

He Shouldn’t Have Done It Twice!

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” Genesis 37:9-10

Joseph shared his first dream with his brothers and it didn’t go well. They despised him for it.  So why would he tell the second dream to the same unreceptive audience?   Perhaps he hoped that, with a second hearing, they would believe the message. 

When I’m excited about something, the need to tell someone is strong. I want others to share the wonder with me. But I can share things indiscriminately and experience the same kind of reaction Joseph got from his brothers. My need for approval can be so strong that discretion goes out the door.

Becoming a person of self-awareness is critical if I’m going to be successful in relationships. Do others receive my words and stories eagerly? Is my point of view welcomed? What is the track record with the people who are most resistant to me? If Joseph had really stopped to think about what happened when he related his first dream, perhaps he would have stopped himself before sharing the second.  I can be so much like Joseph. If I know something, I just have to say it.

There are some things I believe passionately, and I’m tempted to keep talking about them to the same group of people. Truth be told, they may be rolling their eyes when I open the topic for the umpteenth time. They are already closed and it would be wise for me to acknowledge that. God needs to heal any rejection my soul suffers and also needs to show me if my words are framed by a need to be right. That alone repels people. What I speak may be true, but no one will hear it if it comes with disrespect.

No mission is more important than being God’s spokesman but getting the message right is only half the challenge though. Getting the timing and attitude right will cause the words to roll off my tongue the way Jesus would speak.  So, what do I do with my need to be liked, respected, validated and accepted? Prior to any speeches, I take my needs to the One who makes me whole in His presence.

Give me holy pause until it’s time for me to speak. Amen